Fair Pay

Three things coincided recently.

1)  Jana Hunter, the singer for the band Lower Dens, recently wrote about her band’s relationship to streaming music services.

2) Scott Repass, Houston writer and saloon keeper, said in an article in the Houston Chronicle, “Our profit is actually made by a community. You know when you go into a bar that you could get that beer for half-price (at the grocery store) and drink at home. You’re coming because you want the community that bar is creating.”

3) I rented The Campaign from the Redbox machine installed in the lobby of my El stop for $1.30. My wife and I watched it, making it a 65 cent rental each.

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Seven Chipmunks Twirling on a Branch: An Interview with Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is the author of the New York Times #1 Best-Selling novel Gone Girl as well as Sharp Objects and Dark Places. Gillian is a fan of true crime books and a gold mine of popular culture data. She was over at my house for dinner one night with her husband, not too long ago. (He and my wife went to college together and a friend of theirs from those days was visiting.) The dinner was meant to be an opportunity to the three of them to catch up, and Gillian and I, left to our own devices, drank bourbon and started quoting from the remarkable hitchhiker scene in the 1998 movie There’s Something About Mary. We both knew the scene by heart. (I’ve tried to find it on youtube to no avail. Watch the movie if you don’t know what I’m talking about. The movie holds up and Harland Williams as the hitchhiker talking about his idea for “Seven Minute Abs” is a highlight.) Two months later, I brought a bottle of bourbon over to Gillian’s house and this interview happened.

[NB. There are spoilers in this interview, both for Gillian’s great book Gone Girl and of There’s Something About Mary. We also mention true crime masterpieces Joe McGinniss's Fatal Vision and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Nick and Amy are the main characters of Gone Girl.]

David MacLean: My first question is about the Harland Williams’ scene: “Seven Chipmunks sitting on a branch”

Gillian Flynn: “Eating lots of sunflowers from my uncle’s ranch. You remember that old children’s tale from the sea?”

DM: What I’m interested in hearing you talk about is why that scene is interesting.

GF: Why we’re both so obsessed with it?

DM: Exactly.Continue Reading

Surrealist Writing Rule with Comic Addendum

In my last couple of years at the University of Houston, I twice got the chance to teach an undergraduate creative writing class with Antonya Nelson. The students were all hand-picked and their talents ran over them like… You know those scenes where the horses on a stage coach go crazy? And the guy on the driver’s seat is trying desperately to both hold onto the reins and keep his filthy hat smushed on his head? That’s how a lot of the students’ writing felt. Powerful. Out of control.

One of the students was writing surrealist scenes. Crazy things were happening in the world this student was making and the writing was falling apart.

Nelson then said one of the smartest things I’d ever heard said about writing these kinds of scenes. Continue Reading

It’s Just Like TV, But Without the Bodies

“But,” I said, “I once heard something that I trust. Leontius, the son of Aglaion, was going up from the Piraeus under the outside of the North Wall when he noticed corpses lying by the public executioner. He desired to look, but at the same time was disgusted and made himself turn away; and for a while he struggled and covered his face. But finally overpowered by the desire, he opened his eyes wide, ran towards the corpses and said: ‘Look, you damned wretches, take your fill of the fair sight.’”

—Plato, The Republic 

In the spring of 2005, I was in Hikkaduwa, a beach town on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. I was working on building an IDP (Internally Displaced People) Camp for refugees fleeing the destruction caused by the December 24th, 2004 Tsunami. The crew of people building the temporary houses were a mix of Sri Lankans and westerners, financed by a former NFL offensive lineman, who also worked with us and who remains the largest man I’ve ever seen. We all were putting in absurd hours, all of us running on testosterone and machismo, daring each other to quit at the end of the day. Fourteen hour days were the norm and we’d been working over two weeks straight. International attention to the tsunami crisis was tapering off. Tourists were trickling back into Sri Lanka. Every once in while a bus filled with them would drive slowly by us. You couldn’t see a face as they drove by, but a little forest of hands balancing camcorders sprung out the tinted windows. Sometimes the NFL player and I would run at these buses swinging our hammers like Black Thor and his Tiny Caucasian Buddy.

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Gatsby and Locusts: The Daily Fitzgerald vs. West Prize Fight Inside of My Head

When I was a child I had action figures. Articulated plastic made to look like men from television and the movies. To make them fight I danced them around each other until I smashed them against each other. I smashed them again and again. None of the grace with which they fought off televised stormtroopers or Cobra commandoes or Lion-O’s in their fighting. Just smashing.

I do this still today. But in my head. And with Nathanael West smashing against F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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What Happened to My First Draft

I have this memoir that’s coming out next year. I had never written a memoir before so it was more fraught of a writing experience then I had expected. I rewrote the first fifty pages nine times before I could move forward. And when I say I rewrote, I chucked everything and started with a new blank document on Word each time.

I just couldn’t get the tone I wanted, the one that would allow me to tell the big big version of a terrible time in my life. I had already told a portion of the story in an essay in Ploughshares and on the radio program, This American Life, but that was an essay with its own internal logic and a structural make-up that was idiosyncratic to the essay form. I couldn’t (I found out) just make the essay longer. Instead I had to come up with a tone that would allow me to fill the bigger canvas of a book.Continue Reading

Trying Anything Else

The nineteen year old that I work with setting up the Hydration Stations on the Lakefront path told me that this was her second job ever and that she wanted to do really well because she saw a future with the company. I scoffed at her in exactly the same way I’ve scoffed at people in the past who told me that they wanted to marry the first person they had sex with.

It just doesn’t work like that in the real world I wanted to tell her, but didn’t because it was super-early in the morning and no one likes to have their life plans shattered until after at least 10 am.Continue Reading

#GurneyEssay – The Trending Topic that will Topple Kitten Videos

I want to claim that I have invented a new form of essay.

It’s easy and fun and with the uptrending in retirement age demographicals in the USA regionality, it might just become the dominant form of essay writing in the next decade. It’s possibilities for depressing content are unlimited! Take that kittens.

It’s called Gurney Essays. Or dare I say #GurneyEssay ? An example from my very own experience is linked at the bottom, but before that, here are the rules for your own chance to get in on this Kardashianesque thrill ride of Carly Rae Jepsen meme-tastic meme-ery.

The rules are simple.

1)   A) Get injured.

2)   B) Go to a hospital

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Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?

At my job working the early morning Hydration Stations along the lakefront path serving Gatorade to Chicago-area runners, I work with a 19 year old who also works at the duty-free at the airport (she’s the one who looks at your ticket and tells you that you can’t shop at her store unless you’re on an international flight.) I am twice her age, getting paid the same, so my wounded ego has reconfigured itself so that I tell myself I’m a kind of Dian Fossey. She is my ape. I chart her vocalizations and behaviour.  I tell myself I’m studying her to learn about her, rather than studying her in order to discover new ways of talking about myself.

I tell myself things like this all the time.

She’s saving up for a Louis Vuitton purse. We get paid ten bucks an hour so I have no idea how many hours she’ll have to work in order to buy it. She says that she already has a knock-off of the purse she wants and now she wants the real thing.  She says it’s the quality of the leather that lets you know it’s real.

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Writing Soundtrack: A Step-by-Step Playlist

A month ago the author Mat Johnson (Pym, Drop, Incognegro) went crowdsourcing on his Facebook page for new music to write to. He’d been listening and writing to Endtroducing by DJ Shadow for years and he’d exhausted the thing.

It got me to thinking about what makes good writing music. I have five suggestions. I have arranged them according to when in the writing process I think they’re most helpful.

First Draft

Glenn GouldBach: The English Suites & Bach: The French Suites

Glenn Gould was a Canadian pianist who gave up live performances. He felt that with the advances in recording fidelity, he could produce perfect recordings of the great piano works. So he built himself a studio in his house and beat his head against the masters, trying to get them down perfectly.

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