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Top 5

Top 5 with Dan Passamaneck

by Susan Henderson on January 23, 2008

Tell me 5 things you notice today.

My guest today, Dan Passamaneck, is going to take a slightly different angle on this question and will give his five reasons why it’s important to notice what’s going on around you. If you want to add to his list, feel free.

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1. It’s interesting. Noticing things helps me through life’s boring moments. Every so often I’m stuck killing time. I may be commuting, on a layover, whatever – I’m just waiting for the next official “thing.” But if there are people around me doing pretty much the same as I am, somebody typically gets into an argument or has a strange quirk or is just somehow provocative. It’s fun to watch these people. It helps me pass the time. I see things all the time like this that I could never have imagined on my own; other things happen that are so incredibly hackneyed that I’m hesitant to write about them for fear of coming off as unimaginative. I also think that attentiveness makes my writing more interesting to read. I’m more confident as a writer when I’ve seen what I’m talking about with my own eyes. That confidence supports a more vigorous narrative, which makes for more interesting reading. At the same time, my world expands immeasurably when I keep my eyes open, and that in turn makes my writing richer and more varied. Finally, writing as clearly as I can about my day-to-day experiences life helps make it possible to share them with others as well. These events become part of another person’s life. Honestly, I think that’s pretty interesting all on its own.

2. It’s inspirational. What happens out on the streets is poetry to me. Yes, most of it is pretty awful poetry, but some of it actually turns out to be very moving. I’m regularly seeing things that make me feel compelled to start writing immediately, just so I don’t forget the details. Phrases and figures of speech come to my mind that have never occurred to me before, because I’m seeing things I’ve never seen and they demand an ongoing expansion of my descriptive faculties. I’m inspired thematically by the sheer range and intensity of things that happen all around me, and I’m inspired by the technical challenge of reducing these experiences in all their fullness to a static written format. The exercise of attentiveness has been inspirational for me on a personal level, too. All kinds of things I’ve noticed have moved me very deeply – both in positive ways, and very much otherwise. But they aroused something within me, encapsulating some shade of truth with such eloquence that writing about them almost felt like a spiritual act. When I’m writing like that, the words seem to write themselves. This is the most powerful form of artistic inspiration I have experienced.

3. It improves my writing. I consider this to be true both in terms of mechanics and in terms of resonance. On a mechanical level, training myself to notice things has (big surprise) sensitized me to new things to write about, coaxing me out of comfort zones and into areas that otherwise would not have emerged in my work. I don’t have to make things up, or when I do, they’re made up out of something that had been stuck on the tip of my tongue until I’d come back to it a dozen or more times. That evolving appreciation for the story makes the process of writing more enjoyable and more fulfilling for me. Events seem more meaningful and I find more to say about them. To me, this feels like better writing. I guess I’m open to alternate viewpoints on that one.

4. It’s just handy. Putting aside the almost tangible benefits that I derive from noticing things as a writer, it’s a useful skill to have in general. I can be really absent-minded sometimes, and noticing some random detail can help me later on to remember something of critical importance, like where the car is parked or how to get home after a party. This lets me come off looking like a hero, even if only on a very modest scale. Names, recipes, directions, the news… there’s just so much out there to pay attention to, even excluding all the things I might want eventually to write about. People are flattered if you notice what they’ve got on their office walls or on their desks. People are appreciative when you draw their attention to the special tray of good pastries hiding behind the counter at the coffee shop. The world is full of things worth noticing, large and small, for both practical and frivolous reasons. When I keep my eyes open I almost always see something that I’m glad, eventually, that I noticed.

5. It helps me write more meaningfully. I care about my impact on the planet, and what my country is doing around the world, and the significance of my work, and also about my next door neighbors and the stranger in line behind me at the post office. All these relationships ultimately connect to each other. When I’m able to keep them all in view and to gauge my own actions accordingly, I feel that I’m doing my best as a person and (if I’m writing at the time) as a writer. Noticing things, and then working them over until I’ve written them up properly, helps me to identify big themes in small events. That’s a good way for me to remain mindful of whatever is really going on around me, and incorporate it into my life as a whole and into my writing in particular. If I do it right, this holistic connection I sense between the small story and the big picture comes through to the reader and becomes something the reader can share with me – which is itself yet another connection, overlaid upon all the rest. I consider this to be “meaningful” writing: writing that says something sufficiently real to forge a relationship with the author and a change in the reader. Affecting these changes in the reader is one of my chief goals as an author. To these ends, I find that noticing isn’t just useful – it’s indispensable. Lucky for me, it’s become such an ingrained habit that I couldn’t give up if I had to. It’s too much fun and I get too much out of it. I like keeping my sensors wide open. It does take a bit of energy, but I find it’s really worth it.

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Bio:

DANIEL PASSAMANECK is a California mensch. Born at the lull between the Baby Boom and Generation X, he grew up in the San Fernando Valley as the son of a professor of talmud and a children’s librarian. He started writing poems and jokes in the second grade and has been using words as playground and therapy ever since. He received a BA from Penn in communications behavior, took a year off as an intern for Knots Landing, and then attended Loyola Law School in Los Angeles for his JD. He then moved to San Francisco and practiced civil litigation for seven years before parting ways with the legal profession, citing unreconcilable differences. He transitioned to fundraising for a local animal shelter, and then moved to a position administering grant programs for the State Bar. “It’s a good gig. I give away money and everybody has to be nice to me.” Writing for his own gratification, he started blogging as an experiment and now has been posting essays, stories, recipes, poems, photographs and assorted fluff to his site, The Chucklehut, since 2002. A selection of these essays – true stories from public transit, the streets, and the stores – is being polished up as an anthology, so if you know a publisher who wants to get in on the ground floor, drop him a line. Dan lives within earshot of the San Francisco Bay foghorns with his wife Kelly, who is a guide dog trainer and instructor, and also with their son Zachary, who is unbearably cute.

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Top 5 with Chuck Collins

by Susan Henderson on November 28, 2007

Name your 5 fondest memories with your folks.

This question is for all my readers. But Chuck Collins will kick things off with his answers. Who is Chuck Collins? He is the host of The Radio Murders. And despite being a Browns fan, I like him a whole lot. Here’s Chuck….

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Mom and Dad were terrific parents and wonderful people. I wish I could be so firm in my beliefs and committed to doing what is right.

5) How Dad handled being told that his young family could not stay at a Missouri motel in 1961; no coloreds allowed. He said, “Thank you. We will find a better place.”

4) Mom swooning over meeting Larry Doby in our dining room. She had to lean on the door jam.

3) The time I slipped on a rock on the shore of Lake Erie and Dad waiting just long enough to see if I would remember my swimming training. I didn’t, and he pulled me out like a two-pound perch.

2) Dad addressing a group of staff and counselors at the learning camp that was one of the projects he managed. He looked so in control!

1) Mom chasing a black bear away in Yellowstone Park. “You aren’t getting near my boys, Mr. Bear!” She used a frying pan.

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Chuck’s Bio:

Quick, talk about yourself!

Most people would stumble around and feel very uncomfortable. Not me. I like what I do and who I’ve become. Sure, I could lose a few pounds and maybe take a lesson from Sting on those hours-long sessions he used to brag about. But aside from that I was dealt a pretty good hand.

Everyday, in two different radio markets, I have the chance to let strangers get to know me. At least they hear me and make up their own minds. I’ve been a broadcast professional for almost 34 years and still love it. They have to tell me to go home after a twelve-hour day, it is that much fun.

In 2001 I took the money and ran; granted myself a sabbatical to write. I didn’t know what I was going to write, I just knew I wanted to do it. The result is The Radio Murders. I am very proud of the effort, though I know there is still much work to do to chisel these six volumes into commercial successes. Like most of you, I am not willing to let the characters and the worlds that populate this work fade.

Susan is one of those people. She is like Rowdy Yates with all the tools needed to corral unruly, often undisciplined talent and keep us on the trail. A whip is not out of the question.

For that I am eternally grateful.

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Thank you, Chuck. I just put whip on my Christmas list.

Okay, your turn! And after you play, go check out Chuck’s website and also make him your MySpace friend.

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Top 5 with John Warner

by Susan Henderson on October 31, 2007

John Warner is the editor of the super-popular internet site, McSweeney’s. Recently, he was given his own humor imprint at Writer’s Digest. And today he’s here to play the Top 5 game with you. How does the Top 5 game work? John answers the question first, then you do, and then you check out all of his links!

Okay, here’s John. (I wonder if he knows I’ve blogged about him before?)

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A portrait of the young artist as a smartass. I was probably about 11 years old.

Top 5 Funniest Novels of All-Time (That I’ve Read)

Humor in literature often seems to get a bad rap, but for my money, writing a really funny book is about the hardest thing there is. I’d need several more hands and feet to count the number of books that have made me cry, i.e., Old Yeller; The Road; To Kill a Mockingbird; The George W. Bush Legacy; Scratch ‘n Sniff: Onions! Onions! Onions! and so on.

But really really funny books seem harder to come by, (shameless promotional pitch alert) which was one of my motivations for trying my hand at fostering an imprint for humor writing, Tow Books. Starting a humor imprint might be pretty dumb, but I given the low odds of success for any publishing venture, and for humor specifically, but even I wasn’t dumb enough to try to set out to publish humorous novels, because writing a really funny novel is very very difficult.

Sarah Walker and Jason Roeder

celebrating the release of their books

with shots of Jack Daniels

That said, when I think about my favorite novels of all time, most of them are funny, and they’re the ones I’m most likely to press upon friends or acquaintances or people who come to my door trying to sell grapefruit.

So, here’s my list of the Top 5 Funniest Novels of All-Time (That I’ve Read)

(Please note, these are in no particular order.)

1. The Water Method Man by John Irving

The story of Fred “Bogus” Trumper, translator of Old Low Norse, failed husband, and possessor of a crooked urethra. There’s a couple of set pieces in here, including one of Trumper trying to learn to ski that makes me weep with laughter even after twenty readings. This was Irving’s last novel before The World According to Garp, a funny book in it’s own right, but not as funny as this one.

2. Home Land by Sam Lipsyte

Lewis Miner (known as “Teabag”) writes letters to his high school alumni newsletter. This book almost got me tossed off a flight to New York because I was laughing so hard they thought I was a security risk.

3. Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Technically two novellas, but almost always sold in a single volume. It’s really astounding when you read these and realize they were written in the early 1930’s. They feel completely contemporary to this day, maybe more so than ever, particularly Day of the Locust, a satire of Hollywood emptiness.

4. The Columnist By Jeffrey Frank

A satirical “memoir” of Brandon Sladder, a Zelig-like Washington insider and columnist. During his book tours David Sedaris always recommends a book by another writer, and several years ago, he was recommending The Columnist, claiming it had more laughs per page than anything he’d read. He wasn’t wrong.

5. Assorted “campus novels”

As a possessor of a graduate degree, and a teacher of college, I have a serious weakness for the campus satire, and as I brainstormed my list, I realized that I could’ve quite easily filled the entire list with them. Instead, I’ll just list some of my favorites.

Changing Places by David Lodge

Small World by David Lodge

The Lecturer’s Tale by James Hynes

Blue Angel by Francine Prose

Straight Man by Richard Russo

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

So, my online friends, what are the funniest novels you’ve ever read?

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John Warner is Chief Creative Czar of Tow Books, a new publishing imprint focusing on funny books for people with good senses of humor. The first titles, Really, You’ve Done Enough: A Parents’ Guide to Stop Parenting Their Adult Child Who Still Needs Their Money But Not Their Advice by Sarah Walker, and Oh, the Humanity: A Gentle Guide to Social Interaction for the Feeble Young Introvert by Jason Roeder were recently released. He is also editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and author of So You Want to Be President? a humorous look at politics and campaigning to be published March 2008. His previous book, Fondling Your Muse: Infallible Advice from a Published Author to the Feeble Young Introvert was an BookSense pick November 2005. He lives in South Carolina.

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Top 5 with The Very Hot Jews

by Susan Henderson on October 24, 2007

Give me 5 reasons to be hopeful in these dark times.

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This question is for everyone, but The Very Hot Jews will answer it first today. Who are The Very Hot Jews? I cannot possibly define their comedy, or advice-giving, or where they cross that line of political correctness, or where they take a surprise turn and melt your heart. So after you play Top 5 with them, go have a look at their blog and see for yourself. They’re on MySpace, too. But first, here are Simon and Sera:

litpark simon sera the very hot jews

5 reasons to be hopeful in these dark times

1. Love! Don’t crinkle up your face like that – we’re not going to lay some Age of Aquarius doo-dah on your ass. We’re talking about the transformative power of everyday love. What’s really incredible is that when you look for it, as the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show helpfully points out, love is all around. See the way that guy brushed his girlfriend’s arm so tenderly, or the way that lady tousled her child’s hair without seeming to think about it? Witnessing tiny gestures of affection and kindness (as opposed to the idealistic but poorly conceived “random acts” of a thousand mid-90s bumper stickers) is a sterling reminder that we’re defined by goodness, no matter what celebretard-worshipping gossip sites and humiliation-based reality shows would have you believe.

2. The Internet! Not because of aforementioned 24/7 Britneywatch dot coms, or even because you can find a Major Matt Mason action figure mint in box. But because self-publishing is creating a new wave of influential voices who can find their own audiences without begging Knopf, Sony or Bravo for a break. Because citizen activists are increasingly making the shithead pundits of DC completely irrelevant. Because a few keystrokes can put you in touch with communities of people who are just as freaky as you are, and in more or less the same way. Because our moms can read our blog and tell us exactly what they don’t like about it. ¡Viva la revolución!

3. Bacon! So crispy. So chewy. So salty. So divine in color, so succulent in texture, so rapturous in flavor. We are enjoined by religious tradition to eschew the flesh of the pig, but – how to put this delicately? Fuck that. Is it wrong to love a meat so much that you write poems about it? If it is, we don’t want to be right.

4. The Out of Doors! Have you checked it out? Seriously, if you step away from your desk and walk through a door or two, you’ll find yourself in this crazy place where there’s, like, flowers and birds and trees and stuff. Unbelievable! Pretty! Of course, if you have a laptop, you can take it outside and stay safely connected while the sun shines on your face and the wind plays in your hair. Come to think of it, easing yourself in like that could be less overwhelming.

5. Comedy! Look, we know you love to laugh – there’s no need to put that in your Bebo profile, any more than “I love to come” or “I love to be handed large stacks of non-sequential banknotes.” But we’re duty bound to commend the best comics for taking the piss out of pomposity and helping us weather the abounding absurdity, ignominious indignity and dictatorial despair of modern times. Because given the landscape we’re facing right now, you can either curl up and die or laugh and carry on. It’s not exactly a new choice for us Jews, so we already know which way we’re gonna go.

litpark the very hot jews simon and sera

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Simon Glickman is half of the award-seeking blogger team known as Very Hot Jews. The San Fernando Valley native grew up besotted with Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, monster movies, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles. Tossing his financial future to the winds by majoring in English, he earned a Doctorate from Oxford University (with a dissertation on Herman Melville and fancy-schmancy French theory). He later served as Senior Editor at the music-industry trade magazine/cesspool known as HITS, briefly managed a major-label recording act and worked as a consultant. In 2005 he and his lovely wife, Julia Rubiner, co-founded the copywriting and branding consultancy Editorial Emergency, LLC. Simon is also co-ringleader of The Classic Rock Singalong. He lives in Los Angeles.

Sera Gamble leads the charmed life of a writer in Los Angeles. She is a Writer/Producer for the television show Supernatural and one-half of the internationally known blogging duo the Very Hot Jews. Her fiction was, for two years running, included in The Best American Erotica anthology series; it has also appeared on nerve.com and in literary journals such as Washington Square. Sera especially enjoys hanging out by the beach with her blindingly handsome French bulldog, Mojo.

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Top 5 with Dr. Dot

by Susan Henderson on September 26, 2007

Name 5 famous people you’ve met, and tell a story about at least one of them.

This question is for all my readers, and there’s a reason I think it’s a useful one for writers to think about. If you’re like me, playing is the best way to get the creative ideas flowing. But more importantly, think about what meeting a famous person does to you or your characters. You can often discover a lot about a person’s self-esteem, motives, buttons, and more. So play, and then take what you learn to your writing.

Okay, today’s special guest, Dr. Dot, is going to kick things off with her answers. Who is Dr. Dot? She is the gorgeous masseuse to the rock stars, and her nickname was given to her by the late, great Frank Zappa. What you may not know –  even if you have already heard of her – is that she has written a sure-bet, celebrity-heavy book, BUTT-NAKED AND BACKSTAGE: DIARY OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL MASSEUSE. If you are an agent or publisher, you can contact me or Dot with any interest in her book or in syndicating her sex column.

Okay, Dot. Take it away. Tell us about 5 famous people you’ve met.

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Eminem:

I met Em in 1999, when he hadn’t broken big yet in Germany. I had NO idea who he was but my kid made me go, telling me he is the next big thing. The fact that I had NO clue who Eminem was made them all open up easier to me and we all got along great. He too has a daughter and he too had a fucked up mom, like I did. He too came from a family so poor they couldn’t pay attention.

Eminem is proof, that you can not and should not, judge a book by it’s cover. I not only massaged them all, but showed them around Berlin, to the bank, clubs, cinema, restaraunts, etc. He then invited me to do a bit of the 2000 Up in Smoke tour in the USA, which I did. He treated me like a sister, always polite and generous. I turned him onto Frank Zappa on a few of our many long hauls.

Not a hip hop fan, but I am since meeting Em, an Eminem fan. He is the bomb.

Paris Hilton:

Another strong case for “Don’t be a cunt and judge a book by it’s cover!” I was backstage at Live 8 in London, massaging every star back there, but spent more time with Paris then any one else. She is so beautiful in person, it’s breathtaking. Then she hits you with her generosity and charm and you’re all washed up. She is so sweet and friendly, not fake, like one would imagine after reading Us or In Touch magazine. Paris is real and I defend her shrewdly when and if someone is slagging her off in my presence. “Have you met her!??” I bark. “NO!” is always the answer. “Then shut your fucking pie hole!” I answer back. Since when is it our choice to which parents we are born? She is making the best of what she was given. I adore her!

Roger Waters (IS Pink FLoyd!):

If you ever stumble across my MySpace page, look for the monster blog I wrote about Roger. In short, he has been a hero of mine as long as I can remember. I have met him a few times, but last June I finally got to spend quality time ALONE with Roger. I only charged him for a one hour massage but all in all, I was in his room over 3 hours. I lingered as long as possible on his body, massaging the same parts sometimes over and over, while listening to him talk about his past and present. He is a rather serious man, no goofing around with Reg, no siree. I find him so attractive in every way, I have to say, it was EXTREMELY difficult for me to stop the naughty thoughts racing through my mind during the butt massage. He is a beautiful genius and if he only knew how well I knew his music, he may have passed on getting a massage from me, as I am indeed, a fan. You don’t want to play Pink Floyd trivia with me. I would marry him in a heart beat. Nuff said.

Bruce Willis:

Again, if you want the full scoop, check out my myspace blog about Bruce. It’s LONG, almost as long as his, um, nuff said. Bruce was on a film promotion tour for the crappy film he did which probably went directly to dvd called “Breakfast of Champions” or some shit like that with Nick Nolte. I massaged him once and he then hired me to massage him on a daily basis for a few weeks. Then he flew me to Italy to massage him there while filming another BOMB called the Story of Us with Michelle Pfieffer.

He is generous and funny, but if he isn’t the center of attention 24/7, he throws a fucking temper tantrum. You gotta love it. He is a natural born entertainer. He acts, sings, dj’s, could do stand up comedy as I have seen it in his hotel room night after night in front of his “friends”. Bruce decided to put our “friendship” on ice until my book finally comes out in the USA as he thinks I may talk about some of the naughty things, but as you can see from my blog, I don’t. My blog is the actual chapter about Bruce, so the fucking cry baby should just calm the fuck down. You don’t want to make me mad. I am the rock and roll Rushdie after all.

Joey Ramone:


My first true love. Oh, I was indeed 15 and he was 29 when we started dating, but he didn’t know that. He thought I was 19, like I told him. The managers all knew in the end and that’s why my name is left out of a few Ramones books, as if eveyrone knew Joey dated a 15 year old, they would *gasp* think of him as a perv. But it was me that was the perv. Still am. So there. Joey and I had a going on for about 3 years and then I decided to follow the Grateful Dead for a couple years and had no time for a relationship. However, Joey and I were friends ALL the way up to his passing. You can read the blog I wrote about the Ramones on MySpace. It’s really long. I will always love Joey, he was so sweet, so funny, so sarcastic, so romantic and above all so STRANGE. He made my dream come true when I was in the 11th grade. He came and played in Ellington, Connecticut (a fucking cow town in the middle of NOWHERE) for my high school. I am sure they lost money for that gig, but he did it for me. Everyone in my school doubted me and gave me shit until Joey and co. finally took to the stage and blew the roof off the Country Squire (which is now called the “Hall of Fame”). Oh what a night.

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Many thanks to Dr. Dot, who is a sweetheart. And fiesty. Just my type. Okay, now everyone’s turn to play, and then go check out her website and make her your MySpace friend.

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