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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.

dogMOUNTAIN OF SWORDS, SEA OF FIRE 

Someone had hung an enormous red banner across the back of the newsroom that read “Farewell and Long Life, Li Pai!” The man of the hour had positioned himself at a metal folding table directly beneath it. Young reporters came with his memoirs open to the title page, then solemnly presented letters of recommendation they had written for themselves. Li Pai signed them all. Ning had spent the morning watching from his cubicle as they filed by, so worshipful, so eager to drink from the font of the great one’s knowledge. The whole damn thing turned his stomach. Had anyone asked, Ning had no quarrel with him: Li Pai was a treasure. But Ning wasn’t one for celebrations.

BruceHolbert-bwThere’s a high body count in your books.  Why?

Life’s cheap here in the Inland Empire.

 

John Berryman once said: It is time to see the frontiers as they are, Fiction, but a fiction meaning blood… Do you agree?

He killed Butch Cassidy with a metaphor, didn’t he?  I guess he would know then.

hour-of-leasd-cover-2When the wood grew scarce, Roland directed Matt to a rotted poplar and Matt felled it while Roland watched. The work was the kind Matt favored, muscle and bone, and if you did it properly, you shook thinking altogether and considered only the next blow. When the tree creaked and finally dropped, showering the yard with bark and limbs, he limbed it and cut the trunk into rounds then put diesel to branches and boughs and perched on a fence rail to watch the wood catch and light. The tree burned into the twilight, and Roland sat next to him, content, too, to watch it. Matt was cold and part of him hankered for another chore, but a bigger part was satisfied to sit and gaze at the coals that had started to glisten.

JimWould you like to play a game?

Sure, I love games.

 

You can be a writer, sailor, punk rocker, or rat. Which character would you like to play?

Writer, please.

FoF-Cover-SmallAsk a shitload of questions. That was Pemberton’s strategy for job interviews. Start with questions, end with questions, and cram more questions in between. Only the last time he’d used this approach it had worked a bit too well.

Pemberton had responded to an ad for a freelance-editing gig placed by a woman named Kiki. He hadn’t done any editing since You Had to Be There—theonline humor zine he cofounded in college, which had peaked at forty discrete visitors per week. Through an exchange of e-mails, he was able to ascertain that Kiki intended to write a book about her Korean boyfriend Ricky, who had a super-secret story to tell. Crime was involved. Money was no object. Would Pemberton like to meet at a coffee shop to discuss the details?

Q:

It’s gimmicky, but the whole idea of a self-interview is pretty gimmicky, right?

 

Q:

I don’t know. I read a bunch, as, you know, research, and they seem tricky, because you’re either earnest, in which case you seem boring, or you try to be funny, but that actually seems a lot harder to pull off than it’d seem. It’s kind of like trying to do “Who’s on First?” by yourself.

to send CHANGE FILE NAME.inddQ:

A:       Just to pass the time, a hobby or whatever. But it kept growing kept getting bigger and finally got a little out of control, really.

 

Q:

A:       I do remember, in school, college, building these bridges out of toothpicks or Popsicle sticks or whatever and seeing how sturdy we could make our structures. How much weight they could withhold. I’d always really loved those projects.

Allen, Jeffery Renard (Mark Hillringhouse)So it seems that you have a new novel called Song of the Shank, which is based in part on a real person, Blind Tom, a book that I understand took you forever to write. Tell us more about it.

Better you read it.

 

Okay. So can you tell us what is the most important thing readers need to know about this novel?

The book is many things at once, travels in many directions, explores a number of possibilities in an effort to engage the reader and engage the world. I hope that anyone who reads the book will resist any inclination to try and pigeon-hole it as say a historical novel, or a novel about slavery and Reconstruction, or a novel about a musician, since it is all those things and more.