Introducing Sean Carman

Sean Carman has written humor for the likes of Comedy Central, McSweeney’s (including the forthcoming Best of Humor anthology), and The Big Jewel.

Here’s an excerpt of his “From the Found Notebooks of the Members of Homer’s Writing Group“:

Re: “The Odyssey”

H: Another solid story from the group’s most prolific member! And we’d barely finished workshopping the Iliad! A lot going on here that I like….

Nice arc to the story, and I’m heartened you let the plot play a larger role in this one — sustains the dramatic tension, and provides some fascinating twists! The Cyclops is wonderful! You have such an imagination! A little confused as to why they have to spend so long in the cave, though. Maybe they could feed Cyclops the wine a little earlier, to make him fall asleep sooner? That would quicken Odysseus’ escape, cut the scene short and pick up the pace. Then you could interpose a plot complication on their return to the ship, for a more satisfying denouement….

Beyond humor, Sean writes short fiction, which has appeared in Surgery of Modern Warfare, Pindeldyboz, and the current print issue of Monkeybicycle. Another piece is forthcoming in Bridge Magazine.

Also skilled at reviews and reportage, he has contributed criticism to Exquisite Corpse and Literary Potpourri, and his articles about Seattle’s visual arts scene pop up frequently in Art Access. His full writing credits, too extensive to mention here, are available online.

As if these accomplishments weren’t enough for one man, Sean is also a photographer and an environmental lawyer. His keen wit and analytical mind notwithstanding, he is one of the most self-effacing writers I know. Even over the Internet he has a gentle quality that makes him seem like somebody you’d want your single girlfriends to meet.

I leave you in his hands, and with one of his Recently Channeled Dorothy Parker Poems:

College Drinking Days

Of all the college pastimes
I discovered and indulged in,
Gossip, study, romance,
I most loved drinking gin.

I found that when I cut it
With just a smidgen of vermouth
It made others more appealing,
My wit that much more couth.

Then early in my sophomore year
I happened to discover
That Bloody Marys in the morning
Helped me to recover.

It was then I stopped because
I saw where things were leading.
The deeper that you cut, you know,
The harder stops the bleeding.

Art of revision

Joyce Carol Oates recently rewrote one of her older novels when the publisher asked her to check it for errors before a reissue. More interesting to me (since I’m not really a devotee of Ms. Oates) is the discussion in this article of other writers who evinced a propensity to rewrite. Thomas Hardy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth are mentioned. (Via Bookslut.)


More and more periodicals are published electronically. The problem of preserving this digital data is discussed in the current issue of The Economist. Open call to all of my archivist friends and readers: feel free to send in your perspective. (Via Arts Journal.)

A former British mining town sought to rejuvenate its failing economy by opening nine bookstores. Here’s a report on the experiment. (Via Moby Lives.)

Emerson’s 200th, more

I prefer Christopher Benfey’s review of two new books about Ralph Waldo Emerson to Updike’s reaction to the same volumes. I haven’t read the books themselves, however, and am unlikely to do so.

Helen Brown, for the Telegraph, observes that the lovers of famous writers have the ability to “trade on the fame that dwarfs their own talent by selling their memoirs.” She mentions the recent Kathryn Chetkovich piece about a failed relationship with Jonathan Franzen. (The Chetkovich essay appeared in Granta but is excerpted here.)

Brown says Yeats’ inamorata was pleased about the way the poet presented their relationship:

Speaking about the next installment of his Yeats biography, due for publication in October, Roy Foster says: “In the second volume he is trading on his fame: the poet of the revolution, the poet with a legendary unhappy love affair [with Maud Gonne]. In fact, he and Maud Gonne both colluded in the way their relationship was presented: at one point she says quite briskly, `Oh for God’s sake, you’re very lucky you didn’t marry me – you’ve made us famous through the poems, and there’s much more mileage in that than if we had actually got together.'”

Salman Rushdie’s girlfriend, fashion model and cooking show host Padma Lakshmi, “is flattered that the heroine of Rushdie’s latest novel, Fury, was explicitly modelled on her. ‘When someone like that takes you so seriously, it makes you take yourself more seriously.'” (Via Kitabkhana.)

DoubleTake features a previously unpublished interview with Walker Percy. The interviewer tried unsuccessfully for nine months to get an interview with Percy but finally received his assent after she accidentally met him in person.

Thirteen Russian writers have sent an open letter to the country’s Minister for Education, protesting plans “for several seminal Russian works, including Boris Pasternak’s classic Dr Zhivago, to be dropped from the essential reading lists for 12- to 18-year-olds. The protesters allege that bureaucrats are trying to keep literature dealing with the purges of the Soviet era away from schoolchildren, presenting an anodyne version of the nation’s former imperial glory.” (Via Moorish Girl.)

Most phallic building contest

Jonathan Ames wants you to help him and Cabinet Magazine identify the most phallic building in the world:

I recently wrote a piece for in which I claimed that the Williamsburgh Bank Building was the most phallic in the world and a number of people wrote to me, protesting this and offering links to other buildings that had been erected over the years, so to speak. So please send to me at a link to a building that you think is the most phallic. Eventually will post these links/pictures and a vote will be conducted. Please check my website to stay on top of this contest, so to speak.

(Via Bookslut.)

“Operation Shiksa: A Philip Roth Mystery He Didn’t Write”

David Handelman purchased a used copy of Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock: A Confession. He was enjoying it until page 55, when he found some markings:

I leafed ahead and discovered to my horror that a previous owner had underlined, annotated, asterisked, circled and exclamation-pointed with abandon….

The careful handwriting looked feminine; the fact that every Yiddish word had been underlined with a question mark in the margin led me to believe she was not Jewish. (She didn’t get Roth’s admittedly cringeworthy pun, “There’s no business like Shoah business.”)

Don’t, and do

Publisher’s Lunch takes note of a Wall Street Journal article (available only by subscription) about writers who don’t write blurbs for book jacket covers. Jan Karon, Ricky Moody and Jonathan Lethem evidently are among the unwilling.

The current issue of the New York Press reveals that the members of Romance Writers of America are “shockingly nice ladies.”

Helen Gurley Brown is a popular topic of conversation these days. There was that Telegraph piece about her earlier this month, and now the Village Voice sits down with the author and considers the current significance of Sex and the Single Girl.

Just a drop

The New York Press recalls the life of poet Maxwell Bodenheim, who was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and whose work was at one time compared with that of Ezra Pound and Edgar Lee Masters:

By the early 50s, the “tall, cadaverous, unwashed” Bodenheim spent much of his time drinking straight grain alcohol. Hecht wrote that, after awakening at Bellevue from a two-day coma after being picked unconscious out of a Bleecker St. gutter, Bodenheim explained, “I must have had a drop too much.”

“The little explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine”

Bourbon,” From Signposts in a Strange Land, by Walker Percy, 1975:

I can hardly tell one Bourbon from another, unless the other is very bad. Some bad Boubons are even more memorable than good ones. For example, I can recall being broke with some friends in Tennessee and deciding to have a party and being able to afford only two-fifths of a $1.75 Bourbon called Two Natural, whose label showed dice coming up 5 and 2. Its taste was memorable. The psychological effect was also notable. After knocking back two or three shots over a period of half an hour, the three male drinkers looked at each other and said in a single voice: ‘Where are the women?’ I have not been able to locate this remarkable Bourbon since….

(Via The Dust Congress.)

Moment of choosing

Sara Nelson considers the many reasons an author might choose to use a pseudonym. “Publishing’s job, these days, is to create buzz, and a pseudonym is one way to interest people like me in writing stories like this,” she says. (Via TMFTML, A/K/A Joel Stein.)

I mentioned another interesting article on pseudonyms last month: James Long’s reflection on the problem of two identities for a writer.

Bush press conference

Yesterday the Washington Post called for a Bush to do a solo press conference. As I type, he’s doing it. I’m so excited–not because I think homeboy will say anything truthful, but because he is bound to provide the likes of Mr. John Warner with new material.

I can’t stream audio at work. My friend Matt is listening, though, and reports:

he sounds SO out of his league

asked what he thinks of homosexuality he starts by saying, “I am mindful that we’re all sinners…”

Nonfiction in journalism

Meghan O’Rourke launches a defense of Joseph Mitchell’s Old Mr. Flood, prompting TMFTML to ask why O’Rourke must turn Slate into a “house of lies.”

I must say, what little I’ve read of the Mitchell book did not impress me.

O’Rourke defends it in service of her argument that literary nonfiction should involve a blend of truth and invention. She calls for “a new magazine genre, somewhere between fact and fiction.”

Linton Weeks of the Washington Post couldn’t disagree more with arguments like O’Rourke’s. Weeks recently expressed great disdain for the memoir genre and called for a return to fact-based autobiography.

The debate is not new. See, for example, “Notes on the New Journalism,” an Atlantic Monthly article from May, 1972, which makes some of the same arguments that O’Rourke does, also using Mitchell as an example.

It seems to me that O’Rourke is calling for something that already exists in some sense, in the stories and articles of solid, funny nonfiction writers like David Sedaris and Jonathan Ames, and in the hands of lesser talents who are likely to sour the whole batch of apples.

What do you think?

In other news, the Weekly Standard concedes that there’s much to dislike about Robert Lowell, but says, “to read the thousand pages of his ‘Collected Poems’–finally published this summer, a quarter century after Lowell’s death in 1977 at the age of sixty–is also to see how little his failings matter to his poetry.” (Via Terry Teachout’s smart blog, About Last Night.)

Eight-inch Jack Kerouac “bobblehead dolls” stand on copies of On the Road and will be distributed in partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell at a sporting event in August. (Thanks to Matt for the link.)

What would Gramsci say?

I assume all of you have heard about Pentagon’s (now scrapped) plan to allow investors to “place bets on events in the Middle East occurring by a certain time—say, a biochemical attack on Israel before June 2004—and collect real money if they happened.” I thought I should mention it, just in case. (Thanks to Pasha Malla for bringing the story to my attention yesterday.)

Also, that allegation Bob Graham made last year about a foreign government’s involvement in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, has finally made the papers: Continue reading…