By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“We spend half our time in line waiting to go onstage. It can be tough, but when stage time is as rare as it is, you have to make do,” says Oschack, who works as a computer programmer during the day. “We are just trying to survive in the trenches together.”
Although Oschack performs three to four nights a week, there is no real money on the L.A. coffee-shop comedy circuit, he says. Last year, he made less than $1,000 from his appearances. But he isn’t complaining. Instead, he recounts his experiences fondly, especially an unpaid performance at a local youth hostel. “If you can entertain someone in their living room, then you can definitely entertain someone drunk in a club,” he laughs. “It makes you a sharper performer.”
GRAFTING A NOVEL
In these days of high-concept book publishing, Oprah’s TV endorsements launch authors to the top of the best-seller list, and everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to MTV has a publishing tie-in. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that one author is willing to give a pound of flesh to distinguish himself from the pack. Or, in Canadian writer Kenneth J. Harvey’s case, at least a few millimeters of his own meat.
Harvey’s 11th book, Skin Hound (There Are No Words), a literary thriller about a serial killer who skins his victims, is due out in early September from the Mercury Press in Toronto. Prior to the debut, the Newfoundland author is grafting bits of his skin onto swatches of paper for a limited number of promotional covers. Well, OffBeat believes in putting yourself into your art, but this takes the “blood, sweat and tears” precept a tad literally.
We ran it by Kerry Slattery, manager of our favorite literary hangout, Skylight Books. Slattery feels the publicity stunt is “strange,” but indicative of a trend in book marketing. “A lot more attention and money is being paid to [the cover] than ever before,” she says. “They feel they have to grab people while they can.”
Harvey is a well-regarded author (Jane Hamilton of the Vancouver Sun called him “a powerful writer” whose prose sparkles with “evocative imagery”). He says the idea for the flesh cover surfaced when his wife, an artist, began making hand-painted patches of pink paper for the special-edition covers (they will be distributed at a booksellers’ convention in June). “We realized, when she sewed it on, that it looked like skin. I said, ‘Why don’t I put my own DNA in it?’ It made sense. It tied into the concept of the book.” So Harvey mixed scrapings from his arm, as well as tiny pieces of solid skin, into the pulp used to make the paper, and his wife stitched it onto the jacket with red thread (“It looks like stitches on skin,” he says).
The idea has a metaphorical tie to the book’s content, which weaves excerpts of the author’s own, real-life dreams and journal entries with the main characters’ fictional ones. Harvey feels this approach humanizes the killer. “In order to create a monster, you have to make it human first,” he says. “The most memorable villains have a tender side.” Grafting his skin onto the cover of the book was simply the next step. “It was a natural evolution from the concept of the book, which is about identity,” he explains. “In the book, you have journals, which are a part of me. Now, when you carry this thing around, you’ll be carrying around another part of me too.”
The gimmick has generated so much publicity, Mercury is trying to devise an equivalent design — without skinning the author — for the planned 5,000 book run.
While Skin Houndisn’t available in the States, Harvey says it’s making the rounds with U.S. publishers. Should he get an American book deal, Slattery feels, “People will pay attention, this I’m sure. But it doesn’t mean they’ll buy it. The book has to be good.”Holland