William T. Vollmann’s “Whores for Gloria”

7 Oct

ImageHere’s the first paragraph-long chapter of Vollmann’s 1991 novel, “Whores for Gloria.” In a later Paris Review interview Vollmann revealed how he created such realistic prostitute characters:

Journalism.

He said he often painted “atrocious” watercolors of the women and interviewed them between brushstrokes.

The Album
We all know the story of the whore, who, finding her China white to be less and less reliable a friend no matter how much of it she injected into her arm, recalled in desperation the phrase “shooting the shit”, and so filled the needle with her own watery excrement and pumped it in, producing magnificent abscesses. Less well known is the tale of the man who decided to kill himself by swallowing his athlete’s foot medicine. Loving Gloria, he died in inconceivable agony. When they collected a sample of his urine, it melted the plastic cup.  – That, it is safe to say, is despair. More obscure still, because fictitious, is the following.  All of the whore’s-tales herein, however, are real.

Melodic prose

3 Oct

Read this paragraph from Sam Shepard’s New Yorker story, Indianapolis (Highway 74), aloud and listen to its rhythm. It hums:

I’ve been crisscrossing the country again, without much reason. Sometimes a place will just pop into my head and I’ll take off. This time, down through Normal, Illinois, from high up in white Minnesota, dead of winter, icy roads, wind blowing sideways across the empty cornfields. Find myself stopping for the night outside Indianapolis, off 74, just before it makes its sweeping junction with 65 South to Louisville. I randomly pick a Holiday Inn, more for its familiar green logo and predictability than anything else. Plus, I’m wiped out. Evidently there’s some kind of hot-rod convention going on in town, although I seem to remember those always taking place at the height of summer, when people can run around in convertible coupés with the tops down. Anyway, there are no rooms available, except possibly one, and that one is “Smoking,” which I have nothing against. The desk clerk tells me she’ll know in about ten minutes if there’s going to be a cancellation. I’m welcome to wait, so I do, not wanting to face another ninety-some miles down to Kentucky through threatening weather.

Sam Shepard used to jam “Thelonious Monk stlye”

1 Oct

ImageThe actor-author-playwright responsible for Paris, Texas and Buried Child talks about the art of theater with the Paris Review

I recently watched Paris, Texas, starring Harry Dean Stanton. The story really socked me in the head.

A few favorite bits from the dude who wrote it:

On drinking and writing…

I certainly never saw booze or drugs as a partner to writing. That was just the way my life was tending, you know, and the writing was something I did when I was relatively straight. I never wrote on drugs, or the bourbon.

On his late father’s only visit to one of his plays…

He went to the show smashed, just pickled, and in the middle of the play he began to identify with some character, though I’m not sure which one, since all those characters are kind of loosely structured around his family. In the second act he stood up and started to carry on with the actors, and then yelled, “What a bunch of shit this is!” The ushers tried to throw him out. He resisted, and in the end they allowed him to stay because he was the father of the playwright.

On the writer’s “voice” …

I was amazed, actually. I’ve heard writers talk about “discovering a voice,” but for me that wasn’t a problem. There were so many voices that I didn’t know where to start. It was splendid, really; I felt kind of like a weird stenographer. I don’t mean to make it sound like hallucination, but there were definitely things there, and I was just putting them down. I was fascinated by how they structured themselves, and it seemed like the natural place to do it was on a stage. A lot of the time when writers talk about their voice they’re talking about a narrative voice. For some reason my attempts at narrative turned out really weird. I didn’t have that kind of voice, but I had a lot of other ones, so I thought, Well, I’ll follow those.

On writing …

I have to begin early because I take the kids to school, so usually I’m awake by six. I come back to the house afterwards and work till lunch.

On where…

I’ve got a room out by the barn with a typewriter, a piano, some photographs, and old drawings. Lots of junk and old books. I can’t seem to get rid of my books.

On word processors …

No, I hate green screens. The paper is important to me.

On writing every day …

When something kicks in, I devote everything to it and write constantly until it’s finished. But to sit down every day and say, I’m going to write, come hell or high water — no, I could never do that.

On method acting…

I find it incredibly self-indulgent … There’s no room for self-indulgence in theater; you have to be thinking about the audience.

On writing his play Simpatico while driving …

Well, I started it in a truck. I don’t like flying very much, so I tend to drive a lot, and I’ve always wanted to find a way to write while I’m on the open road. I wrote on the steering wheel … I was going to Los Angeles. I think I wrote twenty-five pages by the time I got there, which is about five hundred miles of driving.

On knowing when a play is finished …

When I have a piece of writing that I think might be ready, I test it with actors, and then I see if it’s what I imagined it to be. The best actors show you the flaws in the writing. They come to a certain place and there’s nothing there, or they read a line and say, OK, now what? That kind of questioning is more valuable than anything. They don’t have to say anything. With the very best actors I can see it in the way they’re preceding. Sometimes I instinctively know that this little part at the end of scene two, act one is not quite there, but I say to myself, Maybe we’ll get away with it. A good actor won’t let me. Not that he says, Hey, I can’t do this; I just see that he’s stumbling. And then I have to face up to the problem.

On revisions …

I used to be just dead set against revisions because I couldn’t stand rewriting. That changed when I started working with Chaikin. Joe was so persistent about finding the essence of something. He’d say, Does this mean what we’re trying to make it mean? Can it be constructed some other way? That fascinated me, because my tendency was to jam, like it was jazz or something. Thelonius Monk style.

On endings …

I hate endings. Just detest them. Beginnings are definitely the most exciting, middles are perplexing and endings are a disaster… The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning. That’s genius. Somebody told me once that fugue means to flee, so that Bach’s melody lines are like he’s running away.

On dialogue …

I think an ear for stage dialogue is different from an ear for language that’s heard in life. You can hear things in life that don’t work at all when you try to reproduce them onstage. It’s not the same; something changes.

On influences …

The stuff that had the biggest influence on me was European drama in the sixties. That period brought theater into completely new territory—Beckett especially, who made American theater look like it was on crutches. I don’t think Beckett gets enough credit for revolutionizing theater, for turning it upside down.

The House That Thurmon Munson Built…

1 Oct

I leave you with the opening paragraph of Michael Paterniti’s Esquire piece:

I give you Thurman Munson in the eighth inning of a meaningless baseball game, in a half-empty stadium in a bad Yankee year during a fourteen-season Yankee drought, and Thurman Munson is running, arms pumping, busting his way from second to third like he’s taking Omaha Beach, sliding down in a cloud of luminous, Saharan dust, then up on two feet, clapping his hands, turtling his head once around, spitting diamonds of saliva: Safe.

One time in the The New Yorker …

30 Sep

ImageDenis Johnson wrote an essay called “Homeless and High.”

The piece offers a glimpse of an era in the writer’s life he immortalized in his short story collection, “Jesus’ Son.”

Johnson later offered this illuminating quote about the process of writing the book — one so many contemporary writers credit to their careers as pen monkeys:

“What’s funny about Jesus’ Son is that I never even wrote that book, I just wrote it down. I would tell these stories and people would say, You should write these things down.”

Here’s a taste of the essay, linked above:

My highest ambition was to put together enough capital to get a quart of beer, a joint, a sandwich, and some kind of room for the night, all in the same day. On one occasion, I did grub up enough change to get drunk on discount beer and still pay for lodgings at a youth hostel, but its atmosphere felt very much like a jail’s—homoerotic and quivering with suppressed violence. Still, as a young man convinced that everything that happened to him was something he’d someday write about, one night in such an atmosphere wasn’t too horrible.

And here’s a bit from my favorite story from the collection, “Steady Hands At Seattle General:”

Just below one cheekbone, Bill had a small blemish where a bullet had entered his face, and in the other cheek a slightly larger scar where the slug had gone on its way.

“When you were shot right through your face like that, did the bullet go on to do anything interesting?”

“How would I know? I didn’t take notes. Even if it goes on through, you still feel like you just got shot in the head.”

14 things I underlined in…

24 Sep

Wells

Wells Tower’s  piece October’s GQ: “The Elvis Impersonator, the Karate Instructor, a Fridge full of Severed Heads and the Plot 2 Kill the President…”

1. Spend a week or two in Tupelo, Mississippi, and you begin to wonder if the air down here perhaps contains an element that causes dreams to ignite and burn hotter and stranger than elsewhere in the world.

2. Theirs is a story of human dismemberment and righteous causes, of martial arts and murder intrigues, sexual perversity, political conviction, and resentments dearly held.

3. Within hours, every newspaper and TV network in the land is reporting, with varying shades of mirthful surprise, that the president’s life has been menaced by an Elvis impersonator, ex-janitor, and “Prince super-fan.”

4. What ended Kevin’s run of good fortune and plunged him into the world of conspiracy chasing was something he saw one night while cleaning out a clogged blood sump in the hospital morgue.

5. “Dutch-key,” “Doosh-key,” “Douchey,” “Dorskey,” and “Dusky” is how they say his name in Tupelo. Those in the know say “Dusky” is correct. Local people describe Everett Dutschke as a “Mystery man,” “a snappy dresser,” “a genius,” “an idiot,” “a crusader,” “a flirt,” “a wacko,” “smart,” “a psycho,” “a pervert,” “arrogant,” “kind of hot looking,” “hairy,” “a liar,” “nice,” “a troublemaker,” and “a douche.”

6.  We managed to reach Dutschke for a telephone interview at the jail where he is being held, despite his feeling that talking to the press would “make my attorneys punch me in the face.”

7.  The song seems to presage a suite of disturbing events in the life of Everett Dutschke, events unrelated to ricin, events that the courts in Tupelo are still sorting out.

8.  “I can absolutely make love to a bull moose on the steps of the Lee County courthouse and garner more than 5 percent of the vote.” – Rep. Steve Holland, (D-Miss.)

9. And in a show of true hospitality and professional transparency, Rep. Holland invited me down to the funeral home one morning in early summer to help him put a nightgown on a corpse.

10. “And ka-ching-ka-ching-ka-ching. Forty years I been doing this. It’s fucked! I mean, the [funeral] services are incredible. I love the services, but all this merchandising-pagan-ass-crazy-certified-lunatic-damn bullshit — it’s so fucked. God Bless America!” – Rep. Steve Holland.

11. These last fastidiousnesses attended to, we hoist the body into a rose-colored casket. As we tighten the lid in place, I assure Holland that I will let it be known that no choice cuts were set aside for sale on the black market.

12. We carry her into the brightness of the day, and after loading the pretty pink casket, Rep. Steve Holland drives off in the hearse.

13. He is no longer the local lunatic who won’t shut up about the body parts.

14. It’s good enough that a grown man feels not the least bit awkward being serenaded by another man in a parking lot in Mississippi with midnight coming on.

Decision about newspaper joint operating agreement put off for another day

6 Sep

ImageA federal judge today said a lawsuit that would have blocked the termination of a business agreement between the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal was premature, leaving the issue to be decided another day.

U.S. District Court Judge James C. Mahan denied an injunction requested by Las Vegas Sun Editor and Publisher Brian Greenspun because no contract has been signed between Stephens Media and Greenspun’s siblings.

“This is Round One,” said Greenspun, adding that he is confident the Sun has a long life ahead. “This is Round One in a 15-round fight.”

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

And here.

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