“I know what they don’t seem to want,” said Rob Cain, who runs Chinafilmbiz.com and is a consultant to producers and others doing business in China. “They don’t want the same old thing, over and over again, the action blockbusters with lots of explosions.”
“The change is that Chinese audiences want more from Hollywood movies — not just spectacle, but stories that engage them,” said Michael Andreen, a consultant to the Chinese media firm Le Vision Pictures, which will make and acquire films for release both in China and around the world.
A couple quotes from ‘U.S. Box Office Heroes Proving Mortal in China,’ from Sunday’s New York Times. There do seem to be other factors influencing Hollywood’s declining impact in China, and the piece points to “market manipulation” by Chinese officials. Still, there’s something to be said for viewers demanding a higher quality product, and perhaps the impact from the Chinese film box office will positively influence Hollywood production decisions.
John Gagliano is our house artist for Frequencies, designing the cover and illustrating the essays. We though the publication of Volume 2 was a good time to pull back the curtain and have a chat with the man behind the myth.
You worked in an off-track betting joint for a while, and you’re at work now on a graphic novel that chronicles this experience. Can you describe the unique rollercoaster ride of daily life there?
JG: I worked at Off Track Betting for about 6 years through 2008, I did mostly night shifts since that’s when the younger generation of betting clerks had to put in time in order to move up and get the friendlier day shift. Pretty much once I got settled in to my first coffee and signed off on an envelope full of cash, it was open season for all the racing fans to transition over to my window. Regular gamblers bet fast, it’s not like casual spectators picking the name of horse they want to bet on, these guys play numbers and verbal bets get rattled off like phone numbers. Astoria Queens was one of the busier branches in the city and you had to try pretty hard not to screw up any of their bets, quite often I did, and quite often I was shouted at, cursed, and sometimes threatened, but all in good fun, mostly. That’s basically what my day consisted of, another coffee break, maybe a nice lull in the action for me to play some bets myself, maybe a tip from a winning racing fan and that’s a pretty solid day. I just have to make sure my draw is even or its out of my pocket at the end of the night.
You have your own clothing line – Unruly Heir. Is designing clothing a different creature from the other design work you’ve done, like the illustrations for Frequencies, or other magazines?
JG: When I work on the graphics for the clothing line I apply the same skills but it’s a totally different ball game. Commercially the rules are very different, obviously the art I’m doing for apparel needs to hit on many different levels, for it to succeed, and of course sellable. Textiles, T-shirts and Labels is primarily where my art is used and what makes a T-shirt cool is so different than why an editorial illustration is cool.
Your figures, their faces and limbs are incredible. What’s your favorite thing to draw?
JG: Thanks! I would have to say hands are probably my favorite. I think because they are so dynamic and also mechanical. Only one or two lines is the difference of them looking like actual hands or just a bunch of bananas.
Some of your work seems to balance the downtrodden with a solemn joy. ‘Superjoss’ features a child in a Superman outfit barreling towards this apocalyptic, stricken-looking playground. Or ‘Us,’ where you have this dispirited elderly man being comforted by a younger man with his arm draped around him. Or ‘Makeshift,’ which we put on the cover of Volume 2, where a woman appears to be moving by hatchback-hot-air-balloon, reading a book, belongings tucked in the trunk.
JG: I definitely like to paint “scenes” which range from very specific happenings to more subdued pictures. Superjoss, (joss coming from my girlfriend Jossie) for me has the perfect balance of action and emotion, plus anything post-apocalyptic peaks my interest to say the least.
We’re pretty pumped to have just signed an outstanding new novel by Shane Jones, called Crystal Eaters, which should come out late-spring or early-summer 2014. It’s part sci-fi fable, part family drama, and 100% awesome.
Alissa Nutting, author of Tampa, says: “Crystal Eaters’ fantastically surreal world is a grounded epiphany of the highest order, revealing the stark and majestic grace that is present within the loss each living thing must endure. Page after page, Jones’s exquisitely styled prose drugs the ear like otherworldly music—this pyretic, hallucinatory novel stings with beauty at every turn.”
Here’s a Q+A conducted with Shane Jones, where we talk videogames, indie publishing vs the corporate game, and ambition. And Crystal Eaters.
Q: I was telling someone the boiled-down set-up for Crystal Eaters – a village believes in crystal count: that every person contains within themselves a number of crystals that designate how long they have to live, and once they reach a zero-count they die; so a young girl named Remy, in an effort to save her sick mother, sets out to discover a way to increase one’s crystal count – and the thought occurred to me that the premise sounds somewhat like a videogame. Many games that I remember playing – Myst, Zelda – have a fable-like quality to them. Have videogames influenced you at all?
I think videogames from my childhood influenced me a lot and while writing Crystal Eaters I remember looking at images from a bunch of games like Zelda, Super Mario Bros, and Myst. I think the fable-like quality you mentioned probably comes more from reading fables early on, or just some hardwired thing inside me that leans toward alternative realities, or hating on reality. But some of the images in games like Zelda and Super Mario Bros I really love, I think they are just beautiful pieces of art, and I’m sure they burned into my brain early on. Sega had a game called Alex Kid In Miracle World which was basically a more fucked up Super Mario Bros, more raw and poorly developed and just weird, and I played that game religiously. And a lot of those old school Sega and Nintendo games have main characters with health points or HP and I just love that. The idea of a number you have and you’re losing the number and always trying to increase it to avoid death. That’s a detail from videogames that influenced this book. I will say I don’t play videogames now. The last system I owned was the original Playstation. And here’s a confession: I never owned a Nintendo as a kid. I’m not sure I’ve ever told anyone that. I went to a friend’s house whose Dad was a heroin addict and we’d play Nintendo all day and cook hot dogs in a fire pit in the woods. For some reason, I only had a Sega. I was the weird kid playing Alex Kid In Miracle World. You should look that game up if you don’t know it. If I remember right, at the end of each stage you had to play rock, papers, scissors, to defeat a boss, which seems really lazy on the developers side and just strange. This is after you spend the entire stage punching things and avoiding skulls.
Q: Crystal Eaters contains this incredible line: “As a child what you see is creation. As an adult what you see is destruction.” What do you see?
If I talk to people or read the news I see a lot of destruction. Adults tend to talk about everything that is wrong with the world. Tell a coworker the weather for tomorrow and they’ll probably say what’s wrong with it. But if I just keep to myself and my family and, I don’t know, just walk around and be inside my own head, I see a lot of creation and beauty. The books I read and the books I write are a reflection of destruction and that reflection leads to creation. It’s a cycle, right? The line from the book you mentioned singles out Remy and her father and how the two see the world differently, which creates tension in regards to the dying mother. Sometimes adulthood feels like a trap because the responsibilities, the mundane nature of work and shopping and eating every day, can wear on you and I think that can feel like destruction. That can feel like you’re moving through mud. But not kids, no way. They are constantly in forward motion, always discovering, always creating, and I try and tell myself that often when writing: be a kid and play, don’t be an adult and complain it’s been cloudy for three days.
Q: Mom’s sickness has brought all these emotions to the surface: Dad struggles with the guilt of hogging the blankets while they slept; Remy’s brother, Adam, essentially commits a crime and is imprisoned out of the guilt he bears from witnessing an attack against his mother as a younger boy; Remy, frustrated with her father and brother’s immobility as a result of their guilt, sets out to act. So Crystal Eaters can be seen as a family drama. With the crystal-count, the story could be viewed as a fable. Then you have an approaching sun that is gradually warming the world and a clash of cultures between a tiny village community and the encroaching city; so it can also be imagined as deft social commentary. How do you juggle these threads without spinning your wheels?
I drove myself insane with this book. Both Light Boxes and Daniel Fights a Hurricane have a fairly simple plot or concept and a forward motion where I can be kind of loose and run wild, but with Crystal Eaters there’s a bunch of different characters, various settings, and lots of storylines that I really worked hard at developing. It just had to feel more structured and solid. I want the book to be heavy, deep, like it’s pulling you down with it. The feeling is much tighter, kind of dug out and deepened, more constricted. As far as writing and not spinning my wheels with all the themes and storylines you mentioned, I cut 45,000 words from earlier drafts, wrote and re-wrote, spent days on single sentences, etc. I’ve never worked so hard and it nearly destroyed most of my personal relationships because I was so far gone inside it. I kind of lost my grip on reality. I set out to write the biggest book I could and then I cut that book into the smallest box it would fit. I hope it worked. Of course, because of all the stuff you mentioned, it feels impossible to describe. Over the weekend my father asked what the book was about and I mumbled something like, “it’s a sci-fi fable about death” and then I started describing people eating crystals and vomiting light and twin horses in portals and hexagons on faces and he got real quiet and asked, “are you on drugs?”
Q: Crystal Eaters feels, to me in many ways, like the most ambitious project you’ve tackled. You’ve already accomplished a lot with your work, having found success in indie publishing circles, getting a project optioned by Spike Jonze, two books published by Penguin. Aren’t you due for some rimmed glasses, a vest, and some safe stories about affluent suburbanites?
For me, all the stuff you mentioned doesn’t mean anything when I’m working. I don’t think my past writing even exists really. It’s disposable. Besides, any success I’ve had I haven’t really felt. I think I had a few months where I got some money on a regular basis and a lot of emails and things really felt different, but it faded away pretty quick. So I don’t think I’m due anything. I don’t ever want to feel that way. I want to feel on edge and hustling and working hard and being humble and always learning. I always want to be creating something new and messed that feels electric. Writers who write safe stories and know they are, I just don’t understand that. Do they exist? [Editor’s note: They do.] I don’t even understand writing to an audience because I’m insane. In my opinion, no matter what you’ve accomplished you’re still due nothing. You can’t really escape a blank page. You have to keep hustling and working and putting stuff out in the world because if you don’t it’s going to push inward on you.
Q: You’ve stated in past interviews that much of your writing is image based. In Light Boxes, the effect is whimsical and sparse and dreamy, where with Crystal Eaters the images feel more meaty and anchored. Light Boxes took place in a world blanched by February, while in Crystal Eaters characters dig through the muck of the mines in search of a mythical black crystal that is rumored to prolong life. Do you ever consult photographs, paintings, or music to help inspire the mood you’re casting?
Yeah, for sure. I’m always looking at stuff online and I think that influences what I’m writing. I’m always looking up artists and paintings and letting that seep inside me. Just yesterday I spent a good hour looking at Morris Louis. My past books have relied heavily on imagery, but I think Crystal Eaters goes next level. At least that’s my hope. I really don’t want to fail. I want every page to pop with light or darkness and I want the book to be an image orgy and something that burns you. Sure, that sounds kind of pretentious, but I think it’s true. I’m trying my hardest to blow sentences and images off the page and not waste any time. In a way, Crystal Eatersis the opposite of Light Boxes. I think you’re right in the comparison. One is up in the air and light while the other is grounded and covered in gunk.
Q: Having worked with a couple different indie presses and then with Penguin, I imagine you have an interesting perspective on the industry. Would you care to share anything about your experience, or how you circled back around to working with indie presses?
I prefer working with a smaller publisher. I think there’s many benefits of working with a larger publishing house, like Penguin. You have a whole network of people and departments working on your book, and you get a larger advance, and you get to tell friends and relatives the name of your publisher and they don’t ask, “Say the name again?” It’s exciting. But my experience was really up and down with Penguin. I felt stressed out with the money and business aspect of things toward the end. My editor, the guy who bought Light Boxes and Daniel Fights a Hurricane, left immediately after buying Daniel. We were really close and I had a blast working with him on Light Boxes. So I got a new editor at Penguin who I could tell right away didn’t understand the book from initial edits. I remember showing the edits to someone, a close friend, who actually said to me, “I’m sorry.” My agent just brushed it off. Everything went along fine in a way, she was great and nice, but the entire time I just knew the book was going to fail, that Penguin wasn’t going to push for it. They were going to publish the book, throw it out there, and move on. I had to fight for my own interviews and reviews and there wasn’t any mention of a book tour or even a single reading - things any publisher does. I remember emailing my agent before the book came out to get excited, let’s contact everyone about the book, and he never even responded. It was a really awful feeling - just knowing your book is going to bomb. Which goes back to what I said earlier - it’s all good and great you have a major publisher, but what if they (sales, marketing, your publicist) don’t really care about your book? What if they put the feelers out there early and know interest is low?
I could probably ramble on about this for a while, but my feeling is that things have changed drastically in the past few years. Larger houses are publishing less and less interesting fiction. The sales aren’t there. Editors, many who love different fiction, are scared for their jobs. Sure, they may publish your weird artsy novel, but don’t expect to be promoted like James Patterson. You’re their art project that they hope breaks into a larger audience. I wasn’t able to do that. Part of me feels like I failed. Part of me feels like I wrote a bad novel that never should have been published. The other part of me is excited to get back to publishing with indie presses. This is where the best fiction is being published and it’s only going to grow stronger. So much fiction published at larger houses feels washed with money. You can feel the marketing on it. I’m fueled up to be with Two Dollar Radio. I’m not thinking about book money or worrying about an audience or what sales are like or if the line I just wrote is too weird and will be edited out. I just don’t care anymore. My focus is one hundred percent on the writing now. I don’t feel distracted. I feel like now I can do whatever I want and run wild.
If you are a bookseller, or are interested in reviewing Crystal Eaters, you can drop a line to eric[at]twodollarradio.com.
The second installment of our brand new journal of artful essays, Frequencies, officially comes out next week, and contains a gorgeous, haunting, sweeping piece by Kate Zambreno, titled ‘One Can Be Dumb and Unhappy at Exactly the Same Time: An essay on failure, the depressed muse, and Barbara Loden’s Wanda.’
To celebrate the occasion, I asked Kate to compile a list of all the various books and films she mentions in the essay. Here’s what she had to say:
Realizing more and more the tower of texts housed inside of me. It is this psychic library that I refer to when I write. The act of essaying for me is also the act of making sense of my world through what I’ve read. When Eric at Two Dollar Radio asked me to create a list of the books and films mentioned in my essay published by the newest issue of Frequencies, an essay entitled One Can Be Dumb and Unhappy at Exactly the Same Time: An essay on failure, the depressed muse, and Barbara Loden’s Wanda, I didn’t realize at first how referential the piece was. Some of the texts referenced I only have vague recollections of, some I am quite intimate with.
The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras—Walking around my boiling-hot North Carolina town, trying to think through this essay, I compare myself to Duras’ s housewife, and this flâneuse, then to Robin Vote the cipher-somnambule in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood. Lol Stein lying languidly in the rye. “The heroine as a zombie,” as my friend, the genius-poet Bhanu Kapil has said of Lol V. Stein. I also reference the memory-work in Duras’ The Lover.
Wanda by Barbara Loden—the film (cinematic essay?) that the whole piece circles around, as well as circling around my obsession with both Barbara Loden and her Scranton drifter Wanda Goronski, who I’ve written about elsewhere as well (I just realize I never say her last name in the entire essay!) And then how both these figures remind me of this girl I once lived with in Chicago. Wondering about drifting, about failure. Another walker. Wanda at the opening, a wraith-like figure in white, making her way slowly, slowly, through mountains of coal.
3 Women by Robert Altman—I just remember the slowness, the almost trancelike nature of the film.
Airless Spaces by Shulamith Firestone—Firestone had just been found dead in her apartment, no food in the house, when I began writing this essay, and she haunts the entire piece, her life, what she writes to in her drifting series of reminiscences published by Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents, that I compare as well to Anna Kavan’s Asylum Piece, the fragmenting and fragments of a woman. I also kind of compare the book to Frances Farmer’s pulpy ghostwritten memoir Will There Ever Be A Morning? But I don’t know if I stand by that.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath—Esther Greenwood’s imagined alterego Elly Higginbottom, a simple girl who marries a simple boy and has a heap of children. But doesn’t that girl still house potential for devastation, however muted?
Green Girl and O Fallen Angel —two novels that I wrote, that house within them a tremendous debt and conversation with other texts. One of my favorite contemporary books is Renee Gladman’s To After That, where the narrator, walking through a city, meditates on this other book, a failed novel. In some ways I’m doing that in this essay, circling around these texts, which are failed texts, as all texts are, and looking at who my muses were in writing these books, trying to dismantle the concept of “muse.”
Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior—I am reading this story collection while sitting outside in the heat, meditating on how Gaitskill still conjured up a New York where it was possible to be slow and fucked-up, her characters like Lucien Freud portraits. I also write about how I wish Girls wasn’t a sitcom, that I don’t remember being a girl like being in a sitcom, more a film like Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise, a cinéma vérité. I am longing for slowness in the molasses heat.
The films of Agnès Varda, specifically Cleo from 5 to 7, and Vagabond. Two films about female walkers, in very different registers. Probably two of the most important texts for me, that I wish I had written about more in this essay. What I don’t write, and wish I did, was that this summer when I was briefly in Paris I stood outside of Varda’s hot pink house, and I think I spied her inside, or at least I imagined I did.
The film oeuvre of Kirsten Dunst—specifically Crazy Beautiful, Elizabethtown, Virgin Suicides, and Melancholia which I watched, braless, in a rumbled bed, for at least a week, meditating on the actress’ publicized bout with depression and her role in von Trier’s Melancholia. I try to interrogate the idea of the “manic pixie dream girl”—that Barbara Loden was also cast in, playing the spitfire Ginny Stamper in her husband Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass, or the role she was written in his autobiographical novel The Arrangement, played by Faye Dunaway in the film version, opposite Kirk Douglas, although she was promised the role.
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening—a book that those who read Heroines know I am obsessed with, continue to be obsessed with. Barbara Loden wanted to direct and star in the film version, before she died too young of cancer.
Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth—the factory girls, Lily Bart as a failure under capitalism. Also referenced: the flashback atelier scenes in which Sasha Jensen is unceremoniously fired in Jean Rhys’ Good Morning, Midnight.
Other texts/writers briefly mentioned: Pauline Kael in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bus Stop, Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, Sheila Heti, Ariel Dorfman, Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool, Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky, Youtube videos of Katie Holmes and other shiny-legged starlets being interviewed by David Letterman.
“This ain’t your granddaddy’s zombie-apocalypse. Everything in Bennett Sims’s stunning debut courts a topographical and invasive examination of the human condition through our inverse. The architecture of zombie-logic is rewired, and the undead become symbolic for what it means to exist in all its physical and existential, its beauty and brutality.
“The scrutiny of detail throughout A Questionable Shape attempts wring from it definition, reminiscent of David Foster Wallace. The narrative warmth and voice draws parallels to writers as far back as Gogol and Babel, and more recently Ben Marcus.
“But despite the reinventions of cult-form, the classic zomb-enthus will thrill at Sims’s mastery.”
— Zachary Tyler Vickers’s review of Bennett Sims’s A Questionable Shape, at HTML Giant.
E-books got a free pass in the media because of their youthful age and the melodrama they induced with regards to the industry as a whole. It’s too easy to show an increase in sales year after year when there’s zero track record.
I can understand perhaps that proving true with educational publishing, but for us — as a trade publisher — e-book sales are mostly insubstantial. For instance, 2% of total sales for a new release. For direct sales through our website, e-book sales are less than 1%. Obviously, for us at least, print has more than survived the digital revolution.
"Most importantly, McClanahan seems to be saying, he is alive and so are you and despite all odds so is this ageless place he calls Crapalachia. It is the defiance in the writing that is breathtaking, the very aliveness of this voice in the face of all those dead: the thousands and thousands of dead miners, the dead of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel, the dead of the Sago Mine Disaster, the dead of the Buffalo Creek Flood, the dead of hunger, the dead of a death by their own hands."
— Review of Scott McClanahan’s CRAPALACHIA by Mesha Maren at HTML Giant.
“If Jonathan Ames, David Lynch, and Jack Kerouac banded together to pen a cautionary tale about Peter Pan and his drug- and alcohol-addled Lost Boys-as-Donner Party refugees, it would look like Made to Break. In D. Foy’s hands, men and women too old to behave like the impetuous teens they once were still cling to the dying code of what made their youth survivable. This book is one wild, wild ride.”
—Christian Kiefer, author of The Infinite Tides
Made to Break drops February 2014. If you’re interested in considering an advance copy for possible review, or are a bookseller, email eric[at]twodollarradio.com.
The first 50 (or so) folks to arrive at Housing Works will receive a complementary copy of Frequencies: Volume Two, which is just about to release. It features essays from Alex Jung, Sara Finnerty, Kate Zambreno, Aaron Shulman, and Roxane Gay.
Help us ring spring in the right way. Spring break, bitches.