Saturday, April 24, 2021

Sweeter Than Fiction


When I finished Mark Lindquist's Sad Movies I wanted to read Jay McInerney's somewhat similar but much more famous Bright Lights, Big City. Only I couldn't find my copy. 

Not that I really looked. I thought I remembered where it was but it wasn't there so I gave up. That's not really looking, is it? 

I did find Brett Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, arguably the best-remembered of all the first-wave bratpack novels. I remember where I got it or at least I think I remember. I was at a party at a squat in Bristol sometime in the mid-80s and it was lying around and I made some comment on it and the guy whose party it was said something bad about it (the book, not the party) and told me I could take it so I did.

At least that's a story I tell myself. I see now the copy I have has a rail ticket inside it dated 1993. It's for a trip from where I live now to where I was working then. I was obviously using it as a bookmark. I doubt it's the same book I took from that party although I guess it could be.

That must have been the last time I read Less Than Zero: 1993. Almost thirty years ago. Probably about time I read it again. 

I almost did. I picked it up and thought about it but then I had a better idea.

I have more books by Mark Lindquist. Why not read one of those? 

He hasn't written many. Just four. He's working on a fifth. I've read three of them, Sad Movies, which started all this (this won't be the last of it), The King of Methlehem (which I gave to my stepdaughter for her birthday and haven't heard what she thought yet) and the one I decided to read next, Never Mind Nirvana.

The reason Lindquist has only managed four books in thirty-five years is he has a real job. He's a lawyer. These days he's in private practice but for over twenty years he was a federal prosecutor.

There's a lot of detail about his law-enfocement career at that link. More than I care to know. The only thing that interests me about it is how his life has influenced his work. Which is, I think, a lot.

When he was writing Sad Movies, or just before, Lindquist lived in L.A. and worked as copy writer for a movie studio, the same job Zeke has in the novel. His second novel, Carnival Desires, (the one I haven't read yet) "chronicled his Hollywood years when he was working as a screenwriter, script doctor, book reviewer, and general freelance writer."

I got that from his other website, the one where he's an author, not a lawyer. (See? He has two websites so he can keep the different parts of his life and interests separate. Don't you wish I did? Yeah, well, so do I sometimes. Other times I don't. We've talked about this before. I imagine we will again.)

In the early '90s Lindquist moved back to the Pacific north-west, where he grew up. Good timing. Grunge was peaking, or maybe had peaked. Seattle was the hippest city on the planet for a while and that was the while.

Mark (I never know what to call writers or musicians when I'm writing about them. First off, you use all of their name and then you use the last name and then you use the first name. I get that but as you keep on you kind of want to settle on something and "last name" starts to seem brusque but "first name" seems over-familiar, presumptious, and the two together just makes you sound like someone's mother. There's probably a journalistic convention about it. I should look it up. And then not follow it.) was at law school but from his third novel, Never Mind Nirvana, I'm betting he spent a lot of time in clubs.

The protagonist of NMN (abbreviates so nicely) is 36 ("almost forty"), works as a prosecutor and used to be lead singer in a band called Morph. They were on the scene, made one album, split up. Now it's the late '90s. Thereabouts.

As far as I know Mark (gonna stick with "Mark") was never in a band or at least not one than made any records. This is interesting. In all the novels of his I've read (that's three) it's the only one where the main character seems to be an almagam of who the author has been and who he'd have liked to have been. 

In all the others (still just three but I'm betting it would be the same in the one I haven't read yet) the central figure is clearly drawn from life: the author's life. This opens a whole can of questions that get asked in every first year lit course and never get answered to anyone's satisfaction. I've nearly come to blows over this in the past. 

It's more than just an academic argument. There's that whole legal disclaimer thing you get in the front of every book. The one where any similarity between characters and events is deemed entirely co-incidental. That one.

Except you don't get it in every book. I just looked in the front of Less Than Zero and it's not there. It's not in Jay McInerney's Brightness Falls, either. (I can find that one. Still can't find Bright Lights, Big City and this time I did look properly.)

It is in the front of Never Mind Nirvana, though, along with a dedication, something else you almost always find at the front of a book. They're on opposite pages.

I read dedications. I rarely remember them. They're usually to people the author knows that the readers don't and don't expect to. As a reader, I didn't expect to get to know Kim Warnick so it was quite a surprise when she turned up as a character on page 54.

I guess that's what "used fictionally" means.  Although how fantastic would it be if the author had actually dedicated a book to one of the wholly fictional characters in it? All the fantastic, that's how fantastic.

It's just as well I decided to base my Mark Lindquist playlist on Sad Movies, by the way. I'm only just over fifty pages into NMN and he's already namechecked more bands and songs than in the whole of his first novel. Which, I guess, is only fair. It is about music and musicians after all. 

Several of the artists and even a few of the songs are the same ones he mentions in Sad Movies, too. The same The The song (although a typo in my edition, a paperback first, misses out one of the Thes so its just The. You can see how that happened.) The same U2 song. The same Replacements album. Psychocandy.

There are also plenty of names of bands I've never heard of. It's impossible to tell whether they're real or made up. When I first read Never Mind Nirvana I typed a bunch of the names into YouTube to see if anything came up. Naturally I can't remember if anything did so I've just done it again.

I thought Murder City Devils would be real. They are. Tight Bros From Way Back When I was pretty sure wouldn't. They are. Flop, I was all but sure would be made up. They were a bit harder to find but... yeah, they're real too. 


Probably every band mentioned that isn't Morph or the band whose guitarist Pete prosecutes for sexual assault is real. Hey, though, what even is reality anyway? And what is fiction?

It was only yesterday that I realized my copy of Never Mind Nirvana is signed by the author. I bought it online, used, because if it was ever in print in the U.K. it isn't now. My copy came from America and I noticed when I opened it there was a big, handwritten dedication to someone called Keri Costello. 

I love to get books that have been written in. Not written on, obviously. Just where someone has given a present and added a note or where they've been so inspired or incensed by what the author's got to say they've scribbled in the margin. I also love it when people leave old bus tickets or postcards they've used as bookmarks. I made a collage of those, once.

It was probably only because I'd written the playlist post and had Mark Lindquist's name firmly in my head that I finally spotted that flattened signature was his. It's obvious once you know.

I'd thought whoever gave the book to whomever used to own it wrote it and maybe it they did. Maybe that was Mark. It does sound as if he knows whoever he's dedicating it to, doesn't it? But then, some authors are really good at that sort of thing.


Tama Janowitz, another bratpacker, was. Probably still is. I could tell my Tama Janowitz story here but it makes me sad so I won't. It's not a personal story. Just something about a book I nearly bought then didn't. I really, really wish I had, now.

The point, if I have one (I do) is that none of this is real and all of it is. This is fiction. Fiction is real. 

I get into arguments about this at work, sometimes. Bad policy, obviously, so I don't do it very often. Maybe two or three times in twenty years. I think it a lot more than that, of course. 

Everything that's true is made up because everything's made up whether it's true or not and anyway everything is true, because how could it not be?

Don't take this as an endorsement of conspiracy theory. That's not how reality works. What's real are the connections. Everything's connected, that's the reality. 

Maybe I should have led with that.

Remember when I said I had a point? That was it. I didn't say it was an original one. 

Still true, though.


  1. I suspect the book was given to Keri Costello, daughter of Judge Jerry Costello, who was sworn into the Pierce County Superior Court (Tacoma, Washington) in January 2013 (though he held the position as judge-elect since January 2012, which tracks with the date on your book). Keri Costello (I am making the assumption this is the same Keri Costello, but it fits the inscription) sang with the Tacoma opera ( as a young girl and later studied music at BYU. You can see her singing in a student production here:

    1. Oh, that's some superb detective work! Thanks a million! All of that tracks perfectly. All I did was do a search on her name and keywords like "band" or "singer" and I didn't get any of that (not that I really put much effort into it). I didn't follow up the Judge Costello reference although I thought about it. I was thinking it was just a playful linking of one person's name with a namesake - it didn't even occur to me it might be a relative.

      Hmm. I kind of hope Mark Lindquist doesn't do an ego-search and come across this blog. It's a bit sad that he wrote that very personal dedication for what sounds like the daughter of someone he most likely knew and/or worked with and then it ends up on a second-hand book dealer's list and gets bought by someone on the other side of the Atlantic. Good story for us though!

      Also, I know nothing about opera but Keri sounds pretty good...

    2. *Very* nice research. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice article. These kinds always make me smile at some point. Your musings just strike a chord so I am glad you are still blogging after so long.

    1. Thanks. I don't have any plans on stopping just yet!

      As is probably all too plain, I tend not to suffer from self-doubt all that much, but I am aware that if writing almost entirely about mmorpgs for the best part of ten years has built any kind of regular audience it may not be one that's keen to read reviews of obscure novels or watch videos of obscure bands. My intention is still to write mostly about mmos (or at least video games) but sometimes there's not a lot going on there and other times I have different things I want to talk about. I really appreciate feedback when that happens.

      Still toying with the idea of more than one blog to accommodate the different strands but comments like this make me more inclined to keep it all in one place.


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