Recent Work By Jessica Anya Blau

When I was a kid, I used to sneak into my parents’ room and steal whatever book was on the nightstand on my mom’s side of the bed. I tried Anaïs Nin, I tried The Bell Jar, I even tried The Happy Hooker and, alas, none of them could hold my attention. And then one day I found Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. And I couldn’t stop reading. The book felt magical in its ability to transport me into the mind of a grown woman. It was the ideal reading experience, one that launched me into a lifetime of reading and, eventually, writing. Since that time, Erica Jong has written volumes of poetry, a memoir, two nonfiction books, and seven other novels, includingFanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones; Shylock’s Daughter (formerly titled Serenissima); and Inventing Memory. Recently she edited a very spirited and diverse collection of essays titled, Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex.

Meg Tuite’s novel-in-stories, DOMESTIC APPARITION, is a riveting, somewhat heartbreaking romp through the growing up years of a Catholic girl, Michelle. She gets high with and worships her rebellious lesbian sister, admires her nerdy, genius brother, and is afraid of their sometimes violent father.  The book travels from childhood where Michelle and her sister trick their cousin into chugging a glass of straight liquor, to her early twenties where Michelle works at a job she hates with a woman she learns to admire.  In between there is stolen art, lessons on the Papal history, and a tall girl who gets a thrill from defecating on a neighbor’s lawn.

Ellen Sussman’s fourth book, FRENCH LESSONS, just came out to rave reviews.  People magazine gave it four out of four stars, a ¾ page layout, and the title of People Pick. You may already know Ellen from her first novel, On a Night Like This. Or perhaps you’ve picked up the two anthologies she’s edited: Bad Girls:26 Writers Misbehave, or Dirty Words: A Literary Encylopedia of Sex. Ellen’s writing is witty, engaging, and always sexy.

My mother was the one who sent me Donald Ray Pollock’s first book, KNOCKEMSTIFF.  She had heard him on NPR, called me that day and told me about the interview.  Then she read the book and it was all over for her, true love.  It’s sort of like my daughter with Justin Bieber.  KNOCKEMSTIFF is a captivating, extraordinary book that will knock you over but, amazingly, Donald Ray Pollock’s second book, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME, is even better.  It was a pleasure to talk to Donald Ray Pollock about his new book.  He is modest, kind, and one of those people whose success makes you happier than it does jealous.

It smelled like men. And maybe that was because there were over thirty of them and only three women. One woman was teaching naked yoga and as far as I could see (I dipped my head in to glance at the class), all the followers were men.

I started and finished Jesus Angel Garcia’s new book, badbadbad, on a flight from Baltimore to California.  In those six hours, I read more sex scenes than I’ve read in the past five years.  It’s one of those books that will keep you from putting on your headphones and watching the lamely re-edited in-flight movie (something I’d never even heard of was playing on this flight).  Music runs through the novel  (go to www.badbadbad.net for the playlist) in a way that makes the book feel like a loud, thrilling, invigorating concert. A concert about sex, religion, music and violence.

It seems as though everyone is talking about Michael Kimball and his new newly released novel, US.  Sam Lipsyte calls Kimball a “Hero of contemporary fiction.”  Blake Butler says US is one of only two books that ever made him cry.  And Gary Lutz says that Kimball is “One of our most supremely gifted and virtuosic renderers of the human predicament.” 

US might break your heart, but it’s a good kind of break-the kind that reminds you how nice it is to be alive.

Francine Prose is way more prolific than you or I.  She has written fourteen novels, three short story collections, one children’s book, and four books of non-fiction.  Additionally, she teaches, writes book reviews for the New York Times, is a a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine, a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bard College,  has won a Guggenheim award, has been nominated for a National Book Award, and has been president of the PEN American Center.  Her subject matter ranges from her fascination with Anne Frank, to the sordidness of faculty affairs at colleges, to Caravaggio, to 911, to death, life, and love. Her work is often funny, sometimes irreverent, occasionally serious, and always smart and beautifully crafted.  I sat down with Francine at Japonica in New York City to chat with her about writing, publishing, her new novel, marriage, and the semester she was my teacher in graduate school.

I bet it’s hard for some people not to be jealous of Madison Smartt Bell.  He published his first novel, The Washington Square Ensemble, in 1983 when he was only 25.  Since then he has published 20 more books and has been named a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for All Souls Rising. Additionally, in 2008, Madison was awarded the Strauss Living Writer Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Aside from all the awards, Madison has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, he plays guitar, and he sings like a cross between John Lee Hooker and Johnny Cash.  And let us not forget that  Richard Avedon took a very cool photo of him once for The New Yorker!

The award-winning writer, Ron Tanner, has a new graphic novel out called KISS ME, STRANGER.  If my life were one long vacation and I didn’t have anything else to do, I would have read this book twice in a row.  It’s that great.

Your new graphic novel, KISS ME, STRANGER, is so wonderful, strange and original, that more than any other book it reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND.  Did you intend to write something so magical, in a sense?

I greatly appreciate that you see my book that way. Yes, I wanted to create something otherworldly – mostly because that’s how children see the world. I guess you could call this is a children’s book for adults.

1993

Day Two

Anna leans her head over Alejandro’s plate, her black hair falls like a screen across her cheek.  She sniffs, her head jittering above the gefilte fish that sits there like a rotten, battered sea sponge.  Portia watches her and wonders how many chromosomes come between man and dog.

Why are you so afraid to do the TNB Self-Interview?

Mmm, well, you know.  I’m afraid of sounding like a self-centered, self-serving arsehole.  I’m afraid of sounding stupid.  I’m afraid I really am stupid and people will find out.  There’s more, but I won’t bore you.

Meg Pokrass is a fiction writer (her story collection DAMN SURE RIGHT from Press 53 comes out in Feb.’11), and is an editor at BLIP (formerly The Mississippi Review), but I first noticed her through her animation that was showing up on TNB and elsewhere. She has a point-of-view that is hilarious, unique, and odd in the best way. Meg Pokrass’ fiction reveals her more intense side. Her stories can’t help but move you—they are often sad, always touching, usually funny, and somehow huge in how much of a world she evokes in two or three pages. Of course I was also drawn to Meg’s writing because much of her work is set in California. It turns out we’re from the same small Southern California town. Not only that, but our mothers are from the same small Pennsylvania town. We’ve never met in person but clearly we have much to talk about.

I met James (Jim) Magruder in a café in my neighborhood where I write. His book SUGARLESS was days away from coming out. He was so charming in person that I bought his book immediately and devoured it in hours. It is hilarious, touching, elegantly written, and wonderfully shameless. Not surprisingly, SUGARLESS was shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award, the VCU Cabell First Novelists Award and the 2010 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Jim wrote the book for the Broadway musical Triumph of Love, has been a resident at MacDowell, a fellow at Sewanee and has had numerous short stories published as well as anthologized. Currently he is teaching at Swarthmore College and the Yale School of Drama. But we’re not going to talk about any of that here because this is The James Magruder Sex Interview.

Larry Doyle is the author of the best-selling book, I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER. He also produced and wrote The Simpsons for several years, wrote Beavis and Butthead, was the entertainment editor at New York Magazine and wrote a bunch of Hollywood movies. Oh, and he regularly writes very funny pieces for the Shouts & Murmurs section of The New Yorker.

I caught up with Larry at Evergreen Café in Baltimore where we often sit together and work. Larry was working on the webpage for his amazing and hilarious new novel GO, MUTANTS! (HarperCollins, June 22th). I was working on this interview.