The wonderfully talented James McDonald interviewed me for Kirkus Reviews. Read the full interview here and then feel free, if your curiosity is piqued or even peaked, to order your own copy of TELL ME HOW THIS ENDS WELL by returning to my homepage, where you will find several different buying options. If you can, please support your local indie bookstore! #indiebookstores
Seven more days until TELL ME HOW THIS ENDS WELL is out in the world.
To read the full article in The Forward, please click here.
I have been heartbroken before but never like this. I thought the death of my mother would be the end of me, but it seems like the universe just keeps on dishing grief out in buckets, without an ark, or oars, or swim paddles, or life jackets, or even a fucking umbrella. The election. This election. When I began Tell Me How This Ends Well back in January of 2015, I had no idea that what I was writing would actually play out in real time. It was a fictional experiment but one with a foot firmly planted in reality. Through the fictional lens of my invented family, the Jacobsons, I set about creating a near-future America in which hatred, intolerance, xenophobia, ignorance, racism, and anti-Semitism ran rampant and unchecked, in which a malignant demagogue rose to power and unleashed upon America all that was base and evil. Though it's a satire, a darkly comic novel full of black humor, the story and plight of the Jacobson family now resonates on a deeper and more terrifying level for me—because now I am part of the narrative of which I created.
When I set out to write Tell Me How This Ends Well, which takes place in 2022, I was always quite hopeful that by the time my fictional universe caught up to the real one that the benighted forces at work, both here in America and abroad, might have receded and returned to whence they came. It's clear to me now, with what is happening not only here in America and abroad but also all across the globe, that I had no other choice than to write the novel I did, for I had been thinking for years about hatred and intolerance and wanted to explore both the permutations and machinations of each—Why do people hate?
Much literature has been written on the subject and most of it ends up reducing it to fear. Fear of difference, fear of the other. But I don't think that's it exactly, or it's only one tiny piece of a much larger picture.
When I was growing up in San Antonio, Texas, in the 1970s and '80s, I was often picked on and bullied. Was it because I was a chubby, uncoordinated book nerd who often got chosen last for kickball? Or was it because I was a minority, one of only a handful of Jews in the entire school? Did it have to do with my appearance, my dark hair and eyes and olive skin, that made me look more exotic and thus different? I still have no answers to these questions and perhaps they aren't even the right ones to be asking. Perhaps a better question might be (would have been): What did I ever do or didn't do to deserve the bullying I got? Or even better, What existed in my tormentors that made it okay for them to call me names and push me around? Why did they think it was okay to trip me in the halls and shove me into my locker?
It's funny to think that what I and many others experienced microcosmically is now being played out macrocosmically with the election of Trump to the White House. Now it's not personal but political as well. And though I'm no longer the same boy who was taunted for his weight, for wearing a green shirt when I clearly should have worn a blue one (duh), for succumbing to peer pressure and dressing myself up in labels (I was a big fan of Polo), thinking I was shielding myself from further abuse, when in reality wearing the uniform only made me stand out more and look more desperate to fit in, all of this merely to survive, it feels as if that boy has awakened and it's 1980 all over again.
Except of course it's not.
If it hadn't been for my mother, I probably wouldn't have survived any of it. It was she who suggested I join speech and debate and in the end that's what saved me. Speech and debate. I took up acting and loved it. Not only loved it but thrived. I made good friends. I stopped trying to fit in and be popular and embraced the very faults and defects that the bullies hated about me and tried to use against me. I fell in love with words and the invisible power they had to move people to tears, to move them in different directions. I did a duet, an acting duet, with a beautiful blond girl named Leslie Hamlett, who, though a cheerleader and very popular, felt herself an alien among her own kind and turned to drama to express her alienness. We were amazing together and won several contests.
Though my mom is no longer here to give me advice, I can still hear her in my head. And she's telling me that now, more than ever, it's time to stand up for myself as I hadn't been able to do all those years ago. The bullies have returned perforce and are now armed and bloodthirsty with revenge and power, but what they don't know is, I've been sharpening my knives and honing my knife-throwing skills for years and that this time when they try to come for me, I won't back down. This time, I'm ready for them because this time it's clear who and what they really are—the ugly, ignorant, self-loathing creatures they've always been. To have put a man like Trump into the highest office in the land only proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. And while the Jacobson family runs the gauntlet of a horrifying and invented future, full of terror and terrorism, I am slowly building an army of my own in a little corner of the world known as my imagination.
Some call them ARCs, Advance Reader’s Copies, some others galleys, and hee’s yet another iteration: AREs, Advance Reader’s Editions. No matter the word, phrase, or acronym, Tell Me How This Ends Well is advancing and in six months will be in a bookstore near you.
*Ear buds not included
#preorders #hogarth #penguinrandomhouse
I’ve been told that we writers need websites. Well, I finally got around to updating and improving mine for the forthcoming release of my new novel, TELL ME HOW THIS ENDS WELL. Okay, so it’s still a whopping SIX months until publication, but you can still pre-order the book if you’re so moved. Before that, you’re more than welcome to read about it on the new Pretty in Pink website. (You’ll see what I mean when you get there.) Just click the book title and you’ll be whisked there instantly…
When I was a wee lad, I was a drama geek and was assigned a monologue from Elie Wiesel’s, Night, to perform. Back then, I had no idea that I’d been given this monologue b/c I was Jewish. Yeah, I know.
Here’s that monologue, in part:
Could one sleep here? Was it not dangerous to allow your vigilance to fail, even for a moment, when at any minute death could pounce upon you?
I was thinking of this when I heard the sound of a violin. The sound of a violin, in this dark shed, where the dead were heaped on the living. What madman could be playing the violin here, at the brink of his own grave? Or was it really an hallucination?
It must have been Juliek.
He played a fragment from Beethoven’s concerto. I have never heard sounds so pure. In such a silence.
How had he managed to free himself? To draw his body from under mine without my being aware of it?
It was pitch dark. I could hear only the violin, and it was as though Juliek’s soul were the bow. He was playing his life. The whole of his life was gliding on the strings — his lost hopes, his charred path, his extinguished future. He played as he would never play again.
I shall never forget Juliek. How could I forget that concert, given to an audience of dead and dying men! To this day, whenever I hear Beethoven played my eyes close and out of the dark rises the sad, pale face of my Polish friend, as he said farewell on his violin to an audience of dying men.
I do not know for how long he played. I was overcome by sleep. When I awoke, in the daylight, I could see Juliek, opposite me, slumped over, dead. Near him lay his violin, smashed, trampled, a strange overwhelming little corpse.
Rest well, Mr. Wiesel. I know now why I was given you to memorize.
There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to decide where he wants to live. I’ve spent the last nine years living away from NYC, though I always long to return. But the NYC I used to know—yes, cue up the elegiac tone and dirges—isn’t the place it once was, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Except there is sort of something wrong with that. For a young man fresh out of high school, NYC was exciting and terrifying and also a city I’d always dreamed of living in and never ever expected to leave. But in 2007, after another six years post-9/11—I’m pretty sure I still have PTSD because of seeing that second plane strike the second tower—I left to take an adjunct teaching position at GWU in DC, but then I left a semester later because DC wasn’t NYC and I went down to Austin to visit friends and applied for a position at Gettysburg College as the Emerging Writer Lecturer, which I ended up getting, so I spent a year in Gettysburg, traveling back and forth to NYC because Gettysburg was a little sleepy, four hours each way, but it was well worth it because I met a guy while I was staying in Kate’s apartment in Greenpoint (she was generous enough to offer it because she herself was in the process of leaving the city) and began this wonderful romance with him, which then took us to Berlin (he was German and needed to go home; expiring visa, etc.).
I could write an entire novel about that experience—actually, I kind of did and that’s the novel I ended up writing in Atlanta, but I’m getting ahead of myself—but suffice to say that while in Berlin I did some writing and worked on some short stories, which I’m still rewriting today, some six years later. While I liked Berlin, it was also not NYC, and I kept longing to go back there, as did my bf, who had spent ten years in the city, also missing it, although he loved Berlin, not as much as I did, because, like I said, it wasn’t NYC—but what, I began to wonder, does that even mean? What does it mean for a place not to be NYC?
For one thing, it means that you don’t have access to myriad opportunities the second you step out your door—the thing about NYC is, once you do step out your door, you’re instantly part of the fabric of the city. You are one with it, on a good day, and at complete odds with it, on a bad one, but you’re still a part of it regardless. I never feel that way about any other place I’ve lived, whether it’s Berlin or DC or Gettysburg or Durham or Austin or San Antonio or Atlanta or Hudson or anywhere else. I’ve lived in a thousand places since leaving NYC in 2007 and what I’ve come to see is that comparing any of these places to NYC was both unfair to the place but it was even more unfair to me. No one told me that I had to leave NYC; it was my decision to go. And yet had my writing career afforded me the money and the time to write, to pay my rent, to buy my groceries, etc., then perhaps I would have stayed. Or not. The thing is, who wants to spend half of his wages on rent? NYC is a city that takes as much as it gives, but back in 2007 I felt as if that equation was completely out of balance and that it was taking far more than it was giving. For lack of a better metaphor, it was becoming a demanding, shrill, petulant, needy child who wanted to eat $15 sandwiches and wash them down with $3 sodas, who wanted to live in nicer and nicer neighborhoods except that those neighborhoods had become utterly overpriced and unaffordable. Children know exactly what they want, but because NYC is a special child with special needs I don’t think it understood what it was doing or has done to those of us who took care of it, who loved and nurtured it while we were living there. I don’t think it understands that the tantrums it threw and continues to throw in the name of progress has made it more or less a city of have-nots. And the terrible thing is, I don’t think the child that is NYC cares anymore. I think it did at one time, but I also think it let capitalism, unchecked and poisonous, get to its pretty head.
I call this the Re-Awning of the City—I first noticed this shift way back in 2007, actually, when businesses all over Red Hook, where I was living at the time, began to put up new awnings. One day, the old, tattered awnings were gone and bright new ones were installed in their places. I should have known that this was the first stage in a massive shift toward gentrification, toward rent hikes the likes of which we’ve never seen, toward an unregulated greed that has forever damaged and changed irrevocably the landscape of the city I loved. There is no going back to the rents of the late 90s, when I was living in a studio apartment in the East Village for $685/month. Now, $685/month might get you a room in Canarsie or Brownsville, though those rooms, cramped, tiny, probably go for $1,200 if I’m being honest.
NYC is still the place I want to live, but it’s also the place, when I visit, that I can’t wait to leave. It’s not that it’s dirty or too loud or the people are rude, it’s simply that the same $15 sandwich tastes just as good for $7.50 elsewhere.
This morning, my mother called to tell me that she had the greatest breakfast ever and to thank me for sending her the chocolate and cinnamon babka from Zabar’s (www.zabars.com). My mother has a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult for her to breathe, for her to do much of anything, and I knew that receiving babka from a Jewish deli in NYC would lift her spirits. She’s from Long Island and probably won’t ever see NYC again, though she talks about going back there. So I brought a little of NYC to her, just as I bring a little of NYC back to me as I write this from a little cottage in San Antonio, Texas, a place, my mother said, when I told her I was looking at houses today, that I disliked. She was surprised to hear that I was actually thinking of buying a house here, and to be honest so am I. I grew up in this city and couldn’t wait to leave. The thing is, the cost of living is extremely low here and houses still go for a song. They won’t always, though, as the housing market in Austin continues to explode, forcing more and more people to rethink their finances, as Californians continue to pour into Austin all the time, jacking up rents by buying multi-million dollar homes and investing in the re-awning of what used to be a small, sleepy town that looks more and more like a smaller version of LA every day. It’s sad. And kind of gross what’s happened to Austin. I doubt very seriously that the same thing will happen in SA, but then I’m no real-estate speculator. But I have heard rumors that those same Californians are buying up properties here in SA sight unseen.
So where to live? In a city I never liked and that holds great trauma or in a city I loved that holds great memories but in which half of my wages would go on paying a rent in a part of Brooklyn or Queens that I would never have thought of ever living in, an ugly, run-down part of a borough where I could conceivably get more bang for my buck but that is full of the same suburban blight I fled—dollar stores and check-cashing places and bail bondsmen and strip malls and fast-food chains. Though I can’t say that’d be any worse than the alternative, a neighborhood like Boerum Hill, in downtown Brooklyn, which has shape-shifted over the years and now comes with artisanal cheese shops and ladies boutiques, where rents are higher than they are in Manhattan because Brooklyn has become mega hip.
Recently, to do some research on another novel, I spent a month on Staten Island, which was both harrowing and amazing. I’d never thought of ever even visiting this forgotten borough, but then it’s where one of my major characters lived, so I thought I should investigate. And I’m more than glad I did, for once there I got a chance to see what it was like not to live in the city but still live in the city. SI proved to be both utterly fascinating and utterly bizarre, with its own culture and eccentricities. Each borough is unique and SI is no different. Some of it looks like the worst parts of Queens and some of it like the best parts of Brooklyn. Rents are still fairly affordable, though I’m sure buying is cost prohibitive as it is all over the east coast. Which is why I keep thinking that NYC, for all it has to offer, will be a place I visit but will never live in again, not full time anyway. And this used to make me incredibly sad until I realized two things—I get a lot more writing done when I’m not in the city with its multitude of distractions and its multitude of headaches and I’m kind of less angry and aggressive because I’m not always having to deal with bumping into bewildered tourists on the sidewalk or having to wait for a subway that never comes or any number of others whimsies NYC threw at me on any given day. That’s not to say I don’t miss it, but that’s also not to say I can’t go back and stay for an extended period of time.
I don’t know what will turn up when I go to look at houses today in San Antonio. I already found one that I really like and that I think would be a perfect fit for me. If I end up making an offer and that offer is accepted, I suppose I’ll own a house, my first. But who knows. I may well just get in my car tomorrow and start driving north.
Yes, folks, it’s true. My last name—LEVINSON—is Jewish, in fact. The question, however, rarely comes up, or if it does, it’s usually to play Jewish Geography. But a couple of weeks ago, while house window-shopping, I stopped before this adorable house in the Monte Vista section of San Antonio, Texas, and called the number listed on the For-Sale sign. *Linda told me the specs of the house, then told me the price, which made me laugh, because I had no idea houses were going for that kind of money in SATX. $395,000? Are you f’ing kidding me? Them’s Austin prices, not SA, I told her, and she laughed as well.
We had a good chat. I gave her my email addy and she said she’d shoot me some listings that were more affordable. In the meantime, I drove around, as I’m wont to do, and came upon this stunning house a few streets over, in a shabbier neighborhood. I called the number on the sign again but this time I got the builder, not a realtor. He said the house was selling for $250,000. Again, I was shocked. In SATX? Are you out of your mind?
When Linda called me later, I told her about the house. She ran some numbers and said that the price-per-sq.ft was awfully high. And that’s when I became my old New Yorker self and said that I was sick of dealing with sharks and that the reason I hadn’t found anything to buy was because realtors and the like were bottom-feeding and greedy so-and-so’s. I said it jokingly but Linda took great offense.
Your last name. It’s Jewish, right?
Yeah. So what?
Well, I’m a Christian, she said. And real estate is my calling and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t insult my calling. You’re an author? Well, we’re pretty much the same. And I should have known that you were Jewish because Jews don’t trust anyone.
Yeah. She actually said that. And so I’ve been stringing her along, making her meet me at houses that I’ll never buy and then not showing up or canceling on her at the last minute. Because, well, as she said, this is is her calling and I keep calling her and calling her but she really just doesn’t get it.
Here you will find assorted musings ranging from writing ventures, full disclosures, confessions, outpourings of truths and much much more. Gossip included. So stick around. You never know what you're going to miss...