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P1010530Tyson had been gone for days, finishing a new record with his band. That Sunday morning, when he finally came home, there were warning signs that things weren’t right—every local hermit weirdo was wandering the streets, and Mildred looked frantic, babbling about the mandatory evacuation. She said the mayor was calling it “the storm we’ve long feared.” Tyson had been running hard on cocaine and vodka. He was barely aware that a hurricane was coming. They lived in the Bywater neighborhood, which was already deserted.

Photo on 11-13-14 at 9.49 AMAren’t miniature Shetland ponies wearing argyle sweaters the best?

!!!

 

What do the protagonists in your book do for work?

One of them is a county clerk, one is a drug addict, another is a drug dealer, another is an office worker, another is a porn star, yet another is a history professor, and the last leads survey groups for a multinational food conglomerate. But he quits.

McLeodFrontFirst, locate a town in the upper portion of the Central Time Zone. Population circa 1990 should hover around five hundred. Median income should be not enough. Next, make sure industry leaves: the meat plant, the Wheat Growers, the regional K-Mart equivalent—all of these must go. Try to space the closings out over a decade or more; the effect you are after is chronic fatigue, as opposed to acute calamity. Make the pace of the obliteration glacial. Think slow burn. The Midwest is filled with distance and if you are going to start your own ghost town, it is important to realize it won’t happen overnight. Let the chain stores crunch their numbers. Watch them downsize, have sales, take losses, give up. See local business follow suit: The Hamburger Shack, the Tractor and Auto, the church thrift shop with its copper, polished bell above the door. It will be mandatory, too, to have your town’s high school incorporated into another’s; youth are often on the receiving end of mixed messages, but bussing them twenty or forty or sixty miles five days a week will make certain they understand it foolish to settle where they were raised, that their town is dying, that even education has left.

photoSo a self-interview! Pressure?

Absolutely. I feel compelled to be witty and interesting. I feel compelled to write quirky questions. I am buckling under the pressure and stress-eating potato chips instead.

 

What kind?

Barbecue. Left over from a weekend barbecue, fittingly enough.

ByTheLightWeKnewOurNames_ValenteA VERY COMPASSIONATE BABY

Gerard finds he cannot take his baby anywhere. Once, when they walked into the Dairy Queen on McPherson, a teenager passed them on the way out and dropped his strawberry ice cream on the pavement. The baby watched the pink scoop fall woefully to the ground, then exploded into such unmanageable tears that Gerard and his wife had to bring him back to the car. Another time, when they took the baby to the park on a sun-filled spring day, the park crew was out mowing the grounds, and the baby leaned out of his stroller, saw the grass flying, weeds razed, dandelion spores whipping up and away on currents of violent air, and he cried with such deep sorrow that the sun couldn’t cheer him, nor the baby ducks swimming through the pond, nor the tulips blooming in the fields. They turned the stroller around and took him home.

Hugh_Laurie_music_1854941bBetty Whoops shared Hugh Laurie‘s comment.

April 1 at 4:33 pm · Like · 46

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There’s almost no such thing as ready. There’s only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I’m about to go bungee jumping or something – I’m not. I’m not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that, generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

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Lennon, J RobertOh, John, Why?

Wait, which thing?

 

I don’t know, all of it.

Yeah, no, sorry. I truly have no idea. I will say that it feels strange to actually ask myself, in public, that question, which of course I ask myself silently more than any other. Why did you just say that thing? What were you thinking? Why did you hit send? Are you an idiot? Are you out of your mind? Don’t you know that you can never take that back? You’ll always be the guy who did that. Your past is like a big wheeled cart, towering with reeking garbage, that you’ll have to haul behind you for the rest of your life, and it only ever gets heavier.

See You in ParadisePortal

It’s been a few years since we last used the magic portal in our back garden, and it has fallen into disrepair. To be perfectly honest, when we bought this place, we had no idea what kind of work would be involved, and tasks like keeping the garden weeded, repairing the fence, maintaining the portal, etc., quickly fell to the bottom of the priority list while we got busy dealing with the roof and the floor joists. I guess there are probably people with full-time jobs out there who can keep an old house in great shape without breaking their backs, but if there are, I’ve never met them.

Roorbach_CMYK_HR (c) Sarah A. SloaneI happen to know that you love stories of maroonment, if that’s a word, and that you read Robinson Crusoe and the Bounty Trilogy multiple times as a kid.  Oh, and Swiss Family Robinson, which was made into a Disney movie back in the day, this family shipwrecked and alone, all those trips back out to the wreck to collect the stuff they’d need to make their new life in a tree house.  And that book Sand you loved in college, from Japan.  So claustrophobic, that guy who lived in a house at the bottom of a sand pit?  And that girl falls in one day, no great improvement for him?  Were any of these in the back of your head as you approached The Remedy for Love?

Bill: Yes, yes, I do love those stories.  That moment Crusoe sees the footprint in the sand and realizes he’s not alone.  And that story “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad.  I think you’d call it a novella now, a long story based on the author’s own experience. This kid goes to sea on a coal boat and somewhere in the far southern ocean the coal in the hold catches fire, and eventually the boat.  But that’s just half the adventure—the rest is getting back to England, which the protagonist manages, much as Conrad did.  You can’t rest for a second reading that thing.  And that’s just what I was going for, but boiled down to a simple snowstorm situation—nothing unusual for Maine—that spirals out of control. 

1904040_737060239645068_532688268_n(1)I’ve been interested in origin stories lately. They usually tell the birth of an otherworldly being, like a Superman, or the those real-life tales of bravery among middle-American folks squeezed in between pictorial layouts of the Royal Wedding or Justin Bieber’s new mansion in People magazineI find the most interesting origin stories, however, are the seeds in normal life that, for writers and artists, create narratives. Reading short fiction and novels, I often find myself wondering about the understory, the creative pulse that drove the artist to write or create the work, in addition to the day-to-day struggles they experienced during the process. Outside the matrix, if you will.

Roorbach_RemedyforLove_jkt_HC_HRThe young woman ahead of him in line at the Hannaford Superstore was unusually fragrant, smelled like wood smoke and dirty clothes and cough drops or maybe Ben Gay, eucalyptus anyway. She was all but mummified in an enormous coat leaking feathers, some kind of army-issue garment from another era, huge hood pulled over her head. Homeless, obviously, or as homeless as people were in this frosty part of the world—maybe living in an aunt’s garage or on her old roommate’s couch, common around Woodchuck (actually Woodchurch, though the nickname was used more often), population six thousand, more when the college was in session, just your average Maine town, rural and self-sufficient.

Frederick-BarthelmeFrederick Barthelme is the author of fourteen previous books of fiction. Until 2010, he directed the writing program at the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi Review. He now edits New World Writing, an online magazine started in 1995.

I’ve known Barthelme for about twenty years or so, more or less to the day, which would be the day I showed up in Hattiesburg to interview him. Two hours before our scheduled interview I was still scratching out questions in a battered notebook, distracted by a gaggle of teenaged girls tugging at pale bikini tops, USM first year students who I was pretty sure would not wind up in any of his classes but could easily show up somewhere in one of his novels, wisecracking their way through another scene of exquisite and heartrending longing, dialogue going off like cherry bombs through the junk landscape of the Mississippi coast. Later, I’d come on board the old Mississippi Review, which morphed into New World Writing, with brief layovers in something called Rick Magazine, later Stand Away from the Vehicle, and Blip. With the help of some of his former students we’d also put together a private journal of opinion called Public Scrutiny, which died a dignified death some years back. I’m saying I’ve known Barthelme a bit, and publicly raved about his work in various places, particularly his novel The Brothers, featuring Del Tribute and his much younger sidekick Jen, two of his most memorable characters, who team up again in Painted Desert.

Helen86_Final Cover.inddLife Above Sea Level

patchogue 1968

“Sink or swim,” my mother’s brother says as he drops me from the side of a boat in the Great South Bay. Bobbing up, head above water, I can see the shore, see where my father sits in a folding chair, Times spread across his lap, head tipped back, eyes closed. Water fills my nose and lungs, and I am scooped out by a strong-armed uncle. Funny, they said, it worked so well with all the other kids.

Every summer my mother’s family piles into this house bought by a grandfather, great uncles, and an aunt. My mother’s family: police detectives, payroll clerks, and Brooklyn Navy Yard workers. Irish. This is a place where men come to catch blues, weekend fishermen after a perfect run. Where women wash clothes in ice-cold water, then hang them on long lines cast toward the Bay. Line-dried clothes, stiff and hard, that stink of bay water and don’t bend easily against skin.

Richard & Bob FinalRichard Kramer: I’d like to start by saying we’ve known each other for years and had a thousand conversations like this. I love that we can still have these conversations, but something has changed for you.

Bob Smith: I have ALS. The strangest thing about my life-threatening illness is that two of my favorite writers: Henry Thoreau and Anton Chekhov, also had life threatening illnesses. They both had tuberculosis. I’m not comparing my writing to these literary giants, but I’ve always admired them. Thoreau was ardently against slavery and Chekhov traveled to Sakhalin to write against Russia’s prison system. (Children of prisoners accompanied their fathers to prison.) Both of these writers knew the Angel of Death was stalking them, but they kept writing and fought for other suffering people.

GinaBNahai 2How Long?

To write the book? Seven years.

 

Were you getting paid by the hour?

Yes. In gold bullion. So I held out because the price of gold’s been going up of late. That, and I couldn’t get the story right to save my life.

 

Which story is that? I stopped counting after the first dozen.

Yes, I realize there are many characters and each one has his own life and struggles, but the main story, about the value of Truth, is what took so long to shape.