Back in 2011, FSG and GQ combined forces to create “The Original Series,” a new line of book launch parties. The latest event in the series was for Lindsay Hunter’s Don’t Kiss Me, which took place on July 18 at Studio-X New York. The author Q&A was hosted by cartoonist David Rees, who spoke with Hunter and the musical guest of the evening, Holly Miranda. Besides recommending that everyone watch Stevie Nicks sing “Wild Heart” to her make-up artist on YouTube, Rees, Hunter and Miranda discussed how works of art that are short and sweet can still be compelling.
Lindsay Hunter: I had a reading series for years called Quickies, and our main thing was that you had to read a complete piece in five minutes or less, or we whistled you off the stage. So even if it was really terrible, you knew it was going to be over in five minutes. So people really tried to make it punchy, at least tried to make it short.
David Rees: And is everything in your new book Quickies length? Can it all qualify in a Quickies round? Is there any story that you could not get from word one to word omega within the five-minute mark?
LH: There might be three stories that would take you to the seven-minute level. But the rest of them are probably like the three-minute, four-minute level.
DR: So this is what I wanted to talk about tonight, because I did read your book.
LH: [laughs] … Sorry.
DR: No, it’s absolutely my pleasure. I really enjoyed the book. It was unsettling, it made me uncomfortable.
LH: You’re a man, you can handle it.
DR: It’s okay to be unsettled and uncomfortable, right? But one thing I noticed is that the stories are pretty short, and I was trying to figure out: Can you have an emotional involvement in something that’s really brief? And I want to ask [Holly Miranda] vis-a-vis music and literature, and [Lindsay Hunter] vis-a-vis literature, writing especially. What is the shortest piece of culture, and I mean shortest in time, that can really affect you emotionally? I mean, obviously for my mother, it was 30-second McDonald’s commercials back in the day because those would just absolutely shatter her. The dad takes his son to McDonald’s, they eat at McDonald’s, and the son forgives the dad for everything. It sucks exponentially.
LH: I would totally agree with your mom; I cry at the Dick’s Sporting Goods commercials all the time. I don’t know if you are aware of those: “Every day is your first day.” You know? No? Well, Google them. I think emotional impact can happen in a second. I mean, there’s that whole six-word stories …
DR: Exactly, and I’m calling bullshit on that! [To audience:] So do you guys know about six-word stories? Or just Hemingway, a famous American writer? [Laughter] He started this movement where you would write a story that was only six words long, and his was: “Buy these baby’s shoes. We never used them.”
LH: No, no, no.
DR: “I was impotent.” The end.
LH: It was “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
DR: Right. And obviously, intellectually, you can do the work to make that emotionally meaningful if you convince yourself that’s the appropriate response, but I would contend that you can’t have an immediate, authentic emotional reaction to something so short. And I do want to take commercials off the table.
LH: You’re saying you want it to wash over you, you don’t want to do any thinking of your own or any sort of envisioning or whatever.
DR: Yeah, I never want to do any envisioning. Let’s get that straight.
LH: You’re my target reader.
DR: What’s that?
LH: You’re my target reader.
DR: [Quietly] Oh. [Laughter] I’m talking about when you don’t have to do any work because you feel emotional in spite of yourself. You know, like with music, sometimes you hear a piece of music and you get goosebumps, you start crying, whatever.
Holly Miranda: And certain chords, actually.
LH: Yes, yes!
HM: Adele, she uses all of those chords. [Laughter]
LH: So, wait: Are you calling Adele out?
DR: Here’s the thing, now obviously there are moments in a larger piece of music where every time you hear the song, like four bars or whatever, you’re like, “Oh my god, I’m feeling this!” But I’m talking about self-contained little monads — is that the word? Self-contained little moments of culture. What’s the shortest piece of music that you could have an emotional reaction to? Or that you’ve had an emotional reaction to?
HM: I mean, does it have to be music? Because sometimes I look at people and get sad.
LH: [laughs] Name someone in this crowd right now who makes you cry.
DR: No … I’m talking about a deliberately instructive piece of art has that ever happened to you in 30 seconds or less?
LH: What’s the last song you cried about or to —
DR: — that was really short.
HM: I think I make myself cry with my own music probably.
LH: Aw. That means that shit is real.
DR: Recording or listening to it?
LH: Will you cry tonight?
HM: I mean both, right? It’s intense shit.
DR: But would one of your 30-second songs be emotional, or do you have to let it build over the course of minutes?
HM: Sure, it can be emotional.
DR: [To Hunter:] What’s the shortest story you’ve ever read that really got to you?
LH: Oh god. Well you have to google it: My friend Mary Hamilton wrote a story about a blow job one time … but it was really sad! And she’s a flash fiction writer, so it was maybe 500 words.
DR: And that did it?
LH: That did it. I was emotionally invested. I saw her read it live, and I was emotionally moved by that.
DR: Okay, I’m into that. Not for the reasons you think. But see, to me that’s interesting because of lot of times people associate brevity — you guys know about Twitter, of course, it’s like one of the hottest social media websites, and the whole thing about Twitter is you only have 140 characters. … So I’m thinking if we can pack all the emotional heft and profundity of the old-timey world, you know, Mahler’s writing some kind of symphony that’s taking an hour and 20 minutes to sit through, James Joyce is spending 800 pages to write about one goddamn day. If we can still get all the catharsis and the ecstasy out of a brief thing, that would mean we’re fine, right?