An interview with Charlie Kaufman about his new novel takes a weirdly meta Kaufman-esque turn

Charlie Kaufman is the acclaimed screenwriter behind surrealist movies like Being John Malkovich; Adaptation; Synecdoche, New York; and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My favorite bizarrely wonderful story about him — which, in a way, is kind of a synecdoche for his entire oeuvre of work, which is also something I learned about through his films — is that his Academy Award-winning screenplay for Adaptation is one of the few Oscars credited to a completely fictional person. Kaufman was hired to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, and seeing no way to write a dramatic narrative out of some meditative thoughts on flower poaching, he decided to write a screenplay about Charlie Kaufman struggling to write a screenplay about The Orchid Thief. Except, in the context of the movie, Fictional Charlie Kaufman also has an identical twin brother named Donald … who is credited as co-writer on the actual, real-life screenplay.

I thought of this as I read this New York Times Magazine profile on Charlie Kaufman, ahead of the July 7th release of Antkind, a 700-page novel that marks Kaufman's first foray into prose writing. Journalist Jon Mooallem had the article planned well before the pandemic hit, but quickly had to improvise when he realized he wouldn't be able to interview Kaufman in person. As the lockdown dragged on, their long weekly phone conversations became a surprising source of stability for both of them (as chronicled in the article). Moallem thought he had something — but right as he turned a draft into his editor, the political climate took an every starker turn with ongoing protests against racism and police brutality, making his quaint pandemic-focused profile seem out-of-touch. Read the rest

The sexy medical researcher in this bestselling 1991 romance novel was based on Anthony Fauci

Journalist and novelist Sally Quinn's bestselling 1991 novel of romance and intrigue, Happy Endings, is about fictional presidential widow Sadie Grey who falls for a sexy medical researcher working for the National Institutes of Health on a new AIDS treatment. Yes, the alluring government scientist with the "low, melodious, sexy, almost hypnotic” voice, as Quinn described the character, is none other than Dr. Anthony Fauci. From Benjamin Wofford's article in Washingtonian:

Part searing romance, part roman à clef, “Happy Endings” made the bestseller list during a year when HIV-related deaths were then the highest ever recorded in the United States. By then, Fauci was the government scientist best known for combatting the virus’s spread as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It was around this time that Quinn first encountered the real-life Fauci, at a Washington function where the two were paired as dinner partners. With his tie askew and from behind enormous glasses, Fauci left an impression of earnest brilliance, enough to inspire the main character of Quinn’s upcoming novel.

“I just fell in love with him,” Quinn told me recently, recalling their evening together. “Usually those dinners, you make polite conversation, and that’s it. But we had this intense conversation, personal conversation. I though, ‘Wow, this guy is amazing.'” [...] “He was so different from most Washington people, because he’s so self-effacing. He’s not in it for the glory or the name recognition,” Quinn recalled. She decided to have Grey “fall in love with this doctor who does this amazing work, and doesn’t get a lot of publicity.”

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The Mind Thing, by Fredric Brown: excellent pulp-era science fiction

When I was in junior high school, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club. One of the books I got from the club was an anthology that included several stories by Fredric Brown (who was primarily a mystery writer but occasionally delved into science fiction). Some of Brown's stories in the anthology were a mere page or two, and I loved their humor and surprise endings. As soon as I could, I went to the Boulder Public Library to load up on as much Brown as I could find. It turned out the library had just two of his science fiction novels: Martians, Go Home (1955), and What Mad Universe (1949). They were both terrific.

In Martians, Go Home a race of cartoonish little green men invade Earth for the sole purpose of being hideously bothersome pests, behaving very much like Internet trolls and Second Life griefers. (Artist Kelly Freas perfectly captured the personality of the martians in his cover painting for Astounding Science Fiction.) In What Mad Universe a man gets thrown into a parallel universe and has to figure out how to get back home. Both books are semi-parodies of science fiction novels (the protagonists in each novel are science fiction writers), with plenty of Brown's signature wry humor. If you've not read these novels, I highly recommend them both.

It wasn't until I was in high school that I scored a copy of The Mind Thing (1961), which is probably my favorite Brown novel, even though it is not as well-known as the other two novels, and could be arguably be classified a horror novel. Read the rest

Get lost in one of 50 contemporary books over 500 pages long

Door stop books. Baby booster seat books. Boat anchor books. Whatever you want to call them, gargantuan novels have their weighty charms, especially now, as we're all looking for distracting rabbit holes to fall into.

To that end, Literary Hub has put together a list of 50 fine, contemporary novels that clock in at over 500 pages. Read 'em if you can hold them up.

Richard Powers, The Overstory (512 pages) Strap in for a 512-page book about trees. But of course it’s really about humanity—all literature is—and it’s weirdly engrossing. Though it lags a bit at the end when it succumbs to polemic, for the most part, Powers manages to entertain, inform, and inspire action in the most high profile work of climate fiction yet.

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (512 pages) A murder mystery concerning a labyrinthine library, and probably the only bestselling novel to be based on semiotics.

Tana French, The Witch Elm (528 pages) It’s not my favorite of French’s novels (that would be The Likeness, obviously, I’m not a crazy person), but it’s the only one that tips over the 500-page mark, and honestly, even my third favorite French ranks above most other people’s books. The Witch Elm is also perhaps her most fully realized, investigating not just a murder but privilege and society and the notion of memory—or sanity—itself. It’s very good.

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (639 pages) Chabon’s magnum opus is a gloriously fun, wham-pow novel of heroes, friendship, magic, the Golden Age of Comics, and sure, okay, Hitler. Read the rest

Recommended reading: The Forgery of Venus, by Michael Gruber

Michael Gruber's The Forgery of Venus combines art history, criminal mischief, and the sleaziness of the contemporary art gallery business to deliver a terrifically fun thriller-esque novel.

The main character, Chaz Wilmot, is an extremely talented but frustrated and depressed magazine illustrator. For no special reason, he volunteers as a human guinea pig in a medical research study to test the effects of Salvia divinorum, a powerful, short-duration psychedelic drug that causes him to imagine he's living the life of Velásquez, the famous 17th century Spanish painter. These episodes cause all sorts of problems in his real life, and when he wakes up one morning in a strange apartment and discovers that he is actually a successful gallery artist, he flips out and lands in a mental ward.

When he's released (and learns that he's back to being the hack illustrator he started out as) Wilmot is eager to clear his head by taking on a lucrative commission to restore the fresco on the ceiling of an Italian mobster's palazzo. Here, he meets a sleazy German art dealer who specializes in paintings plundered by the Nazis in World War II. The dealer gives him an offer he can't refuse: to forge an "undiscovered" Velásquez painting. When he accepts, the strange events that have been happening to him intensify, and he finds himself wonder whether he's completely crazy or if powerful characters behind the curtain are pulling strings.

This is the kind of book that could easily become ludicrous and boring if it had been written by an author less talented than Gruber. Read the rest

Read the first 10 chapters of my serialized Comic-con satire novel

In the early 2010s, I wrote a play called True Believers that was kind of a send-up and a love letter to comic-con culture. The play had a full production in Boston in 2012 (closing on the weekend of San Diego Comic-Con, when they first announced the Guardians of the Galaxy, which totally ruined the meta-level "I Am Groot" gag in the script), as well as staged readings at fringe festivals across the country, from New York to Chicago to Valdez, Alaska.

I later tried to turn that script into a novel. It was an interesting writing experience — trying to adapt your own work across mediums, from one that's explicitly external to one that's largely internal is a weird challenge, to say the least — and ultimately, nothing really came of the manuscript.

But now that we're all quarantine, and now that comic books themselves have also been quarantined for the foreseeable future, I've decided to serialize it on Medium, broken down into digestible chunks. The first 10 chapters are out now, and they each take (by Medium's calculations) about 4-9 minutes to read. I'll be adding new chapters every day through the end of the month. If you're looking for some nerdy laughs and nostalgia, it could be a delightful way to pass the time right now.

Here's a fuller synopsis of the story, in case you're not convinced:

It's the weekend of the big annual comic book convention, and Chad Mailer is a young professional comic book writer who hit his career peak five years ago with a series that he never actually finished, and he now wishes to re-ignite his career.

Read the rest

Shut-in novelists with cancelled book tours promote each other online

Publisher's Weekly writes:

Not to be outdone by the children’s and YA authors "signal boosting" their fellow authors on Twitter, two novelists, Caroline Leavitt and Jenna Blum, are promoting their colleagues with an ambitious initiative called A Mighty Blaze. Anyone can participate in the conversations on A Mighty Blaze on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram about new releases, but for authors wanting their books to be signal boosted on these platforms, there are a few requirements: the book has to be traditionally published for adult readers, and the author’s book tour has to have been canceled.

You can find the Mighty Blaze Facebook group here.

And here is the rest of the Publisher's Weekly piece.

[H/t My long-suffering agent, Laurie Fox]

Image: Photo by Danny on Unsplash Read the rest

World Made By Hand is a post-pandemic world novel

(I originally reviewed this in 2008, but thought it was worth reposting, for obvious reasons. -- MF) In World Made By Hand (2008) by James Howard Kunstler, the population of the United States (and most likely, the world) has been decimated by an energy shortage, starvation, plagues, terrorism, and global warming. The story takes place in an unspecified time in the near future (I'm guessing it's around 2025 or so). Kunstler is the author of the non-fiction book The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, and World Made by Hand is a fictional account of what life might be like if things go the way he describes them in Long Emergency. (Here's a TED video of Kunstler from 2004. Thanks, Erik!)

The story is told by Robert Earle, who used to be a software executive. Now he's a hand-tool using carpenter living in a town in upstate New York without Internet, TV, or newspapers. The electricity comes on every couple of weeks for a few minutes at a time. When that happens, nothing's on the radio but hysterical religious talk. Rumors of goings-on in the rest of the world are vague.

There's no fuel or rubber tires left for cars, and even if there were, the roads and bridges are shot. Earle can't afford a horse or donkey, so when he needs to buy carpentry supplies, he takes his hand cart to a compound on the outskirts of town called Karptown. Read the rest

Review: "The Nobody People" is like a literary X-Men novel for the Trump era

The X-Men are often cited as a pop culture metaphor for the struggles of persecuted peoples in the face of bigotry. But the allegory is far from perfect. It's barely even present in the foundational DNA of the earliest comics. The idea of "mutants" was initially just an excuse to skip over the origin stories and get straight to the super-powered superhero antics. These days, we commonly hear comparisons between Magneto and Professor X to Malcolm X and MLK. Even though it's, erm, not quite accurate. And even though Magneto started out by literally calling his team "The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants."

But Bob Proehl's new novel, The Nobody People, takes the opposite approach. Proehl is a friend of mine — I even wrote a song to help him promote the book, before I actually I read it — and he'll pretty openly admit that he envisioned it as a sort-of love letter to the X-Men. Whereas the X-Men began as pulpy superhero comics that eventually mutated into a political metaphor, The Nobody People starts with the metaphor, and mutates into a powerful personal drama. Here, the super-powered individuals are known as Resonants, and at the start of the novel, their presence is largely hidden from the modern world. The first part of the book mostly follows war correspondent Avi Hirsch, an amputee who learns that his biracial daughter is one of those powered Resonants; once they're outed, the book shifts into a sort of Bildungsroman, with a series of episodes that follow the logical progression of what always happens when a marginalized group tries to claim their own tiny corner in a world full of ignorance of hate. Read the rest

William Gibson's The Peripheral is on sale today as a Kindle edition

William Gibson's 2014 novel, The Peripheral, is on sale today as a Kindle edition for just [amazon_link asins='B00INIXKV2' template='PriceLink' store='boingboing' marketplace='US' link_id='9835af59-5fe0-42c3-8cce-17d9fbc444ae'].

Book description:

Flynne Fisher lives down a country road, in a rural America where jobs are scarce, unless you count illegal drug manufacture, which she’s trying to avoid. Her brother Burton lives on money from the Veterans Administration, for neurological damage suffered in the Marines’ elite Haptic Recon unit. Flynne earns what she can by assembling product at the local 3D printshop. She made more as a combat scout in an online game, playing for a rich man, but she’s had to let the shooter games go.

Wilf Netherton lives in London, seventy-some years later, on the far side of decades of slow-motion apocalypse. Things are pretty good now, for the haves, and there aren’t many have-nots left. Wilf, a high-powered publicist and celebrity-minder, fancies himself a romantic misfit, in a society where reaching into the past is just another hobby.

Burton’s been moonlighting online, secretly working security in some game prototype, a virtual world that looks vaguely like London, but a lot weirder. He’s got Flynne taking over shifts, promised her the game’s not a shooter. Still, the crime she witnesses there is plenty bad.

Flynne and Wilf are about to meet one another. Her world will be altered utterly, irrevocably, and Wilf’s, for all its decadence and power, will learn that some of these third-world types from the past can be badass.

Read the rest

Stephen King talks about his new novel, The Institute

George Stephanopoulos asked Stephen King to describe his new (and 61st!) book, The Institute. His answer, "Tom Brown's Schooldays go to Hell." Sounds like my kind of book, considering Tom Brown's schooldays were already pretty awful.

Image: Good Morning America/YouTube Read the rest

Dover edition of Edwin Abbott Abbott's Flatland (1884)

Flatland is a novel by Edwin Abbott Abbott, published in 1884. It's written as a biography by "A. Square," a two-dimensional creature who is literally a living square, thinner than a sheet of paper. He lives with other two-dimensional creatures on a surface called Flatland. In the book, Mr. Square tells of his adventures in worlds of different dimensions: Pointland (zero dimensions), Lineland (one dimension), and Spaceland (three dimensions) all inhabited with creatures suited for their respective worlds. Abbott does a wonderful job of world building, explain how the society (a satire of the Victorian society) and infrastructure of Flatland works. Even though the book was written 135 years ago, I found it very easy to read. Amazon is selling the Dover edition of Flatland for less than the price of a cup of coffee. I just bought it for my daughter. Read the rest

Late bloomers: 10 classic books with terrible initial reviews

Just because books are lauded today, doesn't mean they weren't, in their own time, received with anger, fear, and disdain. Some of the most valuable works of literature we have got their start amidst disgrace and outrage, though in the long run at least, they didn't seem to suffer too much for it.

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

The New York Times did not like Lolita. The full quote goes a little something like this: “There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” Way harsh, Times.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

The Brontës were probably quite used to ruffling feathers, and the reaction Wuthering Heights got says a lot about how revolutionary they were. This isn't your average, delicate story for ladies, and it left the Graham's Lady's Magazine wondering “how a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters.”

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

Steinbeck's tragic depiction of dustbowl living rocked the world when it came out, and The Grapes of Wrath has been steadily banned ever since. Funnily enough, though it was labeled communist propaganda stateside, the book was also banned in the USSR by Stalin, who thought it dangerous to show that even the poorest American could own a car.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Read the rest

Chart generates pitch ideas for writers

Halimah Marcus and Benjamin Samuel's "Handy Chart Automatically Generates a Pitch for Your New Novel"

The Electric Literature auto-publicist pitch generator does all that work for you—and it’s easy to use! If you’re Beyoncé, for instance: first of all, welcome, we’re glad you read the site. Second of all, you would look up “b” in column A, “e” in column B, “y” in column C, “o” in column D, and so forth, and then plug them into the sentence below. The result: “A keenly observed war epic about an overbearing mistress’s quest to grapple with her sexless marriage.”

It instructed me to write "a riveting autobiographical novel about a wealthy orphan's dream to confront their traumatic childhood." Read the rest

S.E. Hinton reveals why Johnny and Dally had to die at the end of The Outsiders

At the end of S. E. Hinton's classic 1967 novel The Outsiders, both Johnny and Dally die tragically. But what do their deaths mean? Is it a narrative device that pushes on the novel's themes of class conflict, the meaning of family, and the transition to adulthood? Nope, tweets S.E. Hinton in response to a reader's query. The reason for their deaths is much simpler than all that:

(A/V Club) Read the rest

The Way of the Shadow Wolves, a novel by Steven Seagal

I can't quite believe this is real: a novel by former movie star and Putin pal Steven Seagal, with a foreword by racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, titled "The Way of the Shadow Wolves", with a cover that looks like a photoshopped parody of itself.

This is the story of an Arizona Tribal police officer who stumbles onto one of the of the biggest cases in the history of the Southwest. He is a member of an elite group within the Native American communities known as The Shadow Wolves. What comes with his discovery is the uncovering of massive corruption in places where he once had placed his total trust.

It's $0 on Amazon Prime and 236 pages long. It's 11 p.m. and I have a freakish suspicion that if I start, I won't stop. So I won't.

Here's the first paragraph, which is also, of course, the first page:

Behold the reviews:

Read the rest

What happens when everything is available anywhere?

Of all the outlandish technologies I propose in The Punch Escrow, the one nobody seems to ever take umbrage with is “printing.” For those who haven’t read my book, a base assumption I make about 22nd century Earth is that we will be able to 3D print pretty much anything: the food we eat, the silverware we eat it with, heck, maybe even some people to join us for dinner.

Tal M. Klein's The Punch Escrow is available from Amazon.

How? E=mc2. Really, it all comes down to E=mc2; Einstein’s energy-matter equivalence principle. This equation tells us that mass is just another form of energy. That means we should be able to take some mass and directly convert it into pure energy, a thesis supported by real evidence. For example, it’s how we explain the energy that keeps atomic nuclei together. If we were to weigh the nucleus of any atom, we’d find it weighed slightly less than the sum of its parts. Where’d the extra heft go? It was converted into energy -- the “glue” holding everything together (in other words, dude, energy is the carpet of our universe). Since E=mc2 is a balanced formula, we should be able to -- at least in theory --convert energy to mass.

In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle allows energy to briefly decay into particles and antiparticles which then transmogrify back to pure energy. At small enough scales, the energy of these fluctuations would be large enough to cause significant departures from the smooth spacetime seen at macroscopic scales, giving spacetime a "foamy" character. Read the rest

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