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Order a copy of Cameron Quan Louie’s chapbook Apology Engine right here.

 

 

My therapist says trauma is simply an encounter with something that we cannot make sense of. I struggle to make sense of this. My therapist is skilled, practices the technique of self-disclosure, establishes rapport with me by confiding about her own trauma. As a young girl growing up on a farm, she witnessed the long, bloody birth of a calf in a barn. No explanation is the default. She says that trauma is stored and released in certain parts of the body, which is why we cry unexpectedly during yoga, arching and bowing our backs through the familiar sequence. Cat, cow. Why being overcome with feeling makes our throats shake. The vagus and the vague. If poetry troubles sense and multiplies the senses, that would make poets the professional purveyors of trauma! Just think! Teachers, performers, and poets laureate are paid to drive around traumatizing people, telling them how valuable, how necessary it is to be traumatized, even being thanked for the service. I have a plan: At the beginning and end of every poem, every work of art, the person responsible for it should get on their knees and beg for forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

The professor is mild-mannered, dresses in tasteful khakis and lumpy shoes. He is the kind of person who leans approachably, without any irony or self-possession, against his desk at the front of the room. We are a mixed class: Half of us are writers who are embarrassed and ashamed because we spend too much time writing and not enough time studying literature—its histories, theories, great pasty men—and the other half are devoted to the study of literature, but too embarrassed and ashamed to admit that they want to write themselves. Who apologizes to whom? The professor says, The thing about you writers is that you’re always thinking: How can I use this? What he means to say is that our ability to operate shamelesslyto separate reality from responsibility, to consume, is limitless. Our loved ones die in a fire, and all we want is a flawless description of the fire. I crackle in my plastic chair. The professor is not wrong.

Zac Smith is the author of the debut story collection Everything is Totally Fine, available from Muumuu House.

 

Smith’s other books include Two Million Shirts (2021), of which he is co-author, and a poetry collection entitled 50 Barn Poems (2019). He lives in Massachusetts.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

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Julia May Jonas is the author of the debut novel Vladimir, available from Avid Reader Press.

 

Jonas is a playwright and teaches theater at Skidmore College. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn with her family. Vladimir is her debut novel.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

Subscribe to Brad Listi’s email newsletter.

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Click here to purchase a copy of Grant Maierhofer’s The Compleat Lungfish.

 

Derek Maine: I’m writing from the train. I am taking the train up to DC, from North Carolina where I live, with my eight-year-old daughter. I am taking her to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I like reading & writing on a train. I like watching the landscapes pass by, some slow, others more quickly, and I like seeing my daughter with her headphones on, watching her shows while I read and write. Both of us together, but also consciously connected to our entertainments – – – our own distractions. I think about the connection of our lonely consciousnesses a lot, and something of your work stirs me toward these thoughts every time. There’s a line in Gass’s The Tunnel where our despicable narrator says something about his literature being a container for his consciousness. Do you feel any connection to this in your own work? Are you intentional about representing something of the experience of living in your literature? Where do you think these urges come from? Sometimes I worry that I don’t exist without a record of it and creating literature is leaving clues, for someone further along, at some distant, inconceivable date, to decipher, and that my reading is deciphering those clues left for me. Your work gives me a sense of trying to come to terms with having to exist. Peripatet (Inside the Castle, 2019) seemed to me to answer at least some of these questions of how to endure by pointing to literature, art, film, and entertainments generally – – – both the consumption and creation as salvation. I feel a subtle shift with The Compleat Lungfish (Apocalypse Party, 2022), where something more primal (or base, I guess, in Bataille language) is perhaps more than simply a drive to endure but there may actually be a construct of meaning to be found within it, satisfactory enough to contain the possibility of enjoying the struggle (and yet further along the philosophical track than tricking ourselves into imagining Sisyphus happy). Do these two constructs for enduring build off each other, or exist separately, or do you think you have experienced a shift in your thinking? 

 

My questions might all be like this. And I want you to feel comfortable ignoring every aspect of my bullshit and talking about whatever you would like to talk about, for as little or as long as you like, if you do not connect in any way to my babbling. There exists, I think, these beautiful moments (almost like sparks, and just as fleeting, bright, & explosive – charged with an energy we cannot bottle or contain) where two consciousnesses are in synch, where one idea flows to the next and our thoughts are like radio waves floating through the air on a journey to locate that other consciousness and create that spark. You use repetition in this work (and across your works) and nod to it, sometimes in a self-deprecating way. I love it. There is one image in particular of the narrator in a bathtub, in Chicago I think, reading Bolaño or Exley (or both). It shows up in both Peripatet and The Compleat Lungfish. When I read about this moment in time, I feel less alone. I feel like I was there, with the narrator, because I was once, and because the moment that I was there I felt lonely, and then reading your description of the moment, a personal, private moment, I feel less alone as a reader. I think great literature can do that for the reader, but what about for the other end of that exchange – does a connection with the reader complete a work for you or is a reader incidental (or a burden). Do you think of a reader when you are working? How so or why not?

 

I promise this whole exchange won’t be like this. I am like this today. I don’t know why. I get older, though, and I let it happen however it happens.

 

Grant Maierhofer: Thank you for this. One of the things I miss most about living in Chicago is the trains. I used to think I read more because I have just kind of gotten dumber with time, and probably there’s some truth to that, but part of it too was living in Chicago and having that guaranteed thirty or so minutes between locations. I hope to take more Amtrak trips in time because I do feel there’s something really literary about that kind of travel–Mathias Enard’s Zone is probably my favorite illustrations of this, though there’s that Evenson story–I think it’s called Munich but that doesn’t seem right, it’s more fucked up than Zone–that I think’s in Altmann’s Tongue

 

I do tend to think of writing in terms of containing consciousnesses, though it’s probably less direct than it was when I was starting out. I started writing because of this feeling of a kind of overflow when I was in rehab in my mid-to-late teens. I liked and still have fondness for AA and NA, and I’ve had very positive experiences with therapy, and medication, and being in treatment. When I was in there, though, the second time, it became clear that there were thoughts I was thinking, and feelings I was having, that wouldn’t be addressed in meetings. Maybe this isn’t exactly correct, but it’s how I felt. I started to think about writing, and music, and art more generally, as things that could address the discomfort, and ugliness, and anger and just directionless energy, and I think if nothing else time has proven this to be true, for me. 

 

I also, and I don’t know why this is, but I also hated the notion of dying without leaving something behind. I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation since I was seven or so, when I was put into an outpatient program for a kind of generalized misery my family and teachers were concerned about. The flipside I guess, of thinking often about killing yourself, is an amplified sense that you might soon die, and with that there was a panic that I hadn’t done anything to leave a mark, and writing, and art came in as a possible solution to this problem. 

 

Part of the trouble with thinking like this, though, and arriving at writing because of personal emotional and mental health concerns, is that I’m operating from that space first and foremost rather than one of simply loving literature. Because of that I enjoy Gass’ estimation and writing in Gass’ vein because although it was probably split down the middle for Gass between motivation via aesthetics and motivation via frustration and emotion, whereas for me it’s probably closer to 20/80. Books as containers, then, of documents of recording, of experiential things, tend to appeal to me far more than novels or memoirs or collections that succeed really well at being great novels, great memoirs, or great collections. An actual container of consciousness looks far more like Daniel Aaron’s Commonplace Book than it does A Little Life. I can appreciate the latter but I’m always going to get far more from the former. 

Anakana Schofield is the author of Bina: A Novel in Warnings, a New York Review Book.

 

Schofield is an award-winning Irish-Canadian writer of fiction, essays, and literary criticism. Her previous novels are Malarky (2012) and Martin John (2015). The UK edition of Bina was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2020. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, etc.

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I first read Robert Lopez’s work a few years ago online. His was just the kind of writing you hope to find on the internet: visceral, immediate, somewhat shocking but with a deceptive attention to detail that was unmistakable to me. I was so pleased that when I read more and more of his work, these traits were consistent, almost dizzying. In A Better Class of People, Lopez’s unhinged narrator is so chillingly realized that you can’t help but feel the momentum of the subway rollicking through you as you read it.

 

Lopez sculpts words into sentences, then weaves together sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages. The work here is granular but not tedious. You get the sense that for Lopez each sentence is its own story. And then it’s on to the next one. 

 

That is why his ability to will (or wield, depending on how you see it) these pieces into a novel is a real achievement. To marry the love of language with a fully-actualized plot, complete with three-dimensional characters and narrative tension is something I wanted to discuss with Robert.


I was so pleased that he took the time to talk with me about the book, point of view, and stringing together the small moments.

 

Get your copy of A Better Class of People today.

 

Each chapter or story, depending on how you see it, opens with a diamond-sharp sentence. Your sentences in the book overall are expertly crisp, which is no surprise. I’m curious about the work that goes in to getting these sentences perfect. As someone who already works in a sentence-driven tradition, do these expert opening lines just come to you or do you rearrange sentences as you go? How do you juggle the precision and language of The Sentence and not lose sight of the bigger narrative?

 

I almost don’t know how to answer this first question. There’s something about putting language together that feels outside of one’s own consciousness. When the sentences come, they come fast and more often than not they come correct. Maybe that’s partially true. Otherwise, I go over them a lot during the initial composition and I don’t move on to the next sentence until the previous one feels finished. Even then there’s work to be done when getting the book ready for publication. Words are cut out here and there, maybe whole sentences and paragraphs. The bigger narrative comes from reading the thing over and over every day and finding threads and echoes and adding all kinds of connective tissue.   

Everything always starts with the first line. I never have any ideas. I wouldn’t know how to write a fiction from an idea. There’s very rarely any rearrangement when it comes to beginnings.

 

You really play with the unreliable narrator in this project (as you do in much of your writing). Can you talk about the ways first-person point of view seemed to be the “right” call for a project about this kind of person?

 

All humans are unreliable. I can’t imagine a narrative stance that is something other than unreliable. I respond to urgency on the page and am drawn to it above all. More often than not the urgency presents itself in the first person. There’s something about the third person that can feel like a bedtime story – Once upon a time – kind of thing. Not always, certainly. I’ve worked in the third person before and perhaps will again. But it’s rare and was never an option for the narrator of this book.

Kate Folk is the author of the debut story collection Out There, available from Random House.

 

Folk has written for publications including The New YorkerThe New York Times MagazineGrantaMcSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, and Zyzzyva. She’s received support from the Headlands Center for the Arts, MacDowell, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Recently, she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University. She lives in San Francisco.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

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Mike Meginnis is the author of the novel Drowning Practice (Ecco Books). It is the official March pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Meginnis is also the author of the novel Fat Man and Little Boy. His fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories 2012UnstuckThe CollagistPANKHayden’s Ferry Review, and many other outlets. He lives and works in Iowa City.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

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The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

Lili Anolik is the author of Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A., available from Scribner.

 

Anolik is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a writer at large for Air Mail. Her work has also appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, and The Paris Review, among other publications. Her latest podcast, Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College, dropped September 29th, 2021.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

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Merch

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The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

John Keene is the author of Punks: New & Selected Poems, available from The Song Cave.

 

Keene is a writer, translator, professor, and artist who was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2018. In 1989, Keene joined the Dark Room Writers Collective, and is a Graduate Fellow of the Cave Canem Writers Workshops.

He is the author of Annotationsand Counternarrativesboth published by New Directions, as well as several other works, including the poetry collection Seismosis, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer.

Keene is the recipient of many awards and fellowships–including the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Whiting Foundation Prize, the Republic of Consciousness Prize, and the American Book Award. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple Podcasts, SpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

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I Found Jesus on a Billboard

 

Driving North on 95 my eyes were
nystagmic and numbness shot from
the tips of my fingers in South Carolina
all the way home to West Virginia.

 

Forty-eight-foot-wide bulletin selling God:
Worried? Jesus offers security.
There he was, palms outstretched, mighty supplicant!

 

I unclenched my jaw and saw my skin was not so scaly as
the night before—the lines of my hair not so sharp now.
Prayer can be turned over
and inspected again rather than
prated and pounded, in and in and in.

 

I thought about Father David in his waist-high waders,
cradling the back of my head
pinching my nose and plunging me—
the chlorine water didn’t smell like it had anything to do with Jesus.

 

I thought about the puckered Baptist spectators with hand fans,
beads of sweat cascading away from silver hairlines.
I thought about the Sunday School teacher
who hugged me when I came out sopping,
I thought about the dark circle my dripping hair made on her
holy bosom.

 

The congregation of tail-lights in front of me flashed Amen.

 

When I rolled the window down
the smell of burnt rubber filled the Civic—
crisp air lapping my face and pushing my hair back reminded me
I hadn’t slept in a couple days, and I smelled bad.

Cara Blue Adams is the author of the debut story collection You Never Get It Back, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, available from the University of Iowa Press.

 

Adams has published over twenty stories in leading magazines, including GrantaThe Kenyon ReviewAmerican Short FictionAlaska Quarterly ReviewEpochThe SunThe Missouri ReviewThe Mississippi ReviewStory, and Narrative, which named her one of their “15 Below 30.” Stories in You Never Get It Back have been awarded the Kenyon Review Short Fiction Prize, judged by Alice Hoffman, the Missouri Review Peden Prize, judged by Jessica Francis Kane, and the Meringoff Prize in Fiction, awarded by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers.

A 2018 Center for Fiction Emerging Writers Fellow, Cara has been awarded support by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Lighthouse Works, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the New York State Foundation on the Arts.

Cara earned a B.A. in English Language and Literature from Smith College and an MFA from the University of Arizona. Originally from Vermont, she has lived in Boston, Tucson, Montreal, Maine, South Carolina, and Baton Rouge, where she co-edited The Southern Review. She is an associate professor at Seton Hall University and lives in Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

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translated from the Norwegian by May-Brit Akerholt

 

Dear editor, 

 

I know you’re waiting for my last short story but, unfortunately, I have to disappoint you. It’s taken me more than five years to write this collection, but now that it’s soon finished, I’m wondering if I should throw this shit in the bin and start something new. A novel.

I feel I haven’t been honest enough in my short stories. Not courageous enough either. I’ve tried to write about people coming apart in all sorts of different ways, a kind or encyclopaedia of misery, if you like. But I’ve just touched the surface, without ever really meeting my own gaze, or the gaze of the reader, for that matter. I’ve seen myself crying in the mirror. I thought it was genuine. That it was literature.

“The truth is just a seed from which fiction can grow,” I’ve told journalists. Or, “Only through lies can you reach the truth.” It’s just a conceit, all of it. I’ve hidden behind the language, behind lovely formulations. Now I’m longing for an ugly, unpretentious form of writing. Sentences you don’t know how to adhere to. 

When I wrote Anatomy. Monotony., I wanted Ragnhild to be a sympathetic character, I wanted the reader to like her, because she represented me. Of course I gave her a few flaws, but I didn’t go far enough by a long shot. I was vain, chickened out. Now I want to write until I blush. Because I believe that’s where the most interesting writing, the most challenging formulations, are hiding; in the total degradation.  

I don’t want to write about Ragnhild anymore. She doesn’t represent me any longer, perhaps she never has. Not to mention all the other characters in this collection of short stories. I want to call people by their proper names. I believe my writing needs it, this honesty, this resistance, this courage. I am Vår. Lou is Lou. Not Cyril, as he’s called in “Rain Divide.”

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting at my old desk in my homestead in Bø. The drawers are full of archived feelings. One of them is called Lou and Oscar, Kyoto 2007. A few days ago, I opened the drawer and reread all the emails they sent me when I was in Japan. And that’s when it dawned on me how much more ruthless I am than Ragnhild. You can’t trust reality, they say. But I’m willing to take that risk.

Lan Samantha Chang is the author of the novel The Family Chao, available from W.W. Norton & Co. It is the official February pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Chang’s other books include the story collection Hunger and the novels Inheritance and All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. A recent Berlin Prize Fellow, she also has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Chang is the first Asian American and the first female director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Iowa City.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

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Merch

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The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

Sheila Heti is the author of the novel Pure Colour, available from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

 

Heti is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including Motherhood and How Should a Person Be?, which New York magazine deemed one of the “New Classics of the 21st century.” She was named one of “the New Vanguard” by the New York Times book critics, who, along with a dozen other magazines and newspapers, chose Motherhood as a Best Book of 2018. Her novels have been translated into twenty-four languages. She is the former Interviews Editor of The Believer magazine and lives in Toronto.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

Subscribe to Brad Listi’s email newsletter.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

@otherppl

Instagram

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.