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amina_gautier5How did you select the title for Now We Will Be Happy?

There’s a long and a short answer to that question. The short answer is that the title comes from Rafael Hernandez’s song “Ahora seremos felices,” which translates into English as “now we will be happy.” Hernandez was an important Puerto Rican composer of music; titling the collection after his song is a way in which I honor him.

Gautier_front (1)Aguanile

The phone calls from my grandfather began after Charlie Palmieri died. Grief-stricken, my grandfather called each time one of his favorite musicians passed away. Delicately, he announced the passing as if it were that of a family member or someone we had actually known. The calls had little to do with any ability on my part to appreciate the musicians he revered. He turned to me by default; none of his children shared his interest in the music. My mother and uncles eschewed all things Puerto Rican, and his second set of children shunned his tastes, preferring hip-hop and Top 40 tunes. Though not the aficionado he was, I had spent my summer vacation humoring him, and now he treated me like a fellow enthusiast, viewing me as a sympathetic comrade, a person who shared his first family’s blood but not its resentment.

todgoldbergheadcolorYour last book came out in 2011. It’s 2014. What have you been doing all this time?

Honestly? Writing. And writing and writing and writing. But sometimes, that just means I’m not writing at all, I’m just thinking about writing, thinking about what I haven’t written, thinking about what I’d like to write, thinking about maybe never writing again because, these days, there’s just an awful lot of good stuff on TV and if my choice is to sit quietly in my office writing murder stories or watching an infinite number of episodes of Chopped, well, Chopped wins. It’s a sickness, it really is. I find it profoundly, psychically comforting to watch other people cook food I’ll never eat while I – with absolutely no acuity in the field whatsoever – make snap judgments on the quality, taste, and general success or failure of the meal.

Gangsterland_FINALPrologue

April 1998

When Sal Cupertine was going to kill a guy, he’d walk right up and shoot him in the back of the head. Shoot someone in the face, there’s a good chance they’ll survive. Sal never messed around with a gut shot or trying to get someone in the heart. It was stupid and made a mess. You get told to kill a guy, you killed a guy. You didn’t leave it up to variations in the wind and barometric pressure and all that Green Beret shit he saw on TV. No, Sal knew, you just went up and did it. Be professional about it and no one suffers.

Dylan laughing hiresWhat’s the question you most dread being asked?

Grad students ask it all the time: When I write about Rainey Royal getting molested, is that based on personal experience? There’s a story about that in my first book, too, Normal People Don’t Live Like This. But my writing teacher in Los Angeles, the novelist Jim Krusoe, once said: Answer the question you want to answer. So: Can I just talk about writing? I like going to the basement, to dark, uncomfortable places, and seeing what kind of unfamiliar language I can construct for what’s going on. And as a writer, I think the less you say on paper the more the reader imagines.

TNB Landis coverThat day after school, she stops at the hardware store to explain about her door.

“You need a shim,” says the man, and shows her a thin, splintery wedge of wood. “Take it,” he says, pushing back her quarter. She can only get the tip in under her door. That night she goes to bed with the light on and stares at the doorknob. At around 1:00 A.M., the knob turns.

The door does not move.

The knob turns twice more. Then it stops.

MoorsAccount_CoverThe Story of La Florida

It was the year 934 of the Hegira, the thirtieth year of my life, the fifth year of my bondage—and I was at the edge of the known world. I was marching behind Señor Dorantes in a lush territory he, and Castilians like him, called La Florida. I cannot be certain what my people call it. When I left Azemmur, news of this land did not often attract the notice of our town criers; they spoke instead of the famine, the recent earthquake, or the rebellions in the south of Barbary. But I imagine that, in keeping with our naming conventions, my people would simply call it the Land of the Indians. The Indians, too, must have had a name for it, although neither Señor Dorantes nor anyone in the expedition knew what it was.

Laila.Lalami.2014authorphoto

How do you pronounce your name?

Laila is pronounced like the Eric Clapton song. And Lalami rhymes with Rarity.

 

I bet you get asked that a lot.

Oh, only about five times a day.

 

So you have a new book coming out?

Yes, it’s called The Moor’s Account and it will be published by Pantheon in September 2014.

IMG_1857My dad left on a Wednesday afternoon in July. He had made some trial runs; leaving the house late at night and heading off God knows where only to return days later, his clothes wrinkled and stinking of cigarettes and beer, the shadow of a beard growing on his face. But I would never have expected him to leave the day the fish fell from the sky.

photo (3)As we are walking through the park, Mitchell asks me about my nail polish. What is your nail polish? he says and examines my fingers and holds them up to the light.

Mitchell is no fool, knows his color palette. The reason he asks is because the color is translucent and always changing, so it looks different when the sun hits it directly versus when it glints off building windows versus the busses versus when it blinks out in the shade of tree leaves as we pass from the cobblestone street into the park.

mount rainier TNBWhen I first read drafts of your book, you were still thinking of a title. Rollercoaster. “Terrible title,” you said. Dyke Aching. You sent it through Google Docs and I chatted with you. After a break, you were writing again and it was feeling good, raw. New.

Sometimes when we talk it’s like neurons synapsing – we’re going through texts, emails, voice messages, Skype, Google Docs.

“Love it. I love when Finn says ‘I’m a small little animal?’”

“Here’s a link to this John Prine song.”

“I’m drinking a beer with my melatonin.”

“I so suck at letting things go.”

478850_301122563314621_807623415_o[1][2]End of summer, 1986. That was the September that I became an angel and went to Alabama. It had been a miserable summer, hot, full of vapid small town people I’d known my entire life. There was no escaping the sameness of it all, except to get a job, save money and leave. I’d found the most boring job possible for a teenager, working at the only movie theatre in town selling old candy at the concession stand. My middle-aged boss was adept at torturing his ragtag staff of adolescent girls, standing too close as we counted every single box of candy and penny at closing. Since I had dyslexia, this took hours, and he used this opportunity to occasionally put his hand on my inner thigh. Summer passed, sticky and in slow motion, and moved into September, which didn’t feel much different.

author photo 2010 hi resSo you just wrote a book about the challenges of committing to love when we all know how damn hard relationships really are. What do you know about love?

I’ve been in a marriage that didn’t work and now I’m in a marriage that works. I love love. It’s a great way to live in the world. But after spending two years writing a novel about love (and seventeen years living in love), I think that most of us dive into relationships with some kind of blind faith. We think: Ours will work. Ours will be different. There is no rule book. We make it all up as we go along.

cover  Fleur right side upChapter One

“I need to see the Mediterranean,” Olivia said.

The road from Marseille had taken them through a long claustrophobic tunnel and then into the sprawl of developments on the edge of the city. Boxy cement structures that housed apartments sprouted at the top of every hill. The roads were crowded, the drivers aggressive.

Something kept clicking in the rental car, a persistent, irritating sound that put Olivia on edge. She and Brody had tried to identify the source—a seat belt, the radio, an unlatched glove compartment—but nothing seemed connected to the noise. They drowned it out with bad French rock and roll.

Livings, Jack (C) Jennie Yabroff COLORLivings. That’s a Chinese name?

Yeah. Sure.

 

So you think that because you went to China twenty years ago you have license to write fiction about China?

I don’t know what right I have, but that’s what I did.