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Shemkovitz author_picThis being your debut novel, what have you found to be the most eye-opening part, if any, of publishing a book?

I guess I’m amazed by how much goes into making a book and all the many moving parts involved. I could never be a publisher. I had so little to do with what went on beyond writing this book, and that was enough work for me. But maybe the most eye-opening part was revising a book that I knew was going to be published. The whole process felt much more important then.

 

There was finally something at stake. Was that it?

Kind of. But it’s also that editors aren’t just making suggestions as readers but are helping to shape something they too are invested in. And I think that reframed the way I considered more drastic changes with my novel. For instance, my editors, Brian Mihok and David McNamara, both agreed that I should cut the last chapter, which is sort of an ambiguous two-page moment that could fall anywhere in the story. David and Brian were kind in suggesting that I could completely rework the chapter to make it fit somehow, and that the decision was entirely mine. But after much contemplation (and weeping), I ended up cutting the chapter because I agreed with their reasoning. And now I think it’s a much stronger ending. But, man, was that a tough decision.

LB_lThe parts truck rattles and buzzes around us, screaming from years of abuse it has taken from drivers like Spanky. My father would shit himself if he really knew what kind of idiots worked in his parts department. We’re barreling down 219 with a stack of bed liners in back bouncing frantically under strained bungee cords. Spanky fiddles with the radio until he settles on a station, and the clatter of a loosened door panel is replaced by the shrill voice of a hip-hop deejay. After a moment, he has the wheel with his knee so he can work a glass bowl and lighter with his hands. My foot gravitates to an imaginary brake pedal the more we gain on the car in front of us.

“Shit’s fucked up, dude, you know?” This is less like a question when it seeps with a plume of smoke from Spanky’s chapped lips. I don’t respond because that’s what he says, no matter the context. He could be standing at the scene of a horrific accident, blood-drenched bodies and twisted metal, or he could just be walking out of church after a long, soul-quenching service, and in either case, he would probably give that look and say the same thing—Shit’s fucked up, dude, you know? Now he’s telling me another story about a young Canadian girl and what I’ve been missing all my life. I’m trying not to listen, actually, as he competes with the thumping and barking of the radio.

leah-paris-portraitThey call me llorarita—“the little crier” in Spanish. The word crier looks like the infinitive form of the verb for crying, but it is not.

Books made me cry. Reading aloud, in particular. It was embarrassing until it became valuable—a trick, a trade. The people are thirsty! they said. They wanted my tears. It hadn’t rained for days or weeks in Los Angeles, maybe years. I’d lost count. The asphalt on the streets was sun bleached and salt licks formed in wavy half-circles near the drains on each corner. Like the tops of dog’s noses in the summer. Even the ink in the pens had gone dry.

joshuamohrIs it true that you went to see “Jurassic World” by yourself this morning?

Shit.

 

Yeah.

Let’s not talk about that.

 

All This Life_FINALSara’s adding more hot water to her bath. She does this with her big toe, moving the dial so the scalding reinforcements pour into the tub. First, her lower legs feel the temperature crank and the sensation slowly moves up her small body, the water working toward her head.

Confession of the Lioness book coverThe night before, the order had been issued in our house: The women would remain shut away, far from those who would be arriving. Once again, we were excluded, kept apart, extinguished.

The following morning, I got down to the household chores. I wanted to give my mother a rest, for she had been lying, ever since the early morning, at the entrance to the yard. At one point I lay down next to her, determined to share with her some of the burden of one who feels the weight of her soul. She took no notice of me at first. Then she mumbled between gritted teeth:

This village killed your sister. It killed me. Now it’s never going to kill anyone again.

GallagherLawsonAuthorPhotoThe interview was conducted at the Central Library, in the area of Los Angeles known as downtown. When I arrived, the writer was already on the second floor perusing scores of old piano music. After quiet introductions and an awkward handshake, we went up by escalator to a spacious, well-lighted hallway on the top floor that overlooked the massive interior of the library. From where we sat, three levels above ground, we could see four more levels below and the networks of escalators that formed the spine of the building. We were discussing the merits of this magnificent view when we recognized we should not be speaking in such a quiet space. Each of us was afraid of disturbing those around us, and so the interview commenced in silence, using handheld devices to send each other the following.

Paper Man cover finalThe other pedestrians had been prepared. They popped open their parasols, which had been conveniently stowed inside their bags, strapped to their belt buckles, or in their hands. Strangely, everyone had the same style: a short, wooden handle with black fabric for the canopy. A few men loosely tented newspapers over their heads and dashed for cover. A stocky woman lowered the hood of her stroller and tightened the blankets around a baby. The only parts of the baby that could be seen were its hands, in motion like little pincers. Small nomadic groups of hooded people were headed in all directions—he had no sense which way led to the best place for shelter. Some hid indoors; some huddled beside a bus stop with a small overhang only large enough to cover a bench that could seat three. He stepped into the crosswalk and tried to duck under other people’s umbrellas. Underneath them, the stiff faces of the owners glared at him, recoiled, and hurried on.

Tammy Delatorre-Headshot 022015Seated in the darkest booth of a steak joint, Nora couldn’t help but stare at Bill’s broad forearms resting on the mahogany table. Bill was quiet, thick-boned, and not her boyfriend.

authorphoto2So you’ve published your second collection of stories, Big Venerable (CCLaP Publishing, 2015), after publishing one a while ago called Why God Why. The people who read Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013) seemed to like it. Why not finish on a high note? Why write another book and risk failure again?

Because I’m greedy. I want to write all the books. Unfortunately there isn’t enough time. Maybe one day…

 

That’s nonsense, that’s a nonsense answer and you know it. Give me a real answer.

Yes, it is nonsense. You know me so well! But here’s something that is true, I wrote some of the stories from Big Venerable much earlier than any that appeared in Why God Why. So really, Big Venerable, as a book, is just the culmination of that effort. It’s interesting to see how your work evolves. especially with respect to character development, something that was largely absent in the flash fictions of Why God Why.

bigvenerablecoverfinalThe Bureau of Everything Fitting Into Its Rightful Place

My friend Penny phoned and asked whether we’d go to the rally, my family and me. I told her I wasn’t sure. And in fact, I wasn’t. I knew that Burton wanted to cook again, meaty foods like steak or ribs. “Fire up the grill,” he said about what he was going to do. He encouraged me to go get the cauliflower and so I did. I went to the grocer and I picked some up, along with a few other items. The cashier had been friendly, didn’t even ask about my purchases. I liked to be left alone and not subject to inquiry when it wasn’t necessary. Among a few other unnoteworthy items, I was buying cauliflower as a delicious side for the meal we’d be eating that evening. Nothing more needed to be discussed. She probed instead about my day, about the rally, whether I was going. I said we might, my husband and kids and I. I wasn’t sure –much like I’d earlier told Penny. She said she was going and implied it would be good if I went too, with the family. She didn’t say it like she was trying to scare me. Still, I had to be getting home.

North author photo 1_by Jenny ZhangI was having a hard time interviewing myself, so I decided to let my book interview me. These questions are all taken verbatim from dialogue in the first chapter of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, posed to/by Sophie or another character.

9780399173394_large_The_Life_and_Death_of_Sophie_StarkThis excerpt comes a few pages into the second chapter — Sophie Stark is making a film based on an exaggerated story her new girlfriend Allison told about her life, starring Allison herself. Bean and Stacey are characters in the story. Allison narrates this section.

I was still working at the bar then, and Sophie did all the casting without me. So I didn’t meet the guy she picked for Bean until our first day of shooting. He hadn’t come to the read-through—Sophie’s assistant director, a stuck-up girl named Susan who I already didn’t like, read his part in a schoolteachery voice. But there he was the first day, at the community center that was supposed to be my high school, wearing a white T-shirt that looked like it had been dipped in pee.

IMG_0495Every damn day in Religion Class, Sister Anna Banana yapped about the Soviets revving up to start a nuclear war with the new president, Ronald Reagan. She said after the cities burned to Holy Hell, there’d be something called “nuclear winter” that would kill all the plants and food, and it would last a million years. I’ll tell you what, a little bad weather, nuclear or not, wasn’t going to make me go extinct.

I’m already semi-super strong and fast, and I’m the best fighter in the sixth grade. But once World War III kicks off, I’ll need to be impervious to the nuclear wind-chill factor. Even though I was a whole year older than him, my little brother, Jaggerbush, was already immune to freezing weather, drinking sour milk, and the Ten Commandments. I had to practice up. I had a cold war to fight.

DSC_2150You’re a hard guy to track down.

I know, I know. I’m sorry. I just have a lot of obligations and duties—many roles to play.

 

What roles?

Husband, father, son, brother, department chair, mentor, friend, book reviewer, writer, etc.

 

So, mulattos, eh?

Yup.