Monthly Archives: April 2013

Fun Camp Review Roundup

On here I created a permanent FUN CAMP tab, which I’ll keep updated with info, links, blurbs, and reviews as they roll out in the coming weeks. Here’s what we’ve got so far.


Mike Young has kicked things off with a very nice preview/review of FUN CAMP, generous with excerpts: Gabe Durham’s FUN CAMP: “Anything that doesn’t send you to the showers isn’t worth laughing at.”

FUN CAMP has the skinniest low voice. FUN CAMP has the most earnest eye width. FUN CAMP is tall and kind and stalwart and genuinely funny, sweetly so, like the difference between a blackberry and corn syrup … I mean, there are parts of this book that are literally better than Wet Hot American Summer. Yeah. For real. I’m not blowing watermelon relays up your ass. It’s not hard to read this book at all—this book is fucking entertaining.

Holy WHAS comparison!!! Thanks, Mike.


Meanwhile, editor J.A. Tyler of the recently-closed Mud Luscious Press, had this to say:

I read thousands and thousands of book manuscripts for Mud Luscious Press, and none were ever like FUN CAMP. Durham’s debut is a novel but not a novel, a story collection but not a story collection, witty though not all about the clever, a kind of funny rippled with sadness: FUN CAMP is the perfect amalgamation. From now on, when someone asks me what it means to grow up, to run away into our future selves, I will hand them this book.

J.A. helped me edit the content of the book, and it’s the better for it.


Then, today at HTMLGIANT, an anonymous reviewer gives the book an 8.8, makes some sharp observations about what the book is up to, and also takes an autobiographical approach that seems only natural with a book like this:

My thirteen year-old self was hesitant, shy, and apt to disengage at sleep-away camp, but after I let myself go and gave into the fun, I didn’t want to leave. Fun Camp struck me the same way. Give yourself over to its silliness, its slick po-mo, and like a camper, you won’t want to leave when it comes to an end.


Thanks to everyone who has written or will write something about this book. It all takes time and you have lives! And thanks to everyone else for helping me spread the word. As with all books but especially indies, I’m relying on friends and colleagues and bloggers and tweeters and family members and distributors and bookstore owners and dogs and babies and robots to help make the book known.

Exactly one month to go. Soon there will be a cover because there has to be.

Pre-order FUN CAMP here. Cheap, cheap, cheep.

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FUN CAMP is Now Available for Pre-Order Through Publishing Genius

My original publisher for FUN CAMP, Mud Luscious Press, has closed. It’s a sad, weird thing that all happened really fast. My book had been contracted with them for just over two years, and it had only another month to go before the book was to come out.

But. I was really lucky to have a bunch of good people immediately come to my aid and we quickly arrived at a solution: FUN CAMP would be put out by Publishing Genius.

This worked out so well. I love the books PG puts out, and I already really like and respect the man at the helm, Adam Robinson.

A thing about Adam: He works fast. The book is now available for pre-order.

$9 is the very limited edition pre-order price, way down from a list price of $15.

Please feel encouraged to jump on it.



Told in monologues, speeches, soliloquies, sermons, letters, cards, and lists, FUN CAMP is a freewheelin’ summer camp novel smashed to bits. Spend a week with the young inhabitants of a camp bent on molding campers into fun and interesting people via pranks, food fights, greased watermelon relays. Along the way, you’ll meet Dave and Holly, totalitarian head counselors who may be getting too old for this, Bernadette, a Luddite chaplain with some kids to convert, Billy, a first-timer tasting freedom, and Tad, a shaggy dude with a Jesus complex.

FUN CAMP is a beautiful flight of tragic-comic prose, so sharply realized it would actually be upsetting, if Gabe Durham weren’t so root-for-able in every way. Come for his astonishing & repeatably funny turns of phrase, stay for his furtive romanticism. Durham is lousy with wit and soul. I loved this book and did not want it to end.”
—Julie Klausner, author of I Don’t Care About Your Band and host of “How Was Your Week?

“A less adept writer would flatten summer camp into mere nostalgic idyll or slapstick farce, but Gabe Durham is alive to the tonal complexity of his subject. I celebrate this book for its formal inventiveness, its rich humor, its exuberant language, its genuine spirituality, and most of all for its tender and abiding regard for the oversized feelings of adolescence. Durham knows his pranks, but he is not a prankster. He’s the real thing.”
—Chris Bachelder, author of Bear v. Shark and Abbott Awaits

FUN CAMP was a semi-finalist for the Lake Forest/&Now 2011-2012 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize.


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Everything anyone says about Spring Breakers is interesting

** A couple weeks ago, I had to write a sample on some recent pop culture news for a thing I was applying for. This roundup is what came out–basically a review of everything but the movie itself. **

According to Spring Breakers‘ divisive Rotten Tomatoes page, the movie is either a nasty, garish, incredibly boring, unintentionally laughable, irredeemably toxic mess, or it is “the most unforgettable movie of the year so far,”  “an authentically cracked expression of the crazy, conflicting signals bombarding today’s teenagers” that is “loaded with sharp, telling dialogue,” featuring a James Franco performance that is “nothing short of great.”

But every now and then, the trivia around a movie is so interesting that even the movie’s haters have to admit that they’re sorta glad the movie exists.

To review:

We now know that Gucci Mane appears in the film because Harmony Korine called him in prison and said, “I have a part for you. As soon as you get out of jail, I’ll be waiting, just make sure you don’t reoffend,” that for Gucci’s sex scenes, Korine knew Gucci liked thick girls and found some at “crazy black strip clubs” on the outskirts of Tampa, and that Gucci fell asleep while filming a scene in which one of those strippers fucks him.

We know Korine wrote a draft of Spring Breakers during spring break in Panama City in a hotel filled with dwarves, and that when Korine asked the receptionist why all the dwarves, she told him it was because Hulk Hogan was filming a reality show.

We know that Korine’s favorite metaphors for the experience of watching Spring Breakers are: chemical reaction, video game, stew, liquid narrative, pop poem, and beach noir.

We know Korine sees Britney Spears as “more than a person– she’s like an energy.

We know Korine was banned from promoting the movie on Letterman because David Letterman once caught Korine going through Meryl Streep’s purse.

We know that during filming, real spring breakers showed up everywhere (“Some gnarly jocks were trying to hump up on the girls,” Korine said), which created a clusterfuck Korine alternately tolerated and encouraged.

We know the hotel scenes were filmed at an abandoned hotel that was going to be torn down anyway, and that after the shoot was done the hotel “looked like Berlin after the war.”

We know the robbery reenactment scene was thought up by Korine on the spot and largely improvised by the girls.

We know James Franco stayed in character on set, that Selena Gomez did not feel as if she’d really met James Franco until they started promoting the film, and that to prepare Franco for the role of Alien, Korine would “show  Franco a videotape of girls in a gas-station parking lot getting in a fight at 3 a.m. on the side of the road, and say, ‘That’s the way I want this scene to feel.'”

We know Franco’s performance was inspired by Dangerruss, Max Cady in Cape Fear, and RiFF RAFF, and that when RiFF RAFF saw the movie, his primary criticisms were (1) Franco stole some of his quotes (but they were old quotes so Franco could have them) and (2) “It needs more Spring Breakers 2.” That’s right: When you’re RiFF RAFF, you get to compare a movie to its nonexistent sequel.

Meanwhile, critics have begun to indulge in interpretations that will hopefully spin further out over the decades until Spring Breakers is ready for the Room 237 treatment.

Anisse Gross of the Rumpus calls the ending “an obvious metaphor for white suburban consumption of hip hop culture,” and in the damning article “Why Spring Breakers is the only American movie that matters right now” (sorry G.I. Joe: Retaliation), Sarah Nicole Prickett writes that Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens fall for Alien, they “do not fall in love with Alien, or with Alien’s money, but with the realization that they are money.”

This is a great start, but let’s hope the critical conversation gets hijacked by the sort of obsessives who’ll watch the movie on repeat until they begin to involuntarily whisper “spring break forever” in their sleep. We already know Korine’s good with it. “There can be all those types of interpretations, it’s all part of it,” he told the A.V. Club’s Sam Adams. “I enjoy it.”

Here are a few questions to get the weirdos going: Why the civil rights lecture at the beginning? What does the phrase “I want penis” really mean? Is the whole second half of the movie a dream Selena Gomez has on the bus home? What does Alien’s illegal (and nontaxable) line of work say about immigration? How come Skrillex and Harmony Korine are never in the room at the same time? And: Is that a fucking wedding they’re robbing?

Let this be a lesson to psychologists everywhere: If you’re bored with the answers patients offer when you give them a Rorschach test, make sure your ink blots resemble bikini-clad Disney starlets.


My Plotless Snarky Faux-Shocking Crumbs Are Hurting Adam Peterson’s Career

Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 11.41.46 AM

FUN CAMP comes out May 31, and in it is a short chapter/speech called “All You First-Timers with Deadbeat Dads,” which was originally published online by American Short Fiction.

Today, I got an email from the writer Adam Peterson asking if I’d seen this post from a site called How Publishing is Rigged: “People ask me if I’ve seen this all the time, like in cautious voices as if I’m going to be really hurt,” Adam wrote. “Apparently it’s a really high search result for my name or something.”

I followed the link and, sandwiched between a critique of Steve Edwards and Lydia Davis, was a critique of my FUN CAMP short, misattributing it to Adam.

I’ve pasted the (anonymous) critique below, which also includes my short in its entirety. Bolds mine:

This guy put a bunch of his Crumbs together to make a book. Well, that’s not really accurate—it was a chapbook. (A chapbook is a limited-production book, usually fewer than 100 pages, and often made by hand, like on someone’s dining room table.) But who might go out and buy his book? His friends might. Might. And maybe some MFA-holders who happen to be enamored of the very short story format. Or aspiring writers who want to be published in The Cupboard and are trying to kiss Peterson’s ass. But beyond that, there’s nobody in the real world who wants to read a single page of this garbage, let alone a full book of these things. But let’s look at the Crumb that Peterson wrote that made it into a recent issue of American Short Fiction. This Crumb is over before the thing even gets started. Not that a Crumb ever does get started.

All You First-Timers with Deadbeat Dads” (American Short Fiction, August 2010)

The returners can tell you that camp is catnip to those bastards. Too perfect an opportunity for him not to pop back into your life, take you for a drunk backcountry cruise, and defend his absence away from the castrating gaze of you-know-who. When yours shows, you’ll offer a firm handshake and say, “Father, it is good to see you. I appreciate that you’ve driven some miles to visit me, your kin, to whom you wish to demonstrate your love. I cannot, however, accompany you to your truck for a harmless joyride, as each minute of my day at camp is accounted for, and I am under no circumstances permitted to leave camp boundaries at any time. Out of concern for your immediate safety, I plead you’ll depart expediently. Chef Grogg has no doubt been alerted to your presence, and he is one dumb deadly animal.” It’s a mouthful, so I had the speech printed up on little cards to keep on you at all times. Show of hands, who needs one? Come on, hands up. Nothing to be shy about. You all’ve got a leg up on the pussies from unbroken homes. While they mosey into adulthood expectant in their dumb grins, you’ll have already learned just how hard you can bite without drawing blood.

Where is the story here? Where is the plot? Alas, there is no story, and alas, no plot. There’s nothing at all to do with a story like this. In fact, this is not a story in any sense of the word as there is no narrative. The first sentence is a terrible metaphor too. My family had cats when I was a kid, and when cats go for catnip, they cannot be deterred from their pursuit of the catnip. There’s no “popping back in” for catnip, as though it were a casual pursuit. Once discovered, there’s continuous constant pursuit of that catnip; the cats are going to get to that nip and will not be deterred. For camp to “be catnip” to a deadbeat dad, camp is something that deadbeat wants as much as a cat wants catnip. But that’s not what the author is actually trying to say, is it? He’s trying to say that camp draws deadbeat dads for quick visits to camp. The author was trying to not use a cliché and instead of coming up with something original and thoughtful, Peterson used a metaphor that is confusing and inaccurate.

This “story” is also attempting to be funny—and fails. The overly formal language causes this piece to fall victim to the problem of most “humor” pieces written (and enjoyed) by the Lit Biz crowd. These people think that irony and “snarkiness” makes something funny. In the mind of the Lit Biz person, a child who (1) speaks with an adult’s vocabulary and who (2) has an affected way of talking is funny. And I’m not saying that a child can’t speak with a fully developed vocabulary or that a character in a story can’t have an affected way of talking and be funny, but that character had better have the context to show the humor that is present due to their unique manner of speaking. The context doesn’t exist here, where all on its own, it’s supposed to be funny that this camp kid talks like an English major with a stick up his ass. The author also throws a shocking word into the mix (oh! pussies!) to show that he—and his character—can be daring. That word is completely out of place with the rest of the character and the author has thrown it into this piece to try to be cool. And that word “pussies” is pushing the limits of crass language to this guy, never mind that you could hear a Pop Warner football coach using calling his 14-year-olds “pussies” without drawing so much as a surprised glance from any of them. Peterson, on the other hand, is probably still blushing.

Peterson’s partner at The Cupboard, Dave Madden, is certainly offended by this “pussies” remark. In an interview conducted by HTMLGIANT, Madden makes the following confession:

Dave: If I get offended by manuscripts that aim solely to shock or disrupt it’s more in terms of my sensibilities than any kind of ethical-political offense. Like that stuff gives me the vapours. And it tends rarely to be genuinely shocking or disruptive.

Doesn’t it sound like Madden is talking like the kind of thing that Peterson did—with the “pussies”—in the above story? And who on earth talks like that—stuff gives him the vapours?? Apparently Dave Madden, publishing giant (that was a little joke; Madden publishes very little), has the delicate constitution of a 94-year-old woman. From 1850. Don’t you love knowing that Dave Madden and guys like him are making decisions about what you get to read? Just because Madden and Peterson’s influence is limited to The Cupboard doesn’t make them any different from editors at large magazines. The editors at the bigger magazines have the same delicate constitutions and sensibilities as Dave Madden. Do you think that emotionally frail guys like Dave Madden can make good guesses as to what you’d like to read?

Sorry, Dave Madden! Looks like the misattribution got you roped in too.

But honestly, I’m not sorry for any of this. It is completely fascinating and the best web surprise since peterbd emailed me.


One thing I’ll be curious to hear from non-insane people about is whether anything in FUN CAMP is genuinely offensive.

I did wrestle a little with the speaker’s use of “pussy” when writing the piece. It’s a word I avoid in actual speech, uncomfortably gendered and often used misogynistically. It’s basically hatespeech lite, and I want in life and writing to be a good feminist in every way I can think to. But the speaker here so clearly has a chip on his shoulder, an enormous hostility toward people whose parents haven’t split up. The speech, to me, would be worse without it.

Maybe “pussy” is like a semicolon: You only get one per book.

I can’t think of a better note to end on than that.

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Big Lucks #5 Print Issue

Andrew Battershill | Lyndsey Cohen | Tim DeMay | Gabe Durham
Erin Fitzgerald | Christine Friedlander | James Gendron | L.E. Hurston | Jac Jemc
Mike Krutel | Michael Landweber | Dorothea Lasky | Molly Lurie-Marino
Nancy Carol Moody | Erika Moya | Carrie Murphy | Adam Robinson | Allison Sparks
Nicolas Sansone | Andrew Sullivan | Mathias Svalina | Corey Wakeling
John Dermot Woods | Kate Wyer | Joshua Young


I am reading this Friday at StoriesLA in Silverlake

Come see!

From the invite:

8 Killer Writers Clocking in at a Savage FIVE Minutes Each.

In town for the LA Times Book Festival? Us too!

As part of’s one year anniversary, we’re celebrating along with our friends at TheGoodMenProject, by organizing this amazing slate of readers:

Jim Greer (Détective, Artificial Light)
Amelia Gray (Threats, Museum of The Weird)
Gabe Durham (Fun Camp)
Sean Beaudoin (The Infects, editor–
Hank Cherry (genius)
John Tottenham (Antiepithalamia, The Inertia Variations)
Megan Whitmarsh (Revolution is a Circle, Here Comes Purple)
Duke Haney (Banned for Life, Subversia)

Come check it out! No cover! There will be beer! Someone’s milkshake will be drunk!

Stories Bookstore and Café
1716 West Sunset Blvd • Los Angeles • CA
[213] 413-3733

Deleted Scene from a Forthcoming Interview with Jack Christian

Gabe Durham: We’ve spoken before about the mystery of all that gets written in the overwhelmed rhythm of a full schedule, and I don’t think that “If you want something done, ask a busy person” entirely explains it. What is it about teaching that seems to wind you up to produce?

Jack Christian: I am quite busy. Between teaching and paper-grading and various side-projects and visits to the gym so as to avoid new experiences in obesity, I often find myself in the situation of needing and wanting to catch my breath.

To focus on the positive: Within this situation I frequently encounter and re-encounter the joy in writing, in squirreling away a minute or an hour, of spending a Saturday completely ensconced and obsessed. For a long time now, I’ve never sat down to write when I didn’t want to write. So, writing occupies this cherished space, and is positioned often as a break.

What I’m writing now is more humorous, more out-in-the-world, more overtly aware of the need to be entertaining. I have a different set of inputs from when I was in school, so there is this great compelling impetus to try to figure out how to adjust my writing to that. I guess I’ve been increasingly attracted to the idea of the attempt to tackle the most mundane, most subtle little aspects of life — to take the boring, wrestle-around with its boring-ness, and write something exciting and vibrant. For instance, what is there interesting to say about my daily drive to work? Or, what’s the zen of paper-grading?

Here’s a quick example from Nicholson Baker’s A Box of Matches that I read just last night: In a small climax halfway through the fourth or fifth chapter, the character scrounges in the dark for his glasses on his nightstand. He finds them, picks them up, careful not to smudge the lenses. After he gets them arranged on his face, he has this great line about his glasses adjusting everything he can’t see in the dark. Then, he just sits on his bed a moment, still in the dark, during which time he says to himself: “oh yeah, baby.”

Gabe Durham: Yeah, Scrounging in the Dark would be the more descriptive name for that book. I sometimes fantasize about having a career like Baker’s, where readers come to expect not a singular authorial voice but a multitude of modes: the book-length literary obsession essay, the erotic playground book, the novel-in-observations. Like: If you nail it in varied enough ways, you get this wonderfully elastic reader who will just follow you anywhere. Does that interest you too? How animated are you by the allowances and constraints of a particular writing project?

Jack Christian: That interests me hugely. I feel myself in the middle of a pivot toward what you describe in terms of being animated by the constraints of a particular project. I see some danger in becoming too wrapped up in projects, of the attempt to be too chameleon, but I don’t think this applies to Baker. He works in all these modes while also always defining his particular aesthetic.

The poems of Family System were written under the idea of no constraint, at least in their first drafts. The constraint was simply the mandate to try to write a good poem. Making it a book required more constraints to come into play (such as cutting the more whimsical, more talky stuff), especially in terms of the attempt to have the poems arranged in some sort of bouquet.

Now I find myself wanting to move into some different territory of voice and perspective. As I do, I bump against the possibility of a project becoming somehow soulless, or too conceptual, too much of a thought-challenge, but I find this is in tension with the need to make a good, book-size container.

So, while I’d like to know more at the level of concept, the way Baker seems to, if I knew too much I wouldn’t be able to write it. What I was aiming to say though, is, as much as I’m loving Nicholson Baker right now, I’d still always add a good dose of Moby Dick. This is attributable to my taste in music, to the low-fi and Grunge acts that got me through high school and college. Musicians like Daniel Johnston, Dinosaur Jr., Guided by Voices, Pavement, Modest Mouse, Nirvana, the Pixies, and Pearl Jam. These were primary influences in aesthetic messiness, which is a thing I don’t think I can shake. I’m starting to see a joy in having things very controlled and organized, but I’ll always have a first joy in letting things be messy.

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