Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Greg Kieser: American Spaz The Novel

I'm happy to have Greg Kieser here today as part of his blog tour for American Spaz The Novel.

Greg Kieser: Is Neanderthalic Cave Art auto-biographical fiction?

Researchers in Spain have discovered cave art they believe is more than 40,000 years old and was possibly made by neanderthals. If true, this would make it the oldest art we know of - by 15,000 years - and the first time we've discovered art by neanderthals. It's all astonishing to me; especially that an artist's work might be revered 40,000 years after it was made.

But there are two aspects of the art in particular that are most striking to me; first, its simply a collection of negative hand prints - as if the artist(s) had pressed their hand against the wall, fingers wide, then scraped something that produced color around the hand. That's interesting to me because its clear that the artist(s) wanted to take the part of themselves they knew the best and saw the most, their hands, and share with others. Whether a conscious decision or not, they chose to represent themselves in the artwork, as opposed to, say, tree or animals. The second striking aspect of the art they created is that it's not a logical interpretation of the artist(s) or the world they were living in. It's an abstraction. They didn't paint likenesses of themselves or their friends, as we have seen in later cave art. The hands in the painting seemed to be placed randomly, as if the artist lost themselves in the process or perhaps didn't possess the intellectual wherewithall to create anything more sensical. In any case, it's clear the art was created, not from intellectual place, but from somewhere else - perhaps a place where emotions, not thoughts, reign free. Based on those two ideas, I think it's safe to conclude that those researchers in Spain not only discovered the first work of art that we know of, but also demonstrated that the most primal of all impulses for the creation of art are based in a desire for us to represent ourselves and to do so in an abstract, illogical way.

This provokes many questions. Was it a single artist? Female or male? What did the artist(s) do the day they laid their hand on the stone? Where did the individual(s) fall in the social order of their pack/tribe? Was the artist distraught because he/she lost a mate? Joyful because they had slayed a beast that would feed them for weeks?

People often ask me why I chose to employ auto-biographical fiction rather than memoir to tell my story in American Spaz. When I started to write the novel it was obvious that fiction was the way I needed and wanted to tell my story. I didn't know why at the time, but I knew it had to be fiction. Over the course of the project, though, the reason for this choice became more obvious to me. It was clear that, if I had chosen to use memoir (ie the logical telling of my story) I would not get the emotional benefits of creating something new. The circumstances of my childhood, most notably the loss of my mother and then the loss of my father, had left scars that would not be easily assessed and presented within the framework of a memoir. That form, that which requires truthfulness in every detail, had too many limitations for me. Conversely, I found auto-biographical fiction gave me unlimited options for, not just telling my story, but expressing the truth of my story. And now I am contented to know that the form I chose, to represent my own self in an abstract and illogical way (ie auto-biographical fiction), is a form that has been tested by time. I can only hope that somebody will stumble upon my novel in the year 42012 and ponder my identity. In the meantime I'll be working on the next story.

"How I Became a Spaz" a short film in support of American Spaz The Novel:

The Truth behind the fiction in American Spaz The Novel:
 "American Spaz The Novel" is a coming-of-age story with girls and love and death - fists and knives and guns. After going through double tragedies as a child Henry Kreiser grows into a teenager he does not want to be.
It starts in 1978 in a suburb of Philadelphia and continues on the farms of a rural boarding school for disadvantaged children. It ends on the tough streets of Trenton, New Jersey in 1988. American Spaz is auto-biographical fiction by Greg Kieser and chronicles a decade of his life - from 7 to 17 years old - during which time he lost both parents, moved from place to place, and did whatever he needed to do to survive. As the youngest of six children he had many opportunities, during that decade, to rely on, and sometimes reject, the love of family.
A newspaper article about Kieser's late father speaks to "The Truth" behind the fiction. And, in the short film "How I Became a Spaz (and you can too)" Kieser himself attempts to explain his unique approach to achieving social and financial success, while summarizing the steps others can take. An interview with the author further allows him to elaborate on these subjects and share his outlook on storytelling. All three - the article, the film and the interview - can be found at

Buy Links:



American Spaz The Novel - Excerpt from Chapter 9

Back at her house, as he went up the steps ahead of her, she grabbed his ankles playfully. He tripped and she jumped on top of him, kissing him. They heard the floor creak, so they looked up the steps. Willy was there. “Get a hotel,” he said as he went into the living room. Esther went to the bedroom while Henry followed Willy into the living room. Willy was sitting there with his feet up on the coffee table. A dirty plate and fork lay next to his legs.

“That your pistol?” Willy asked, pointing to the plastic gun in Henry’s waistband.

“Yeah, popped a cap in some Germans.” Henry walked with a bit more of a swagger than normal.

Willy looked him up and down. “You know what’s wrong with you?”

Henry laughed. “What?”

“Don’t laugh.”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“You got some muscles, and you think you bad. You walk like a fuckin’ rooster. But I know you ain’t bad. You just got a couple muscles. And you still skinny.”

Henry nodded. He laughed uncomfortably this time. “Oh yeah?”

Willy showed a gold tooth. “I said don’t laugh. You wanna see my pistol?”

“Yeah. Sure. Show me.”

Willy slowly lifted his shirt, revealing a black steel pistol under the waistband of his pants.

Henry froze. “I… you… uhh…” Henry left for the bedroom.

“What’s wrong with you?” Esther asked, when Henry came in and closed the door.

“Ask Willy. He seems to know. Guy’s a dick.”

“Don’t worry about him.”

“Listen Esther, he’s got a fucking gun.” He sat on the bed while keeping an eye on the door.

“So do you.”

“No. He has a real gun. A handgun.”


“Yup. He showed it to me.”

“I’ll tell him to get the hell out of here.” She turned to leave the room.

“No. No,” Henry said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“He can’t bring a gun in this house.”

“No, don’t. Don’t say anything.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her on the bed next to him. He touched her ear and put his fingers in her hair. She touched his chest. She moved her body against his. Her hair fell across his shoulder and in his face. Her movements were slow as slow goes. He felt the coming urge of her and surged. He got dizzy. She dropped her hand on his lap. He leaned over and kissed her aggressively. He could hardly breathe.

She pulled back and touched his lip. It had cracked and blood coated a tooth. She grabbed a tissue and dabbed his tooth.

They lay back on the bed. Clothes were pulled off; they tangled and wrestled. Pants stuck on shoes were lost. Naked flesh touched naked flesh. Rock-hard white boy lay on brown-skinned belly. He moved in place, chest to chest. On her lips, he breathed out, then in. It tickled her. She chewed his good lip. Pressure built and she opened up. Clumsy boy made pelvis move. A warm and foggy womb they spun—sweat on the brow. Sweat in between them pushed aside. After a few minutes, his eyes rolled back and his tongue went dry. First time made him groan real wild. At point of utmost pleasure, a brief loss of sense, then slow unwind. He collapsed.

As sense returned to their eyes, his weight increased. He rolled off. She got up and went to the bathroom.

“That was so good,” he said, shielding his eyes from the lights in the ceiling fan.

She returned from the bathroom. “Huh?”

“I said, that was so good.”

“Yeah, it was,” she said, with little enthusiasm.

“It was?” He sat up in bed. “I mean, it was really, really good.”


“You don’t seem as impressed as … me,” Henry said. “Like, I’m tingling all over.”

“Me too.” She got on the bed with him and kissed his ear. “Me too.”

Henry drove home fast that night, without the radio on. He made his own music. First he hummed, and then he sang. When he was almost home, he changed direction and drove some more, wandering the streets of Levittown in the dark night under yellowish streetlights. He sang more—a quiet song of notes high and long.

About the author
GREG KIESER was born in Langhorne, Pennsylvania in 1970. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York and works with the Robin Hood Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting poverty in NY. AMERICAN SPAZ THE NOVEL, his first published work, is auto-biographical fiction and chronicles a decade of his life - from 7 to 17 years old - during which time he lost both parents, moved from place to place, and did whatever he needed to do to survive.  As the youngest of six children he had many opportunities, during that decade, to rely on, and sometimes reject, the love of family.

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