I first met Kristen Millares Young at the venerable Hugo House, a central hub of literary life in Seattle, WA where she was Prose Writer-in-Residence from 2018-2020. I’d driven up from Portland to read a story at the Hugo Literary Series that featured a new mother whose brain, body, and sexuality made choices the narrator didn’t feel in control of. After the reading, Millares Young approached me and said, essentially, Thank you for that. I knew exactly what she meant. She also had two young children at home, was midway through mentoring a hundred or so writers as part of her writer-in-residence post, and her first book Subduction was due out the following year. Within the first few minutes of our conversation, she felt like kin. 

When speaking, Millares Young exudes a fearless intelligence and a laser focus of concentration, with just the right amount of cursing (to my taste) peppered in. I suspect all three traits are useful and/or born from her background in investigative journalism. Her work appears in the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the New York Times, where she was the researcher for the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for “Snow Fall,” as well as many other newspapers, literary reviews, magazines and anthologies, including Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity (Routledge). She has degrees from Harvard and the University of Washington, and she was co-founder of InvestigateWest, a nonprofit news studio in the Pacific Northwest.

Her debut novel Subduction launched on April 14th, the same time COVID-19 began to pummel New York after shutting down most of the West Coast, and many of her book launch events had to be postponed or moved online, including a bunch of readings coming up this fall. By the time we got together for this interview on June 1st, we were more than two months into lockdown while homeschooling our kids, and it had been exactly one week since George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police. 

The escalating roar of national anger and demand for rights and protection is a macrocosm of the issues explored in her novel. As a Latinx woman, Millares Young is well acquainted with both the weight of America’s historical oppression and its racist counterpoint of representation.

Precisely as in real life, Subduction and its characters navigate complicated truths that often don’t settle easily into alignment with everyday reality. The story unfurls between dual narrators, Claudia and Peter. A Latina anthropologist, Claudia has just fled her falling-apart marriage to throw herself into fieldwork studying the ritual songs of a Makah whaling village. She collides with Peter, back home in Neah Bay to get answers from his failing mother about his father’s murder. Both of them, in their own ways, are desperate to make meaning of their lives. 

As are we all.

 

 

Subduction is a finalist in two categories (Best First Book and Best Novel, both in English) of the International Latino Book Awards.

Purchase a copy here!

 


 

 

I’m curious about the idea of complicity in Subduction.

 

Millares Young: Subduction is a case study of complicity. Which of course is a national condition shared by immigrants to this country and their descendants, everybody who’s not Indigenous or who was not brought here against their will. We have a responsibility to address the truths of our nation’s founding as it pertains to continued repression, and to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples to self-determination and their lands. 

The best way for me to bring readers alongside my decade of exploring these questions was through fictional narratives, which allow readers to process dangerous emotional responses in a safe place.

 

I’m interested in the dance that happens between complicity and appropriation where Claudia is concerned, the Venn diagram overlap of these two ideas in the book. 

 

Millares Young: There’s a very long history of exploitation of Native stories and immigrant stories, and rarely are they put into juxtaposition in such a way that affords greater insight into the pressures that each are facing as they come into moments of contact. My hope was to show through Peter and Claudia how even small moments are imbued with fractals spanning cultural, interpersonal, historical and geologic concerns. If I can help readers begin to highlight patterns in their own thinking, or if they can begin to recognize some of the forces that condition their ways of being and thinking, then I think that the book will have done its work. 

There are many white people across this country right now who, in part because of the structural insufficiency of our educational system, are struggling to understand what it means when a police officer asphyxiates a handcuffed Black man to his death. And it’s because they have not really confronted their role in revealing and healing the truth of our origin story. And, of course, the truth is that origin story is so multivalent. It’s Black, it’s white, it’s Indigenous, it’s Latino, it’s transnational, and that story cannot just be stripped down to its parts. 

But part of the project of fiction is to portray complexity by allowing access to the interiority of characters and also to heighten the readerly experience of that complexity by choosing the glimmers, curating the portrayal of those moments, and allowing these daily situations to stand in for hundreds and thousands of years of cultural conflict. And so, you have to be incredibly careful about what you choose.

 

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?

 

Mary South’s You Will Never Be Forgotten is an excellent collection of high concept short stories, usually having something to do with the intersection of technology and being human—energetic literary fiction that sometimes collides with sci-fi, or something even more interesting that I can’t put my finger on; I just think of them as Mary South stories. A clone named Keith, being harvested for his internal organs, is also an object of love; a person who works as an online content scrubber lashes back at a venture capitalist who sexually assaulted them; a devastated mother resurrects a deceased daughter with new tech. I loved this book. I read it on an airplane right before Covid-19 quarantine happened and was in awe after every story, “Oh this one will be a movie someday.” “Oh this one could, too.” “Oh they should make six movies out of this one.” Mary South has big ideas but cares just as much about her sentences and her characters. There’s a big heartbeat, a big pulse of life running though the veins of her writing. She’s an idiosyncratic, singular voice out there, telling radical stories about normal people thrust into a strange changing world. What else can I say? When I finished You Will Never Be Forgotten and got off the airplane, things were beginning to shut down for the coronavirus. I wanted to know more about Mary South and how she creates her unique stories. Instead of meeting up in person in the city, like I’m sure we would have done, and recording the conversation over a few beers, the questioning turned to telephone calls and emails and google docs and on and on, at least we didn’t have to do any Zooms. All right. Well, I’m always interested in where artists come from, so I guess we’ll begin there. The first thing I learned about Mary South is that she grew up in a small town called Rosemount. There were a lot of woods, she says. It was quiet.

 

Mary South: My mother is from Northern Minnesota, another small town called Starbuck. She has the strong accent and everything. She comes from a long line of farmers. She’s told me both some pretty harrowing and funny stories about farm work.

 

Bud Smith: What happened on the farm?

 

MS: When she was a child, my mother became attached to this calf, which she named Velvet because its coat was so soft. She still brings up sometimes how she showed up after school one day on the farm to see it, but Velvet had been shipped off to the slaughterhouse for veal. This anecdote will often segue into how my great-great-grandmother walked heavily pregnant behind a covered wagon for weeks until they reached northern Minnesota and started farming back in the 1800s.

My mother’s uncle Claude managed the farm for decades until he died and it was finally sold. He could toss a bale of hay with one arm into his tractor even when he was very old. Those bales are heavy, a hundred pounds or more. We would visit him on occasion when I was a kid; on one such trip, he whispered to me that he believed aliens were living underneath the surface of the earth. I told my mother about it later, and she said, “Oh, Claude was just messing with you.” I think he had a bit of a diabolical sense of humor.

 

Adam O’Fallon Price is the author of two novels: The Grand Tour (Doubleday, 2016) and most recently The Hotel Neversink (Tin House, 2019). We recently discussed the joys and difficulties of writing a poly-vocal story, which takes place in a New England resort. The Neversink resort is at once a character, an atmosphere, and a stage that allows for a host of characters to change, stifle, murder, love, and defeat one another. 

 

Randal O’Wain: One of my favorite aspects of The Hotel Neversink is the little moments of reflection that each character presents throughout the book. As when Jeanie thinks, “My father was not an easy man. But why should people be easy? It is a cherished lie of the modern world, of America, that everything should be good and easy, as though comfort were a moral condition.” To maintain this level of interiority without sounding overtly authorial, one, I assume, must know the characters very well. Talk to me about the process of inhabiting so many different perspectives, thoughts, and feelings. How did you go about writing and structuring this novel?

 

Adam O’Fallon Price: The novel began as the story about one of the main characters, Len, when he’s trying to keep the hotel open in the mid-eighties and dealing with the Polish Policeman’s League, who was running amok. This story came from a man I met when we lived in upstate New York, the husband of my wife’s boss, who had grown up in Brooklyn in the forties, and gone to Catskills resorts for thirty plus years. He’d seen the rise, heyday, and demise of the whole institution, and was a wealth of these incredible stories. So after I wrote that one, and maybe a couple of others, it became clear that the hotel itself was a mainspring that could power so many different stories and voices. And in a weird way, I think occupying this space suggested different characters and different character perspectives. The hotel as seen by a young girl would be radically different from the hotel as seen by the hotel detective. I think always having the hotel there as a shared, immutable feature of life, gave me something solid and objective against which I could imagine all these different subjective experiences. I think the hotel gave me a way in to character perspectives that I would not have otherwise had, or had as easily.

Last August a photo of Brad Phillips’ book Essays and Fictions was posted on Instagram.  The picture was a close up of Anthony Bourdain’s blurb—he’d only died a couple months earlier—that read “searingly honest, brilliant, and disturbing…” I guess I’m a sucker for excellent marketing, because I wanted to read the book immediately.  I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the novel’s release, and since the Instagram caption said advanced readers copies were available, I emailed Tyrant Books and requested one.

Essays and Fictions is a perfect example of why I love to read. Reading a book for the first time, a book I’ll grow to love, is an intimate process. The words on the page somehow seep into me, and the story stays inside long after the book is finished. The eleven stories in Essays and Fictions painstakingly focus on overlapping subject matter like drug addiction, sex, pain, loss, suicide and love—topics considered ‘disturbing,’ but the writing in this book about these topics is not only beautiful, but deeply sincere.

When I really love a book, I become obsessed and I do this thing: underlining various sentences, posting the underlined sentences on Instagram stories, tweeting sentences I connect with. I google the author, what else have they written that I can read right now? During one of my Brad Phillips k-holes online I found another blurb, The Paris Review said of Brad’s work, “He doesn’t ask to be liked, even by his groupies, but he does want to communicate: ‘I’m not interested in the ones who are drawn to the creator of the work, I’m interested in the ones who are drawn to the content.’”

In Essays and Fictions, I’m drawn to both.

Brad and I corresponded in December 2018, after I finished the book, via a Google doc. The following is what we talked about.

There are scant few bits of non-musical media that fans of shoegaze music would consider essential canon. There’s the 33⅓ book about My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. There’s a 2014 documentary no one really watched called Beautiful Noise. I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower references a song by Ride maybe. And most famously, there’s Lost in Translation, the 2003 film featuring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray looking sad to a hazy soundtrack of My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and the Mary Chain, and Kevin Shields solo tracks.

But that was about it, right up until this March, when Wichita’s Troy James Weaver put out the delightfully bleak and brutal Temporal (Disorder Press, 2018). “Set to a shoegaze soundtrack,” goes the synopsis, “Temporal is the story of one tumultuous summer in the lives of three teenagers in Wichita, KS.” As a lover of both shoegaze and indie lit, this seemed like an obvious new favorite. And you know what? It was. I loved this book.

I spoke with Weaver a little bit about the writing of Temporal and the role that the different kinds of music referenced therein play in the larger narrative.

Sweet Marjoram, your new book, is done up in shades of green, on a velvet-soft matte cover.  It’s very tactile, this book.  There is this sensation of the flora, moist and juicy, stretching up from dark waters toward an unseen light source.  I think the cover image serves these writings extremely well.  As I went through the differently themed chapters, I had a sense of Thoreau musing over things.

The cover design by is Marc Vincenz  (also the editor of Mad Hat Press, the umbrella for Plume Editions).  It’s meant to portray the herb sweet marjoram, which was believed to cure madness in Shakespeare’s time, hence this close-up photograph of the living leaves against a dark background.  I took my title from the impromptu password that Edgar in King Lear (Act 4.6) offers the maddened Lear on Dover Beach, and I hoped to share that friendly, respectful spirit in my essays.  Given the Lear connection, by the way, we had also considered a different image from a Lear performance in the 1960s, where Lear wears a crown of weeds (rather than thorns) and actually offers Edgar some weed like a stoned Timothy Leary.  I preferred the first, simpler and more classic design, and I’m pleased it works so well for you: even bringing Thoreau to mind.  Thoreau both explored Nature as a scientist and imagined it as a poet, or tried to.  Interesting that his Walden Pond also helps him assess “unaccommodated man.”

Also, I suppose, just as Thoreau left civilized Concord for the woods, which seemed to others an odd and whimsical thing to do, here I’m leaving the serious literary work of novel and memoir writing, or seem to be.

In Vanishing Acts, Jaimee Wriston Colbert’s new novel and sixth work of fiction, the author takes us to the Big Island of Hawai’i, where she grew up body-surfing, listening to stories about the volcano goddess Pele, and later as an adult, on return trips from the mainland, observing the alarming signs of her beloved island’s changing ecosystem, due to drought and other environmental stressors.

Through her storytelling lens, Colbert chronicles the effects of the traumatic transformation Hawai’i is undergoing as its rare species and forests disappear, a theme that also informs her fifth book, Wild Things, a linked story collection set in upstate New York.

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.

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Not to have this be an all-out puff piece, but let me try and describe two types of virtuosity I like. Maybe it’s because I spent all summer watching basketball. Dunks and jumpers. Crossovers. If you hate sports, bear with me. But for instance, a jump shot. A technique to it, there’s a purity you can appreciate. That buzzer-beater, last second of the game, or even just pulling up in traffic, as they say, soaking wet; smartly, coolly executed, or from the couch, surrounded by snacks, even watching the pros do it, the effect is weirdly triumphant, gratifying.

Here’s the other type. Because, to get that jumper to go, to have that moment, there’s hours and hours you’ve got to spend, hundreds of thousand of hours, more than shooting, also dreaming, thinking about jumpshots. Let me go ahead and say Jane Liddle’s debut is about murder, not basketball. In that sense, Murder is about nuance. In that we’re all going to die. Right? Sooner or later. And we’re all capable of killing, probably. Consider it that way, and a story, any story is actually, truly, only the details. Fifty-eight murders. Some tragic, some frightening. A funny one or two. Each only a couple of pages. Some like poems. Some, tightly plotted, 3-act short stories. The murder in there about “the Saint,” that was disturbing in a way I can’t exactly explain.

malone3

Although we’ve both lived in Portland, Oregon for years, I met Margaret through a mutual acquaintance at the Association of Writing and Writing Professionals conference in LA. I was about halfway through with her collection of short stories, People Like You, and I was in love with her characters. They were sometimes lost, sometimes broken, but they were always hopeful in some way. It was quickly apparent to me in talking with Margaret that she was someone inspiring, perhaps especially to me. We both write while working in a field outside of writing, while also raising kids. It can be crazy-making, which is likely why it took three months of planning just to arrange a coffee date. Several months after that, when we met for this interview, it was early in the morning and we were both headed to work immediately after.

Margaret’s book was released by Alterier26 Books in Fall of 2015. It was the winner of the Balcones Prize for Fiction and a finalist for the 2016 PEN Hemingway Award. Margaret’s work has also appeared in The Missouri Review, Oregon Humanities, Swink, Propeller Quarterly and elsewhere. I interviewed Margaret on a sunny morning in a Portland coffee shop.

SarahAnnA little over a year ago, an article headlined Los Angeles and Its Booming Creative Class Lures New Yorkers was published in the New York Times style section. Seemingly written solely to troll LA residents, the piece name-dropped “in-season Zambian coffee,” the downtown Ace Hotel, and Moby’s house here as evidence that LA was finally suitable for New York tastes. “Los Angeles is widely acknowledged to have become strikingly more cosmopolitan in recent years,” the author noted, going on to list brioche tarts and barrel-aged rye cocktails as proof that Southern California was a region on the rise.

The bemused furor that arose on social media died down, but not before journalist, podcaster, and famed caftan enthusiast Ann Friedman wrote a parody for the LA Times. In her take, Friedman expresses shock and delight at the idea that Angelenos are “reversing the American directive to go west…finding that New York is more than a capitalist prison that runs on the fumes of the finance industry and nostalgia for CBGB.” “In fact,” she writes, “it now offers many of the lifestyle amenities that their hometown has boasted for decades.” (Friedman’s listed amenities include green juice, raw meals and “an In-N-Out Burger replacement called Shake Shack.”)

James Tadd Adcox author picBen Tanzer (for TNB): Does Not Love has a lot to say about the state of marriage. Did you start the novel wanting to comment on the state of marriage or did you end up there anyway?

James Tadd Adcox: What has fascinated me about the domestic novel, and novels in general, is this argument that the novel traditionally has been structured by marriage. The form of the novel has been based on the institution of marriage. Marriage is this massive irreversible decision that change dramatically the rest of your life. Once you’re in it you can’t get out of it. The taboo against adultery is like a horror. What can the novel be now that we don’t have the taboo of adultery and divorce exists?

1904040_737060239645068_532688268_n(1)I’ve been interested in origin stories lately. They usually tell the birth of an otherworldly being, like a Superman, or the those real-life tales of bravery among middle-American folks squeezed in between pictorial layouts of the Royal Wedding or Justin Bieber’s new mansion in People magazineI find the most interesting origin stories, however, are the seeds in normal life that, for writers and artists, create narratives. Reading short fiction and novels, I often find myself wondering about the understory, the creative pulse that drove the artist to write or create the work, in addition to the day-to-day struggles they experienced during the process. Outside the matrix, if you will.

Frederick-BarthelmeFrederick Barthelme is the author of fourteen previous books of fiction. Until 2010, he directed the writing program at the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi Review. He now edits New World Writing, an online magazine started in 1995.

I’ve known Barthelme for about twenty years or so, more or less to the day, which would be the day I showed up in Hattiesburg to interview him. Two hours before our scheduled interview I was still scratching out questions in a battered notebook, distracted by a gaggle of teenaged girls tugging at pale bikini tops, USM first year students who I was pretty sure would not wind up in any of his classes but could easily show up somewhere in one of his novels, wisecracking their way through another scene of exquisite and heartrending longing, dialogue going off like cherry bombs through the junk landscape of the Mississippi coast. Later, I’d come on board the old Mississippi Review, which morphed into New World Writing, with brief layovers in something called Rick Magazine, later Stand Away from the Vehicle, and Blip. With the help of some of his former students we’d also put together a private journal of opinion called Public Scrutiny, which died a dignified death some years back. I’m saying I’ve known Barthelme a bit, and publicly raved about his work in various places, particularly his novel The Brothers, featuring Del Tribute and his much younger sidekick Jen, two of his most memorable characters, who team up again in Painted Desert.