Do you want to talk about your book?
Not really, but I will.
Tell what your latest book is about. Describe it in reasonable detail.
The title of my newest book is MEAN. The title bears multiple meanings. MEAN means to signify, to matter, to intend. MEAN also refers to humility, malice, and pettiness. MEAN means effective. MEAN also means average or intermediate. I titled the book mean with these varied meanings in mind because the book is an attempt to find or make meaning out of particular acts of sexual violence which directly or indirectly involved me. MEAN has been described as having “radical formal fluidity” and as having an experimental structure. It has also been described as part memoir, part ghost story, part noir novelette, and part true crime expose. It opens in media res and unfolds in a failed linear fashion. Some “chapters” are as brief as bachelor’s grocery list. Other “chapters” are personal narratives about language, friendship, feminist art, and sanctity. Another “chapter” is a transcript of 911 phone calls, while another includes a love poem authored by a convicted lust murderer. There is even a found poem to be found amid MEAN’s pages. If we deduct a vowel from MEAN, we get MEN. Or MAN.
Okay. That’s a lot. What kind of interview questions do you loathe?
Okay. Do you believe in ghosts?
To an extent. I think that when we have the experience of a ghost, we’re experiencing a sociocultural event known as “haunting” via our nervous systems. Our bodies cook up a chemical cocktail of “supernatural experience” and these jolts lead us to experience what can be distilled into “a ghost story.” Ghosts are archetypes and belong to the category of shadow. Archetypes are real in that preternatural abstractions are real too.
Oh brother. If MEAN belonged to a family, let’s say a family of related works, both literary and otherwise, who would be its siblings, parents, cousins, etc?
I was thinking a bit about Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts, The Argonauts, and The Art of Cruelty. So these works are like cool second cousins. I also used to binge read A LOT of noir and pulp fiction back in the day. This means that James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler are the books queer grandfathers. MEAN doesn’t have a grandmother. Alice Sebold’s concise account of experiencing rape and its aftermath, Lucky, was a touchstone. Lucky is MEAN’s stepsister. Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory is MEAN’s big brother. Rodriguez’s book travels down many of the same thematic routes, especially in terms of Chicano experience in American universities. Hannah Wilke’s sculptures, Ana Mendieta’s silhouette work, and Francesca Woodman’s self-portraiture constitute MEAN’s best friends. I also binge watch a lot of tabloid and reality TV so there are certainly strains of E! True Hollywood Story and The Real Housewives of Everywhere wending through the work.
What is the most exquisite work of fiction every written by an American?
EASY. That would be Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sad Café. I first read it as a teenager after a girl I had a crush on told me that she was reading it. I think I used my allowance to buy it. Lol. Its main characters—a cross-eyed spinster/businesswoman, a mysterious hunchback, and a handsome criminal— enthralled me, as did the story’s queer indictment of love. Its prose is jungle lush while simultaneously well-pruned and controlled AF. There is such regional Americanness to the Southern world McCullers cooks up. Lastly, passage after passage treats you to gothic, grim, and absurdist humor. I’ve never read a comparable work that made me laugh, got me to rethink love, and treated me to a view of American life so removed from mine that it seemed temporally and spatially foreign. Reading it prompted me to consume the rest of McCullers’ oeuvre, and her other work that I appreciate with almost equal passion is Reflections in a Golden Eye. The same type of humor shoots through it and it also features a crew of tawdry, sensational, bodacious losers as its antagonists. Two of its most memorable passages involve cruelty to animals, nipples, and pruning shears.
If you had a choice between the gift of flight or invisibility, which would you choose?
How about you?
MYRIAM GURBA lives in California and loves it. She teaches high school, writes, and makes “art.” NBC described her short story collection Painting Their Portraits in Winter as “edgy, thought-provoking, and funny.” She has written for Time, KCET, and The Rumpus. Wildflowers, compliments, and cash make her happy.