Denis Johnson: Front Row, Center

To say Denis Johnson was at the 2016 Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon isn’t quite enough. He wasn’t just there. He was sort of everywhere—popping into workshops, sitting in at presentations, mingling at receptions, and going to readings, so many readings, and usually sitting front row, center.

I have a picture of him at Padgett Powell’s reading, DJ01which you might think makes sense, one big name writer honoring another. But Denis didn’t discriminate. If you were reading, whether he knew your name or not, he was listening.

I know because about a week before the Padgett Powell reading, Denis was at my reading. He didn’t know my name, I’m certain, even if we share the same last name. Maybe he was there to hear my talented and better-known co-readers, David Caplan and Frank X. Gaspar. It was exactly two weeks before my debut novel, Californium, was to be released, and it was the first time I’d be reading from the novel, my uncorrected proof in my hands, a room full of people, and Denis Freakin’ Johnson shuffling into the room and sitting about five feet away from me, front row, center.

I read what I hoped was a funny chapter, the one where a group of high school boys are Disquiet_Itrying to come up with a name for their punk band and running through a list of possibilities: Atomic Anarchy, Gone Fission, Second Thoughts, Screaming Mimes, The Variables, Solve for X, Los Punks, and ¿Habla Anarchy?.  To my relief, people were laughing in all the right places, including Denis. After the reading, he even had a suggestion for a band name: Dowager Orgy.

At the time, it was one of the most affirming moments of my writing career. Denis Johnson didn’t just listen to my work, he reacted; he engaged in it. It was better than any blurb or review I could ever hope to get because it was a gut-level reaction, it was positive, and it was Denis Johnson.

I haven’t had a lot of time for reflection, for hindsight. This was all still less than a year ago. But even before I learned of Denis’s passing, I understood that what is more important about that day is all the days I saw Denis, at all those other events, being a generous writer and a gracious person. A lot of people will, and should, praise Denis’s talent in the coming days and weeks. I hope, if they had the pleasure of meeting him, their experiences weren’t unlike mine. Of course I hope my writing can someday be worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation as his, that universities might pair our books in Johnson seminars, but it’s more important to me, a much better goal, that I try to be the kind of writer Denis was when I met him—honest, engaged, and sitting front row, center.

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Californium by R. Dean Johnson

The Live Oak Review

Review by Paul Fuhr

51fpr5w-dwl-_sx332_bo1204203200_ (Plume Books, 2016)

There’s a moment midway through R. Dean Johnson’s Californium (Plume Books, 2016) where the novel’s teenage protagonists are comparing the logo of their new punk band to the iconic ones from the legendary bands before them: “Pretty soon, all we’ll need is the top part. Like how people know it’s the Dead Kennedys just by seeing the tomahawk or the Clash when all they see is the guy bent over, smashing his guitar.” It’s a moment that speaks to how emblems, symbols and patterns embed themselves in our consciousness and stay there, triggering instant recall upon seeing them. This is also true of Johnson’s writing: the longer you stay steeped in his words (SoCal, circa 1980), the longer it stays with you and the faster you identify with it. Johnson’s characters—Reece, Keith and Treat—join forces against the headwind of adolescence through the shared…

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DikNixon announces fall campaign stops

If you’d like to hear a bit of Californium: A Novel of Punk Rock, Growing Up, and Other Dangerous Things live this fall, you may be in luck. DikNixon (in the guise of my readings, book signings, and presentations) will be hitting the west coast and a few points in between.punk-reading-3

The complete (so far), fall 2016 Terrorize Your Neighbor Tour is below. A few events are still pending, and I’ve already confirmed a few more dates for spring, so if there isn’t a bookstore, university, or library near you on the list, there may be soon. Watch for updates.

If I know you, it would be great to see you at an event (and no, you don’t have to buy a book. It’s always great to see friends, old and new, at readings). And if I don’t know you, come say hi (you don’t have to buy a book either, but I’m assuming that’s what would bring you to the event in the first place).

Terrorize Your Neighbor Tour, Fall 2016

Sep. 17, Berea, KY – Presenting at Berea Writers Circle Meeting, 1:30pm

Sep. 21, St. Louis, MO – Reading at Subterranean Books, 6:30pm

Sep. 23 Lawton, OK – Reading at Cameron University, TBD

Oct. 4, London, KY – Presentation and book signing at Laurel County Library, 5:00pm

Oct. 8, Long Beach, CA – Reading at Gatsby Books, 3:00pm

Nov. 5, Frankfort, KY – Reading and book signing at Kentucky Book Fair, TBD

Dec. 9, Portland, OR – Reading at Late Night Library, TBD

Errors

SH 36 website banner

This spring they’ve been adding up:

  1. Soooooo many typos. In emails and manuscripts. On Facebook and Twitter. Maybe because I’m left-handed. Perhaps because I’m a four-finger and two-thumbs typist. Probably because I’m forever in a hurry and rushing through things without proof-reading well enough.
  2. There was that bike crash I had right before AWP. The one where I broke my left wrist and pinky finger, got a concussion (which only added to the typos), cracked my mandible, added three manly new scars to my face, and made me miss AWP.
  3. Like, a month ago, my essay “Errors” came out in the journal, Salt Hill, along with a lot of other excellent work (I’m really digging the story “Bald Bear” by Becky Mandelbaum), and I really should have thanked Jacob Collins-Wilson, the nonfiction editor at SH) and mentioned all of this a lot sooner, like, a month ago.

Californium. The novel.

Plume

So, this happened:

My, understands-my-novel-even-better-than-I-do, agent, Mackenzine Brady at New Leaf Literary, sold my novel to Plume – Penguin Books (USA).
There are edits and copy-edits and other things to come, but it will all add up to CALIFORNIUM sliding on to a bookstore shelf not too far from you (almost anywhere you are, they tell me) in May, 2016.

Feeling so very, very thankful.