People think that pipes grow in their homes. But they sure as hell don’t! Look at my knees! Look at my knees!

If you haven’t bought the new David Lynch book Room to Dream, get off your ass, man. It’s good stuff. The way it works is that one chapter is straight biography by journalist Kristine McKenna, and then the next chapter is autobiography by Lynch, recalling various memories about the period covered in the previous chapter. So you have a good authoritative biography, but you also get the conversational style of DL going off on crazy tangents. 500-some pages, lots of photos, lots of text. I’m not done yet, but it has been great so far.

(I’m going to ignore all the political back-and-forth that came out of an interview he did recently. If you’re into that sort of thing, look it up. I’m not.)

The book makes me think about what films of his I’ve seen in theaters, where I was when they came out, when I discovered them on tape, etc. I’m too young to have seen Eraserhead in the theater, at least in the first run. I was looking back through old journals recently and found the one I wrote when I first saw it on tape – I got so excited about it, I wanted to go buy a film camera and make my own movie. I also remember when Lost Highway came out on video tape, I rented it and watched it over and over. I didn’t get it during most of the first viewing, and then at the very end, it clicked and was a “holy shit!” moment, and I immediately had to rewind and watch it over, and that went on all weekend. Never saw Mulholland Dr. in the theater – it came out right after 9/11, a confusing time when I don’t know what I did. Anyway.

Weird trivia – I am exactly 25 years younger than Lynch, to the day.

I should probably try to re-watch Dune this weekend, while I’m delirious from the heat.

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The Amazon Store

We’ve had unreasonably nice weather all weekend, sunny and in the seventies, perfect for walking. I went to Walnut Creek yesterday to get in the daily miles, and eat at Veggie Grill, this overly bright and cheery vegan place, which I thought was only in LA, and I used to eat all the time at the one in El Segundo. The weather, and the fact that the ten-year anniversary of the move from Denver to Playa Del Rey is coming up has given me a strong sense-memory nostalgia for my brief time in Los Angeles, and I always try to find different places to walk that remind me of Southern California.

Walnut Creek is a point of scorn for a lot of people in the Bay Area, because it’s not “real” and most of the housing is either those same three-story townhouse apartments they build everywhere, or is multi-million dollar stuff hidden in the hills. There’s no ghetto or dead people in the street or graffiti, and that’s a little too Disney for people. I don’t know if this would have bothered me when I was younger, but it’s fine by me now, whatever.

There’s also a weirdness to Walnut Creek in that a lot of neighborhoods can be defined by the businesses they have that would not survive in any other neighborhood. Like if your neighborhood has multiple computer repair shops, it sets the demographic. In my neighborhood, if your computer is broken, you throw it in a pile of garbage on the street, and break into someone else’s house and steal a new one. West Oakland also doesn’t have multiple piano stores. When you mention that a neighborhood has a Steinway showroom, you don’t need to say much else to describe it.

After lunch, I wandered through Broadway Plaza, which is an outdoor mall anchored by Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Neiman Marcus. It’s very upscale, very clean. There’s a Tesla store. You could probably perform surgery on the ground, it is so clean. Everyone looks like a yoga model. It’s a very strange place. And as I was walking, I passed by… an Amazon store.

An Amazon store?

Yep. An Amazon Books brick-and-mortar store.

I’d heard a bit about this experiment. In a strange twist of fate, the University Village shopping center in Seattle got one of these, the first one, right after the Barnes and Noble there closed. I haven’t been back to Seattle in almost twenty years now, but back when I was single, broke, and had no TV, I went to this B&N pretty much every week. It was a massive two-story thing, with a big cafe, a full record store, lots of fiction, open late, the whole nine yards. That outdoor mall was doing well, but B&N had lease troubles in 2011, so it went. (Oddly enough, Veggie Grill took over part of their space. Or maybe it’s the next building – the area has been so overdeveloped, I can’t recognize it anymore.)

I had to go inside. And… it was weird. It is a real book store – paperbacks, hardcovers, a magazine stand. There’s a Peet’s coffee bar, and a ton of space dedicated to the Amazon electronics ecosystem: Kindles and Fires and Alexas and whatnot. There was an Amazon Basics section, in case you needed a cheap HDMI cable or battery. And… books. Actual books. Like, the smell of brand new books, something I barely see anymore, especially since most of Barnes and Noble these days is filled with calendars and Lego and dusty Nook displays.

Not only was this a time machine to a different place when book stores were a big thing, but it was a specific time machine, because this place looked like a bizarro Borders. There are differences – Amazon has polished concrete floors, and a slightly darker look, while Borders had the light gray carpet and more light wooden shelving. But I’d imagine if Borders was alive now, their stores would have moved from the early 00s look to this new style.

What really threw me is that the signage is really similar. Maybe it’s mandala effect, but Borders had these black signs hung from the ceiling, with their distinctive sans font laying out the book sections, music, etc. Amazon has similar dark signs with white letters, in their familiar serif font. It’s strange, because the font and design is burned into my head from using the Amazon site for years, but it’s on the signs in a physical store. It’s like waking up in an alternate dimension where the Nazis had won the war, walking into a McDonald’s and seeing the familiar menu in all German.

The store isn’t big – maybe 5,000 square feet of retail space. It didn’t have tons of couches and chairs like a late-90s lifestyle book store. But something about the layout, the look of so many books on shelves, and just the smell of fresh paper, made it seem inviting. The staff was overly helpful and nice, and they had some discount system for Prime members, although I’m not sure how it worked. Granted, this is like a flagship store in a very upscale mall; by the time it filtered down to where they had an Amazon store in Kalamazoo or something, it may be a whole other experience. But it was interesting.

It is a can of worms, though. On one side, there’s the strong fear that Amazon is Walmart-izing the current landscape, dropping in stores to kill off the last of the brick-and-mortar. (Side note: it is Walmart now, officially; they finally killed off the hyphenated spelling of the parent company. Copy-editors rejoice.) On the other hand, it seems like Amazon has grasped onto the fact that book buying has a tactile or community experience that people miss. I don’t go to Walnut Creek often enough to shop at the store regularly, and I wouldn’t have minded if it was twice as big with a bit more elbow room. But I could definitely see popping into one to pick up a charging cable on the cheap, and maybe a top ten book.

The Borders thing really gets me, though. I was just thinking about this because Anita Dalton’s book TL;DR closes with a long thing about the death of Borders. (Buyer beware: it also contains a review of Sleep Has No Master.) Like her, I have many specific memories of Borders. I had a friend who worked at one in New York, and we used to go and get steep discounts on armfuls of books. They had a good location in the WTC, which of course is now gone. Another friend who was a manager at a location in Indiana got my first book into their store, probably one of the few times you could buy my stuff in a brick-and-mortar. And I spent a lot of 2007 going to the one in Stapleton in Denver, looking at computer books, baseball books. The last book I bought at Borders, at the one here in Emeryville, is the Philip K. Dick collection of five novels from the 60s and 70s, which is a mindfuck on its own.

But yeah, it is strange for me to think of Borders being gone. And then more strange to walk into this alternate reality Borders, run by the company that is at least partly responsible for their downfall (among many other things, of course…) and see actual books for sale again. Just bizarre.

 

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New Book:  Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out!

I have a new book out. It got released in the last few hours of 2017, which I now realize is the worst possible time to launch a book.

TL;DR: out now on print or kindle.

The book is titled Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out! If you read my zine Mandatory Laxative, this book is similar in style and structure, only it’s five times as long (and doesn’t have any artwork inside, unfortunately.) It’s a hundred pages, thirty things that range from micro-short pieces to flash to lists to almost short story length. Same absurdism as ever, and I can’t really describe it other than to say it is Konrathian.

This book was a last-second idea, because I’ve been struggling for all of 2017 to get a much larger book done, that’s sort of a sequel to Atmospheres. I wrote something like 350,000 words last year, and could not get it to click, could not get it done by December. I was really beating myself up last month, because I’ve put out at least a book a year for the last six years, and I really wanted to get something done in 2017. On the plane ride home from Milwaukee, I got the idea that I should just do another zine, but slightly longer. I throw aside super-short bits that might work for a zine, so I dug around and put together thirty pieces, and here you go. 350,000 words edited down to something like 16,000.

The odds were really against me finishing this in time. I was editing the first draft of the completed ms, and my new computer 100% died. I luckily had a backup in Crashplan, and was able to keep working on my old machine while I got the new one running again.

The cover sucks, and is supposed to suck. The editing is rough, but you get what you pay for. I’ve made this as cheap as possible, so enjoy.

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Latest reading

I’ve given up on Goodreads, and I haven’t been tracking my reading as of late, and maybe I should be doing that. Here’s a few things I’ve finished recently, in no particular order.

Tim O’Brien – July, July

Probably twenty years ago, I had to read The Things They Carried for an undergrad writing class, and it made me dig into the rest of his catalog. For some reason, I dropped the thread on his writing, and then he popped up in the Ken Burns Vietnam thing on PBS, so I looked him up again. This one is about a 30-year college reunion of a 1969 class of a small university outside of Chicago, and it’s an interesting but slightly problematic character study. It follows a slightly too large cast of characters, showing where their adult lives started and how they got to where they were in 2000. That part can be one-dimensional, and it’s hard to keep track of the various marriages, divorces, lost loves, cancers, heart conditions, careers, and failed careers. There are glances of things that have a lot of depth, like a Vietnam vet who was injured in the war, or another guy who ran from the draft in Winnipeg. It was a fun read and an interesting concept, a good way of just writing about the then-and-now of people. But a lot of reviewers didn’t agree, and it’s not like his other work, so there’s that.

Denis Johnson – Tree of Smoke

Also related to the Ken Burns thing. I read this when it first came out ten years ago, and ever since Johnson passed earlier this year, I’ve been meaning to get back to it. I think the book held up, and was possibly better the second time. It essentially follows the story of Skip Sands, a CIA operative whose uncle Francis is a retired Colonel and who also works for the agency. I think the first time I read it, I’d recently read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and my brain was still stuck in that version of Vietnam; this time, my mind was within the footage from the Burns documentary, which worked better. It’s amazing to me how the guy who delivered such compact and highly-efficient writing in the 150-some pages of Jesus’ Son was able to belt out 600+ pages with the same line-by-line potency, but of heavily historical and accurate information. It’s like a flyweight boxer who clocks in at 112 pounds gaining a hundred pounds of pure muscle to qualify as a heavyweight, but still fights with the same game as he did half a body ago, but he’s doing that times four. Amazing stuff.

Nick Bonner – Made in North Korea: Graphics From Everyday Life in the DPRK

A full-size flexicover book with color reproductions of the graphic design from within North Korea, as collected by a Beijing travel expert who visits regularly. It’s a strange collection, with all the “store brand” products put out by the government, designed by pen-and-ink pre-digital artists, often cribbing old Soviet designs, and of course working in various patriotic angles and images of Dear Leader. Some of the anti-American comics are a hoot. Plenty of small essays describing Bonner’s travels are nice, but the artwork is the real treat here.

Skylab Reference, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) Press Kit and Flight Plan

This is the kind of crap I read when I’m sick or otherwise can’t pay attention. I fell down a space station k-hole right around the time I came down with a cold, so I got lost in this for a few nights. (The reason for the k-hole: astronaut Paul Weitz from Skylab 2 passed away a few weeks ago.) It’s a three-ring binder with copies of the press kit for the original launch of the Skylab station, with a bonus press kit from the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous mission. Lots of dry government tech writer copy on space toilets and food stowage and time schedules and communication frequencies. Plenty of old pre-computer illustrations of what storage lockers and tools are mounted to what bulkheads, although some of the drawings didn’t reproduce that well. Still, fun stuff.

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Story in Horror Sleaze Trash: Prose in Poor Taste

Quick update: I have a story in a new anthology by the folks at Horror Sleaze Trash. The collection is called Prose in Poor Taste.

The HST announcement about this also has a link to download it in PDF format for free: http://www.horrorsleazetrash.com/uncategorized/horror-sleaze-trash-prose-in-poor-taste/

The link on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2wKcS3k

My included story is “The Metaphor of Poundcake” – it has previously appeared online at HST, and was also in my last book, Vol. 13. Lots of other good stuff in this collection, though, so if you’re a completist, check it out.

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Jesus’ Son

Denis Johnson died on Wednesday. The other night, I picked up a copy of Jesus’ Son and plowed through it before bed. I imagine a lot of other writers did the same this week. Some vague thoughts:

  • I have a tiny pocket-sized version of the book I bought at City Lights a year or two ago. It’s like a little Gideon bible, which works well for this book. I have this one oddball shelf next to my bed that’s too short for anything but pocket books, and so it’s always sitting in there and I’ll always pick it up and read a page or two when I’m bored of everything else.
  • I have another paperback of the book I bought in 2006. I’d never read it before, and John Sheppard urged me to, so I bought a copy and took it with me on a hot summer trip to Milwaukee, the first trip I took back there with my wife. Now, the eleven stories are twisted in my head with early memories of going to Wisconsin.
  • The eleven stories are about a guy only referred to by his nickname, Fuckhead. He is the main character of the book, but he seems like the guy that would be dumb sidekick in a group of friends, the one who is always made fun of and exploited by the group, but who still tags along and takes the abuse for whatever reason. And you’d normally never see his inner story in a piece of fiction about the others in the group, the ones who would call him Fuckhead, but in this book, you do see how he’s battling his inner demons and how he’s abused himself as the world abuses him. And that’s always been a strong reverberation for me, not only because Johnson writes about the forgotten character like this, but because I am always the Fuckhead of any group.
  • Johnson was a poet before he tackled prose, and it shows. This book is an almost perfect example of minimalism, in the efficiency of his writing. The 160-some pages of the volume seem short, but so much is packed within, so much emotion and depth.
  • The one criticism I have of the book is that it’s so commonly aped by a school of writing, and nobody can get to this level of craftsmanship. It looks like it would be deceptively easy to brain-dump stories of addiction, abortion, vagrancy, and failure in a similar fashion. But Johnson’s work isn’t about any of that, as much as it is about humanity that happens to have those things happening.
  • There are so many short bits in here that are stuck in my head, that pop up randomly. The guy in the bar who said he was Polish but he was really from Cleveland. The one-eyed guy who came to the ER with a knife stuck in the other eye. Stripping wiring from a vacant house, and the crowbar pried loose the drywall “with a noise like old men coughing.”
  • There are bits that also remind me of things in my past, and the two get twisted together. I remember driving home late at night from a party in South Bend, and being the first to arrive at a car crash on highway 33. A guy had been asleep in the back seat, no shirt on, the middle of winter, and woke up on the side of the road. I gave him my leather jacket until the ambulance showed up to cut out the driver, listened to him ramble about how he didn’t know what happened. When I read the first story, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” it reminds me of that strange episode, where the feelings from one and the facts to the other meld together.
  • There’s also a run in the second half of the book that takes place in Seattle, in the dive bars of 1st Ave. He talks about crashing at the library, the long street going from  Pill Hill and the hospitals, down the hill to the old joints in Pioneer Square. This is where I used to live, in First Hill, and all of his landmarks line up with my old memories.
  • The connections between the eleven stories is random, dreamlike. No time is wasted interconnecting the prose in a linear fashion. The reader is left to reassemble the scenes into a narrative, and it gives it a fluidity most story collections would not have.
  • I can sit down and read the 160 pages of Jesus’ Son in an evening before bed, but it will continue to haunt me for a week or two. I think that’s what makes it so perfect.

Lots of stuff about Denis Johnson on the web this weekend. Probably my favorite quote I ran across is how he would never read his reviews. He said, “A bad review is like one of those worms in the Amazon that swims up your penis. If you read it, you can’t get it out, somehow.” I need to keep that in mind.

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Death of The NecroKonicon

I made the decision to retire the print and ebook versions of my book The NecroKonicon, also known to many as “the glossary.” It was a bittersweet decision, but it’s not something I want available anymore. I unpublished the online version of the glossary about ten years ago, which was a tough decision back then. The book seems a bit redundant at this point.

I had a lot of fun creating the glossary when I started it about fifteen years ago. I became obsessed with it when I started it, constantly thinking of new articles to add, new links to make. I dug through old photos, researched old names and places, and every time I got a topic just about done, I’d think of five others to write. Once it went online, I started getting a lot of feedback, too. People searching on old names or places would stumble across my articles. This was right as Wikipedia was starting, and way before Facebook, so sometimes my pages were the first or only hit on google.

The problem with the glossary was that I wanted to write about my memories, and I got a lot of input that my entries were “wrong” and people would endlessly mansplain what really should have been there. I remember getting in a huge, stupid argument in the comments section with some #BlueLivesMatter-type idiot about my entry about the IU Police Department, and no matter how many corrections or additions I made, he demanded that I rewrite it or take it down.

And some of it was legitimate – I took a lot of swipes in some of the inside jokes, and there were entries about ex-girlfriends and people I was no longer in touch with, and those could be seen as violations or whatever. I think the attitude towards this has changed in the last decade; I think if Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski were writing in 2017, they would be spending most of their time in a courtroom, getting sued by the people in their books.

But, part of the fun of the thing was the personal side of it. I think if I only wrote about old restaurants and stores and food items, it would not have had the same intrigue. Or it would have just been WIkipedia. I keep thinking of putting a “scrubbed” version of it online, installing some wiki software and porting over the old entries, maybe writing a bunch of new ones, but not about people, just about the nostalgia, the places and things. But, that’s a lot of time. And I’d constantly be correcting things, adding more, dealing with complaints, etc.

A lot of me doesn’t want to deal with nostalgia anymore. I waste a lot of time trying to think about things from 1990 or whatever, and I’d rather be creating new stuff, not rehashing old stuff. So that’s a big reason for discontinuing this. And the book didn’t sell anyway.

That said, I wish I could create something that had the same collaborative and dynamic aspect that The NecroKonicon did. It was a glorious waste of time, and brought a lot of people in. I got a lot of emails and comments, and it was a lot of fun working on it (until it wasn’t.) I wish I could find some other project like this, like a podcast or comic or an online site of some sort, and maybe at some point I will.

Until then, I’m supposed to be writing the next book, so I need to figure out what that means exactly.

 

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The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day – The Book

8234262-2e6aa8cc0e194e7cb5540813cdd813e0This is stupid. But I have made a book for The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day. It is an 88-page book of pretty much every meme I’ve made over the last year or two associated with this page.

I thought about writing a huge explanation about how this picture was taken, how the meme page started (it wasn’t me), and other stupid side notes about the phenomenon, like how we started one-upping each other with garbage #KultofKonrath merchandise. But I am lazy, and if you explain it too much, it ruins it. So figure it out yourself. Or ask me in person. Or drink a bunch of cough medicine and make up your own story.

The book is available on Blurb and is prohibitively expensive because it is color printed. It’s also slow to produce and costs too much to ship. Blame Blurb. Don’t buy this, but if you’re a completist, knock yourself out. I would print a bunch and give them away, but my cost is the same as yours.

You can go to the book site and preview every page for free, so there’s that.

The book is on Blurb here: http://www.blurb.com/b/7632244-the-same-picture-of-jon-konrath-every-day-the-book

Also for any of my books that actually have writing and that you should be buying and giving to your family for the holiday, go to My Books and Stories.

Happy Firestorm! (Or whatever holiday you celebrate.)

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My new book Vol. 13 is out

I have a new book out!

TL;DR: kindle and paperback.

This book is called Vol. 13 because it is my thirteenth book, and I’m obsessed with Black Sabbath. It is 20 stories, each longer than flash fiction – the whole book is just shy of 200 pages in print.

If you read my books Thunderbird or Sleep Has No Master, it’s similar in format and content. Structurally, I think the stories are more “story-like” and slightly longer – like Thunderbird was 26 stories and 186 pages, while this was 20 stories and 196 pages. Each story is titled, which a few reviews mentioned they liked my titles even more than my stories in those books, so that tradition continues. If you want to see all of the titles, go check out the book page.

The content of the book is Konrathian. I can’t describe what I write, and that’s sort of the point. If you’ve read my stuff, you know what it is. I’ve created this sandbox of near-future post-apocalyptic ruin that’s probably getting a little too close for comfort these days, and then I set my cast of characters loose in it to wander the wasteland of pop-culture and destruction. It’s fiction, but I’m guessing that within six months, a guy with a Killdozer is going to go viral and end up with a holding deal with HBO to develop a talk show with tits, and everyone will think I’m Nostradamus. It’s happened before.

Anyway, the book is out. As always, I’m looking for reviewers or places to guest-blog or interviews, or any other help I can get to get this thing out there.

Here’s the linkage again:

  • Kindle – the book is part of Kindle Unlimited, so subscribers can read it for free.
  • Paperback – it’s in Kindle Match, so if you buy the paperback, you get the kindle version for free
  • Goodreads – go mark it as “to read” and tell all your creepy friends.

OK, that’s done. Time to start the next one.

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