Karen Brissette is the name of the blogger in A Head Full of Ghosts. The real Karen is a bookseller, reader advisory master, one of the top reviewers at Goodreads, and a force of nature. I first met her in 2010 when Karen reviewed my collection In The Mean Time (my favorite lines: “so gentle of a touch, so much restraint and it kills me because i need to know more!!i hated leaving these characters behind!! SHORT STORIES, WHY ARE YOU SO SHORT???”). I got to meet her in person at her bookstore in 2012 (see the picture below. Smile everyone! Not pictured, last summer’s reading in Brooklyn at WORD Karen attended and the weirdness of me reading her to her ensued.).
Fast forward to the heady days of 2013 and I asked her if I could name my blogger after her and have my blogger sound like her. Er, maybe I forgot to ask her the second part there, but it’s all good. Right? RIGHT???
Now, onto the interview!
ME: Are we (the royal we) sure that you are the real Karen Brissette?
KAREN: i am willing to provide a DNA sample if you give me a dirty magazine and a candlelit room. but i can’t think why anyone would want to steal this identity instead of one that came with more money and glamour attached.
ME: Tell me something your legions of Goodreads followers don’t know about you.
KAREN: well, considering my alarming lack of boundaries, impulse control, and dignity, anyone who follows me on goodreads and actually reads my reviews and weekly adventures knows absolutely everything about me; from what my various surgical scars look like to how i did in my first ballet recital (poorly). the only thing people don’t know is what i am doing RIGHT NOW and that is: wearing my baller shorts and drinking a bass ale while also still on painkillers from my back surgery, which is probably a bad thing to do, but it is getting all warm and summery out and sometimes a lady needs a beer after a hard day at the book factory and don’t judge me!
ME: I wouldn’t dream of judging you. As one of the top reviewers at Goodreads, do you rule over the Goodreads chattle with an iron fist or the delicate touch of a benevolent supreme being?
Karen: i don’t feel like i do much ruling at all. i’m only on top because i’ve been on the site since 2007 and i’ve written so damn many reviews. after the amazon takeover, and several subsequent design changes, so many of my friends abandoned goodreads in revolt; it’s a whole different climate over there now, and i’ll be old news soon enough. but i try to be kind and avoid conflict and deflect any drama that comes my way. i’m just a reader who likes talking about books and my cat like any other crazy old librarian lady. so i guess i ‘rule’ with studied neutrality.
ME: Tell me about your reader advisory group you’ve set up. (I know that’s not a question, but work with me)
KAREN: oh, that’s something i put together as my final thesis-type project for library school. the idea was to teach everyday readers the fundamentals of readers’ advisory, which is a wonderful service librarians provide to help connect their patrons with books they will love based on detailed conversations about what appeals to them as readers. i wanted to see how goodreads could serve the readers’ advisory community – what it offered that other RA resources lacked, and how building a community of readers could replicate the readers’ advisory experience with just basic training. we read books together and did readers’ advisory exercises, we tested out other RA services to see which ones were good and which were weak, we suggested books to each other based on reading patterns and stated preferences – we did it all, man! i started it in 2011, and it’s still going, with over 3,000 members, and before i even graduated, i was asked to present my paper on it at ALA, on a ‘readers’ advisory in the digital age’ panel. not too shabby! and OH! here’s something goodreads peeps don’t know yet – i just started working for riffle, where i am now their in-house readers’ advisor, and i’m going to be doing the same thing over there! it just started yesterday, so i haven’t had a chance to pimp it out yet! it is here:https://discussions.rifflebooks.com/c…
ME: How many possession (monster erotica doesn’t count) novels have you read?
KAREN: good lord. i don’t even… probably not many, honestly. there’s yours… oooor issss tthhheeeeere? The Exorcist, (i am looking at lists online of “demonic possession novels” to jog my memory and this list is saying The Terror by dan simmons, so i do not think this is a very good list, but i have read that), Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, A Good and Happy Child, does \Rosemary’s Baby count? lists are also saying tim curran’s Sow is demonic possession, but that’s more demonicproximity maybe. i dunno, NEXT!
ME: I love Your House is on Fire… Do you consider yourself a fan of the horror/dark fiction genre?
KAREN: i surely do! i’m a big fan of czp (Chizine Publications), as you know, and all of their books are dark gems. my preference, though, is the slipstreamy stuff, where things are just slightly off, rather than being traditional horror monster-y stuff. i like unsettling more than splatter; spooky stuff where you’re like, wait, WHAT?? where it’s a little subtle and startling.
ME: You have many fans on Goodreads. Many of them are desperate, slovenly writers like me. Can you tell us how many times you’ve been tuckerized?
KAREN: thank you, google.
so, there’s you, and then i was in a short story by j.r. hamantaschen called – ominously – Soon Enough This Will Essentially Be a True Story from his collection With a Voice that is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever Louder and Clearer in which an angry author stalks and attacks a goodreads reviewer named karen (who reads a lot of monsterporn) because she didn’t write a review of his shitty book after winning it through the goodreads giveaway program.
so that was great.
also, a there is a brief appearance by a character named “karen” in mike mullin’s book Ashen Winter that was written in as a ‘thank-you’ to me for being such a good cheerleader for his books. spoiler alert – as brief as it is, nothing good happens to me, but i am a silver lining kind of girl, as the author himself points out in the thread to my review:
I told Karen that the character named in her honor came to a bad end. Then we were talking about it at ALA, and she says all cheerful-like: “My character might not be dead. She might be a sex slave in a flenser gang.” That’s optimism for you, folks!
this is how people thank me.
i am also in a tao lin poem called “february,” although he doesn’t know it was me. the relevant parts are:
…a Barnes and Noble person stood above us.
The Barnes and Noble lady wore a kimono. She freaked out and gave a lecture about where to sit and we paid attention and she ran away. I looked at your face. I said something and you laughed.
fun fact – i just googled this to find the exact quote and it led me to his site with the full text of the poem where “barnes and noble person” hyperlinks to this annotation:I’m ~95% sure this person read this and said something about it in a Goodreads review of the book (“you are a little bit happier than i am”) that “February” is in. I just looked and couldn’t find it. I remember she seemed to not have a positive or neutral reaction, and gave the book 1 or 2 or maybe 3 stars.
to set the record straight, i never read the book, but my bestie greg did (and he gave it FOUR stars), and my ‘saying something’ was in the comments section of his review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…, where i said i never freaked out,and to tao lin, i say “hhmph”
don’t sit in front of the bookshelves. you are in the way and the carpet is wicked gross. trust me.
also, i’m still convinced that the song “jessie’s girl” is about me. which is pretty gross, considering i was 4 when that song was released. gross, jessie.
ME: Jessie is gross. Was it fun or weird or fweird reading your blogger doppelganger in A Head Full of Ghosts?
KAREN: oh, it was super-fun! there was LOL-ing. it was definitely weird reading a version of my voice through someone else’s perception-filter, but it was an excellent homage.
ME: Is there something Karen (not you, the other one) got wrong in her blog posts?
KAREN: you mean, like, factually, or just incompatible with the me that is me? i can’t speak to factually, because book-karen is way better informed than i am about film studies, and uses terminology i would never use myself in both jargon and slang. ‘funky,’ my foot…
but the tone is pretty much spot-on. scarily so. to the point where i was reading it and thinking, “oh, karen, you complete goober!” because you managed to make me see myself as others must see me, and it’s a pleasantly alienating experience. it’s a little horrifying and embarrassing, to see someone capture your voice like that, with all the BOLD DECLARATIONS and odd phrasings, and that part about das unheimliche which i think was lifted straight outta one of my reviews – that one was particularly goobery on my part.
ME: Tell us writers to stop doing one thing in our books. We’ll listen. We promise.
KAREN: well, this isn’t something that you, personally, are guilty of, but my biggest pet peeve is when a misunderstanding between two characters is allowed to drag on for years of their lives/hundreds of the book’s pages, because a simple conversation – a conversation that would naturally occur in a real-world scenario – just doesn’t happen, because the author thinks this is a fine way to build tension and sustain drama, but it drives me CRAZY! it’s sloppy writing and poor characterization.
and publishers – not every book is a readalike for gone girl on the train. be better at comparisons!
ME: Approximately how many books are in your home right now.
KAREN: screw approximately. after the bedbug convention of 2015, which was really very mild and ended up being needlessly disruptive, when i had to move the majority of my books to two separate storage facilities so exterminators could come in and kill those bastards, i have relatively few books here (as opposed to the thousands upon thousands i had before those suckers tried to move in. on the second day, after greg and me had made countless trips to my queens storage unit, my dad showed up to help move more, and he weighed them by unknown means, and he claims to have personally relocated more than 2 TONS of books. which is insane. it is insanity.) so now, i have very few, and i counted them for you because i like things to be accurate. excluding library books, e-books, and books belonging to sean of the house, there are 1664 books in my house. i did math for you.
ME: Thems a lot of books… You can pick three favorite books ever with only six words to describe each. Wow, I’m annoying. Sorry.
ME: What to-be-published-soon books should we keep an eye out for?
KAREN: well, there’s this book coming out called Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by this paul tremblay cat that’s pretty good…
but also –
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by bryn greenwood – august 9th
this an absolutely beautifully-written book, but i know i’m gonna get put on some watchlist for loving it as much as i do. it’s about a
may january-december relationship that should be shocking and disgusting, but trust me, it works. it’s like Lolita, but with more meth.
True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by james renner – may 24th
one of my favorite novelists, who is also a former journalist, has written this true crime/memoir mashup about his investigation into the 2004 disappearance of maura murray: what he discovered and what it cost him, personally. it is nonfiction, but just like his novels, it visits crazytown more than once.
The Hatching by ezekiel boone – july 5th
carnivorous spider apocalypse. what, you need more??
there are also excellent new books by ron rash and donald ray pollock and jessie burton.
as for books that are on the publishing horizon that i haven’t read, but would like to very badly, dear publishers who might be reading this – there are new books by tana french, megan abbott, colson whitehead, both ali AND zadie smith, a very mysterious release by steve erickson … sometime, and Blood Riders: A Novel – a vampire western written by gary oldman.
which is the book i need THE MOST.