Dave Housley’s required reading: George Saunders, Stacey Richter, and US Weekly. “It’s really bad for you,” the Wheaton writer says of the celebrity mag. “But it’s fun, light, and airy. And it takes about eight minutes to read it cover to cover.”
Ryan Seacrest Is Famous, Housley’s first collection of stories, strikes a similar balance between sharp short fiction and dumbed-down pop culture. Drawing from the lives of famous people who he says “don’t do anything,” and normal people “who don’t have their shit together,” Housley’s fictional riffs explore the darker side of American obsessions, from Jack Kerouac to Nicole Ritchie to Poison.
Housley, 40, began writing fiction in 2000, after taking a creative writing class on a lark while pursuing an M.S. in Towson University’s Professional Writing program. He then honed the stories a few years later at the Johns Hopkins University Master of Arts in Writing Program in D.C. before publishing the collection last month with independent Iowa City publisher Impetus Press. “Impetus was looking for work that’s too centrist for the experimental presses but too offbeat and pop-culture-y for the mainstream,” Housley says. “And that’s just the kind of crap that I’ve been writing for the past eight years.”
That “crap” includes stories about a man who rebels against his corporatized girlfriend by shaving his pubic hair and a man who is driven crazy by the fact that Ryan Seacrest is famous—an obsession so primal he can feel it “in his balls.”
“It’s kind of fascinating, what’s grown up around these people that don’t do anything,” Housley says. “I think that if you really thought hard about that, it could drive you crazy.”
Lately, Housley’s been thinking harder than usual about Seacrest. “Ryan Seacrest, strangely, keeps getting more and more famous. I think he might actually stick around,” he says. That may work in favor of Ryan Seacrest Is Famous. “All my lawyer friends are telling me that he can’t sue us, so I hope that’s true,” he says. “I figure if Simon Cowell holds up a copy of it on American Idol, we’ll probably have to do another print run.”
Housley knows that keeping ahead of celebrity culture is a hopeless task. “A lot of the pop culture references will date it,” Housley admits. “Some of them are already a little dated because the stories were written five years ago, and the references aren’t as current as they used to be. [But] if it’s going to be effective, it has to reference these flash in the pans.”
Still, he did try to update when he could: Just before the book went to press, he changed a mention of Antonio Banderas to Wilmer Valderrama.
“Valderrama’s a little esoteric,” Housley says. “Not like Poison, which lasts forever.”
Housley reads at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17, at Steve’s Bar Room, 1337 Connecticut Ave. NW, Free, (202) 293-3150.