The Big Other Interview #253: Mark Brand

Mark Brand is a Chicagoland polymath: editor, writer, videopodcaster, former medical assistant. We met not long before I was a guest on the Breakfast with the Author podcast (ep. 3), with fellow Chicago writer Lawrence Santoro. Other guests: Ben Tanzer and Jason Fisk (ep. 1), Kathleen Rooney and Gina Frangello (ep. 2), and Russell Lutz, Len Nicholas, and Paul Hughes (ep. 4). His new novel(la), Life After Sleep, provided the occasion for his submission to the complex mental challenges you have come to know as The Big Other interview.

Life After Sleep summary:

It is the day after tomorrow, and a device has been invented that immediately induces REM sleep, otherwise known as “Sleep” with a capital S. Society has been transformed. The average person now only needs two hours of rest a night. The work day is officially sixteen hours long. Americans party at clubs until daybreak, then log into virtual worlds and party in a reunified Korea all morning, too. And within this busier, noisier, more global society, we watch the intertwining fates of four people as they struggle with issues regarding Sleep: new parents who for postnatal reasons aren’t allowed to use their special Beds; an Iraq vet and PTSD victim who is haunted by the non-ending nightmares that Sleep produces; a harried, arrogant doctor whose Bed has stopped working, driving him to the brink of madness; and a band promoter with an illegal Bed that lets her Sleep for hours on end, then stay up for four straight days and nights.

Chicago science-fiction veteran and former medical assistant Mark R. Brand presents here a stunning and nuanced look at the world that might just await us around the corner–a place where GPS, Facebook and cellphones mesh perfectly to tell us where even in a nightclub to stand, yet traditional enough for couples to still have fights over groceries, and for office politics to still have enormous repercussions; and since it’s being released by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, it means you pay only what you want for an electronic copy, even if you want to pay nothing, making this mini-novel (available in EPUB, PDF and MOBI/Kindle editions) easily worth taking a chance on. Rich in its prose and deep in its metaphor, you do not have to be a fan of sci-fi, Michael Crichton or Malcolm Gladwell to love “Life After Sleep”…although it certainly wouldn’t hurt either.

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Davis Schneiderman: Describe where the idea for Sleep emerged from, if you can…

Mark Brand: I first started piecing together Life After Sleep in 2007, shortly after the birth of my son.  I was working 50+ hours a week in a medical office and was sleeping only 3-4 hours per night.  As all new fathers do, I eventually came to accept that this is typical life with a new baby at home, but at the time it felt to me like I was the lone astronaut on a rocket to Planet Insanity.  I had also always wanted to write something that pulled in some of my knowledge of medicine and the hospital/clinical environment, but I hadn’t really come across an idea I liked enough to make that happen.

By chance, I stumbled across an article in Discover magazine called “How to sleep 4 hours per night.”  The article made mention vaguely of TMS technology and the potential side effect it has of putting people straight into REM sleep.  My first thought was THAT’s what I want for Father’s Day, and my second thought was this would make an awesome short story.  So I sat down over the course of a few weeks and wrote a short story that eventually became the “Dr. Frost” section of Life After Sleep.  His section initially was a standalone short that I really liked and got some good reactions to from readers, but I just felt like I hadn’t done enough with the premise, and that there was so much more to say there about sleep and work, and it seemed to grow more and more relevant and alive in my head with each passing year.  So I floated the idea to Jason Pettus, my editor at CCLaP Publishing and he liked the idea and told me to run with it.  I went back and added Max and Lila and eventually Jeremy to make it more one large work.

Aside from just pure plot cleverness and a giant pile of subtext and not-quite-pointed statements about what I think people would do with a technology that allows someone to have 6 or 8 more hours in a day, (and not a few medical inside-jokes), I wanted to capture some of that experience of just being absolutely flat-out exhausted for an extended period of time.  Things start to get wonky, you start waking up not knowing what day of the week it is and you realize you’re at work and you have no memory of having breakfast or driving there, that sort of thing.  And in the middle of it, especially if you’ve got a new baby at home and you’re so mentally tied to two different and equally demanding facets of your life, you start to feel really bitter and fatalistic about it sometimes.  I tried to grab onto that emotion and show the characters just full-on in the path of that oncoming wrecking ball.

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The Big Other Interview #43: Cris Mazza

various men cover

At the recent Chicago book release party for Cris Mazza’s new novel Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, from Emergency Press, I arrived late, fresh from a Wicker Park reading at Revolution Books. There, I discussed my novels Drain and Blank with a series of incisive socialist thinkers, and after the event, when I traveled the several miles south to the outskirts of Pilsen, the small restaurant across from the factory already had the closing-time look about the place.

Inside, at the tail-end of a wild party, I found many of my dear Chicago writer friends—reading mates Zoe Zolbrod and Gina Frangello among them—and of course, in a corner booth, Cris Mazza herself.

No doubt, to some of the graduate students also in attendance, this must be Mazza’s 43rd book. She’s written yet another carefully insightful broadside in a series of seemingly endless offerings that each provide, in turn, some new angle to look at landscapes unfamiliar to all but the most observant wayfarers of the human condition. Mazza’s writing always maintains her trademark quiet brutality, her keen-yet-cutting prose with its stark points amid otherwise oddly sculpted valleys. This work is as powerful now as it was 20 years ago; she manages to write about the same obsessions—gender and sex, relations and transactions, human hunters and their quarried prey—in startlingly new ways.

Various Men is no different, but completely different, as will no doubt become evident from the following recipe for desperate living best known to this website’s readers as, wait for it, The Big Other Interview.

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Skype reading–right now

Notes during and at the close, immediately after, my Skype appearance on Friday, June 4th, at

“The Importance of Independents,” Los Angeles, 7:30 pm

w Harold Abramowitz / Teresa Carmody / Alexandra Chasin / Gina Frangello / Davis Schneiderman / Mathew Timmons
a reading at w o r d s p a c e
3191 Casitas Avenue, #156 / Los Angeles, 90039

I’ve deliberately not done any significant editing to the document, in hopes that the immediacy of the entry might compensate for its roughness. I’m initiating a Skype reading series for Lake Forest College next year, and well, I find the whole thing fascinating. I would be very interested in hearing from others about their experiences reading at-a-distance.

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