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January 19, 2010

"On The Men We Meet, and What Their Music Means to Us" by Jami Attenberg

Jami Attenberg's third book (and second novel) The Melting Season is published today.

In her own words, she shares the surprising benefits of book tours as well as two songs inspired by The Melting Season:

Recently I was sitting with a male writer at a performance space after a reading he gave. We were chatting, flirting a bit. It made me feel warm inside. Then I noticed three young women standing at the bar, staring longingly at the author. “You’ve got some groupies,” I said to him. “I hope so,” he said. “That’s the only reason why I write.” He craned his head back and scanned the women, then rose and walked over to the book sale table. He stood there casually until one of the girls sashayed across the room, picked up one of his books, and asked him to sign it.

First I was impressed. Then I was kind of grossed out. Finally I was jealous.

I would like to tell you that this kind of scenario applies to women writers too, that we are able to pick up young aspiring male writers in every brightly lit bookstore/darkened reading series we visit across the country. But it’s just not the case. We meet men who support our art: bookstore owners, bookstore workers, librarians, the editor of the arts section of the local paper. We meet men who seem mildly nervous to be talking to us, perhaps because they are intimidated, or perhaps because they are afraid we will write something about them someday. And we meet awesome, creative, brilliant men…and their equally awesome girlfriends.

I don’t get romance out of book touring. But I might be getting something better out of it.

Last spring I decided to tour the south and southwest on behalf of the paperback release of my second book, The Kept Man. I started in Los Angeles, tore through Texas, and gave the final reading in Richmond, Virginia.

In Tucson, Drew Burk, whom I had never met in person before, organized a reading for me at Club Congress. For years Drew has been publishing Spork, a beautifully designed and constructed literary magazine, and an excerpt from my book had appeared in one of the issues. Drew’s kind of the literary man in Tucson, plus he’s funny and generous. I couldn’t have been more grateful to him.

Obviously, he was totally married.

He even set up a recording session for me with a musician named Chris Black. I read a story. Chris played the bass. (It later appeared as a podcast on the Spork website.) Chris is tall and skinny and smokes lots of cigarettes and speaks slowly and meaningfully. He knows how to tell a story, and his music is smart and poetic and his voice is all whiskey and sex. He puts out a lot of his own music and knows the magic of the road as I do. I have a huge crush on him.

Of course, he has a girlfriend.

I sent a copy of my new book, The Melting Season, to Chris a few months ago and he wrote me a song. He pictured it being set in the Wyoming bar the narrator, Moonie Madison, visits in the first chapter, just after she has run away from her small Nebraska town, and just before she gets into trouble with a couple of local guys.

Here is the song:

Chris Black - "Nothing at All" [mp3]

A few weeks after I met Chris, I was in Atlanta, where I read at a small gallery attached to an independent bookstore. I think four people came, and one of them was Brandon Bush.

Brandon is a friend of a friend, who had nudged him into attending. He has a mustache that twirls on the ends like an old-time-y bartender, and sparkly eyes, and he smiles an awful lot. He’s in a pretty famous band called Sugarland that has toured the world and won a lot of awards. Before that he was in a band called Train, which made many appearances on VH1 for a very long time before VH1 became the network of whores and drug addicts. Brandon plays the keyboard. I’m a sucker for a good piano solo. And also men with sparkly eyes that smile a lot.

Of course, he has a girlfriend.

I also asked Brandon if he would write me a song inspired by the book. He sent me back a song, which he said was inspired by a chapter where the narrator is driving into her hometown just after a snowstorm.

Here is the song:

Brandon Bush - "Ghost Town in a Snow Storm" [mp3]

I am glad I get to be their friends. It was something I was working on this year, my friendships with men. A year and a half ago I went through an unpleasant breakup that stretched on and on. It was crushing. Any time I was with a man after that – and I was in a great and unfortunate rush to date new men after the breakup – it felt like I was colliding with them rather than connecting. So it has been a valuable lesson to meet men I find attractive and just live with that attraction rather than exploit it or destroy it.

No, I never get laid on tour. But I get songs, and I think that’s better. (I suspect those bad boy male authors would argue otherwise, and to them I say, “Have at it. Who am I to deny a man his Comp Lit undergrads?”) Sometimes I wonder if it would be possible for me to get both, the music and the sex, the complete connection, but it feels like, at least for the moment, probably not.

In March I’ll hit the road again, touring for this book across this great country of ours. And I don’t plan on leaving my heart behind in any town. I’ll hold it close, keep it warm, and tend to its wounds until it is whole again. It’s almost there. I can just feel it.

Jami Attenberg and The Melting Season links:

the author's website
the author's blog
excerpt from the book
reviews of the book

the author's Antiheroines interviews with up and coming female comics artists
Huffington post interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Instant Love
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Kept Man
New York Magazine Daily Intel interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics & graphic novel highlights)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks