Janice LeeJanice Lee is one of the more interesting writers I know. Period. And here is our conversation on her new book Damnation (Penny Ante Editions)contemporary literature, and the expectations of “identity” from the readers, editors, and publishers.

imgresI’ve known Lisa Borders for a decade. We teach together at Grub Street, Boston’s writing center, and see each other every few months at some reading event or another. I’ve always known that Lisa was a great teacher, because her students will happily give you an earful.

I was even more pleased to learn what a fine novelist she is. Her new novel, which follows her 2002 debut, Cloud Cuckoo Land, is called The Fifty-First State. It’s about a photographer in her late thirties who leaves New York City to help her half-brother through his last year of high school, after his parents are killed in a car crash.

So no: not a feel-good story.

Unless you’re the sort of sicko (like me) who is actually interested in grief and how we survive it, and how distant families function, and whether it’s possible to find redemption where you weren’t exactly looking for it.

I was curious enough about all this to seek a further interrogation of Ms. Borders, who agreed to answer a few questions…

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NICK ANTOSCA:  Okay, normally they do self-interviews here, where the author just interviews him- or herself.  But I didn’t want to do that, so in this case two authors are going to interview each other. We both have books out.  Mine is The Girlfriend Game, a collection of stories which came out last month.  Yours is Threats, a novel which came out last year and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner.  We both live in Los Angeles.  We both moved here in the last few years.

It seems like a lot of writers are moving out here.  I came because I wanted to write for TV.  Why did you come?  A disproportionate number of serial killers have lived in Southern California.  Why do you think that is?

michaell098300Michael Landweber’s debut novel, We, which will be released on September 1 by Seattle-based Coffeetown Press, has already gotten wonderful blurbs from writers such as Jessica Anya Blau (“a family story…wrapped in a suspenseful, gripping, and totally original sci-fi narrative”), Dave Housley (“a captivating, genre-bending psychological mystery”), and Jen Michalski (“a suspenseful and emotionally engaging novel”). We follow 40-year-old Ben Arnold as he regains consciousness following an accident, only to discover that he is inside his seven-year-old self—and his younger self, whom everyone calls Binky, is not happy about it. Ben would just as soon not be there either, until he realizes he is three days away from the worst day of his childhood—the day his sister Sara was raped, setting into motion the slow, painful unraveling of his family. Somehow, he has to figure out how to get Binky to save Sara.

IMG_0620 (1)It seems to me that Dear Lucy is a novel about, among other things, all the different ways there are to make a family. Lucy has been sent away by her struggling single mother; pregnant teenager Samantha is considering giving up her baby for adoption; Mister and Missus themselves are revealed to have had a rather unusual method for obtaining children. When you began, did you know you were writing about family?

Great question! No- in the beginning of the Dear Lucy process, I was not aware that I was writing about family. The piece began as a study of Lucy’s strange, idiosyncratic voice. In the early stages, my primary conscious motives were language based.

Bee photoThe River of No Return, Bee Ridgway’s time travel adventure, set in modern Vermont and London and Regency England, is a swift-moving, smarty-pants joy of a book — a thinking person’s escape into the past, a steamy forbidden romance, and a quest to save the world.  Bee Ridgeway is the pseudonym of the friend of my lucky youth, Bethany Schneider.

trick_of_the_lightWriter Lois Metzger was born in Queens, NY and has always written for young adults.  She is the author of three previous novels, all set in the fictional “Belle Heights” which is much like the Queens neighborhood where Metzger grew up, the place she has said, “where my imagination seems to live.”  Metzger has written two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, also for young adults,  is the editor of five story anthologies and has contributed to The New Yorker, The Nation and Harper’s Bazaar, among others.

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In 2011, when she was 21, Marie Calloway posted a long piece on her Tumblr about a sexual encounter she had with an older male writer whom she met online.  The post immediately attracted attention, and it was republished on Muumuu House with the name of the man and the story changed to Adrien Brody. The link spread far and wide. The story and the author, often conflated into one subject, were discussed, derided, analyzed, and defended on many major cultural web sites (including The Nervous Breakdown) as well as on scores—maybe hundreds, maybe thousands—of blogs. In these conversations, Marie Calloway became a stand-in for many things—the ethics of writing about real people, the impact of writing personally about sex as a pretty young woman, the internet in general and its affect on Art and Literature. She’d sometimes pop up on comment boards and deflate or deflect some of the weight being placed on this one story.

JessicaBlau“Quentin Tarantino meets HBO’s Girls.” Kirkus Review’s thumbnail description of Jessica Anya Blau’s new high-energy, crazy-fun novel, The Wonder Bread Summer, out today from Harper, struck me as perfect. (I had been thinking Pineapple Express myself, only set in the 80s and for women.) Now Nick Hornby has signed up to lead the fan club in this review in The Believer. So in honor of her publication this week, I’m turning the tables on the lady behind the Six Question Sex Interview, whom I am also proud to claim as friend, neighbor, muse and skin care advisor.

images (1)She thinks I approached her out of the blue. She thinks I wanted to interview her out of the kindness of my heart. The truth is this: ulterior motives.  I must confess that I’m interested in the convergence of several elements in her work (emphasis on several): exotic locale (China, in this case), the thematic rubbing up against each other of missionary zeal (whether secular missionary zeal as found in Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder or sacred missionary zeal which you’ll find in Virginia’s book) with contemporary mores, and the fact that both Virginia and I showed up a little later than usual on the publishing field, despite our lengthy, lengthy, lengthy histories in writing without an audience. And Virginia and I have the same publisher (Unbridled Books). She sounded pretty interesting to me!

rob readingThe immensely talented Rob Roberge writes like the love child of Denis Johnson and Thomas McGuane.  Cheryl Strayed calls his new novel, The Cost of Living, “Drop dead gorgeous and mind-bendingly smart.” It’s something I imagine you, your neighbor, your sponsor, and your lover will want to read. You might not want your kids to read it until they’re well over 18. In fact, Roberge is so wonderfully frank and open that this interview is being posted anonymously so that my kids won’t get wind of this conversation.

jstumpEnglish-language readers might have at long last become acquainted with one of the most-lauded voices in French literature last year when Knopf published Marie NDiaye’s book Three Strong Women to very strong reviews (“NDiaye is a hypnotic storyteller with an unflinching understanding of the rock-bottom reality of most people’s lives,” said The New York Times). The fact that she was also just shortlisted for the International Booker Prize (alongside such giants as Marilynne Robinson and Lydia Davis) probably also brought her a few more well-deserved readers.

Three Strong Women is a difficult-to-classify book, which takes the form of three thematically linked long stories (or possibly novellas), shows NDiaye’s rare ability to take time-worn forms and make them her own. That capacity is further on display in All My Friends, which will be published by Two Lines Press in on May 21 of this year. Instead of three tales this volume includes five, all of which sit somewhere between novella and story, or story and parable. What remains the same are NDiaye’s labyrinthine sentences, her strange but all-too-human characters, and her plotlines that hold up to (or maybe require) multiple reads.

wolitzerMegThere’s an appealing sureness to Meg Wolitzer when she speaks.  Her answers to questions are considered; she’s thought deeply about being a writer, a reader and the place of art in her life as well as in the “cultural conversation.”

Meg’s new book, The Interestings, is her ninth novel.  It’s a bigger book than her previous ones – longer, deeper, taking place over a greater span of contemporary history – about a group of friends who meet at the age of 15 at a summer camp for the arts in the Berkshires and what happens to them and their relationships over time.

HamidIn the summer of 2011, for a review marking the tenth anniversary of the attacks, I read thirteen novels with 9/11 plots, from Jonathan Safran Foer to  Julia Glass, from Jess Walter to Claire Messud. My favorite was Mohsin Hamid’s Booker-nominated contribution, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a slim, clever allegory with a large ambition — it wants to make you understand something about the experience of Islamic people in the Middle East and in the United States. Like Hamid, its narrator is a Pakistani who has lived in the U.S. but is now back in Lahore. This speaker delivers the entire story as a monologue over dinner to an American visitor whose voice is never heard but who may have a gun.

IMG_5390 FINAL-1Gina Frangello is the author of the novel My Sister’s Continent and the story collection Slut Lullabies. She is one of the most bold, fearless, unhindered writers I’ve ever read. After reading the manuscript of My Sister’s Continent, one editor was quoted as having said, “I couldn’t explain this book to a marketing rep without blushing or breaking down.” Here are six sex questions for the inimitable and amazing Gina Frangello.