#AuthorFail 11: Roxane Gay

Welcome, fellow duds, also-rans, has-beens, and cast-offs.

I had followed Roxane Gay’s intriguing online posts over the recent years, and somehow stumbled upon the fact that she teaches at Eastern Illinois University. Delighted by this relative proximity to my Chicago-area enclave of Lake Forest College, I invited her to join a panel on publishing (given her work with PANK) and to give a reading will fellow Illinois writer William Gillespie (Spineless Books).

Their performances in early 2011 were anything but failures–both inspiring and strange and suggestive and absurd.  Anyone who has encountered Roxane, I imagine, has had a similar experience.

And so, it seemed appropriate to ask her, here, in the most unsuccessful corner of the internet, to discourse on the failure, the complete failure, that stands in such stark contrast to the Roxane I have seen mesmerize an audience the way a flickering candle might entrance a small child.

I have always liked the idea of thematic collections. For my MA thesis, my original idea was to create a collection of stories about motion titled (E)Motion. I was young and felt terribly clever. All the stories would be about people living on the road or dealing with unstable situations, always moving toward things or away from things. I planned to write about Mormon missionaries, truck drivers, flight attendants, traveling strippers, and migrant workers, which I hoped would give way to some kind of eloquent statement about displacement, movement and emotion. Alas, that didn’t work out so well. I spent more time thinking about the thematic approach than the stories themselves so I ended up doing something quite different–though I did end up writing a couple of road stories. At the time, I was so proud of my (E)Motion title, but I am pretty mortified by it now.

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The Big Other Interview #87: William Gillespie (Oh what a tangled webwork we weave!)

11/11/10 is not only Armistice Day/Veterans Day, but the day the world-as-we-know-it ends—one year before it happens—in William Gillespie’s stunning new novel Keyhole Factory.

The novel’s intersecting narrative structure draws from the “webwork” plot composition method of all-but forgotten mid-twentieth century writer Harry Stephen Keeler, and is perhaps the most fully realized postmodern version of the method.

A few of the novel’s 22 sections, or themes contained therein:

“The Bad Poet”—a fierce academic satire of overstuffed conferences keyed into the argument between earnestly literary poetry (good poetry) and a “mechanical approach to the art” (bad poetry).

“Morpheus Biblionaut”—a poet astronaut speeding to Alpha Centauri and back, also offered on the delightful CD-ROM companion);

A perhaps Monsanto-sponsored super-virus that liquefies like something out of Naked Lunch: the Pandora virus.

“Keep the Change”–a six-page narrative splits into an additional column on each succeeding page, tracing six initial victims of Pandora.

Crazed test monkeys escaping from their cages.

A convict who remembers the future and so becomes a test subject for the virus.

An inoculated population of scientists and government elites who spend the post-apocalypse inside a Blade Runner-like pyramid city.

A society of free farms operating on near-Luddite socialist models, terrorized by a distraught killer from the inoculated elite, exiled from the pyramid, who makes “art” through his elaborate staged murders of the commune dwellers.

In short, this is the most exciting book I’ve read since Steve Tomasula’s VAS: An Opera in Flatland.

So forget Franz Ferdinand, the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance, and surrender—as Gillespie has, when we met in a sort-of-café the where sort-of-intellectuals might gather—to the trench warfare known as The Big Other Interview.

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