Monday, April 30, 2012

Stëvë: Most Assuredly Sucking, But Not Up, Never Up

The hot ticket in Farmingtion, Missouri this past Sunday night was for Stëvë, a debut performance of a much anticipated show that at long last had its world premiere at The Vault. Funny and invigorating, Stëvë, performed by Doe Run stand-up comic Steve Hull, was an unforgettable moment-by-moment meditation on popular notions of failure and, obversely, suckcess. The multi-media experience was a hair-raising aesthetic event, the kind I hope to see much more of in Southeastern, Missouri: kamikaze artists intelligently depicting the unvarnished truth about the futures prescribed for them by prosperous, fat men like George Lucas, who in Stëvë parlance “has ruined the lives of most children in America” with the 3D version of Star Wars, Episode One. “It sucks!”

Photo by Corey Warner

In titling his show, as well as for purposes of his professional and public persona, 21-year-old Steve Hull chooses to dot his e's; more precisely he deploys the umlaut, a diacritical mark used on top of vowels to announce an unusual pronunciation, a partial assimilation of a sound to a succeeding sound. And Steve uses two umlauts: this emphatic doubling and repetition are themselves further markers of his remarkable and fearless pronouncements. In designing his own name Stëvë has concocted a particularly apt title, especially for a show where doubling and repetition are structured in for effect, reinforcing and strengthening the idea that his is a show in large part about the creative/destructive process of forming one's identity in a society insistent upon one's succeeding above all, in the total absence of morality. “You want a moral to take with you,” he tells us, “drink motor oil!”

Photo by Corey Warner
Stëvë  foregrounds failure in his onstage speech and acts: the unlikely excuses, the unusual apologies, the strategic self-deprecation: “I can't make balloon animals; I'm sorry if you thought I could;” or  “If I fall on the floor and start crying, just take a magic marker and start drawing on my face;” or “I feel I'm doing a good job because no one has told me that this sucks! And the deeds follow the words. It's true, he cannot fabricate the cheesy animal balloon he's offered us; calling the elongated balloon a snake doesn't conjure one. But loosening his tie to do so, he can and does swallow the 2-foot long balloon, sucking it down his gullet as if to say: You want me to be a clown in the Empire of America? I'll EAT the balloon before I make myself a clown for you!

Photo by Denny Henke
Failure doesn't look like failure at all in Stëvë; or rather, flop sweat becomes a kind of perfume connoting, well...dignity, pride, decency, for lack of better words. It's a beautiful, brave and heroic show: he doesn't flinch in embodying just how perniciously and fluidly America is crushing its children, forcing them to think horribly corrosive unspoken thoughts like the one Stëvë enacts before us: If petroleum products are to be valued above all human, plant and animal life, maybe I should drink some motor oil.

Painter and sculptor John DeBold verifying the sealed bottle of motor oil. Photo by Corey Warner
 [We've had several suicides of young men in the area recently; one some weeks ago was a high school friend of Steve's. I do think the show, to its great credit, is in part a response to those those very real and permanent losses in the ranks.]

Photo by Tim Smith

Part burlesque, Stëvë strips for us. First he tosses aside his cowboy hat and double-breasted Civil War cavalry shirt to reveal a standard-issue white short-sleeved business shirt tied by an orange tie; then he wrestles those off only to reveal an identical shirt, this time with black tie. “Black tie's better than orange,” he tells us, informing us that there are layers to his presentation: scratch beneath the surface, and then scratch again: we'll be rewarded for our efforts by an even more pleasing visual effect.  

Animals, especially disturbing cat videos, are central to the storytelling: Satanic cats for adoption, erotic squirrels trapped in his car. “Just drive until it falls out,” he advises. He lets out random screams, squealing howls that could be animal cries, coyotes on steroids, wildly blurring the line between human and nonhuman. Ever attuned to the diminution of the range of real “choices” available to most people, he plays a tiny harmonica, “which is better than a tiny violin,” he judges. Extending the musical moment, Stëvë raps for us about Amish life, “we're going to party like it's 1699.” He takes pictures of the audience, he makes a phone call from stage to a friend in the first row: “I'm sorry; I'm not really funny.” He frequently promotes his merchandise, which is all false merch—bacon air fresheners, for example—forged autographs, and the like. Sometimes he goes silent, lets the air between stage and audience die down to a standstill, and then shouts at us to “make some noise!” And some of us do.
Photo by Corey Warner
Stëvë's final and stirring words at the historic show held at The Vault on April 29, 2012 were: “You''ll have to pay me to leave.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The FM Dial, With or Without Chopsticks

When I became a Radio Frequency club member during KDHX's fall fund raising drive last year, agreeing to be a modest monthly contributor to support independent community radio, I told the volunteer taking my credit card information that I quote, could not live in Farmington, Missouri without KDHX 88.1, unquote. Every single value I hold dear in life is reflected in KDHX programming: diversity, unbridled creativity, innovation, depth and breadth of knowledge, excellent taste, camaraderie, wit, bonhomie, compassion, and a penchant for justice. That they are collected, cultivated and celebrated in one place, a place that demands nothing in return seems like something of a Missouri miracle, akin in proportion to our elephant rocks "formed during a great uplifting of the entire area about 250 million years ago."

If I were granted the power to have but a single wish come true for St. Francois County, it would be to have every household tune into at least one program on KDHX every week; soon they'd be hooked on the delightful tusk of freeing their spirits. My second single wish would be to introduce brown rice as a staple into the diet for very similar reasons. As far as I'm aware there is no eatery this side of St. Louis that serves it, even at extra cost. On the occasions that I've asked for brown rice, I've received white rice stained with soy sauce. Like KDHX, genuine brown rice, the whole and complex grain, is dense in nutrients and is a natural anti-depressant: these two supplements alone could positively change our social landscape.

One of the most powerful attractors for me to KDHX is not as their independence suggests that there are no commercials, though there are none except for the concert calendars, the community event calendars, and shout outs to underwriters—but that there is no news. In a country where the $5,000 annual health care deductible is a routine benefit of full-time employment, what more do we need to know about how much the ruling class values our lives and continued existence? Do we genuinely need to hear any more of their news?

At KDHX no one's propagandizing blinding and restricting ideologies into our central nervous systems, imposing on our car or home speakers to do so, selling us on noise and fear and celebrity worship or mindless, pointless controversies. No one at KDHX is trying to spin what's going on; they are simply (not that it's simple) giving us the wherewithal—spirit, intelligence, energy, a mode of questioning, a mode of discourse—with which to confront power, with which to confront and share what's valuable about our own experience. The djs concentrate on telling the truth about our lives via the music, the vibe, the juxtapositions of songs and artists, the narratives—oral and sonic—spun on the air and recorded for all time in their playlists, which are  shared openly. A magnificent daily transfer of wealth is operational and ongoing at KDHX 88.1.

The station didn't exist when I grew up in University City and it is one of the most welcome “discoveries” I've made since being back. The radio tower is located in Arnold, Missouri, as close to our receivers as those in the more far flung quadrants of St. Louis County proper, or nearly so. My point here being that even geographically it's not meant to be strictly a St. Louis station; it's as much for us in the countryside—at least in its broadcasting reach—as it is for the city dwellers and suburbanites.

So I hope these few words might persuade even one new listener to turn the dial away for a change from the endless commercial croaking mindless blather mind numbingly banal hits over the head of Froggy 95.whatever; and check out KDHX 88.1 for a change, if you haven't already. You might just locate that musical rocket fuel for the psyche, intellect, libido and heart that has eluded you elsewhere. Maybe, too, a template for creating our own local radio station on the low end of the FM dial?

Monday, April 16, 2012


Garden party, Ladue, Incan sculpture, pottery from the Amazon, elephant ears, queso blanco, fig jam, baguette, Nescafé, Chopin études, flamenco, castanets echoing from the past, orange marmalade, holding the jar up to the light with both hands, my father's jam, he made this he said missing him, pointing to the void, to orange to sweet to golden to sticky, long ago gone. Later, pictures on the fridge, dashing in his fedora, Papa had style, mi casa es tu casa, milady of the highway. Tu pussy, this jam, is delicious. Which one? Both. Together? Tu pussy es mi pussy, say it. Mi pussy es tu pussy. Ricissimmo. Look at me!

Tell me how you saved him, my cousin, you dove in? No; I screamed. La petit mort. Almost. He was 4, I was 6. Birthday party dress, little girl pretty, wanted to show my daddy, down at the pool. Crinoline, taffeta, petticoats: they pumped his chest, a plume of water squirted from blue lips. He was floating? No, he had sunk, sunken treasure, reaching for a toy he fell in, all the way in. Let me tip you, just tip you. It caught my eye, forlorn plastic toy, bobbing, ripples, ripples from what? On the very bottom, he was splayed face down, arms and legs akimbo, not troubling the water. I can't imagine, if you hadn't come along. If you hadn't come along.

No one saw him fall, no one heard the splash, the adults preoccupied, pool-time, flirting, mahjhong. The lifeguard, Ian was his name, magic tricks, quarters out of nostrils, nickels from ears. Your penis, that scar. How does a man get a scar like that? Fucking in the ocean, mi amor. Saltwater, friction. It must have hurt you to keep going like that. Excruciation, worth every thrust. Don't stare; it's so ugly, ragged. No, valiant. Both of us, water heroes. Your curves, all woman, your kisses so generous. Let me shave, I'm too scruffy. Better? Better. Oh, those panties. How pretty, silky, see-through, thank you, my head is exploding. We'll come together this time, I'm certain, in gushes.

Don't bite me. I'm sorry, carried away, marking you. My breast! Get ice. Are you going to do it? Do what? What you said you'd do. What did I say? I don't remember. That you'd suck my cock in every room in your house. Haven't I already? Not your studio. No, not there. I'm going to let the dog go, let him run. There's no fence, if he's lost or hurt, it'll ruin everything, all our time together. Doesn't matter. I want him to taste freedom, even bloodied. Like me.

 Put some cream on my face? Of course, your skin's so dry. Just my forehead, under my eyes, the bridge of my nose. Does all my hair bother you? Bother me? You called me lupine. No. But sometimes I wish. What do you wish? That I could rest my cheek on your bare chest, feel your beating heart on my face. Shall we shave it? Yes, we'll cut it first, a weird harvest, chest hair in grayscale: the whole spectrum. In a moment; I'll get newspaper. First let me lick your labia, they're mine, I'm swallowing your clit; come in my mouth, darling. Come. Come. Come.

Your lips curling around my cock, your pussy a perfect fit, like a hundred wet tongues licking my cock. Is it too small? No. What you said before, a perfect fit. How can this be happening, that you came back to Missouri, surely not for me? My hyphenated south-north life doesn't point here, rolling in this honeyed clover redolent of cinnamon. Absurd, me without my pain, my chauffeur. We don't belong; the gods won't suffer it; it will be revoked. Don't stop talking. You know what this is? No, what is this? Rock star sex, backstage. How can you go so long? Are you taking something? No, not even herbs; you bring it. You! Excuse me lady, I believe I'm coming.

Coffee's made. I'll be down. I'll bring it up, to you, my queen of the highway, goddess of Route 67. I have a gig tonight. Stay in town, come see me play. I heard you on the phone, what you said, what you called me. Gringa? Yes. So what? So I'm your Other. And you're mine. How do you call me to your friends—your Latin lover? No! Just. Just what? Just, my lover. Not your man? No. I can be late, I can call in to my boss. Call. From behind, no, the side. Roll over.

A present. From South America. I'll wear it now. In bed, a scarf? I love it, that you bought it for me, that you thought of me there. Did you find mine in your suitcase? Of course. I wore it to death. After, let's make another fire. Did you bring your drum? No. I asked you to. You're my drum. Oh, two drums. Ow! New Years, at the Sheraton, will you be my guest? No. Why not? I don't want to see you like that, formal in a tux, an emcee. Banter, charming everyone. A raffle; I couldn't bear it. There'll be dancing. I don't know how to do your dances, I'll be ridiculous. You have another date? Yes.

A Nobelist, there'll be a party, a fundraiser for their library. How much? One fifty. Krona or dollars? No. Too much. I don't speak Spanish; I've never read him. Have you? Yes, of course. In school, a long time ago. Liar. Wait, I'll lube you. Let me lube you. Are you sore? Never. I...I don't want the world. I did, but I don't anymore. I just want this, my legs in the air, muscled meat of my calves on your chest, ankles framing your ears. Liar.

When you took me to the New York. Six months ago. You helped get my suitcase. I handed over my keys, you opened the trunk. Giving them back, your thumb grazed my hand. Grazed? You ran the side of your thumb down the length of mine. And? One stroke, that stroke, so confident, so sure. Everything melted away, all difference. Inside, I...I twitched, wanting you. Me too, remember I kissed you? I remember it well. Leaning on the car. Sun in our eyes. What I said, too? Yes? What is? Give me...Qué? Give me a New York kiss. And did I? Yes, you did. Want another one now? No.

But you said. What? I was your power. So I said. And now? You are.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stop and Discern the Subtext

Goofy wigs and all, perhaps the most illuminating and affecting production of Arthur Miller's weighty play The Crucible I've yet encountered was performed by the Farmington High School Theatre Guild at the Centene Center on March 10, 2102, the final evening of a three-night run.

As the curtain rose on Act I, Scene I, a violent lightening storm processed ever nearer, dramatically perturbing the atmosphere. The pounding rain thundered volubly on the roof of the auditorium making much of the feverish onstage action inaudible, heightening the sense of witness of what came to feel like an almost documentary emotional verisimilitude, the audience in effect peeking through the window of a 17th century time capsule, straining to hear the words of a society much like our own in its cynical throes of willful disintegration. 

All production photos courtesy of director Kevin Marler

When Tituba (played by Tista Pearson, in a going-for-broke performance equal to her character's dilemma), fell to her knees screaming about "conjuring" and "chicken blood," I abandoned my seat in row K to the empty front row center, where leaning forwardelbows on knees, fists under chinI planted myself with rapt attention for the duration.

I related this scenario to director Kevin Marler, who teaches drama, public speaking, creative writing, and yearbook at Farmington High School, as well as evening courses at Mineral Area College, when he graciously met with me on the patio at 12 West for multiple cocktails and hours of inquisition about The Guild's production of The Crucible. Sticking my head in a noose of my own making, as I relate it here, I experienced my talk with the straight-shooting Mister Marler as a rare chance to be disabused of many faulty assumptions and misguided hypotheses!

FM: Now that the show is over, do you feel a sense of letdown with the return to the mundane?

Marler: I know what you mean, but that changes and tempers with age. We began work at the end of January, pushing really hard over the last month; I'm ready to relax.

FM: I have to ask, get it out of the way: have you seen Christopher Guest's spoof Waiting for Guffman?

Marler: Yes, and I love it!

FM: That's a relief. You deserve kudos for using your good will and deep roots in the community to push the envelope by staging The Crucible. [Raised eyebrow] Or are you more casual about that than I am?

Marler: I think I am. I know it's an edgy play; I've looked at doing it for years. The students themselves were motivated to do it; they saved it for the big spring show—18 players on stage.

FM: Why were they interested in The Crucible?

Marler: They'd encountered it in the PAGE's program—a middle-school program for advanced students when they were younger. They're familiar with it: if they already know something, they get excited about it. Also, the play's heavy, so deep. They'd done a lot of comedy recently, and wanted something meaty.

FM: Oh, I thought maybe they were hoping to send a message to the adults who control their lives, their futures...?

Marler: No.

 FM: I'm curious about the placement of the risers—what was the significance of their being so very far upstage? Were you hoping to make a point about the distance between the audience and action?

Marler: No. The Centene Center was constructed as a concert hall, not a theatre. We have to build the set at Truman, haul it over here, and set it up. I would have liked to bring the show closer to the audience, but I needed the curtain to hide the wings. So we lived with it.

FM: And what was your intention with the wigs, many of them askew, such obvious artifice?

Marler: They were period driven. 

FM: Okay. Many of the performances were extraordinary, both in the expression of passion and dispassion, beyond their years, or so it seemed to me. How did you assemble such a talented cast and help them arrive at such authenticity?

Marler: It's one of the things I think I do well, finding the talent and putting it where it belongs.

FM: I was bowled over by the intensity of the anguish expressed by Connor [Purkett who played John Proctor].

Marler: Yes, well with him it was a matter of trimming him back.

FM: And the eroticism between Proctor and Abigail [nimbly played by MaKayla Godat].

Marler: That's difficult. With kids, when you don't want them fooling around, you can't stop them; but to get it on the stage, that's the hard part, to release their inhibitions. They're petrified. This was MaKayla's first show. It takes them a while to define themselves as actors, and step out and really do something. I help them tone it.

FM: How do you tone it?

Marler: I know what I want to see and hear and feel, when I need them to push it harder. Every actor is different. I can tell Gracie [Minnis, who played Mary Warren with such range, authority and finesse] something one time and she gets it.

FM: You give them line readings? Tell them how to say it?

Marler: Sometimes I have to. I have to clarify, I have to help them understand, especially in the fighting lines. They're too young and inexperienced, you have to stop and discern the subtext so they get a clearer picture of what's necessary. With Connor, for instance, I had to repeatedly tell him to back off, soften up on it, Proctor's no he-man. He was coming on too strong. Proctor's also helpless and frustrated in the face of the injustice bearing down on his family; I had to urge Connor to give his anguish a context, an emotional context.

Teenagers always think they know best. They're looking for power, confidence. Part of my job is trying to get them to believe in what they're doing. There are small success stories that people in the audience don't see. But I know what I've got, where we started, how far I've moved them. A director has to have a picture in his head, almost like in a movie. But the realities of high school will throw a bucket of cold water on that real fast.

Every director goes in with a vision and you get as close to it as you can, then see what happens. With the more seasoned ones, you can let them go and find it themselves—that feels good! But sometimes you have to explain things, a lot. Other times, you just put them together and let them run. Especially if they know me and they know each other, they can get there themselves, they know what I want. And that's a good thing.

FM: I want to ask you about the word “awesome” which I thank you for not using, and language impoverishment. In truth, the main reason I went to see the play was to get an infusion of language; I was craving an antidote to the chronic exposure to the A-word, for me something akin to being forced to breathe in second-hand smoke. I confess I was there unaccompanied on a Saturday night hungry for heightened language—complex, literary and theatrical. That the show itself was so riveting came as a total surprise, a welcome and delightful one.  Especially the actors' facility with language: unfamiliar historical words, words of jurisprudence and religion, odd turns of phrase, long sentences and speeches containing contradictory sentiments. They managed it all with aplomb.

Marler: “Awesome” is not in my vocabulary—it's too “ya-ya-ish.” As for language impoverishment, I agree...sometimes the students will sit side-by-side or just across the room and text each other instead of speaking face-to-face. The impoverishment is a result of the whole technological world of social interaction in which they live. I tell them this is one more thing to contend with, they didn't do it to themselves, it was our generation who gave them their cellphones, laptops and the rest of it—Facebook, Tweeting. It's a constant battle, constant distraction. They don't care about anything other than their little social world. They're young, free-spirited, without a sense of responsibility, saying whatever they want without consequences; it's a way of being mean to each other.

Theatre helps. They have to consider meaning, subtext, understanding. I love seeing that happen. Their language faculty is innate, but those who are articulate are so because they read. With musical theatre, singing, interpreting things—they immerse themselves in language. And at this age, I work with them on articulation, projection, their stage voice presentation, pacing; are they too fast, too slow?

The beauty of doing high school theatre is watching them grow into what you saw, and then the process starts again with a new group. Getting people up on the stage for the first time, then getting them a little seasoned, always thinking ahead. Even with the show itself, I anticipate problems, and when they happen, in my mind I already have it solved; my role calls for a lot of strategic thinking and preparation. If this one drops out, who can I move in? How will this role help student x, y, or z prepare for a greater role in next year's show?

FM: What about the politics in the play? You mentioned in the program that you viewed the play “as a timely parable of our own contemporary issues of society today.”

Marler: While I'm passionate about everything I do, for me the overall message of the play is about the perils of extremism—left or right, or whatever—with extremism it always go bad. We saw in this that the Puritans weren't so pure, their judgmental behavior, their assessments of “I'm good; you're bad.” I'm always seeking the common ground.

FM: But in the play's own terms, the hangings only stopped with the looming example of the rebellion in nearby Andover...!

Marler: Yes, the pressure to find a way out was tremendous.

FM: During rehearsals, I'm curious, did the students make any correlations between the action or message of the play and the gunning down of Callion Hamblin on the public's streets on February 20th?

Marler: No. For them it was a piece of local excitement, not an act of oppression. We don't do plays for that purpose...pushing the envelope. We did The Crucible because it was an award-winning American play by Arthur Miller.

FM: What about the social edge, Miller's use of the word “fornication?”

Marler: I didn't censor it; it's not a bad word. I censored the crap out of Of Mice and Men, especially the word “nigger” which was prevalent in a play about prejudice and inequality. But we can't have the good without the bad, can't show the right things without showing the wrong.

Adults can be out of touch with the teen mind. The kids aren't given the credit they deserve. I censor when I have to, but as my mentor always told me: “Ignorant people shouldn't go to the theatre!”

FM: Did you go into Arthur Miller's biography with the kids, his experiences being called to testify before the House Un-American Affairs Committee during the McCarthy era?

Marler: No, I did not. We did research into the historical characters as part of playing their roles. Then we talked about their perception of the characters.

FM: What crucible or crucibles do your students see themselves facing?

Marler: They don't look that far down the road.

FM: Do you?

Marler: Yes I do. I'm always wondering, what's the next group going to bring? As for this one...strongly, they stepped up, up and out of the shadows. That pleased me most.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Edmond Caldwell's Commitment to a Certain Kind of Sentence

Photos by Steve Hull
 First of all thank you very much for publishing Apple Seized in Dark Sky magazine because it—both its content and form (or unified conformtent, to coin a portmanteau (which is fun to do regarding a literary work about luggage!))—entered my long-term memory where the story's been looping on its own baggage carousel since I read it two winters ago. I've had the advantage of time to consider its revelations. I was lucky to get eased in.
You’re welcome, and let me thank you in turn for the opportunity to talk about my novel in the context of interview questions that aren’t drawn from the shallow well of literary journalism.  I hope my responses will do them justice.

And it’s interesting for me to focus on “Apple Seized” because I wrote it originally as a stand-alone story, with no notion of its being the first chapter of a novel.  Yet I do find, as your words suggest, that the succeeding chapters of the book are all there, stowed away in the luggage and waiting to be unpacked.

Let me just say at the outset that your work explodes any lingering false dichotomy between morality and aesthetics, as if they were separate categories; they are one and the same, you make that explicitly clear, a topic I can't wait to hear you explore more fully vis a vis your rejection of the paragraph as a way of ordering text. 
I’m glad you see it that way since the book turned out to be very concerned with exploring/exploding dichotomies, and about seeing how things are defined by their margins.  I don’t often think in terms of morality, however, so you’ll forgive me if I substitute for it a word I feel more uncomfortably comfortable with – politics.  There is most definitely a wall erected between aesthetics and politics in conventional approaches to fiction, and it brings out the arsonist in me.

So my first questions, or series of statements and questions I'd like you to respond to as freely as you like, center on Apple Seized. Later I hope maybe we can talk parts to wholes, because that's where I think Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant  really distinguishes itself, in creating a satisfyingly complex and thrilling vibrational composition—three parts comprised of three chapters each, a verbal triptych of triptychs. Or as you term it in Return to the Chateau, “a triskelion pattern” (but I don't see the curves or bentness. Or I do, but I see them scrawled on blocks of text resembling more the panels of a triptych (especially because of the concern about placement and displacement)), but maybe you'll change my mind about that.
I’m glad you bring in the term “triptych” because I was thinking a lot about visual art while I was writing the book, especially about the idea of surfaces and about the page as a surface.  I wanted to get away from depth-models of narrative, especially psychological depth but also temporal depth (“backstory”) and spatial depth (foreground/background).  I hope I was able to suggest, without explicitly stating it, that the looping of the baggage-claim carousel and the looping of my protagonist’s thoughts are in fact “the same” loop, without any priority assigned to one or the other – they’re a continuum on a single plane (and the same with the other “non-places” in the other chapters of the book and my hero’s experiences of them – the hotel zone, the highway rest-stop, the shopping mall, etc.).  Likewise, the character isn’t supposed to preexist whatever happens on the page; he has no backstory beyond what the sentences propose (or take away, or omit) at any given moment.  He “exists” only in the nine boxes of the book’s nine chapters, and even then he’s not necessarily the same character from one box to the next.  And in the same spirit I’ll suggest that there’s not necessarily any contradiction between the “curves and bentness” of the sentences and imagery on the one hand and the “blocks” of text (or boxes, panels) on the other, once we see that the former constitute the latter rather than being engraved on them or placed inside them.

Published by Say It With Stones; also available on Amazon, B&N and wherever books are sold.
And now that I've said that please feel free to talk about its placement now. The finger-fucking you refer to later in the book, author diddling reader, does it begin in Apple Seized, do you think? Was it your intention to hook your authorial finger in our fresh holes right from the beginning (before we got a chance to think about where else that finger has been!!!)? 
During most of the composition of the book I can’t say I was thinking of the reader at all, or rather I was thinking primarily of myself as reader.  One of the early principles of the book was self-pleasure (the alpha and omega of finger-fucking, after all).  In fiction workshops (of which I attended a number in an earlier incarnation), writers are constantly enjoined to keep “the reader” foremost in mind, not to lose their attention, maybe to tease them a little but always to please them, etc.  So this reader really turns out to be some kind of cop, or a john, in relation to whom the writer occupies the place of a prostitute.  I don’t read anything like this so-called reader, so why should I write that way?  In revolt against this early training I wanted to compose something solely for my own delight, in the name of masturbatory and polymorphous desire as opposed to the reproductive-genital sexuality of the conventional novel (the conventional novel is in fact connected to a regime of reproductive-genital sexuality, meant to contribute to the reproduction of society at the level of ideology).  My whole book is a finger-fucking book; one either joins in the fun or feels diddled in the pejorative sense, conned.  But the shadow of this critical authority is always there in the novel as well (in various guises as airport security, museum guard, literary critic, etc.), because the book simultaneously represents the struggle to free itself from this regime.

With its setting of the baggage claim area of an international airport within the U.S. and its emphasis on his and her luggage items, Apple Seized appears to be your very real exploration of the unpacking of your own gendered displacement in the terror/police state that is now America. You depict the dangers as different for men and women, even as you acknowledge the privilege in feeling that displacement only recently. It's implicit anyway that pre-9/11 there would not have been so much concern with looking like someone from the Middle East. And I took your evocation of shittiness (talk of bowels returning to normal and dumps on the carousel) to be an acknowledgment of the unfairness of that special red, white and blue American privilege even more than its revocation.
At the time of composition, and at the level of conscious intention, I was mostly trying to get the sentences right, so that they might convey the conveyance of the carousel in the way it constructs, moment by moment, my hero’s so-called “consciousness.”  I wanted to capture, or be captured by, the essence of the baggage-claim terminal, in the same way that my hero wants, in a later chapter, to capture the essence of the highway rest-stop.  I trusted that if I got the sentences right, the other matters (of content, theme, etc.) would take care of themselves, would emerge on the carousel from the bowels, and no doubt trailing clouds of shitty glory from whence they came.  So I don’t disavow any of the items you’re noting on the carousel, it’s just that my relationship to them is different from the intentionality implicit in the way you frame the questions.  Obviously one of the things that’s going to come out on a luggage carousel in a contemporary U.S. baggage-claim terminal is Terror, not from so-called Islamists or other officially-suspicious persons but courtesy of the U.S. itself.  About gender I will note that my protagonist becomes increasingly “feminized” (by hetero-normative standards) as the novel goes on, until he is identified with his mother rather than with all of the white male literary fathers, from Joyce to Beckett, that populate the text.  The more Terror-fied my protagonist becomes, the more feminized, the queerer, the darker his skin.

A jingoistic shittiness, but also unadulterated shame in the literal notes in red words on the custom form, marking your hero as a rule breaker (why not just tell him to trash the apple?). It's the overkill in establishing a written record for such a trifling event, that disorients him (“it was very difficult to concentrate”) suggesting a primal, almost sexual disgrace in getting caught. This is sealed by the allusion to Scarlet Letter, but it had been evoked earlier in his wife's casual immodesty in exposing her bra cups when taking off her sweater. Are you intending us to be thinking about honor crimes, specifically?
Not consciously, but once again I’m not responsible for everything that comes out on the carousel.  I think the hero both admires and is intimidated by the absence of self-consciousness that the figure of his wife always suggests.  She represents a whole host of things that are Other for him, that he might feel ambivalent about but that he relies on all the same – she is science, rationality, technology; professional success and financial security; she has immunity from illness and interrogation.  Her laptop is a phallus, and she is devoted to it and the power it gives her; she has sublimated her own eros through it so that she lives pleasurably but makes her way in the world.  She has, or at least appears to have, firm boundaries and a stable ego, no doubt at a cost.  The hero has weak boundaries and an unstable ego, at a very great cost indeed, but perhaps with an additional benefit as well.

Can you say more about rule breaking and heroism and the assertion of sexual desire (searching out the attractive passenger whose butt had clearly caught his eye; his checking out of the sexy stews or pilots; and his fantasy about using his wife as a foil so that others could hear his joke about the loud noise and perhaps admire him) so present in your writing and in your attitude toward writing. Or if heroism's too hyperbolic, leadership?
The form of this question is interesting to me because, at first glance at least, the items in the parentheses tend to undermine rather than bolster conventional notions of heroism and leadership, suggesting a “hero” who is voyeuristic, vain, too furtive to act.  And indeed that’s my hero, in all his anti-heroism.  Airport baggage-claim terminals are kind of crazy places when you think about it – there’s so much sexual desire on the loose, so much “looking,” so much proprietary-territorial aggression, so much terror and relief. The energies are so much in excess of their various occasions or manifestations in the form of this or that person, this or that object – is that my suitcase or your suitcase? is that my desire or your desire? – everyone’s struggling to get a grip. The weaknesses and flaws of my hero – his anti-heroism – are precisely those things that allow him to “tune into” all these discordant frequencies, become their victim, subject, receptacle, and, at another level, their oracle.  That’s the level of the sentence, which doesn’t belong to him as a character, but of which he is the occasion, the focalizing point.  He is made up of these sentences of desire and terror; he is sentenced to desire and terror.

With the apple, the seized one,“...yellowish green with orange flecks and not too large,” you've circled back for Hawthorne again, but Hawthorne of The House of Seven Gables, no? Its existence seems both an admonishment of its own neglect, forgotten in the hero's luggage item, and also a dire warning—“the weighty lesson from the little-regarded truth that the act of the passing generation is the germ which may and must produce good or evil fruit in a far-distant time; that together with the seed of the merely temporary crop, which mortals term expediency, they inevitably sow the acorns of a more enduring growth, which may darkly overshadow their posterity.”
That apple does come bearing a lot of symbolic baggage, doesn’t it?  As well as being “just an apple,” innocence interdicted.  At some point it might even be rendered into watery applesauce in the Taunton State Hospital for the criminally insane. And what about that rusted tin pastille case with a rubber band around it that the dog and the customs agent overlook?

But the chief figure I’d like for my book is a little less organic than Hawthorne’s oak and one less premised on continuity (whether “good or evil” in the fruit it produces).  That’s the figure of the mise en abyme, the infinite repetition of the same image (like the cereal box with a picture of a kid holding a cereal box with a picture of a kid holding a cereal box etc. etc. etc.).  In the case of my book it’s loops, bigger and smaller loops, loops inside loops inside loops, maybe even fruit loops.

In trying to think about the distinction implicit in the book's title, are you trying to get at a way of thinking about non-human wishes for agency? Are you also sounding an alarm about the displacement of privilege of the human vis a vis the fruit or the dog, for instance? Is the apple seeking revenge against humans for its millennia of being maligned as forbidden? Is the beagle answering its own monstrous enforced domestication and enslavement as a sniffer-outer for Power?
I like the idea of having a book with two titles.  At first they were just two candidate titles that I couldn’t decide between, and then an early reader of the manuscript helped me to realize that that very undecidability was the matter’s riven heart.  Of the non-human wishes for agency, are you thinking ahead to the way my hero “misreads” Animal Farm in a later chapter?  Once again, I can’t say it was a conscious choice, but I wouldn’t discount your reading by any means.  I think “the human” as an ideological category is overrated at best, and pernicious at worst, and I hope the book finally reflects that.

Regarding the liberation from the hierarchy of the paragraph, why this strong statement about how writing is structured? Is it part of the unpacking of privilege, some essential preparatory act we have to perform before we can proceed? That we have to allow for the willingness to change in a fundamental way, to expose the arbitrariness of the rule makers by doing away with the fruits of their rules?
The rejection of paragraphs was initially mostly a challenge of form.  I happened to be reading a number of writers who wrote either whole books or at least whole chapters or sections without breaks – Claude Simon and Thomas Bernhard most prominently – and I simply wanted to see if I could “do it.”  The challenge is that you can’t just write an ordinary story and then delete the indentations; the units have to link up and lead into each other without visible seams, so to speak.  This puts the stress on the sentence – you have to discover a certain kind of sentence that establishes a new or at least different relationship between content and form.

This goes back to your observation about exploding dichotomies.  One dichotomy I was interested in exploding is the one between content and form, because like most dichotomies it’s also a hierarchy:  in fiction, content is typically conceived of as primary, and writers are supposed to find the adequate form for their content.  Paragraph breaks are indeed, as you say above, “a way of ordering the text,” with all the connotations of the word “ordering.”  Maybe they’re even one of the premiere ways that content comes to dominate over form – I need a separate paragraph for establishing the setting, another paragraph for character description or a bit of action, and then come my paragraphs of dialogue, all of which must in turn be subordinated to “advancing the story,” etc.  Fredric Jameson somewhere makes a provocative assertion, using Hemingway as his example, that reverses the poles:  What if his famous style were simply the result, first and foremost, of wanting to write a certain kind of sentence? And therefore all that we think of us as typical Hemingway content – the drinking and bullfighting and al fresco masculinity and so forth – were merely the most adequate available significations to allow such sentences their unfolding?

I think this is also an answer, in a way, to some of your questions – was I thinking about honor killings, Hawthorne, non-human wishes for agency? Well, in the first instance I was simply thinking about writing a certain kind of sentence, and if I could keep writing it, not fall off the tightrope, then the politics and the literary allusions and the themes (because there are all of those things) would take care of themselves, would be the constituents of these sentences as they proceeded.  No doubt there were “other things” besides a style of sentence that I wanted to deal with as I continued to write, but in the moment of composition they were secondary, or I didn’t want to think too consciously about them but rather wanted them to come forth as functions of the kind of sentence I was writing.  The commitment was to a certain kind of sentence, and I see that as a political commitment.  The initial wager of doing without paragraphs compelled me to think about and write sentences in a different way, and from there on it was a matter of fidelity to that kind of sentence, of which the book is the result.

And what exactly are you modeling here? That we can do it not piecemeal but wholesale and survive to turn another paragraphless page, implicating author and reader alike and together, turning those pages with daring and wit? Isn't the essence of the anxiety in the story about just that, how scary it is to think it, much less to do it (and continue to do it for 272 pages!)?
It’s interesting to think of the anxiety in the story as having been “folded in” from the constraints of the form.  How do we trans-form what appears to be a prison into the terms of our freedom?  Or if that is asking too much, then yes, our survival. If there’s a heroism in the book – to return again to one of your earlier questions – it is that of surviving and speaking, like my Little Wayfarer I continues to do from her non-place in the margins until they tie her limbs to the bed and bind her tongue, and like the Little Wayfarer II that they ripped from her womb might have a chance to continue in her placeless place.  But that’s looking ahead.

Hands big enough to touch all the puzzle pieces.