For the kids reading this, coming of age in the 90s wasn’t for the faint of heart. It was like the 70s but with pushup bras instead of no bras. Nobody watched their language – twelve-year-olds might as well have been twenty-one. Families were broken; “dysfunctional,” we called them. Dads were disappointing, dads were nonexistent, dads took us aside and told us our mothers were crazy. Moms were over it; moms did their best; we blamed our moms for not protecting us from our dads, from the world. Tanya Marquardt grew up in Vancouver; I grew up in Ohio; you grew up in Oklahoma; New York, Kentucky, Oregon, Texas; it’s all the same pain with a different accent. Teen angst, abuse, abandonment. In Stray, Tanya tells the story of an angry young woman just discovering that her voice is a rebel yell. She hit the road at sixteen against a soundtrack of weird industrial noise bands like Skinny Puppy, and found that a BDSM dungeon can sometimes be a better option than home bitter home. Managing to stay in high school despite it all, with Stray and her work in the theater, Tanya Marquardt has turned trauma into art.

 

You famously talk in your sleep. Can you talk about the process of recording yourself and the most surprising thing you learned? 

Alongside the book, I’ve been working on a performance piece called Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, which is about my experience as a lifelong sleeptalker. In 2015, I started recording my sleeping self on my iPhone and discovered that I have an entirely different ‘person’ that rolls around in my head. She has her own desires; she talks to herself, to me, to people I don’t recognize, and to the people that are sleeping next to me. And when I listen to the recordings, this sleeping self sounds like a younger version of me, a cup ½ full little creature walking around in my brain when I am unconscious. Sometimes she talks like a child, other times she seems to have some kind of mysterious, poetic knowledge.

Men are so hot right now. Just look at the options; wherever you go, there they are, and the books about them abound. Adding to the essential essay collections that deconstruct what men are and what to do with them— Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, The War on Men by Suzanne Venker, The End of Men by Hanna Rosin, and Are Men Necessary by good old Maureen Dowd – comes a single essay called I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya, which examines her own varied experiences with gender identity. Men as bullies, lovers, friends, strangers and selves (but pointedly, not fathers). I’m Afraid of Men reads as part memoir, part polemic, part double dare to the reader to take a look in the mirror. It should be required reading on college campuses.

Vivek is always at work on multiple creative projects, which include running her own press to promote the work of fellow queer writers of color who happen to live in Canada, and her own aptly named poetry collection, even this page is white. As a recording artist she has shared the stage with Tegan and Sara and been remixed by Peaches. Her series of self-portraits (made with collaborator Karen Castillo), recreates vintage photographs of her beautiful mother, and were made as Vivek was in the process of transitioning. “Trisha” has been on view at the Ace Hotel this summer in NYC, and is moving to the Portland Art Museum this fall. You can order the book on Amazon or here.

Get to know me: I die for books but I live for television. The former is my bff, the latter is my one true love. Give me a meaty, well-written drama with an ensemble cast of Emmy nominees who can transport me to another time, place, or life experience, and I’ll binge it on a loop until it becomes embedded in my emotional memory like a song. Earlier this year, ER, the 15-seasons-long saga of daily life at County General in Chicago from the perspective of its emergency department, finally became available to stream (on Hulu). Created by novelist Michael Crichton, the show debuted in 1994 and holds up like a motherfucker; even its so-called bad seasons toward the end that no longer included anyone from the original cast make Grey’s Anatomy look like General Hospital when it comes to its medicine. Never pandering to its audience, ER calls procedures by their proper names and manages to educate, even as it works to destroy you emotionally with its too-often relatable human dramas. So, for months I’ve been watching all 335 hours of the show at home. Since episodes are often on as background noise the way some people do with NPR, I figured I’ve absorbed at least 1,000 hours of medical school by now, practically a junior resident. Right when I was missing the high of seeing an undiscovered episode ever again, I had the pleasure of meeting editor Megha Majumdar at Catapult, who told me about Paul Seward, MD, a now-retired pediatrician turned emergency department specialist, whose first book Patient Care is just as mesmerizing a read as seasons 1 – 4 are to watch. I couldn’t put it down.

jacket copy smallerSwan Huntley’s debut novel We Could Be Beautiful is as literary and character-driven as it is a cleverly plotted page-turner. Forty-three-year-old Catherine West grew up with money. Eighty thousand dollars gets directly deposited into her bank account each month from the family trust. She owns an apartment in the West Village and spends her days with her masseuse or shopping for designer clothes. At an art gallery she meets William Stockton, who is rich, handsome, and happens to be an old family friend. As they fall in love and then plan their wedding, Catherine’s mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, faintly remembers sinister things about William’s past, including a letter from a nanny stating, “We cannot trust anyone…”

I found myself completely immersed in the world Huntley created, and not just because I read We Could Be Beautiful while living in Manhattan this summer and surrounded by the types of characters she details perfectly on the page. As scary as it is the narrative felt possible, maybe because Huntley wrote from experience. After receiving her MFA from Columbia University, she lived in a commune in Brooklyn and worked as a nanny for a family in Soho. Today, she lives in Northern California, where she was when I called her for this interview about We Could Be Beautiful.

M.J. Fievre’s memoir A Sky the Color of Chaos (Beating Windward Press, 2015) chronicles Fievre’s childhood during the turbulent rise and fall of Haiti’s President-Priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide—a time of nightly shootings, home invasions, robberies, and the burning of former regime members in neighborhood streets. During the late 1980s and 90s, from when Fievre was eight-years-old to 18, Haiti’s government changed forms eight times; the Haitian people endured fraudulent elections, three military coups, a crippling embargo, and a United Nations occupation. A Sky the Color of Chaos will be featured at the Miami Book Fair International on Nov. 21.

In connection to the release of the book, Fievre had a conversation with writer Jan Becker. They addressed some of the themes explored in the book, including domestic violence, father-daughter relationship, and PTSD.

David-L-Ulin-Sidewalking

David Ulin’s new book, Sidewalking, is a meandering narrative that follows the author and critic through the streets of L.A. as he contemplates the city’s past, his role in understanding it, and what it means to create space. Ulin’s work is a natural descendent of Rebecca Solnit’s Walking; as such, Ulin follows a winding path through L.A.’s collage of ideas and structures while considering the city’s effect on his his life. Sidewalking asks us to place ourselves on the (often neglected) sidewalks of L.A: to access the city as pedestrians, in every sense of the word.

Ulin was my mentor at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Campus, and recently we conversed over email about his new book and his role as a “reluctant Angeleno.”

Kate Christensen 4 KB copyI fell in love with Kate Christensen’s fiction for the smart but deeply flawed characters, the vibrant settings, the good old-fashioned plot twists and, of course, the prose, once described by Janelle Brown in the San Francisco Chronicle as “visceral and poetic, like being bludgeoned with an exquisitely painted sledgehammer.” Always in the mix, lusciously omnipresent, was food and booze, flavoring the titles (In The Drink, The Epicure’s Lament) and served generously through the scenes. There was no doubt the author was deeply involved with eating and drinking.

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Jillian Lauren first caught my eye at a book launch party in Downtown Los Angeles. A mutual acquaintance introduced us, and the next thing I knew, we were in deep conversation about living and writing in LA, adoption, marriage and interfaith families. I felt an immediate kinship. Raised Jewish by a mother who had converted, I resonated with her story of adoption into a Jewish family and then marrying a Christian guy. The next day I told my sister in Chicago about our talk. She sensed my affinity for Jillian’s story and sent me her memoir.

Lende, HeatherHow does one get to be an obituary writer in a small Alaskan town?

If the local newspaper editor hires a new reporter who rubs some folks the wrong way, and one of them is old and dying and says she won’t let him write her obituary, but suggests the nice woman—me—who writes the Duly Noted column (as in Bev Jones traveled to Hawaii to spend a week with daughter Ashley…And yes, the names are in bold face) could do it, and she does, that’s as good a way as any. That’s how I began writing obituaries, and I still do them.

Catie5On Sunday morning April 12th post the 2015 AWP conference in Minneapolis, hung over and famished at some Ecuadorian restaurant, I interviewed Catie Disabato about her debut novel The Ghost Network. The story involves the disappearance of famed pop star Molly Metropolis. When Molly goes missing, her personal assistant and a journalist join forces to determine if Molly’s been kidnapped, gone into hiding, or worse. Using Molly’s journals and song lyrics to uncover clues to her whereabouts, the women find themselves up against an obscure intellectual sect with subterranean headquarters hidden within an underground subway system in Chicago.

Photo+Credit-+Anna+BeekeKate Axelrod’s debut novel The Law of Loving Others is about a high school student dealing with her mother’s recent schizophrenic break. The title was taken from a quote in Anna Karenina that reads: The law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable. This story is NOT autobiographical. Kate’s mother Marian Thurm was my workshop teacher at the Yale Writers’ Conference 2014. Marian and I chatted for hours in and out of class. She told me that the first story she sent out got published by The New Yorker when she was only twenty-five years old. Marian’s daughter Kate isn’t much older than that. She’s right on track. She holds a BA in creative writing from Oberlin College, a master’s in social work from Columbia University, and splits her time and efforts to satisfy both passions. When she flew out west this summer, I whipped up a batch of raw vegan pecan truffle bars and asked Kate over to my place in Santa Monica to get raw and candid about mental illness. We discussed her day job as an advocate in the criminal justice system, what it’s like to hail from New York literati and how she came to the story.

fb2Do you really live next door to Bette Midler?

Well, kinda. She owns some ranch land here and it backs up to my house. I think Bette grew up in Oahu and she’s dedicated to not letting the land get overdeveloped. She leases it to a local rancher so I guess it might be more accurate to say I live next door to some cows on Bette Midler’s land. But I’d love to have a beer with her sometime.

 

So how does a priest get assigned to Hawaii?

By the grace of God. Here I am, Lord, send me.

baileyWhat made you want to write a book about the drinking habits of classic Hollywood stars?

We had published an earlier book about the drinking habits of famous American writers. This was in part because I was a writer who drank and because my creative partner—the wonderful illustrator Ed Hemingway—is the grandson of a very famous writer who drank. You can guess who that is.

The book was called Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers. Everyone seemed pleased with it, so we decided to do a follow-up book. Since I am also a screenwriter and had by then moved from NY to LA, we landed on Hollywood and its movie stars as the next area of exploration. It turned out to be a much bigger subject than we had anticipated—a lot of boozing has gone down in this town.

PhotoMarinSardy4In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ suicide, a plethora of articles and blogs have been published on the topic of mental illness and depression. As a writer whose work often directly or indirectly addresses mental illness, do you think this sort of mass response is helpful?

In some ways, yes, absolutely, the mass response is very helpful. The cultural silence around mental illness, without a doubt, made my experience as a child of someone with schizophrenia far worse than it needed to be. I had no one to talk to about it and no vocabulary for it even, and so that silence stunted my ability to even do my own thinking about it. In a culture without open conversation around mental illness, I was cut off from social support that could have helped enormously. So I’m pretty much glad across the board whenever anyone is openly discussing it. But with this I’ve also been glad that most of it seems to be aimed at educating people and fighting stigma.

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 7.37.52 AMEdan Lepucki’s characters in her debut novel California are living during a time of duress. When I met the author, so was I. Cal and Frida coexist alone in the woods after the collapse of civilization. When Frida gets pregnant they go in search of others, but the community they encounter is full of secrets and peril. My catastrophe occurred when my writing mentor committed suicide. Personally, I was devastated, and professionally, I was lost, until a friend led me to Edan. She gave me a safe place to write again. I signed up for classes with Writing Workshops LA, the company Edan founded and runs from her home in Berkeley. A staff writer at The Millions, she previously published the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and her stories have appeared in magazines like Narrative and McSweeney’s. While being smart, witty and outgoing, she is kind and generous to emerging writers. I promised Brad Listi this interview would entail “two blonds talking about death and destruction,” since California takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. He was all for it. Don’t tell him, but when Edan came over to my place for Brown Butter Peach Bars (like Frida, I like to impress people with my baking skills), the conversation never grew dark. In fact, we hardly quit laughing. This is that interview.