Lidia-Yuknavitch-The-Book-of-Joan

Lidia Yuknavitch is the guest. Her new novel, The Book of Joan, is available now from Harper. It is the official April selection of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

This is Lidia’s third appearance on the podcast. She first appeared on August 5, 2012, in Episode 93, and again on July 15, 2015, in Episode 370. All episodes can be streamed free of charge.

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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.

Chris Leslie-Hynan is a very busy man these days. With the success of his first novel, Ride Around Shining, he has been touring on and off for well over the last year. I caught up with him somewhere around Las Vegas to discuss his novel and also some of the biases and expectations he had to confront when writing about race, class, and envy.

LITHOPSIGN

On Oct 2nd, the first LitHopPDX literary pub crawl, organized by Kevin Sampsell, Jeff Alessandrelli and Bryan Coffelt, served as a prelude to PDX Literary Festival Wordstock. LitHopPDX commandeered six venues to host 56 readers on Hawthorne Boulevard in Southeast Portland. It was a literary trick-or-treat for writers and their lovers, and it was all about dreams and selfies with Zachary Schomburg.

 –or–

A Book Review Masquerading as a Memoir, or Vice-Versa, Depending on One’s Point of View and Opinion of Absurd Clothing, plus Praise to James Bernard Frost for Giving a Voice to Aging Punk Rockers. 

If ever you should have an epiphany— and I think you know what I’m talking about— latch onto it, no matter how large or small the epiphany, and try your best to make it happen. You might make a fool of yourself, but better to make fool of  yourself than to spend your life jealous of the fools. 

Bartholomew Flynn, A Very Minor Prophet

A Very Minor Prophet, James Bernard Frost’s second novel, succeeds at many things. It renders a sense of contemporary Portland at a time when the public at large seems genuinely interested in our bike-riding, rain-and-coffee soaked, Voodoo Doughnut milieu. It’s both literary and illustrated, and somehow this offers no contradiction. It’s the first novel I’ve read that takes the reader back to 2004, addressing the political and religious divides of a time when most liberals were choking on their tofu at the thought of four more years of George W. Bush. Most importantly, AVMP is its own thing, which is the first requirement any reader can ask of a writer’s work. I got a chance to chat with Frost about AVMP, and how he feels about bringing Portland to life in such a, well, Portland-y way.

“Come over here, you sexy bitch.”

The bartender’s voice seeped slowly into my awareness as I stood staring hang-jawed at my surroundings: the dark wood sheathing the club from floor to ceiling, the fish tanks embedded into the face of the long bar, and, especially the person sitting on the barstool. Was that the same person featured in the drag show I’d been at a few weeks earlier? Finally, I heard the words.

I turned my head toward the bartender and the space between me and the bar, which had only seconds ago been filled by other customers but was now empty, and realized he was talking to me.

“Oh! I’m the sexy bitch,” I said. “Thanks for that. I was worried that I looked like Xena: Warrior Princess.”

As a literary form and commercial endeavor, the modern memoir is overwhelmingly popular. A quick perusal of the non-fiction stacks confirms this. From Donald Rumsfeld to Annie Dillard, the memoir is ubiquitous. Too, as a confirming note, there is the backlash, as there is always a backlash against things trending popular. I site Neil Genzlinger’s recent anti-memoir diatribe in the New York Time’s Book Review of a few weeks ago. It begins: “A moment of silence, please, for the lost art of shutting up.” In his essay Genzlinger reviewed four memoirs, giving just one the nod. He took the others to task for various reasons. One author, for instance, had not earned “the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy.” Ouch. He argued that if you did not have an extremely unique experience or were deemed to be less than “a brilliant writer,” you were “obliged to keep quiet.” The current plethora of memoirs is, he reasons, a result of “our current age of oversharing.” His essay trespassed to the edge of being mean-spirited and the dust-up caused a flurry of activity in literary circles. (A backlash to the backlash confirming the maturation of a trend, indeed.)

Portland Oregon is a city of overeducated, underemployed white people who have forgotten to leash their dogs.

It’s true, and absurd, and there are a thousand other true and absurd stereotypes that fall short of capturing the city.

IFC’s “Portlandia” is an attempt at sketch comedy based on the peculiar nuttiness that emanates from the City of Roses, which is a difficult proposal, because the people who best reflect that nuttiness are offended, and everyone else is annoyed that their particular tribe wasn’t included. Then there are those things that only outsiders find funny. Yes, in Portland 30-something men ride skateboards to take their kids to school. I only notice this as part of the natural landscape, like a resplendent fall Chinook, writhing its way upstream to spawn and die.

An Idyllic Place

By Doug Bruns

Essay

I write in a place some might refer to as a “man cave.” I prefer to call it my study. Many labels and tags of today, like man cave, seem crass and fleeting. I seek the world–at least in words–of greater tested substance. But should a person happen in here, he or she would likely think, or speak, “man cave.” Here are rough-hewed beams. I don’t know how old this building is in the Old Port area of Portland, but I suspect the beams were put here by hand for real reasons, and not a later aesthetic to appeal to those sensitive to such things. Strewn about my study is my rock collection: small stones picked up from world travels and labeled accordingly: Stonehenge, Loch Ness, the Great Wall, Hemingway’s garden in Key West, Rio Grande in Terra del Fuego and so forth. On the old chimney brick I have stretched prayer flags from Tibet. My photographs are strewn about, some in plastic sleeves, some matted and framed. A few pieces of photographic equipment, as well as developer chemicals rest against walls and in dark cabinets. Overflow books reside here, mainly books on fly-fishing, map and compass navigation, literary criticism and guide books to hiking trails in New England.

I wonder if going to the woods, Thoreau-style, is still possible? It is sadly troubling that my first response to this not-so-rhetorical question is: Ted Kaczynski. “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” So begins the so-called Unabomber Manifesto, or, as Kaczynski titled it, Industrial Society and its Future. The influence upon Kaczynski by the Transcendentalist from Walden is well documented. Kaczynski even modeled his Montana cabin after Thoreau’s. But of course one of the men was a paranoid schizophrenic.

Some of you may have become familiar with Storm Large when she was a contestant (and finalist) for lead singer on 2006’s Rockstar Supernova, which, according to Wikipedia, was “a reality television-formed supergroup consisting of drummer Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe), bassist Jason Newsted (Voivod and ex-Metallica), and guitarist Gilby Clarke (ex-Guns N’ Roses).” As many of you know, Storm has continued to build a name for herself as an independent musician, stage performer, and, soon, as a novelist. Storm’s 2009 one-woman show, Crazy Enough, which featured the song “8 Miles Wide,” was a smash hit, with all shows sold out.

On April 30, 2010, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Storm Large and TNB contributor Quenby Moone at a local taco joint here in Portland. Storm, who showed up in a pair of jeans and a well-worn white hoodie, sans makeup, was gorgeous, gregarious, generous of spirit, foul mouthed like a long-haul trucker, well-spoken, and hilarious. Storm gave me over an hour of her time, answering any question I asked with tremendous honesty peppered with frequent F-bombs. We discussed her music, sex, her recovery from a heroin addiction, growing up with a mentally ill mom, her book, the future of the publishing industry, sexism in the music industry, boob jobs, an amazingly simple recipe for pot candy, and so much more.

 

Recently, The Nervous Breakdown held a contest on its Twitter feed as we approached the 1,500 follower mark.  When the number was eclipsed, a drawing was held and a winner was selected.

The prize?  A feature interview here on TNB.

A young woman named Ellie emerged triumphant.  Ellie is from Portland, Oregon.  She is an Ivy League educated urban planner and music blogger with a penchant for whiskey and a deep love of cerebral rock stars and screen actor Ryan Gosling.

Ellie was kind enough to make herself available for a wide-ranging, spirited, and often personal conversation, the transcript of which can be found below.

Enjoy.

 

BL:  Hello?

Hi!

Voila.

You did it! Welcome to gChat.

I feel special.

As you should.

Congrats again on winning the big contest.  A very scientific selection process involving several scraps of paper and a baseball hat.

Hey, thanks. It was hard work.

So here’s how this’ll go.  I’m gonna ask you a bunch of invasive, deeply personal, and potentially offensive questions.  And you must respond with wit and total honesty.

And then you put it on the Internet. Got it!

Right.  And then we take it public, along with a bunch of personal photos, and we do our best to make sure your family and all of your coworkers have access to it.

Perfect.

So yeah.  The idea is to make it interesting and entertaining.

I’ll do my best.

And to do that, you’re going to have to tolerate me attempting to be a decent interviewer.  Which is to say, you’re going to have to be willing to play along a bit as I try to ask about things that I think will compel our readership to keep reading.  Sound good?

(**radio silence as Ellie contemplates**)

Okay!

Alright.  So let us begin, shall we?

Let’s.

Ellie, you are the winner of a recent contest that we held on our Twitter feed.  You are, in effect, the 1,500th “follower” of TNB on Twitter.  Tell me a little bit about how this makes you feel.

I feel like I need to work on my leadership skills.

Do you feel like a loser in life?  Like someone who was born under a bad sign?

I constantly feel like I am a character in a Credence Clearwater Revival song, yes.

You write about music, correct?

I do! I try to. I have a blog that is a few months old and I’m trying to do as much writing as possible this year. And go to as many shows as my bank account and liver will tolerate.

Tell me a little bit about your life.  Who you are.  Where you’re from.

Originally, I come from Upstate New York.  It’s very cold and snowy there. So I moved to Portland after college because I thought it would have a nicer climate.

And?

Now I hate rain, but less passionately than I hate snow. I hope to keep moving south as I age.

And where did you go to college?

Cornell, which is also in Upstate New York.

An Ivy Leaguer.

Yes. I’m very fancy.

Were you a good student?

I was, although I learned to do less work each year while maintaining the same grades.

What was your major?

Sociology.

That’s always seemed sort of nebulous to me.  Though I suppose no more nebulous than “English.”

It is nebulous. I like dead old white dudes’ theories on the world. So, it worked out. Not so useful in the real world, however.

What have you done since college?

I temped and waited tables, then went and got a master’s degree.

In…anthropology?   Psychology?

Urban Planning.

How’d that treat you?

Well, I’ve been employed since I graduated, so that’s a plus. Whether it’s my lifelong calling remains to be seen.

So you do urban planning in Portland.

Sorta, kinda. I do all types of planning all around Oregon.

And in your spare time you go to shows and write about music and drink heavily.

Yes, sir.

Are you a problem drinker?  A bedwetter?  Anything like that?

I’m proud to say I am not.

So purely a social drinker who enjoys the live music experience.

Correct.

Favorite bands?

That’s a harder question than it seems.  The Hold Steady.  The Gaslight Anthem.  Lucero.  The Drive-By Truckers.

Are you a hippie?

Gah! No!

Do you despise hippies?

I may or may not hate hippies.

Do you have a crush on Craig Finn [the lead singer of The Hold Steady]?

I have a crush on Craig Finn’s brain. Big time. I would put it in a different body, though.

Whose body?

Maybe Ryan Gosling. He’s adorable and scruffy enough to be a rock star.

I have a man crush on him.  Half Nelson is classic.

Don’t be ashamed.

I have no shame.

Hey, we have that in common!

And speaking of no shame:  Tell me about your life in Portland, and your personal life in particular.  Are you single?  Married?  Bi?  Asexual?  In an open marriage?

Single. Straight.

And looking for a Ryan Gosling look-alike who can play the guitar and think like Craig Finn.

That’s not asking so much, is it?

Does the music scene there annoy you at all?

Yes. There is a mismatch between my musical tastes and my surroundings.

When I imagine Portland, I imagine a lot of hipsters.  But I haven’t spent hardly any time in Portland.

You imagine correctly.

Do you feel that you intimidate men?

I feel like I should be lying on a couch when I answer that question.

Feel free to recline.

Am I intimidating you?

Not at all.  It’s a question I ask all of our Twitter followers.

I don’t feel that way, generally. Though Portland men are, as a whole, ginormous wimps.

I tend to believe that American culture has in some ways become “feminized” to an unhealthy degree.  It’s that whole “politically correct” argument.  Sensitivity over truth.  Metrosexuality.  Emo.  Shoegazing.  And so on.

We could talk about that for a while. Male friends of mine who grew up in Portland have confirmed for me that the culture here growing up was so PC that they can’t bring themselves to really hit on women.  I think Portland is the epicenter of that. There aren’t as many lumberjack types as one would think/hope.  Actually, Williamsburg, Brooklyn is potentially the epicenter of that. But we’re the west coast capital.

Have you ever considered putting up a Crag’s List ad expressing your interest in meeting a Ryan Gosling look-alike with a Craig Finn mind and the psycho-sexual bearing of an alpha-male lumberjack?

I have some friends who encourage this sort of thing. I’m not so sure.

About online dating?  Or Craig’s List specifically?

In general, yes. Craig’s List, specifically.

Have any guys in Portland hit on you recently?

They’re all too shy.  I’m not sure I’ve ever really been hit on in Portland.  Not in the proper east-coast sense.

The proper east-coast sense?

Eye contact followed by an introduction, maybe a free drink, some sort of follow-up invitation. Guys in Portland are really good at making eye contact across the room and then going home alone.

Have you ever considered taking the bull by the horns?  Flipping the script?  You do advertise yourself as a whiskey drinker.  This seems to indicate a certain predilection for aggressive, proactive behavior.

I’m overcome with social anxiety at inconvenient times.  But, yes, I have tried on occassion.  One time I bought a dude a beer at a show ’cause he’d been clutching an empty for thirty minutes. I thought that was cute of me.

His response?

He said, “That was sweet.”  We exchanged names.  He left alone.  I left with my friends.

What a pussy.

Sing it, sister.

So.  Do you read The Nervous Breakdown with any regularity?

Um…I do now?

It’s alright to be new.

I am new. It’s the power of Twitter. I do read a lot when not out at shows drinking whiskey, so I’ll check it out.

How many whiskeys do you drink on an average night on the town?  Be honest.

Four? It’s not an every night out kind of thing. One has to ration.

Four is a respectable number.

I like to drink Bud Light with my whiskey. Don’t judge. It’s delicious.

Are you a large woman?  Petite?  I’m trying to countenance this intake.

I think I can legitimately say I’m average.

Do you have siblings?

I have an older brother.

And you get along?

Famously. His wife is great too.

And they still live back in New York?

Nope.  San Francisco.

Hippies?

Not at all.

Have you done any international traveling?

I lived in Germany for a year and Scotland for four months. I’ve been to Mexico and Iceland as well.

Iceland.

It’s an island nation north of Europe.

Tell me about your experiences in Iceland.

I used to be obsessed with Iceland. I took a three-day layover on my way to Scotland. It was pretty surreal.

How so?

The landscape is unlike anything you’ve likely ever seen. And it’s so far north that you can’t really watch the sun set, because it takes a really long time and you get cold and have to go inside.

And you were in Reykjavik?

I stayed outside of Reykjavik because their hostel was full. Took a bus tour of the interior one day, bummed around the city one day and went to the Blue Lagoon one day.

The Blue Lagoon?

It’s a natural mineral spa in the middle of a lava landscape.

And people bathe in the lagoon?

Sort of float around, yes.  It’s like a big, shallow outdoor pool.

And the Icelandic people?  Were you able to get a sense of them?

Not so much. They all speak English quite well though.

Which can be kind of depressing, as an American.  You go abroad, and everyone speaks English so well.  Do you speak German fluently?

I used to. On my flight home, I was mistaken for a German native. That was twelve years ago though.  It’s not something you get to practice a lot.

It sort of scares me to hear people speak German.

It’s not the softest language, but it has a certain rhythm and it’s really quite logical.

Do you ever wonder what English must sound like to someone who doesn’t speak it?  I bet it sounds awful.

Like a mouthful of R’s.

Meanwhile Italian, French, and Spanish sound like music.

We’re an ugly people, the Americans.

Do you really believe that?

We have some ugly traits as a people, but I wouldn’t trade in.

Temperamentally speaking, what kind of person are you?  Outgoing?  Introverted?  Loud?  Quiet?  Funny?  How do you think your friends see you?

I think my friends see me as social and funny, but I think I have a bit of a split personality.

Meaning what?

I am either in super social, stay-out-late mode, or else I’m curled up with my cat reading and napping for a few days in a row.

Are you a depressive?

I can be. But sometimes when I’m really happy I like to read and nap, too.

So you consider yourself pretty well-adjusted psychologically?

I do. I mean, it’s a work in progress, always, but I’m pretty clear-headed.  Getting out of my twenties helped.

Your twenties?

Well, I finished college, moved across the country, worked a few dead-end jobs, had several apartments, ended a few relationships, got a degree and a big girl job, and put down roots.  I think everything’s a little more dramatic when you’re in your twenties.  Now it’s like, well, that sucks, but no one’s dead, so we’re all good.

You say you’ve “ended a few relationships.”  Were you always the one doing the ending?

I’ve usually been the ender, but the ones where I wasn’t were the hardest. I guess that’s obvious, but it’s a painful lesson.  I also got hit by a car when I was twenty-five. That was challenging.

Jesus.

I was on my bike.  Didn’t see the car coming. I was pretty lucky, all things considered.

And the car hit you head-on?  Sideswiped you?

I kind of sideswiped it.  Landed on my ass in the street. The actual physics of the accident are unclear to me.

What kind of injuries did you sustain?

Compression fracture in my spine.

Christ.

I was in bed for about ten days. Never totally immobile though. It’s one of these injuries where they just send you home with pain pills. I wore a very attractive back brace for a few weeks.

Did you sue the driver?

I didn’t. I had good insurance, and no one was really at fault.

Have you ever been arrested?

No!  Very proud of that.

I’m looking for something juicy here.  You seem like a pretty stable human being.  There have to have been some episodes of incredibly poor judgment in your past.  Dark chapters.  Messy binges.

Haha. There certainly have been. Not fit to print though.  Especially since my mom is getting increasingly Internet savvy.

So we’re talking about men here.  If you’re worried about Mom, then it’s gotta be men.  Waking up in bed with someone and having no idea who they are or how you got there.

I have no idea what you are talking about.

Are you a big reader, Ellie?

I am. I read a lot.

Favorite writers?

Chuck Klosterman for non-fiction/pop culture. I’m less loyal when it comes to fiction.  I read a lot of contemporary fiction. I can tell you what books I really liked lately.

Sure.  Please do.

Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles.  This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper.  A Fortunate Age, by Joanna Rakoff.  City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza.

So you like humor in your fiction.

I do.  I love me some dark humor.

Do you have an e-reader?

No. I’m opposed.

Why?

I like to cuddle up with books. I love bookstores; I like the library. I don’t really want to get in bed with an electronic device.

I could easily make a joke here.

I am well aware.

So you have no plans to purchase an iPad.

Nope. I have two iPods and and iPhone, so I’m all set.

Do you have a lot of friends?

I do.  More than average, I think.

More men than women?  Women than men?

Probably more women, but certainly a good mix.  Women don’t trust women who have no woman friends. Cause they’re sketchy as hell.

How so?

It’s a red flag in the lady world.  Women who say “I don’t have many woman friends” are generally not trustworthy.  There’s a reason women don’t like them.  We’re better judges of character than y’all.

Do you really believe that?  I think I’m a pretty good judge of character.

I one-hundred percent do.

You’re speaking generally.  But you will concede that some men are actually good at such things.

Yes and yes.

Do you plan on having children someday?

I really don’t know. I’m 50/50 on that issue.

But if you meet the right guy, and you get married, it’ll happen.

So they say.

Do you like children?  Are you naturally drawn to them?  Or do you find them repellent?

I like babies. I like them till they’re about three.  Then I find them totally annoying.

Do you have any sense of your biological clock ticking?  Like, do you ever privately weep on the way home from the grocery store after seeing a baby in the checkout line or anything like that?

Well, I get really gooey when I see babies.  There is something instinctual about it.  But then they cry or I remember that I like to sleep nine hours a night, and I’m all good.

What about religious beliefs?  Are a you a churchgoer?

I’m not. I used to skip Sunday school as a kid. I was like, “this sounds hooey,” and I’d go hide for an hour.

So an atheist?

I guess technically. It’s not something I think about on the regular.

And what do you think happens when we die?

It’s like taking a nap, forever.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was, like, four, one of my brother’s friends fell and got a rusty nail impaled in his knee.

Do you have any phobias?

Natural disasters.

Specifically?

Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos erupting.  Any and all, really.

And you’re truly phobic of these things?

Well, I’ve calmed down in recent years. I used to worry a lot about tsunamis.

What do you do when you’re afraid?  Are we talking panic attacks here?

Nah.  I don’t know how to answer that.  I’m a bit neurotic, though. I sort of immediately imagine the worst case scenario. Or when people don’t call me back, I wonder if they’re dead.

Are you a pessimist?

I like to think I’m a realist. Part of me is jaded as hell, but deep down I’m pretty sure it’s all gonna work out fine.

Do you meditate?

Lord, no.

So you’re opposed to meditation.

I am way too ADD for that. I have like nine thoughts at once.  If I need to block them out, I go to the gym and listen to music really loudly.

Are you Italian?

I’m about a third by blood.  Not at all, culturally.  Well, I like pasta.

Tell me something that our readership should know about you.  What can you tell us about yourself that will give us real insight into who you are as a human being?

I am looking for a Ryan Gosling look-alike who can play the guitar and think like Craig Finn.

Anything else?

A person would have to buy me drinks to get that kind of insight.

So where can Portland men find you if they feel like they might meet your very stringent criteria?  We like to try to facilitate couplings here at TNB.

Read my blog.  Comment.  Follow me to shows—in a non-creepy way, of course.  Or email me at [email protected].

Okay, Ellie.  I think that about does it.  This has been fun.  Thank you very much for your time.

You got it.  Thank you.




Please explain what just happened.

Weren’t you just there, asking me?