The real James Ellroy

James Ellroy appeared at The Writer's Center on Saturday night, in conjunction with George Mason University's Fall for the Book Festival.

It was probably one of the most fun literary events I've been to in a long time.

Ellroy is certainly bigger than life, a factor made even more prominent by the fact that he is actually a big tall person. His presence literally fills the room. And when he talks, he has a loud, booming voice that modulates and riffs through the words like singing, like a sermon.

He believes, at his core, that he is doing God's work. And who are we to argue? It's that level of conviction that makes him such a compelling literary figure. If you know his backstory--his mother was murdered when he was a child and the murder has never been ("will never be," in his own words) solved--it's easy to understand his fascination both with the macabre underbelly of shiny Americana and with an unflinching ability to expose it to the harsh light of day.

And he has a charisma about him that is really difficult to ignore. The audience who came to see him were huge fans, voracious readers of his work, and knew his books inside and out. During the Q&A session that followed, Ellroy expounded on everything from the innerworkings and motivations of characters in LA Confidential to which Anne Sexton quotes are his favorite (confidential to DB: he started his talk out with "I was born doing reference work in sin;" could not help but think of you).

Although he has a big personality and a big sense of his legacy, he is also utterly approachable and a man of the people. He enjoyed "bullshitting" with the folks who came to get their books signed and, I felt, sincerely wanted to know what they thought of the event, of his new book, etc.

He also shared a fifteen minute diatribe on his loathing for the "internet invaders" who are threatening the supremacy of the printed word.

I wonder if America's growing fascination with all things tabloid and scandalous is connected to Ellroy's growing fame--did one feed the other? Or is this symptomatic of something else changing in American culture?

Ellroy claims that the murder of his mother exposed him to the reality that there are "two Americas." The surface one, the one we live in, and a second, shadow America, where powerbrokers, politicians, and money circulate and determine the long-term path we're on.


Much to, I'm sure, Collin Kelley's chagrin, I paid money to see Jennifer's Body.

And I don't regret it.

That said, the trouble with Jennifer's Body isn't Megan Fox, believe it or not. It's simply that, while trying to be both funny and unsettling, it succeeds at being neither. There's no gore to speak of, which means this isn't a horror movie. And there are laughs, yes, and there are some gross things that happen, but overall, it can't decide if it wants to be a teen comedy or a teen slasher flick.

Megan Fox is actually excellent in this role, and it's because of her that it's as funny as it is. She dead pans all of her best lines, fully committing to the honesty of the situations as absurd as they might be. A favorite: after being impaled on a metal pole, she looks down at her bloody gut and asks her best friend, with surprised frustration, "Do you have a tampon?" When the girl says no, Fox replies sadly, "Oh...you looked like you might be plugging."

Diablo Cody's script here is good, almost better than Juno because she's really tamed down her too-cute-for-school slang and focused more on character development and relationships. At it's heart, Jennifer's Body is a biting satire on girl-girl friendships--the BFFs who, despite all their affection for each other, can't help but compete. Although the actual storytelling has a little hiccup in it that sort of wrecks the plot a bit, it's done interestingly. Cody got demerits from me from letting good girl Needy figure out the situation too quickly and without a lot of plot clues.

Adrian Brody turns in a fantastic performance as the dickweed frontman of up-and-coming indie band Low Shoulder. If it weren't for Megan Fox, he'd have walked away with this film in his back pocket. Mugging through his thick lines of guyliner, Brody gives an enthusiastic send-up of fame-hungry emo dbs, complete with Satanic ritual sacrifice of a virgin, and the repetitive playing of the band's hit single. Amy Sedaris pops up for a minute, too, which was nice.

I think this is a movie with some cult potential. It has a fun Mean Girls vibe to it and was pretty quotable. I'll have to watch it again to determine that. But Collin, it wasn't a waste of my money.


Brian Teare Talks

Also, I've got an interview up with Brian Teare up at The Writer's Center's blog First Person Plural! The other day, Sandra Beasley interviewed Paula Bohince.

Brian is reading with Paula at Fall for the Book today, and Deb Ager and I are reading together there also.

After that, I think we're all stalking Reb Livingston. Or maybe just I am.

Brian's thoughts:

"My day-to-day relationship to writing is based on the pleasure I take in its materials, both its graphic and sonic aspects. I like the look of letters arranged into words, lines and stanzas as much as I like the actual sonorities created by phonemes and syllables hooked together to make words hooked together to make lines, ad infinitum. And though the visual aspect of a poem eventually becomes as important to me as its soundscape, I tend to draft poems by following an aural rhythm—both alliterative and prosodic—and it’s my hope that an essential quality of what I’m writing about adheres in the actual feel of the language."


Yes Sir, That's My Diva

On Sunday we were visited by many fabulous contributors to the My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them anthology, as well as their invoked muses. It was a great reading--R. J. Gibson shared his thoughts on Annie Lennox, John Dimes wrote about what's compelling about Björk, Allen Smith reminisced about Jessica Lange, Bill Fogle riffed on Julia Child, and editor Michael Montlack explained his fascination with Stevie Nicks.

I was reminded of the story told to me by a guy I'd dated in college. In high school, he snuck into the stacks of his library where he wouldn't be disturbed and then, one by one, tore out every picture of Madonna in every magazine in the rack.

Afterward, Beau and I went grocery shopping (the mundane reality of my life: literature! followed by groceries/laundry) but stopped off for a diet-busting juicy cheeseburger at Five Guys. We tried to figure out who our divas would be.

"Well, now, mine would be Gwen," he said. Naturally, he means Stefani, she of the L.A.M.B. label and genre-blurring dance cuts. We both love No Doubt. I nodded. One of our earliest dates was going to see Gwen on her Sweet Escape tour. My favorite part: in the car, jiggling through the pot-holed parking lot, listening to Gwen, I said something off-handedly (and probably unintentionally) funny. He laughed generously and then burst, "Oh my God, I love you." He meant it like, "I love you like you're my cousin," but he was horrified at having let the l-word slip, covered his mouth, and turned red.

I thought back. "Mine would be Sharon Stone," I said, remembering my obsession with Basic Instinct in the 90s. And then I remembered what had papered my locker in high school:

Brenda Walsh, aka Shannen Doherty

I was so known for my obsession with Shannen Doherty, in fact, that one day a girl in my school who had flipped through a recent copy of YM and torn out a full-bleed portrait of her and given it to me. "For your collection," she said, peering at me through her inch-thick glasses. She pressed it onto my chest and then turned and walked away. I added it to the growing collage of Brendas.

I don't remember particularly enjoying Beverly Hills, 90210, so I'm not even sure where it came from. But I remember rooting for Brenda when I watched. She was whiny and a little frumpy, frequently irrational and often full of gunpowder looking for a fuse.

That she was also a trainwreck in real life only fueled my love for her. She was impulsive! She married a Hamilton! She behaved poorly at work! I longed and longed to be bad like Brenda. One day I skipped choir and went to Burger King in the next town over. It felt good to be bad, I thought. Back at school, the Vice Principal confusedly called me to her office. "You were unexcused from choir today," she said. "Yeah, I skipped," I said, almost proudly. She reluctantly handed me a detention notice. "Mr. Fraaza will see you after school."

I took the notice home and pinned it on my bulletin board. Wow! I was bad. I'd broken a rule. I wasn't where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there! Brenda would have understood. Then my mom grounded me for getting a detention. She held the slip in face. "This is not a trophy!" she said, her voice shrill. I shifted my weight awkwardly from one foot to another. Brenda never got grounded.

Shannen probably permanently secured my love when she told the producers of Charmed, "Why don't we lose the tit shots of Alyssa Milano, or else I'll walk?" And they were like, "No thanks," and then her character died a sudden death that really ruined the entire arc of the series, and plus created a casting circumstance that resulted in a secret fourth sister (???) in the guise of Rose McGowan. A poor substitute!



I finally saw a copy of The First Risk...and my acknowledgments page had some problems. This was made further embarrassing after I encouraged one of the folks listed below to "check out the acknowledgments page" not realizing his name hadn't been included. And then him probably thinking I was some kind of ass, or just plain crazy.

The great thing about working with a POD press is that they can change it now, so future versions of the book will list all the thank yous I'd intended to include.

I'll post them here now in lieu of getting them into the book any sooner:

I would like to extend gratitude to friends, teachers, and colleagues who have lent advice, support, opportunities, and feedback in various forms that helped my work and this book find its way: Matt Bell, Steve Berman, Dustin Brookshire, Tracy Longley-Cook, Jaime Dempsey, Norman Dubie, Jim Elledge, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Cynthia Hogue, James Allen Hall, Jeremy Halinen, Christopher Hennessy, Toby Johnson, Reb Livingston, Montgomery Maxton, Ander Monson, Miguel Murphy, Douglas Ray, Alberto Ríos, Kris Sanford, Richard Siken, Tony Trigilio, David Trinidad, Tom Wayman, Sarah Vap, and C. Dale Young. Special thanks are in order for Stephanie Lenox, whose insight and support were instrumental in assembling this collection from inception to publication, and to Jeff Mann, for his thoughtful editing and advocacy for this work. And to Beau Hamilton: all my love and gratitude, now and always.



On Friday, The Writer's Center kicked off a re/newed free event series called Story/Stereo that featured readings by our first two Emerging Writer Fellows, Suzanne Frischkorn and Neil Smith, as well as a musical performance by local band Roofwalkers.

There was a great crowd--near capacity--in the auditorium for the event, and there was great energy and enthusiasm all night long. I was so excited to see young people in the audience, and I knew they would really enjoy the band as well as Suzanne and Neil's work. Suzanne read from Lit Windowpane and shared some work from her new manuscript, which was awesome, and Neil read from his novel-in-progress Heaven Is a Place Where Nothing Ever Happens. Both writers received high praise from Howard Norman, who introduced them and discussed their work.

Roofwalkers did a cool collab with Suzanne (you can read a bit about it at her blog), and then everyone sold merch and signed autographs. This is the first time I've sold t-shirts and posters at a literary event, but I love it! The Story/Stereo posters and shirts are super cool.

The next event will be Oct 2, featuring Alexander Chee and Srikanth Reddy with musical guest Bluebrain.


Found Haiku from my Sorority Row post

And I didn't see one
instance of rolly doe eyes
when she was on screen.

Courtesy of Haiku Finder, Tweeted by @christianbok today.


Dear Diary, Today I Met the Greatest Guy...and then He Ate Me

So, I know that all of you out there have been waiting with bated breath for my take on the CW's new series Vampire Diaries because:

a) I am basically a 14-year-old girl
b) I am virtually a PhD-level scholar of the current vampire Zeitgeist
c) You knew there was no way I wasn't tuning into something set in a high school.

It's all true.

And let me tell you: Vampire Diaries did not disappoint. In fact, I almost wished it wasn't about vampires. The moody lighting and great cinematography set the show apart on their own; the fact that the soundtrack rivaled most Noxema commercials didn't hurt either.

And: it was creepy. It was a little scary because people actually died in the episode, which sets it way far off from (barf) Twilight and most episodes of Buffy and True Blood. And the kids in the show are a little messed up. And it takes place in this creepy little New England town. So a lot of factors are coming together and making it work.

It does read a little on the Dawson's Creek side, though, thanks to writer Kevin Williamson. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing; it just means the kids talk a lot like grown-ups, which teenagers have the capacity to do (they just often choose not to).

The two vamps on the show are, of course, very Louis and Lestat in terms of their viciousness. One is your typically assimilationist loner who wants to be human while the other, the vicious killer, would rather eat his neighbors than have them over for coffee. And like oil and water, they really don't mix. Ah! Conflict. Plus, they kind of have eyes for the same girl, who looks strangely like a girl they once knew a couple centuries ago...

While the tropes are getting tired, the delivery isn't, and that's what ultimately sets this show apart from absolutely horrifyingly bad drivel like Twilight (don't even give me that crap that "it's a good story even though the writing's bad." Folks, have you even read a book before?).

Plus, you know, like high school. It's all, like, evil and stuff.


I Know What You Did Last Semester

First, the good news: Sorority Row, while gross and formulaic, was actually an enjoyable horror film.

I'm glad horror films have started to up their production values. Sorority Row is filmed with your typical handheld-shaky camera work (think Blair Witch with slightly more stability) combined with some very slick sets, lighting, and steadycam work. The opening was like a very long tracking shot through a wild and crazy party, the camera moving from room to room as we finally see one of the Theta Pis running upstairs for a special party shot leading up to the film's premise-spurring prank. The shots and lighting are particularly strong here.

You get your usual archetypes: the sexy girl, the brainy girl, the bitchy girl, the Lindsay Lohan, the sanctimonious girl, and the vengeful girl. Something they plan goes horribly wrong and then...flash forward to graduation when someone comes along (or back?) to extract revenge.

Sorority Row plays up the suspense more than the gore, for which I was grateful. The actual killings are brief, but the film, like the killer, plays with its prey, taunting it. The plot was so obvious it felt like Braille at times, but with movies, as in with life, I find the lower I keep my expectations, the more often I am proved right--or pleasantly surprised.

One thing I have to say about the actresses in the film is that they really commit to their roles. The performances were believable--even Audrina Patridge of The Hills, who surprised me by sounding more like a human being than she does when she's on TV. And I didn't see one instance of rolly doe eyes when she was on screen. Good job, Audrina!

And yes, I kind of like Rumer Willis, too. Although one of the other stars sounded just like Demi Moore in St. Elmo's Fire and I kept thinking how weird it would be to star in a movie with someone who talks like your mom.


Object Concordance of The First Risk

2 films
2 actresses (1 stage, 1 film)
1 Greek goddess
1 conflagration
5 deaths (1 murder, 1 hit-and-run, 1 faked death, 1 court-ruled, 1 destruction of the physical body)
1 transsexual prostitute
1 Very Significant Telephone
4 cities (Laramie, San Francisco, Madrid, Barcelona)
3 fields (Wyoming, Greece, and Spain)
1 tattered bathrobe
1 hotel
1 broken nose
1 heroin addict
1 mother
2 physicists
1 make-over
2 essays (1 film, 1 historical biography)
4 boys (2 who die, 2 who kill)
1 instance of freezing rain
1 instance of summer rain
1 instance of night fog
a handful of wrinkled pesetas
1 instance of love and knives sharing the same breath
1 abandoned air hangar
1 truck
several moths beating themselves against headlights


The End of Summer

I really enjoyed my Labor Day weekend...a nice quiet before the storm of fall events and workshops start up again.

But I was disappointed over weather. One thing strange to me about living in the East is this change-of-seasons thing they've got going. Last year I had a little heart attack in September when I suddenly realized the pool was closed for the rest of the year!

It was then I discovered that my joyful days of perfecting my tan well into October were over.

The pool closed last year after Labor Day even though our temperatures were still in the 80s and it was still humid. We still would have used it! It would have been wonderful.

This year, I was ready. I made plans to use the pool one last time over Labor Day weekend to sneak in a little more color (unlike many Scandinavians, I don't blister when you leave me out in the sun). The weekend was beautiful, until...

Labor Day, when it rained. And was cloudy. And gloomy. No pool for me.

So, goodbye, summer! Farewell, tanning by natural light! I will see you on Memorial Day.

Next: cordouroy! The only good thing about autumn.