Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rachel Nagelberg's Debut Novel "The Fifth Wall"

The Fifth Wall
Rachel Nagelberg

(Black Sparrow Press, 176pgs)
Available for Pre-Order and Released on May 15th

There are horror stories that come out of MFA programs, stories that talk of unscrupulous and catty authors-to-be. That was, as I've said before, not a thing I experienced during my time at the University of San Francisco. My philosophy has always been "support other writers" since not one of us will ever know how our books will sell, if they'll sell, or how they'll be critiqued by readers. It makes zero sense to *not* lift up the other writers around us and wish for their success.

So when a former classmate puts out a book, I like to do my best to help hype their work since we are often relegated to hyping our books on our own. An extra voice is always good and welcomed and I am always stoked to be able to help out my former classmates and friends.

I didn't have any classes with Rachel during my time at USF, so I never had a chance to read her work in class, but we interacted often and I know a little about what and who she reads, so I have a decent take on her literary aesthetic. I would be lying if I said I was not super excited to dig into her debut novel immediately.

You can read an excerpt at 3AM Magazine: 

Another excerpt should be forthcoming from The Brooklyn Rail. 

She currently has two readings scheduled to promote the book: 

Tuesday, May 16th w/Stephen Beachy @ Skylight Books in Los Angeles
Thursday, May 18th w/TBD @ The Booksmith in San Francisco

About the Book

"In this debut novel by Rachel Nagelberg, conceptual artist Sheila B. Ackerman heeds a mysterious urge to return to her estranged family home and arrives at the exact moment of her mother’s suicide. In an attempt to cope with and understand her own self destructive tendencies, Sheila plants a camera on the lawn outside the house to film 24/7 while workers deconstruct the physical object that encases so many of her memories. Meanwhile, as she begins to experience frequent blackouts, she finds herself hunting a robot drone through the San Francisco MOMA with a baseball bat, part of a provocative, technological show, The Last Art, and resuming a violent affair with her college professor. With a backdrop of post-9/11 San Francisco, Sheila navigates the social-media-obsessed, draught-ridden landscape of her life, exploring the frail line between the human impulse to control everything that takes place around us and the futility of excessive effort to do so. The Fifth Wall allows readers to explore from a safe distance the recesses of their own minds, leaving the haunting feeling of depths that yet remain unknown."


"Set into motion by an inexplicable, traumatic and violent real-life event, Rachel Nagelberg’s 
brilliant first novel begins at the limits of contemporary art, as it attempts to reflect the 
ungraspable present.  Born in 1984 into a familiarly frayed American family, her protagonist Sheila B. Ackerman, a former art student, is neither especially likable or unlikeable: that is, she’s incredibly real.  A close artistic cousin to Joni Murphy’s Double Teenage and Natasha Stagg’s Surveys, The Fifth Wall is a new kind of novel.  Female and philosophical, emotion flows through the book across a dense and familiarly incomprehensible web of information, from satellite selfies to awkward sex to internet beheadings and shamanic tourism in the third world. Nagelberg's engrossing narration is littered with stunning perception: We look into the distance to be able to see what’s right in front of us. She writes without affect, and with unselfconscious acuity. That is, she writes really well."  

– Chris Kraus, 
author of I Love Dick

"Nagelberg has a true gift, able to write gorgeously on the line level with unctuous images. And simultaneously, there's a readable page-turner here. Most of us are lucky to do one of those, which is a testament to the singular talent.  This book cascades beauty and meaning and truth."

– Joshua Mohr, 
author of All This Life and Termite Parade, a New York Times Editor’s Choice pick

"The Fifth Wall crackles with braininess and sex. It's hallucinatory and interactive and funny and sad and it has something incandescent to show you." 

– Stephen Beachy, 
author of The Whistling Song and Distortion, and professor at the University of San Francisco

About the Author

Rachel Nagelberg is an American novelist, 
and conceptual artist living in Los Angeles. 

The Fifth Wall is her debut novel. 


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Brain Swapping

With the publication of my short story collection "Scaring the Stars into Submission" (which you can buy HERE), I've found myself in a hyper-creative state of mind. I've shuttered myself up in my apartment the last two weekends to do editing and revising on two more literary projects: "Rise," a magical realism novel about a two year flood that drowns a large part of a tropical countryside, and "The Machinery of the Heart: Love Stories," a collection that's been completed for awhile now, but won't be released until later this year.

I always knew my thinking changed when I started focusing on writing more than the many extraneous trappings of daily life, but it was never as obvious as this week in a text exchange with my friend Mike. We were discussing weekend plans and I told him that I had fully planned on staying in to focus, that I wanted zero distractions all weekend. He said he understood and that it sounded like I had a plan as far as productivity over the course of the next three years goes. To which I responded "No plan means huge gaps between releases. Sometimes you gotta drown in the silence to hear the whispers of the fiction.

He laughed and said he could tell I was writing again solely from my syntax.

And he was right. I once wrote about disconnecting (from technology) in an effort to allow your brain room to breathe (you can read that HERE). It's essential for the creative mind to often forget about the projects, whether it's painting or writing or music. Stepping away is a good thing. It often allows new inspiration to bubble up in the back of your least it does for me.

I spent most of 2016 simply reconnecting with friends and trying to go out and do more up until I threw out my back. Even then, I had several friends keep me company many of those nights as I struggled with pain management and eventually surgery. It was a good year to really step back from the writing and focus on the important things. The life/work/creative life balance can be a hard one to achieve.

And I think I've finally found it. I recently got promoted at work to the Senior Content Editor position. There's still editing to do, but the majority of my work is administrative in nature. Payroll, hiring and firing, etc. This allows me to do more editing and revising of my own work once I get home. The more work done during the week means more time to spend with friends on the weekend. We're not quite there yet, but we're closer.

But I digress. Making a conscious effort to slip back into full on writing has certainly changed the way I approach everything else. I say things with more thought behind them. I leave my phone in the bedroom while I write on the floor of my living room, preventing myself from checking it every five minutes (which is completely unnecessary). Time slows down and I become more productive. Last weekend I edited 17 of the 18 stories in "The Machinery of the Heart" and it's nearly 400 pages long at the moment. Currently, every edited piece is perfectly formatted and ready to be published by Amazon.

Rereading through all those stories has brought up other ideas and notions worth exploring in future stories, many of which I hope will find their way into the third collection currently titled "Trying to Prepare for a Life I'll Never Have." That same Mike said that phrase as we spoke about past relationships and I was hit by the weightiness of all the narrative possibilities found in that single statement. It encapsulates so much in just nine simple words.

So for now, I've swapped out the social brain for the creative brain. I always like to feel that I'm moving forward, that there is some personal goal I'm approaching. If I feel like I'm stagnating, I become frustrated. There is always something else out there to be gained when one exercises the discipline to make it happen.

I put out my first book. I sold 146 copies in the first month and I couldn't be more thrilled about that. People seem to be enjoying it. I also got promoted at work, which is the first time that's happened since working at a pizza joint in high school some 20+ years ago. These are the things that keep me moving forward, that keep me pushing myself to do better and to be better. Sometimes brain swapping is necessary in order to make sure you get what you want out of life...just make sure you're putting plenty back into it.