Rafael Alvarez is a long-time Baltimore Sun reporter, author of Orlo and Leini, and a writer for HBO's The Wire. Ron Reikki has just published a novel U.P., (Ghost Road Press).
RIEKKI: List your top five experimental novels.
ALVAREZ: zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance, mostly because I'm still not sure if it's a novel and it took me to the next place in my rosebush to rosebush meditations.
ALVAREZ: i don't like experimental music of any kind but the Mothers of Invention always did a good job of playing the sheet music Frank gave them. "Jazz isn't dead," said Zappa,"it just smells funny."
RIEKKI: Screw James Patterson.
ALVAREZ: Bob Dylan is an American troubadour. Nothing he does is experimental. It's all in the songbook Rod Stewart will never be able to find on the shelf.
RIEKKI: I agree. There is an infinite amount of knowledge. That's a reason I went to school forever. I like to get lost in the labyrinth of knowledge. I used to love the University of Virginia library, because I could actually get lost down in its dungeons. I liked the smell--a cross of wisdom and paper. Do you think television writing can be experimental? Do you think The Wire was experimental compared to other television?
ALVAREZ: The Wire was old school storytelling - two parts Greek to one part Russian - married to an art form - series television - that has only existed for about 60 years or so. I think of the word experimental as folks who don't quite know what they're doing throw shit against the wall to see if it sticks. David Simon knew exactly what he was doing.
RIEKKI: No. I'd do it though if it went into making Borders less of a Kafkaesque nightmare. U.P. was nominated by National Book Award winner John Casey for the Sewanee Writers' Series and Ann Beattie who is in Best American Short Stories of the Century called me up to personally tell me how much she loved the writing, but when I've contacted Borders and Books-A-Million about getting my novel into their stores, they've treated me like scum. I don't get that. You'd think if a bookstore would want to treat anyone well, it'd be an author. But those two stores are nightmares for quality small publishers. They've become corporate at a level that they've lost the sense that authors are people. Luckily, I've run into a ton of small bookstores who've been kind, receptive, and communal with me and my book--places like The Country Village Bookstore, The Gnu's Room Bookstore, Snowbound Books, The Touch of Finland, and Russo's Books have given me hope that bookstores understand if you want to encourage new writers to write, then you have to carry their books . . . and, you'll find their audience. My book has been Ghost Road Press's bestseller in fiction for 21 weeks now and that's despite complete rejection by Borders and Books-A-Million. I have to add though that B. Dalton and Barnes & Noble have been kind enough to put me in their local authors sections and I'm appreciative to them for that.
This would probably be your first internet mention of your Ghost Road Press contract for a non-fiction book you're writing. Ghost Road publisher Matt Davis is a fan of writing that operates outside of the mainstream. What will be your approach to writing the book? Do you feel being on Ghost Road that you can do anything you want, that you have more freedom than writing journalism or for TV?
ALVAREZ: I will get back to you with a much longer answer to this question. please remind me. What is the best/worst public library experience you've ever had.
RIEKKI: What first comes to mind under the worst category is--a library banned me from doing interviews at it. I was working as a freelance journalist and I quoted a librarian as saying "ain't" (she did, I have it on tape) and she had a fit that I'd represent her as someone as uneducated enough as to say "ain't." So they wouldn't let me do interviews at that library after that. I also got banned from a bar in that same city for another story I wrote. As far as the best experience--I had a girlfriend kiss me in a library once, sitting on my lap. It was the library at Brandeis. I found it incredibly romantic. There should be more kissing in libraries.