Category Archives: IntraView

IntraView #3: James Marcus

James Marcus-axe grinding

As a professional critic, translator, editor, and author of a published memoir, as well as the proprietor of the popular and well-respected “House of Mirth” literary blog, James Marcus is an amphibian between the sea creatures of so-called lit-blogging and the land mammals of “print”. As the author of Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot-Com Juggernaut, Marcus collected (as far as I know) an unbroken string of glowing reviews, and remains a book-world figure with few,  if any, detractors. The universal respect that Marcus enjoys is as attributable to his courtly, old world diffidence as it is to the sanity and intelligence of his literary tastes and opinions. Mr. Marcus is currently shopping a manuscript to better agents and publishing houses in the U.S.A. and it’s this novel of his that I wanted to talk about…


SA:  The manuscript of your novel, The Only News I Know, which you were generous enough to let me read last year, opens with this:

“Aside from a faint smell in the air, like a spent bonfire with mysterious chemical overtones–the perfume of things that weren’t meant to burn–and aside from the universal expressions of grief, anxiety, and rage you saw on the faces of the pedestrians, it was a normal day in November.”

As gracefully understated as this first sentence is, it alerts us to the possibility that we’re in the presence of a so-called post-9/11 novel. However, despite the fact that “9/11” as an event influences the tone and sprinkles ashes over the characters and the backdrop, the narrative establishes itself very quickly as the story of a particular marriage at risk, detailing with gentle precision each troubled half of the union between the characters Henry and Deborah. Do you consider TONIK to be a “post-9/11” novel, or is the label problematic for you?

JM: At this point I suppose every novel is a post-9/11 novel. And when I first began this book, back in 2004, I was very interested in conveying that post-9/11 texture of life: continuous fright superimposed on dull, null normalcy. But I wanted to write about a floundering marriage, too. And about movies, children, ambition, science, sex, mosquitoes, death, and so forth. There are certainly a great many historical particulars trapped in the amber of this manuscript, and for the people who relish that stuff, it’s great–like reading Victor Hugo to learn about the sewers of Paris. Bad marriage is more of a timeless subject. So the label doesn’t mean much, is what I’m trying to say, unless it helps to sell the book. It’s a marketing tool more than anything else.

SA: Whether it’s marketed as a “9/11” book or not, I’d say that TONIK more properly belongs in a distinguished line of dysfunctional-marriage novels from the American postwar period.

Bellow, Mailer, Updike, Roth, Burroughs (obliquely) all contributed notably to the genre, which may well have been inaugurated by Paul Bowles’s “The Sheltering Sky”, in which a couple of urbane travellers are destroyed by their cultural hubris and an inability (both between themselves and with the world) to communicate. In most of the examples of the genre I can think of (because most of the ones I’ve read have been written by male authors), the wounded marriage is something for the male protagonist to set himself against; the impediment that the male must overcome in order to become himself.

In TONIK, you treat Deborah’s point of view with much more sympathy than that…I can remember commenting to you when I first read it, in fact, that I thought you were being hard, at times, on Henry. Deborah seems to be the stronger, rounder character with the serious issues (including Henry himself) to overcome on the path to a fuller flowering of her Self, and this strikes me as very unusual in a novel from a male writer. And not a bad thing at all.

Is it a generational shift that accounts for this difference? And did you set out to redress the matter of, say, Philip Roth’s purportedly “cardboard” female characters (even Updike has been accused of being a greater poet of the anatomical female than the psychological version of same)? And does this mean that women can expect better treatment by male novelists in the future? (laugh)

JM: Well, that’s a very nice, very flattering genealogy, which I doubt I can live up to. Off the top of my head, I can hardly think of a single novel about happily married people. I know they must exist–wait, there’s always Wallace Stenger’s Crossing to Safety, where the marital success rate is at least fifty percent–but I suppose writers are drawn to the marathon quality of a bad marriage. It goes on for years, with two inches lost for every one gained, and often the grievances on both sides are completely understandable. Beyond good and evil, in other words: just an epic of low-intensity suffering. (Sometimes high-intensity as well.) 

Anyway, I’m glad that Deborah’s POV is as persuasive as Henry’s. In some sense I was looking to Richard Stern’s wonderful Other Men’s Daughters, where the wife gets much less time in the center ring but is never dismissed as the irrational albatross around the hero’s neck. Her pain is very real, and I wanted Deborah’s to be real as well. I think you’re right, she is more likely to accomplish something with her life than Henry is. He’s most comfortable in a holding pattern. On the other hand, some readers–including my ex-agent–found Deborah almost repellently cold and unfeeling, which still puzzles me. As for my role as a harbinger of the female-friendly male novelist, that’s a very heavy mantle. I’d better shrug it off. 

SA: While your first book, Amazonia, was a memoir, you seem to take great pains to detach TONIK’s Henry from any possibly autobiographical “evidence” (though only a close friend or family member could make that observation with any real confidence, of course). Does it irritate you when readers look for “clues” to your own attitudes or personal details in your fiction? Are novelists justified, do you think, in being, as a whole, touchy about this kind of textual mind-reading?

JM: Since Amazonia was about me, I wanted Henry to be somebody else. Not bookish, not ambitious, not a Jew, not even particularly smart. Of course this is harder to do than it sounds. I’m sure Updike had the same plan in mind when he created Bech–to come up with an anti-Updike of sorts–but all of the cringing anxiety and comical failure seemed to emanate from some strange, compartmentalized pocket of his own personality. It was a brilliant piece of ventriloquism, sure, but nobody really believes it’s the dummy who’s doing the talking. Needless to say, this is an exalted comparison. If any reader wants to look for clues about me in my fiction, I’ll be very flattered. 

SA: But do you feel (more as a critic than a novelist, possibly) that knowing something of the writer’s biography is important to an understanding of the text?

JM: Oh, sure. I love to get the biographical data, than mash it together with the books themselves in a way that would make Cleanth Brooks spin in his grave. But a great text will always survive without the biographical data. Or should, anyway. 

SA: TONIK does not strike me as one of those novels that revealed itself to the writer as the pages accumulated (á la the work of Haruki Murakami or Michael Ondaadtje). Was the book carefully outlined and colorfully storyboarded before you attempted the first page of actual prose? And how painstaking and time-consumptive was the research that went into the impressive job of making Deborah’s job (researcher, ironically) so convincing?

JM: I made a very rough outline of about 20 chapters, then plunged in. Certain things did reveal themselves as I went along–even fundamental facts, like Henry’s stint writing obituaries before he graduated to the Valhalla of film reviewing. But I purposely left the outline rough, not wanting to steamroll any spontaneous impulses along the way. On the other hand, I did tons of reading in order to describe Deborah’s work. I had a head start, because my father does the same sort of research, and I’ve been hearing about thrombosis at the dinner table since I was a kid–in fact, there was even a little professional cenacle called the Clot Club that used to meet at our house. But I did read a bunch of papers and journals and took careful, uncomprehending notes. 

SA: You mention your father doing the same sort of research as Deborah…are there elements of your father in Deborah’s makeup? Or does he make a cameo appearance in Deborah’s lab?

JM: I don’t think Deborah is much like my father, except perhaps in her deep devotion to hematological lock-picking. Nor does he make a cameo appearance in the book. But if it weren’t for my youthful visits to the lab–where my father used to put a penny on a block of dry ice, then tell his children that “Abe Lincoln was talking” when the contracting copper began to squeak–I never would have written about this material. Deborah is less like him, more like me. Or as Italo Svevo once put it: the book “is an autobiography, but not my own.”

SA: There’s evidence in Amazonia and TONIK both that you’ve mastered a personable voice that’s lightly weighted with book-soaked erudition; equal parts wide-eyed compassion and world-weary grief. It’s a curiously post-American melange…is this down to being a New Yorker, or has your work as a translator of Italian texts influenced your sensibility as an English-language author? Or did the sensibility precede (and lead to) the Italian?

JM: I’ve always read lots of non-American books, and maybe being a New Yorker makes you less parochial (although many people would argue exactly the opposite.) It’s also true that Italians almost never sound American. I never really thought about this before, but writers like Primo Levi or Leonardo Sciascia or Natalia Ginzburg have a sort of classic reticence, a long view of things, that we itchier Americans tend not to cultivate. So maybe the time I’ve spent in their company has had some effect on me. Or maybe I’m just the way I am. Like, you know, Popeye. 

SA: I was extremely moved reading this passage:

It was an education, living with another person. She had never done it before. There were a million lessons to be learned. Some were purely physical. Deborah adored the way Henry puffed out his cheeks when he shaved, she adored the French curve of his collarbone and his nervous, articulated laughter: ha ha ha, like a cartoon character. He had pink earlobes, a flat belly, a stealth cowlick that appeared only during the week after he got a haircut. His breath smelled like cold milk. She observed these traits, catalogued them in her head. Love made you into a connoisseur of the details, the freakish facts, a Darwin in the Galápagos, where everything was so new and beautiful and singular. No two lovers were exactly alike. There was only one Henry in the world-when he died, he would be as extinct as the Great Auk-and he was hers.

Can you remember writing it? How long did you work on it? Can you run us through the composition of it (any sentences you chopped out or worried over; nouns you replaced, and so forth), if it didn’t come out in one miraculous blurt?

JM:  I wish I could be more helpful here. I’m very glad you were moved by that paragraph, or by any paragraph in the book. I’m sure I wrote it here, in my disheveled office, and that only thing I can say is that in scanning it, the really important words or phrases just pop right out: education, French curve, articulated, stealth, cold milk, connoisseur, Galapagos, singular, lovers, extinct, Great Auk, hers. The rest is–I was was going to say window dressing, but that’s not right–the rest is there to aid and abet.  

SA: Your first book, “Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot-Com Juggernaut” was a well-received memoir. Was the process of writing and shopping a novel after that success a matter of building on fresh experience and continuing with the momentum, or was it a matter of starting from “square one”? Is every book a case of learning to walk again? Are you exhausted or invigorated by the nuts and bolts realities of bringing a book from the imagination to its spot on commercial shelf space?

JM: To my surprise, the process of writing a novel didn’t feel all that different. Maybe that’s because Amazonia was a very novelistic piece of nonfiction–I almost thought of subtitling it A Novel With Facts. Of course having one published book under my belt gave me extra confidence when it came to embarking on a second one. But shopping a novel has been a very different, somewhat dispiriting process. At the moment, literary fiction is not regarded as commercial dynamite: quite the opposite. So the quiet charms of this current book have yet to work their voodoo on the right editor.  I’m streamlining the manuscript, cutting to the chase a little faster, and I think that will help. I’m sure the book will be published. But it’s been a bumpier road than I anticipated.

SA: Are there special writers (or specific books) that sparked your earliest dreams of being a writer? If so, are there any you loved in those formative years which continue to inspire, instruct and amaze you?

JM: Just the usual stuff: Johnny Tremain, Beckett, J.F. Powers, the Rabbit books, Flaubert, The Dream Songs, Jane Smiley’s Ordinary Love & Good Will, everything by Flann O’Brien, Nabokov (always with a grain of salt), Tristram Shandy, Primo Levi, everything by Penelope Fitzgerald, Yeats, the two Roths (Joseph and Philip), Ian Frazier, Janet Malcolm, Mandelstam, Dickens, Rilke, Albert Murray, Aldo Buzzi, everything by Redmond O’Hanlon, Emerson, Whitman, Edith Wharton, and the late, great Eric Newby. Those are the things I take down and reread bits of. My earliest fixation was science fiction, and I’m sure the urbane ghost of Robert Heinlein hovers over everything word I write. Why hasn’t anybody made a movie of Stranger In A Strange Land?    

SA: Can you recall for us your best or most memorable moment as a professional writer? 

JM: Finishing a book, any book, is a highly memorable moment. I wrote the last paragraph of this novel at the Mercantile Library on 47th Street, tearing up with relief and gratitude. Getting to the end is a triumph. The other triumph (for me, anyway) is connecting the book with the outside world. That’s part of why I always love readings: for a moment the book comes out of solitary confinement and has a public life. (The other reason I love readings is that I desperately crave attention. Hence my chosen career.)

IntraView #2: Karen Novak

Karen with Tree

SA: I read a chapter of Five Mile House last night and it’s beautifully written…there’s a heavy liquid feeling to it. I read it several times, actually, but the first time I got a little less than halfway into it (the first mention of the domestic deaths) and thought: should I read this? I knew if you showed me something horrible I wouldn’t be able to shrug it off because the writing had mass and momentum and was forcing me to believe despite the fact that I know better. If something is poorly written I have the luxury of sneering or shrugging but if it’s put together well I lose that option.
How do you write child murder without suffering? You’re either much tougher inside than I am or you’re paying some kind of price for handling the material.
KN: Yours was essentially the question I wanted to explore.  We had just moved from a thimble-sized town in upstate New York to Cincinnati–12 years ago, now–and at the time of our move, in North Carolina, a young mother named Susan Smith had drowned her young sons.  This, of course, a terrible, terrible tragedy.  What caught my attention, however, was the viciousness with which other mothers in the same town, it was a small town, attacked Smith’s actions.  Way beyond the expected responses of horrified shock or pity, these women were on camera clamoring for the right to pull the switch on the electric chair.  Instinct did the emotional math.  This was guilt speaking.  These other mothers, whose small children must have played and gone to school with the victims, had know those boys were in a dangerous situation; they’d known and done nothing.  How do you handle that?
How do you handle if it is your job to mediate families towards at least a couple hours of civil co-existence and the under-staffed office throws you into the contrapositive universe where you are only called to the scene too late to do your job?  How do you handle the inevitable implied questions of why you needed to fix families as your life’s work?  How do you handle it when fixing other people’s families is ruining your own?  And so on and so forth and in infinite the spiraling that leads to upness and downness and strangeness.  The three principle qualities of a quark. 
I handle it by reading quantum mechanics and a lot of poetry and staying the fuck away from fiction.  Like you, I have an imagination with no filters between the real and the fantasized.  It’s the price fiction writers pay for the ability to put the triggers of real experience on a page.  The price can be costly.  Fiction materials: films, books, especially music, must be chosen with immense care for long term reverb emotive effect.  I am not tough.  Very much the opposite. 
SA: The New York Times had this to say while reviewing your fourth and most recent book, The Wilderness: “Karen Novak’s first novel, ”Five Mile House” (2000), in which she introduced a police detective named Leslie Stone who could see dead people, was pretty strange. The second book in the series, ”Innocence” (2003), in which the spirits of murdered children clamored for Leslie’s attention, was stranger still. Now Novak has written something really weird.”
Forgetting for a moment the compliment inherent in a reviewer’s claim that something you’d written was so out of the ordinary that it was “weird”, do you agree? Do you set out to shock, disorient or disturb the reader?
KN: Before I set about coming to grips with the, “are you doing this to readers on purpose?” implications of your question, allow me to congratulate you on getting done what no one before you has yet to do: acknowledging that the Times review exists.  Not that the passage you quote is unfamiliar, but as a general rule—among other general rules such as keep breathing—I do not read my reviews. This practice is based on the wisdom of my much loved/much terrifying mentor, genius writer, miracle teacher Fred Busch: “If you give credence to the good reviews then you have to give credence to the bad ones.”  Writers have this kind of job.  Reviewers have that kind of job.  Unhappiness, confusion, and bar brawls are most often the result of confusing the two.
There is also the fact this review was published December 26, 2004, the same morning we learned of the tsunami that took a quarter of a million lives in the south Pacific. I forgot about the book section that day.
My true first concern, to the extent that it becomes an overriding neurosis manifested in the work, is that I not bore the reader or waste the reader’s time. Worse, that I dread insulting the reader’s intelligence by over-explicating the obvious. These concerns are also based on lessons from Fred. Fred passed away in February 2006, and since I haven’t yet begun to begin to find an entry into a way to grieve his loss, abiding by these lessons are my meager means of honoring the man.
SA: So there’s a sense of responsibility hanging over you as you work…
KN: Responsibility to be true to my characters while being clear for the reader, yeah.  After that, it’s all about trying to understand what the hell I’m doing.  Writing abounds with helpful but meaningless little dicta: “Show don’t tell” (then why is it storytelling?); “Write what you know” (well, won’t that be thrilling for both of us?). After you’ve been wrestling words into narrative long enough, you develop the intuitive leap of logic needed to fill in the blanks not left visible for filling. Show don’t tell is the pithier way of saying that telling a story is most compelling when told through showing a sequence of telling details.  Write what you know means write what you would want to read.  I want to read books that make me feel the way I felt when I first read Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, and Nabokov’s Lolita, and Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and James’s Turn of The Screw, and Borges’s Labyrinths, and Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House….
That list could go on, but it is on point enough to hint at the pattern in the Eros of my reading choices: I want to know how we figure out as individuals what to call real and then how do we share that reality with one another?  What of that shared reality is trustworthy?  So, yes, I do think I make a deliberate effort to disorient the reader in the same manner as an elaborate hedge maze.  The purpose of the books are not to leave the reader feeling disturbed, but to keep harping on my life’s mission statement: Pay attention to who is telling the story.  The storytellers are the ones with the power and the agenda.  Don’t trust us.  It’s all fiction.  Always.
SA: I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few chapters from the manuscript of your work in progress, The Damascus Room. What I especially enjoy is reading a “conscious” text…a text that has a scaffold of strategies already in place instead of being the usual hit-and-miss accumulation of sentences (even if the “conscious” order is actually subconscious in places). It’s like watching a painter at work who knows what she wants the painting to look like from the early stages…underpainting with a specific tone…leaving a space here for this form and a space there for that..sketching in tentative foreground and background figures. It was extremely interesting to have this peek at the schematic. What I’ve read of it thus far has the complexity of a fugue based not on individual notes but other fugues.
How did you work out your method? What’s the philosophy, or personal mathematics, behind your approach?
KN: Watch me get in trouble real fast here: I’ve been around for 50 years, and there’s no avoiding the reality that male and female minds process narrative with different strategies.  Nature is not an art critic; Nature has good cause.  I believe female minds process consciousness in a manner akin to the reverse perspective used in Russian Orthodox Iconography.  It’s a primate survival mechanism: the ability to keep the entire environment actively present, proportionately the same size, and elicit meaning from positioning.  Part of it may be a factor of spending 40 years living in a 28 day circle; the linear perspective of logic and a past in which events recede in size and importance with time may be a factor of getting to live a life with only linear time to manage.  It wasn’t until I was expecting our first daughter that I even recalled linear time existed.  Nine full months of straight forward progression toward a definable goal. The only gravity I had to deal with was that of my own will–until the first contraction reminded me of my factory-installed operating system.  I grieved over the loss of straight line time and went back into biological orbit.
I’m getting unforgivable with the self-indulgence.  Anyway: This is leading toward my acceptance of the Women’s Fiction subset of Fiction in general.  I decided if I were to be tagged a writer of Women’s Fiction I would write a new way to understand what those words meant even if the way women understand the world is not well served by the language we share with our brothers.  In the new novel, I’m trying to create icons of feminine experience in words–broken up with straight dramatic passages like the one you read called Killing Phillip (I’m not cruel–to the reader).  I’m hanging those icons on the walls of a haunted church.   

The more I tried to pin it down, the more I began to realize that “women’s fiction” meant whatever it was that caused the look of simultaneous panic and tedium in my husband’s eyes whenever I said there was something I needed to talk about.  It’s not our stories; it’s the way we tell them. 
SA: You walk a razor wire between making Art and being responsible to a readership (and fans of your ongoing Leslie Stone character).
KN: Thank you also for acknowledging the quandaries of commercial publishing.   Every writer I’ve ever met has scarred up soles and carries first aid supplies along with the pens.  The realities of my situation are challenging: I did not publish my first novel until my mid-forties, the novel was marketed as genre and I as a writer of “women’s fiction,” all of which meant little as publishing-as-we-understand-it was entering its ongoing death throes.  I sometimes bristle at the mystery genre tag because I find it self-defeating: mystery readers are going to pick up my books and feel betrayed.  My editor says: “You’ve invented your own genre.”  No, it’s called fiction.  And really? That’s rather cool.
SA: What I find amazing, still, is that the trick called “writing” works…that a static grid of markings arranged on a page (clusters of these markings bearing each a complex of “meanings” agreed upon by a consensus of strangers, mostly dead) to reference, when decoded, the describable world…these markings flower into universes, unique to us, behind our eyes, while in front of our eyes, simultaneously, we still see only these markings! We take it for granted. But it strikes me as miraculous.
KN: If there are miracles?  This is the only one I need. 
SA: How far are you into the process with The Damascus Room?
KN: Way past deadline.   I will confess to spending 2 and a-half years on a first draft that I loved with all my heart (still do) while knowing it was what the kids today would call a “hot mess.”  Just to prove I am capable of brevity, you will not be subjected to the laundry list of mitigating circumstances.  Let’s just say, I had to begin again and am astonishedly thankful for the failure to be so pleased with the new work.  The sourest aftertaste of the memory remains that of my behavior.  Word advising I return to the drawing board arrived on a day of phone calls each relaying dimmer pictures of the future than the last.  Email is not always a friend.  I will spend the rest of my life saying, “I’m sorry Felicity,” and never feel I’ve said it enough.  The reader is always right.  Cringe.  My God, I was the Asshole Writer.  I’m sorry, Felicity.
Speaking of agents and the problematic elements of publishing…Do you have or are you interested in traditional representation in the world of big house publication?
SA: I skirted, years back, the outer regions of the red light district of publishing and had several not-entirely-reassuring experiences.
I’ll relate the funny one: a woman who was a local force on a fairly well-fed literary scene had a serious in with one of the biggest (if not the biggest) small presses in the country. She read the stuff I was doing in the mid-’90s, said she liked it, and mentioned her serious in. She said, in fact, that we could have a face to face with the publisher, the big man himself, in a few weeks. Metaphysical sidebar: I’d written a short story the previous year in which a publisher figure with the big man’s actual first name featured prominently! So, you can imagine how predestined it all seemed to me.
I said: great! I thought: wow, it’s all so easy! Then she said, hey, by the way, I need help painting my kitchen!
Uh…Okay…I said (stumbling over my mind’s inability to process what I at first considered a fairly amazing non sequitur). 
The “help” she needed in painting her kitchen was this: she needed someone to paint her kitchen. So, I painted her kitchen…after clearing all the crap out of it, washing and sanding the old paint on the walls, ceiling, molding and window trim…taping off the windows. Two coats. Wait…maybe it was three coats. I seem to remember her wanting to put sea foam over sierra crimson or something (the kitchen hadn’t been done since the ’80s).
Two weeks later (after several postponements) we show up for our lunchtime appointment with the big man. He’s very gracious, and gives us a tour of the place. We’re introduced to the staff! He guides us to the conference room, where we’re joined by his chief reader: the filter guy, the Swatch-obsessed guy with the sceptical scowl! And before I can say one sentence about myself or what I’m doing…the woman I’m there with…the woman with the brand-new kitchen… launches into a jokey, passionate, arm-twisting presentation for…two other writers! Writers that aren’t me, I mean. These two wonderful, moving, truth-tellingly life-affirming books that the big man just had to have a look at. And so on. For thirty, forty minutes, we all talked about or around these books. Being polite to a fault back then, I asked pertinent questions at decent intervals and nodded my head judiciously and agreed with the big man that these two books sounded intriguing indeed. Oh, and with ten minutes left of the meeting, it was my turn.
I was somewhat thrown off. I couldn’t remember my prepared statement. I did not dazzle. I stuttered, in fact…I’m pretty sure I stuttered. I think I may have said something about writing to express myself, or to stay out of trouble. I walked out of that meeting with burning earlobes. I walked home. I avoided downtown for the rest of the summer.
KN: From now and forever forward you own writers’ bragging rights to the phrase “I painted a kitchen.”  If it were in my power, your story would also move into the OED as the official definition of writer in the avocational sense because who else but a real writer would do that?  I’ve painted kitchens.  Freaking hard work.  I will paint only my own kitchen; although I once painted that of my future mother-in-law trying to prove that her son’s marrying a writer wasn’t an entire waste. I sense a theme.  Writers can paint.  Kitchens?  
SA: Your first book, Five Mile House, was published with Bloomsbury in 2000…what were you doing ten years before that? Were you already working diligently towards that moment, or would you have been astounded back then to be shown a glimpse of your future as a published writer? 
KN: I was born accursed with Poe’s Midnight Disease.  I’ve always been a writer, no matter how diligently I’ve tried to be other more useful things.  I’ve worked in advertising copywriting, technical writing, and translation.  Noble applications of my language addiction.  I was reading dictionaries when I was five.  In grade 10, assigned a week-long fiction exercise of story that had to be five pages in length, handwritten, double-spaced, I came in on the due date pleading for an extension.  Five days and I was 30 pages in, single-spaced, typed.  No hope for me.
When I became serious about writing fiction, I was told to expect an apprenticeship of about 10 years, which means more in writing—or any of the other arts—than attending classes.  In layperson’s terms: it is the dreaded paying of dues.   For the decade before Five Mile House was published I had been writing Five Mile House, or as it was called for that decade The Architecture of Sleep.  (One of the conditions of my first contract was we were changing that damn title.)  The only means of learning to write a novel is to keep writing that novel until it is a novel.  Writing dozens of short fiction pieces will make one well acquainted with short fiction.  Short fiction is about sentences.  Novels are about scenes.
So I had this idea, and it was a novel.  I was zero-bone certain of that.  Have to back up a bit: We were living in a small upstate New York town at this time.  I had two very young daughters.  My husband would take over on the weekends so I could write.  The only classes available, that I could afford, were through the State University of New York.  Those classes were in basic composition and critical theory.  No one can spend too much time on fundamentals.  Besides, I would be expected to write.  It was in the composition class that I found my fiction voice starting to return.
I use the verb “return”.  However, I won’t bore you with the explanation other than there had been two decades of self-imposed writing silence that seemed the price of survival.  What I did not understand about born writers at that juncture was that simply because no words are appearing on a page did not mean the writing brain was not writing copiously and with great, patient joy.
SA: Was the first book a difficult birth?
KN: I started serious work on my novel in 1991.  Back then it read as a very dark fairy tale.  When I’d finished maybe the fifteenth draft of the thing, my best friend, whose husband was the local internist, mentioned that one of his patients happened to be award winning novelist Frederick Busch.  Would I like Professor Busch (who was teaching at Colgate University about 30 miles up the road from us) to read my book?  Well, sure.  Then the writer who had been compared to Dickens and Melville could tell me to put down the pen, get two day jobs and hold on to those for dear life. 
There are days I wish that was how it had turned out. But no.  That was the beginning of the six freaking, “Sorry, Karen.  Write it again,” letters.  When Fred said, “Write it again.”  He meant, “Gut it.  Start again, page one.”  Do you know how long it takes to completely revise 300 pages six times?  While raising children?  And finishing a degree?  It takes 10 years.
How ashamed am I it took so long to realize my luck in finding a mentor who believed in me so strongly that he’d keep shoving me back in the deep end until I got the point that I had to swim because the pool didn’t care?  The last shove was the one that did it.  The novel was already with an agent, and Fred sent me what is known in the mythology as The Five Page It Sucks Letter.  I should pull it back and Write It Again.  I.  Was.  Pissed.
Another recently late, great, dear and grumpy old soul Kurt Vonnegut held that a writer should never sit down to write unless truly, thoroughly, fucking-up-to-there-had-it-pissed-off.  I was in such a state when I sat down at my computer, opened a new file and typed, “My name is Eleanor and this is my house.”  Until that moment, the novel had no character named Eleanor.  Apparently, the novel had been waiting for Eleanor.  This final draft wrote itself was as though it was driven by rocket fuel.  Within the year I had a contract with Bloomsbury and a whole new set of expectations to be adjusted.
SA: So, between the moment of the book’s inception and its acceptance by Bloomsbury, it smash-evolved from a blob of protoplasm into a freshman at an Ivy League school, basically.
KN: Strangely, only one passage in the novel has never been altered no matter how many drafts its undergone.  It’s the first chapter nervous breakdown of the main character, the one you mentioned at the top of the interview. I remember writing it.  I can barely cope with that memory.  I don’t think I’ve looked at the printed passage of that scene more than once. Yet, Innocence and the novel I’m currently working and reworking, The Damascus Room, are an attempt to explain why what happens in that scene happens.  The subconscious knows nothing about publishing; it has its spinning wheel and bales of straw that must be transformed.   
Et voilà, your decade long answer that responds to writing part of the 10-year apprenticeship.  The other needed element is getting out in the world and building a life.  Writers can spend way too much time writing.  We carry our little notebooks everywhere; we talk about the best books to read.  I suggest going out and reading a tree.  Read the shopping basket of the person in front of you at the grocer.  Read the way kids saunter around the mall or how the loners will change course to avoid making contact with groups.  Read life.  Read with compassion.  This is the stuff of which metaphors are made.  When you need it, you will be able to call up the perfect detail with an emotional clarity that no notebook is going to provide. 

Once your work enters the publication process, no matter the size of the house, the emotional clarity required is basic realism on the part of the writer.  Your real goal here is to exhibit as much professionalism as your anxieties will allow you to muster.  When production gives you a deadline, they are serious about that date.  They know writers, our obsessive need to tinker; so you get maybe ten days to approve your galleys and get them back to the managing editor.  Can’t stress these two aspects of relationship building strongly enough: make your deadlines and be opening to editorial suggestion.  No matter how strongly you believe in your work, the “from God’s lips to my hand” attitude has sunk more book deals than you’d begin to guess.  Be willing to compromise.  Be willing to change your title.  If it’s a matter of real contention, let your agent do the fighting for you.  A good agent is worth her weight in angels, gold, and Godiva chocolates—not to mention the pittance of the commission. 

You probably have three passes at approving ever tighter edits of your text before it goes to print.  With each one, changes cost money and those costs are charged against your advance.  You have no say over your cover art.  That decision is made by an art department and is part of marketing.  Perhaps as one gains clout in sales and fame, one is consulted.  I get advance color copies.  Again, exceptionally lucky.  I love my covers.  Sometimes I think I write the novels just so I can get a cover created.  Publishers have no budget to market mid-list books.  There are no power lunches. You can work your tail off to arrange readings and signings, which no one will attend.  I teach at conferences and take on private students. In this market, the book sells because of the renown of the writer.  I have an old New Yorker cartoon of a writer standing outside a publisher’s door.  The writer is wearing a sandwich-board that reads “Please involve me in your scandal.”  Perhaps it should read: “Will paint kitchens.” 
SA: This interview is shaping up to be a fairly detailed Writing Seminar. 
KN: It seems a forever ago.  I very much miss the feeling of, “and then life will be wonderful” that attends the publication fantasies of the unpublished.  It is sad that the American culture equates commercial success with quality of work.  Also, June is writing seminar mode around here.  Although, I’m slogging through homesickness because for the first time in eleven years, I won’t be able to attend the Colgate Writers’ Conference.   
I started attending the Conference in its first year, when it was the Chenango Valley Writers’ Conference.  Colgate University, in Hamilton, NY, had asked Fred Busch to set this thing up because all the other universities had writers’ conferences and he wrote to me in Ohio, teasingly promising he was designing the week-long shindig with me in mind.  It was a joke based on my paralyzing shyness.  I went anyway.  First year as a student.  I’ve been teaching the novel tutorial for the past 4 years.  Health issues have me housebound this year.  I will be back.  Everything I know about writing, I learned through this conference.  If a writer were to ask where to go to work on writing?  This is the one.

The most important lesson of my writing life was harsh and left me angry for a long time.  It began over lunch on the final day of the conference, back when Fred was still the Director.  Five Mile House was soon to be released and was “the hot buzz book” in New York.  I was levitating with excitement and said something to the effect of how excited everyone involved seemed to be.  That’s when Fred, ever the real-world realist, said, “Of course, they’re excited.  You haven’t failed them, yet.”  Gee, thanks Dad.

I would learn, he was simply telling me the truth.  More so, he was giving me permission to fail, permission to disappoint the expectations of others.  Which, of course, made the irony all the more bittersweet, when Fred made it clear that I’d disappointed him with the choice I’d made with my writing.  I could live with that.  I know what I’m doing.

Ask around.  I’m not known for being the good daughter.
SA: Like animal life on the planet, the literary forms and genres share the overwhelming majority of their DNA…the difference between so-called “literary fiction” and “memoir”, for example, is more often about packaging than content, especially at the esoteric end of the scale. Maybe it’s the “hack” (not to be misconstrued as a pejorative term) who, in offering the reader the pleasures of a conventional story-telling form (equivalent in perceived purity to Delta Blues or Death Metal), writes the easily classifiable book. Certainly, no one would confuse most of Theodore Sturgeon’s great work in the field of Science Fiction for “Chick Lit”.
Are you against the notion of genre? As a female novelist writing books that deal with crime (among other themes), do you find that you, or your books, are often misclassified? Would you prefer to simply call your work “fiction” and leave it at that, or do you have a hybrid form in mind? 
KN: Oy, human beings are right royal little hierarchy generating engines, are we not?  In the way of my kind, I’m going to offer you three approaches in an attempt to answer your complex question: 1) the reality of contemporary marketing, 2) the reality of human nature, and 3) my reality.  Synchronicity came to visit a few minutes ago, bringing this New Yorker article “The Formula” to my attention:
To quote William Goldman as he is quoted in the article above: “No one knows anything.”  The article is about a computer program that can predict box-office take based on narrative elements in a screenplay.  Novels won’t be far behind.
I’m not a writer who keeps tabs on the day-to-day moods of the publishing industry.  What I know is depressing enough, and I want to underscore that no one from writer to agent to editor to bookseller is dancing with glee in these times.   We all know the parable of James Frey and A Million Little Pieces, a book he shopped around as a novel until he was counseled it would be more marketable as a memoir.  He revised as he thought appropriate and got caught lying about his own life.  Because that never happens in every bar, job interview, or first date. 
SA: Good point, despite how I feel about Frey’s writing.
KN: Writing pushed aside—far aside.  All that really happened to Mr. Frey is that the publisher changed the genre classification where bookstores would shelve his book.  Assigning genre as a marketing tool has become a default necessity in the age of big box chain bookstores and the Internets.  In the ancient days of independent bookstores, a customer entered expecting the staff to know the stacks as a sommelier would know the cellar.  Books were recommended and hand sold based on the staff’s knowledge of a customer’s tastes.  That kind of intimacy between bookseller and reader is rare in the extreme these days.  At least, it is here in America.  One has to make a commitment to seek the independents out and an even larger commitment to pay the higher prices to keep them in business. 
For marketing purposes, my books are shelved with the mysteries.   The word mystery is on the cover to indicate genre for shelving purposes. The reason being mystery books have one of the largest, most loyal readerships of all genres.  I can go along with that nominal classification.  We’ve already established the weird angle; mysterious as ambiance is a tone I much admire.  This strategy is definitely double-edged and no one escapes unscathed.  First because what I write are not mysteries in the Mystery Genre sense.  A reader who is looking for that sort of book is going to hate me, and will not be buying future literary endeavors of mine. 
It also makes the bookstore and the publishers—this is my opinion—appear to have not actually read the books they’re selling.  An unfair judgment as massive amounts of time, energy, and financial risk go into publishing a modest run of a mid-lister such as me.  Until someone comes up with enough books to warrant the shelving space and a sku number for Weird Stuff, Mystery is probably the closest to the right genre in term of marketing my books.
SA: What I don’t get about “genre” is how arbitrary the taxonomy can be. For example, I doubt that many would shelve Nabokov’s Lolita beside the adventures of Marlowe, Marple and Poirot, but Humbert Humbert is a detective, following a trail of clues before finally uncovering the identity of his nemesis. It’s a postmodern whoddunit, to be sure (the “hero” is as guilty of the “crime” as the “villain” is, and his “justice” is yet another crime), but a whodunnit nevertheless. I’m bothered by the implication that it’s the high quality of the writing that defines the book out of the category.  

KN: The term gets tossed around in an arbitrary fashion, often by those who intend a different meaning.  Genre is not a synonym for generic, yet I’ve been in discussions where it slowly dawns that distinction is not clear to one of the speakers.  I like to work from the proposition that genre and literature are to the mythos of emotionally informed reality what application and research are to the laws of scientifically informed reality.  In genre fiction, clearly established archetypes are put through iterations of classic hero quests that resolve in expected and emotionally satisfying, reassuring fashion.  Every genre book proves that the rules of the social contract work because the genre books work according to the rules. Just as a baby will continually drop a toy from his high chair: the purpose is not to annoy the adults; the purpose is to guarantee the constancy of gravity and down.  How is one to learn to stand upright, if one cannot be absolutely sure of down? Grade 7 science prep students do experiments with how a candle burns, not because anyone expects a grade 7 student to come up with a new theory of combustion, but to drive home the concept of a shared and reliably stable reality.

Literature is the research arm of the mythos.  It distorts the archetypes, complicates them, reduces their predictable behavior, makes them human beings.  Literatures set up mythic equations of classic terms and then changes an essential variable: say, adds authentic human beings where once were types.  What happens if the hero leaves on his quest and comes home something less than a hero, but only he knows it?  What happens if instead of the mother dying to protect her child, the mother kills her child simply because the kid is an inconvenience?  What happens to the mythos if the hero who is avenging his lady love is also her rapist?  How much can the mythos take before it shatters and a paradigm shift becomes necessary?  Literature, I believe, tries to stay ahead of that question, tries to have some emergency back-up myths in place. 

From my perspective both aspects are essential to the maintenance and growth of this being that lives both on an individual plane and a social one.  Genre allows us to speak to each other from inside the same story; Literature shows us how to go it alone as the freaks we fear ourselves to be.  All of us are doing both, simultaneously, to the best of our abilities each and every day of our lives.  That Nabokov can make us see that in Humbert Humbert?  He’s close to turning the American mythos inside out.  That’s what great literature does, makes one aware of the power of context.

SA: There’s certainly a vogue among academics to treat works of “genre” with this sort of elevated analysis, but your average “literary critic” still, I suspect, turns up her/his nose at anything that smells of “guilty pleasure”. And even the academics seek higher qualities in the subconscious or unintended structures of “genre” fiction, as though the “genre” writer can’t be knowingly brilliant or masterful. Phillip K. Dick is lionized for the genie of his insanity but the venerable JG Ballard suffers a borderline reputation, being neither insane nor free of the taint of science fiction, ranking below the fresh-faced Jonathan Safran Foer, presumably.

KN: Which brings us to the use of genre as the dismissive, the implication of the hack—no matter how valiantly you try to raise the word above the pejorative.  You got “Chick Lit.”  Others?  “Pot boiler.”  “Beach Read.”  “Bodice Ripper.”  Lee Abbott has said there is no such thing as unworthy stories only unworthy writing.  You mention science fiction.  If that is a genre, a predictable run-through of predictable types that is beneath the consideration of serious readers and critical thought?  Then good-bye Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke and Sturgeon and Neal Stephenson and Phillip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison.  You are better than the regression of fantasy writing?  Enjoy your life without Neil Gaiman and Ursula K LeGuin (who was hanging out here having been exiled from sci-fi) and Marion Zimmer Bradley and Lewis Carroll and that Rowling chick.  I could keep going.  The point makes itself.
SA: You don’t see the necessity for the barbed wire fence between “Literary Fiction” and other genres with healthier fan bases.
KN: I have no patience for any form of elitism when it comes to content.  Writers get no control over their content; true writing is accomplished when the waking mind is lulled off-line so that the subconscious can transcribe directly to the page.  Lucid dreaming.  We dream what we dream.  Our control enters, our talent, and, occasionally, a gift in the matters of craft, shaping that dream so that it may be dreamt by others.  If my intent is to make you see unicorns or to make you taste the first slug of scotch after having been dumped by your girlfriend, all that counts is how real I am able to make the conch shell spiraling of the unicorn’s horn or the smoky bite of that scotch as it slides by the iced over fire where your heart used to be.  All that counts is if I can recreate a believable other world inside your mind.  The ability to do so is all I have ever wanted.  If that isn’t magic, what then would be magic’s definition?
That is the short form of my reality when it comes to genre.  I know there’s no escaping the human need to organize and quantify and make judgments of quality based on the silliest of scales.  I do it all the time, myself<–viciously judgmental.  I know I’m going to be classified as a mystery by bookstores.  I’m grateful to the bookstores for shelving me wherever.  I know my publisher is going to market me as women’s fiction.  It’s unbelievable good fortune to have a publisher at all, and yeah, I do write on topics that are of more interest to the laaaadies.  I know a lot of important writers are going to dismiss me without reading my work because it is women’s fiction sitting in the mystery section and they can’t afford to waste time reading such nonsense.   And that’s okay.  I don’t read their books either.  Because I get bored very easily.  Elitists tend to write boring books.  Not to mention I get all Ms. Snooty McSnoot-Snoot over The DaVinci Code
In the very end, I no longer care to call my books anything other than fiction.  I write what I want and need to write.  I work my fingers and brain to mush trying to craft something a certain sort of reader might enjoy.  Then I walk out to the edge of the world and toss my creature into the abyss with the fondest hope that somewhere in the pages I thought to pack a parachute.  Or better yet, wings.

Links to Karen Novak’s work:

IntraView #1: Gerard Jones

GJ-tender age

SA: I’d like to interview you for my peculiar little Lit page. Art Thou game?

GJ: Sure, I’m always game but I never know what I’m gonna say.  I seem to be containing more multitudes every day.  Hey, that’s a pome.

SA: That’s the spirit! I’ll send the questions along before the weekend…

GJ: Okey-dokey.

(days go by)

SA: I’ve fallen a bit behind in schedule… questions coming before Monday eve!

GJ: Oh, don’t worry about it, I ain’t going anywhere.  You’ll probably get in trouble for having anything to do with me when you read the latest chapter in my new little book.  I’ve got Anthony Burgess’s agent reading GG.  Something might come of that, but I doubt it.

Disclaimer: GJ’s politics are very much his own and not to be confused with those of the interviewer’s

Gerard Jones IntraView Part One

SA: So, the thing about this interview is I want to avoid doing a typical, dry, straightforward ‘literary’ interview…I’d rather your views on reading and writing come out indirectly in broad responses dealing with your experiences as a creative thinker on earth. You’ve done and seen a lot and I’m curious how that formed (forms) the artist…there’s an easily recognizable Gerard Jones flavor to your writing that mere questions about craft or literary influences won’t get at the roots of. Some of the questions are slightly ambiguous…some may seem flippant or bizarre…but all the better.

I won’t edit what you write in response (not even a typo), so make sure that you’re comfortable with whatever you send me being read as is by the buxom, thin, rich widows comprising my target demographic.

GJ: The trouble with interviews is they only say what was going on with the guy who got interviewed at the time the interview took place.  Tomorrow my answers will be completely different.  Oh, well.

First, as an introduction, tell us who you are, please, and describe what you do:

Like my name?  Gerard Jones.  I’m old.  I’m forgetful.  I have more aches and pains than I would prefer but Shakespeare had been dead for ten years when he was my age.  I write stuff.  Which means I edit stuff and rewrite stuff.  A lot.  I do what I like to do the way I like to do it.  I’m stubborn and sickeningly sensitive and go to a lot of trouble to not to be full of shit and to tell the truth as best I’ve been able to figure it out.  What I know so far seems to change less and less, so that’s progress, I guess, but I’m always up for a good surprise and still get one now and again.  I’m an excellent putter but can’t hit a golf ball far enough.  I used to be cute.  I’m not that cute now.  That pisses me off.  I only write about stuff that’s not stupid.  I’m pretty “inner-directed.”  Popular opinion is silly.  I like who I am.  I like people who like me and I don’t like people who don’t like me, but it doesn’t seem to be on any sort of strictly tit-for-tat basis.

I wrote a book called GINNY GOOD, am writing a book called THE BOOK OF ISAAC, and made up a website called, which has been pissing off around twenty thousand of the most influential literary agents, talent agents, publishers, independent movie guys, movie studios, media guys, publicists and booksellers, creative writing teachers, and blogger dweebs in the US, UK and Canada for the past five years or so.

1. Are the talents you have the ones you needed?

For what I do, yeah.  Being who you are is sort of self-limiting.

2. When did you wake up and smell the coffee?

Falling in love when I least expected and taking acid the first few times was, um, eye-opening.

3. Whose ring would you kiss?

Ring Lardner’s.  Celine’s.  Nabokov’s.  Grace Paley’s.  Shakespeare’s.  A bunch of holy guys, Jesus and Muhammad and Buddha and Lao Tzu and Sri Ramakrishna.  Lots of people’s rings I’d kiss I’ve already kissed and still have the taste of gold or silver or copper in my mouth.

4. Do you believe in the existence of Evil?

Oh, yeah, and I get down on my knees and thank heaven for it every day.

5. Art or science?

Both.  Things have to make sense but mechanics doesn’t mean much without a healthy dose of ineffable stuff.

6. Sex or dinner?

I’ve never been much for fancy dinners.

7. Artistic or professional high point?

Making the audio book of Ginny Good.  I did it all on my own so it’s not as “professional” as it could have been but that was part of its charm.  That it can’t make money is another thing I like about it.  It’s the definition of art for art’s sake.  Nobody but a blockhead makes art for anything but art’s sake.  Plus I got to rewrite the whole book all over again and listen to a ton of music I hadn’t heard in awhile…most of which didn’t make the final cut.

8. Spiritual low point?

Oh, a bunch.  However high the high point was, that’s how low the low point goes.  The highest and lowest are equally indescribable.  The beauty of truth lies in them equaling each other out:  “…his flawed heart- ‘Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief, Burst smilingly…” sums it up.

9. Some advice on how to write a sex scene in such a way as to avoid winning a prize for worst sex scene, please

Same as you write anything worth writing, don’t be full of shit, know the meanings of the words you use.  Read it out loud.  If you can’t do that without feeling like an idiot, chances are what you’ve written needs to be fiddled with some more.

10. Name an obscure artist (of any discipline) we should be aware of

Roberto Matta.

11. The best sentence(s) you’ve ever written?

Ah, there’ve been so many.  The beginning sentences of GG were pretty good.  “I’m using everyone’s real name.  They can all sue me.  I hope they do.”  You can go almost anywhere from there, word by word, sentence by sentence, and pretty soon you’ve got a whole book which you can then edit and rewrite a hundred times until it says what you want it to say.  It’s like “Call me Ishmael.”  Why Ishmael?  Why “call me.”  Ishmael’s not your real name?  What gives here?

12. The best bad thing about you?

Hm.  Seeing too many sides all at once.

“The centipede was happy, quite,
Until a toad in fun
Said, ‘Pray, which leg goes after which?’
This worked his mind to such a pitch,
He lay distracted in a ditch,
Considering how to run.”

–Alan Watts (I think)

13. What question would you pose to the next interviewee?

Why are you doing this interview?

As a parting gift, would you leave us with your favorite recipe? (for food, drink, or disaster)

Oh, disaster’s the simplest recipe of all:

“It’s a-hard and it’s hard, ain’t it hard
To love one that never did love you?”

SA: Beautiful, GJ! Give me a few days to edit…

GJ: Interviews is such fun.  You’ve read no doubt the old Paris Review interviews.  A bunch of guys are doing ’em now, but their questions suck.

While editing the first interview, it struck me that my attempt to ask “unusual” questions that would improve on the standard had failed, in a way. I realized that such questions were better suited to an interview for a glossy magazine, the proper subject of such an interview being a household name. I toyed with the possibility of getting depressed about the futility of trying to do anything here that would improve on the standard formula. After all, doesn’t the general public interest (to the extent there is any) in literary interviews derive entirely from the celebrity status of the writers being questioned?

I mentioned this crisis in confidence to GJ and we decided to continue (or redo) the interview in the form of a conversation.–SA

Gerard Jones IntraView Part Two

SA: For years now you’ve been fighting some kind of battle online, and you’re as well known as a fighter of this battle as you are as a writer. I’d call your battle quixotic (in the noblest sense of the word) but “quixotic” means nobly futile, in a way, and your battle has scored some victories. Before I live another (possibly) shamefully ignorant day pretending that I know what this battle of yours is all about, can you explain it? Define it, I mean…how and when it started and what you think it’s all about.

GJ:  It’s part of my personality.  When I was five my family moved to a new neighborhood in Michigan.  The first thing I did was go over to where Bobby John Davies, Jimmy Mattern and Paul Grey were standing around with hockey sticks and say, “Wanna fight?”  They kicked the crap out of me and that was that, we were buddies for the next thirteen years. That turned out to be kind of a paradigm. The “quixotic online battle” is the same general idea, but the guys who run media and entertainment are passive-aggressive pussies who don’t fight back. Here’s an e-mail exchange I just had that might answer the question better, but the short answer is that moneygrubbing media and entertainment moguls have turned the good old US of A into the most fascist police state there’s ever been and that pisses me off so I say so:

Some Guy wrote:

Mr. Jones, On your web page entitled “Advice to Writers, Reviews, etc.” you write:  “How someone who makes the commodity can get intimidated by the guys who hype it I don’t quite get.”

Because the hyper-guy/grl makes the difference between being Yeats or The Friend to whom Yeats writes his lamentation you have posted elsewhere on your site.  Are you saying you never wanted to be Yeats all along? Just the friend? Be honest, Mr. Jones. It’s not too late for a confession, contrition, and to do penance to the all-powerful hyper-guy/grl media conglomerates who make or break us little writer people.  Deep down, me thinks you resent their power as the crux of the problem here. Envision Mel Gibson as Wm. Wallace on the cross-shaped rack at the end of Braveheart, where he’s asked to confess his allegiance to the source of power at the time. That’s all you have to do; then the humane media ax will fall swiftly upon yee neck. No more suffering.

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honour bred, with one
Who, were it proved he lies,
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbours’ eyes?
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

“To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing.”
William Butler Yeats

Loved Ginny Good. You are not alone. Remember what the 60s represented, too much knowledge among the citizens, thus too much social unrest. How can an ordered society that depends on buying and selling markets risk another chaotic decade like that that? It loses money. Social unrest is expensive and costly to repair. Stay on message and you’ll get your next book published. A’ght?


“Yeah, it is too late.  What you’re saying is that Yeats wasn’t Yeats until the Hanes underwear lady said he was Yeats.  What I’m saying is fuck the Hanes underwear lady.  She’s gonna act all coy and it might take her awhile to figure it out but in her heart of hearts that’s what the Hanes underwear lady really, really wants.  Nice e-mail.  Thanks.  G.”

SA: What strikes me is how your struggle for or about or within Art is inseparable from your struggle for or about or within the notion of freedom in modern America. The political “sheep” and the literary “sheep” are as one. Those who buy the party line buy also the bestsellers, or buy the blandness of the concept of bestseller, wholesale. Some of them even want to be well-paid and popular writers…I imagine them having lots of discipline, sitting down every day for a few hours to visualize their book-jacket photos…visualize the blurbs, the readings, the royalty cheques…

The ’50s are remembered as a “square”, conservative, socially and politically repressive era. But it’s always been my understanding that repressive eras breed interesting countercultures, and as “square” as the Eisenhower years were, they spawned The Beats, for example…a loose association of rebels which brings to mind names like Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac and even Paul Bowles, who, although clearly too suave to have been one of the scruffy Beats, was a kind of aesthetic godfather to certain aspects of the movement.

Does Bush-era America have its own “Beats”, in your opinion? Are there new Corsos, Burroughs’s, Kerouacs or even Keseys out there, do you think, thriving under the iron rule of the Neo Square?  If not, why not?

GJ: I remember being at a “gathering” of some sort at a place called the Blue Unicorn on Hayes Street in San Francisco in around 1966 or so and getting into a fight with Kenneth Rexroth about the silliness of politics.  He said it wasn’t silly.  I said it was.  Nobody won but I worried that he was gonna have a heart attack ’cause his face was all red and he spit when he talked and his eyes bugged-out like his head was gonna explode.  Maybe it was a stroke I worried that he was gonna have.  He must have been sixty or so at the time.  Poor old fuck, I said to myself.  Now that I’m sixty or so I don’t get into fights with little snotnoses ’cause I don’t want ’em thinking I’m gonna have a heart attack or a stroke.

As long as the mechanisms by which ideas are spread are owned and operated exclusively by moneymaking ventures (as they all are except for a few unnoticed corners of the Internet) all you’re ever gonna get to see or hear or read is stuff that promotes, protects and defends the art of making of money.  It’s complicated.  I’m trying to figure it out in my Isaac book but it ain’t an easy thing to simplify.  People just think you’re nuts.  What gets written and read is what some moneygrubbing agent or editor or book critic thinks will make money, period.    The highest praise a book can get is how long it’s on the NY Times Bestseller List so squirrely little “writer” boys and girls try to please agents and editors book critics by passing themselves off as the next Dan Brown.  Yikes.  I can’t imagine anyone or anything more grotesque than to try to pass yourself off as Dan Brown, but I don’t make any rules but my own.

Politics is superfluous.  It’s a sop, a distraction, a soap-opera, a Harlequin Romance, just another form of mindless entertainment.  The “Bush-era” might have some significance as an eight-year period of time but otherwise it’s meaningless. Which sectors of the economy are booming is what defines an era.  “Big oil military industrial” seems to be holding sway at the moment. That’ll change. Things have to change in order come up with different ways of making money.  A different sector will take over.  As for “Art,” yeah, it’s showing up all over the place but until someone figures out a way of making money off of it, you’re not going to hear about it.  If you don’t hear about it, it’ll show up anyway, as therapy, as a hobby, as an end in itself, as art for art’s sake.  Virtue really is its own reward.  I do what I do without much hope of pleasing anyone but myself.  That sort of underground, inner-directed “spirit” has always been around. Sometimes it gets noticed and sometimes it doesn’t but whoever has it doesn’t give a shit one way or the other.

SA:  So you think that what America (or the Western Hemisphere) is going through right now is part of the normal cycle of things…the natural ups and downs of the sine wave of history? I was under the impression that things were especially dire. And I can’t tell if the theory that all ‘this” is natural (i.e., has happened before in some ways and will happen again) is more optimistic or more cynical than my feeling that the crap pile has gone nuclear of late?

Or, put it this way:

Are you a nihilist, a Buddhist, or an art-for-art’s-sake purist, above the fray?

GJ: I think the world isn’t defined or limited by what America or the Western Hemisphere does.  The guy who said, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” wasn’t an American, was he?  The glory that was Rome is of another day and all that. I don’t think “Western Civilization” in any way we’ve know it so far will last another hundred years; fifty, maybe, tops, but its final throes might last a while longer than that.  So, yeah, things are especially dire, but that doesn’t mean some other culture won’t rise and fall the same way we have.  I suppose I’m closest to a Buddhist of the three choices but here’s what the guy I call Abraham Lincoln has to say on the subject:

“Oh, kind of a Buddhist variation of Christian, I guess. Jesus is God. God is love. ‘Before Abraham was, I AM,’ Jesus says. Give him a few hundred years and the Dalai Lama could tell you what that means. Alpha and Omega. Beginning and ending-is, was and what’s to come, all at once. What more do you want? What more does anyone want? What more is there? You want some kind of winnowing? A judgment day? The separation of wheat from chaff? You want bad guys to go to hell and good guys to go to some kind of personal everlasting life in some kind of nonsensical heaven? Why? So you can stick in your thumb and pull out a plum and say, ‘What a good girl am I?’ Pfssh. Every day’s judgment day. Every minute of every day you’re either entertaining yourself making love or you’re entertaining yourself making money.”

“And one is good and one is bad?”

“Yep,” Abraham says. “It’s the difference between heaven and hell.”

SA: So, when the shits hit the many fans, you’ll be hitting the road…and then the Ocean…and paddling to an island haven to live post-apocalyptically among dusky, bra-less sylphs, feasting on breadfruit and bathing whenever it suits you. I’m impressed, by the way, by how slangily up-to-date Mr. Lincoln could sound when he wanted to, if the passage you cite is anything to go by. Ahem. Speaking of Lincoln….

…you’ve always impressed me as a Walt Whitman figure. We’ve never met face to face, but I think we spoke on the phone once while Clinton was still in office. We’ve “known” each other for almost ten years, and in that time I’ve watched you go from the rough beginnings of “Ginny Good,” your wonderful novel, to causing a stir with your “Everyone Who’s Anyone in Publishing” website…and then getting “Ginny Good” published and taking on Hollywood with that other infamous site of yours. These accomplishments have a Whitmanesque aura about them…the work of a visionary outsider, willing his life into Art and willing his Art to attention. You aren’t literally walking the open road, but your literary journey is a lonely one.

What kind of price have you paid to speak in that voice you speak in and produce your strange works? Are you a martyr to Art or a free man thumbing his nose at the masses?

And please tell me something about your experiences in various Creative Writing classes of the early days…

GJ: Abraham Lincoln was an arbitrary name.  I had no idea what I was doing with the Isaac book until I did it…and I still haven’t finished the son of a bitch.  It’ll be fun to fiddle with it more when and if I finally figure out how it ends.

We’ve “known” each other for seven years.

GG (Ginny Good) got published ’cause the publisher read about the website in Publisher’s Weekly and thought the book might come with some built-in publicity.  He was wrong.  The thing took me forty years to write and has sold 340 copies in three years.  That’s part of the “price” I guess I’ve paid.  People really hate my guts for reasons I haven’t quite figured out yet and they take it out on the poor book without reading it.  Oh, well.  Kafka sold one short story in his lifetime.  People with half a brain who do read the fucker usually have nice things to say, but I’m not terribly impressed by that, either.  I’m pretty much only impressed by my certainty that it was a hard book to write and I wrote it and got it published the way I wanted to do both of those things.  I was done with it by the time the publisher came along.  I turned the whole “selling” process over to my agent but after I actually started seeing galleys I fiddled with it some more…and fiddled with it even more when I made the audio book, which I adore and have complete control over.  I won’t let another book get published unless I have the kind of control I have of the audio book of GG…which means I won’t get another book “published.”

The only “writing” classes I ever had were those two semesters of night school and the seminar with Gordon Lish I talked about in Chapter Eight of GG.  He was good, though.  Any other classes would’ve been superfluous.  I’m totally uneducated except for hanging out with smart chicks which contributes to the “loneliness” of my “literary” journey, I suppose, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

SA: Is there something you’ve ALWAYS wanted to “say” and never got around to, or avoided because a sense of decorum held you back? Probably not, though…you more than likely say things whenever you’re moved to, tender ears be damned…

GJ: Oh, I pay attention to tender ears.  I even believe it or not have tender ears.  I’ve had in mind a million tons of stuff I never said, most of which I’ve long since forgotten.  What’s stuck in my mind seems by definition to be what matters.  I made a discovery playing golf with Max the Rasta Man yesterday.  He doesn’t do much of anything fake at all.  His hair weighs ten pounds.  When it gets in his way he puts it in a pile on top of his head.  I gotta go talk about Oprah’s hairdo.

After concluding Part Two of Gerard’s interview, I went back and read more from his new novel, The Book of Isaac, where it’s posted online and found, to my surprise, quite a bit that I took exception to. Inasmuch as a good part of Gerard’s interview responses seem, in retrospect, to refer to The Book of Isaac, and I concurred with some of those responses because I interpreted them differently from (or innocent of) their apparent intent, I felt there was a danger that my admiration for Gerard’s struggle as an artist would be confused with admiration for his politics. To which Gerard replied, in one email, “Those specific politics are, to me, THE battle.”

I’d always assumed Gerard’s battle was against America’s general indifference to Literature (with a capital “L”), but this was something different. We decided to extend a discussion of this matter into a third part…

Gerard Jones IntraView Part Three

SA: Well, before getting into this meaty matter, let me preface my comments by saying I don’t see this as a “debate”…I doubt very much that either of us will or can change the other’s opinion, or the opinions of any of the people who might have read the interview this far. My only interest (as ever) is in voicing the clearest version of my view on the topic, and I’ll assume that’s your interest as well.

In any case, you get the last word.

GJ: Well, a little debate might figure into it…how about we just see what happens?

SA:  Isn’t saying anything about “The Jews”…lumping together I’m not sure how many millions of people on the planet who are connected only by the slim fact that their mothers were Jewish by “blood”…and ascribing to them a unified agenda (or beliefs or actions)…isn’t that automatically a flavor of anti-Semitism?

GJ: The words “automatically” and “flavor” both raise red flags.  If you’ve been conditioned by every educational resouce you’ve encountered since birth to have an aversion to anti-Semitism, you’re gonna get all huffy when you hear stuff that sounds like what you’ve been taught is anti-Semitic.  You’re super-sensitive ’cause that’s the way you were brought up.  That’s what power gets the people who have it–the ability to determine how people are brought up.

SA: That may be so (though I think it’s more that I’ve been conditioned by my upbringing to get huffy when I hear stuff that sounds like prejudice), but I only wanted to establish that what you claim is “perceived” anti-Semitism is simply anti-Semitism. I don’t see how you can (or have) come up with the distinction that separates your position from that factual description. I think you’re narrowing the definition of anti-Semitism in order to define your position away from the term, but my desktop Random House Webster’s College Dictionary defines it as “discrimination against or prejudice or hostility toward Jews”…don’t you think your position meets at least one of those criteria?

GJ: No, actually, I don’t think I’m anti-Semitic, I think I’m anti-fascist.  I just watched Mr. Smith goes to Washington after I got done doing huge golfing (which I won, yippee!) and my definitive position is that I have hostility toward the guys who run media and entertainment ’cause I think they’re fascists and the fascists who run media and entertainment are mostly Jews or guys who kiss up to Jews.  That’s kind of hard to dispute, isn’t it?  I have no discrimination against or prejudice toward Jews, only hostility toward fascists.  Maybe it’s different in Germany but there’s no such thing as a free press or free speech in the good old US of A—you get what you pay for, period, and predominately who you pay is the fascist Jews and guys who kiss up to Jews who run media and entertainment.  That sounds like anti-Semitism ’cause everyone who swallows the fascist bullshit media and entertainment spews out has been brainwashed to think it’s anti-Semitic, but it’s not.  It very simply that nothing that even sounds anti-Semitic, whether it is or not, ever gets any kind of “reliable” credence.  Free speech and a free press are utterly nonexistent ’cause the means of all credible expression is owned, controlled, operated, protected and defended by a bunch of fascist assholes.

SA: As long as we’re generalizing about “The Jews”, what other group can we make sweeping statements about? Certain elective clubs, cliques, movements, followings, clans, societies and fraternities can be reduced, to some extent, to the charters or manifestoes behind which they voluntarily cluster, yes. But a whole religion/demographic/postal code?

What other vast and amorphous groups would you feel comfortable making such far-ranging accusations against? Or is it only “The Jews”?

GJ: The only vast amorphous group of Jews I’m talking about are the ones who run media, entertainment and education.  Do you think it’s not predominately Jews who run those entities?  In the Isaac book I make room for “guys who kiss up to Jews,” so there are non-Jewish exceptions, sure, but if you piss off Jews you don’t get anywhere in media, entertainment or education.  You can add politics to that, too, but to me politics in nothing but entertainment anyway.

Look, isn’t saying anything about “The Jews”…lumping together I’m not sure how many millions of people on the planet…

20 million, give or take…three-tenths of one percent of the total population, one out of every three hundred people or so.  In the US its one out of fifty, a solid two percent of the population.  “Illegal aliens” are four percent.

First, I’ll willingly agree that well over 19.9 million of the Jews in the world are as sweet and humane and clueless as you and me and have no unified agenda except to take care of their families.  Lots more than that (along with the vast majority of the two billion people who were raised in a Judeo-Christian Western country during the last sixty years) react in a knee-jerk negative way to anything that smacks of “anti-Semitism.”  It’s not them I’m worried about, nor do I think they have a so-called unified agenda.  It’s that tenth of a percent, a hundred thousand or so powerful, influential Jews who worry me, i.e. media guys, entertainment guys, education guys, etc., and they worry me ’cause they HAVE the unified agendas of (1) staying in power, (2) maintaining their influence, (3) making money and (4) promoting the well-being of the State of Israel.

SA: Except for point number (4) don’t those agendas apply as readily to non-Jews with influence? Are non-Jews with power and influence somehow nicer than Jews with power or influence? Where are the hard statistics about A) the number (or proportion) of powerful Jews vs the number of powerful non-Jews? and B) the deeds/misdeeds of the powerful Jews?

GJ: The people who run media and entertainment are overwhelmingly Jews or guys who kiss up to Jews, that’s all I’m saying and it’s KNOWN information.  Ask Sol Stein.  Jews and guys who kiss up to Jews run media and entertainment, it’s axiomatic, big whoop.  You want a list of lit and talent agency bosses, studio bosses, publicity moguls, newwork bosses, newspaper and book publishers, sports agents, commissioners, etc., etc. i.e. the movers and shakers in media and entertainment?  I’ve got one.  Go look at it.   Media and entertainment is almost completely controlled by Jews and guys who kiss up to Jews and they’re both closed shops.  If you’re not Jewish and/or don’t kiss up to Jews, what you say or write or sing or portray or produce, etc., is going to be excluded from the canon of American culture.  Perceived anti-Semitism is the third rail of gaining or NOT gaining an audience in in America and in the world America inordinately influences…which is a lot of it.  No politician will ever get elected who’s perceived as anti-Semitic.  You have to kiss up to Jews or you have no voice, no speech, no press, no forum in America.  That’s the price you pay.  I ain’t gonna pay it ’cause it’s contrary to the truth as best I know it.  Whether anyone hears what I say or not is invenereal; I get off on saying it…art for art’s sake.  Heh.

SA: Consider Hollywood, for example: have you never heard of “Scientologists”? This is just one non-(I’m assuming)-Jewish group with some supposed power in Hollywood. Are you really tracking all the various special lobbies and self-interest groups and powerful cabals in Media, Entertainment and Education (hello, Rapture-advocating anti-Darwinist Baptists!), or are you only really bothered, for some reason, by “The Jews”?

GJ: Hey, as long as you kiss up to the predominately Jewish bosses in media and entertainment, any kind of whacko crap you wanna do on your own time is up to you.  They even put up with Mel Gibson while he was making ’em money but some things are more important than money…like, don’t rag on Jews, for example.

SA: And how is promoting the “well-being” of the state of Israel worse, by default, than promoting the well-being of France, for instance, or the U.S.? Don’t nation-states, acting in “self-interest”, shatter, as a matter of course, the moral and ethical codes we apply to individual humans? Is the KGB nicer than the Mossad? Is Savak nicer than the Mossad? Is the SDECE (Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage) nicer than the Mossad?

GJ: Protecting and defending the State of Israel has cost the 98% of the people in America who aren’t Jewish and have no stake in Israel a hundred trillion dollars over the last fifty years.  I don’t think it’s been worth it but I’m a minority ’cause I’m not brainwashed to believe that we have to protect and defend the State of Israel at all costs.  Anyone who questions Israel’s divine right to do whatever it wants to do gets eviscerated.  Look at Jimmy Carter or them Mearsheimer Waltz guys…the full force and credit of the media and entertainment industry came down on them poor bastards, for what?  Telling the truth as best they knew it.

I remember you getting all up in arms about a woman in Sudan who was stoned to death under Sharia Law for adultery.  Ragging on Sharia Law is pure anti-Muslim propaganda; anti-Muslim propaganda is propagated and allowed to propagate, anti-Jewish propaganda isn’t.  There are no outlets in any Western countries for any propaganda other than Judeo-Christian propaganda.  You only get to hear or read or know one side of every story there is.  That sucks.  I want to be able to know and say more than what the people in charge of public enlightenment allow me to know and say.  Don’t you?  And yeah, Sharia Law sucks, but so does U. S. Law and Israeli Law and Borneo Law….

As long as we’re generalizing about “The Jews”, what other group can we make sweeping statements about? Certain elective clubs, cliques, movements, followings, clans, societies and fraternities can be reduced, to some extent, to the charters or manifestoes behind which they voluntarily cluster, yes. But a whole religion/demographic/postal code?

…I think Jews have inordinate power and influence in the media, entertainment and education industries.  There are way mroe rich assholes who are way shittier, have more money and more power, sure…Masons, Catholics, the military-industrial complex, etc…but a relatively few powerful Jews do their propaganda for them.  Just ’cause I think Jews in media, entertainment and education are closed-minded, self-serving assholes doesn’t mean I don’t know there are a hundred times more non-Jews who are way worse.

SA: Speaking to that last sentence: then why focus on “The Jews”?

GJ: ‘Cause Jews and guys who kiss up to Jews run media and entertainment which provides the nonstop, unassailable, insurmountable, lying fascist propaganda that brainwashes the Bejesus out of ordinary people–Jews and non-Jews alike–and that pisses me off.  It offends and sickens me to see how brainwashed everyone is.  Hitler’s propaganda brainwashed ordinary Germans.  Look at the people around you next time you go for a walk.  Sixty or so years ago they all would have been brainwashed Nazi fascist assholes.  Wouldn’t that have sickened and offended you?  Think they would’ve listened to you if you told ’em how brainwashed they were?  Nope.  You would have been called crazy and if you would’ve persisted you would’ve ended up in Dachau.

SA: Isn’t it a complex irony, calling “The Jews” the “New Nazis,” when accusing “The Jews” of anything (and everything) was a habit of the Old Nazis?

GJ: The way I say it in the book is:  “Muslims are the new Jews.  Rich guys are the new Nazis.  Jews are the new propaganda peddlers…”

SA: Re: the immortal Jews-and-money connection. Are you claiming with a straight face that American culture, high and low, black and white, male, female, shemale and other, from the beginning, hasn’t placed an absolute premium on money-making? Isn’t the “American Dream” essentially materialistic? Did “The Jews” make that one up?

GJ: That might be a chicken-and-egg thing.  Did making money come from a Judeo-Christian tradition?  Did Jews come first in that tradition? All I know is that Jesus ragged on people who gained the whole world and lost his or her own soul.

SA: Are you saying “the Jews” influenced the Chinese on this money issue?

GJ: Sure, why not, but it might have been the other way around.  I have no idea where the love of money came from all I know is that it’s the root of all evil.

SA: I think that’s the same old game: you accuse a minority of humans of doing what humans tend to do; it makes a convincing point if you conveniently ignore all the examples of other types indulging in exactly the same behaviour. It’s quite the same way that Reconstruction-era demagogues painted a special association between black males and rape, when, the fact is, it’s pretty obvious that males of every ethnic persuasion do it (with no special talent or frequency to be discovered among blacks).

I’m thinking of Quack Science, in which, as you know, a pet theory comes first, and the evidence to support the theory is dutifully gathered and adjusted to fit the premise, and evidence that doesn’t fit is conveniently excluded (whereas, of course, the theory itself should be excluded if any evidence contradicts it). It’s my sense that anti-Semitism is an enduringly popular Quack Science; Phrenology is on the wane but anti-Semitism is robust as ever.

GJ: I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-fascist, so the questions are moot unless you think anti-fascism is Quack Science.

SA: If Hollywood is run by “The Jews”, and “The Jews” in media do the bidding (by your calculations) of the Big Boys in Government (by propagating the government’s propaganda), why is Hollywood perceived as anti-Bush?

GJ: Quite the contrary, the “big boys” in government are owned and operated by business, including but not limited to the media and entertainment businesses.  All the politicians in the country have way less sway than Sumner Redstone, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Rupert Murdoch.

SA: I like to avoid talking politics because it’s a shell game, in my opinion…follow the little ball as closely as you like, whatever you “see” isn’t actually what’s happening, even if you’re seeing something that others don’t, for the same reason that proving an existential negative (“there is no such thing as a free lunch”) is usually very difficult: you can’t be everywhere, all the time, seeing everything. You don’t have the security clearance, for one thing.

In order to come up with an irrefutably morally correct view (in my opinion) of conflicts such as Israeli vs Arab, Tutsi vs Hutu, Catholic vs Protestant, Blood vs Crip and McCoy vs Hatfield, I always say that the bad guys are the people with the guns and bombs…

GJ: …might makes right, yeah, that’s a big theme.

SA (cont’d): …and the good guys just want to live and let live, and settle their differences bloodlessly…

GJ: Amen.

SA (cont’d): …So, for example, in my worldview, that makes Israeli soldiers and Palestinian suicide bombers (and the “generals” and groupies behind either) equally culpable

GJ: Well, does unequally armed make one more culpable or less culpable?  Somehow killing someone from the cockpit of an Apache gunship seems more egregious than killing yourself to kill someone else.

SA (cont’d):while the without-a-doubt innocent good guys are dead children on both sides of the fence.

GJ: You won’t get any argument from me on that.  In Vietnam there were 400 Vietnamese killed by Americans for every American killed.  In Nazi Germany there were a hundred thousand Jews killed by Nazis for every Nazi killed by Jews.  In Iraq it’s around thirty to one.  In Darfur it’s a thousand to one.  In the Palestinian Territories it’s around three to one.  In Lebanon it was 200 to one.  In Mao’s China it was around a million to one.  It seems to me that the less mighty deserve more consideration–which is precisely why people are so touchy about anti-Semitism.  Jews in Nazi Germany were among the least mighty…but they’re not anymore.  Jews are powerful.  Israel has more nukes than China.  It could destroy every country in the Middle East in a day.  Jews in Nazi Germany had no power.  That’s not the case anymore.  Jews are now among the most militarily and financially powerful people on the planet, so why do Jews still have to be treated as victims of the Holocaust?  I don’t think they do and I say so and I get called anti-Semitic.  Is the truth anti-Semitic?  According to the way you and I were brought up it is, yeah.  Doesn’t that sort of suck?

SA: From my standpoint, it’s Death and Death’s collaborators I prefer to avoid, and it’s the people who wouldn’t hurt a fly (or want a fly hurt) I have to side with. And you can’t tell me there are, proportionally, for some reason, fewer “Jews” than members of other groups represented on the peaceful side of this dichotomy.

GJ: I side with the ones who who wouldn’t hurt a fly or wouldn’t want a fly hurt, too.  It’s power that hurts, getting it, keeping it, using it, profiting from it.  Jews in media, entertainment and education are among those who during the past sixty years got the power, keep it, use it and profit from it…and in the process have eliminated free speech and a free press and freedom of expression in more ways than we can ever know and that totally pisses me the fuck off so I say so…then I get called anti-Semitic and nobody gives a rat’s ass what I say ’cause to be perceived as anti-Semitic is to be ignored.  It’s the way people were brougnt up.

SA: Aren’t the “bad guys” you’re talking about, in fact, a world-wide rainbow coalition of races, religions and creeds?

GJ: Sure.  Take a look at the Forbes list of Billionaires.

They’re everywhere.  But my interests are mainly in media, entertainment and education and Jews mainly run those things so I mainly rag on Jews.

SA: What I’d like to do is bring this discussion away from the murderous banalities of politics and back towards the inspiring technology of Literature.

You’ve mentioned a liking for Louis-Ferdinand Destouches…otherwise known as Celine. Do you think Celine’s anti-Semitism, as it surfaces here and there in his text, is inseparable from the overall beauty of the text…a necessary component of his Art…or does it distract from the beauty, or even contradict it?

GJ: He is who he is and manages to convey that gloriously.  He rags on Jews here and there, sure, but that’s who he was in the times he was living.  His honesty (or his ability to convey honesty) is what makes him one of the greatest writers who ever lived.  That he got pissed off by a Jew or two seems to me just to be the truth as best he knew it, as well as he was able to convey it.  I get pissed off at fascists, lots of whom happen to be Jews, and I say so as well as I’m able…which judging from your conviction that I’m anti-Semitic isn’t very well.  I’ll work on it.  Ezra Pound was a raging anti-Semite but he wrote some pretty good pomes.

SA: Do your political views contradict your stated admiration for such writers as Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Joseph Heller, et al?

GJ: I don’t like Roth much, but Bellow, Malamud, Heller and a million more Jewish writers, I adore.

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