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02-03-11: KUSP On-Air Promo for Sunday, February 6: Siobhan Fallon

"It becomes its own strange kind of normal..."

—Siobhan Fallon

I'll be broadcasting my full-length interview with Siobhan Fallon, about her book 'You Know When the Men Are Gone' on Sunday. Johnny Simmons told me to cut these to 20 seconds, which is barely enopugh to say the name of the show, let alone, put in something that grabs the listener.

However, I find the discipline required for these exercises quite bracing. It's amazing just how much you can cut, how ruthless you can be. The hope, of course, is to draw new listeners. Those downloading this promo now will be able to get the whole 50-something minute interview on Monday. It's a great look into a writer's life and process; this is a grand example of how lives get re-told in fiction. For those hoping to hone their craft, this is another installment in the master classes, at no cost otherr than your valuable time; and I think listeners will find this quite well worth their valuable time.

But Siobhan Fallon did make it easy for me, since she has such a wonderful voice and so much to say, that is so interesting, which you can hear by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

02-03-11: Speaking Frankly: Thomas Frank on The Easy Chair : A Moment of Disregard

"We need the rich to be nice to us..we've been transferring all the wealth of society back to them... shouldn't they be nice to us?"

—Thomas Frank

It's clearly been way too long since I've spoken with Thomas Frank. He's left his steady gig at the Wall Street Journal and taken up with a more intuitively obvious place of publication, Harper's. Now before you begin, yes, I know about the foofaraw at Harper's with regards to layoffs. But, to be quite honest, we were so busy yakking about the transfer of wealth to wealthy and the trickle-up economy, that we could barely even get started. So I decided to do something unusual with this installment.

Generally, I like to begin with a composed introduction to my guest, a bit of boilerplate that lets listeners know who the heck they're listening to and that's about it. But Thomas and I just got to talking, and I realized I'd be well advised to turn on the recorder in mid-stream.

This conversation begins not with the intro, but with me coming back into mic range as I tell Frank about the latest opinion piece by the San Francisco Chronicle's conservative columnist, Deborah Saunders. She regally waves the red flag of debt, and the obvious — to her — necessity to reduce programs that are essential to the survival of the Middle Class, like Medicare and Social Security, all the while ignoring the (to me) obvious elephant among the elephants in the room, defense spending. It doesn't even get mentioned.

Well, what follows is free form smart conversation with one of America's leading political analysts and more fun than anyone should rightfully have when discussing the dire state of affairs in the United States. And yes, finally, I get to the introduction in the middle of our conversation and we launch into a discussion of Frank's latest column for Harper's The Easy Chair, which makes a modest proposal that we dedicate a day to be Rude to the Rich.

Of course Frank is much more eloquent and tongue-in-cheek about all this. But to me, the fascinating part is the science that fires off the whole discussion. You can read Thomas Frank's latest column if you spring for Harper's, which is available and rather nice on the iPad, and then give a listen to our chat by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

02-02-11: Dale Pendell Interviewed at SF in SF on November 13, 2010

"The Pharmako books go way back to a vision I had of something I was going to call The Poet's Guide to Drugs...."

—Dale Pendell

Dale Pendell was definitely a great pick on I believe, Terry Bisson's part, for SF in SF. Bisson told us that he'd heard that Pendell had received some sort of award for the most "green" science fiction book, and from that alone, Bisson knew something was up.

Of course, an Elmo ("most green"), which Pendell got for 'The Great Bay,' is a good thing in itself. Pendell's look at a future in which the Central Valley of California has becom flooded due to a rise in the ocean levels from global warming seems both relevant and greatly imaginative. It;'s one of thoe great ideas that seems obvious, but only in retrospect.

But Pendell's work goes straight my heart on two counts; one, his work involves a sort of meta-fictional conceit with the false history of 'The Great Bay.' But he goes a lot farther than that.

But more than that, his main work 'Pharmako' is a wildly odd piece of drug experimentation, gorgeous design and encyclopedia. Not surprisingly, it's something that took years for Pendell to craft.

And equally unsurprisingly, it is something that could be a bit more easily done now, because lots of the things that Pendell had to go to great effort to obtain can no be easily ordered over the Internet.

What cannot be ordered over the Internet however, beyond Pendell's excellent book, are the contents of that book, to wit, his experiences with those substances. Pendell's book is a fascinating spur to creativity, whether you take the drugs or not.

Perhaps there are cases where reading is a better choice than actual experience.

Pendell is an interesting fellow. We also talked about 'Inspired Madness' his book about Burning Man. I love how contrary Pendell's natural inclinations are; where most books and articles about Burning Man consist of photographs that trend towards the displays of oddity and nudity, Pendell's is a prose work about the inspirational aspects of the event. It has got to be much more difficult to do so, but who could be better qualified than the one time author of The Poeet's Guide to Drugs?

Here's a writer who cares deeply about the place where creativity comes from, which is clear from this linked audio MP3 file.

02-01-11: The Agony Column Live, January 8, 2011

Lisa Desrochers and Karen Joy Fowler

It's easy to forget how fortunate readers are to live in an age when ease of travel gives us unprecedented access to authors. If you live somewhat near a big city in the US, the chances are that some authors of interest are going to show up in bookstores in your neighborhood. It all seems so easy.

Of course, scheduling this sort of thing is not so easy, which is something I've learned as I try to take my radio show on the road. My thought is that this is sort of like being in a rock band. You want to get live exposure, and you sign up the acts. But getting everybody to the store on the date proves to be easier said than done.

For the January 8 segment of The Agony Column Live, I had everything planned out ... until the plans came undone. Lisa Desrochers was still driving down to Capitola, and it was a hell of a drive, from Oakdale. But my other guest proved to be unable to make it, and I didn't get wind of this until the last moment. Fortunately for me, I live in placve with some of the world's greatest writers — one of them, of course, being Karen Joy Fowler. She'd planned to come to the gig anyway — and since she had cleared the time, she didn't mind being part of the party.

We began with the readings, which the writers kept shortish and to the point, but each gave us a real flavor of what they wrote. But the real fun came when I started asking questions and, quite happily, got answers that were not what I expected. Now, the Interviewer Rulebook, tends to say that you should never ask a question to which you do not know the answer. Of course, I'm not real big on rules and I don't really try to interview writers, per se. My general hope when I sit down with any one, or in this case, two writers is to get them talking about what's important to them.

Now my, soon to be proved foolish assumption was that both writers used the supernatural as a means to externalize internal states that are otherwise not easily described, and that in doing so, they set up supernatural worlds that abided by rules the authors themselves created. To a degree, this is the case for Lisa Desrochers, and she spoke eloquently of her efforts in creating a non-denominational supernatural architecture that included heaven, hell angels and demons but eschewed religiosity and moralizing but not morality. Not an easy line to walk!

Of course, my easy theory broke down completely when it came up against the complicated and intuitive writings of Karen Joy Fowler. For Fowler, the supernatural is by definition chaotic and intrusive. It's bad things happening to anyone in its way for no good reason. It's the breakdown of rules, not the introduction of new ones.

To tell the truth, I thrive on moments when I'm proved wrong, because, admittedly, that's the majority of my life. But you can hear things go right as Karen Joy Fowler and Jill Desrochers talk about writing by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

01-31-11: A 2011 Interview with Teresa Strasser

"...and I just thought, 'Really? Do you have to bum me out? 'Cos this is pretty much no backsies."

—Teresa Strasser

When I first set up an interview with Teresa Strasser, I managed to forget that I had at the same time a vet appointment to take my doggie in for doggie chemo. Life in the 21st century proving once again to be more interesting than I anticipated or wished. It's the sort of thing that would happen to her, in her book.

It was a phone interview, so I called her from the vet's office, certainly not the quiet and professional background that one might have hoped for. She was not pleased. She told me she was working two jobs and didn't know if she could fit me in later. This was the first time ever I had missed an interview, and I was disappointed in myself for blowing the time, and admittedly miffed as well. It had not been a banner week chez Kleffel, and this was the surprise on the bottom of my shoe.

But I am nothing if not persistent. I had scheduled to be in LA the following week, and after lots of back and forth — much of it while I was actually driving down to LA — I managed to line up an interview with her just about 24 hours after I was going to do the Zocalo Public Square Gig with Guillermo Del Toro. To be honest, I really relished the difference. I had asked to do the interview at her house, because I wanted to get a feel for what her household as like. I was told to prepare for chaos. That sounded about right to me.

Thus I found myself driving literally, almost past Tommy's Hamburgers just a stone's throw from the infamous Rampart Station of the LAPD. As I drove up her street, trying to find her address, I came upon a house that looked really out of place. It was clearly brand-news, with a pristine yard, a big porch and giant windows through which I could see an enormous flat-screen TV. It screamed "minor celebrity starter house." I parked across the street.

But when I got my cases out, I realized this was not her house. Hers was down just a little ... a little more ... oh here, the much more prosaic, needs-a-bit-of-work-and-yard-work model. Now this felt right. I had been told to prepare for chaos. As I walked up, Teresa shouted at me from the street, where she was walking with her son. And so chaos came to me.

I set up shop in the living room; Teresa's husband and her mother were there. (Since a big chunk of the book talks about her rocky non-relationship with her mother, this was a surprise.) I got stuff plugged in and balanced the mics somewhat precariously upon leather ottoman / chair-like deals. Nathaniel, her baby, immediately figured out that the balancing part of the arms made fun things to pull on. And he was hungry. I turned on the recorders, and got Teresa in front of a mic. A cat jumped into my lap and I realized I hadn't taken any allergy medicine. I figured I had about 45 minutes before my head exploded.

Strasser is as smartly, enjoyably funny in person as she is in print. Her baby boy was hungry, tired and wanted mommy. But Strasser, who has worked forever in radio, knows how to stay on mic, even when it is literally being nibbled on by her child. We had a grand discussion of her book until the cat dander got me, and I had to entertain the child by standing on the porch and coughing. Fortunately, I was able to make a quick recovery and finish the interview before the meltdown. You can hear the unedited audio non-chaos as Teresa Strasser talks about pregnancy, childbirth and "deep cable" by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

New to the Agony Column

09-05-15: Commentary : Susan Casey Listens to 'Voices in the Ocean' : Science, Empathy and Self

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Susan Casey : "...the reporting for this book was emotionally difficult at times..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 213: Susan Casey : Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins

08-24-15: Commentary : Felicia Day Knows 'You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)' : Transformative Technology

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Felicia Day : "I think you have to be attention curators for audience in every way."

08-22-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 212: Felicia Day : You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]

08-10-15:Agony Column Podcast News Report : In Memory of Alan Cheuse : Thank you Alan, and Your Family, for Everything

07-11-15: Commentary : Robert Repino Morphs 'Mort(e)' : Housecat to Harbinger of the Apocalypse

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Robert Repino : " even bigger threat. which is us, the humans..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 208: Robert Repino : Mort(e)

07-05-15: Commentary : Dr. Michael Gazzaniga Tells Tales from Both Sides of the Brain : A Life in Neuroscience Reveals the Life of Science

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Michael Gazzaniga : "We made the first observation and BAM there was the disconnection effect..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 208: Michael Gazzaniga : Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience

06-26-15: Commentary : Neal Stephenson Crafts an Eden for 'Seveneves' : Blow It Up and Start All Over Again

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Neal Stephenson : "...and know that you're never going to se a tree again..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 207: Neal Stephenson : Seveneves

06-03-15: Commentary : Dan Simmons Opens 'The Fifth Heart' : Having it Every Way

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Dan Simmons : "...yes, they really did bring those bombs..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 206: Dan Simmons : The Fifth Heart

05-23-15: Commentary : John Waters Gets 'Carsick' : Going His Way

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with John Waters : " change how you would be in real life...”

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 205: John Waters : Carsick

05-09-15: Commentary : Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD and 'Shrinks' : A Most Fashionable Take on the Human Mind

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD : "..its influence to be as hegemonic as it was..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 204: Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD : Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry

04-29-15: Commentary : Barney Frank is 'Frank' : Interpersonally Ours

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Barney Frank : "...while you're trying to change it, don't ignore it..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 203: Barney Frank : Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

04-21-15: Commentary : Kazuo Ishiguro Unearths 'The Buried Giant' : The Mist of Myth and Memory

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro : ".... by the time I was writing this novel, the lines between what was fantasy and what was real had blurred for me..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 202: Kazuo Ishiguro : The Buried Giant

04-17-15: Commentary : Erik Larson Follows a 'Dead Wake' : Countdown to Destiny

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Erik Larson : "...said to have been found in the arms of a dead German sailor..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 201: Erik Larson : Dead Wake

04-15-15: Commentary : Peter Bell Reflects 'A Certain Slant of Light' : Strange Stories of Modern Scholars

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Peter Bell : "...I looked up some of the old books..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 200: Peter Bell : Strange Epiphanies and A Certain Slant of Light

03-14-15: Commentary : Marc Goodman Foresees 'Future Crimes' : Exponential Potential

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Marc Goodman : "...every physical object around us is being transformed, one way or another, into an information technology..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 199: Marc Goodman : Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

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