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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Stories “Finished” by Lily Hoang

Unfinished is now available from Jaded Ibis Press. Lily Hoang–author of three novels, including the PEN award-winning Changing–invited her favorite writers to send her their scraps. She finished their unfinishables, even offering them to edit and revise what she produced. Some did, some didn’t. This collaborative enterprise is endlessly fascinating because one doesn’t know where the original author left off and where Lily took over, or if the authors edited what Lily made. The exquisite color edition contains art by Anne Austin Pearce. It’s the most unique, most colorful anthology of stories around.

Authors of unfinished writing are Kate Bernheimer, Blake Butler, Beth Couture, Debra Di Blasi, Justin Dobbs, Trevor Dodge, Zach Dodson, Brian Evenson, Scott Garson, Carol Guess, Elizabeth Hildreth, John Madera, Ryan Manning, Michael Martone, Kelcey Parker, Ted Pelton, Kathleen Rooney, Davis Schneiderman, Michael Stewart, J.A. Tyler.

Here’s a book trailer:

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Rose Metal Press Announces Fifth Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest

Dear Rose Metal Press Supporters:

A reminder for those of you who write short shorts, or know people who do:

Our Fifth Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest submission period begins October 15 and ends December 1, 2010. Our 2010 judge will be Kim Chinquee.

During the submission period, please email your 25–40 page double-spaced manuscript of short short stories under 1,000 words each to us at rosemetalpress@gmail.com either as Word docs or rtf files. Individual stories may have appeared in journals or anthologies, but we ask that collections as a whole be previously unpublished. Please accompany your entry with the $10 reading fee, either via the payment button on our website or by check. We prefer the former, but the latter can be sent to PO Box 1956, Brookline, MA 02446.

Writers of both fiction and nonfiction are encouraged to enter, and we are open to short shorts on all subjects and in all styles. We hope you’ll check out the books of our previous contest winners, including, most recently How Some People Like Their Eggs by Sean Lovelace (selected by Sherrie Flick) and We Know What We Are by Mary Hamilton (selected by Dinty W. Moore).

The winner and finalists will be announced by February 2011. The winning chapbook will be published in July 2011 in a limited edition of 300 copies, with an introduction by the contest judge. As with all of our previous winners, we will be letterpressing the covers of the winning chapbook by hand at the Museum of Printing in North Andover, Massachusetts.

Thank you as always for your continued support, and we look forward to reading your work!

Sincerely,
Abby & Kathleen
Editors
Rose Metal Press

Check out the previous winning chapbooks on our website by clicking on the covers below:

A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness includes our 1st winning chapbook, The Sky Is a Well by Claudia Smith, as well as the chapbooks of 3 other finalists.

In the Land of the Free, by Geoffrey Forsyth.

How Some People Like Their Eggs, by Sean Lovelace.

We Know What We Are by Mary Hamilton.

Articles on Collaboration by William Walsh

At the Kenyon Review blog, William Walsh has been posting about collaborations. Since I’d been posting about the topic over here, he thought I might be interested–and in turn, I thought you might be.

(The descriptions of the articles are in his words.)

A Q&A with Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney about their long-standing collaboration.

A Q&A with Kate Schapira about her new book of poems, TOWN, which is an uber-collaboration with “contributions” from over sixty writers and non-writers.

And most recently, a Q&A with writer Joseph Young and artist Christine Sajecki, including some interesting art and video.

Enjoy!

Highlights from Artifice Magazine, Issue One

It’s always nice to get a beautiful art object in the mail, and so I was happy to receive Artifice Magazine, Issue One with its classy satin cover and embossed title, and, more importantly (I soon learned), its content, content that mirrors the form in which it’s contained.

Christopher Phelps’s “Word†” is a playful, reflexive piece, drawing attention to itself as an artifact, to its artifice. As such, it’s the perfect introduction to this new journal:

This footnote would like to apologize for being in the rain shadow Word saw,
looking down, relieved to be for a few apical moments,
wordless.

Susan Slaviero’s poems “Phenomena of Probability” and “Pandora’s Robot” are texts as much marked by their rugged formal textures as for their concern with ribcages and wire-riggings; and with robots. And there’s mention of mermaids in the former and “milkdrowned homunculi” in the latter. From “Phenomena of Probability”:

Theoretically, there’s a way to create a ribcage from guitar strings, to
fashion jawbones from vintage bracelets. It so happens that a female
form is best woven from titanium knitting needles, peppermint hips,
the ends of French cigarettes…

Language is made flesh here; it’s a place where a woman “is a semicolon.” And in “Pandora’s Robot,” after “the brass plate over her sternum” is opened, the robot “let[s] out language. / Let[s] out codes / like apocalypse, alchemy, calculus.”
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Hey, Collaborator

Outside where I work there are two homeless people jamming. One is playing flute, the other, guitar. There’s no better backdrop for thoughts on collaboration, even if I do wish they’d quiet down and stop drowning out my music.

Collaboration is, for me, a fairly foreign beast. One I appreciate and look up to, but don’t fully understand the logistics of. I have to admit, even as the frontman in a band I was much more of a dictator than a collaborator. My feeling was that I had written the songs and wanted to make sure they were presented in the way I wanted them to be presented. And that is the crux of my difficulty with collaboration: when I do something I feel an inherent ownership and as a result want that project to reflect what I want it to reflect. To collaborate is to give up some of your ownership, which requires trust, and trusting isn’t something I’m great at, either.

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Big Other Contributors’ News #4

Lily Hoang is now an editor at Tarpaulin Sky.
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I WILL SMASH YOU, the documentary film by Luca Dipierro and Michael Kimball, will be screened in Baltimore on Friday, November 20. The screening is part of A Shattered Wig Night. There will be great readings by Blaster Al Ackerman and Ingrid Burrington, and loud music by Sweatpants. The place is The14 Karat Cabaret, at 218 West Saratoga St., downtown Baltimore. The time is 9pm. Little Burn Films is HERE.
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Check out John Madera‘s reviews:

Gert Jonke’s The System of Vienna: From Heaven Street to Earth Mound Square (The Millions)
Jackie Corley’s The Suburban Swindle (The Collagist)
The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright (Word Riot)

He interviewed Chelsea Martin at The Rumpus HERE:

His story, “How to Be Happy and Free” can be found in Opium Magazine: The Mania Issue. The issue features Sean Landers, Jonathan Baumbach, Dawn Raffel, Anne Ray, Aaron Garretson, Davin Malasarn, B.R. Smith, Melinda Hill, John Madera, Catherine Sharpe, Wendy Duren,  Jamie Iredell, Ryan Boudinot, Ben Greenman, B.K. Evenson, Sean Carman, Nick Bredie, Matt Briggs, E. Loic Leuschner, Blake Butler, Matthew Simmons, Lindsay Mound, Je Banach, F.J. Bergmann, Kyle Davis, Lydia Fitzpatrick, Clark Hays, Kevin Leahy, Lisa A. Levy, Aimee Mepham, Sean Murphy, Brett Rosenblatt, Dean Young, Erin Berkowitz, Kathleen Rooney, Elisa Gabbert, CM Evans, Graham Roumieu, Jessy Randall, and Ben Towle. Plus, an interview with Jonathon Keats!

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As of November 30, Kim Chinquee is the new fiction and nonfiction editor of elimae. Writers should make their submissions in those fields to Kim beginning on November 30 at kimchinquee (at) gmail (dot) com. Her first issue as editor will be published January, 2010. She’s also guest-editing a flash fiction issue of Mississippi Review.

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Greg Gerke‘s “We Will Not Be Coming to Your Pancakes” is at Everyday Genius and “Underground Bliss” is at Writers’ Bloc (Rutgers).
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J.A. Tyler is up on Apostrophe Cast (he reads from his forthcoming novella, A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed). Then read his interview with Guy Ben Brookshire HERE.
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John Dermot Woods had a comic featured at Everyday Genius. Read it HERE.
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Ryan W. Bradley has two poems “June 2006 on the Trans Alaska Pipeline” and “Marlboro” in the new issue of Poets & Artists. Check them out HERE.