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Authors are not authors in prison; Jessa Crispin should go to prison; Denis Johnson is ACES.

By Shawn Badgley, Fri., Nov. 28, 2003

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has disallowed interviews between "book authors" and inmates. According to Suzy Spencer, veteran true-crime writer and occasional Chronicle contributor, "Authors might possibly get an interview through the research department. But that involves filling out a long form that must reveal any criminal history including DWIs, subjects us to urine tests, and orders us not to name our inmate in our books. That form must then be notarized. ... Obviously, if other media were required to go through such scrutiny, TDCJ wouldn't have to bother setting up very many inmate interviews." Spencer says that after an initial rejection, TDCJ Public Information Officer Michelle Lyons has not responded to requests for clarification. Lyons did, however, respond via e-mail to the Chronicle, explaining that authors cannot verify identity as journalists can with "letterhead," and that the TDCJ is too short-staffed to accommodate extended research visits: "The bottom line is that it's an issue of public safety -- we do have the right to approve and deny all visitors"... Post-postmark deadline update on the 12th annual Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest: upward of 550 submissions... One of last year's Short Story Contest judges, Bookslut Jessa Crispin, was the cover girl for the Nov. 14 Chicago Reader and was featured in the venerable alt-weekly's "Fall Books Issue" (which was not very good). Crispin, whose Internet review source and blog are more popular than ever, started nothing short of a Second City-Third Coast war of words when she launched this spitball in Martha Bayne's piece: "We hated Austin," the former Planned Parenthood employee said of herself and boyfriend, Kenan Hebert. Bayne then paraphrases after something about a distaste for children and high tech and "outdoorsy sports": "Much of her restlessness stemmed from her growing frustration with Austin's literary scene -- or, more precisely, the lack thereof." This, unfortunately, is evidenced by Crispin's assertion that the "Chronicle runs, like, one review a month, maybe," and that "I don't think I've ever seen them review a small-press book, unless it's by an Austin author." Both of these are rank falsehoods (check the Web site), but that's beside the point: Crispin is fond of the vodka tonic, an exotic cocktail whose potency landed her flat passed out on my loveseat sleeper, in a pair of my shorts, in the early hours of Aug. 24, just days before her departure for Chicago. I can only imagine that she was similarly not in her right mind when interviewed for Bayne's profile, or that she was being provocatively playful. Or that she was simply selling the Chronicle out for bonus points with the Reader. Or that she was distancing herself from me after the awkwardness of waking up in my front room (and seeing a book collection far better than hers) crusty with sleep and saliva. Who knows? Who also knows why someone who supports chain bookstores over indies would shame book sections for running Knopf reviews instead of small-press releases (the Chronicle, of course, runs both equally well)? All I know is that I will slaughter my best calf for her when she makes her way back, that I want my shorts returned immediately if not sooner (not because I'm upset, but because they're comfy, and I can even use them as underpants), and that Center for Book Culture (operator of the formidable Dalkey Archive Press) founder John O'Brien is also interviewed in that issue of the Reader. The first line of that profile? "Unfortunately, Chicago is not a great literary town." Provincialism and personal issues aside, that's funny... This week, Thursday, Dec. 4, 7pm at 12th Street Books (827 W. 12th, 499-8828): Khaled Mattawa reading from Zodiac of Echoes; and on the same night, 7:30pm at the ACES building (24th & Speedway), Denis Johnson and Anthony Giardina.

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