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03-05-11: A 2011 Phone Interview with Peggy Orenstein

"The thing about Bella is that she is completely ... bland."

—Peggy Orenstein

Peggy Orenstein is not one to mince her words, and she knows how to follow the trail of bizarre, peculiar cultural infatuation to the source. Of course, she's also the mother of a young daughter, and understandably concerned. Young girls these days have a four billion dollar target on their foreheads. Who would resist?

Orenstein, for one. She first voiced her concerns in an essay for The New York Times Magazine, and the response was so strong she knew she'd hit a nerve. She followed the advice that a gentleman who called himself Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein so long ago, and followed the money. The result is her new book, 'Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture' (Harper / HarperCollins ; January 25, 2011 ; $25.99), a funny and rather frightening look at the marketing juggernaut aimed pre-pubescent girls.

I gave Orenstein a phone call to talk to her about her book before her appearance at the Capitola Book Café. You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

03-02-11: Panel Discussion with Terry Bisson, Rudy Rucker and Diana Paxson at SF in SF on January 15, 2011

"I was very much into Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs."

—Rudy Rucker

"I said there were five sequels."

—Diana Paxson

Given the quality of the readings on that Saturday evening, it was a foregone conclusion that the panel discussion for SF in SF on January 15, 2011, with Terry Bisson, Diana Paxson and Rudy Rucker would be equally grand. Now you can hardly imagine two more different authors with more different approaches and even different material. That said, these two complemented one another perfectly.

For the first thing, both had incredibly compelling personal stories tied to their work. Rudy's story was his story, in fact, history. I have to say again that I loved his reading and I think that 'Nested Scrolls' may turn out to be his most lauded work, which is, course, saying quite a bit! But Diana's story, about which I knew nothing, was equally compelling. I'll let her tell the tale.

Keeping all this afloat is Terry Bisson, whose insightful questions and deep personal history in and out of the genre and the publishing business give him a great perspective. He's known all these players forever, so he's on solid ground no matter what he's asking about.

Of course, their approach to fiction is also very different. Diana's is sheathed in history while Rudy takes a "transreal" approach. But the end result, though apparently starkly divergent has, I think, the same effect. Both writers use a unique combination of the real and the fantastic to tell the larger truth.

You can hear the truth writ large by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

03-01-11: The Agony Column Live, February 12, 2011 with Matt Stewart and Joshua Mohr

"It's much rarer these days that everybody reads the same books and talks about it."

—Matt Stewart

"...if we all see the same thing, we're all seeing entirely different things...""

—Josh Mohr If you've not listened to the readings from last week, then I heartily suggest that you do so before going on to listen to the discussion that Matt Stewart, Joshua Mohr and I had about their work. But if you have, you're in for a treat, because these gentlemen come from a similar place — San Francisco — with similar attitudes but very different literary inclinations.

How could I not have fun with these two after readings like that? Mohr told us in the course of our conversation that his first three books are all set in the same environs, but tell very different stories. And the center point for everything a pretty seedy bar. To be quite honest, if you can imagine a quick-witted discussion between two highly-intelligent and talented writers in a Hubert Sebly, Jr. bar, then you're getting close.

The real treat is that Capitola Book Café is tucked away in the heart of one of the few really suburban mall-ish places in Santa Cruz county. Have I written about the windows that look out on the crowd that queues up for the movies. They look at us, all seated fairly proper, holding books and holding forth, talks and chatting and communicating. Little do they know the sordid nature of what we're talking about! What's being discussed in our staid little Book Café would get an NC-17 rating on the screens next door.

It's my guess that most of my reader won't need to hear more than the readings to send them to the bookstore to order these books. But as you hear our discussion, you'll at least feel like you made a good decision, especially when you follow this link to the MP3 audio file.

02-28-11: A 2011 Interview with Richard Matheson

"I'm a disbeliever in genre...I think there should just be stories."

—Richard Matheson

Matheson is certainly correct in his assertion that genre does not exist; at least in his own work. For a man who has already created some of the most poignant and pertinent myths of the 20th century, he's a pretty restless guy. He still has quite a bit to say and he is hard at work getting it into print.

I spoke with Matheson at his home in the secluded woody hillsides beyond Los Angeles. It did not seem so far from the forests of Gatford. To be honest, I did not expect to get very much of his time. He is very busy and very private. But as we sat down to talk time seemed to simply move out of our general vicinity.

Yes, I did want to talk about his latest novel, 'Other Kingdoms,' but I also wanted to talk about a long legacy of fiction. Matheson's career began when science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery and suspense were all young genres, and his perception that there is no genre is founded in his strong sense of story. For Matheson, genre is more about setting or tone than it is about working within the limits of a genre, using the tropes to tell a story.

I would have thought that as a young man, Matheson would have read lots of science fiction and naturally gravitated towards that genre. Instead, for Matheson, his writing is all about realism. His first short story sale, to Anthony Boucher, at the time editing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, was a story he did not perceive to be science fiction. He was just telling a story.

Sitting in Matheson's living room, surrounded by his research, we also talked about his influences, in particular, Harold Percival, who work can be found at The Word Foundation. Matheson had some surprising things to say about the nature of reality Percival's writings and his own work. You can make time stop for a few moments by following this link to the MP3 audio file of our conversation.

New to the Agony Column

10-22-14: Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Phone Interview with Azar Nafisi : "..trying to create a reality which had not existed before..."

10-20-14: Commentary : William T. Vollmann Tells 'Last Stories and Other Stories' : Atlas of the Afterlife

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with William T. Vollmann : "...that's the choice we make with death..."

10-19-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 179: William T. Vollmann : Last Stories and Other Stories

10-16-14: Commentary : Alix Christie Hires 'Gutenberg's Apprentice' : Fifteenth Century Start-Ups

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Alix Christie : "This was the world's first tech start-up."

10-15-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 178: Alix Christie : Gutenberg's Apprentice

10-13-14: Commentary : Maureen Corrigan 'So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures' : The Power of Re-Reading

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Maureen Corrigan : "On his death in 1940, there were remaindered copies..."

10-08-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 177: Maureen Corrigan : So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures

10-03-14: Commentary : Lawrence Wright ' Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David' : Suspension of Belief

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Lawrence Wright : "...peace is possible..."

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