Tag: joseph mattson

My Favorite Books of 2012 — Ten to Six

I saw that a bunch of my favorite critics were writing a list of the best books of 2012.  David Ulin has a great one. You can read it here at the LA Times: Best of 2012. So I started to think about making a similar list.  But what’s different about my list is that I still read a lot of classics. Whereas a lot of critics need to be up to date on the newest and hippest books, I have never felt the need to be on top of what is hot.  I remember reading a quote, I think by Kafka, that said never read a book that isn’t at least six months old.

Now, I don’t think that’s true, necessarily, but in a lot of ways I still feel somewhat behind the eight ball in terms of the scope of literature.  So I’m catching up.  I mean, stop for a second and think about how many books there are in the world.  How in the world can anyone ever come close to reading all of them — or even yet, reading all the truly great books?  It’s staggering to think about the task.  I’m only on this Earth for a small amount of time, and I really hope I can find a way to expose myself to the best.  So, here are ten books that I read this year that I loved.  I’m starting with the first five.


10. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

The first book on my list  is the last book I finished.  I love Philip K. Dick’s writing, but the way I knew Dick’s work was through his short stories.  I actually had never read one of his novels until now.  And I love the stories, but A Scanner Darkly, which is set in a kind of L.A./Orange County hybrid, presented a futuristic and paranoid view of the city where I currently live that just blew me away.  What I truly admire about the book is the effect it has on the reader.  I kept reading on, fully aware that the sense of paranoia was deepening and the character was unreliable, but Dick had such a control over the story.  I trusted him and followed him into his drug infested world.  It reminded me of great L.A. Noir novels or even Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.  Or even a great Victorian book like H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man or Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  After reading this book, I plan on reading the rest of Dick’s novels.


9. Concussions and Our Kids by Dr. Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman 

Sometimes, a great book has an impact so wide that it just becomes digested, almost unknowingly, into the cultural lexicon of a generation.  Dr. Cantu’s book, Concussions and Our Kids, is having a similar effect.  One day, I think Cantu’s book will be required reading in school — too much dismay from the students — similar in scope to A Silent Spring, because it sheds light on the concussion epidemic and serious problem in our community.  Cantu’s studies and his writing will change the way we play sports and think about our brains.  His research into CTE — the degenerative brain disease — has done so much to teach us about our minds.  It’s a fascinating read, and you’ll learn a ton about the current concussion dialogue.  For example, did you know that after football, women’s soccer is the next leading cause of concussions in youth sports?


8. Hey Fudge by Travis Millard 

Hey Fudge is a book of illustrations/comics put out by a great L.A. press, Narrow Books.  I talked to the art designer of this book, and he wanted someone to flip through every page, because there is a story that unfolds, a narrative.  Millard’s work is hilarious, but also vibrant and alive.  Sometimes, whenever I need to clear my head from whatever analytical bullshit that is waging war on my mood, I open up Millard’s book and just kind of flip through.  The beginning of the book features a series of clips imagining that Michael Jackson was lost at sea.  The humor is definitely there — so is the craft.

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7. Empty the Sun by Joseph Mattson

Maybe this list is heavily influence by my current location — L.A. County — but I can’t help but devour L.A. writing.  And one of those great L.A. novels is Joseph Mattson’s Empty the Sun.  I wrote a piece about the book earlier this year at the LA Weekly, and it just seems to sum up a lot of the experience in the city — the fall out of the California Dream. That everywhere around the city, people come here and they become something, well, grimy, hardboiled, lost.  In a lot of ways, it seems right in that same vein as a lot of my other favorite class L.A. novels — Post Office and Ask the Dust.  Plus, this book even comes with a soundtrack.

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6. True Confessions by John Gregory Dunne 

Well, here’s another L.A. Noir.  I’m loving anything set in L.A.  There is just something almost paranoid, hallucinatory, distorted about these novels set in L.A.; something that’s just slightly off kilter.  In True Confessions, it might be the murder and the way the community responds.  A murder, in this world, is a headline, something to help the readers of the tragedy, the snooping citizens to forget about their meaningless lives.  The strange thing about reading True Confessions was that, sometimes, instead of feeling like I was in L.A., all the Catholic politics and the Irish descendants made me feel like I was back in Massachusetts or reading a book by Dennis Lehane.  I kind of liked that about this book.  It’s a classic.

Okay, tune in tomorrow for the next 5.  Saved my best for last.

New Piece at the LA Weekly, Empty the Sun, and Living in California

After a few weeks of interviewing and researching, my piece on Joseph Mattson’s Empty the Sun went live today.  It was an amazing experience, writing and revising the piece.  It started out as a smaller story, and it grew over time.  During the process, I learned a ton about L.A. and writing.

Here’s the story: Empty the Sun, the 2009 Novel By Joseph Mattson, Just Might Be a New L.A. Classic.

For the piece, I interviewed David Ulin and Jerry Stahl. Interviewing Ulin proved to be incredible, because he’s so knowledgeable about L.A. novels.  He talked about Bukowski, West, Fante, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others.  He seems like a pretty good guy, too.  It was an amazing experience.  I talked to Joe Donnelly and other great writers, too, about Mattson.  It was awesome to be a part of the conversation.

I first met Joseph Mattson at Book Soup, when I was volunteering with Slake.  They sent me on all these interviews to book stores in Los Angeles, and Book Soup was my first stop.  I interviewed Tosh Berman and Mattson.  The pieces never made it out into the public, but it proved to be a great experience.  After the interview, Mattson handed me his book, Empty the Sun.  That was the first time I heard about the novel.  I loved it.  The book reminded me of all the great qualities of the novels I loved: “Post Office” and “Ask the Dust.”  (I was conducting all these interviews while I was working full time in Woodland Hills at the rehab center.)

It’s strange, because I’m learning to love Southern California more all the time, because there is an incredible literary scene out here.  You’ve got The Rattling Wall, Slake, Black Clock, Red Hen Press, Les Figues Press, A Barnacle Book, etc.  While I’m not sure, yet, if California is my home, it’s clear there is a lot of excitement here.  As if the city is always on the verge of something big — whether it be an earthquake or a cultural movement.

Okay, I’m going to head out on a run with my dog, Hendrix.  But it’s been a good week so far.  This Friday, I’m going to review the Coheed and Cambria show at Fingerprints in Long Beach, and then Saturday, I’m going to head over to Dirty Laundry Lit.  Oh, I think I might have found some more work with another pub out here.  Which is all great news.  Just need to figure out how to make writing a sustainable life, while keeping my soul.  Hope you’ll stay posted.

Interviewing Skills, New Published Work, and “I am freaking poet”

Today, as a freelance writer, I had a busy day.  I interviewed a state senator, Alan Lowenthal, and candidate for Congress.  My profile will be appearing in the Long Beach Post.  We had a great conversation at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop off Los Coyotes, and I talked with him and got to know him as the grinders and espresso machines babbled.  I’m looking forward to interviewing Gary DeLong as well.  I’m really excited to talk with him.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned so far as a freelance writer, when in comes to setting up interviews.   (Oh yeah, right now I’m listening to the Ramones.)  You have to be really persistent, but you also need to come across casual and understanding that the person you’re trying to meet is very busy.  So, in order to get these interviews, I had to stay on it.  You have to plan in advance.  And you can’t, ever, give up.  There are many tactics to take.

For example, I was having a really difficult time getting an interview, even a comment, from a government organization.  So I talked with someone, and this person said, email them and say that you’ve tried several times, and you would love to have their perspective, but you will run the story without them.  Well, I did what the person suggested, and I got a response in a few minutes.

But in the beginning, be friendly, casual, understanding and persistent.  And don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.  I think, at first, my biggest mistake was asking too many tough questions in a strong voice.  So, it’s a balance. You don’t want people to stop talking to you.  If you’re a freelance writer, or you’re even thinking about it, you should start at this site: freelance writer.

Another thing that happened today was I wrote a new piece at the OC Weekly about video game soundtracks: Top 5 Nintendo Soundtracks.  That was fun to write.  I’m learning to spot trends in results and write pieces accordingly.  I have started to see results.  Oh, I read a great article this week on Twitter and how to increase your twitter following.

Also, another funny thing happened today.  I was trying to set up an interview with a doctor for a piece, and she was pretty political.

“Don’t worry,” I said.  “I’m bipartisan.”

“That’s what everyone in the media says,” the woman said.

“I’m not the media,” I said.  “I’m just a poet, trying to make money.”

That was a funny exchange.  I guess I don’t really see myself as a journalist yet, but I need to start seeing the world as a journalist would, because the world, our environments, is our commodity.  Stories are everywhere; I just need to pull them out of the air and make them work. Narratives are all around us.

So, this week, be on the look out for another piece at the LA Weekly.  It’s on Joseph Mattson — a great L.A. writer and his book Empty the Sun.  It will be in the print issue Thursday, and it will be kicking off something great at the weekly.  I’m excited.  I hope you’re excited. Goodnight everyone.

Dream Incubation Continued and Awesome Interview

Yesterday I posted about dream incubations, and I said I would write down a question and try and stimulate my dream to help assist with my writing.  Then I would share it today.  My question was: “What scene should I write about next?  What is the next memory that I should include in my memoir?”  Well, like all good insights, the dream didn’t seem to be related to my question at first.  This was the same problem many of my students had, but you must, in order to follow the exercise, write about your dream and allow your thoughts to develop freely.

So last night, I had a dream that a literary agent had emailed me out of nowhere to tell me she loved my blog, and she wanted to represent my book.  I was excited in the dream.  My goal was finally met.  But I wasn’t sure what book she was talking about.  Didn’t she know I was working on a revision?  And as I was writing this dream down, it hit me — I haven’t been focusing on the book and the craft.  In reality, I have been focusing on what I had to write to score an agent.  And until I put the thought of the agent out of my mind, well, then I will never really be writing.

Tonight, I will put the same question under my pillow and see what happens.  I did get some great writing done this morning, however.  I wrote about the time I was sent to see a child psychologist.  I didn’t want to go.  I was about 11, so I came up with this plan.  As soon as I met the psychologist, I was going to say the worst things possible.  So, when he opened the door and stuck out his hand, I said, “F-U-C-K you.”  He didn’t know what to do.  Neither did my mother.  I sat down in the chair, turned it to the wall, and giggled for an hour.  Basically, I wrote a few scenes involving the child psychologists I saw.

I also have some awesome news.  Today, I interviewed David Ulin, book critic and author, for a piece on Joseph Mattson.  Well, he’s an amazing guy, and he had a lot of great thoughts.  That was an incredible experience.

But as I said in the beginning, I would also share the negative news.  I’m getting pretty nervous about my student loans and making sure they’re taken care of.  It will be fine, but there is just a bit of anxiety about them.  I feel, even though it’s embarrassing, it’s important to share these details, too.