Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Elif Batuman. Her debut novel The Idiot is available in trade paperback from Penguin.

Get the free Otherppl app.

Support the show at Patreon or via PayPal.

 

How did I get from standing on the bimah for my son’s bar mitzvah three years ago to visiting my son at the adolescent wing of a psych ward? Raphael is here on a 72-hour hold, a “5150.” This is where a social worker from the Psychiatric Emergency Team (PET) evaluates a person under 18 to see if he is at risk to himself or others. This is the first time my son has been put on such a hold related to his escalating drug use. I drive somewhere down the 605 towards Santa Ana to a hospital with an adolescent psych unit. I am buzzed into a locked unit. I enter and sign in, looking eagerly around for Raphael. The large room where the visits take place has posters on the wall. Some are informational—rules—others are friendly with pleasant scenes and inspirational quotes, but it doesn’t take away from the stark, institutional look. This will not be one of Raphael’s favorite places for a psych hold. Subsequent adolescent wards and treatment centers we pass through will have bright murals, and I will not remember where this one was, that it was only a waystation to the next step that I had hoped would arrest the downward slide. But the physicality, the geographic location, of this first 72-hour hold he goes on, will mostly be a giant blank in my memory. I’ve been told that trauma can do this, above and beyond the normal menopausal memory loss.

Your book Getting Off is about your struggle with sex and porn addiction, but it’s also about your journey towards shame-free womanhood, so I’m just going to ask you what everyone’s wondering—did you ever get into bestiality porn?

That’s what everyone’s wondering?

Well you write that some porn is bad, right? What about sloshing? Is that bad too? If I like bestiality and sloshing does that mean I have a problem?

I think you may have misunderstood something. Did you read the book?

How about hentai?

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Willy Vlautin. His new novel Don’t Skip Out On Me is available from Harper Perennial. It is the official February pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

This is Willy’s second appearance on the program. He was the guest in Episode 258, on March 9, 2014.

Get the free Otherppl app.

Listen via iTunes.

Support the show at Patreon or via PayPal.

The House of Erzulie is, if I may be frank, chock-full of atrocities and lurid trivia. Is it really necessary to include this level of detail? It’s as though you enjoy making your readers squirm.

You mean the bloodshed, body counts, and madness inherent in my work? Or the graphic depictions of rabies and yellow fever deaths? Well, it is a gothic novel in the truest, literary sense of the word, thus designed to be atmospheric and sensationally distressing. We navigate this world using our senses, so stories that lack sensual detail feel “empty” to me. Hollow. I like to provide an immersive experience. Maybe submerge is a better term, for my stories do invite the reader to a sink into the deep waters of emotion. And yeah, I guess I do kinda enjoy making people squirm.

Adelaide Randolph does not meet me at the airport. Instead, she sends the intern, Owen, to fetch me. A scrappy little man-boy who looks as if his mother has just finished scrubbing him up for church waits outside the curb at baggage claim, holding up a sign that reads “Mueller: Belle Rive Plantation.”

He offers his hand and I pretend not to see it. Handshakes are the Devil’s germ-delivery system.

“Hey, I’m Owen. Flight okay?”

I nod as he grabs the handle of my wheelie bag and steers us out to the parking lot, his mouth going the whole time.

Hey! You showed up! I didn’t think you would.

Well, I almost didn’t when I heard you were doing the interview.

 

I’m not that bad…we go way back, after all! I think of us as brothers, almost twins.

Says you. I already have an identical twin, thank you very much. Come on, let’s get this over with.

 

All right, all right, anything you say. So: for most of your career, you’ve published poetry and literary essays. But now you have two books out, companion pieces, one a book of poems, House of Fact, House of Ruin, while the other is a book of long form journalism, The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing In an Age of Refugees. About ten years ago, you began to write these essays, in part about refugee issues in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. And you’ve also written about the situation in Libya just before the second civil war broke out a few years ago, as well as your trip to Iraq just as ISIS was establishing itself in the region. Can you explain how a poet came to write about these issues?

What I’d like to get Romeo to understand
if he weren’t already dead is that
all I do is check my mail.

I do not keep an altar in my bedroom—
candles flicker not around my temporary tomb
I am not allowed to keep a pet in this apartment
so I was thinking icons might actually be someone to talk to or
ask things of

and Leonardo DiCaprio has gotten so young
smoking a cigarette against that orange sunset

This week on Otherppl, a conversation with Rachel Lyon. Her debut novel, Self-Portrait with Boy, is available now from Scribner.

Get the free Otherppl app.

Listen via iTunes.

Support the show at Patreon or via PayPal.

I saw Elizabeth Ellen before I’d read any of her work. There was a photo of her on a flyer for a book tour during the fall of 2014, and it piqued my interest so I googled her book Fast Machine.  The search result provided several dozen more striking pictures of Elizabeth and I remember thinking, who is this chick? I found her website and read everything I could find written by her online. My obsession with Elizabeth Ellen was born.

 

Sometimes a gal just needs to get away.

My sister and I had been talking about taking a trip together. No kids. No husbands. Just her and me for four whole glorious days. Our first ever sisters trip.

We would be able to talk and giggle all night. Eat ice cream in bed. Even jump on the bed. Sleep in. Walk around in our underwear. Share lipstick. See girly tourist sites and stores no male eyes want to bother observing. Go to tea or coffee and sit all day just chatting about all the things that connect us and make us sisters that share the same blood and childhood so that we know each other better than we know ourselves.

When did you start writing poetry?

I started writing poetry in high school as a way to deal with my depression. I realized much later (at the age of 30) that I was a lesbian, but back in high school all I knew was that I felt different and was unhappy. Most of what I wrote wasn’t very good—it was just a way for me to process my feelings. I continued to write poetry in college and I still have notebooks full of poems I wrote over thirty years ago. Interestingly, some of my poems from this period of my life are about same-sex attraction. In my own hand writing! And yet my mind was not ready to accept (and celebrate) who I was.

Because everything is in motion:
bone, ivory, shell. And blood

doesn’t hold on to anything
but itself. Because there are worlds

within worlds—geometries
of ant and whale, girl and boy.

And some infinities are larger
than other infinities. Because iron filings

can reveal invisible lines of force.
And my mother’s last words were:

help me. Because my father loved
Lincoln’s general—the one who drinks

and still wins the War—and the past
is a fine skin that does not protect.

 How do you feel now that the book is out?

Like a cow jumped over the moon. Like I have landed on pesticide-free virgin grass, which for a cow like me, is bovine heaven. After all, there aren’t too many books written about cows. The Milk Lady of Bangalore may have my mistress in the title but it is really about me: Ananda Lakshmi a.k.a. Blissful Lakshmi a.k.a. Blissful Goddess of Wealth a.k.a AL. You can call me Al.

The elevator door opens.

A cow stands inside, angled diagonally to fit. It doesn’t look uncomfortable, merely impatient.

I reflexively move forward, and then stop, trying not to gape.

“It is for the housewarming ceremony on the third floor,” explains the woman who stands behind the cow, holding it loosely with a rope. She has the sheepish look of a person caught in a strange situation who is trying to act as normal as possible.