How could I have anticipated becoming friends with two Sarahs in less than a year? In July, I wrote 31 sentences about 11 hours because the timespan unfolded into a tidy narrative. But I didn’t write about meeting the second Sarah and I didn’t write about drinking humongous Bud Light Oranges on her roof, the overlap of our Venn-diagram so fat we both kept saying, “Wait, wait! I got a story about that,” and then never telling any of them. I began writing this novel January 1st with two parameters: 1. I’d compress the primary occurrence, thought, or theme of each day into a single sentence 2. If anyone is mentioned by name, I must get their green (or, in some cases, yellow) light prior to publication. I ditched the first rule in lieu of the linear essays I wrote in June and July and I’ve abused punctuation to turn full paragraphs into sentences and there are a slew of other ways I’ve circumnavigated to allow myself greater narrative freedom and, if I’m being completely honest, to save my ass from habitual procrastination. But I’m committed to literary consent because no sentence is worth bridge-burning or hurting someone and I’m committed to real names because if someone says they’re comfortable only if I pseudonym, they’re not comfortable. First Sarah has been mentioned twice so her name will remain “Sarah” while second Sarah will appear as “Sarah Q.” I think often of the sentence couplet in Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book where he writes: “She had a brother named Jack who I never liked but who I always said I liked. I never liked him though and I’m not putting him in my book.” I didn’t write about the divorce my coworker is going through, how his wife blindsided him one day with “I don’t think I ever loved you.” And I didn’t write about how he discusses it in such a water-cooler way even though it’s gotta be weighing on him. Or how I could never be like that, my interior life on full display even when I’d rather it not be.

what’s the harm in
letting your toes wriggle
away from your shoes
& over the sudden edge
of a waterfall? painting
the town not in red but
in earth tones? saying no?

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Emerson Whitney. He is the author of a memoir called Heaven, available from McSweeney’s.

 

Whitney is also the author of Ghost Box. He teaches in the BFA creative writing program at Goddard College and is a postdoctoral fellow in gender studies at the University of Southern California.

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As I’d written in 2017, in a review of his novel Beautiful Animals, Lawrence Osborne’s characters tend to stumble into things: whether as a result of an accident, as in The Forgiven, or by winning big at the roulette table, as in Hunters in the Dark: as if they had stepped into the intersection of opportunity and desire. What they heretofore envisaged only nebulously, something that couldn’t be put into words, now possessed a vocabulary and the will to act upon it. Like so many of Lawrence Osborne’s characters, Sarah Mullins, late of New York City and now a fugitive from the law, is a Westerner stuck in the quicksand of an alien culture she can’t even begin to comprehend; and like Robert Grieve, in Osborne’s earlier novel, Hunters in the Dark, she has travelled there to reinvent herself. Or maybe just to lose herself. Because, like so many protagonists in Osborne’s work, she has stepped over the bounds of the light of day and found treasures in the night, and one day someone might come knocking at her door.

 

She has just moved into her seven-room apartment in the Bangkok complex known as the Kingdom, with its four glass towers, each of twenty-one floors, in a city with its “decay that held a dark human nectar inside it.” Impressive in its description, the place is running down fast, just like the others in the city, “sinking into their own twilight.” And, as with Elsinore castle in Hamlet, nearly all the action is set within its walls. The claustrophobia, the ability to see into other people’s rooms and habits in this world of glass, works on the reader to evoke a sense of foreboding. Something’s coming; something bad.

Why do you write about menstrual blood, clitorises, and multiple orgasms?

Because the body is beautiful, our anatomy is beautiful. I want to celebrate its power and its limitations. Because these are experiences inherent and integral to womanhood, that are yet shamed, politicized and fetishized simultaneously. How many people out there are ashamed of the way their labium is shaped? Ashamed of their size, the slope of their breast, the stretch marks on their skin? Who out there has experienced sexual trauma? Puritan repression? Molestation, assault, rape? Who’s been told that their sexual preferences or gender are unnatural? Who is unable to orgasm? Who orgasms too quickly? Who’s been told they are ugly? Who’s been told they are too sexy? So much silence and pain. How many girls are terrified to go to school because of their cycle, told their blood is gross and stinks? How many were taught that marriage would save them? Told to be more attractive but remain pure virgins? Did you know the ‘father of gynecology’ was a slave owner who experimented on black women because he believed they didn’t feel pain? A father of gynecology. Can you swallow the irony? Did you know midwives and healers were deemed witches and cast out of society? Look up the rate of this country’s infant mortality. Did you know priests are still abusing young boys in silence and circumcision is rooted in sexual oppression? Our bodies are our temples, the only thing we truly own. Why can’t I talk about my nipples the same way I talk about my feet? I fed and nourished my son with my nipples. I bled to create and birth him. How is this not poetry? I name body parts because they need a voice. I name body parts so that I might heal, so that we might heal. I believe we have all been traumatized by the structural values of the patriarchy—and language can call it out, name the thing, heal the thing. Language can destroy, yes, but it can empower, too. Language can be a lie, but it can also be true. It can shine light into the shadow. The shadow is the reason I write. To talk to demons. To excavate the inside so that I might see, understand, know the outside more clearly. Our personal and collective traumas are asking us for a throat, a tongue, a song, an utterance, something, anything. I write about menstrual blood, clitorises, and multiple orgasms because I do not choose my themes, they choose me.

Sylvia,

Aren’t we all looking for a way out of the owl’s talons?

A way not to remember

the honeybee’s sting, the shape of a boot on your back,

all the nights your breasts would leak, a child,

the sucking, the screaming.

Aren’t we all looking for a way not to remember

the poems that cry us to sleep, the little ghosts

we carry in our hands, dare we tell?

Forget the Ativan, the razor, your car in Little River.

You wrote in blood, and for your sacrifice, I thank you,

dear Poetess, dear Mother, you took care of your children

the best you could. I’ve heard the stories.

 

Mark Gluth <[email protected]>
Jul 4, 2020, 1:10 PM
to Thomas

Hey Man, I thought I’d kick off our conversation if you are ok with that.

When I think about Alone I think it is a very self aware book. I mean the mind beneath the surface of the book comes off as having a clear idea of what it is. It seems to know what it doesn’t know as well. In this way I see it as a book that impacts what it interacts with as opposed to being impacted by it. Conversely, with Come Down To Us, I always pictured the book being like a home movie being projected on a sheet hanging at the dark end of a barn. Drafts make the sheet move and distort the image and light makes it through the roof and blots out portions of the film.

 

Thomas Moore
Jul 4, 2020, 3:06 PM
to me

I think that you’re right. Definitely that the book is there and very much ready to collaborate with whoever picks it up, with their imagination or thoughts or whatever. I love how you describe Come Down To Us. It’s an apt scene that you imagine because I always think of your writing as being very visual – I see your books so vividly when I read them. You have a skill of being able to really help or entice the mind into building these super rich scenes – you can feel the damp moss on trees, the weather is always so palpable. Do you have these really strong images appearing to you before you write them – are the ideas born like that? I ask, because I’m very much not a visual writer. For the most part, when I write, it’s the language that occurs to me. I rarely see things and then write about them – the words are just there to be lined up and rearranged.

 

Mark Gluth
Jul 4, 2020, 10:16 PM
That’s interesting about how the words are there for you, I think that gets at what I was saying about how I don’t see Alone being impacted by outside forces. Your writing often has this vibe, a confidence perhaps, where it seems like it considers anything outside of itself as besides the point. That’s something I admire about it for sure. For me, the mood is always the most important thing. Everything beneath it is a hodge podge that serves the goal of conveying that mood. I rewrite everything so much, and I know the drafts are moving in the right direction that when I read them back they cause a vague little film to play in my head.

 

Thomas Moore
Jul 5, 2020, 12:27 AM
to me

I mean that the ideas come in words rather than visuals. The first sentence of Alone came first and hovered round in my brain for a while before I started the book – it doesn’t always start like that. But this one sentence appeared out of nowhere without any other context; there was no scene in my head or any notion of anything else. Rather than confidence, I always think that a lot of my writing is about confusion. Maybe because by the time they are finished I’ve messed around with the texts so much and edited so much out, perhaps they are just zipped shut and hermetic or something – maybe that comes across as the confidence you can feel? I dunno. Similar to what you say – I always think in terms of mood – that kind of trumps anything else when I’m writing.

Oh – I mentioned my first sentence, which reminded me that I wanted to ask about yours – that first sentence in Come Down To Us is really something! It’s like this spiralling sensation – straight away it pulls you around and forces you inside the text – it kind of calls for this extra level of attention that I think is really important with your writing in that there always seems to be a lot happening with the sentences. It can be disorientating, which I really enjoy as a reader. Can you talk a little bit about how you started the book like that – is that where it started?

The Walk Home

(after Julian Schnabel’s “The Walk Home”)

I may be wrong, Dad, but I think that you think I don’t think about you. I can sense it when you leave that rare message on my phone, as if I choose not to pick it up, and your voice goes tinny and far away: “Well, I’d like to hear how you’re doing. I love you, son,” with a lilt in your voice right at the end, an ellipsis, as if you think I would hesitate to say those words back to you.

What are you afraid of?

ACT 1
i’m stooping scooping
ants out of their home
where grass meets path

The Good Humor ice cream stick
catapults them into the air
to drop and scurry crazily about

i dig with a vengeance
faster and deeper
to get to the bottom of things

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Nick Flynn. His new memoir, This is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire, is available from W.W. Norton & Co. It is the official August pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Flynn is the author of three previous memoirs, including the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award–winning Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and four volumes of poetry. A professor on the creative writing faculty at the University of Houston, he lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

 

How do you synthesize what feels like nine lives, consolidate them into one?

Giant-sized puzzles take time to assemble, especially jigsaws with four different

I do plots. Raised in Barbie-Cinderella era, unrealistic narratives

 

skewed your sense of reality. Grateful for your upbringing, girlhood was cushioned

with advantage: stylish clothing, summer travel, pricey dinners at fancy restaurants.

As if your early story had been written in purple prose. After your father died,

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Stephen Graham Jones. His latest novel, The Only Good Indians, is available from Gallery Books.

 

Jones is the author of twenty-five or so novels and collections, and there’s some novellas and comic books in there as well. Stephen’s been an NEA recipient, has won the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction, the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, a Bram Stoker Award, four This is Horror Awards, and he’s been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. He’s also made Bloody Disgusting’s Top Ten Horror Novels. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Mesha Maren. Her debut novel, Sugar Run, is available from Algonquin Books.

 

Maren’s short stories and essays can be read in Tin HouseThe Oxford American, The Guardian, CrazyhorseTriquarterly, The Southern Review, Ecotone, Sou’westerHobart, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, and elsewhere. She was the recipient of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, a 2014 Elizabeth George Foundation grant, an Appalachian Writing Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. She was the 2018-2019 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Duke University and also serves as a National Endowment of the Arts Writing Fellow at the federal prison camp in Alderson, West Virginia.

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Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Sabrina Orah Mark. Her story collection, Wild Milk, is available from The Dorothy Project.

 

 

Sabrina grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She earned a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University, an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD in English from the University of Georgia. She is the author of the book-length poetry collections The Babies (2004), winner of the Saturnalia Book Prize chosen by Jane Miller, and Tsim Tsum (2009), as well as the chapbook Walter B.’s Extraordinary Cousin Arrives for a Visit & Other Tales from Woodland Editions.

Her poetry and stories most recently appear in American Short Fiction, The Bennington Review,  Tin House (Open Bar), The Collagist, jubilat, The Believer, and have been anthologized widely.

She lives in Athens Georgia with her husband, Reginald McKnight, and their two sons. For The Paris Review she writes a monthly column on fairytales and motherhood entitled HAPPILY.

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Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Hilary Leichter. Her debut novel, Temporary, is available from Coffee House Press.

 

 

Hilary teaches at Columbia University, where she earned her MFA in Fiction. She has received fellowships from The Edward F. Albee Foundation, the Table 4 Writers Foundation, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She lives in New York.

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