"I reached the point where I was just kind of done with me."— Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown doesn't have the guru look. That's all good, he'd deny the guru label, and to an extent, it's not quite applicable. Still, he writes in the guru genre. You publish a book of spiritually oriented advice called 'Soulshaping,' and you've got to be ready for the kind of accolades that are two nudges south of stalking. It should surprise nobody however, that this Canadian ex-lawyer, whose first inspiration was a Canadian lawyer who advertised on TV, is a lot more down-to-earth than you'd expect.
Just as the grammatical implications of the similarities between the words "nuclear" and "unclear" should alarm us, the similarities between the words "warrior" and "worrier" should likewise amuse us. Brown calls himself a warrior spirit / archetype, but he was brought up in a fractious Jewish family environment, so there's a good deal of worrier in this warrior. That sort of neurotic, entertaining self-deprecation goes a long way when you're dispensing life guidance in a book titled 'Soulshaping.'
I spoke with Brown in the back office of Gateways Books and Gifts about 40 minutes before the incense-laden air of the store induced a terrific coughing fit. Oh I'll cave, I probably would have had a coughing fit anyway and furthermore, if there's not some part of my soul responsible for my hack attacks, then it just isn't doing its job.
And Gateways is a superb book and gift store. It's got a huge, warm space with lots of books and all the accoutrements required by those embarking on a spiritual quest. If, as the Firesign Theatre suggests, there's a seeker born every minute, then they're in the right business.
I liked Brown's story, and his tone. He sets the pedestals aside and admits that whatever sort of solution you seek, you'd better include the real world. He's likes to make up words, like "enrealment," his take on enlightenment, since he found that getting close to reality didn't always involve sweetness and light. Not a surprise he was a lawyer.
01-28-10: Alan Beatts of Borderlands Books: Opening the Borderlands Café and the iPad
Borderlands' famous mascot Ripley the cat rests on the iMac.
Borderlands Books is one of the premiere bookstores in San Francisco, especially for genre fiction fans. If there's an author worth hearing coming through town, chances are you will them at Borderlands. Now, Borderlands has opened up a new café next door.
I gave Alan Beatts a call to find out just how hard this process was, since book stores have to be smart and innovative to stay in business these days. Beatts has a lot of luck on his side, most of it his making. He'd been a tenant in his building in San Francisco for a long time, he knew the owner, but still – we are talking about San Francisco, and the permitting process problems there are legendary. His story is great stuff, a fascianting tale of how booksellers are staying in business.
Of course, we also talked about the release of the iPad today, which may well prove to be rather apocalyptic so far as booksellers like Alan are concerned. He had some pretty strong thoughts about this, shocking almost. You can hear his vision of the present café and the future of bookselling by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
01-27-10: An Interview with Jeff Carlson at SF in SF on January 16, 2010
"The bad guys never consider themselves the bad guys"— Jeff Carlson
Some writers seem to be natural self-salesmen, and Jeff Carlson is a prime example. It's not that he's really trying to sell himself. It's that he doesn't have to. Carlson is just chock full of energy. He's the kind of guy who, if he wasn't a writer, would get told a lot — "You need to write a book, dude!"
Well, Carlson's taken care of that little non-problem by writing not one, not two, but three books, a nice taut trilogy in which he starts off by killing most of us. For a guy who deals out death like yesterday's newspapers (and today's, and tomorrow's for that matter), Carlson is irrepressibly cheerful in a way that is not cloying.
Carlson couldn't wait to pose in front of the Kung-Fu Panda, because that's as big deal in his house. He's got kids the right age, and to a certain extent he is still a kid that age himself. I think it's going to be hard for most listeners not to want to buy up his books when they hear this interview. His enthusiasm is, unsurprisingly for a guy who killed off humanity with a nano-tech plague, infectious. You can get infected by following this link the MP3 audio file.
01-26-10: An Interview with Nancy Etchemendy at SF in SF on January 16, 2010
"We told a lot of stories in the family." Nancy Etchemendy
I guess that quote can come as no surprise to readers. It is ever true that writers grow up in families that tell stories. Now, Nancy Etchemendy had a special talent and special circumstance; an easily-scared sister. That's a recipe not just for a writer, but a writer of horror fiction.
And accordingly, readers with good recent memories will note that Etchemendy's name has appeared on ballots for the Bram Stoker Award (which she won) and the "IHG" award, which she also won. I managed to sit down with Etchemendy at SF in SF when she appeared with Jeff Carlson, and to talk to her about her roots as a writer, as well as her inclinations to write both YA and horror fiction.
Jasper Fforde is relentlessly modest. That's not easy to pull off, but he manages to remain cheerful, sincere and most importantly of all, sort of goofy, even when he's discussing a dystopia that is happy, fluffy, well-dressed and terrifyingly stultifying.
His latest novel is 'Shades of Grey: The Road to High Vermillion Saffron,' and yes it is a distinct departure from the utterly original fantasy (?) — I'm not sure how you would pigeonhole books like 'The Eyre Affair.' Actually, I am sure. You'd point at them and say "That's by Jasper Fforde."
Fforde's latest, 'Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron,' is a distinct departure for him, in that it is quite clearly characterizable, even if it is not easily recognizable, as science fiction. Once you read it, you'll figure that out, but going in, if you go in as cold as I recommend, which means ignoring the jacket flap, it seems very much like a ... Jasper Fforde novel. It's got a sweet first-person narrator and a friendly, romantic tone, even though it is positively bursting with weirdness. Fforde told me in our interview that in his previous novels, he'd used a lot of public domain characters, and he felt that he'[d sort of, well – cheated. Most of his readers would say otherwise, but it is tough to fight the relentless modesty. And Fforde is just the sort who can pull off an oxymoron like "relentless modesty."
Ah, but he told me that when he decided to write 'Shades of Grey,' he want to do what he called, "some proper novelling," a phrase that shall henceforth enter this language just as is. We talked quite a bit about the dystopian nature of the novel, which, for a charming, funny and entertaining novel is counter-intuitive. But then, we are talking about – and with – Jasper Fforde.
Here's the layout of this podcast. You're going to get three readings, two of which Fforde introduces in his own inimitable manner, and the third just rolled out without fanfare. Then you're going to hear an interview that lasts just a snippet over an hour. Generally, in the past, I've split such interviews and come the end of the week, I may wish I'd split this one, but count today as your lucky day and follow this link to the MP3 audio file.
New to the Agony Column
09-18-15: Commentary : William T. Vollman Amidst 'The Dying Grass' : An Epic Exploration of Simultaneity
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]