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The Department of Tangents Podcast

Years ago, playing a sort of improv game with friends in which we all picked super powers based on our personalities, I dubbed myself “Tangent Lad.” I was not a very strong superhero, and I could not defeat a super villain on my own, but I could distract them with Monty Python quotes and football trivia. I have many times since apologized to an interview subject in my capacity as a journalist by saying, “I am either very good or very bad at tangents, depending on how you feel about tangents.”

I had a rough time coming up with the concept and naming this blog/podcast. I knew I wanted to create a place where I could address things I’m passionate about – comedy, music, and horror. Finding a name that communicated all three of those things proved a bit impossible. I bugged my friends, and they all tried to help. To no avail. Then I thought, maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong angle. Maybe my lack of focus should be the focus.

As a journalist, I have written for The Boston Globe since 2000, starting out writing CD reviews and then writing a regular column on comedy for seven and a half years. I still contribute there, and to Kirkus Reviews, and other publications. I’m also a musician, and released my debut full-length album, Blue Skies and Broken Arrows, in March of 2015. And I’ve been publishing short horror fiction for a couple of years.

I like to climb into things I love and see how they operate. That’s what the Department of Tangents is for. I’ll be writing regular features, essays, and news bits about the big three – comedy, music, and horror – and offering clips from people I’ve taped interviews with over the past nearly twenty years of writing. Some of the best parts of the interviews I’ve done have been completely off-point and inappropriate for print. I’ll get to explore more of that here. I’m also hoping to convince some friends to tell me about the things they love that I might not even know about, and pass that along to you.

The DoT podcast might be short or long, depending on where the conversation leads. You cant purposefully create an interesting tangent in conversation – it has to happen naturally. But I can confidently forecast that there will be moments in the individual podcasts where things veer off wonderfully.

The main thing here is love. To write about the things that make I’ve loved forever, and some new things that might stand the test and be around, at least for me, for decades to come. I’ve had to be critical in my writing at times, and it might not all be nonstop roses here, but in the end, what I really want to talk about is the good stuff. That’s why I will regularly write about things I think are “Perfect,” even if someone can demonstrate empirically that they are flawed. Still perfect to me.

Also, fish.

I hope you, dear anonymous surfer person, will come to expect only the highest-quality, free-range, grass-fed tangents. And I hope some of you love the same things I do and find it useful. Or at least a welcome distraction until the others get here.

Dec 14, 2016

One hundred years ago today, horror and humor writer Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco, California. To celebrate this centennial, I spoke with her grandson, Miles Hyman, about her work and her legacy. Hyman is an accomplished artist in his own right, and just released a graphic novel adaptation of what is perhaps Jackson’s most famous work, her short story “The Lottery.” Hyman had been looking for a way to approach the story for years, he writes in his introduction, but found the story had a “no-nonsense, largely hermetic structure, words joined with a jeweler’s precision,” and it was hard to find his way in. It’s an important story, one that appears in countless anthologies. Some may even recognize it from their high school literature courses. Jackson is a foundational horror writer, praised by everyone from bestselling author Stephen King, who credits The Haunting of Hill House as an inspiration for The Shining, to director Guillermo del Toro, who chose to include Hill House in his horror series for Penguin Classics. More and more people seem to be finding her work again these days, and that trend looks to continue in the near future. Ruth Franklin released a new biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, in September. Another of Jackson’s novels, We Have Always Lived In the Castle, is being adapted into a movie by Concussion director Stacie Passon, slated for release in 2017. Last year, Random House published Let Me Tell You, a volume of previously unpublished stories, essays, and other writing. And there is plenty in her catalogue for new fans to discover, from novels like The Bird’s Nest and The Sundial to her humorous domestic memoirs, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.

Hyman gives a personal touch to Jackson’s legacy. He was too young when his grandmother died in 1965 to have spent much time with her – he was just shy of three years old. But he has his family’s memories, and things that he says, in the introduction to “The Lottery,” like a love for Christmas, cats, and poker. We concentrate mostly on the work in this conversation, but that’s personal, too. And he shares a memory of what it was like to be introduced as Shirley Jackson’s grandson when he was a kid that I found especially amusing.

After the interview, stick around for a preview of the new Wild Feathers album, Live at the Ryman. If you’re listening to this podcast today or tomorrow, you won’t be able to get Live at the Ryman until Friday, but you’ll hear “Left My Woman” right after the interview with Mr. Hyman. I’ll be reviewing it for the New Release Roundup, as well.