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Powell's Q&A

Jeff Parker

Describe your latest project.
Jeff Parker Ovenman tells the heartfelt tale of an anthropomorphized industrial stove with superpowers and a yellow Post-it-note cape. No, not true, though I've been accused of dangling a superherosque red herring with that title. Ovenman is actually the position in the Central Florida pizza restaurant where the narrator, When Thinfinger, works. I'd read tons of books about waiters and waitresses and decided to write one from the perspective of a serenely drunken, skateboarding, kitchen worker for whom the most important thing is the delectation and care he takes in, for instance, pepperoni placement, the cutting of perfectly geometric slices, and the mopping of the restaurant floor. Such obsessions invariably invite problems in other areas of life: When and his girlfriend, Marigold, who dreams he murders her and decorates the apartment in skulls, begin to drift apart. Not helping matters is the fact that When relies on his drunken self to fill in the memories of his sober self via Post-it notes, which he in turn uses as material for the punk songs he writes but which he's not allowed to sing because his bandmates, dubious of his ability, require that he sing only the band's name, "Wormdevil," to each song. Frustrations mount, Marigold has an accident on a bike, When's beloved pizza restaurant is robbed, and, while he has no memory of it, he seems to be the one who's robbed it.

  1. Ovenman: A Novel
    $4.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    Ovenman: A Novel

    Jeff Parker
    "Ovenman is a welcome addition to the literature of the lovably hapless by a young writer with talent to burn." George Saunders, author of Pastoralia and In Persuasion Nation

    "Rarely are mopping and pizza dough so pleasingly rendered. Even inside When's world of chaos, Parker's novel pushes forward with grace. This is a delight of a debut." Aimee Bender, author of Willful Creatures and An Invisible Sign of My Own

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
What fictional character wouldn't I like to date? Oh, man. At the top of the list would be comic and cartoon heroines, who I've always had a thing for: Betty and Veronica, with Betty slightly edging out Veronica. Then there is Daphne from Scooby Doo and Lisa Simpson (in human time she has to be at least 20 years old by now). I've just realized something: in real life I'm crazy about brunettes, but in cartoon characters I am all about blondes. After cartoon characters would come Raskolnikov's good prostitute Sonia, because any woman who is purely a symbol of redemption is all right by me and Sabina from Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being, who loves to the utmost of her ability and to the limit of what circumstances allow and is at peace with that.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
In my early teens I sometimes had to dress up as a superhero for kids' birthday parties. My mom owned an in-call/out-call service known as BJ's Party House, which seriously was the name of a business operating parties for kids. I worked cheap and whenever a Superman, for instance, was needed I wore a short cape and this loose-fitting pair of blue full-body tights, which bunched around my skinny legs and bird chest. My mom gelled my hair, combed it to the side — wide part showing lots of white scalp — and I went to the parties to try and convince kids that I was him. Superman was not the only one. I went as a puny Flash Gordon and a puny Incredible Hulk and a puny Captain America. In each role, I absorbed enough looks of disappointment from birthday boys and their parents that looks of disappointment hardly even faze me anymore. BJ's Party House didn't last long. But there were upshots to that gig. Sometimes the birthday boy would instead want a skateboard demo, and I'd call up my friends. We'd load up some launch ramps and go over there and, wearing proper baggy clothes but no safety gear to speak of, pull our best tricks in the driveway to cries of "Yeah." It was the best and worst of times.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
There are so many authors I think people should read: Jason Ockert's Rabbit Punches are some of the most twisted, well-crafted Southern short stories around. Elizabeth Ellen writes raw, cutting little fictions assembled in her Before You She Was A Pit Bull and all over the Internet. Phil LaMarche's American Youth is like straight edge-skinhead-sentence crack. Rebecca Curtis's Twenty Grand both can do no wrong and is a total cut-up of a story collection. Stefan Kiesbye's novella Next Door Lived A Girl is the tightest and darkest novella I've ever read. I'm really looking forward to forthcoming new books by Andrew Altschul (Lady Lazarus), Joshua Furst (The Sabotage Café), and Derek Nikitas (Pyres).

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
I don't know about other writers, but I know that I am a far worse liar than non-writers I know. Non-writers lie generally with a goal in mind (i.e., I want to get laid or I want the last piece of pie). Writers — at least I — lie for absolutely no other reason than to make something that happened sound better than it actually was or to try out a story on someone before trying it to paper. Sometimes I find myself lying not even for these reasons but just because it occurred to me, and sometimes I confess while lying that very thing (hence the far worse liar part) and sometimes I don't; but even then, I don't think many people buy my lies in either case. Same reason writers in general are worse joke tellers than non-writers, but I'm trying to become a better joke teller, while appreciating the flaws in my lies.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
From Sam Lipsyte's Home Land:

"I shudder at the notion of Doctor Stacy Ryson and State Senator Glen Menninger remarking this update at some fund-raising soiree — oh, the snickers, the chortles, the wine-flushed glances, and later, perhaps, the puppyish sucking of body parts at a nearby motor lodge. Shudder, in fact, is not quite the word for the feeling. Feeling is not quite the word for the feeling. How's bathing at knifepoint in the phlegm of the dead? Is that a feeling?"

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Every summer when I'm in Russia I go on a Dostoyevsky Walk, a little tour cooked up by my friend James Boobar. The creepiest part is at the end of the tour, where we trespass our way up the stairwell of this old apartment building to the top where sits the supposed door of the pawnbroker (there is controversy as to whether this would be exactly the door Dostoyevsky imagined). There's all this conflicting cheerleader graffiti up there, in twenty or so different languages, saying things like, "Don't do it, Raskolnikov" and "KIIl the bitch!" It's the only time in my life I ever felt a real slippage between an imagined fictional world and an actual place. It's creepy.

Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
I mean, it has to be The Sopranos. Obviously it's the best of all time. And by the way — spoiler alert — I am convinced that Tony got whacked, and that was a totally sweet way to play it, Mr. Chase. Props. So, The Sopranos followed close second by The Greatest American Hero, which featured one superhero I never dressed up as for kid's birthday parties, to my profound sadness because I could have been him.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

My five favorite story collections or short novels by Eastern Europeans, who are unmatched at suffering and comedy:

The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol by Nikolai Gogol

Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz

Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms by Daniil Kharms

Laughable Loves by Milan Kundera

The Galosh and Other Stories by Mikhail Zoschenko

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Jeff Parker is the author of Ovenman. spacer

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