WIPs Conversation: Harold Jaffe on his work in progress

Hal Jaffe-ICHarold Jaffe is the author of 23 volumes of fiction, novels, docufiction, and essays, most recently Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories, OD, Paris 60, Revolutionary Brain, Othello Blues, and Induced Coma: 50 & 100 Word Stories. His books have been translated in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, Cuba, Turkey, Romania and elsewhere. Jaffe is editor-in-chief of Fiction International.

Hal, your novel Brando Bleeds covers a lot of ground in various forms in depicting Marlon Brando’s life, providing readers with a certain sense of insight into the man himself that goes well beyond our simple understanding of celebrity. Why did you choose Brando for your novel’s subject? Has his story been something you’ve wanted to address for a while?

Certain figures interest me, and they often seem to combine an unremitting cultural resistance with melancholy, compassion, and a coyote-trickster sort of humor. Odd-seeming combination, I know. With this “odd-seeming combination” in mind, I’ve written about Chet Baker, Hurricane Carter, Walter Benjamin, Leadbelly, Lady Day, Nina Simone, and–hold the phone–Charles Manson. Best not to believe what you’ve heard about Manson.

I think of Brando in a similar vein as one of my (reimagined) humans.

Continue Reading →

Harold Jaffe: “Hair” and “Lino 1,” excerpts from the novel BRANDO BLEEDS


There was Lino Ventura, Wally Cox, Satch Sanders, Christian Marquand.
My detractors called them toadies and maybe they were.
Hell, I was a fucking matinee idol so there’s going to be hangers-on.
But they were also my friends, until they died or betrayed me.
Or I betrayed thembecause of some mood I was in.
Were the friendships strictly platonic?
Not strictly, no.
But my thing was females, as I’ve said, and they came around in droves.
I could never get enough.
That was long before I’d become too fat to fuck.

Continue Reading →

WIPs Conversation: Leslie Pietrzyk on her work in progress

Leslie PietrzykLeslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. This Angel on My Chest, her collection of linked short stories, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in many journals, including Gettysburg Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, River Styx, Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, Salon, and the Washington Post Magazine. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Website: www.lesliepietrzyk.blogspot.com
Literary blog: www.workinprogressinprogress.com
Twitter: @lesliepwriter

Leslie, in “Headache,” an excerpt from your novel in the works Silver Girl, the unnamed narrator’s friendship with her housemate Jess is taken to task. They became “besties” during their freshman year of college, but now, beginning their sophomore year off campus together comes with significant challenges. Jess’s sister has died in a car accident that summer and she’s broken up with her fiancé. These are both difficult subjects for the narrator to touch upon—and for good reason. Set in Chicago 1982, with the city’s Tylenol scare/murders as another topic of interest, what can readers expect to discover as the novel progresses? Does Jess remain a pivotal figure or is this primarily the narrator’s story?

Jess is definitely pivotal, though I see the story as ultimately belonging to the narrator. The rest of the book, which jumps around a bit in time over a couple of years, explores the complicated relationship between these two girls, each negotiating power as they know it, which for girls at that age is pretty much limited to sex or money. The backdrop of the Tylenol murders creates (I hope!) a terrifying sense of randomness; this incident may have been the first time modern, middle-class America truly felt vulnerable, when an unknown (to this day) person stuffed cyanide into capsules of Tylenol and returned them to drugstore shelves. Seven people died in the Chicago area, changing the way manufacturers package products. Of course, it’s not enough simply to have a “backdrop” in a novel, so I took a few historical liberties and wove the Tylenol murders into my plot.

Continue Reading →

Leslie Pietrzyk: “Headache,” a chapter excerpt from the novel SILVER GIRL

Suburban Chicago, 1982

The phone on the kitchen wall rang. Jess and I stared at it in surprise. Though we had been sharing this college apartment for two weeks already, we still didn’t feel as though we belonged here and the ringing phone seemed to emphasize exactly how out of place we were.

“You answer,” she whispered.

It was eleven AM, hardly a time for whispering, but I whispered back, “No, you,” and then we laughed.

We had met last year when we were freshman living in the same hormonal all-girls dorm that had been built with money donated to the university in the early 1960s by some uptight woman who sensed—and feared—the coming sexual revolution. Allison Hall. The school packed all the freshmen girls there. The halls smelled like hairspray and popcorn. The joke was that entire floors of girls synched their periods. It was a place to escape from.

And we had. Now Jess and I were sophomores—long since free of all those girls, free of Allison Hall, uninterested in sororities, and living together off-campus on the first floor of a small house half a block from the el tracks.

The phone still rang. This was a time before answering machines, before voice mail, email, instant messaging, and Skype. Letters and phone calls were what we had. This was a time where not answering a ringing phone was an act of subversion. We wanted to be subversive—or I did, anyway, secretly—but we were basically good girls, depending on how “good” might be defined. Anyway, letting a phone ring was something we couldn’t do.

Jess picked up the phone. “Hello?” she said, her voice croaking slightly. She cleared her throat, spoke more forcefully. “I mean, hello.”

Continue Reading →

WIPs Conversation: Ed Hamilton on his work in progress

Ed HamiltonEd Hamilton is the author of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York’s Rebel Mecca (Da Capo, 2007). His  fiction has appeared in various journals, including: Limestone Journal, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, River Walk Journal, Exquisite Corpse, Modern Drunkard, and, most recently, in Omphalos, Bohemia, Penduline Press, and in translation in Czechoslovakia’s Host.

Ed, your excerpted story here, “A Bowery Romance,” is part of a themed collection—The Chintz Age: Tales of Love and Loss for a New New York. What inspired the project? Did it evolve over time or was it something you had your sights on from the very first story?

The stories in Chintz Age are about people in the arts who are struggling to maintain relevance in a world that’s becoming increasingly indifferent, and sometimes openly hostile, to their work and even to their very existence. For it seems that the world— especially the U.S., and even more so New York—has become, to a frightening and disorienting degree, all about money and power, while values such as truth, beauty, and personal integrity are shrugged off with a laugh.

At the Chelsea Hotel I live among artists, musicians, dancers, photographers, and people in various other creative fields, and I myself am a writer, so I’m quite familiar with this struggle. For many years, we at the Chelsea were in effect insulated from the pressures of the outside world, monetary and otherwise, but then the hotel was taken over by developers intent on evicting the artists and turning the place into a fancy boutique hotel.

Seeing my beloved arts hotel (124 years as such!) transformed into a construction site, and seeing many of my longtime friends and neighbors unceremoniously thrown out into the street, was what inspired Chintz Age. After the initial upheaval, which coincided with the publication of my first book, Legends of the Chelsea Hotel, I labored for many years to come to terms with the personal dimension of the tragedy that had engulfed us. I went through numerous attempts to write non-fiction stories about the people and issues involved, setting the stories in the Chelsea itself, but I always found that I was too close to the action—which is, actually, still ongoing—too emotionally engaged with the people I was trying to write about. In order to write objectively, I had to take a step back from the hotel, setting the stories elsewhere, and using fictional characters to dramatize them.

So, appropriately, a book about the creative struggle is itself the result of a creative struggle.

Continue Reading →

Ed Hamilton: “A Bowery Romance,” a story excerpt from The Chintz Age: Tales of Love and Loss for a New New York, a Collection in Progress

Chintz CoverA Bowery Romance

“Hey, I didn’t know these places were still around,” Mike said as they turned onto the hallway. Under the bare florescent tubes, the cracked plaster walls, with their discolored and peeling layers of paint, resembled a barren, alien landscape. The yellowed walls were set so close together in the tight, narrow corridor that Mike and Brandy could have spread their arms and almost touched them both, and the checkerboard linoleum floor slanted to one side and creaked and buckled underfoot. They passed a gaunt figure in a tattered, faded blue bathrobe, who ducked his head as if to conceal his features. The frequent doors bore small brass plaques with scarcely legible numbers, while the occasional domed recess in the wall displayed a fire extinguisher or a red “FIRE” bucket ballasted with ash-gray sand and studded with cigarette butts like a pin cushion—the recent smoking ban having not yet penetrated this deep into the city’s bowels. Stopping at a door midway down the hall, Brandy fumbled through her purse for the key.

Because Mike spoke almost in a monotone, Brandy couldn’t tell whether his remark was serious or sarcastic. Mike was shorter than average, a stocky figure, and he stroked his hipster van dyke thoughtfully and somewhat nervously. Hanks of wavy, dark brown hair poked out from under his navy blue porkpie hat. He had been growing increasingly apprehensive ever since they turned onto the Bowery, with its dark, shuttered restaurant supply stores, the sidewalks littered with trash and disreputable characters. Rounding the corner onto the even darker side street, they had had to circumnavigate a sleeping man to get into the flophouse. Dazzled by the red neon sign of the Smith Hotel, Mike had accidentally kicked the bum’s empty bottle, which had then rolled, noisily, all the way down the sidewalk and into the gutter, the clatter waking the man, who grumbled incoherently. Scarcely more reassuring was the balding, tattooed desk clerk, who, snoozing in his alcove behind bulletproof glass, had registered the couple’s entrance with but one half-raised eyelid.

Continue Reading →