Bruce Bauman: Why I’m the First Candidate for My Guillotine.
I met the writer Bruce Bauman a couple of years ago as we both waited for the slowest elevator in history. Bruce is sharp, well-read, outspoken, and absolutely hysterical. I didn’t know at the time that he was also an outstanding writer and editor. He was just a very entertaining, kind of cranky guy in a Yankees cap.
Bruce is a senior editor (along with Dwayne Moser and editor-in-chief Steve Erickson) at Black Clock, a literary magazine put out by Cal Arts which has featured such notable writers as Aimee Bender, Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus, Greil Marcus, Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace.
His novel, AND THE WORD WAS, is the story of a New York City doctor who loses his son in a Columbine-like school shooting and – in the resulting turmoil – flees his wife and current life for India, where he hopes to become lost. I enjoyed and admired this book so much, and last year, I reviewed it on Laila Lalami’s Moorishgirl.com.
Now that it’s out in paperback, I called up Bruce and asked if he’d do a week on my blog.
Now, he knows I don’t like to run anything ordinary on my blog. So I asked him if he’d take a photo of himself in a tutu just for a little fun with a few thousand of my friends here. “No.” I asked if I could interview his mom. “What would you ask? Wait. F*ck no.” Well, I wasn’t going to be content with a straight interview. I mean, Bruce is a multi-faceted guy. He’s not just some intellectual who knows his art and politics. This is also a guy who – before our reading together in California – was watching none other than the Britney Spears reality show, CHAOTIC. (Oh, he might kill me for disclosing that one.)
So do a Cranky Guy piece for me, I said. Give me something fit for Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect”.
So here is the rascally Bruce Bauman with . . . .
33 Thoughtdreams on Why I’m the First Candidate for My Guillotine:
For accepting an invitation to do this blog when I should be working on my new novel.
For not having taken photos the night at the Gramercy Park Hotel when The Shrub and I snorted cocaine together.
For being such a little prick that Mrs. Rubin had to throw me out of the class over a hundred times in fifth and sixth grades.
Because I don’t have the courage to expose the frauds and blowhards that pollute art and literature.
For not being able to abolish all the religions of the world with a kiss from god.
For blaming myself for so long because I couldn’t control myself when my ulcerative colitis was at its worst.
For missing the moment in Rio to sleep with the real ‘girl from Ipanema.’
For not knowing how to appreciate the beauty of a sunset.
Because I don’t know how to tell you that my wife, Suzan Woodruff is now one of the great painters in America without having you think that I’m prejudiced.
For not being able to stare into space until time stops and I am no longer afraid to fall asleep.
Because I’m haunted by screaming nightmares that tell of sins I don’t remember committing.
Because I did not stop Lt . Calley that afternoon and I could have.
Because I know what Dick Cheney imagines when he masturbates but I am sworn to secrecy– and I do not break my word.
Because, as a five year old kid, I watched the black lady who lived next door get pushed off the roof by her white husband and I never told anyone what I saw.
Because I did not keep Mark David Chapman in that coffee shop on 72nd Street another two hours that night.
Because I yelled “Kill him, kill him,” to Lawrence Taylor as he crushed quarterbacks.
Because I can’t stop people from saying that mean spirited mediocrities like Bill Parcells, Phil Jackson and Coach K are geniuses.
That I can’t remember the name of the true genius who invented the internet.
Because I can’t make Woody Allen see what a schmuck he’s become.
Because when Allen Ginsberg wanted to lick my reality sandwich, and Gregory Corso wanted to fuck my girlfriend, I ran away instead of chanting their songs in my head.
For the thousands of small cruelties that have escaped my mouth and which I relive over and over again because I am trapped in the exitless hell of my mind.
For being so nasty to Mr. Hershkowitz, my Hebrew school teacher because I did not comprehend the meaning of the numbers on his arm or the sighs from his lips.
For having sex with my married German friend in the parking lot at Dachau.
For having affairs, before I got married, with women who were married or who had boyfriends and never thinking I was doing anything wrong.
For not telling Mick Jagger he was a cheap bastard the night he stiffed the waitress at CBGBs.
For not having enough clout to vote Patti Smith into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.
Because Kafka understood how to wait and I don’t.
Because I can control my ambition.
That I can close my eyes to the pain and poverty all around me because, like you, in my heart, I believe I am too good to be poor.
That I cannot make the Israelis and Palestinians see that they are the same person.
That I was not kinder to my parents sooner.
That America is dying and I can’t save it.
That I will never write a sentence so beautiful that it will change the world.
You can see more of Bruce at www.Mad-as-Hell-Club.net. Mad-as-Hell launches September 1, 2006, and Bruce will have a regular column there.
P.S. Inventors of the internet were Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. Their boss: my dad.
P.P.S. If you’re in the New York area tonight (Monday, May 15), I’ll be reading at The Back Room, 7:30pm. I’ll be reading with Pasha Malla (from Canada), Roy Kesey (from China), Pia Z. Ehrhardt (from New Orleans), Todd Zuniga (from NYC), Jeff Landon (from Virginia), Claudia Smith (from Texas), Kim Chinquee (from Michigan), Darlin’ Neal (from California), Gail Siegel (from Chicago), Grant Bailie (from Cleveland), Lindsay Brandon Hunter (from NYC), Jim Nichols (from Maine) and Kevin Dolgin (from France).
Behind the scenes: An author describes working with an editor.
Ever wonder what it’s like for an author to work with his editor once the book is sold? Ever wonder how your own experience compares to another’s?
I’m interested in the editing process, from having your manuscript accepted to what become the published version. Can you tell me . . . Who was your editor for this book, and how would you describe her style?
I worked on it with Judith, who is the publisher of OP. She was very hands on. She’d read through x amount of pages and then would send her suggestions. We’d talk. I’d make them. She’d then call, we’d talk and mostly of the time agreed. If not, I almost always got her to see my way of thinking on why I didn’t make a change or made it differently than she suggested. We did this for a few times a week for about three months.
Did it get longer or shorter?
Oddly, almost the same number of words but many chapters got added, shortened or deleted. I just wanted to make sure, and I have my reasons, that I had 63 chapters.
What was the primary focus of the editing – tightening the plot, sticking hooks at the ends of the chapters, adding, cutting? Talk to me about this process?
The biggest thing was dealing the Levi “books,” excerpts, whatever you call them which were much longer. Judith wanted more of Levi Furstenblum in Neil’s narrative, which was the best idea she had. I had to explain why each Levi section came where it did. I put every page up on my walls of my studio and then it became like a puzzle. There IS a reason every Levi chapter falls where it does. That forms a different part of the plot than the Neil narrative and storyline.
Judith’s other major input was urging me to give more depth to some of the characters of the characters.
Did editing feel like a collaboration or was it still in your hands?
Very much a collaboration though I had final say on everything. Not once when I said “I do not want to do this,” did she object.
What was the best and worst of this experience?
Worst is just that it is hard. Really hard. Best – when it was over and I felt like the book really worked.
Did you cut anything you wish were still in the book?
Yeah, well, yes and no. Neil’s name was originally Chaim Neil Downs, so I had a joke about “hi i’m kneel downs.” and Chaim means life in Hebrew, which was an ironic name for him. It wasn’t really the right name for him. There are plenty of other bad puns and jokes so . . . .
How do you feel about the final version?
Very satisfied when it was done. Now I wish there were sentences I could change. I asked, when it went from hard to paper, if I could change a few things and I was told that I was insane.
Considering the many reviews and comments you received on the book, what’s stuck with you? What meant the most to you?
Most of the reviews have been excellent. The one where the person got everything wrong, and I mean facts as well as interpretations, and a few lines that were off base always stick with you. Part of the deal.
But aside from the reviews, which are important in one sense, what’s meant the most to me are the letters and emails I’ve received from people I’d never met who loved it. That is so gratifying. I’ve gotten them from Holocaust survivors, other writers, Indian women, members of the clergy – just all kinds of people.
And I treasure one comment I got from the great critic Leslie Fielder before he passed away. He’d been bluntly tough on me and my book at times. But he read a near final version – and he wrote me that I’d finally found a “unique voice and vision.” I called him up to thank him and he said, in his gruff way, “Yeah, but I’m not sure how much that will help you these days.” He was pretty cynical by then.
I’ve become quite close friends with Joy Nicholson, who, many people think I knew before but we only met after she read my book, and wrote about it on Beatrice.com. Then we contacted each other. And then our books were reviewed together in Los Angeles Magazine.
How is it possible that an author born and bred in New York City, writing a story that’s set in NY (when it’s not set in India), did not get reviewed or you interviewed in any NY publications?
I wish I knew the answer to that. Maybe cause there are thousands of books published every year and there’s so many factors involved, including luck. But it’s such a New York book and it’s been most frustrating- I want to go up to some people – not sure who – and just shake them. I think I’m going speak at some libraries in Queens. I can’t wait to go to the one in Flushing where I went all the time as a kid.
I sometimes wonder if it’s cause I left seven years ago for LA – and it’s cosmic payback. In LA the book was received very well. The word of mouth has been good and it’s going west to east.
Other times I think, fuck, even though I lived in Manhattan for 20 years, I remember as a kid I used to climb up on the roof of the building in Flushing and gaze at the skyline in awe and desire and wonder, and think how – and I knew it wasn’t just taking the 7 train – it’s long way from Northern Boulevard to Fifth Avenue.
Want to hear more from Bruce? He moderated the LitPark Roundtable: 8 Authors Talking about the Business.
And you can meet his wife, the painter Suzan Woodruff, by clicking here.