Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?: Stories

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The Voice Trap: On the Perils of Authorial Parochialism

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In 1998, David Foster Wallace published an essay titled “Neither Adult Nor Entertainment”[1] in Premiere magazine using not one but two pseudonyms. Though he was apparently outted against his will as its sole author, it seems strange to imagine he thought he could pull off the deception. Here’s the New York Daily News on the story: “The man of many words Bandana-wearing writer David Foster Wallace didn’t appreciate our scoop last week that he was the secret author of an article in the new Premiere about the porn business. It wasn’t that hard to unmask Foster…since the piece was littered with the same long-winded footnotes…used in his much-praised 1,079-page novel, Infinite Jest. Even with such obvious clues, Foster doesn’t think it was his writing style that exposed him, but rather that someone at Premiere ratted him out.”

I didn’t read the Premiere article upon its release, but I don’t think I would have needed a rat to tell me who wrote it. As with most members of the relatively tiny literary community, had I been paying any attention I think it would have been pretty obvious. His voice is just that distinctive. It’s the same with any number of oft-parroted literary figures: Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Lorrie Moore, Cormac McCarthy.

It works for other art forms too, of course. Show me a photo by Robert Mapplethorpe or Diane Arbus, an interminable camera movement by Bela Tarr, an Aaron Sorkin “walk and talk” sequence, play me a track from an AC/DC album, and I’ll know, I’ll know, I’ll know without even having to think about it. Some people just have Voice.

Among this generation of writers, there could be no Voice more recognizable and imitated than that of George Saunders. And with good reason, too. A style that singular, brilliant, and incredibly New Yorker-friendly is rarer than a lottery win.

Like everyone, I was wild about Saunders’s first collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. And, like everyone, I was absolutely crazy about his second collection, Pastoralia. When his third, In Persuasion Nation, was released in 2007, I bought it in hardback and gobbled it up just as eagerly as the first two, this time experiencing a just a hint of disappointment. Something seemed off, or — more to the point — not off enough. I liked the new stories, sure, but they filled me with an unsettling sense of familiarity. They just seemed so…well, so similar to his others.

I closed the book, slid it into its place on the shelf, and said to myself, Enough Saunders. I get it. I get the funny, invented brand names and phony trademarks, the quirky intersection of erudition and stupidity on display in his characters inner (and outer) monologues. I get his “deadpan science fiction gloss,” as The New York Times labeled it. I just get it. However much I admired his work, it had started to seem like a magic trick I’d seen a hundred times. And the magic was wearing off.

I’ve been faithful in my Saunders hiatus since then. That is until recently, when, as part of a story exchange with a friend — picture a lazier version of a book club — I agreed to read and discuss “Victory Lap,” from the much-lauded 2013 collection Tenth of December, first published, of course, in The New Yorker. I wasn’t particularly excited about the selection, but I figured at the very worst reading a new Saunders story would essentially be like rereading one of his old ones.

I wanted to be wrong. But you know what? That’s exactly what it was like.

Here’s a passage, in case you haven’t read Saunders in a while. We’re in the mind of a 14-year-old boy here:
Hey, today was Tuesday, a Major Treat day. The five (5) new Work Points for placing the geode, plus his existing two (2) Work Points, totalled seven (7) Work Points, which, added to his eight (8) accrued Usual Chore Points, made fifteen (15) Total Treat Points, which could garner him a Major Treat (for example, two handfuls of yogurt-covered raisins), plus twenty free-choice TV minutes, although the particular show would have to be negotiated with Dad at time of cash-in.

One thing you will not be watching, Scout, is ‘America’s Most Outspoken Dirt Bikers.’
Classic Saunders, right? There’s something undeniably great about having Voice like that, a voice you can’t escape, like Tom Waits. Or Cher. And, career-wise, the upside must be huge. Recognition. The feeling of attachment that fans have to artistic output they feel they know because it shares an essential sameness with the work that came before. And it’s good, too. I mean, fundamentally, Saunders is a terrific writer, a great observer, a clever entertainer.

But that sameness — it’s there, and it’s nagging. There’s a downside to that much voice. An unsurprisingness. A feeling of sloggy repetition and even self-parody. At what point, after all, does Voice become a slump?

Reading “Victory Lap,” I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like if Saunders did something completely different for his next book. Wouldn’t it be interesting if he wrote a historical novel or a techno-thriller, or even if he just played it straight and wrote about real feelings and people in a way that wasn’t couched in such predictable peculiarity, in a way that wasn’t so obviously him? Wouldn’t it be exciting to see him let down those droves of hard-won fans by swerving off in a completely unexpected direction?

It’s a lot to ask, I realize. And he certainly doesn’t need to change. In fact, I might be the only one calling for it, given the MacArthur Fellowship he’s been awarded and the spot he once landed on TIME’s list of the 100 “most influential people in the world.” Not to mention that I’m understating things dramatically by saying that the coverage of Tenth of December was ubiquitous and almost rabidly positive. Lest I be misunderstood, I completely appreciate everyone’s excitement over his work. I understand that he’s a Great Writer, and, according to everyone who has met him, an inspiring teacher and a hell of a nice guy.

Still, it would be a pleasure to see him take a risk. Just as I would have loved a chance to see what David Foster Wallace might have come up with deprived of his usual toolbox of idiosyncratic tricks and techniques.

Raymond Carver successfully navigated one of these big authorial shifts, as D.T. Max reported in his 1998 New York Times piece, “The Carver Chronicles,” writing:
There is an evident gap between the early style of ‘Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?’ and ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,’ Carver’s first two major collections, and his later work in ‘Cathedral’ and ‘Where I’m Calling From.’ In subject matter, the stories share a great deal…But the early collections, which [Gordon] Lish edited, are stripped to the bone. They are minimalist in style with an almost abstract feel…The later two collections are fuller, touched by optimism, even sentimentality.
The toolbox of which Carver famously deprived himself for his final collections was the often-oppressive editorial intervention of Gordon Lish, who arguably sapped the fullness from Carver’s early stories favoring a style much sparer than the author himself intended. After something of a battle between them, Carver wrested (or Lish ceded) control of his work, and the result is that his last collection swells where his early stories flatten. Again from D.T. Max at The Times: “Once Carver ended his professional relationship with Lish, he never looked back. He didn’t need to. ‘Cathedral’ was his most celebrated work yet.”

J.K. Rowling is another author who appears to have managed an enormous and worthy transition in her career and authorial voice, following up the insane success of the Harry Potter series with The Casual Vacancy, a full-on adult novel in a completely different voice, and a bestseller despite mixed reviews. For her next book, she zagged yet again, releasing a crime novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Interesting to note that Rowling chose to publish the latter pseudonymously, as Robert Galbraith. It’s not unusual for writers to use pen names when dabbling in genres other than the ones that clinched their fame, presumably for the same reason that writers fall into a reliance on certain “voices” or styles to begin with — because the last thing writers want is to let down their fickle audiences. And what most readers want is more of the same.

To be fair, this, too, is understandable. Nicholson Baker’s fiction always reads like Nicholson Baker, and I love reading his books. Same for Raymond Chandler, Anton Chekhov, E.E. Cummings, Marcel Proust, and a slew of other writers with incredible and incredibly-reliable voices. That said, I’d love to see what Proust might have done in another voice, in, say, science fiction or with the story of a pair of street urchins. Or how Chandler might have written differently to tell the story of a great romance, stretching beyond his comfort zone where something entirely fresh might be born.

Maybe early writerly instruction is partly to blame for all this authorial parochialism. Aren’t we all told from the beginning that we must “find our voices?” What no one ever says is that once you wander into that swamp, you might do well to toil your way out of it again. It’s rare that you hear anyone praise authors for avoiding a reliance on a particular voice to begin with, as writers like Graham Greene, George Orwell, and Richard Yates did, or as an author like Jennifer Egan continues to do.

The careers of musicians might be instructive, the way they can change from one album to the next, as Madonna has famously done in all her various manifestations. Singer Joshua Tillman (a.k.a. Father John Misty) abandoned his solo recording career as J. Tillman and his years of success with the indie-folkster band Fleet Foxes to try something completely different, an incarnation Stereogum dubbed “his shamanic lounge-lizard Father John Misty guise.” The result has been an incredible couple of albums and what will undoubtedly go down as the most interesting and creative period of his career.

Bob Dylan should perhaps be everyone’s idol on this score. I often think about the gamble he took by going electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Everything went haywire afterwards, and he must have questioned everything. But that act did more than merely change his career, it changed culture. It’s no wonder that some artists aren’t inclined to veer into unknown territory, but the courageous ones prove that Voice is never more powerful than the moment an artist forsakes it.

[1] The piece was later republished as “Big Red Son” in his collection Consider the Lobster.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A Brief History of the Colloquial Title

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It’s a single line of dialog in Ernest Hemingway’s classic story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” but that one line, 11 words, has had an outsized influence on the course of literary titling. It’s spoken by the female character, Jig, as she waits for a train in Zaragosa with her unnamed American man. In the train station they begin drinking, first cervezas then anisette, and soon conduct a suppressed dispute about whether or not to end a pregnancy. Tensions mount, differences are exposed, and with that, Jig utters the legendary line. It’s a breaking point that is as much textual as emotional: “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”

Hemingway couldn’t have known the legacy that line would have — or maybe he did, he famously sought “a prose that had never been written.” When the story was published in 1927, the line broke open a new way characters talked on the page. Exactly four decades later, that groundbreaking colloquy resurfaced as a stylistic approach to the contemporary American literary title. Raymond Carver’s story, “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” published in 1967 (the titular collection appeared in 1976), echoed Hemingway’s line, and in turn spawned a subgenre of titling in the vernacular style.

What I’ve come to think of as the colloquial title rejects literary tone for the purely voice-driven. Colloquial titles can be wordy, even prolix, and often make use of a purposefully curious yet catchy syntax. The colloquial title is based in common parlance, but also draws on aphorism, the stock phrase, and familiar expressions. For a more elevated voice-driven title, look to the literary/biblical allusion, the colloquial title’s highborn cousin. With exemplars like As I Lay Dying and Slouching Toward Bethlehem, the allusion-based title has undisputed gravitas, and frankly, when it comes to authoritative tone, is hard to beat. Think of The Violent Bear It Away and A River Runs Through It.

And yet, ordinary language is equally capable of authority. Like any compelling title, those based in the vernacular can deftly portray a sense of foreboding, loss, or lack. Plus, when ordinary language is placed in a literary context, meaning can shift and complicate, taking shades of tone it might not otherwise. It might even be said that, unlike the conventional variety, the colloquial title is captivating even when its message is trouble-free.

There is a certain power in hearing phrases we know and may have used ourselves. When a title speaks to us in everyday language, it’s not so different from any voice aiming to get our attention. I read a colloquial title and hear a speaker with an urgent message. Maybe like Jig’s, its phrasing is odd, idiosyncratic. Or, where one speaker might as easily equivocate, another may cut in, or confess. Or be presumptuous and opinionated. Whatever the persona, the colloquial title leans in close and says I’m talking to you, and I listen, eager to know what lies beyond that strangely familiar voice.

Here then is a sampling of colloquial titles, culled from eight decades of classic and contemporary literature.

1. Classics of the Form
An early example of the colloquial impulse is Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1935). The title of this Depression-era portrait adopts ironic tone to reference the period’s human desolation and the suffering of its characters.

William Gass’s collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968) uses the power of repetition to suggest a journey to the deeper realms of character and place. The recursive device proved influential, as demonstrated by more than a few of the examples that follow here.

Leonard Michaels’s I Would Have Saved Them If I Could (1975) is an exemplar of the colloquial approach. The title seamlessly integrates the prose style of the collection and its mood of uncertainty and pathos.

Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense (1986). Bukowski’s style pays a debt to the Hemingway prose style, to the confessional tone of the Beat Poets, and, to this reader’s ear, the personalized truth-telling of the ’60s.

David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997). The distinct SoCal syntax and wry tone make this title a classic of the colloquial style.

2. The Aphoristic Vein
Common phrases and well-worn adages make ideal colloquial titles. Somehow, in a title, platitudes and cliché never feel stale, but spark irony and double-meaning.

Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955). The title is drawn from a popular idiom of its day, and the homespun tone runs against the grain of the titular story’s mystical, violent drama.

William Maxwell’s novella So Long See You Tomorrow (1979) and Elizabeth McCracken’s collection Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry (1993). Both operate on the familiarity of common parlance (and what might be called the gravity of goodbye), not to mention direct address: we read “you” and feel at once a stand-in for the addressee.

Jean Thompson’s collection Who Do You Love (1999). While a good number of colloquial titles take the form of a question, Thompson’s intentionally drops its question mark. The lyric from the Bo Diddley song is used without its original punctuation, shifting the phrase to an assertion, a stark refrain that echoes throughout the collection.

Amy Bloom’s collection A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You (2000). Here, aphorism meets avowal and reflects the fierce attachments that occupy Bloom’s stories of youth, aging, loss, and hope.

Adam Haslett’s collection You Are Not a Stranger Here (2002). Another appropriation of dialog. Here, the outsider tone is a salutation that is both welcoming and sorrowful, and likewise defines the collection.

3. Matters of Opinion
This colloquial vein might be called the idiosyncratic declarative, a variety of title distinguished by off-kilter observation, unconventional syntax, and the frequent use of personal pronouns:

In this category, Raymond Carver alone spawns a near-genre of declarative titling. The story collections Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976) and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) and the poetry collection Where Water Comes Together With Other Water (1985), are seminal in their approach. Crucial to the effect is the nonliterary usage, as is repetition. Notable too is the tone of candor, rather than irony.

Lorrie Moore’s story “Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People,” from Birds of America (1998) reframes the declarative title as an ironic aside. Likewise, Moore’s formative “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk,” takes the conversational into a uniquely personal lexicon.

William Gay’s I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down (2002), is defined by a plaintive tone and suggestion of intimate disclosure.

Robin Black’s collection If I Loved You I Would Tell You This (2010) is a prime example of a declarative with an artfully placed hanging pronoun.

Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank With You (2014). In the latest installment of the Frank Bascombe saga, an old adage takes the form of wordplay.

Finally, not to be overlooked in this category, Nathan Englander’s collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (2013), a riff on Carver’s iconic title.

4. Be Forewarned
Everyday language can spawn titles of a more unusual sort, whether instructional, cautionary, or sometimes surreal. The style often has a portentous tone, and interestingly, makes frequent use of the first person plural.

Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End (2007). This pronouncement marks many endings within the novel — of a century, a booming economy, a job, a relationship.

Ramona Ausubel’s No One is Here Except All of Us (2012). Here, the title is foreboding, an augur that taps into the novel’s speculative, catastrophic history.

Adrianne Harun’s A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain (2013). Colloquy here takes on a solemn and surreal turn, setting the tone for a tale of tragic disappearances.

Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves (2014). The title is a literary allusion (from King Lear), referencing the novel’s characters who, as Thomas has said, “by dint of circumstances are not allowed to be themselves.” Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013), contains a voice-driven prologue that begins, “Those who know me now will be surprised to learn I was a great talker as a child.” It’s a perfect opening to a novel with a colloquial title that, in typical style, doesn’t hold back.

Short stories and the cell phone: An Interview with writer Barry Yourgrau

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Although cell phone novels might at first appear to be a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, one of the form’s pioneers is a South African transplant to the U.S., writer Barry Yourgrau. Barry’s book “Keitai Stories,” a collection of short “flash” stories, was released for cell phones by a prominent Japanese publishing house, before making the transition to print.Currently, Barry lives and works in New York City, where he’s hard at work on a series of popular children’s books (NASTYBooks). He has also released several volumes of literary fiction, performed his short stories in venues as diverse as MTV and NPR and starred in a movie based on one of his books, The Sadness of Sex.The Millions sat down with Barry (electronically, but no cell phones were involved) to chat about his work in Japan, whether cell phone novels can work in the U.S. and how he writes short stories.The Millions: You’ve been writing short stories for cell phones in Japan. When did you start? How did you come up with the idea?BY: Got the idea when visiting In Tokyo for the first time in 2002, I saw kids surfing the Internet on cell phones (keitai). I thought my stories, which are generally very short, would be just right for cell-phone reading. Especially if I made ’em even briefer. (Which is an interesting exercise: as Woody Allen says somewhere, a general note to improve any comic writing is, Make It Shorter.)I suggested to my Japanese translator and editor that I write a book for first-serializing on keitai. They agreed enthusiastically. I figured I’d hit on a real format innovation; turns out I was part of a huge wave of keitai writing. Though my stuff is literary; most other keitai writing is pretty schematic and manga-derived – and while their individual segments are short too, they’re parts of long novels!The Millions: What has the reaction been?BY: Delightful. 100,000 readers accessed the stories (Keitai Stories) online. The book has done well, though not in those same numbers, granted; nor in the millions that best-selling “keitai novels” have sold. My translator (Motoyuki Shibata, a renowned literary figure in Japan) thought it some of my best work! My editor too… Go figure. But we just serialized my kids’ book, NASTYbook, on keitai before pubbing in Japan. It wasn’t written for keitai, a normal book. But works fine on keitai….The Millions: Do you think it could work in the U.S.? If not, what’s different about Japan that makes cell phone novels/stories viable?BY:I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in US. But there is a difference; namely, that kids and younger folk in US access the Internet on computers and use computers for online reading etc. Japanese and Asian kids use cell phones; online computer connection is costly (I believe) – and there’s not much privacy at home, homes and rooms are tiny. People don’t coop up at home like in US.The Millions: What’s different about writing for cell phones?BY: For me, not much, other than the driving imperative to go shorter. So you really get to experiment with the essentials of what makes a narrative work – from prose poems to script-like description to just dialogue. But what makes the keitai writing in Japan successful in the market place (other than subject matter, material for young girls written by young women) is interactivity – readers can comment and writers will change storylines in direct response. I was thinking of doing something like this, but it’s hard from US to Japan, and time consuming.The Millions: Your stories have a tendency to turn to the bizarre or experimental. What are your influences? Where do your ideas come from?BY: Bizarre, sure. “Experimental,” hmmm… I think of myself as a quite conventional writer, albeit with a twist…. I riff on established genres and forms the way comedians send up things. I got started writing my own pseudo-dream-journal items. I read Cocteau’s remark that in order to make fantasy work, the details have to be extra-concrete. I had been working after college as a newspaper reporter (very slow and disorganized one). So I used some “newspaper” style features in my writing, e.g., having all dialogue “tagged” by speaker, never just standing by itself. My earliest big influence was Raymond Carver, I discovered Will You Please Be Quiet Please in the library I think in 1975? Blew me away. We had a brief correspondence: I wrote a short fan letter, he wrote back a nice short reply (mentioning something about trying to give up drinking…); I cracked open a tall beer and dashed back a single-spaced page and a half outpouring of my hopes, dreams, enthusiasms. Naturally that was end of our correspondence, I never heard back.Isaac Babel I loved too, plus fine crime writing, Hammett and Chandler. And Woody Allen’s early standup routines. Lots of short poetry. The crime writing stuff is important: cause it’s such propulsive writing. Like joke-writing. Or writing for the screen. Twilight Zone made a big impact on me, I realize. Basically I write like a confessional poet, using surreal narrative and cinematic tools. On a mini scale.My ideas I just get. That’s how my brain works. I never have used my own dreams for inspiration – to me that’s “cheating.” Like I say, I riff fantastically on established things. My book, Haunted Traveller, for instance, is all my riffs on existential exotic far-flung writing, Chatwin et al. I finally read Paul Bowles after writing the book. Jeez, now I know where my ideas came from! (Actually, I had read and been much affected by his Mohammed Mrabet translations – short, semi-fabulous, and marvelously brutal). And I’ve been reading Borges a good deal recently too…The Millions: In reading other interviews with you, I’ve noticed you travel a lot. For work, fun? Do your travels provide context/inspiration for your stories?BY: I’ve traveled a lot in the past few years with my partner, Anya von Bremzen, who writes about food and restaurants around the world. (A happy gig for her, and me, indeed). These trips don’t really feed my inspiration. Ok, a bit. But I’m more Raymond Roussel type – he wrote Impressions of Africa by locking himself in a hotel room in Africa and writing without stepping outside. All in the mind.The Millions: How do you write? Is the process different when you write for cell phones?BY: I write my fiction longhand first. I need the pencil/pen in hand to connect to emotions. I then type up. For the first several books I used a typewriter, now I’m (late) on computer. But I find the computer too suited to Flow, not the weight of the individual word. I’ve half a mind to switch back to a typewriter…. I like to note that I wrote some of my little cell phone stories for Japan while staying in Madrid. I worked in the Grand National library, walking in daily to write little jokey tales about karaoke (say) or haunted vending machines (say) after passing under the big portrait of Borges in the hall.The challenge for Japan cell phone writing was connecting the work to a (1) Japanese and (2) younger audience. So I trolled the Internet for Japanese trends. Most useful.The Millions: So you were conscious that you were writing for a Japanese audience. Did that affect your writing in ways other than your choice of subject?BY: Yes, very aware. I tried to write with simple but flavorsome constructions (always a good idea, no?). And I used details of a Japanese kind. For instance, I made a wizard’s spellbinding soup not chicken soup, say, but mushroom soup with big chunks of shitake…. Also, the karaoke story: I had to figure whether Japanese young readers would know who Neil Sedaka is. (Don’t how I finally decided…). But not huge issues, as you can see.The Millions: When the recent article about cell phone novels came out in the New York Times, a lot of people suggested that this trend might represent the future of the novel. What’s your take?BY: I think it might be part of the future of the novel. Not just the format, but the interactivity. In Japan, these books emerge from pools of people on web pages, all posting and getting notes. But I for one think the “old novel” still has lots of life.The Millions: You mentioned you tend to write short (flash?) fiction. Does this “genre” have its own conventions? How is writing “flash” fiction different from writing novels or other types of short stories?BY: I started writing very short just because it suited me. Then I later discovered a trend called “flash” fiction or “sudden” fiction. I had nothing to do with any movement as such, and always use the term with fingers crossed behind my back. I’ve always enjoyed compression in writing, and in art. Among my favorite reading are commonplace readers, such as Auden’s wonderful collection. Tidbits that enfume the imagination. Regarding the genre of very short fiction, I wouldn’t begin to make general pronouncements. I only know how I work. I find the form an endlessly rich sources of possibilities, of narrative gambits. I find very short items, when good, expand in the reader’s imagination. I sometimes, say, like to break off a story right before it’s resolved – at a surging cliffhanger. Let the reader finish things up. Next step for me will be to link the stories into a larger narrative somehow – without taking away their sense that the universe is starting afresh in each story.The Millions: A lot of people would argue that this kind of fiction is much better suited for our “modern” world, with its short attention spans, etc. Any thoughts?BY: I think that, too, in a hopeful way. And I like the idea of bringing “literary” stuff into the pop world of short attention spans. Stuff based on my stories for MTV twenty years ago, for example. I think getting fiction across multiple “platforms” (pardon the media speak) is great. I always perform my work, and we did a movie version of my book The Sadness of Sex (some of it is online at Spike.com). I used a wonderful line from Jerome K. Jerome for one of my books: “The thoughts we can understand are very little thoughts… All greater thoughts are undefined and vast to our poor childish brains.” And just to note: I’m not a “new media” maven or a techno head, at all. I mean, when I wrote cell phone stories for Japan, I didn’t even own a cell phone (nor did my translator). But I think my sensibility works sympathetically, as it happens, with techno stuff, certainly the trend to be “short.”The Millions: Any plans to bring the cell phone stories to the States?BY: I’d like to. I’ve started talking to a company that’s begun putting a range of books online for cell phones. At this point, my book of keitai stories for Japan, Keitai (“i-mode”) Stories, only exists as such in Japan. But I tweaked some of its stories and put them in my most recent kids’ book, Yet Another NASTYbook (HarperCollins 2007). I suggested promoting the book by saying it used some cell phone stories from Japan. I was told this wasn’t a great idea, people didn’t like books that had earlier appeared elsewhere. So we didn’t mention the cell phone background. But maybe not a bad idea? Obviously I think so, I’m doing it here.The Millions: We had a review of a book of flash fiction from China on the site about a year ago. Apparently it has a huge following in China and Taiwan. Ever thought about publishing there?BY: Yes, my books (other than keitai one) are well translated in Taiwan. Looked like a mainland China publisher was going to bring one out a few years ago, but then disappeared. But may be time again. My books in general are published in Japan, in the conventional literary manner. I have a wonderful translator, Motoyuki Shibata. His “stable” includes Paul Auster, Richard Powers, Millhauser, Kelly Link, etc. He’s a friend and cohort of Haruki Murakami, who’s also an influential translator of American lit (did a hugely successful translation of Catcher in the Rye). Now I’d like to get into Korea, that’s next on my list.The Millions: And is there anything else you’d like to talk about?BY: Yeah. I just saw MacBeth at BAM. Patrick Stewart is a magnificent powerhouse. But Lady MacBeth was a letdown, to my eyes, and dragged. Emmett White, the young actor playing Banquo’s son, was super!

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