Monday, 7 April 2014

Promotional Material: An Excerpt From "This Location of Unknown Possibilities"

   I'm so pleased to report that my second novel—a long-gestating and intermittently frustrated project (and, in fact, the starting point of this blog)—has an official publication date of April 15, 2014. 

   If you'd like to read a plot description click here; but if you're more attracted to reviews, please click here (re: "A fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of a major motion picture, this is an absorbing, thought-provoking, and sharply witty novel. Grubisic’s densely layered prose will appeal to fans of Dave Eggers and DBC Pierre..."),

here (re: "The work is surprisingly warm, accepting its characters' foibles without meanness, happily cynical about the realities of the entertainment industry without being jaded or spiteful; the contrasting views of naive Spėk and veteran Nugent grant the work greater depth. Absurd without being absurdist, the satire draws its strength from its verisimilitude, the impression that as ludicrous as parts are, none of this is impossible or indeed, particularly unlikely"),

here (re: "Opening the cover of Brett Josef Grubisic’s new novel, This Location of Unknown Possibilities, is akin to pushing the button on one of those laughing toys. But to suggest that he’s written a comic novel sounds too benign as assessment. His book is way beyond the merely comic; it’s a densely ribald and culturally astute treatise, and it’s fuelled by its own manic combustion engine"),  

here (re: "I’m happy to report that his true métier is clearly novel-writing. NoN has once again shown, ahem, impeccable taste by publishing this bold, bawdy, and downright hilarious sophomore effort.... What’s interesting, though, is that the various machinations of the plot – an injury on the set, the impromptu hiring of a waitress as the new star, the wrap-party shenanigans – are almost immaterial to the enjoyment of this novel. The real star here is the novelistic voice that Grubisic has created, so assured and observant and full of erudite wit. This Location contains a richness of language that immediately establishes a trust with the reader: no matter the twists and turns of its off-the-chain plot, you’re happy to follow them wherever they leads you.
Indeed, the comedy here is reminiscent of vintage Kingsley Amis or Evelyn Waugh, and This Location
establishes Grubisic as a daring new satirist in the CanLit fold"),

here (re:
"As the film, the narrative, and the characters spiral further out of control, the book gets darker, stranger, and funnier. By the time the film has wrapped, it has morphed into something utterly different, and the novel's own narrative has mutated, twisted, and slipped its bonds. When the book goes off the rails it is shattering and glorious—just as shattering and glorious as the lives we pretend we're authors of"),

and/or here (re: "Grubisic uses a vortex of references from literary works, self‑help books, online personals, B‑grade slasher flicks and Hollywood actors to produce a meta‑narrative that is oddly recognizable but defies labels. This stripping of labels applies not only to the book, but also the film at its centre as well as the characters responsible for creating it").

Naturally, there's a review that's full of complaint and disappointment too. If you'd prefer to peruse that one, finding it isn't difficult.

And if you're a short interview fan, there's this and this.

   If, however, you'd like to read an excerpt to get a sense of style, content, degree of difficulty, characterization, number of expletives per page, or suitability as a gift for Aunt Clarice to enjoy during her 14-day Alaska cruise, etc, keep reading. 
   There's an excerpt right below. Following a prologue set in Studio City, CA, the opening chapter introduces Dr. Marta Spëk and her seasonal allergies, above average organizational skills, and deep-seated career discontentment...

A Career in English!


   A transparent stream of mucous seeped from Marta’s left nostril, slow as a glycerin tear. Clasping a tissue, she blew gently in hopes of avoiding the unnerving pop—Oh my, is this an aneurysm?—of distressed eardrums. I cannot have caught a cold, Marta thought. No, not a cold at all, she determined, merely aggravating invisible particles enveloped within nasal drool. Natural, normal, automatic immunoresponse triggered by diminutive organic motes suspended in odourless, life-sustaining air. The bad inseparable from the good. Serpents and fruit trees. Typical. Pseudoephedrine mood swings too, Marta noted crankily. Springtime. She’d experienced better days.
   Tilting the desk chair back, Marta blotted the watery rims and pictured the lids as bee-stung, having swelled and grown blotchy. Bloodshot eyes too, quite possibly. Would students in the impending class look up from their phone screens and comment, believing she’d been crying? Surely they’d have no ready-made explanation for the spectacle of a weepy professor. What soap opera scenario might they spin? A lost grant, perhaps, or tenure unfairly denied. A sniping review. The visible handkerchief and a vague comment about the peril of pollen would suffice to nip murmured speculation in the bud. They’d readily accept that external source over the implausibility of crushing disappointment or, another long shot, heartache so fierce that it had spilled into the classroom.
   Marta’s desk clock and computer agreed: 12:45pm. Exactly five minutes before she must depart for the week’s final class. She closed the skinny office window. It wasn’t supposed to be opened, anyway. People had heightened sensitivities in these seasons of compromised immune systems. Everyone expressed keen awareness of bounding allergens and environmental flux; rogue microbes failed to recognize personal space, and protection had become imperative.
   In lieu of the marvelous transparent domes and lab-engineered enhancements of science fiction, Grounds+Maintenance had just finished with a series of practical paper and email bulletins that explained how the building’s renovated ventilation system rendered a breath of fresh air obsolete, counter-productive. Marta’s eyes had settled on the falsely reassuring scientific language of the latest: cutting edge technology that deployed ozone and ultraviolet light for optimized ionization and departicalization. In short: hinged windows have become an outmoded indulgence, comrade, and the health of you and the university community relies on individual cooperation, thank you for the ongoing compliance.
   As she cautiously dabbed the inflamed leaking rims a final time, Marta began to organize the papers on the desk, sliding notes—lined yellow sheets highlighted in purple (key concepts, pointed questions for students) and green (relevant trivia, humorous asides)—into the valise and pitching the scarcely read administrative announcements into the recycling bin.
   Two white sheets remained.
   Marta placed the letter into a folder labeled Homeward: Admin. She’d already secured a photocopy in the Correspondence: History file in the desk’s bottom left drawer. The letter’s duality, banal and momentous, was proving so difficult to resist. She’d snatched glances between classes that morning. If nothing else the offer promised diversion, a break—ludicrous and unprecedented but invigorating—from routine, she’d been telling herself. Tempted by celebrity, so facile chimed in a background voice, less friendly.
   12:48pm. She swiveled the chair away from the wall of books and studied the immense vista. The scene felt underdeveloped, a photographic study Ansel Adams might have discarded, since all the surfaces—turbulent inlet, coniferous mountainsides, densely cumulous sky—seemed mopped by inky watercolour. Graywashed, a vision of springtime stripped of the usual green bursts and life-affirming connotations.
   Black-pebbled concrete formed a thick frame around the inset window panes of the office. A home away from home, this stout fortress of a building. After the resurgence of seen-but-not-read Tolkien a few years ago, two arts students had said, “In the Dark Tower?” within the same week when arranging an office meeting—as though the roof sprouting paired horns or a wrathful amber eye would surprise no one. 
    Trends cycling as they did, though, the name’s sticking was anybody’s guess. The matte concrete slabs of the exterior had appeared on cineplex screens more recently as the barricaded compound of a fearsome African warlord in a mutant superhero movie sequel. Perhaps quizzical students now exclaimed, “I’ve seen that place somewhere before, I just know it” as they passed by. Or, no one commenting at all: equally plausible.
   Marta conceded that the tower’s facade—that of an unadorned modernist bunker—loomed imposingly. After that, she found the Tolkien analogy nonsensical. Early- mid-, and late-career vanity and politicking flourished, naturally. But brooding evil, Machiavellian tactics? Hardly. Assigning a C+ to an essay barely indicated a sign of power, let alone chthonic malevolence. The vin ordinaire of any office environment, professional rivalries, intense resentments, and grievance accretions were likewise known, albeit stored out of sight. As for the elaborate class hierarchy—untanned latter-day devotees of Matthew Arnold still genuflecting toward Oxford nested at the tip of the pecking order; at the base, brown-skinned women with broken English providing custodial services: “If you find a moment today, er, Dhatri, will you please vacuum my office?”—Marta supposed that arrangement, like good and evil, reached far back, as old as tragedy.
   The portentous architecture, then, meant nothing except unlucky coincidence. True, alongside the kind- and coldhearted, she did pass by hunched Gollums and tightly-wound Lizzie Borden types muttering in hallways from time to time; as with asylum lifers and feral animals, a simple rule applied: steer clear, don’t meet their eyes.
    Marta withdrew the letter and read the familiar words, for an instant miffed by the author’s choice of a nostalgic typewriter font:

   Dear Professor Spëk:
   I have been instructed to contact you because our production team has the good fortune to be in your vicinity. You may have heard that The Prophet of Djoun, a biopic of Lady Hester Stanhope, is currently in pre-production.

   Of course not, Marta thought once more, why would I have? Oh, movie people and their egotism.

   Your expertise, as revealed through your book Imperial(ist) Empress: Mysticism, Écriture Féminine and the Levantine Writings of Lady Hester Stanhope, would be a tremendous benefit for our production.
   If you can spare some time, one of the project’s executives, Mr. Jakob Nugent, would be happy to explain our offer and the technical details over lunch.
   We thank you for your time and hope to hear from you soon.
   Lora Wilkes
   Assistant to Jakob Nugent

   Folding the letter, Marta shrugged: what’s the harm of one meal? Alongside the usual low morale doldrums coinciding with the school year’s sputtering out, distressed thoughts had been mushrooming about the shiny prestigious career she’d willed—through methodical labour, more or less—into existence, on track now and unwavering until the onset of decrepitude. That legacy brought to mind a luckless character from a Poe story, walled inside a dusty catacomb for eternity by pages instead of stones. Losing mental pliability year after year as bones grew porous and brittle: squinting at a hidebound future that hadn’t yet unfolded drew Marta’s breath short.
   Marta pictured Poe pacing inside that leased white Bronx cottage on a swampy, sweltering August night, the air gassy and fetid; months earlier Lady Stanhope had passed away, obscure, half the world away. Stripped to a disheveled vest and shirt and grumbling drunkenly, Poe threw the tale whose plot he’d been sketching into the unlit hearth: “Preposterous, what fool would wall himself in? No, there must be a villain and a lure.”
   Guiltily peering into her unsettled state of mind, Marta saw first the luxuriant illegitimacy. From Chongqing to Zhenzhou, polluted industrial sprawls of dawn-to-dusk wage slavery were truly entitled to complaint. Ditto for a famished, war-pitted continent with medieval life expectancies. But not her, in an office with optimized ionization perched over a distant city of glass spires and postcard-worthiness. “A champagne problem,” her mother’s diagnosis, sounded accurate in its way.
   Marta nonetheless leaned toward crisis of faith despite the exaggeration; mundane as dandruff, occupational doubts didn’t quite capture it. Misgivings? Discontentment? A tad vague, undirected. Whatever the case, she’d trust intuition for the remedy.
Nudging Marta forward as well: the reasonable sound of her father’s oft-voiced motto, “The proverbial knock of opportunity should never be ignored.” 
   Save for the onslaught of final exam grading the semester verged on being history, and she really ought to get out into the real world—an elsewhere—more often. Life’s a banquet; do or die; broaden horizons; not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end: carpe diem’s bravado stretched back to cuneiform. Presumably, she’d find equivalent philosophy carved into a Bronze Age tablet. Who could argue with such longevity?.
   Marta pinned the vintage brooch watch—a thrift store find decades ago—to her sweater; another reality, a thirty-faced composition class, demanded acknowledgement. She’d contact this assistant to Jakob Nugent later.
   The computer gonged for incoming mail. Marta read the weekly announcement from Exconfessio.

    Ex G.B (Seattle, WA)—
1. I always see full-grown adults at stoplights picking their noses and it makes me want to stab them in the face.
2. I lost my wallet once with 4,000 dollars in it and the guy gave it back and would not take a penny.
3. I love my wife and kids, but would help a dog over a stranger any day.
4. I worked for the government and abused the job, stole time and hated every second and every person I worked with until I quit.
5. I had a friend commit suicide the day after he said “keep an eye on me.”
6. I saw a friend put his cock all over his wife’s best friend’s face while she was sleeping and then smack her lips with it and she never woke up.
7. I saw a guy fall off a 5-foot drop off into a mud pit and didn’t help him; I only laughed hysterically at him from across the street.

   Rereading, she savoured the cinematic fullness of each confession.
   The week’s offering was tamer than others but intriguing nonetheless. Another historical constant: people behaving badly (even when the story was patently untrue: what person keeps 4,000 dollars in a wallet?) had been enthralling onlookers for millennia. Gossip, rumour, whispered speculation, outrageous misdeeds. Such an excess of libidinousness—a perennial cup that runneth over—harbored in countless minds. Who could tell how it would manifest? Stabbed faces and hysterical laughter. Misanthropy over philanthropy at a ration of at least 10:1, if one believed Exconfessio. What malice! Marta’s nominal professional interest dedicated scattered thoughts to pondering what people chose as worthy of confession. An essay about secular ethics would be publishable, surely.
   Last semester a student had handed in a curious polemical essay condemning Exconfessio. The pious student’s evident outrage—galled in particular at the site’s “inappropriate” All Confessions, No Reprisals™ mandate—initially drew in Marta. Actually signing up to receive the confessions (Seven Sins, Deadly Honest™ available in weekly and monthly allotments)? Whimsy, an afterthought. Reading the litany of offenses she occasionally aligned herself with unseemly figures, the peeping tom or the supermarket housewife tsk tsking at the vapid images of exposed cellulite and extramarital rendezvous in Hello!
   People were capable of declarations of astounding perversity. The alarming fact reassured Marta. Besides, the audacity of the confessions rarely failed to impress.
12:50. Time to vacate the sixth floor. She applied lotion to hands now papery courtesy of Purell.
   As for Do You Know Yours Rights?, Marta tacked the pamphlet onto the cork board, its  message ready to revisit on Monday. The folded photocopy had been slid under the office door, one sentence highlighted in pink: “Managing perception of your brand is the essence of personality rights.” For the moment the immediate puzzles—the identity of the anonymous messenger, that faceless interloper’s agenda—dropped away. And personality rights might be useful to mull over. Trickle down from celebrity culture and—Marta’s middling score of 3.2 an affront, like coming across her own name on a bathroom stall. Everyone an unstable, easily snuffed out star and in need of tweaks, damage control, and, always, upkeep. 

Available in select book retailers now...

  If that reading experience sated you, thanks for reading. If it didn't, there's one more excerpt posted and available here.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Digression: Writers I'm Profiling—Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote, authors of "Gender Failure"

   A couple of months back I had the good fortune to (long distance) interview Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote about their illuminating and thoughtful memoir / meditation, Gender Failure.

The online version of the Vancouver Sun article can be located here.