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Brian SmithI imagine you are very used to seeing your words in print after nearly two decades as a journalist and columnist. In fact, I saw you contributed music essays to two books published earlier this year. But does it feel different to have your very own work of fiction published? How?

It’s terrifying. I’ve written things in the past that had real consequences. Twice I had my life threatened from stories I wrote. One time in Detroit I was punched so hard in the face my eye was swollen shut for days. The guy hated what I wrote, but I’m pretty sure I was just telling the truth.

With fiction, it’s a different truth, a bigger one (we hope) in that the stories can ultimately define whatever moment we’re suffering through, or bouncing through with joy in our steps. That’s what my favorite writers, like Dorothy Allison, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Willy Vlautin, Denis Johnson, Jim Harrison, Harry Crews, and Charles Bukowski always did or do, somehow. I hope I can do a little of that for someone, somewhere. It’s about self-definition, and empathy for the world around us. I’m always terrified I fail at that. So that’s what’s scary.

Spent Saints_Book Cover_Full Spread_Final_1.30.17Eye for Sin

I climbed into the passenger seat and Tinkles lifted the pint of Southern Comfort from between his legs and offered me a shot. Took a good chug, handed it back and twisted an air conditioning vent in my direction. Pretty much all we needed to say to each other.

Tinkles wheeled the old Corolla back out onto my street, and turned west on Van Buren. We took it easy through downtown, headed north on Seventh Ave. and rolled toward Sunnyslope, a dark burb that rises up a sun-crested hill. There were few cars out and butter-colored streetlights fanned across the windshield. Tinkles flipped the car stereo on to Cher’s “Believe,” and turned it up. I reached out and turned it down. Blown distorted speaker, horrible song. Ears didn’t want it.

Abigail-Ulman-Hot-Little-Hands

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Abigail Ulman, author of the debut story collection, Hot Little Hands, now available from Spiegel & Grau. 

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Roxane-Gay-Difficult-Women

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast: a conversation with Roxane Gay, whose new story collection, Difficult Women, is available now from Grove Press.

This is Roxane’s second appearance on the podcast. She also guested on Episode 34, which you can listen to via Otherppl Premium.

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melissa-yancy-dog-years

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Melissa Yancy, author of the debut story collection Dog Years, available now from the University of Pittsburgh Press. It is the recipient of the 2016 Drue Heinz Literature Prize.

 

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mermaids_cover

“The Dead Dream of Being Undead”

Part I

 

Once, there were two brothers born nine months apart in the same room of the same hospital in the same manner—the protracted period of ill-timed contractions, the doctor in blue scrubs and white mask, the late-night crowning, the father’s kiss, the death of the mother. And with each child’s arrival and each mother’s passing, the father celebrated and mourned in the only way he’d ever learned to do either: asleep in the arms of a new woman. Christenings were funerals. Cradles were made altars.

Not until their tenth year on a day four and one-half months after the oldest’s birthday and four and one-half months before the youngest’s birthday did the father reveal to the boys they weren’t borne of the same woman and that the woman they’d known as their mother was in fact mother to neither. And it wasn’t until this day in their tenth year that either brother had considered the differences between them, had even recognized there were differences between them other than their nine months’ difference in age.

Kirstin-Valdez-Quade-Night-at-the-Fiestas

Kirstin Valdez Quade is the guest on the latest episode of Otherppl with Brad Listi. Her debut story collection, Night at the Fiestas, is now available in paperback from W.W. Norton & Company.

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PROLOGUE TWO                   POP!_Cover

PORCELAIN GOD

The dudes who remodeled my mom’s master bathroom forgot to take away the old pink toilet. So there it stood, in the middle of our front yard—a constant amidst the turning, falling leaves of autumn.

We figured they’d be back for it, the toilet. After a week or so of rousing suspicion among the other residents of Green Street, the unspoken realization hit us: that pink throne was our problem now.

One crisp November afternoon, my mom and brother and I all found ourselves standing around the thing with steaming cups of coffee in our hands. My mug had a chip and read: “Nobody’s Perfect.”

“How heavy is it?” My brother tried his best to surmise the toilet’s heft with his mind then tilted it with his free hand.

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Answers to Interview Questions about The Unfinished World,

Taken from Yelp Reviews of Famous Museums around the World

 

Why should people read your book?

“It’s pretty interesting and is not a long-winded affair…Many people enjoy lunch here and it’s open to the public. Truly amazing and massive collection of mammals, historic artifacts, dinosaurs, etc… Dedicated to both ecclesiastical and secular topics.”

 

How long did it take you to write the book?

“After I got my ticket, I didn’t waste much time, started to explore. I could have spent weeks here. But I got it done in a day, though we rushed through a lot of it.”

I first heard Emily Mitchell read over a year ago at a reading series I host in Baltimore. I have a bit of a crush on female writers who explore literary oddity with sci-fi strains (although I have had a hard time defining exactly what that means—I’m thinking a mix of Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Ursula Le Guin, and Shirley Jackson), and I was excited to host an author from just a few miles down the road, teaEmily-Mitchell_0035-3297705591-O-199x300ching at University of Maryland, who was exploring similar themes in her work.

She read a story from a forthcoming collection of short stories about a newly divorced mother who takes her daughter to a store to pick out a Companion, a robotic pet designed to help children cope with challenges and build confidence and empathy. Only the divorcee is surprised that, of all the animals her daughter could get, she chooses a spider.

Bonnie Jo Campbell (c) Bradley Pines_300dpiWhat’s all the fuss?

Whoopee & Zoinks & Zowie & Zonkeys for everyone! What a joyful thing to have a new book coming out in 2015. Every book born is a miracle, but mine has a fabulous cover by which you can judge it, and inside are about two hundred and fifty pages of stories that I worked really hard on with much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. And WW Norton is sending me to far-flung cities to make the case that folks should read it. For your information a zonkey is a zebra-donkey hybrid.

MothersTellYourDaughtersUsed to be a doctor would wrap a woman up tight to hold body and soul together, but when I fell last week trying to get to the kitchen to pour myself a drink, they just untangled my tubes, picked me up like I was a child, and put me back in this awful bed. Told me I’d had a stroke. Now I’m lying here with a broken rib that aches.

AldenJonesThe adjectives “dark” and “raw” are often used to describe the stories in Unaccompanied Minors. Are you a “dark” person? Is there perhaps something wrong with you?

It’s funny you should ask that. My wife and I have an ongoing struggle with television and what to watch together. She can’t handle anything violent or cruel. Somehow every show I love involves this element of intensity and often this intensity is measured by how far into some area of darkness – crime, violence, psychological terrain – the show and the characters are willing to go. She says “Modern Family!” and I say “True Detective!” And we meet in the middle with “Orange is the New Black.” So this is something I think about a lot: Why am I drawn to the dark side?

What Happened Here cover hi-resI knew all about the crash when I moved onto Boundary Street in 2003. Everyone in San Diego did. Twenty-five years earlier, the deadliest airline disaster in U.S. history occurred above our homes before we lived here. It’s still the deadliest in California. PSA Flight 182 and a Cessna collided mid-air over our North Park neighborhood.

The perspective from the ground was shown afterward on the cover of TIME Magazine and newspapers around the world:  The flaming Pacific Southwest Airlines jet carrying a hundred and thirty-seven passengers plunged towards what was now our backyards.

Tortilla

On Thursday Nights I take a class at the Junior College.  Philosophy 101.  I know, I know, you’re supposed to call them Community Colleges, but they’ve only been Community Colleges for, oh, maybe fifteen years.  For thirty years I knew it as East L.A. Junior College.  It still sounds better to me.  Looking up is better than looking down.