JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN is a long form journalist often compared to David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter S. Thompson (who famously included himself as a character in his quasi journalistic pieces like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
Here's what Sullivan says about including himself as a character in his pieces: "I never really feel like I’ve given myself away, in a piece; the “first person” isn’t you; you’re zero. The first person already involves the assertion of a mask. As for the balance, I feel about it precisely as one would at a meal or on a boat with strangers, wanting to talk about myself enough not to seem closed off, but never so much as to bore them, and always watching, in a probably paranoid way, for that moment, that line, when I’ve talked a sentence too long, and added a detail after they’d lost interest in the subject. The eyes people get at that moment, they glaze over and go dead, in an uncontrollable primate way—we can’t help it. I hate and fear those eyes. This isn’t exactly a heroic vision of the writer, but it’s natural. I am trying to charm the reader because I want him and her to come with me deeper into the piece. If you can bring them with you there, things get more interesting."
"You Blow My Mind, Hey Mickey!" by John Jermiah Sullivan: "One night my wife, M. J., said I should prepare to Disney. It wasn’t presented as a question or even as something to waste time thinking about, just to brace for, because it was happening. We have some old friends, Trevor and Shell (short for Michelle), and they have a girl, Flora, 5, who is only a year older than our daughter, Mimi. The girls grew up thinking of each other as cousins and get along beautifully. Shell and Trevor also have a younger son, Lil’ Dog. He possesses a real, dignified-sounding name, but his grandparents are the only people I’ve ever heard call him that. All his life he has been Lil’ Dog. The nickname didn’t come about in any special way. There’s no story attached. It was as if, at the moment of birth, the boy himself spoke and chose this moniker. When you look at him, something in him makes you want to say, “Lil’ Dog.” He’s a tiny, sandy-haired, muscular guy, with a goofy, lolling grin, who’s always about twice as heavy when you pick him up as you thought he was going to be." Click heading to read the essay.
"Upon This Rock" by John Jeremiah Sullivan: "I was assigned to cover the CrossOver Festival in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, three days of the top Christian bands and their backers at an isolated midwestern fairground or something. I'd stand at the edge of the crowd and take notes on the scene, chat up the occasional audience member ("What's harder—homeschooling or regular schooling"), then flash my pass to get backstage, where I'd rap with the artists themselves "This Christian music—it's a phenomenon. What do you tell your fans when they ask you why God let Creed break up" The singer could feed me his bit about how all music glorifies Him, when it's performed with a loving spirit, and I'd jot down every tenth word, inwardly smiling. Later that night, I might sneak some hooch in my rental car and invite myself to lie with a prayer group by their fire, for the fellowship of it. Fly home, stir in statistics. Paycheck." Click heading to read the essay.
An Interview w. John Jeremiah Sullivan: "It’s Ezra Pound who talks about the rose in the steel dust. They liked to do these experiments back in the Man Ray days, where they’d have a surface covered with millions of tiny iron shavings, then take a magnet in the shape of something—a rose in this case—and lower it down over the table, and the dust would gather itself into that shape. Beautiful to see. We do that with our material, when we’re writing well and not forcing it, not pushing the piece to arbitrary places. The thing itself—the rose—is the piece, and the form. It knows you’ve got ten thousand pages of material, but regrettably it only wants to be twenty or thirty pages long, so it starts demanding you make decisions. Now you’re in dialogue with it. The magnet and the dust are approaching each other." Click heading to read the interview.