See You in ParadisePortal

It’s been a few years since we last used the magic portal in our back garden, and it has fallen into disrepair. To be perfectly honest, when we bought this place, we had no idea what kind of work would be involved, and tasks like keeping the garden weeded, repairing the fence, maintaining the portal, etc., quickly fell to the bottom of the priority list while we got busy dealing with the roof and the floor joists. I guess there are probably people with full-time jobs out there who can keep an old house in great shape without breaking their backs, but if there are, I’ve never met them.

Helen86_Final Cover.inddLife Above Sea Level

patchogue 1968

“Sink or swim,” my mother’s brother says as he drops me from the side of a boat in the Great South Bay. Bobbing up, head above water, I can see the shore, see where my father sits in a folding chair, Times spread across his lap, head tipped back, eyes closed. Water fills my nose and lungs, and I am scooped out by a strong-armed uncle. Funny, they said, it worked so well with all the other kids.

Every summer my mother’s family piles into this house bought by a grandfather, great uncles, and an aunt. My mother’s family: police detectives, payroll clerks, and Brooklyn Navy Yard workers. Irish. This is a place where men come to catch blues, weekend fishermen after a perfect run. Where women wash clothes in ice-cold water, then hang them on long lines cast toward the Bay. Line-dried clothes, stiff and hard, that stink of bay water and don’t bend easily against skin.

dogMOUNTAIN OF SWORDS, SEA OF FIRE 

Someone had hung an enormous red banner across the back of the newsroom that read “Farewell and Long Life, Li Pai!” The man of the hour had positioned himself at a metal folding table directly beneath it. Young reporters came with his memoirs open to the title page, then solemnly presented letters of recommendation they had written for themselves. Li Pai signed them all. Ning had spent the morning watching from his cubicle as they filed by, so worshipful, so eager to drink from the font of the great one’s knowledge. The whole damn thing turned his stomach. Had anyone asked, Ning had no quarrel with him: Li Pai was a treasure. But Ning wasn’t one for celebrations.

Q:

It’s gimmicky, but the whole idea of a self-interview is pretty gimmicky, right?

 

Q:

I don’t know. I read a bunch, as, you know, research, and they seem tricky, because you’re either earnest, in which case you seem boring, or you try to be funny, but that actually seems a lot harder to pull off than it’d seem. It’s kind of like trying to do “Who’s on First?” by yourself.

James MagruderAre you gay?

Everywhere except Uganda.

 

What does that mean?

In America, the only way I pass for straight is if I stand absolutely still and don’t speak. In Kampala, which my partner Steve and I just fled in mid-March in the wake of the anti-gay legislation getting passed, the Ugandans we knew kept asking when I was going to take a wife and have children. They advised me to shoot for four, with one serving as backup in case anything went wrong with the first three. Lots of things can go wrong in Uganda.

jpegTom and Elliott

1985

One place to look for a suitable husband was the monthly dance at Columbia University. Suitable meant, among other things, suited: we were looking for a junior associate at a law firm, a thirty-ish bond trader or ad writer or public relations exec with money to spend on above-ground transport, illegal stimulants, and surprise packages from the better department stores. We wanted a man at least two desks past entry level, preferably with a summer share. Or at least I did. My cousin Elliott was a different story.

KristiinaEhinPhoto

How do you go about writing?

I don’t know. I’m trying to find out for myself here on the farm. With every new book I try to reinvent the bicycle.

My father was a surrealist Estonian poet, my mother is an original poet in a more traditional vein. They have both been literary translators as well and so I grew up quite literally in a desk drawer. An open drawer of course. We have an old desk with big drawers and when Mother and Father were writing they kept the baby in the drawer where it could sit and play. Part of my talent for writing probably came from my childhood. Although, for a while, I resisted the impulse to write since it didn’t seem as if this work was particularly easy, and it isn’t.

WALKER_COVERDragon’s Diary

I’ve already seen one thing and another, even a third and a fourth in this world, but wherever I’ve searched, wherever I’ve crept, I haven’t found sex.

What sort of thing is this sex that everyone talks about and falls silent about? I don’t understand.

Now I’m married to this Giant here. Every evening he puts his heavy hands around me. He cuddles me and caresses me. Tenderly kisses my three mouths and three necks. I become more and more heated from this until I start spouting flames and then gradually cool down, like lava that has flowed into a cold spring. Our bed is full of smoke and in the hiss of cooling down I feel the beating of his big heart under my claws. Thump-thump-thump-thump…

juliet escoriaWhat’s Black Cloud about?

The working/joke title was Drugs and Boys. I thought it was funny because it was so obvious. It could have also been called Substance Abuse, Bad Relationships, and Mental Illness but that is a really long title.

bcMental Illness on a Weekday

 

These days, and I do what I should. I eat breakfast, I get enough sleep, I wash my hair. When I’m troubled I tell someone who has felt like me. When I’m agitated I close my eyes, take deep breaths, and treat my thoughts like clouds. I don’t do drugs anymore, even though sometimes I’d like to. I have a man who loves me, and I’ve never thrown anything at this one, besides a bucket or two of sharp words.

ISLECoverLessons

1.

There are four of them.

Dana, Jackie, Pinky, and Cora are cousins. Pinky is also Dana’s little brother. They call themselves the Gorillas because all gangs need a name—see Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Stopwatch Gang, Winter Hill Gang—and also because they wear gorilla masks during their hold-ups. They are criminals, but they still have rules: no hostages, small scores, never stay in one town for more than a week. It’s late summer and they’re roving through the Midwest, from motel to motel, making just enough to keep going. Dana watches the impossibly flat landscapes of Lafayette and Oneida pass through the car window and wonders how they all ended up here. Why didn’t they go to school and get regular jobs and get married and live in houses? The short answer: they are a group of people committed to making life as hard as possible.

Tom Kealey-1What is Thieves I’ve Known about?

Well, first of all it’s a collection of stories, and it focuses on kids and teenagers who are living on the edges of society. Poor kids mostly, sometimes abandoned kids. The stories take place in North Carolina and near Puget Sound, WA. I think, like many writers, I’m trying to give a voice to people whose voices we don’t often hear.

fun partsThe sign in the Sweet Apple kitchen declared it a nut-free zone, and every September somebody, almost always a dad, cracked the usual stupid joke. The gag, Laura, the school director, told Tovah, would either mock the school’s concern for potentially lethal legumes or else suggest that despite the sign’s assurance, not everyone at Sweet Apple could boast of sanity.

Today, as Tovah leaned into the fridge to adjust the lunch bag heap, a skinny gray-haired man in a polo shirt, old enough to be the grandfather of the girl who called him “Papa” as he nudged her toward the cubbies, winked at Tovah, pointed to the sign.

Here it came, the annual benediction.

 

What kinds of things would you like me to ask you? Since you’re me, I mean.

Why don’t you ask all the things that I wish people would ask me just in my everyday life?

 

Sweet. Good idea. You have two cats, and they are absolutely gorgeous. What are their names and why are they so awesome?

Thank you! They are very beautiful, I know. Their names are Vesta and Ilsa. Vesta for the Roman goddess of the hearth, and Ilsa after Ingrid Bergman’s character in Casablanca. They’re awesome because they’re mine, of course.

The funny thing about Kelly’s body was the way it appeared to weirdly bulge above the puss area whenever she wore clothes, but then was fine (flat, smooth) once she got naked. (This might more accurately be described as the funny thing about Kelly’s pants, seeing as it had to be the pants that caused the bulge. And yet the pants were normal, Levi’s five-oh-whatevers, so it wouldn’t be the way the pants were made that was funny, but the way the pants fit her body. Unless it was a funny way she wore the pants, i.e., maybe they would have fit just fine if she didn’t pull the waist so high or low, or—it didn’t matter. What mattered was that the way her overpuss area bulged or seemed to bulge when she was clothed, but then didn’t bulge or seem to when she was naked, was… funny.)