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Matt Forney’s Podcast Extravaganza, Episode 23: Stinking Death, Ecstatical Life (Interview with Ann Sterzinger)

ann-sterzinger

In this edition of the podcast, I talk to novelist Ann Sterzinger about her books, her new publishing venture Hopeless Books, why Dave Eggers is the biggest hack writing today, the differences between Generation X and the Millennials, the awesomeness of Andy Nowicki, and so much more.

Listen below:

As I mentioned in the post, Ann has written a number of great novels: NVSQVAM (Nowhere)The Talkative Corpse, and Girl Detectives. Also check out Robert Ignatius Dillon’s Beyond the Bush, the first non-Sterzinger novel from Hopeless Books. To advertise on the show, click here.

Transcript by Eve Penman.

Subscribe to the podcast here; check out past episodes here. You can also subscribe to the show on SoundCloud or the iTunes Store. I welcome feedback on how to improve the show. If you would like to be a guest on a future episode, click here to email me.

Transcript

MATT FORNEY: Greetings, everybody, I’m Matt Forney. This is the Podcast Extravaganza, Episode Number 23; it is February 11, 2014, and I am very pleased to have on, as a guest for this program, one of my favorite authors, Ann Sterzinger. She is the author of NVSQVAM (Nowhere) and The Talkative Corpse. You can also find her online at her blog, FineIllStartAGoddamnBlog.blogspot.com. Ann, thanks for coming on the program.

ANN STERZINGER: Thank you for having me. I’m delighted.

MATT FORNEY: I always start in with this segment with everyone I interview, because it’s always a good practice to let the subject define themselves in his or her own words. So, Ann, for the audience who doesn’t know who you are, could you explain a bit better about who you are, what you write about, that sort of thing.

ANN STERZINGER: Oh, Jesus. I’m a proofreader. I’ve been a lot of things. I’ve been a proofreader for a newspaper. I’m now a proofreader for advertising. I probably shouldn’t even say that because I don’t want them to find out any of the shit I do outside of work, because I might wind up half-starving again. When I was younger I worked in restaurants for quite a few years because I wanted to be a writer and that seemed to be the thing to do. At that time you sort of apprenticed to work at a newspaper; that’s what I thought was going to be a great fit for me. Little did I know all the newspapers would be dead by the time I got to the age where I got a career. So, yeah I worked in restaurants; mostly as a dishwasher or busser because I’m a little bit of an introvert. By the way, I was re-reading your piece on—I’m rambling, oh well.

MATT FORNEY: That’s all right.

ANN STERZINGER: I was re-reading your piece on how introverts can fall in love and be happy.

MATT FORNEY: You read that? Jeez.

ANN STERZINGER: Well, actually I was, as I was reading it I was thinking—I was reading all the stuff about Neanderthals are the original introverts and I was thinking, where’s he coming up with this shit? Like, how’s he guessing how Neanderthals socialized? Then it dawned on me. When I was training in the newspaper industry, you always wrote down a source for your facts because nobody could Google your facts and check them. So I said, oh, I’ll go to Google and see if anybody has any guesses as to how Neanderthals socialize and, lo and behold, there’s all kinds of scientific guesses that synched up with what you had done in the article, so.

MATT FORNEY: Yeah, that’s basically where it all came from. I sort of backed away from that because, honest to God, it’s too much work for too little reward, but it’s nice to know someone appreciated what I was doing there.

ANN STERZINGER: Oh, good, cool.

MATT FORNEY: And, yes, and like you I have a tiny bit of experience trying to get into the media. I’m a lot younger than you, I mean, I’m only 25. I had dreams of being in radio but—

ANN STERZINGER: Ha, ha, ha, sorry.

MATT FORNEY: It’s all right, it’s all right.

ANN STERZINGER: No, no, I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing at the world.

MATT FORNEY: Just, I ended up interning at this talk radio station in upstate New York which was run by a liberal psychopath, well, let’s just say it totally soured me on the experience, but we have something in common there. What I wanted to talk about on this podcast is obviously you are a novelist and last week I reviewed what is your most recent book, The Talkative Corpse; so talk a little bit about that. Can you give the audience a brief overview of The Talkative Corpse from your perspective?

ANN STERZINGER: Do you want to know how I thought of it or what happens?

MATT FORNEY: More of the former than the latter.

ANN STERZINGER: Okay. I was…I was living in kind of a shitty building in Uptown and I had this neighbor who just, he fucking looked miserable all the time. Just straight up miserable all the time. And I would see him all the time because he didn’t have a job and I was kind of sketchily employed. And I don’t know, I don’t—I don’t believe in supernatural flakey shit, but I just, I was coming up from the laundry room one day and I was thinking about him and I felt like the part of your brain that makes characters was, like, half-possessed by him and half-possessed by all the shitty stuff that was happening to me. So I kind of wrote both of us a journal at the same time.

MATT FORNEY: Oh. When I reviewed that book, basically, my observation is that in that book you basically created a portrait of a loser, a modern American loser; basically the sort of loser that many of us have sort of experienced.

ANN STERZINGER: Sure.

MATT FORNEY: I’ve compared you to Louis-Ferdinand Céline and a bunch of other writers in that sort of, I guess, genre of loser writers. What would your primary literary influences be? Am I on the mark or am I just making shit up?

ANN STERZINGER: No. I actually read Journey to the End of the Night so long ago that I need to read it again, because it’s one of those books that I think influenced me a lot, but I can barely remember what the hell happened.

MATT FORNEY: Oh, well. I read that years ago and I knocked all Celine’s books off, the ones I could get in just one fell swoop, and I recently re-read Death on the Installment Plan. That one was really touching because Journey has a lot of this sort of emo, whining, Ferdinand Bardamu bitching about the world. In Death on the Installment Plan, he turns his gaze back on himself; he’s talking about how much of a loser he was and how much of a weirdo he was and how much of a—and it’s that sort of, that sort of separates Celine in that genre of loserdom from, say, I mean of writing from, say, the average whiny teenager bitching on his LiveJournal about how the world sucks. And you have that down pretty well in your novels, I would say.

ANN STERZINGER: Thank you.

MATT FORNEY: And basically, for those of you who don’t know, The Talkative Corpse is basically about this guy, John Jaggo who works as this pointless—he’s underemployed for his age, he’s loveless, and you capture that feeling, that sensation of just being on the absolute bottom. Because society has this sort of—Hollywood has a version of loserdom, but the reality of loserdom that’s just too depressing to depict on screen. It’s more like John Jaggo, being a phone girl at 40, actually the question, how much of your—this might be a bit too personal, but how much of your own personal life do you inject into your writings? It has a very, I mean, if that’s all right with you.

ANN STERZINGER: No, it’s fine. I think I’ve typed in your presence before that most autobiography just bores the living shit out of me, because most people who write thinly veiled autobiography and try to pass it off as fiction don’t manage to get enough distance from the character, and it winds up being they waste a lot of time trying to justify the character’s actions.

MATT FORNEY: Exactly. That makes perfect sense to me. Sorry, were you about to go on?

ANN STERZINGER: No, I just cut you off.

MATT FORNEY: That’s all right. That’s a pretty fair estimation, in my opinion. And it’s this genre—but you have the sort of Celinéan, stylized creative confessional genre which you have, basically it’s—Jesus. In which the characters are self-abasing, honest, but it’s like, in many ways it’s more honest than autobiographies or more honest than actual straight truth because your books and that sort of thing, like books like The Talkative Corpse just sort of dive into the flaws of the character, the flaws of—and they don’t make excuses. Whereas you get mainstream autobiographies, usually most people will try to wallpaper over the bad sections always, but no, you dig it out to the front and present it as something for the audience to laugh at.

ANN STERZINGER: Thank you. I actually, maybe I’m a little obsessed with him because I’m re-reading him, another of those authors that I read when I was 19 or 20 and needed to read again. The person who really taught me to sort of get that distance even when working with some material that’s drawn from autobiography, and he was also the first writer who I ever read who instead of just going that was a good story or those are some interesting ideas, who gave me that jolt of, shit, that’s how you put words together, that’s how you put a story together, that’s how you do this thing, was Kingsley Amis. And I probably talk about him too much, especially lately because I‘ve been re-reading him, but have you—just out of curiosity, have you read any of his stuff?

MATT FORNEY: No, I’ve not, but with your recommendation I’ll check some of it out.

ANN STERZINGER: I think you would love it, I think you would love it. Everybody starts with Lucky Jim, it was his first novel that broke out. I really like that novel, but there are a lot of forgotten gems that followed it. His writing career had an interesting arc and so did his political career, because he started out as a socialist and wound up as a sort of theatrical reactionary, I guess you could call it. The communist horrors happened during his lifetime. He was the great comic novelist of 20th Century England and sort of halfway through his career he started to have a lot of sort of joking, sort of racism and sexism or whatever you would call it in his writing. And it was never possible for anybody to tell whether he was joking or whether he was serious, but you’ve done enough study on primate psychology to know that primates are naturally xenophobic. And the battle of the sexes is something everyone is just sick to hell of, I mean I was by the time I was five years old. And in his later career he kind of goes into that material with sort of—he takes some of his own personal qualities that he and society think of as terrible and just—what was the review of yours that I was reading today? It was City of Singles.

MATT FORNEY: Yes.

ANN STERZINGER: I think you said that book could have been turned into wonderful dark comedy.

MATT FORNEY: Oh, yeah.

ANN STERZINGER: I think Kingsley Amis does with his own flaws or exaggerated flaws exactly what you probably would you have wanted that author to do.

MATT FORNEY: My biggest literary influence, single literary influence in terms of how I write was probably John Dolan when he was writing at The Exile. It was from him that I took basically the idea that if you’re going to write about stuff like that, sex, violence, and life, you should try to make it funny because honest to God it’s like, really, honestly, most of us have it pretty good. It’s like trying to dramatize your life in a very sort of Augustinian sort of, I’m such a—it’s really a form of bragging. You get somebody like, I don’t know, James Frey who writes a bogus memoir about how horrible it was he goes—he goes to, has to spend—he goes to drug rehab but it’s like the kid’s a rich kid who, prior to rehab, was a fucking Hollywood screenwriter. That’s not loserdom, man. It’s just, basically it’s a way of, I’m so—it’s—I think the phrase Dolan used was, it’s bragging disguised as confessing; my sins are bigger and gaudier than yours, and I just hate that kind of writing.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, it’s disgusting. I think sort of an equivalent from my generation would have been Dave Eggers.

MATT FORNEY: Oh, god. Just hearing that name just causes my blood pressure to go up.

ANN STERZINGER: Thank you, thank you. I’m glad someone agrees with me. I did a really kind of nasty takedown of him at one point just because I couldn’t, I just—I was working at The Chicago Reader and we did a lot of, we started to try to review books and there was a lot of reviewing of just pseudo-intellectual, rich kid whining crap and I just got fed up. I did a takedown of him. The editor was looking at me the whole time like, what the fuck are you doing? And obviously I’m not famous so maybe I just fucked myself, but, you know.

MATT FORNEY: I was forced to read, when I went to college, that awful book he wrote about a Sudanese refugee called What is the What.

ANN STERZINGER: Wait, they made you read that shit in college?

MATT FORNEY: They did when I was there. This was when I was a freshman.

ANN STERZINGER: Are you fucking kidding me? Pardon my French, but that is, holy shit.

MATT FORNEY: I turned in a review in which I basically ripped it apart. I wish I still had it, it was hilarious. I’m amazed I got a passing grade on it because the liberal people just ate that shit up. I hate that sort of thing.

ANN STERZINGER: God. He just, ugh, God. I read his first book and then I read his second book because I had to do this review, and I swear to God it was the most painful experience of my life. And the thing is a lot of people in the media who call themselves liberals would have been, I don’t know, Tories a hundred years ago, whatever the equivalent would have been, just lead this extremely pampered sheltered life and then start whining and then back each other up on their whining, it’s making me twitch.

MATT FORNEY: Oh, god. David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen; all of them just a bunch of phonies. But, yeah. And another thing about what makes your novel so great is that you have a very unpretentious writing, very unpretentious prose style. I mean, you’re descriptive but you’re not too descriptive, whereas you get someone like, I just brought up Jonathan Franzen, I tried to read his magnum opus a few years ago, it’s called The Corrections. Instead of having a really clichéd premise, it’s about, basically, this stupid intellectual who goes back home to his Midwestern hometown for Christmas and has these really obnoxiously drawn out metaphors that go on for about maybe a page or two, just talking about the same goddman thing. Whereas writers like you get to the point; you describe and paint an image, but you don’t over-describe, which is where you lose the reader by just going through the shit again and again.

ANN STERZINGER: I think to go back to Kingsley Amis, he summed it up when he was bitching at his horrible son Martin Amis. I paraphrase of course, but he was talking about his son’s writing and he was like, you know, he just needs more lines where somebody just picks up a drink.

MATT FORNEY: Really, these books need, just, I can’t even—just thinking about it just causes my brain to go haywire, I can’t come up with a coherent—I just get so angry.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, me too. I have to simmer awhile. I mean, I can kind of tell that you like reading good shit the way I like reading good shit, and having it covered by this, this avalanche of sludge is really frustrating because you have to spend so much time digging down to what you would actually want to read.

MATT FORNEY: I think I got lucky. I stumbled across Celine when I was like, 19, so that helped me out, but the rest, Jesus, ugh.

ANN STERZINGER: Sorry, I don’t mean to wind you up.

MATT FORNEY: It’s all right, it’s all right. This is the sort of thing I don’t get to talk about often. Nobody cares about books, I mean nobody I know anyway. Moving on, I want to talk a bit more about your previous novel and probably it’s the novel—sorry. It’s the novel that got me into reading your stuff, NVSQVAM (Nowhere), which was published by Nine-Banded Books.

ANN STERZINGER: Hooray for Nine-Banded Books. I love Chip Smith; he’s a brilliant person who collects weirdos and he claims he’s not a writer. I like his writing, but anyway, go on.

MATT FORNEY: Would you mind talking a bit about that book, what you thought about, your—the impetus behind that book for the audience, that sort of thing.

ANN STERZINGER: Okay. As a segue, the main character’s son in the novel was actually named after Martin Amis.

MATT FORNEY: Oh. Puts the whole thing in a slightly different light.

ANN STERZINGER Yeah. I was living in southern Illinois, studying classics myself, and it was a shit hole. It was kind of a mid-bible belt place where you don’t get poor white trash, you get middle class Jesus freaks. I mean the town was surrounded by tin shack, what do you call it, cosmetic surgeons. As you drive into town, there’s corrugated tin shacks that have ads for plastic surgery on them.

MATT FORNEY: Whoa.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah. So, and then it’s also a college town. I went there because I was tired of Chicago, I was burned out on The Reader, I was done with their bullshit and I wanted to finally get a college degree so that maybe I could get a better job at a newspaper. Yeah, ha, ha, ha, that’s about the time newspapers died. But anyway, I thought, actually my real reason for going down there was because I could spend a year abroad for the cost of tuition in Carbondale, which was, like, $2,500 a semester. But at the time I had to spend three years there and while I was there I was thinking, Jesus Christ, this is so terrible I should write a novel about this. But my life at the time wasn’t quite terrible enough to be dark comedy-worthy. So I thought, well, what could make my life worse? And I realized, well, trying to raise a child here. And then I thought, well, I probably—I don’t want to have a child so that probably would never happen to me. And then I thought, well, what if I had no choice? And then I thought, well, that would make me a dude.

MATT FORNEY: Yeah. That book, I think I also compare, The Talkative Corpse I guess is more contemporary John Dolan-type self-abasement whereas—could you talk a bit more about the literary influences behind NVSQVAM (Nowhere) and sort of what separates it from The Talkative Corpse. I don’t want to put words in your mouth or something like that.

ANN STERZINGER: Well, obviously Lucius Apuleius, the narrative arc—the first half of it was meant to mimic the chapters we have of Apuleius, and the rest was my imagination of what might happen afterwards.

MATT FORNEY: Shows what I know. I didn’t even notice that, just—

ANN STERZINGER: Well, it’s really obscure. I mean, it’s—and even the last scene is sort of the last scene that we have of The Golden Asse; which the goddess Isis shows up and I guess Lester is supposed to be the goddess Isis in the last scene, but there’s—I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a lot of speculation as to whether that scene was actually tacked on or not. So, that was an influence at the time and obviously Kingsley Amis was an influence at the time because, besides like how could this be shittier, how could this be novel-worthy, the other impetus I had was, what if Kingsley Amis were born on the wrong continent, a hundred years too late, just in the wrong situation, what might his life have been like? So it’s kind of half, like, how could my life have been shittier, and the other half is kind of a loving tribute, a parallel biography of Kingsley Amis’s life.

MATT FORNEY: In my review of NVSQVAM, I sort of interpreted it as, I guess, in many ways, a sort of cynical Generation X take on things, because it just took out to mean a lot of, obviously Lester Reichartsen, hopefully I pronounced that right.

ANN STERZINGER: I can’t even pronounce that so don’t worry about it.

MATT FORNEY: Sounds like a stereotypically Wisconsin name.

ANN STERZINGER: It’s also my construction of the—this is Obscure Literary Facts That Nobody Fucking Wants to Hear 101. In Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis’s protagonist was named Jim Dixon, and Reichartson is the closest I could come to making Dixon in German.

MATT FORNEY: Now that is obscure. Anyway, when I was reading NVSQVAM, I sort of observed in many ways it’s sort of, I guess, a depressing, many ways a depressing look at Generation X, because as I observed it, it was just full of Generation X cultural tropes, punk rock, Nirvana, David Letterman, that sort of thing. And I also compared it to some of Andy Nowicki’s books. Would you say that’s—was that on your mind when you were writing the book or is it just that sort of thing?

Ann Sterzinger: Well, actually I—that is definitely an accurate assessment. Andy Nowicki and I didn’t meet each other until Chip Smith from Nine-Banded Books published us both and I don’t even remember how we got to talking. Chip just collects the freaks and throws them together, but I kind of felt when I was in my twenties, that our generation, quote/unquote, obviously we had Kurt Cobain and I use that as a signifier to go yeah, Kurt Cobain’s dead, world’s fucked now. And I was a fan, okay. I have to admit after you wrote that review I went on an In Utero binge because I hadn’t listened to that album in 20 years, and two days later, I swear to God, I saw an ad for its 20th anniversary edition.

MATT FORNEY: Those funny coincidences.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, it was really strange. And, but when I was in my twenties I felt like we had Nirvana and a couple of other things, but we never had a literary voice outside of Dave fucking Eggers, who’s not a literary voice for anything except his own asshole and just being a rich kid whose parents die and suddenly you get all the money. I mean, talk about an Oedipal fantasy. Who’s supposed to feel fucking sorry for–dad is dead and I can take the money and fuck whores. Who’s supposed to feel sorry for you?

MATT FORNEY: God, that is great, that is great.

ANN STERZINGER: I’m glad to get that off my chest a little bit.

MATT FORNEY: Kind of coming back to one of my feelings, are you familiar with The Fourth Turning, the book The Fourth Turning?

ANN STERZINGER: No.

MATT FORNEY: I discussed this with Andy Nowicki when I interviewed him a couple months back. Basically The Fourth Turning is a sort of theory that postulates that there are four different types of generations—

ANN STERZINGER: Wait, I listened to this, I just didn’t remember the name of the book because I’m terrible with proper names. Go ahead.

MATT FORNEY: Basically there are four different types of generations that sort of recur in the same cycle. Generation X is the Nomad generation, which is sort of defined by the fact that they come of age in an era in which the culture’s being torn apart, which would be pretty accurate in Generation X’s case because you all came of age when the Baby Boomers were transforming society, in contrast to, say, my generation, the Millennials, the Hero generation; we are supposedly supposed to pick up the pieces that the, I forget what the Boomers are called, the prophets I think. We’re supposed to pick up the pieces that they fucked up and fix that, which I don’t see happening, but then again I’m just a cynic. And I saw your book in many ways as a reflection of that GenX mentality; that sort of one foot in one world, one foot in the other world, and just sort of a longing to be somewhere else.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah. I think that’s pretty accurate because, well, I mean when I was a kid I remember, maybe it’s just because of where I grew up, out in buttfuck Wisconsin, but I remember most people still either believed in God or, well, I was raised Catholic and my family, even though my mother would regularly say stuff like, I hate you God, and teeth are proof that God doesn’t exist, and, well, whenever she went to the dentist, but there was a tradition, people went—everybody went to church whether they believed or not. And it was like we were—my little joke is we were so Catholic we were almost like Jews; whether you were an atheist or not, you were still a Catholic. Oh, god, now I’m going to get more trolls saying I’m a Jew. I mean, I‘m not, but so what if I were?

MATT FORNEY: I’m going to sic CensorBot on them if they get—no Jew mongering on my blog.

ANN STERZINGER: Well, I’m just amused by it. At this point I own my Jewness.

MATT FORNEY: Well, I don’t—

ANN STERZINGER: But—

MATT FORNEY: Sorry.

ANN STERZINGER: Sorry, no, but I’ve been rambling because it’s been a long week and I haven’t slept much. But, yeah, I think that assessment is fair of our generation. I‘m not sure if things go in cycles like that because my knowledge of history is more era by era than decade by decade.

MATT FORNEY: This is something I went over with Andy Nowicki as well. Basically that’s the difference between Generation X and the Millennials, is you sort of saw a glimpse of a functioning culture, whereas I came of age, basically it was all gone to hell before I was a teenager.

ANN STERZINGER: Right.

MATT FORNEY: And that’s reflected in our different mentalities. I sort of compared Andy Nowicki’s approach to sort of the—to I guess romance, sex, or whatever versus, say, the manosphere or whatever, and it’s really more of an outlook on our different generational things than anything.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I did listen to that interview and I thought a lot of it was salient, although as for your generation being the Hero generation, good luck with that, if the kids I work with are any indication.

MATT FORNEY: Like I said, that’s where I dissent from the theory mainly because I don’t see any of these idiots doing jack shit.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah. I mean, you’re one of the good ones, kid, but especially the females that I work with are just, I mean I’ve never seen the like; they’re so entitled, they don’t think they need to actually do their jobs. They feel they have the right to be a bitch to anyone, including me because I‘m sort of introverted and I’m old and I just take this—and it’s just—I’m really, I don’t want to offend you but I really don’t see your generation—we’re going to the gutter, man.

MATT FORNEY: I’m not that offended. In fact, I think in one of my posts I joked I don’t want to be part of this generation anymore. If our best cultural art is something like Girls, then I don’t want to—

ANN STERZINGER: Oh, God, speaking of writers that I want to choke to death and I know it’s not very cool to want to choke a younger person to death when you’re an older person, and yeah I’ve been struggling for a billion fucking years as a writer, but Jesus Christ, your parents raised you in Greenwich Village, you had every advantage possible, and you have the fucking nerve to whine.

MATT FORNEY: Don’t even get me started.

ANN STERZINGER: I have fantasies about beating the hell out of her. I really do. And I know that’s not very nice, but, sorry, go on.

MATT FORNEY: It’s perfectly understandable. I think I joked in that review, I don’t want to be part of that generation anymore; will the GenXers please take me, take me, damn it!

ANN STERZINGER: We’ll take you, you’re fine. You’ll do; we’ll accept you.

MATT FORNEY: Exactly.

ANN STERZINGER: You can push my wheelchair. If you’ve got two good hands at that point you can my wheelchair with one hand and you can push Andy’s wheelchair with the other, and we can be your weird aunt and uncle.

MATT FORNEY: This is great. Anyway, moving on a little bit. I want to talk more about your first novel, Girl Detectives, which I recently finished reading.

ANN STERZINGER: Oh, God.

MATT FORNEY: There will be a review up about that. Would you care to talk a bit more about that novel? Honestly, before you announced that on your blog, I honest to God didn’t you had that, that novel even existed, but if you want to talk a bit more about that novel, give it a bit more publicity.

ANN STERZINGER: I’m in the middle of re-editing it. Obviously you’ve already read it so it’s too late, but there are a couple chapters in the middle that are so pointless I’m thinking of getting rid of them for the new paperback edition and the new Kindle edition; the one where Pill Dombrowski is wandering by the lake.

MATT FORNEY: I remember that.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, it’s fucking pointless. I can’t even remember what the hell I was thinking.

MATT FORNEY: I tend to be forgiving, since it’s the first novel you’re going to make mistakes. So personally when I come to approach that, I grade on a curve. But if you’re making those mistakes when you go on, and I’m not talking about you specifically, you aren’t making those mistakes, but you have to improve off of that.

ANN STERZINGER: Right, yeah.

MATT FORNEY: Like I said, would you care to talk a bit more about the book, the premise of the book. From what I understand it’s very much rooted in your experience working at The Chicago Reader, the last days of print journalism.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, and at the time I didn’t know it was the last days of print journalism. When I left all I knew was that I was fed up. I think that book was written in about 2003 to 2005. 2005 was when I ditched to go to college. And, yeah, actually one of the writers that I based one of the characters on, Maurinette Meede, the snobby food critic, somehow wound up reading the book and was really pissed and talked to somebody about how pissed she was. And I was like, you know what, don’t be an asshole. If you don’t want to be made fun of, don’t be an asshole.

MATT FORNEY: Exactly.

ANN STERZINGER: But, anyway, the premise of the novel is there are a bunch of proofreaders and editors working at this newspaper, not knowing that it’s the last days of print journalism. And they’re trying to do their old time Chicago journalist shtick, but the demographic is kind of turning from people who know what they’re doing—see, one of the reasons I didn’t get a degree at the right age was because at that time real newspaper people laughed at people who went to journalism school. What you did was you pretty much apprenticed, and that book was kind of written about the sort of shift from apprenticeship to university-based, quote/unquote, professionalism. And oddly enough that shift accompanied a shift from sort of men running things to women running things, and also it accompanied a shift from working-class men running things to sort of upper-middle class women running things, or at least it did in my experience, which actually led to a very strange atmosphere. Because journalism has a very sort of masculine, working class ethos and it was really clashing badly with this sort of upper middle class, just—I don’t come from that background so I found it a bit nonsensical, but also I’m a female so I was sort of caught in the middle. There were females who thought that I should be on their team, but then I’d be like, well, you’re nothing like me.

MATT FORNEY: Exactly. And like I said, I don’t have any personal experience with this, but I was a journalism major for year one, and it was pretty much all women, aside from I was one of a few handful of guys attending journalism classes, which it lasted about a year before I got so disgusted I switched to an English major. Really smart economic decision there.

ANN STERZINGER: Oh, Jesus, yeah.

MATT FORNEY: I would observe the difference between a working class male environment versus an upper middle class female environment is that, I don’t mean to get too sexist, but the environment I experienced in my journalism classes, it’s very catty, very bitchy, and a lot of my, quote/unquote, colleagues just had grudges over the most minor of things which really—and a lot of them are just flat out lazy. There’s one example which got me—this is what led to me switching to an English degree, I was just so disgusted with my colleagues, as it were. During journalism, in one of our classes we were assigned to put together a paper every four weeks or so. We would divide into four groups and we had to go out and get actual stories, talk to people, get interviews, write copy, that sort of thing; one of us served as the editor and we had to put this in for our grade. I was editor on one part, one thing, and I discovered that one of my, quote/unquote, colleagues had plagiarized an entire article from Wikipedia, it was on Target—

ANN STERZINGER: (Laughter)

Matt Forney: —our little shitty college town near Montréal; not even bother paraphrasing, just copy and paste. When I confronted her saying we can’t hand this in for a grade, the university policy is that plagiarism gets you an automatic expulsion, but she didn’t give a shit. And I don’t know how it happened but we all managed to get through that without actually getting kicked out. I mean, I can only assume that the journalism professor realized that if he fails too many people it would look bad, that sort of thing.

ANN STERZINGER: Or your TA was lazy.

MATT FORNEY: Oh, god. I can just feel a vein rising in my forehead.

ANN STERZINGER: I’m really sorry. I don’t want to bring back bad memories.

MATT FORNEY: It’s all right, it’s all right.

ANN STERZINGER: But, yeah. So you know a little bit of what I’m talking about and you kind of came in sort of after that shift it sounds like.

MATT FORNEY: Oh, yeah. It was all dead. I’m 25 going on 26, I don’t have any memories of this. It’s like, I didn’t notice this during my first reading of Girl Detectives but you bringing it up now just brings it into clear focus for me. And the book has this sort of comic, I wouldn’t exactly call it the last glory days, but it’s sort of all these idiot characters don’t know what’s coming to them.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah.

MATT FORNEY: Just going on their little petty plots, not realizing the big anvil that’s about to be dropped on their heads. And, yeah. Sorry, go on.

ANN STERZINGER: No, I was going to say, the funny thing is I was somewhat aware of the anvil that was about to drop on their heads, thus I went to college, but I wasn’t quite aware of how huge of an anvil it was. So I’m kind of the butt of my own joke, to put it that way. I thought, oh, if I go to college I’ll come out and I’ll maybe get a better job at a newspaper, I don’t know. Of course, I don’t know what I was thinking going in for classics and French, probably I wanted to read shit that was good instead of the garbage I’d been proofreading for the last five years.

MATT FORNEY: Jeez. Sorry about that. And something else I want to talk about is a few months ago you launched a new publishing venture called Hopeless Books, which may get my rating for one of the best titles for a publishing imprint ever.

ANN STERZINGER: Thank you.

MATT FORNEY: Would you care to talk a bit more about Hopeless Books and what you’re hoping to accomplish with that?

ANN STERZINGER: I am hoping to publish some shit and get it noticed, which is—you’re going to laugh—the site is on Blogger, so good luck with that, Ann.

MATT FORNEY: It’s something at least. And your first non—the first book from Hopeless Books that is not written by you is Beyond the Bush by Robert Ignatius Dillon. Would you care to talk a bit more about that book?

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah. Obviously that’s a pen name, so I need to hide his identity a little bit, but it’s basically written by somebody who had a compilation of ten years’ worth of notebooks about Bush, Obama, James Bond films, weird ramblings about the film industry and all these bizarre characters that he came up with; Fat Guy and Bronstein, and they were all just jackasses in the film industry. And I really don’t know how to do it justice because at the time he was writing it none of his friends, including me, really paid much attention to it because it was all just these notebooks full of rambling. And somehow he sat in his apartment in the past couple of years and put together a cohesive manuscript out of all of this. And all of his ramblings had been funny but they never had cohesion or a plot. And one of the best jokes, and I’m not going to give away the ending, is as he was writing all this shit, he was writing all these ramblings about Bush and you could tell that he hated that guy, but he was also writing all these ramblings about Barack Obama as that election was going on, and no one could tell whether he loved him or hated him, because every other sentence was different, every other sentence was totally different. So I guess you’ll just have to read, I sound like an advertisement, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what he thinks or doesn’t think.

MATT FORNEY: When I read the book, I got the feeling that he may not have liked Obama but he had some kind of sympathy for him.

ANN STERZINGER: He even had some kind of sympathy for Bush.

MATT FORNEY: Yeah, that too.

ANN STERZINGER: I mean, he has sympathy for all his characters who are equally bizarre, live in this bizarre vacuum of their own plot, which is a mark of a pretty good satire.

MATT FORNEY: Yeah. I mean, I have reviewed the book, it will be up in a couple weeks, and it’s a very bizarre book but it’s an interesting and funny one. There’s just some laugh-out-loud moments particularly where the Fat Guy, recreating the Voight-Kampff scene from Blade Runner, just felt really, really dumb, just—it’s a very strange book but I recommend everyone here check it out. At least give it a try. My description and Ann’s description can’t really do it justice.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah. It’s your thing or it’s not your thing. There’s a sample up on the Hopeless Books website, HopelessBooks.blogspot.com, or maybe it’s up on my website, FineIllStartAGoddamnBlog.

MATT FORNEY: I’ll throw the links into the post, so, yeah.

ANN STERZINGER: I can’t remember which one I put it on, frankly. He also has his own blog called MojaxTheCromulent, but there are only, like, four posts on it. Ignatius is a pretty strange guy, but that book was the impetus behind my starting this imprint. Because when I read that manuscript, I was shitfaced drunk and told him, “Hey, Bob, this is great, I’m going to start a publishing company on Amazon.com and I’m going to publish your book, aaahhh.” And a couple of months later he emailed me and he’s like, where’s my book? And I’m like, what fucking book; because I’d forgotten about the conversation. And of course it was a conversation on email or Facebook or something. So I went back and I looked at it and I was like, oh, I told him I’d publish his book, I guess I should start a publishing company; oh, I can put The Talkative Corpse on the publishing company and I can put Girl Detectives on the publishing company. And then I set up the site and I sent it to Andy Nowicki and he said “I love it, I want to put my next novella on it.” I was like, shit, are you kidding me? That’s great, that’ll be terrific, because I love his writing. We have—like you said, we have a very similar sensibility but we’ve come to very different conclusions, but nonetheless we understand each other.

MATT FORNEY: Yeah, exactly. And I was about to bring that up. Would you care to talk a bit more about, you just announced that Andy Nowicki will be releasing his next book through Hopeless Books, and I’m so professional I can’t even remember the title of it, but could you talk a bit more about that upcoming book?

ANN STERZINGER: Beauty and the Least, I do not want to spoil the plot. It’s Beauty and the Least, and I’m hoping there are some fans of Andy Nowicki listening. And if you are not a fan of Andy Nowicki he is one of—his writing has a really unique tension, because he’s a practicing believing Catholic who believes in all the tenets of the church, and he’s also a member of my generation with all the other weird tension bullshit that goes with that. And the tension between the two worlds just causes this kind of prose explosion that’s just, it’s lovely to see and it’s lovely to be around it and to watch it develop. And like you said in your last review, he’s getting better all the time and I’m just so honored and so happy to be able to publish this.

MATT FORNEY: I’ve been pounding the gospel of Andy Nowicki for at least a couple years now, he’s just that good of a writer. And I still think the original review, my original review of The Columbine Pilgrim which I wrote a couple years ago basically sums up what he’s about. It’s like, holy shit, this is one fucked up book.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, yeah.

MATT FORNEY: But, sorry.

ANN STERZINGER: But it’s not an emptily fucked up book; it’s not a pulp novel about serial killers, ree-ree-ree-ree.

MATT FORNEY: His books are depraved in a way but they’re not like fake depraved; he has a good keen eye for understanding people and even understanding people who he would disagree with. I pointed this out in my review of his previous novella, Heart Killer, which I think, I mean I haven’t actually talked to him about this but in many ways was influenced by his interactions with, I guess, the manosphere and, quote/unquote, “game” people. And while it would have been easy for him to be, I guess, dismissive of them, he really does probe the psychological motivations of a character like that in a way that is believable and honest. And that’s what makes him a great writer in my opinion. He can step outside his perspective and just bring all that into his characters.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah. And he does that wonderfully and he—I mean, you were asking me before how much of my stuff is autobiographical, well, everything anybody writes is autobiographical because we’re the same meat puppet human.

MATT FORNEY: That’s a wonderful description.

ANN STERZINGER: Thank you. I’ve actually been sort of working it into the review that I’ve been writing of Trolling for a Living.

MATT FORNEY: You’re actually going to review that?

Ann Sterzinger: Yeah. No, no, because I started thinking about it and I—I don’t know if this is just way too off-topic, but I started kind of reading some of the Manosphere stuff because an antinatalist posted something about it on his blog, and because I sort of had the two of them juxtaposed in my brain, when I was re-reading your collection I thought, wait a minute. I mean, I don’t want to simplify too much and correct me if I’m being a dipshit, but a lot of game stuff is based on humans are wired like this and you can push this button and push that button and eventually you can get a woman to sleep with you or you can get people to do what you want. And at first blush that sounds like, oh, well, these guys just think that women are automatons, but as Andy pointed out, if you want one of those automatons so badly that you’re willing to jump through all these hoops, what does that make you? And the similar idea that antinatalists have, I don’t know, you probably haven’t read Thomas Ligotti, he is sort of—

MATT FORNEY: I’m vaguely familiar with antinatalism, but I haven’t read him specifically.

ANN STERZINGER: He’s written a lot of horror fiction where he writes about sort of the emptiness at the center of the universe, but his sort of treatise, it’s called The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, which is very interesting. And in it he sort of posits that we are these sort of puppets of our DNA and our evolutionary psychology and everything that’s happened to us, and we think we have independent minds and independent will, but really we’re just sort of puppets. And having had those two things juxtaposed in my mind, I thought, oh, this is a bit like those debates that the ancient Greeks used to have about Epicureanism and hedonism.

MATT FORNEY: Exactly, in many ways, though, in many ways I do think you’re somewhat over-blowing it, at least in relation to my book. I just put that out there mainly because I don’t agree—I’m constantly refining my opinion. And like a good maybe third of the stuff in Trolling for a Living I no longer—

ANN STERZINGER: Goddamn it, you just stole my lead. No, my lead was like he’s probably going to keep improving because he keeps refining his opinion. Okay. But anyway, I’ll rewrite it anyway, go on.

MATT FORNEY: And I put it out mainly because it’s important to get your stuff done in print form because electrons are just—you can link a website out of existence very easily. With Alternative Right gone now a good number of my articles just went down with it; a lot of them are compiled in that book which is preemptive, but I do appreciate your thoughts on this. The outsider’s perspective is something that, I mean you’re probably not a big Twitter user, but a couple days ago this huge war erupted between the Manosphere and the neoreactionaries, Mike Anissimov started it and a bunch of other guys just started going at it.

ANN STERZINGER: Oh, God.

MATT FORNEY: It’s just, I haven’t gotten involved in it because I’ve seen these sort of arguments going over and over again for the past five years and it gets dumber every time, but having an outsider’s perspective on all these ideas is good because it keeps us from, pardon my French, getting too far up our own assholes that we can see the sun out the other side.

ANN STERZINGER: This is true. And the reason I started thinking about that sort of parallel was because, if you’re going to review something you have to have some kind of critical apparatus. And what am I going to do with your book, take your advice for men hitting on women and test it in the field?

MATT FORNEY: (Laughter)

ANN STERZINGER: I tried this, it totally didn’t fucking work. This book is a piece of shit. What? You know, how else am I going to test it without coming up with a different sort of critical apparatus. So I’m just sort of field testing this on you, if you’re not offended, maybe I’ll run with it.

MATT FORNEY: I‘m not offended. I’m very difficult to offend.

ANN STERZINGER: That is true.

MATT FORNEY: Yes. Unfortunately it’s like no one else seems to be on that same level, but, yeah. Anyway, holy crap we’ve gone on for nearly an hour now.

ANN STERZINGER: Holy shit. Wow.

MATT FORNEY: Anyway, I think this is a good time to wrap it up. Ann, do you have anything else you want to say; anything else that we didn’t bring up?

ANN STERZINGER: I’m sure it’ll come to me in 15 minutes, but for now, thank you for having me on.

MATT FORNEY: Exactly. Her name is Ann Sterzinger, buy her novels or I will do bad things to you. NVSQVAM (Nowhere), The Talkative Corpse, Girl Detectives, and also check out Beyond the Bush even though it’s not by her but by her friend, that’s a good book too. I’ll have links to all this stuff in the post; and you can also visit her online at FineIllStartAGoddamnBlog.blogspot.com, HopelessBooks.blogspot.com, and you’re also on Twitter, right? Twitter.com/annksterzinger I think it is.

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, I think I started that because there’s that other Ann Sterzinger running around who posts dipshit things on Pinterest.

MATT FORNEY: What?

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah. Every time I Googlebate, she’s on there with her Pinterest account and there’s sunflowers made out of bird shit or something.

MATT FORNEY: So you’re taking it back?

ANN STERZINGER: Yeah, I’m taking back my name.

MATT FORNEY: Exactly. Anyway, Ann, thank you for coming on the podcast.

ANN STERZINGER: Thank you so much for having me.

MATT FORNEY: Illegitimi non carborundum, don’t let the bastards grind you down. My name is Matt Forney and I will be back.

Read Next: Matt Forney’s Podcast Extravaganza, Episode 22: Search Terms Special — “Matt Forney is a Rude Son of a Bitch!”

  • Just started listening to the episode, but I looked at your guest’s blog
    (first I’ve heard of her) and she’s got a Thomas Ligotti passage as an entry. And now she’s talking about Kingsley Amis. This woman know’s what’s up!

  • Weird to hear a woman’s voice on the Podcast Extravaganza. I have to say it feels a little uncomfortable, Matt, like the clubhouse had been invaded or like you were coming out of the bathroom naked and sitting and picking your toes and sniffing the stuff, thinking you were alone, but then realizing a rat is in the room and eyeing you from a corner.