David Ulin’s new book, Sidewalking, is a meandering narrative that follows the author and critic through the streets of L.A. as he contemplates the city’s past, his role in understanding it, and what it means to create space. Ulin’s work is a natural descendent of Rebecca Solnit’s Walking; as such, Ulin follows a winding path through L.A.’s collage of ideas and structures while considering the city’s effect on his his life. Sidewalking asks us to place ourselves on the (often neglected) sidewalks of L.A: to access the city as pedestrians, in every sense of the word.

Ulin was my mentor at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Campus, and recently we conversed over email about his new book and his role as a “reluctant Angeleno.”

MonroeComp1.inddA date gone this awry might turn out fine if, for example, we could have gone back to my apartment and slipped off my shiny dress and made love like James Stillman and I used to do in Wisconsin, like Max and I used to do in Kansas, where you get into tried and true positions that take you to brief ecstasy. Then we’d relax, agree that the joke-telling had turned awkward. If the sense of intimacy lasted, in time I’d even be able to tell my date he needed to dry clean his sports coats. But the sex was polite, muted. Because he was polite, muted? Because his feelings were? I’ll never know. He left afterward because he had to teach folklore at a community college fifty miles away in the morning—by which time I was packing up my laundry to take to a laundromat a block away.

author photo 2015, chair, b&wThe blurbs say your book is funny, and yet it explores that era just after the feminist movement. Feminism is serious, necessary. How did this turn out to be funny?

It’s not a slapstick book, no. But the gap between what you expect and what you get instead—the ludicrously unexpected—is the definition of a punchline. If readers find the book funny, that’s probably because it’s about a life in which incompatible values coincide. I straddled social classes. I straddled opposed definitions of womanhood. This made for predicaments: the wrong words and behaviors in the right setting; the right words and behaviors in the wrong setting. And I prefer being amused, not stricken.

you leave the other on the road when your car careens into the woods & your
airbags deploy & your seatbelts are a god your state doesn’t believe in but the
windshield is a stubborn gate you break yourself trying to break open & it is too
bright to rupture the forest with headlights which  means its still early enough
to bring a body to the coroner & discuss who will call the dead fawn’s mother.

Kate Christensen 4 KB copyI fell in love with Kate Christensen’s fiction for the smart but deeply flawed characters, the vibrant settings, the good old-fashioned plot twists and, of course, the prose, once described by Janelle Brown in the San Francisco Chronicle as “visceral and poetic, like being bludgeoned with an exquisitely painted sledgehammer.” Always in the mix, lusciously omnipresent, was food and booze, flavoring the titles (In The Drink, The Epicure’s Lament) and served generously through the scenes. There was no doubt the author was deeply involved with eating and drinking.

HOW TO COOK A MOOSE_COV_hr copyA Tale of Two Kitchens

Right away, when we first moved to Portland, I noticed the large numbers of homeless and mentally ill and drug-addicted and hardscrabble people on the streets. Walking Dingo through our new neighborhood, I saw a lot of strung-out-looking people talking to themselves with unselfconscious intensity as they took refundable bottles from recycling bins, and couples screeching at each other, enraged and incoherent, often many feet apart on the sidewalk. Every time we drove to buy groceries, passing by a series of homeless shelters on and near Preble Street, I’d look out the window of our warm car at the faces of the people standing there, huddled groups of down-and-out men and women, a few black but mostly white, hunched in wool pea coats and hats with earflaps, or watch caps and down jackets, rubbing hands together, kibitzing and standing around waiting for the soup kitchen to open and exhaling cigarette smoke as if it had warming properties.

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.

MothersTellYourDaughtersUsed to be a doctor would wrap a woman up tight to hold body and soul together, but when I fell last week trying to get to the kitchen to pour myself a drink, they just untangled my tubes, picked me up like I was a child, and put me back in this awful bed. Told me I’d had a stroke. Now I’m lying here with a broken rib that aches.

kdark 1

My father died courteously a few years ago. We stayed in touch through the period of his decline. I visited as often as I could and he seemed grateful for my company. There was never any particular beef between us; he was mostly absent when I was a kid. Lots of dads hung around the periphery of their children’s lives in the sixties and seventies.  When I told him we should talk about him not living alone any longer, he said he understood. The following day, he told me he was checking into a nursing home to rehabilitate himself. I was baffled, but already had plans to see him in a week.  We’d work it out then. He waited for me, health declining. We both knew no “rehabilitation” would occur. When he saw me, he smiled, said he loved me, everything was good, and then he died. Before the next morning. Done.

My mother won’t be so easy. She’s losing her memory. She’s spent all of her money. She’s in great physical health and just moved into my house last week.  She seems to believe that most things are either my fault for nagging her too much or Barack Obama’s fault. This is, at least in part, because he’s a Black Democrat Muslim. The worst kind of each of those things.

What happens when the mind begins to misfire? And then a relationship begins to misfire? Rewind. What happens when a relationship misfires and then the mind misfires and? Playback. Misfires create misfires create minds. Forward. Where do we go from here?


When they first put Beth in the water, she sprouted metallic gold fins from her shoulders. Then her ankles and wrists erupted with the same, slippery matter, the fins’ edges serrating sharp but wave-like. They were very much what most wanted to compare them to, but few came out and said: Mercurial wings, lifted from the deity himself, built for speed, fluidity, transcendence, immortality and —this time around—displaced into the deep blue water. Beth, the two-year-old girl whose first dip into the cool, gentle pool had at that moment become a scientific phenomenon and impending national treasure, gazed at the new appendages in surprise and wonder. Her parents froze in shock, staring agape at their fish-daughter, until Beth’s large eyes crinkled into a smile, her tiny mouth giggled out a seal-like yelp, and she dove under the surface.


Listen to this interview with Jonathan Evison, whose new novel, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, is now available from Algonquin Books. It was the official August pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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.

woo - love love - book jacketThe best part about being a temp was what Judy Lee had decided to do an hour ago: leave for lunch and never come back. She counted the number of the daily Far Side calendar sheets pinned on the gray wall of her cubicle, twenty-five in all. She rose from her chair and plucked away her favorite, the one where the fat boy with glasses was pushing with all his might to open the door. The joke was that the kid trying to enter the building, Midvale School for the Gifted, wasn’t smart enough to follow the sign on the door that read pull. At some point in her life, she’d owned a shirt with the same cartoon, the silk screen in full color unlike this grayscale image. She’d bought it because she felt sorry for him. She’d done stupid things like that all her life, and she wasn’t even a genius, not even close.

Good Sister

By Stephanie Austin


austin 5

My sister rocks a 90s scrunchie like no one’s business and still loves The Lost Boys, her knock-off Crocs and silk shirts. She cannot rock adult conversation, the processing of complicated information, or general emotions. She is retarded, if you prefer that horrid little word. She is disabled, challenged, slow like dial-up. You hear the connection trying to start, you know eventually the connection will start, but in the meantime you’re sitting there sighing loudly in frustration, waiting because this has been your whole life, waiting for Sandy to get something. And sometimes when the connection happens, you get a  happy story about the wedding she wants to have at Disneyworld, the bakery shop she wants to open in downtown Phoenix and all the free cookies she’ll give her family, or sometimes you stories about her bullies in high school, her sadness hiding under irrational anger that involves swearing at people under her breath, stalking around, crying in the corner, locking herself in the bathroom because she is different and doesn’t quite understand how she is supposed to fit into the world.

Stand facing east.
There is a seedy dive bar on the corner to your right.

Turn 90 degrees to your right.
There is a tattoo parlor.

Again, turn 90 degrees to your right.
There is always a 15 passenger white van with a graphic photograph of an aborted baby’s head in the clasp of a pair of forceps, ever blocking the entrance to the abortion clinic.

Again, turn 90 degrees to your right.
You’ll see a line of very large people, ever blocking the entrance to the Souplantation.