Technical Difficulties

More to come!

Yesterday, a Fellow Local Dad (Hi, Pete!) who has just signed up for this list saw me at the park and said, “Hey Sebastian, I thought your newsletter came out on Saturdays.”

Others on this list who know my antipathy to deadlines aren’t surprised to sometimes find “A Saturday Letter” in their Sunday-morning inboxes.

BUT! I have an excuse this time. I’ve got a really good, long interview with the novelist Annie Hartnett all ready to go, but the Substack interface is fighting with me, and I’ve been unable to insert images and make it look nice and pretty. Rather than do Annie a disservice by presenting the interview as an unbroken block of text, I’ve decided to punt it to next week. In the meantime, I offer a couple of recommendations and a teaser excerpt from next week’s talk. To prepare, why not order Annie Hartnett’s Rabbit Cake from Bookshop or your favorite local indie bookstore? It will get you ready for both next week’s full interview and the eventual streaming adaptation.


Podcast reminder

When I mentioned it last week, my appearance on Better Read than Dead had only been up for an hour or so, and I hadn’t got a chance to listen to myself on it yet. I have since listened and I’m pleased to say that I was not mortified. So, go here to hear me talking about Janet Macolm’s 1990 book The Journalist and the Murderer. It’s the middle episode in the gang’s three-episode New Journalism arc.

I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast if deeply-informed yet also sometimes ribald book talk is your jam. If you don’t want to hear me talk (and who could blame you), there’s last April’s series at Herman Melville, beginning with Benito Cereno. The episode convinced me to read this strange and unsettling novella.

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A thing I read

I just recently subscribed to Jeet Heer’s new newsletter (I am now subscribed to way too many), and I thought a post from this week provided some food for thought — food, anyway, in the sense that it might make you gnash your teeth:

The history of Jacksonian democracy certainly suggests that epiphanies of enlightenment are rare. A major party committed to demagogic authoritarian racism can persist for decades. The small dissident forces inside the GOP adopted the slogan “Never Trump.” We need to prepare for the opposite possibility: Forever Trump.

Heer’s Never Trump or Forever Trump? extends the parallels between 45 and his supposed “favorite” president1, Andrew Jackson, to the legacies their presidencies left or could leave on their respective parties. He acknowledges the limits of this kind of pattern-seeking, but then makes a compelling and, to me, worrisome case.


Special super sneak preview

My friend Annie Hartnett and I spoke at length recently about her first book, her new book, and her work habits — the need to sometimes trick yourself to get your writing down.

In advance of the full thing next week, I offer this excerpt in which Hartnett tricks me, a “professional” interviewer, to talk about my own work. She gives good advice!

Sebastian Stockman: The book!

Annie Hartnett:. I did hand in the book. I am waiting to hear any final things from my editor…

SS: That’s great. How are you feeling, in this waiting period. This is almost the final back and forth, right?

AH: Yeah. It was the line edits, and then it will go to copy edits. But I've been working — I mean, I think everyone probably feels this way — you’ve been working on the book for so long, but you could also work on it forever. I'm both like “don't take it from me” and “I may need to get to the place where someone needs to take it from me.” So once it goes to copy editing, I’m gonna try to but I haven’t emotionally let it go yet.

I have not read it this week for the first time in however long. And I'm still like, “uh, there’s one chapter at the end where I should end the chapter right there and then start a new chapter” … and it’s just like, does it really matter? “Who cares, Annie?”

SS:Does this match up with the experience you had of the first one?

AH: I try to remember. They were kind of far apart. My life is so different than with Rabbit Cake. [Then] I did not have a kid; there wasn't a pandemic. … What's going on with your book right now? The last time we spoke, you were writing, you were trying to finish the memoir.

SS: Still! Basically … in summers, I return to it. I've had over the years, sort of serious questions. Like: do I even want to, should I do this? I mean, there are a lot of sunk costs, but … should I finish it? Can I see it out in the world?

And I've finally gotten to the place, or back to the place, where, yes: I actually think that I do and want to and can.

I didn't have enough perspective on the story. As people told me 10 years ago, when I was first working on this in an MFA program “maybe you might need some more time,” And I was like “f— off” And it turns out, yeah, probably I did need that perspective. I think there was a story that I could have published then, but it's definitely better now.

AH: I wonder if that's like what Ellen was talking about last week with the reader who said you just want to know that the writer's okay at the end of a memoir?

SS: Yeah, I think that was an interesting point. Because I was thinking, is that a thing I always want? And I guess you want some sort of resolution, right? Some sort of stasis point.

AH: Because the sort of point of the memoir is —well, I don't know anything about memoirs — but I think it’s that we learn something together: you and me; writer and reader.

SS: I’m writing that down. That's good.

AH: So if I feel like you, the writer, haven't learned anything, then I'm like, well ...what were we doing?

SS: For me, it’s double-pronged. Early on, it was like, Oh, this crazy story, You'll never believe what happened. That was the idea at one point. And it was like, well, that’s fine, but that's not much more than a cocktail story.

AH: Right.

SS: And then it’s like “well maybe it’s about what happens when you spend three or four years lying to various people in your life and pretending to be something else, and then it also can be about the cauterization of some of those relationships.” …

AH: I had forgotten about this, but I asked you, maybe at Bread Loaf or maybe afterwards, but I asked you if you'd ever said you were sorry.

SS: YES, You did ask me that!

AH: Yeah, I forgot about that. And you were like “Uh, I’m not sure, I have.”

SS: <grimaces> I'm not sure that I did after we talked, either. I think I felt bad about it, but it’s hard for us to talk about it. …But man. I really appreciate being given the opportunity to talk about this in my interview of you.

AH: Well, no, I mean, I haven't seen you in so long, and I have interest in your book.

SS: You don't have interest in your book anymore?

AH: [laughs] I do, I just haven't talked to you.

Tune in next week! Share with others who might be interested!

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As if he’d ever bothered to form an opinion on it.