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LA Thanksgiving


I loathe the way you call
attention to yourself — you deserve it
when you’re ignored! You do. Who can stand
someone so persistently brash? Your gaudy flash —
I don't esteem myself like this.
You are so flawed. I have to step out, embarrassed…

You know, it’s only because of all that drama
that they cheer for all your troubles.
The stories they promote about you are
mostly about your wickedness.
They won’t acknowledge your intelligence
your highbrow side at all.  They want you to be
tinsel and seasonless palms, nothing more. 
They’re so persistent at it, you
believe these things about yourself.

Sometimes I believe them too. I have not been
faithful to your generous patience, nor
the anonymous comforts that you give.
You lure people with promises to lives
you later fix in post. I forget the way
you present, dutifully through our endless spats,
those carne asada quesadillas,
your quiet stunners of street art,
your Salonens and Sunset queens,
splenetic catastrophes, quirky intersections,
civil rights, sunny fashions, urban dread,
your west coast cool, your endless makeovers
(gifts to the world, which is ever
in need of makeovers) — and most of all,
the way you slink through neighborhoods,
quietly modern and linear, like nobody else.

So, so what if you’re a siren after all?
Those who hear the call will laugh
along with you, this inside joke we have:
Though everyone falls from Eden — a garden
of fruit, branches, and the wicked — you
are an Eden without repentance, closest to
the true in human hearts, as gardens are.

Scribe dismisses 9/11 novelists as ambulance chasers

D'Souza in studio

I sent a note to Tony D'Souza, author of a drug trafficking novel called Mule, this morning, following his appearance on Michael Silverblatt's KCRW show Bookworm, and I think I should send it out to the readers here as well.  The note went something like this.

I really wasn't fussy to hear him call people who wrote 9/11 novels "ambulance chasers" and even suggest they were in it for some commercial success.

His precise quote at 26:15--in fact, it's the last thing he says in the interview, is:

What I feel, you know, proudest about my book, is that writers can be ambulance chasers--we all know that. A moment can come of, you know, 9/11 or the Wars in Iraq or whatever it is, and a bunch of writers [emph. his] will jump on board trying to capitalize on that, and I have no guilt on my conscience about trying to capitalize on the Great Recession because we have lived it, we have lived it as we struggled through it like everyone else.  And so I feel I had a right to write this book.
My own belief is that in most cases, writers who wrote 9/11 novels were not jumping on board of any trend.  They were trying to understand something about our culture and the transformations that were happening in America immediately subsequent to the event.  They simply felt themselves to be writers who thought that the most politically and socially inverting event of our American lives deserved the kind of scrutiny in fiction that we afford other subjects.

I know I went on to write mine, I was thinking, "Things are changing really fast, and I could barely stand myself as a writer if I didn't write something about this."

I had hoped that D'Souza would revisit his opinion on this, but no luck there.  He wrote to me:
I'm sorry I offended you and that you were caught up in my sweeping generalization. I stand by my point, however. Writers can be the very worst sorts of ambulance chasers extant in this world, even elbowing lawyers out of the way in their drunken, egoistic hustle for money. From novelists, to poets, to memoirists, to non-fiction journos, they are out there, their track shoes on, chasing the ambulance of the story. 'It will sell! It will sell! It will sell!' whirling like maniacal laughter in their heads. Maybe not you in 'The Plasma of Terror...
Well.  As for novelists "capitalizing" on 9/11--there couldn't be a topic that's presently more commercially toxic to readers under forty.  In fact, my 9/11 novel is the only novel of mine that I have never even considered submitting to a commercial mill.

I doubt that the general public will be ready to read about the run-up and aftermath of 9/11 even for another decade.  We're still too much involved with the often terrifying political, cultural, and social consequences of all the changes that followed.

Los Angeles Plays Itself


Get started. I watched four segments of Thom Andersen's three hour film-essay masterpiece Los Angeles Plays Itself in one sitting. A truly sustaining and intelligently narrated film, somewhat in the spirit of The Clock.  And don't tell anyone it's up on YouTube again.  One problem: it didn't make me like LA any more than presently.  Eight years after its non-release, I still didn't revive any nostalgic feelings for this burnt-out bulb.

Far from NeoChick

Commercial publishing is just like everything else in commercial America: increasingly despotic, tethered to the irreal, unsustainable, hopelessly corporate.

Fortunately I keep close enough to books and stories and literary people to feel good about some things that go on elsewhere in America that remain unfiltered and unblemished by New York City's commercial mills. Here are three writers I know who have been much informed by the process and who have much informed my own thoughts through the past few seasons.

Bucking considerable odds against, Adrienne Wilson turns out serene manuscripts and photographs up the coast in Santa Barbara. She completed a novel last year that is still in the pipeline and which I've read, and I'm not going to say too much about other than it is dreamy and escapist yet deals with deep psychological constructions and that I liked it very much. She also gave two coming novels of mine very careful and even heroic edits. She is a veteran of the McCaw wars of the early part of the last decade. You can follow her enterprise through Nanowrimo here at her site vbonnaire, Valentine Bonnaire being a nom-de-pixel for her perfumed erotica.

I sat down to interview Maria Armoudian shortly after she appeared at the LA Press Club last summer--for one of the greatest turnouts that organization has ever had. In some ways, I'm still reeling from the conversation. Maria's book Kill the Messenger was one of the top reads of my summer; it picked up for me where William Grieder left off, as a worldly, rigorously structured bromide against global media's often too-flippant notion of what may and what may not be genocide. If you're in media, you should get continuing education credit for reading this book; to me it was worth about eight to twelve units. Maria's robustly noisemaking KPFK Sunday at noon show Insighters is but one dimension of this tough yet occasionally wistful writer and musician; she's also involved in local politics, having been appointed by Mayor Villaraigosa to two civic commissions. Kill the Messenger is published by Prometheus Books, which is New York but respectably distanced from Manhattan, in Amherst near Buffalo.

Utahna Faith is an elliptical writing siren, editor, longtime friend, and, sure, muse in New Orleans. A flash fiction practitioner, she published the beloved zine NOLA in the early part of the last decade and also brought me to Paris-based 3 a.m. magazine in 2000. She is a fabulous correspondent, I assure you.

With writing like this from people like this, I don't know who the hell cares about Joan Didion's memoirs, chick lit, Eat Pray Love or Girls in Trucks. Our reading lives, ourselves.