CJ Hauser Recommends Levon Helm
Poets & Writers
Sometimes I do this thing where I convince myself that writing is really hard. I bang my head on the desk. I suffer and moan. When I am being silly and insufferable like this, the only remedy is to listen to the Band. More specifically: to listen to Levon Helm, a man I think of as a kind of patron saint for my writing life. Levon Helm sang 'Ophelia.' He sang a cover of 'Atlantic City' that is better than the Boss's (don't argue, you know it's true). He played the drums like no one's business and a mean mandolin. And he was grinning the whole time he did it. The best part of listening to Levon play is this: You can hear him enjoying doing what he does best. So, when I catch myself thinking that 'writing is hard,' I put my headphones on. I remember the night I saw Levon play at the Ramble where he sang harmonies with his daughter and cracked jokes and let us all pet his dog. I remember to write because I love it. And because a book or a song can make an excellent vessel for joy. Read on at PW
Philosophers and Mechanics
The Portland Book review
A guy walks into a university and says, Hey, there’s something wrong with my novel, can you fix it?
A philosopher says, Tell me about it, and the guy does, and the philosopher says, I think you’re both overusing themes of mortality and overlooking the eco-critical context of the time during which your novel is set. So the guy goes home, and he mulls this over. He tinkers with his novel but, still, the damn thing won’t go.
The next day the guy walks into a garage and says, Hey, my novel’s not going anywhere; I think it’s broken. Can you fix it?
The mechanic says, Pop the hood. The guy does and the mechanic says, Well, I think your ratio of exposition to scene is a little wonky, and your dialogue patterns don’t ever vary, and the characters don’t seem to want much of anything…what do you have this thing running on, anyway?
The guy says, what do you mean, running on?
The mechanic says, Interpersonal drama? Line by line-writing? Suspense? Compelling characters? What kind of fuel you put in her?
I don’t know, the guy says.
The mechanic says, Well, that’s your problem right there.
Just (Un)Like Me:
On Our Favorite Characters
Call me Galadriel.
(Also Rosalind, Tyrion Lannister, Remus Lupin, and Fanny Price.)
Do you know me now?
The rash of character personality quizzes that recently popped up on my Facebook was delightful at first. Of course I wanted to know what Harry Potter or Shakespeare character I was. What ’90s rocker, what Downton lady, what David Bowie.
It was fun. I took them too. I am in favor any declaration of readerly passion.
But, as the quizzes multiplied, I started to get an awful, queasy feeling. I was troubled as I saw post after post that read: I am this person in this book. We are the same. This is me.
The Principles of Shapeshifting
The folks at Vol. 1 Brooklyn call CJ Hauser’s “The Shapeshifter Principle” from our Brooklyn-Portland issue a “sly jab of a story.” I couldn’t agree more. In “The Shapeshifter Principle,” a narrator obsessed with paranormal sleuthing sets herself on a case decidedly more domestic: her own mother’s disappearance from their Flatbush apartment. Tina’s voice is so buoyant and assured that it’s easy to forget what’s at stake in solving the mystery, but Hauser’s ending is a gutting reminder of the ways even the most stalwart investigator needs family.
I talked to Hauser about science fiction’s lessons for writers, drinking on trains, and alienation both familial and extraterrestrial.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky: One of the things I love most about “The Shapeshifter Principle” is the way place drives its action. Various spots around this neighborhood in Flatbush offer clues about the story’s central mystery, and you do a great job of evoking the way the rich, messy energy of this place feeds the messiness of your main character’s life. What drew you to writing about this neighborhood, and how did you come to know it so well?
CJ Hauser: Flatbush! I lived in the neighborhood where “Shapeshifter” takes place for two years and saw something remarkable or strange there every day. You know how in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Díaz says, “What more sci-fi than Santo Domingo?” Flatbush is another planet, for certain. I’d be walking past The Old Dutch Cemetery where some of Brooklyn’s earliest settlers are moldering (Vanderbilts, Leffertses and Ditmases!) and then right across the street there’d be a Jamaican Jesus van playing reggae hymns.
EKH: Before reading the story, I’d never heard of goalball, the soccer variant Joey and his blind teammates play. How did you come to know about it? And have you ever played? Tossing oneself around, sightless, in full-contact pursuit of a jingling ball sounds both awesome and terrifying.
ANNOUNCING THE WINNER OF THE AMANDA DAVIS HIGHWIRE FICTION AWARD
We’re proud to announce the fourth winner of the Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award. The award is given out biannually in honor of Amanda Davis, a brilliant writer and friend to McSweeney’s who tragically passed away at the age of 32. The award goes to a young woman writer who needs more time and resources to complete a book in progress, while also embodying Amanda’s spirit.
This year’s winner is CJ Hauser of Brooklyn, New York. CJ is writing a novel about two women who work at a local newspaper together in Maine. We look forward to seeing the final book!
Thank you to all of the brave writers who submitted their work. There were many great submissions, and all of them allow us to honor Amanda Davis with this award. Congratulations, again, to CJ Hauser!