Stefan Merrill Block seems to have a knack for turning unpracticed steps into waltzes.
Take the 20something's new novel, "The Story of Forgetting." It has its roots in writing Block did while in India working as a videographer for a documentary about laughter clubs — no, not comedy clubs, rather, places to go specifically to laugh, as therapy.
"I ended up spending a lot of time in hotel rooms," the Texas native told us in a recent telephone interview from his 19th Century Brooklyn brownstone. "I decided what better time to start thinking about my own writing seriously." He returned from India with 100 pages, not knowing if they were destined to be short stories or a novel.
Then, in between occasional stints as a videographer for weddings and bar mitzvahs (another of his unpracticed dances), Block added 1,400 more pages. And, eventually, transformed them into his 325-page debut. Woven around early-onset Alzheimer's, "Forgetting" belies Block's 26 years.
It also stands in contrast to the unstudied, shall we call it, "charm" of his two-bedroom, rent-controlled apartment that looks out to a cemetery, park and expressway. He shares it with writer Anne Thibault and his "fur baby," a little black pug named Chachi.
Its decor, Block says rather proudly, can be called: "Primitive Brooklyn Writer's Style."
"Basically, everything in this apartment was pilfered off the street or given to us by friends ... right down to our flatware and our plates." And everything has a story.
"The plate that I most often use once belonged to my ex-girlfriend's grandparents in Iowa. They protected these plates for years. ... They were these holy objects.
"My ex-girlfriend left for California — and, now," he says with amusement, "they're everyday plates for me."
The mosaic-topped, wrought iron table in the kitchen came from one of his roommate's friends. ("He couldn't fit it through his doorway, so we took it.") This is where Block works, perched on "ugly black plastic chairs" that are so uncomfortable, he says, they keep him focused, his laptop surrounded by a half-dozen coffee cups "and a wrapper from a bagel I probably ate yesterday."
What item in your home most reflects your personality: My laptop ... I also have this gigantic inflatable moose head that is currently under my bed and deflated — which is kind of emblematic of my personality.
One thing on your nightstand: [Block doesn't have one and, instead, pushes his mattress to one side of his box spring.] There is a copy of "Running in the Family" by Michael Ondaatje.
One thing on a wall in your bedroom: I go to Winnipesaukee [in New Hampshire] every summer — my great-grandparents purchased this cottage ... [I've got] a topographical map of Winnipesaukee. There's also a painting that I bought from an artist in India. It's abstract. Almost like early Rothko and at the base of it are two figures in saris. It's very colorful.
One thing you have in your house from your childhood: I have a very embarrassing object which is my collection of Magic the Gathering cards. It's a ridiculous card game that teenage boys play. I was really into it. The reason I brought it, when I was working on my book, I was convinced I was going to auction it on eBay, but I didn't have the heart to do it.
If you had to save one "thing" from your home, what would it be? Chachi. If it was thing, it would be my laptop — not my Magic the Gathering cards. I would think it was a metaphor if they burned.
What reading material would we find in your bathroom? We're not really readers in the bathroom. But you would find ... an ad from 1954 for Kotex. [Anne] framed it from an old Life magazine.
Most embarrassing thing in your home that you hide when guests come over: An embarrassing array of coats and sweaters for our dog. We have sophisticated clothing for her. She has her own little closet.
Biggest surprise we'd find in your closet: A balled-up tuxedo. From when I was a videographer.
What kind of exercise equipment would we find in your home? My roommate has a large collection of unwieldy exercise equipment. Everything has been used exactly twice. A massive inversion table. Mini-trampoline. A bunch of weights. A bizarre New Agey gym.
Are aspects of "green living" evident in your home? Abstractly and incidentally, we live in a very green way because we're cheap. All our furniture was found on the street. And we're too cheap to throw things away, so we use containers over and over.
Do you do any snooping of your own when visiting friends? I don't know why else you would have friends.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times