the-staked-plains-coverThen said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.

She was a bad psychic when she arrived in Querosa, New Mexico, not because she didn’t possess the powers, but she couldn’t control them. Her husband moved them to the small town to teach at the college and she didn’t have anything to persuade him not to. “We’ll make it fun,” he promised, and after thirty days on the High Plains, the Great Drought began. People seemed friendly.

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.

51zq2-7RLLL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” — Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man)

It’s not hard to see the need to understand ourselves as the central motivation for art. Whether we’re talking about painting or sculpture, poetry or the novel, the fictionalization of reality—its depiction and abstraction, its reordering and refocusing—offers the chance not only to escape into someone else’s life, but a new lens through which to see ourselves and our world, a means to reckon with reality and our place in it.

SeidlingerAuthorPhoto (1) (1)You know you could go out tonight. It’s Friday.

It’s always the same imperative–go out, bar, show, some reading, something. I’m tired, okay? I’m tired and I really should get back to this novel.


You never go out anymore.

Priorities. Besides, you should be glad that I’ve chosen to stay in tonight. I wouldn’t pay you any mind if I went out.


So I’m second-rate to you?

I wouldn’t say that, but you exist essentially for the same reason I’m deciding to deny any kind of social interaction tonight, or for the remainder of the weekend for that matter: I wrote what became The Strangest in a two week sequence of denials–in particular, social denials, where I did nothing but read, write, edit, repeat. You were the only one on my mind and man, let me tell you, you really bummed me out.

TheStrangest_2015_07_27_CVF (1)One morning was different. It proved to be different enough. I was at the bars, but when one of the officers started getting close, I went to the far end of the cell. There’s a part of the cell that remains shadowed even during what I figure is high noon. It is my idea that they don’t see me there.

If they don’t see me, maybe I don’t exist.

I don’t exist, and they don’t so much as bother me.

They don’t feed my fears.

They had been doing that a lot the past couple days.

Questioning, always questioning. I came to the conclusion that I was guilty. But that wasn’t enough for them. Officers and prisoners and the occasional person that doesn’t look like they belong in a prison, only stopping by, they question. With their gaze, they question.

KolayaauthorphotoHey, what’s that swirly thing on the cover of your book?

It’s an image of a particle collision. Abhijat Mital, one of the book’s characters, is a theoretical physicist. The book’s about a town whose residents are in conflict over plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider (a tool for studying particle physics) under their homes, schools, and farmland.


Did you pass high school physics?

Barely. And only thanks to a kind physics teacher who was either unable to do basic math while computing my grade or–more likely–was just ridiculously kind and indulgent with his students.

Charmed Particles—FINAL CoverNote from the author: This chapter comes from the middle of Charmed Particles. The novel’s about a town whose residents are in conflict over plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider (a tool for studying particle physics) under their homes, schools, and farmland. The book follows two unconventional families—the Mitals and the Winchesters—as the controversy affects them all in different ways.

This chapter is about the two daughters of these families, Meena and Lily, whose friendship connects the two families. Meena’s family comes from Bombay. She was born in the U.S., but her parents immigrated to the States as adults because of her father’s job at a facility in town called the National Accelerator Research Lab. The excerpt is set in the 1987 in the fictional Chicago suburb of Nicolet, where Meena is one of only a few students of color in her school.

headshot 2I heard you just got married. Do you really think you two were old enough?

I know, I know. I’m forty-five. Everyone’s like, What are you doing? You’re just kids. You don’t even know yourselves yet.


You wanted to honor your fiance’s large Chinese-American family, as well as your own family, which comes from places in the heartland where mofungo might be something people would treat with Gold Bond. How did that work out?

Well, we did spot our florist on the day of the wedding foraging for flowers on the side of the road.

Also, we catered it with food trucks. Mofungo featured prominently.


You hit 40. You quite literally hit it, when your knee gives out and you lunge across the kitchen—flinging a handful of Ikea cutlery and then placing your hand squarely into the green frosting numbers on your birthday cake.

Marilyn, your best friend, appears in the doorway. “What was that?” She’s the one who bought the cake, one of those perfectly rectangular jobbies from the supermarket—Marilyn never bakes, or cooks at all, actually, as it would ruin her nails. This particular cake had had an image of a semi-nude man on a bear skin rug.

unnamedWhat or Who is Lum? Why is Lum the title of your book?

Lum is the name of the main character, short for Columbia. She tried to get rid of her childhood nickname and have people call her Columbia, but it didn’t stick. She is a thirty-three-year-old intersex woman living in Depression era Virginia. I tried to come up with other titles, but Lum sounded right.


Intersex? Is that like Trans?

No, “intersex” is an umbrella term for many conditions where a person’s genitals are not consistent with what is considered normal for males or females.


So she’s a hermaphrodite?

Intersex is the preferred term. Hermaphrodite indicates that someone has all the parts of both genders, which just isn’t the case. I picked a syndrome that Lum has, congenital andrenal hyperplasia (CAH), and then used the manifestations of that condition in her story.

unnamedA trail of fencing rode up and down the hills, cutting through the farmland. Small hand-lettered signs surrounded by black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace advertised tomatoes, squash, honey, apple cider, and peach wine. Al wasn’t slowing down, so Lum realized she’d have to ask. “Al, you mind stopping at Smiley’s a bit?”

“Sure thing. It’ll have to be quick. I could spend hours looking at his stuff.” Al pulled off the highway and Smiley strode toward the truck. Large freckles sprinkled his broad nose, spilling across caramel-colored cheeks.

“Howdy, folks.” He opened the door for Lum.

“Hello, Smiley.” Lum had known Smiley for most of her life. Five years younger than Lum, he’d accompanied his mother, the washer-woman, to their farm. “How’s your aunt and uncle?”

biosaraAfter school, Rachel comes over and we climb through the craggy hole in the fence and into the park. Everything is wet because it always is but we don’t care. We climb across the hillside to a patch of trees where Rachel likes to smoke cigarettes. We lie back on the grass and I listen to the leaves tap against one another.

“We should have a party at your house,” Rachel says for the hundredth time. Rachel loves parties and lugs me along on weekends. Parties are too chaotic for me but I am a teenager and that’s what we are supposed to do. Says who, I don’t know. Says Rachel. Rachel has streaks of blue in her hair because of course she does. She glitters everywhere she goes.

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.

AG-FrontTwo yellow streamers formed an equals sign in the dean’s door frame. No one told me it was his birthday. The news might have been in one of the e-mails I deleted without opening. With the constant threat of staff eliminations, it seemed like a good idea to check the door for a card and add my signature. I got a few inches from his door. My eyesight is bad. Legally blind is one way to put it. It’s not how I like to put it.

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.