stephen-graham-jonesThe Questions I’m Most Often Asked

 

Do you write longhand or on a computer?

Longhand’s all right for short stuff, like when I’ve just edged around a corner, let everybody else keep walking, so I can write a story down right quick. Used to taxiing in a plane and taking off were when I wrote a lot of short pieces, because I couldn’t have my laptop out, but also because I couldn’t imagine just sitting there staring at the back of the seat in front of me. Keyboards are my preference, though. Ergonomic, black, wired. I can go really fast. I can even forget I’m typing, sometimes. Like my mind’s just pressing letters onto the screen. And I go through keyboards pretty fast, too. But, lately, the bones in my hands are wearing out faster. It’s not ideal. But so far it’s just in my three-times broken hand, with the messed-up finger tendons. So I guess it’s no surprise.

NotForNothing_StephenJones1She’ll be waiting for you when you walk back from the water station next door. And of course you’ll have the tip of your thumb in your mouth, will only realize it after you’ve stopped walking, when you’re standing there like some animated character trying to blow his flattened hand back up. All that’s left to do then is waggle your fingers before your face in “Hello,” your eyes kind of squinted. Not so much against the glare coming off the storage units, but in apology. For being who you are.

It’s an apology you make more often than you’d care to admit.

ByrdUp on the Roof

Roland is making a picnic. He has never made a picnic for anyone. It’s not even a word he uses: picnic.

On his counter, blueberry smoothies and crinkle-cut fries from his favorite stand on the beach, plus everything from his kitchen: a can of peaches, half a bottle of white Zinfandel, and two hard-boiled eggs, which he peels and mashes into a bowl with salt and pepper. Then there’s the barbecue Addie brought with her from North Carolina: hickory-smoked shoulder meat sliced thin, packed on dry ice in her little travel cooler. Slaw, too, and sauce, the thin red tomatoey kind they grew up on. You can’t get sauce like this in California.

Jennifer Spiegel is the guest. In 2012, she published two books: The Freak Chronicles, a story collection, now available from Dzanc Books; and Love Slave, a novel out from Unbridled Books.

 

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There is a sense of chaos involved in the act of falling in love, a lack of control, and quite possibly a hint of something tragic, a chance to be hurt. This applies to the slim but haunting novel My Only Wife (Dzanc Books) by Jac Jemc. In marriage there is the possibility of intimacy, a merging of spirit and life, but the reality can be a dense caryatid carved out of lies, mysteries, and selfish acts.

My Only Wife is about an unnamed couple, a husband who has fallen and surrendered, and a deceptive, passionate and quirky wife. The way Jemc renders their story is painful in its depiction of beauty and love, vicious in its evocation of what a broken heart feels like—the eternal echo of a call left unanswered.

The moment a body loses contact with the ground, moving into air, moving into water, it must immediately account for the paces and drags of that new medium. Pamela Ryder’s debut, Correction Of Drift (FC2, 2008), addressed this concept both literally and practically: structured as a “novel-in-stories,” the book triangulated on the Lindbergh kidnapping, borrowing navigational principles and a well-rutted American narrative to ground her challenging, lyric flights. Compiling fifteen stories that largely (or entirely) predate that first full-length, A Tendency To Be Gone presents an artist unmoored, ascending exultant heights while demonstrating the perils of dead reckoning, where a miscalculation multiplies upon itself and leads progress further and further off-course.

If you email Dan Wickett and don’t hear back in fifteen minutes, you immediately assume he’s dead in a ditch.  This guy—founder of one of the early online literary communities, The Emerging Writers Network, and co-founder of the vibrant and multi-pronged Dzanc Books—has got his fingers in so many literary pots that he has to put out an automated reply if he’ll be away from his computer long enough to attend a soccer game or waves of desperation start to ripple across a growing faction of the indie publishing community.  (Full disclaimer: I’m guilty of emailing Dan pretty much daily with some minor emergency or urgent brainstorm.)  Dzanc now even has its own literary conference abroad, the Portugal-based DISQUIET, run by Jeff Parker.  In short, this little indie publisher that could has taken the world by storm, and this shows no signs of stopping now.

Henning Koch’s Love Doesn’t Work, just released from Dzanc Books, is a collection of seven “dualist” tales that examine the struggles of the human condition with sharp satire but also surprising vulnerability. I picked up the collection at AWP and couldn’t wait to talk to Koch, an ex-screenwriter and literary translator living in Berlin, about his influences, the minefields of publishing, and why he thinks love doesn’t work.

So we did, and here it is.

Matt Bell sees potential that the rest of us don’t. He refuses to limit himself to established literary conventions, instead reaching beyond the expected tropes-suicide in the family, the mental weight brought on by a mysterious murder, short-lived love-to reassess for more powerful, and wholly more interesting, possibilities. Bell’s suicide story addresses the implied self-reflection by centering around a blueprint-obsessed son of the deceased, literally giving form to the boy’s hope of a rebuilt family (“A Certain Number of Bedrooms, A Certain Number of Baths”). Bell’s mysterious murder story isn’t a whodunit, but more of a who-woundn’t-have-dunit and tricks the reader into sympathizing with the assumed murderer (“Dredge”). His short-lived love story is romantic only in its endearing hopelessness, following an orally obsessed bar patron from the bar stool to the toilet stall, bar-fly one-night-stand in hand (“Mantoeda”). Yet despite Bell’s renaissance approach to story types, he has crafted a thematically cohesive and structurally invincible collection with How They Were Found.

1718 – Nantucket Beach

 

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I’ve seen boats as big as this whale.  I’ve seen gryphons the same size, with teeth growing in even as they were taking their last breath.

You have not.  And not a live one.

I’ve been to sea, I’ve seen all you’re supposed to, being at sea. I am sixteen, after all.