Wil Gibson by Vanessa Vrtiak

 

You have a book out with Great Weather for MEDIA, tell me about it.

I am very proud of this book. It is a memoir of sorts. Mostly stories and poems about my childhood and growing up poor, but also stories and poems about my life into adulthood. Dealing with addiction, dealing with epilepsy, dealing with the death of loved ones, remembering the path that got me here. Really though, I say fuck a lot and I try not to say too many dumb things.

When we were barely still children,
city limit signs sealed our fate.
We saw our town as either stable or irreversible.
No one ever told us those words could be synonyms.

When chemicals became solutions,
we never saw the way out.
We fucked like teenagers
because we were teenagers.
We bought and sold pot through
drive-thru windows, got into fights
behind the bowling alley, and
drove in circles around town.
There was always a broken heart
to soothe, more often than not
your own.

ReeserHeadshot2016I was returning the sweater because it didn’t fit. I’d bought it yesterday, this tiny scrap of cobalt with flat silver buttons. It was called “The Sarah Cardigan,” and since that’s my name, I’d felt it made sense. In the boutique’s mirror, it had wrapped my arms like a hug. The buttons rested close to my frame, which was slight from a nervous summer of eating mostly toast and avocado and anticipating the move. But this morning, in our half-packed apartment, in the slanting light of the bathroom, it looked clingy, pathetic, too small. What was I, a teenager trying to show off my new little breasts? An insubstantial person, just following her boyfriend to a city with seasons? I was restless, spinning. Daniel had been out gathering abandoned boxes a few blocks away, so I’d just slipped into my car with the sweater and left.

DZ photoWhy this title: The Amado Women?

I thought it fairly well signaled that this would be a novel about the lives of women; their lives are complex and contradictory. Amado, Spanish for beloved, is the family surname. I love that wonderful undertone because all four main characters are beloved, they just may not realize it. Also, as a Zamorano I have gone through life at the tail end of the alphabet, and I wanted to shake things up a bit.

 

Not a lot of guys make the cut in this book. You got a thing against men?

Nope, not at all. I just wanted to make women’s lives the centerpiece.

Amado OrigOf all people, Mercy Amado (nació Fuerte) should know that happiness is a decision. You simply cast aside that which you are tired of looking at, weary of battling, unable to accept, and focus on that which remains. She had to have learned something during the span of her lifetime, with its marital therapy, grief counseling, past life-regression, born-again Christianity, flirtation with Buddhism, Judaism, Catholicism and atheism. Sixty years. When did you figure it all out? When did you understand the world? When did God take you by the hand and explain it all to you, elaborating that you were indeed His child—special, gifted, divine—and apologize for the mess along the way?

So there are balmy days on the surface of Mars and I look up and it’s still
wtf are you still here? And about to drop into the rooftop pool

with your horses, those unwinning twins. I need to find my way home
and draw the roof over my head, I’m shivering under the palms

because it’s like wtf? Apparently we’re all good
educated people who can situate an ironic distance between the hierarchy of gods,

men, and horses, and the DJs who spin poolside. But then again once
in a while I get into looking into my phone and it’s like, honey

used as a preservative? The spines along the inside of a skull?
“Decomposing without pomp, it suffers our sidelong nosegay.” Roadkill.

Jessica Chiarella_Photo Credit Shane CollinsSo, from the description, your book is about a group of people who get new bodies in order to cure terminal illnesses…

Yes, they’re in a pilot program called SUBlife that transfers their memories into cloned versions of their old bodies. They wake up with a body that’s theirs, it just doesn’t have any of the environmental damage their old bodies had. No scars, no wrinkles, no tattoos, none of the little traits that they’re used to in their daily lives. And the impact of that loss turns out to be rather severe.

 

You mean, this turns out not to be a good thing?

It’s a very good thing, because it does save their lives. Everything works the way it’s supposed to, medically speaking. They’re completely cured. Except the emotional impact of losing so much of their physical identities begins to weigh on the members of the pilot program when they try to renter their old lives. So it’s not the miracle that it seems to be.

9781501116100Hannah

It is certainly strange, to live the first few weeks in my new body. Perhaps the strangest part is how inconsequential the change feels sometimes. Not dying, no longer being in pain, these differences are so startling and so complete that it’s easy to forget that I was ever sick to begin with. There is no scarring, no residual damage, no daily reminder of the months I spent being mutilated by tubes and wires and needles. I have a full, thick head of hair. And I’m no longer as frail as I was in the beginning; slender stretches of muscle begin to form under the skin of my arms and legs. I look like I’m closer to running a marathon than dying of anything.

There are other things, too. Little things. My hearing is pin sharp, instead of muted by my years of rock concerts and riding on Jake Mariano’s motorcycle as a teenager and the clattering din of taking the Red Line. The little aches and pains I used to carry with me—waking up with a stiff neck, cracking the ankle I sprained playing soccer as a kid, the enduring tightness in my hips and the backs of my thighs from painting for hours on end—are gone. They are removed so thoroughly that I can’t remember exactly what they felt like. Any and all excess fat has been spirited from under my skin, leaving a thin, supple sort of body it its wake. The dimpling in my thighs and the small crevices of stretch marks in my sides, the handful of scars I’d amassed in my twenty-seven years, all have been replaced by tight, flat skin. It’s a body so perfect it is difficult to inhabit sometimes, because it’s difficult to imagine it’s really mine.

Charles Lambert 01_21a Patrizia CasamirraI’ve heard you say that, unlike Socrates, you prefer the unexamined life. So how does this feel?

Opportunistic. Uncomfortable. But I’ll do my best. Just don’t get too personal.

 

Hmm. Aren’t you a little old to be publishing a debut novel?

I thought you were supposed to be on my side. Do we really need to be talking about this? In any case, it isn’t really a debut, just a US debut. I’ve published three novels, short stories and a quirky memoir in that small island over to the right of the United States. You know, the one with the Queen and all those green and rolling hills.

 

Is that where your novel is set?

Next question.

the children's home3.inddThe children began to arrive soon after Engel came to the house. It was Engel who found the first one, an infant girl, in a basket, with a bundle of neatly folded, freshly washed clothes. The basket had been left on the steps leading up from the kitchen into the garden. Whoever had put it there must have known the way the house worked, because days might have passed before any of the other doors were opened; left anywhere else, the child would probably have died. As it was, no more than an hour or two had gone by but already the creature was blue with cold. Engel picked her up and held her, the small soft body pressed to her bosom, the small wrinkled face in the warm crook of her neck, for she didn’t know how long; a living daylight was how she described it to Morgan when she brought the baby up to him in his study. Looking across from his reading with amusement, Morgan explained that the living daylights were always plural and that they were supposed to be the part of the human soul most susceptible to fear. She nodded, fervently, that’s exactly right, it just goes on and on. That’s exactly how it was, she said, with the child’s small heart barely beating and the breath like a short hot knife blade on the skin of Engel’s neck. Engel lifted the baby away from her body and held her out to Morgan, who shook his head. She said they should tell someone perhaps, someone would know what to do with her, but Morgan disagreed. Left to himself he might have been tempted, what use did he have for a child, after all? But he could hear that Engel’s heart wasn’t in it. Just look at you both, he said. What could be better than this? Don’t you know how to deal with her as well as anyone? Let her stay here with us, where she will be clothed and fed, and kept out of this wicked weather. At least for a while. Perhaps, he thought, the child’s presence would encourage Engel not to go.

61OEvAy5j0L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_One of my favorite lines in the thorough, inspiring, and often challenging new anthology Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres, appears not in any of the myriad prose poems or lyric essays or flash fiction included there, but in the preface. The sentence begins: “Jacqueline had been experiencing a…crisis of genre faith.” So much about this anthology – its writers, its editors, and presumably its target audience – is contained in that phrase, “a crisis of genre faith.” This is a book for those of us that pray at the altar of literature, and as such, both study its many holy tenets, and occasionally (or frequently) question their holiness, prompting us to seek new, expanded ways of renewing our commitment to The Word.

null set to one so as not to mean anything
to understand.

single took a hit– bad press– lost sight of the charts,
dragged the album into the pits.
how does the singer turn it around?

full-bodied roast rounded out the morning
gave tone to thoughts administered
to break the day,
put heat on the cool kids
to shake off the night but not the before.

Stephanie's T-Mobile Phone 120

Do you know that two-thirds of all the divorces that are filed in our country are filed by women?—Michelle Weiner-Davis[1] 

 

Do you know how fast I got married? Less than ten minutes. Six of those minutes involved me standing at the back of the “aisle”—we were married outside, upscale casual—with my dad. When I was younger, I always said I’d walk my own self down the aisle because I was the one who earned the privilege, not my dad.  Too chickenshit to go through with a statement like that so when the time came, I opted for tradition. My dad wore a suit jacket over a nice pair of pants and made a joke he didn’t look this nice for his own wedding. He married my stepmom on a beach in San Diego. She shared the same first name as my mother prompting the family to refer to her as Linda 2. My cousin and I drove to the Linda 2 wedding together, and on our way to California, we stopped off for tattoos. We smoked cigarettes and listened to Madonna and stopped at every rest stop to peek inside our bandages. When we arrived, my soon-to-be stepmother greeted us and suggested we store our suitcases in the closet because her family would be staying at the house, and she didn’t want our things in the way. Linda 2 didn’t have children, and at the rehearsal dinner for their wedding, her sister told me she didn’t like them. I’d just turned 21, so I bought a bunch of booze that weekend—in that gross, blustery way most 21-year-olds on the brink of being out of control do—and drank until I couldn’t walk. My dad’s only response to the tattoo-binge-drinking-too hungover and sick to go out to dinner with them on the last night-attention-seeking behavior was to remind me not to drive when I was fucked up like that. Growing up under the umbrella of alcoholism means eventually those who you enable will come to enable you.  Circle of life.

My dad, six years later and teary at my own wedding, told me he thought I’d make a good wife. This was his way of telling me he thought I looked nice. We side-hugged. He walked me down the aisle and handed me over to my soon-to-be-husband. The ordained minister asked us if we did. We did. It was over.

“May I present Mr. and Mrs., etc., so on,” the minister said.

My husband leaned over to kiss me, and I turned away. Why did I do that? My husband asked the same question. Everyone was looking. My nerves felt like they’d been chewed up. I said I was sorry, and I laughed, and said sorry again. It was hotter than it was supposed to be that day, and I was thirsty.

25387388A few years ago a psychologist friend asked me if I was a gambler. Back in my first two years of college in a small Midwestern town—an accidental choice, after all, at least for this East Coast kid—overcome with boredom though periodically buzzing with passels of first-rate psychedelics and crystal meth, I’d play weekend-long poker games, listening to stacks of variously-scratched Rolling Stones LPs in someone else’s dorm room, resulting in lost sleep and most of the cash in my pocket. Each deal on site  was going to be better than the last. Walk away when you’re down? What’s the point of that, eh? Shut up and deal. We do it over and over again, because luck is like some invisible force in the universe: sometimes it’s on your side, and sometimes it isn’t. If you back out, you’ll never know if the next hand’s going to be a royal straight flush. So you ante up and watch the cards sail towards you.

51cKAyKbWyL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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The Queen of the Night is an astonishing universe into which its lucky readers can dissolve completely, metamorphosing alongside its shapeshifting protagonist. Lilliet Berne steals her name from a gravestone and launches into a life of full-throated song; her voice is an intoxicant, and this book is a glorious performance. Chee’s enveloping, seductive prose is perfectly matched to the circus world of the opera.” —Karen Russell, bestselling author of Swamplandia

From a ferociously talented writer, praised as “the fire, in my opinion. And the light,” by Junot Diaz, comes a blazing portrait of one woman’s rise from courtesan to world-renowned diva.

Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.

As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue.

Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves ever closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation — or destroy her with the secrets it reveals.