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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.

giffelsauthorphotocredittoTimothyFitzwaterDavid, I’d like to begin, if I may, by saying “thank you” for taking the time to talk with me. I’ve been a big fan of yours for as long as I can remember, and this is kind of, almost surreal for me.

Please. It’s my pleasure. Don’t be nervous. You’ve got five minutes.

 

Some might say that The Hard Way on Purpose is the greatest book written about coming of age in postindustrial Akron, Ohio, in at least the past half-decade. Would you agree?

Considering the publishing industry’s insatiable appetite for essay collections about life in America’s Rust Belt, that’s high praise. Thank you.

Who do I dream of, if I do not dream of Sylvie? In whose arms do I imagine myself, if not in hers? In whose embrace do I slumber in my most precious heart?

She was my only. No crush or boyfriend could compete. She was the beginning and end of my experience with falling in love.

Hard Way on Purpose CoverLord, I lived inside those books.

And they were not books that, conventionally speaking, you would choose to live inside, were you choosing to live inside some books. You would choose smart, new volumes: coffee-table books on hibiscus or vintage Vespas, I think, or you would choose something well glossed and shrink-wrapped, written by someone unthreateningly attractive and slightly more clever than you, someone like, say, Elizabeth Gilbert or Calvin Trillin, with whom you could put up for a while, like a hiking partner on the Appalachian Trail. (Yes: you would choose Bill Bryson.)

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Area woman and aspiring writer Jodi Tannenbaum, after a third attempt at getting published by the literary website McSweeney’s (in its “Lists” section), found herself “totally in the middle of that scene from Swingers.”

“You know that famous scene,” she said, “where the guy, not Vince Vaughn… the other guy…he calls a girl he likes and says something embarrassing on her answering machine, so he calls back again to explain, and then again to explain that—wait—what do you mean you didn’t see it?”

Alena Graedon by Beowulf SheehanDid you know that some parts of your novel are hard to understand? I’ve heard it’s your first, and I thought I should tell you so that you can fix that for the next one.

You’re right. Sorry about that. There are some pretty obscure words in the book, like “dulcarnon” and “panicles.” Partly, it’s because the narrators work together at a dictionary, so they come across words that the rest of us don’t, and sometimes they use them. It’s also, though, because one of the protagonists is reading a dictionary while she writes her account.

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Al•ice /a-lEs/ n : a girl transformed by reflection

On a cold and lonely Friday last November, my father disappeared from the Dictionary. And not only from the big, glass building on Broadway where its offices were housed. On that night, my father, Douglas Samuel Johnson, Chief Editor of the North American Dictionary of the English Language, slipped from the actual artifact he’d helped compose.

That was before the Dictionary died, letters expiring on the page. Before the virus. Before our language dissolved like so much melting snow. It was before I nearly lost everything I love.

JLportrait4So you’ve written a novel called “The Geometry of Love.” Sounds like a love story.

That’s right, it is.

 

What does geometry have to do with love?

There’s a love triangle in the story that turns into another love triangle. The protagonist, Julia, has to choose between two men. Then the man she longs to be with has to choose between her and another woman. So there are two connected triangles, as it were.

GeometryOfLove_FinalCoverWebIn his ground-floor office on Ninth Street, Frank McCloud, LAc (licensed acupuncturist), stood next to me, staring off into space as he took my pulses. Thin and straight, he incarnated health and longevity. Walking in, I expected a preliminary medical interview, but instead he directed me right onto a treatment table. The gentle koto music in the background (Japanese) didn’t quite jive with the scrolls on the wall (Tibetan) or the silk jacket he wore (Chinese), but the general Asian effect was soothing.

Liza Monroy_005Wait, you did what?

I married my best friend for his green card shortly after September 11, 2001. He’s gay and from a Middle Eastern country I call Emiristan to help protect his identity. His student visa was expiring and he would have had to return to live in the closet in a homeland where he could be killed were it found out that he happened to share a gender with the person he romantically loved. I much preferred for him to stay in West Hollywood and with me. In Emiristan, he would likely have had to enter an arranged marriage with a woman, so he entered one with me, instead. Ours had fewer restrictions and no expectations.

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Walter Kirn’s newest book, Blood Will Out: The True Story of Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, is a riveting, chilling, and sometimes funny real-life psychological thriller about Kirn’s fifteen-year friendship with a man whose life story eerily parallels Tom Ripley’s in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Kirn is a witty, sharp observer who will flay himself with the same X-Acto knife precision that he uses to flay his characters. I couldn’t stop reading Blood Will Out—it made me want to dig through my bookshelves, pluck out and reread everything Kirn has ever written.

Saved by the Scallop

MarriageAct CATMy mother’s generous offer to take us to a restaurant we couldn’t otherwise afford would not have been cause for a panicked frenzy under typical circumstances. The night before her arrival, Emir and I scurried around the apartment like squirrels preparing for winter. We buried banking paperwork bearing both our names, photographs of us with the red-suited Elvis impersonator, and Emir’s I-485 forms. My mother had only to see the code I-485 to know what we had done, and we worried she would sniff us out like a German shepherd and fifty-two tons of cocaine at baggage claim.

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Are you a natural empire builder?

“If you call perpetually failing a trait.” Sampson Starkweather said that. I think empire builder is a bit much, but I’d say I’m maybe the antithesis of that; I like to play a role of political absentmindedness then unexpectedly turn around and slay my enemy to show that I’m “in the know” about something but I don’t want to occupy it’s center. I like to watch the politics of the literary community play out but I really want nothing to do with it. I think the poetry is really what matters, and like old empires, religion was really at the core of matters but so often personal relationships manifest themselves and egos take hold in such a way where the vision gets lost. I hope to never obscure that poetry is what’s important.

For reasons having to do with great embarrassment and no small measure of sadness, two of the people in this accounting will be referred to only by their initials.  A lot of people find that annoying, but then some people find an ice cream truck going by their house on a summer evening annoying.

So.

It was at the age of thirty that C. first became aware of the weight of his head.

Sam’s co-worker Carla is talking about her three-year-old son Rico’s obsession with death. “He says to me, ‘Mama, I don’t want to die. I really, really don’t want to die.’”