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Author Archive: "Kris Saknussemm"

Working Titles

Apparently, I came harrowingly close to having the first name Pemberton — a fact that still causes me great concern in regard to my mother.

Such a christening would have forced me to run away from home at the first opportunity and to join a band of gypsies somewhere. It made me conscious from a very young age about things that might have been.

I'm particularly interested in the names for works that writers consider and then reconsider. I remember when I found out that one of the working titles for Yeats's famous poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion" was "Tragic Toys." It made me smile. Good thing he changed it, huh? A Pemberton moment there.

On the other hand, Eliot's original title for "The Waste Land" ("He Do the Police in Different Voices," a line from Dickens) I quite like.

Two of the titles I mulled over for Reverend America come from song titles. The first is the gospel number "How I Got Over." The great Mahalia Jackson (who we heard a lot of when I was growing ...


Son of a Preacher Man

Ever since my first novel, Zanesville, I've considered myself a kind of religious writer. I said a "kind of religious writer."

Maybe it's because I was baptized in a water hazard of the Chabot Golf Course in the Oakland hills . My father was a minister who liked golf. One of the great crises of faith he experienced was when he was playing a round by himself very early one morning — no one else in sight — and he hit a hole in one.

Boy, did that irk him. This great, once in a lifetime achievement, and no one there to see it, to share it. Who would believe him? That got his goat big time. He turned it into a religious issue for Sunday. His title was "Your Whole in One," but the family called it "The Sermon on the Green." It raised the question of whether or not triumphs and good deeds have to be witnessed to be real and true. Doesn't God see everything?

This sparked a string of sermons with golfing ...


The Circus of Hard Knocks

I have a tattoo of a clown on my left arm, which I got on my 18th birthday on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood when I was walking around drunk with my buddy Mike, a crazy redheaded southpaw who'd been recruited by the Dodgers and then blew his career in a car accident because he was feeling up a girl when he should've been minding Orange County traffic.

One of the incentives for getting a tattoo was that it meant I could sit watching this hot chick get a big rose inked in above her you-know-what. The idea of that view for 40 minutes or so had real appeal.

I chose a clown because at the time it symbolized for me a vanished America I was fascinated by. Dime stores, shoeshine stands, faded Woolworth's lunch rooms, old pool halls and roadhouses, carnival midways. I was a fanatical Waits disciple then and I'd bought into that nostalgic Americana vision like a personal religion.

A summer later I was back east in college when I got the chance to get up close and personal with clowns (and later to perform as one) when the ...


Music to My Fears

Nervous. Today is the official release date of Reverend America! It's always a strange moment for a writer. You think back to where you were when then the thing got started.

In this case I was in a dive bar on Red River Street in Austin. I'd heard the late Pinetop Perkins the night before, then an incredible 94 years of age. I was on tour for my book Private Midnight, for which my art group Clamon and I had produced an accompanying music CD. We'd just done a gig at a joint appropriately called Beerland. The band had gone back to Houston, and I was on my own again, wondering what the next project would be.

I knew from the start that the book that would become Reverend lent itself to a music soundtrack, too — and an eclectic one at that. Blues, gospel, jazz, folk, even swamp-rock. Over the years, I've fortunately become friends with some great musicians, and I always look to them for help.

Eric Wyatt, a tenor sax player from New York, tops that list. He's Sonny ...


O’Someone Somewhere, May Your Dreams Live On

The first job I could get out of college was working as a night security guard at the hospital where I was born. Sad fact, I know. I escorted nurses to and from their cars in a big open-air parking lot where Berkeley's finest junkies and hasslers lurked (I'd actually had a brief stint patrolling one of the giant cavernous warehouses down near the rail lines in South Oakland, until an enormous steel shelf of Huggies diapers collapsed on me — which sounds funny but is a bit of drama when you're all alone at 4 a.m.).

It seemed to rain a lot more in those days, or nights — but at least the hospital gig was in walking distance of the ant-ridden apartment I shared with my mad girlfriend, which was not far from the New Light Baptist Church, where I'd once sung as a child, and my stepbrother and I later hung out, downing Black Beauties with Colt .45 Malt Liquor (always a fave).

A guy had hidden under one of the nurse's cars, pulled her legs out from underneath her, knocked her ...


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