All Tomorrow's Parties

All Tomorrow's Parties

by Rob Spillman

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Overview

Rob Spillman, the award-winning, charismatic cofounding editor of Tin House , has devoted his life to the rebellious pursuit of artistic authenticity. In All Tomorrow's Parties , he takes us on a journey through the formative years of his youth in search of purpose—through Cold War to post-Wall Berlin and the gritty days of New York City's East Village in the eighties.

Born in Germany to two driven musicians, his childhood was spent backstage among the West Berlin cognoscenti, in a city two hundred miles behind the Iron Curtain. There, the Berlin Wall stood as a stark reminder of the split between East and West, between suppressed dreams and freedom of expression. It was against this distinctive backdrop that he became inspired to live for art.

After an unsettled youth moving between divorced parents in disparate cities, Spillman would eventually find his way into the literary world of New York City, only to abandon it to return to Berlin just months after the Wall came down. Twenty-five and newly married, Spillman and his wife moved to the bullet-pocked, anarchic streets of East Berlin in search of the bohemian lifestyle of their idols. But Spillman’s constant striving—for inspiration and for identity—ultimately led him to discover that he was chasing the one thing that had always eluded him: a place, or person, to call home.

All Tomorrow’s Parties is an intimate, exhilarating, and heartfelt memoir; a colorful, music-filled coming-of-age portrait of an artist’s life and an offbeat exploration of a shifting Berlin on the cusp of cultural renaissance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802126269
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/14/2017
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 994,979
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Rob Spillman is editor of Tin House magazine and editorial advisor of Tin House Books, and he was recently awarded the PEN Nora Magid Award for Editing. His writing has appeared in Bookforum, GQ, Guernica, New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair , and Vogue , among others. He is currently a lecturer in Columbia University's MFA graduate writing program.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

"Art should be life. It's an imitation of life. It should have some humanity in it."

— John Lydon

Soundtrack: Sex Pistols, "Holidays in the Sun," 1977

"THIS MUST BE THE PLACE." I point to the street signs above us, then back down at the flyer.

"If you say so," Elissa says.

"Where else should we possibly be?" I ask, and raise my glass.

Four months before reunification, we are drinking a previously impossible-to-obtain West German wine at a makeshift sidewalk café stumbling distance from our illegal coldwater flat. Although the Wall has "fallen" the previous October, West German authorities don't yet have authority to cross into the East. When the German Democratic Republic (GDR) police's wages vanished, so did they. The only authority left here is the elite riot police and the remnants of the GDR's army. They keep order by bashing the skinheads and anarchists in running street battles every night. We haven't seen many other Westerners on this side of the Wall. Most are staying away until reunification. Young East Germans have looked out for us, twenty-five-year-old Americans, married less than two years, self-proclaimed bohemians crazy enough to live in the midst of their chaos. But to us it doesn't feel crazy; there is something alive and magical in the air, what it must have been like in the twenties when Marlene Dietrich was roaming the risqué drag clubs in men's clothes, when culture and politics collided and the possibilities were revolutionary.

Now, for East Germans, Berlin is reborn and in the month we've been living here everything feels possible. Two weeks ago, this wine bar was a boarded-up food market. Young locals pooled their money and drove through a gap in the Wall in a battered Wartburg which they filled with cases of West German wine, then smashed down the market's door and served the wine on the sidewalk on upturned cable spools scavenged from abandoned warehouses along the Eastern side of the Wall. Thus the Prenzlauer Berg Wine Bar was born and thus we became regulars, doing what was unthinkable only a year ago — publically downing a whole bottle of cold 1989 Pfälzer Landwein from the Rhine. Not that there aren't still risks. Almost every night the sirens sound, blaring like World War II air-raid warnings, winding up louder and louder, signaling that the riot police are coming in to clear the skinheads who are trying to firebomb the Autonomen (anarchist) squats nearby. All up and down our block the anarchists have taken over abandoned buildings and have painted them pink and are flying old East German flags with the hammers and compasses cut out of the centers. When the riot police charge in, they bust any and all heads they see. If the clashes aren't on our street, we'll wait out the alarm in our bullet-pocked archway, unrepaired since World War II, and if the melee is on our street we'll flee up the four flights to our apartment.

The sun is bleeding down, streaking East Berlin's grays and browns with fiery orange and red, warming the cold, gray buildings to create a pocket of calm, an oasis perfect for sharing our nightly bottle of wine before we head off to the CV, our other regular neighborhood bar, just across the park. I pick up the hand-drawn flyer that the young East German has dropped on our table, try to make sense of it. Black and red concentric circles telescope down to a black X, with the names "Dunckerstrasse" and "Lettestrasse" written below. We are sitting directly under the street signs for Dunckerstrasse and Lettestrasse.

"Thanks," I tell Michael. He's one of the earnest Bat Theater Studio guys who are still putting on plays and happenings in appropriated ex-government buildings despite, or to spite, the vanished socialist subsidies.

"But what is it?"

"A rave," he replies, all business.

"'Rave'?"

"Ja, rave. A big dance, mostly illegal, held in big, illegal spaces."

"Like here?" I ask, not getting it. I look to Elissa, but she also doesn't understand.

"How do you mean?" Michael asks.

I point to the street names on the flyer and his confusion cracks into a smile. "No, no. We meet here. Tomorrow night, starting at midnight, every half hour, one of us will come here and take you to the place of the rave."

"Which is where?" I ask.

"You Americans are funny, yes?"

We debate going to the rave, whatever a rave is, but it isn't much of a debate. Of course I'm going to jump into the abyss. That's what I do — throw myself into the unknown. So, twenty-four hours later, flyer in hand, at exactly midnight I jump on the back of the sparkling blue Vespa, driven by a young East German I hardly know, who has promised to take me someplace secret and spectacular. Michael takes off before the other Vespa, sparkling red, pulls to a stop in front of Elissa. She scrambles behind the unknown woman and they set off after us. I hold tight and we fly the two-block length of Helmholtzplatz park, then past the even smaller Kollwitzplatz park, weaving our way through scattered cobblestones and torched Communist cardboard cars, Wartburgs and Trabants, stacked like charred logs under the dead street lamps. I feel like I'm in Fellini'sRoma, a camera mounted on a scooter gliding through Rome at night, the Vespa's soft, sweeping light illuminating ancient fountains and statues. But in reality, in the here and now, this Vespa's narrow beam of weak white light is cutting through the stark blackness, catching obstacles so that we don't crash out on the cobbles.

Last night's battle between the skinheads and anarchists has coated the streets with smashed Molotovs. Michael tries to avoid the bigger shards as we zigzag out of Prenzlauer Berg and toward the Wall. Around the corners I check behind for the trailing Vespa's yellow beam. I briefly wonder if Elissa is scared or thrilled — she doesn't speak German and I don't know how much English her driver has. I shelve that worry, as we are now heading straight for the Wall, but a short block away, Michael lurches us hard right along a road that parallels the clean gray slabs of concrete.

We cruise past long-abandoned warehouses and industrial buildings and at each intersection I see the Wall, a hundred feet to the left, its faintly iridescent whitish gray visible for a second, then gone, glimpsed, gone again.

"Hang on," Michael says, and switches off his light. He drives blind for a bumpy minute, then swings the Vespa left, toward a warehouse, a large dark door coming into focus. It opens right before we reach it, then slams shut as soon as we are inside. Pitch black. Where is Elissa? Should I run out? Before I reach full-on panic, the door flies open and the second Vespa coasts in. The door bangs shut with a metallic clang and several flashlights click on.

"Here. You will need this," Michael says, and hands me a small plastic flashlight.

I aim the light at Elissa, who gives me a questioning look, and I shrug.

"Bitte,gehen sie jetzt," a young man says, impatiently pointing his flashlight toward the water-stained back of the room. His eyes are all pupil and he is sweating, his jaw fiercely working over a piece of gum.

I wave goodbye to Michael and follow the sweating man to the other side of the small, white-tiled room and through a set of steel doors that lead to a stairwell. Banish all bad thoughts — we're not going to get rolled. It's all good. Follow the signs. I squeeze Elissa's hand to reassure her, and myself. We skip down one flight of steps, then another, trying to keep up with our hopped-up leader. Two floors below street level, our Orpheus pushes open a creaky black metal door, revealing a vast, flooded basement, strewn with rubble and industrial detritus.

"Was gibt's?" I ask, and our guide snorts. He explains, in German, which I quickly translate for Elissa, that we are in an old ball-bearing factory. He tells me this as he dances across long, sagging boards stretched between cinderblock islands. Our flashlight beams ricochet off the oily water, which has a ferrous, noxious reek, and I picture my foot dissolving in it as if it were sulfuric acid. A faint, far-off beat — a fast, steady thump, thump, thump — matches the pulse in my ears.

"Is there another room to the factory?" I call after our guide, repeating the question in English for Elissa.

"No, no," he replies. "The party isn't in here. This is only the passageway."

Before I can begin to think about where we are heading, on the other side of the waterlogged basement a six-foot-wide hole opens into a dank tunnel. The thump, thump, thump of music is now clear. And up ahead a bright light pulls me forward.

"Entschuldigung, excuse me," my new friend says, shining his flashlight over my shoulder. I turn around and Elissa catches up to us. She gives me her "What have you gotten me into?" look and I give her my "You agreed to this" look back. I also silently give her what I hope is reassurance, and I think she's on the same page, but I really don't care because we're obviously on the cusp of something weird and quite possibly wonderful.

"Where are we?" I once more ask our guide, who snorts again and moves aside so that we can be the first to step through the hole and into a cavernous space constructed of gray granite blocks, the vaulted ceiling sweeping up a good hundred feet. People are dancing everywhere — on piles of paving stones and railroad ties, and in the long trench that runs through the center of the giant space. They are dancing to the loud, steady, bass-heavy electronic music, something that sounds like Kraftwerk crossed with Donna Summer. The dancers cast huge shadows from the low, icy-white strobe lights ringing the room. Atop a Lincoln-Log-like construction of scavenged railroad ties perch two sets of turntables and two young men with black-bubble headphones who are bobbing along to the music.

"Where are we?" I shout.

"Under the Wall," our guide yells. "This is an old subway station, from before the war, closed off for forty years. Now we break through and have a rave."

"I never want to leave," I say — out loud, I think. I can't believe this. We are literally between countries, under two countries.

I close my eyes and let the concussive bass vibrate through my body. I can feel the beat of my heart aligning with the beat of the music. I'm dissolving, breaking into a million particles. I am nowhere. I am home.

CHAPTER 2

"The world is teeming. Anything can happen."

— John Cage

Soundtrack: John Cage, Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra, 1951

MY FIRST CLEAR MEMORY is of my father being booed. This happened when I was four, twenty-one years before the rave but only four miles away, in the newly opened Mies van der Rohe–designed Neue Nationalgalerie, where my father performed in an avant-garde contemporary music series. Swallowed up in a deep, plush red seat, I was surrounded by West Berlin's cognoscenti, many of whom were booing my father, who was onstage coaxing discordant, grinding sounds from a big black piano.

The lid of the concert grand was open and my father was leaning inside, pulling on the strings. There were bolts and pins jammed in between and around the strings to alter the sound. My dad was wearing black pants, a black turtleneck, and a black beret, and was smoking a cigarette, which I found funny because he never smoked. Nor, for that matter, did he ever wear a beret or black sweater. He never went in for affectations, even in the fall of 1969 when all of the other artists in our orbit had outward-flaring bell-bottoms and bright paisleys, ascots, and heeled boots. West Berlin at that moment was a creative Mecca, or more accurately, an artistic oasis, a multicultural playground situated two hundred miles inside of East Bloc territory, ringed in by a double-rowed concrete wall punctuated by guard towers with machine-gun turrets, outside of which were several hundred thousand heavily armed East German and Soviet troops. The Wall had gone up on August 13, 1961, only three years and five months before I was born. The postwar treaty stipulated that West Berlin was not formally part of the Federal Republic of Germany, which meant that if you were a citizen of the city, you were exempt from compulsory military service. Because of this, young artistic Germans, along with foreign artists and musicians, flocked to this safe haven at the very heart of the Cold War.

My parents had come over in the summer of 1964, on Fulbright scholarships after having attended the Eastman School of Music. For American classical musicians, Europe — particularly Germany, with its hundreds of big and little concert and opera halls, each with voracious, supportive audiences — was a much easier place to launch a career than back home. My parents had started off in Stuttgart, where my mother was building her opera credentials, and from where my father could scramble around Europe playing prestigious, high-pressure contests that could make his career while also cobbling together paid work as an opera coach and accompanist. After I was born, in December, my mother took little time off and managed to sing the role of Mimi in La Bohéme thirty times in one year. Yet they lacked consistent, reliable work and when my father was offered a job as accompanist for legendary voice teacher, Madame Mauz, in Berlin, my mother had little choice but to put her ambitions behind my father's, and we all moved to the place I have always called home.

I have no memories of my parents being together. They separated six months before the concert at which my father was booed. It is hard for me to imagine them as a couple. Temperamentally, they are opposites — she logical and always in control of her environment and emotions, he impulsive, impractical, and driven by emotion. At the time, he was in turmoil over his sexuality, resisting what he knew to be true but which went against his conservative, central Kentucky upbringing.

After they separated, even though my mother was still in Berlin, I lived primarily with my father, and tagged along with him to rehearsals, lessons, and performances. I loved watching him play the piano, especially up onstage where he would unfurl his broad six-foot-two frame, sway and nod along to the music, and sometimes even cry. The music possessed him, animated him, and watching him play concerts, I felt buoyant, my stomach fizzing with happiness. But as the boos and whistles started that day, I wanted to sink through the cushy red seat. How could they be so mean to him?

As soon as the concert ended, I rushed backstage to comfort my father, but when I found him in the dressing room he wasn't upset. Instead, he was joking and drinking beer with the other musicians. He took me outside to explain that the turtleneck, beret, and cigarette were called for in the "John-Cage-wannabe" score and that he had to give everything he could to the piece, even though he didn't like it, but it was his job, and he loved his job, which was performing. He also explained that the audience wasn't booing him. German audiences care deeply for music, so they were "booing the pretentious piece of you-know-what."

"If I was out there," my father said, "I would have booed it myself."

CHAPTER 3

"The more I see, the less I know for sure."

— John Lennon

Soundtrack: The Beatles, "Nowhere Man," 1965

ON THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 1989, I was in Joe's Bar on Sixth Street in the East Village, staring at the TV mounted over the bar, watching young East and West Berliners swarm around the Brandenburg Gate. Perestroika had loosed communism's grip on the East Bloc, but the Wall remained as both symbol and reality of division and repression. Young and old were taking crowbars and sledgehammers to the Wall, and were at first met by water cannons from the East, but the authorities quickly realized the inevitability of the moment. Germans from both sides danced atop the Wall while kids punched holes through the four-inch-thick concrete, shaking hands with the dazed East German soldiers. Four thousand miles away in Manhattan, I was stunned. The impossible was happening. In the smoky din, I couldn't hear what the exuberant kids on the Wall were yelling, but I felt like they were calling me: Come home, Rob. Come home.

I was possessed by what the Germans call Sehnsucht, one of those wonderfully untranslatable words that combines longing and nostalgia for a home that one doesn't even know is one's home. English has no precise equivalent, but the Portuguese have saudade. My Sehnsucht, or saudade, was for Berlin, and I could think of nothing else but how to get there. Like the Allied forces in World War II, I needed a plan. If I parachuted right into the heart of Berlin, I wouldn't last a minute. It was too daunting, what with no friendly troops already on the ground; I hadn't lived there in over a dozen years, had no family left there, hardly knew anyone there from when I was young. And my wife, the logical one, would insist that we have some kind of sustainable plan.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "All Tomorrow's Parties"
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Copyright © 2016 Rob Spillman.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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Interviews

Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Rob Spillman

For a man so scared of exposure, Rob Spillman, founder of Tin House, has taken a great risk with his memoir, All Tomorrow's Parties.

A deeply personal work about love, art, and authenticity, All Tomorrow's Parties leaves few places for the author to hide. The book alternates between two narratives. The first is Spillman's chaotic and lonely childhood, shuttled between Cold War Berlin, where he lived with his opera singer father after his parents' divorce, Upstate New York, the Deep South, Aspen, and eventually Baltimore, where he lived with his mother while he attended a prestigious and loathsome all-boys prep school. The second story is Spillman's decision, at the age of twenty-five, to leave his bustling life in NYC and move with his wife, writer Elissa Schappell, back to Germany just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. At every turn, Spillman chafes at convention and rules — at one point, he and his friend play Russian roulette with his car and barely escape with their lives — feeling that the only way to live and be an artist is through constant disruption. Spillman says of his young adulthood, "I distrusted happiness, mistaking it for complacency."

Ultimately, though, the emotional risks Spillman takes in his life and in this book pay off. Readers will relate to his struggle toward vulnerability and presence, and the unexpected satisfaction he finds in a more rooted idea of family and home.

I caught up with Rob at the tail end of his national book tour and talked about the power of music, learning to sit in the same room as the people one writes about, and what it means to be fearless. — Amy Gall

The Barnes & Noble Review: How was editing your own work different from editing other writers' work?

Rob Spillman: That's a really good question. One of the big lessons of the book was realizing that you can't see your own work. It took me ten years to write this book, and seven years were figuring out the form and excavating the material. You'd think that as an editor I'd be able to get there faster, but I really had to figure it out. Even when it was bought and went through the first round of edits, the manuscript came back covered in red marks, and I was like "Oh, shit."

BNR: Was that painful?

RS: It was really painful. It was also great, and it made me more empathetic with the people I'm editing. I kept editing the book all the way through January, when the last page proofs were signed off on. I kept trying to push myself and not let anything go at all.

BNR: I think the form was one of the most successful parts of the book. How did you decide on the dual narrative of your youth and your return to Berlin?

RS: I tried, at first, to write it chronologically, and no matter what I was doing, it just didn't feel alive to me. By the time I got back to Berlin I was just so bored with myself. And I thought, If I'm bored with myself, most readers will also be bored. But once I figured out that I could alternate back and forth between my childhood and my time in Berlin as an adult, I was so freed up to mess around with the form that I was able to manipulate time a bit more and I was able to reference things from my childhood that hadn't happened yet in the story and put a value judgment on them as foreshadowing and that added some tension. It became more fun. But you also have to apply your fictive tools to memoir to make it a story, and at that point I had to start cutting things that weren't serving the narrative. Which was painful.

BNR: Right, because it's cutting your life.

RS: Right. My editor would say, "Chapter 8, is not doing the thing." And I'd feel like, "Wait, but that was so important to me!" But that's where it's great to have someone from the outside come in and say, "I don't care about the eighth year of your life."

BNR: Did you formally interview your parents for the book?

RS: I interviewed them years ago, and then I showed them the manuscript about two months before the galley deadline, which was really hard. My father said, "Cool, you've made art out of your life." My mom, on the other hand, was not happy. I say many times in the book, "Surely she must have known about this or that," and in reality either she didn't know or didn't want to acknowledge, so it was rough. When she read it, she got on the train in Baltimore and brought the manuscript to my house in New York and sat at my kitchen table for five hours and went over the manuscript with me. "Did this happen? Is this true? Did you really feel this way?" It prompted a long-overdue conversation that was hard but also gave me a lot of deep background on things I didn't know about, which I added to the book and which made her more complicated and empathetic as a character in the end.

Dorothy Allison told me, "You have to be able to sit in the room with the people you write about." I thought she meant that metaphorically. [Laughs] Now any negative review is like, whatever, I had to sit with my mother!

BNR: Do you think those conversations made you and your mother closer?

RS: Absolutely. She's still stunned, but she's also proud. Three nights ago, I read in Baltimore, and I read in front of my mom and all of her friends. And I was able to say, "I'm sorry, Mom, for being a teenager and making your life really difficult."

BNR: Each chapter begins with a quote and a suggested soundtrack. I listened to some of the music, and it really did add a layer to the reading experience. Was that a directive to the reader or just a way of showing the reader what you were thinking about and listening to while you wrote?

RS: It's both. There is literally a Spotify list with the music from all fifty-seven chapters. For me, I was in conversation in my head with all these writers and musicians and I was trying to create an almost parallel text to the narrative. I wanted to expose my tendency to hide behind other people's beliefs and other people's art and make that hiding very explicit.

BNR: What do you think the connections between music and writing are? What can music do that writing can't and vice versa?

RS: I think you feel music in a more visceral, primal way. But I think there is a crossover. When I teach, I tell my students, "You have to read your work out loud." Because you end up feeling it in a nonintellectual way. You feel it in a body way. There's this bullshit detector that your body has that tells you when you're faking it.

With writing, I think you can go a lot deeper. You can more completely create an entire universe that encompasses all the senses. I think you can completely escape into a book. Some music is that way, but with a book, you can project yourself into something and have it take you over. When I read Maggie Nelson's Argonauts I felt like I was completely in her world. I totally identified with her, even though I'm not a pregnant queer woman. She so swept me up, I was completely empathetic.

BNR: You say that you have a tendency to hide behind other people's work. Was it difficult to write something that was so thoroughly yours?

RS: Yeah, that's why it took me ten years to write it. My tendency is to be curatorial and I talk about that in the book. When I was young, I'd put together all these crazy people and live vicariously through them. And in a way, that's what editing is. You're curating and you're promoting other people and other people's works. And you are basking in their attention and glory. But when you're putting your own work forward, there's no hiding. You have to own what you're writing. You have to be able to look your mother in the eye and say, "These are my feelings."

BNR: I felt a lot of empathy for you while reading. There's so much terror running through the book, of needing anything, especially from your parents. Do you think that fear has lessened as an adult, and especially now that the book is done?

RS: I hope I exorcized those demons. But who knows? Since I've been on the road for thirty-five days, I have no idea who I am. [Laughs] But I've hopefully rounded the corner. I'm ready for that period of my life to be over with. I definitely have come to grips with it as best I can.

BNR: Did having kids change that for you?

RS: Absolutely. It made me more empathetic to my own parents, especially my mother, who found herself as a young woman in Berlin, 6,000 miles removed from any support and suddenly divorced and responsible for a human life.

BNR: You write about your early connection with the idea of the outsider and outsider art being the truest form of expression. And on some level, especially with punk, part of the message of that kind of art seems to be, "I'm alone in this world, and this world is fucked up and I don't need anybody."

RS: [Laughs] It's a combination of rejecting any kind of status quo, but also rejecting privilege. Opera and that world felt so privileged, and Boys Latin [Rob's high school] also felt so privileged. Any kind of privilege pisses me off. What's really weird now, is that because I have power, people call me the establishment, and I'm like "Wait a minute, I'm the outsider. I don't understand!" But I think my impulse is still to do whatever I can to put forward the non-privileged.

That's why I'm involved with PEN and CLMP and Narrative 4 and the Brooklyn Book Festival. Whenever I can lend my power, I do so. I'm acutely aware of how I wouldn't have been given these opportunities if I weren't a straight white man who could act like he went to an Ivy League school. I could pass as someone who fit the type of person who could work in publishing in the 1980s. I had an undergraduate degree in psychology from Towson University. I've taken one literature course in my entire life. I worked in a used bookstore. Those are my "qualifications." But I was let in the back door because I could pass, and then I was given all these opportunities along the way.

BNR: This is, perhaps, a complicated question. When you aren't passing, or blending in, who are you?

RS: When I get into a situation where I am the other, then there is no passing. I taught in Lagos for a couple of years, and there's no faking it there. I was the one white person, and for my hosts, I was a liability. We had to choose where we could eat because the only white people you see in Lagos are oil execs, and they are targets for kidnapping. So they'd say, "Oh, we want to go to this restaurant but we have Rob with us. Can we put him in the back where no one can see him?" Even in the classroom, there were Nigerians from all over the country, and we'd start talking about work, and it became quickly apparent that the real, subtle nuances of Nigerian caste society and politics . . . I was just scratching the surface, no matter how much empathy I'm bringing in, it's not enough. There are fifty-four different languages and all this history, and I was not getting it all. A small part of me had always thought, I can go anywhere and blend in anywhere, and that was a really humbling experience. Even in East Berlin I got to a point where I felt like, this isn't my fight and I don't actually know what's going on here.

BNR: How did Elissa [Schappell] feel about the book?

RS: When I first started writing the book, she was like "OK, you've started something, that's great, but this Elissa character is just so boring and flat, I want to punch her in the face."

I realized that maybe I was being a little protective of her. And then I realized I was being protective of myself and everyone else as well. She really pushed me hard. She is my harshest critic in the best possible way, because she is also really protective of me. She told me if I was going to do it I had to really do it and be honest. And she also holds me to a really high standard because being in the industry, we both can write the negative reviews before they even come out. Like, "You would think as an editor, Rob Spillman would be able to write a book or even a sentence."

Elissa pushed me all the way. But it was really hard because she had to relive really painful moments in her life and try to look at them both personally and artistically, over and over and over again, because she would continually reread.

BNR: What's your favorite thing about language?

RS: Well, that you can constantly be surprised by it. There are infinite ways of expressing something. I love the idea of being surprised but at the same time having this feeling of recognition, like when someone is able to articulate something that you intuitively know, but you've never heard before. And the accompanying feeling in your body of yes. It can be something really simple too, like Karen Russell using the phrase "couth and kempt." I'd of course heard "uncouth and unkempt," but when she wrote that, I thought, Of course. I think that's also why I keep doing the job I do at Tin House. There's enough times where I'm like, "Oh shit, that's exactly it." It keeps me excited.

June 1, 2016

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