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“Baby, You’re a Rich Man is part picaresque, part noir, part tale of a (not so) innocent abroad, part send-up of the ridiculousness of made-for-TV consumer culture. Kent Richman’s fall and rise and fall and rise is as weird and unlikely as his childhood infamy and his adult fame, and Christopher Bundy’s masterstroke is to make of that weirdness a heartfelt novel for the new century, a novel in which everything and anything is possible: love, loss, and maybe even redemption.”

–      Josh Russell, author of A True History of the Captivation, Transport to Strange Lands, & Deliverance of Hannah Guttentag

baby_illustrations_3

Illustration by Max Currie

Thanks to Josh Russell for the kind words above.

For the next few months, I will be excerpting passages from the book one chapter at a time, including illustrations from Max Currie. While the book is illustrated in black and white, Max did some of the illustrations in color. I will showcase many of those color illustrations here, beginning with this frontispiece image from Section One: There’s Really Nothing to It.

Next week… Chapter One.

Ben Spivey, author of the recently released BLACK GOD (Blue Square Press, Nov 2012), tagged me in the ongoing “The Next Big Thing” interview series where authors answer a series of ten questions about their upcoming books and then tag other authors to do the same. Thanks, Ben…

 Baby Youre a Rich Man Cover Front_final

1) What is the title of your latest book?

The novel BABY, YOU’RE A RICH MANdue Spring 2013.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for the book came from a short story I wrote called “Big in Japan” (Thuglit), which serves as the backstory for the novel. The idea for my protagonist Kent Richman, John Lennon look-a-like and B-level variety star on Japanese TV, came from watching Japanese TV when I lived there in the ‘90s. At that time, there were several foreigners who were popular on a number of variety shows.  Because guys like this spoke fluent Japanese and understood the culture inside/out, they were well-integrated into popular culture. I liked the idea of setting a story in Japan without resorting to the familiar “stranger in a strange land” scenario.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Maybe contemporary satire via a noir-ish/Tarantino lens?

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The protagonist has to look somewhat like a young John Lennon and be pretty skinny. Maybe Joseph Gordon-Levitt could pull it off. Or Christian Bale, if he could pass for twenty-something. Sean Lennon?

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Man has it all; man loses it all; man wants it back.

6) Who published your book?

C&R Press.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft, and a much longer version with an entire sub-plot since excised from the novel, took about a year. Revisions took another year.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

When I first started writing the book, I had read a lot of Haruki Murakami and loved that first-person narrative. It turned out to be neither in the first-person nor anything like his books, which is good. Books that might fall under the same category/style: Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim; Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask; Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, with a dash of William Gibson and Chuck Palahniuk.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In part, I felt a need to write a book about Japan because my time there meant so much to me. But I also wanted to do so in a way that wasn’t about Japan, i.e., I didn’t want to write about how weird or different Japanese culture might be perceived through a Western eye (stranger in a strange land), which has been done to death and feels more like travel essay. I felt the setting suited my protagonist’s story and went from there.

Also, many of my favorite stories revolve around man vs. himself, and I wanted to work from that premise.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The book is also illustrated with black and white ink drawings from Max Currie, a friend and fantastic illustrator.

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Many were colored (see below) but are too expensive to print for a small press. I always thought the book should be illustrated because of the exaggerated nature of some parts of the story and the characters, like a good comic book. Kent’s life and Max’s illustrations mirror some of the gekiga (dramatic pictures) style of Japanese comics from masters like Yoshihiro Tatsumi whose underground comics reflected a darker reality and introduced the graphic novel format. And I like the way the illustrations reflect the combination of  grim realism and the absurdly comic in Kent’s story. Midway through the book, Kent even stumbles across a DIY comic book that someone has done, illustrating his post-celebrity life, which, of course, freaks him out. And there are also direct connections made in the book to the manga industry and the practice of cosplay (dressing up like comic book or anime characters), which is popular in Japan.

baby_illustrations_2

Finally, I think the book is funny, not ha-ha but subtly so. Kent Richman is one of those characters who straddles the line between sympathetic fuck-up and douchebag. My favorite kind, the ones who are learning how to live in the world. Kent means well, most of the time, but fails a lot. I’m hopeful the reader can see through the douchebaggery to the human.

You can pre-order BABY, YOU’RE A RICH MAN from the C&R Press site.

In the spirit of the series, I’m going to pass the mantle to Gabe Durham, author of the forthcoming FUN CAMP, from Mudluscious Press. He should be posting his own answers to the questions above soon. On to you, Gabe…

disney_tattooCheck out my short essay-“Happily-Ever-After Happens Every Day, or How I Learned to Love the Disney Sparkle” on the perils of a father struggling to absorb the Disney sparkle… at the excellent The Good Men Project

Baby Youre a Rich Man Cover Front_final

ARC for the novel is in the works and here’s the draft of the cover. So nice to see an interpretation of your work from another’s POV – simple, clean, contemporary, and compelling. Thanks, James…

The Dirty Projectors

Serendipity led me to the guest list for The Dirty Projectors show at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta last night – a great venue in which I’d seriously see anything. But I had only planned to go to dinner. The show was a surprise but an easy decision.

I’d read of TDP and nice things about their music but had only heard one song and just hadn’t sat down to listen to them yet.

So, I didn’t know.

Maybe it’s the power of live music but these guys (and definitely gals) knocked me out last night. They are impossible to define easily or pigeonhole – a good thing these days. Weird, entirely unexpected and syncopated rhythms, stylistic variations, haunting harmonies, odd handclappings, and layers of sound. For some they might be a love or hate kind of sound – me, love it. Even my musically cynical friend who listens mostly to contemporary regional Mexican music dug what he heard last night.

The vocals (and those lovely harmonies) stand out – there were moments when the vocal force was like a pulse from a superhero’s hand or magic ring, a wave over the audience.

I came straight home after the show and bought their latest Swing Lo Magellan and can’t stop listening.

Check out this live performance of “Offspring are Blank,” off the new record.

Thanks, Nat, for the generous invite to a couple of strangers and a wonderful show.

Ghost Stories

Posted: July 2, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Since I read and wrote about Chris Coake’s haunted You Came Back, it’s put me in the mood for a good ghost story. And it made me think of a few of my favorites. Kelly Link’s “Stone Animals” plays with the form/genre, i.e., it plays with the idea of what a “ghost” can be, much like Coake’s book. And I like that as much or more than outright transparent specters.

“Stone Animals” – Kelly Link – Check out this beautiful illustrated edition (with letterpressed cover) of Link’s story from Madras Press

“The Circular Valley” – Paul Bowles – In his collection A Distant Episode.

“Sea Oak” – George Saunders – In his collection Pastoralia.

These are only a few so I’ll probably add more as I remember them.

Hunting Island, SC – Sunrise


 I. The Low Country

A few weeks back I went adventuring in South Carolina–in and around Edisto Island and other parts of the Low Country near Charleston. I was there to visit old friends, two guys I’ve known for nearly 25 years now but rarely see, but stumbled upon what I believe will eventually make a good piece of immersive, long form nonfiction. And I want to talk a little about it as the story develops.

One, who now lives in London, was visiting family; the other lives just northwest of Charleston along the Edisto River. The Low Country is beautiful–sandy soil, palmetto trees, and Spanish moss–and is a special place for me. Much of my mother’s family is from this area and has been for over three hundred years. I visited my grandparents near here. I also spent a memorable summer on a barrier island near Beaufort, SC (aka as Pat Conroy country), where I first met these two guys.

After our brief reunion, I intend to spend some time with one of the two on the cockfighting circuit. After what I’ve seen, I want to take a closer, objective look at this (blood) sport. Emphasis on objective for I don’t want to examine the ethics behind this mostly illegal sport but simply the subculture within America, particularly here in the Southeast. I will have to wait until the fall, for after June they don’t fight the birds again until September/October due to the excessive heat here.

II. The Good Doctor

MD (aka “The Good Doctor”) is older by ten years, though when we first met he was barely out of his twenties. But I was a dumbass of twenty, and he seemed like the wise old uncle who’d seen it all. In fact, he’s a country boy who grew up on a Low Country farm. He stands 6’6″ and has arms that swing like tree limbs, long and full of hardwood. As a young man, he boxed for awhile, making a name for himself as a bare knuckle boxer. I recall one whiskey-soaked evening in which we also heard a story about boxing a bear, but like all things from MD you have to take a step back. He’ll tell you anything, mostly because that’s what you want to hear.

MD picked me up at the Charleston airport and, after offering me a cold Corona from a cooler in the back, said we needed to stop by his farm, 500 acres of sandy soil, pine forest, corn fields, and a cock farm.

III. The Cock Farm 

I knew that MD had been into cockfighting for years, but didn’t know how serious he’d become as a “cocker” – that’s right, a cocker. I’d never seen him fight a gamecock and we’d had many sessions over beers in which we argued the ethics of what some call a blood sport. But the old man had gone pro and was now into raising champion cocks on his farm, hundreds of them spread over a couple of acres, blue barrels turned upside down with a tiny doorway cut into them (shade huts for the roosters) dotting the field like a plastic stonehenge and roosters strutting as far as their tethers would let them. And the sound–my god, hundreds of crowing cocks proclaiming their territory all at once, a symphony of five notes in a never-ending loop. A concert of noise that might either drive you mad or set you smiling at nature’s harmonies.

A Handsome
Cock

MD gave me a quick tour of the farm, roosters scurrying as we walked by. I’d never seen anything like it, birds everywhere, including hens and chicks in abundance. He scooped one of the roosters off of the ground and held it before me, a handsome bird whose feathers glistened in the sun. Because these are gamecocks, the comb and wattle (the red bits on top of their head and under their beaks) have been removed as they can be detrimental in a fight. I’m not an animal guy so arm’s length was as close as I wanted to get. He insisted I hold my arm out, palm up. Reluctantly, I did. He gently placed a mean-looking bird in my hand. And there it sat, beady, bird eyes blinking away, head bouncing in anticipation of whatever the hell roosters anticipate. Bird in hand, I reached up to stroke him, and realized MD had vanished.

Cockteaser at Rooster-Rama!

He’d gone to retrieve another gamecock. He wanted to demonstrate their instinct to fight each other. If you put two roosters before each other, he said, they will fight instinctively until the other is dead. For this little sparring match, he put on the boxing gloves, orange rubbers that go over their spurs, which the birds use to hurt each other. Even with the gloves, MD explained, they would beat on each other until one was dead. They know nothing else.

MD fitted the gamecocks with boxing gloves and dropped them to the ground together. They were at each other before their feet hit the grass. The feathers around their neck, called hackle, flared for a fight, great feathered coronas around their necks. The birds put up their feet as if wielding swords. They stabbed with their beaks.They jumped and flew at each other, driving feet and beaks first, each aiming to top the other.

Admission: it was riveting watching these two beautiful animals go at each other, so intent on harming the other bird. MD didn’t let the fight last long–again, they’ll kill each other if allowed, he told me. He returned them to their tiny plots of dirt and grass and blue barrel. Once out of sight, the birds relaxed and likely forgot all about the fight.

Other cultures, he said, where cockfighting is a significant and more-accepted part of the culture, such as the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Thailand, at al., augment their cocks with “blades”  they fasten to the rooster’s feet to insure a bloodier fight. In North America, this practice is generally frowned upon, he said, but showed me some of the blades from Mexico and the Philippines. 

While I don’t entirely buy the rationale that cockfighting is natural–cockfights go until one is dead or gravel injured, after all, and for money (not much natural in that), it was an irresistible moment in which these beautiful creatures revealed the darker sides of animal nature, the instance heightened as over a hundred birds crowed their passion and swagger.

Next time: Here Comes the Rooster – Part II: The Silence of the Lambs