Todd Baker photo print_BWBy a series of magical events at the end of part one of your novel, your hero has a full-blown nervous breakdown. Was this shameless plotting to capture The Nervous Breakdown’s admiration?

Yes. A lie detector test result stating the opposite is also available upon request.

Mario_Bellatin_Author_PhotoWhy, having been selected by Documenta Kassel 13 for your work as an editor, did you recently enroll in a basic course on editing books?

It seems to me to be because of the original contradiction that underlies my work. I detest my work. It seems to me to be a vulgar activity. A delight of the ego. An action of the New Rich that attempts to display, out of place, what has recently been acquired. And, nonetheless, I continue writing.

DSCF6152Apparently Christine Rice was in a foul mood the day I called to chat about her debut novel Swarm Theory (University of Hell Press, April 2016). Although I did not read the book, nor had I done my research, I expected her to be more gracious. Sadly, she was rude and uncharitable. I had heard the rumors but, alas, she was much, much worse than the stories Hypertext Managing Editor Chelsea Laine Wells had shared with me (temper tantrums, screaming, etc.).

The following reflects our conversation. I have deleted all expletives (hers) from this draft. For the unexpurgated interview, click HERE.

mark polanzakOn the cover of the book POP! there are a bunch of scratched-out tags: A fictional Memoir, A fabulist Memoir, A Nonfictional Novel. A Novel. A Memoir. And then it says that it is just “A Book.” Why?

The heady reasons: I am absolutely fascinated by the mixing-up of genres. Life is not composed of nonfiction, of facts, of consistency, of predictions and correlations, of accurate memories. Life is made up of dreaming, of living in our heads, of imagining things that haven’t happened or we wish could happen, of thinking about people wrong, of creating stories and lies that we live by, of misremembering things, of finding out our assessments were fraudulent, of inventing fiction upon fiction in our ambitions, relationships, romances, careers, passions, hopes. Our real lives are as composed of fictions as they are of actual objective events. So, it makes no sense to me to put a label of “nonfiction” on something about our real lives. And, then oddly, reversely, crazily, in fiction, we try to tell the truth, when our everyday lives are more dreamt than lived. I see so much of life as parts of a developing fiction. It’s perhaps, for me, a protective device (see: my book all about making up fiction in order to process an unexpected catastrophe).

IMG_3561Opening Hijinks

Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors, Andy!

Stop it.

 

Really? I thought debilitating self-consciousness was your thing.

Not anymore. I’m way past that.

Author photo - Jennifer Miller 28credit Diana Levine29How did the idea for The Heart You Carry Home originate?

Growing up in the nation’s capital, I spent every Memorial Day visiting the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally on the National Mall. From a young age, I was curious about these seemingly brusque, intimidating biker-vets: why such a deep love of motorcycles? And why, decades after the war, did Vietnam remain so central in their lives? In my twenties, I was finally able to immerse myself in their world on a two-week journey from California to DC. The stories of the men who carried me across the United States on their Harley-Davidson’s and Hondas formed the basis for this novel, about a young woman struggling to understand how Vietnam and Iraq has shaped the men in her life.

Stefankiesbye… also in The Staked Plains. What you say about how you can read society by the way it treats its dogs. It’s a massacre. By the way, what are goatheads?

Goatheads are small stickers that look exactly like small goat heads. They are so common in New Mexico that many people avoid walking barefoot across their lawns. Every summer and fall they seem to multiply. To me, they signify how unwelcoming the New Mexico landscape can seem at times.

JT_Pic_EditThe back cover describes Academy Gothic as “hardboiled mystery meets academic satire.” How did you come to blend these two seemingly disparate genres?

The year I started Academy Gothic I was living on a steady diet of novels by Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Those writers are remembered in part for their world-weary tone, and to a slightly lesser extent for their plots, but I’m not sure they get as much credit as they deserve for their sense of humor. This was around the time my teaching colleagues and I endured a never-ending procession of what might charitably be called indignities. Our offices, for example, were relocated to a former swimming pool in the school’s abandoned gymnasium. That our move paralleled the fate of the title characters from Revenge of the Nerds did not go unnoticed. A few of us, recognizing the futility of anger, appreciated the Kafkaesque qualities of our plight and persevered accordingly.

Banasky photo1Your book seems a little morbid, just from the title. Is it morbid? Why are you so obsessed with death?

I’m not! At least, not any more than the next weird writer. The Suicide of Claire Bishop isn’t necessarily about suicide. It is about the fear of death more than it is about death. And sometimes what we fear most is actually what we desire, which is what Claire discovers in each episode of her life. She is very much afraid of and shies away from looking at her own depression. The book opens when she is sitting for her portrait, but instead the artist paints an image of her potential suicide. This painting of what she’s most afraid to look at in herself knocks Claire out of the stuck-place she’s in. We stick with Claire from her thirties to her eighties. As time goes by, she clues into what she really wants, who she is, what she’s hidden from herself—and it has little to do with what she’s been chasing (stability, a “normal” life, a nuclear family). So, no, I don’t think my book is overly morbid. I would call it hopeful, in fact. It’s about the connections forged between people who feel very separate and alone—often more alone with others than on their own. It’s about people getting comfortable in their own skin, shedding others’ expectations, and trying to figure themselves out.

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.

woo - love love - author photoIt’s been six years since your first novel, Everything Asian. What took you so long?

The short answer is that I’m just a very slow writer. The long answer: As I neared the end of this novel, say the last thirty or so pages, I thought I’d race to the finish line, which is what happened with my first novel. But with this second one, those final pages took longer to write than any other part. And it wasn’t because it was difficult… it was purely psychological. I think I was terrified of a number of things, like what I would do after it was done. Or the reality of how awful the book was (and it was pretty bad – first drafts, you know). But even if all I squeezed out was a sentence or two on a good day, I kept on wringing. So here we are, half a dozen years later.

Robert Kloss[Silence]

Do you remember when you rented Born on the Fourth of July to watch at your 10th birthday party?

Daren Dean pic 2What have you been reading in terms of new fiction? Can you make any recommendations?

If you like Cormac McCarthy, read Secessia by Kent Wascom; If you like grit lit, read A Tree Born Crooked by Steph Post; if you want a writer with her finger on the pulse of contemporary life, then read Refund by Karen Bender; If you long for prose reminiscent of incredibly bright moments that Raymond Carver was so adept at creating, then read Dispensations by Randolph Thomas; for New Orleans grit, read Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa; If you want a writer with the linguistic brilliance of Barry Hannah, try The Book of Duels by Michael Garriga; if you want to read a contemporary and brilliant southern writer then look no further than the current summer issues of both Tin House and Zoetrope for two short stories by Jennifer Davis. Finally, I’m especially looking forward to a Civil War novel called Fallen Land by Taylor Brown. That ought to keep y’all busy.

ChristineSneedauthorphoto1Why did you think you had the right to write about Paris?

I don’t think that fiction writers need to ask permission. I used to think that we did, but eventually, probably sometime in my mid-20s, I realized permission wasn’t going to arrive at my doorstep from anyone, and so the best tack to take was to go ahead and write whatever I wanted to. If I was going to write about people I knew, however, perhaps then I’d need to ask permission, but I wasn’t planning to. Nonfiction writers do need to worry more about permission than novelists do.

joshuamohrIs it true that you went to see “Jurassic World” by yourself this morning?

Shit.

 

Yeah.

Let’s not talk about that.