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Todd Baker photo print_BWBy a series of magical events at the end of part one of your novel, your hero has a full-blown nervous breakdown. Was this shameless plotting to capture The Nervous Breakdown’s admiration?

Yes. A lie detector test result stating the opposite is also available upon request.

Adobe Photoshop PDFThe Venice headquarters of advertising agency Nicaida & Knight occupies a campus of wood plank buildings that once served as a cooperative dairy. Now, the white barns from the 1910s have pegged maple floors, halogen lights, and conference rooms with Aeron chairs. But the sun still flashes through the barns’ clanking rooftop vents, like it did when Los Angeles was home to spotted cows.

Luke parks in his reserved space at Nicaida & Knight and heads for his office. Though the day has barely started, the pace inside is already rushed. Still, Luke comes to work with a sense of relief—his return to employment has been a difficult climb, and he is grateful for good luck.

Even better, he’s being given his due. And it looks like he’ll be able to promote his assistant into accounts. However, Stacy is out until mid-morning on a personal matter and won’t be around to hear the good news.

Taking a moment with his coffee, Luke reflects on his most recent work—storyboard mock-ups tacked to the wall. Luke mastered the campaigns and pleased difficult clients—a big win for all. Only, Luke’s thoughts turn dark and suddenly, he’s remembering the dreams that tricked him into The Bubble.

Mario_Bellatin_Author_PhotoWhy, having been selected by Documenta Kassel 13 for your work as an editor, did you recently enroll in a basic course on editing books?

It seems to me to be because of the original contradiction that underlies my work. I detest my work. It seems to me to be a vulgar activity. A delight of the ego. An action of the New Rich that attempts to display, out of place, what has recently been acquired. And, nonetheless, I continue writing.

The_Large_Glass_Cover_PhotoCuriously, the protagonists of the last book that I have published, feel satisfied with the work. I think that they come across quite poorly, but they don’t seem to notice that they are the characters. I think that they perhaps possess an infinite ingenuity or that they don’t usually read books as one should. I arrive at the house where they live and its owner receives me, flanked by the two dogs she owns. They are gigantic hairless specimens. Their backs resemble a mantle of glossy leather. I was ignorant of that woman’s fondness for that type of specimen. When I point it out she is surprised. She adds that, somehow, I had been the driving force behind that interest. It does not cease to be true. It had been more than fifteen years since I had dedicated myself to the promotion of raising dogs of this breed. I have spoken more than once about its benefits. Apart from their intelligence and extreme loyalty, they don’t typically carry pests or balls of fuzz that float in the air. They are quite hygienic pets. At seeing clearly the dogs that accompany the woman, I believe I recognize the larger one. It’s Lato, the animal that a very close friend’s father bought at my insistence five years earlier. It is quite a ferocious beast. It is calm only with whomever is his owner at the moment. With everyone else it is a true beast. Perhaps that is the reason that it has lived in several houses. On a certain occasion, my friend’s father had to flee the country in an inopportune departure. At determining that it would be impossible to leave the dog with anyone else, they took it to an animal park, where it escaped from its cage that very night. It then spent more than a week traversing the city from one side to the other, until it could find his original house. No one knows how it managed to orient himself, but despite the great achievement the dog was not welcomed back. The father had already departed and his son, my friend, now alone in the family house, thought that the solu­tion might be to take it to a veterinarian so that they could inject it with some type of poison.

Helen Simonson author photo_credit Nina SubinDon’t second novels always tank?

Thanks for getting straight to the point. There have to be exceptions for rules to be proven, right? Knowing a second book would not be greeted like a sparkly fresh debut all I could do was put some extra effort and ambition into the effort. Five years and 465 pages later you’ll have to be the judge!

 

You’ll never make a Thirty Under Thirty list.

I know. I was 45 when I sold my first book and now I’m 52. My husband wants to know how many books I’ll write so he can figure out how early he can retire. I tell him at least two.

Summer_10_14_redHat_BrokenLine.indd“It was in the first place, after the strangest fashion, a sense of the extraordinary way in which the most benign conditions of light and air, of sky and sea, the most beautiful English summer conceivable, mixed themselves with all the violence of action and passion. . . . Never were desperate doings so blandly lighted up as by the two unforgettable months that I was to spend so much of in looking over from the old rampart of a little high-perched Sussex town at the bright blue streak of the Channel.”  — Henry James, “Within the Rim”

The town of Rye rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramid of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light. The high Sussex bluffs were a massive, unbroken line of shadow from east to west, the fields breathed out the heat of the day, and the sea was a sheet of hammered pewter. Standing at the tall French windows, Hugh Grange held his breath in a vain attempt to suspend the moment in time as he used to do when he was a little boy, in this same, slightly shabby drawing room, and the lighting of the lamps had been the signal for his aunt to send him to bed. He smiled now to think of how long and late those summer evenings had run and how he had always complained bitterly until he was allowed to stay up well beyond bedtime. Small boys, he now knew, were inveterate fraudsters and begged, pleaded, and cajoled for added rights and treats with innocent eyes and black hearts.

DSCF6152Apparently Christine Rice was in a foul mood the day I called to chat about her debut novel Swarm Theory (University of Hell Press, April 2016). Although I did not read the book, nor had I done my research, I expected her to be more gracious. Sadly, she was rude and uncharitable. I had heard the rumors but, alas, she was much, much worse than the stories Hypertext Managing Editor Chelsea Laine Wells had shared with me (temper tantrums, screaming, etc.).

The following reflects our conversation. I have deleted all expletives (hers) from this draft. For the unexpurgated interview, click HERE.

SWFinalThis is how they get you: your whole life they fill you with stories about princes and poison apples and kindly dwarves and animals that chitter secrets in your ear and bunion-inducing glass slippers and just-right ruby slippers and needles that prick and the frog prince and a nice girl falling in love with a beast and, next thing you know, you’re in the back seat of a Monte Carlo with him pushing into you and all you’re doing is looking out the back windshield, into the blackness above the hilltop, wondering what’s next. Not what’s next after he pulls out, but what’s next? What’s really next, you know? Next for you because, as you’ve been thinking for an awfully long time, you’ve gotta get out of here. As that thought hits you full force, his torso pounding against the backs of your thighs and him asking, begging, really, “Can you, can you, can you?” and you not even listening to or, for that matter, feeling him, because the promise of something bigger than his football player love—bigger than this whole town—fills you with possibility and hope and you push his sweaty body off, climb through the bucket seats, pop open the door, and dance naked into the starless night.

lobster“My father was killed in Lubech!”

“Lubech—Lubech, that’s all you’ve been saying—Lubech,” Mother said.

True, Father did say “Lubech, Lubech” a lot on this trip. It sounded like “love” and “burning” at the same time. Kuzya and Lubasha loved playing “words.”

“In 1943, he was killed! It’s 1986! I just don’t see why I need to spend my May holidays this year bumping along these terrible roads, breaking the engine, being carsick, driving through snow and then dust and heat and running chickens and bugs—”

That was true, too. All kinds of bugs—mosquitoes, flies, some rare bugs Kuzya had never seen in Moscow.

mark polanzakOn the cover of the book POP! there are a bunch of scratched-out tags: A fictional Memoir, A fabulist Memoir, A Nonfictional Novel. A Novel. A Memoir. And then it says that it is just “A Book.” Why?

The heady reasons: I am absolutely fascinated by the mixing-up of genres. Life is not composed of nonfiction, of facts, of consistency, of predictions and correlations, of accurate memories. Life is made up of dreaming, of living in our heads, of imagining things that haven’t happened or we wish could happen, of thinking about people wrong, of creating stories and lies that we live by, of misremembering things, of finding out our assessments were fraudulent, of inventing fiction upon fiction in our ambitions, relationships, romances, careers, passions, hopes. Our real lives are as composed of fictions as they are of actual objective events. So, it makes no sense to me to put a label of “nonfiction” on something about our real lives. And, then oddly, reversely, crazily, in fiction, we try to tell the truth, when our everyday lives are more dreamt than lived. I see so much of life as parts of a developing fiction. It’s perhaps, for me, a protective device (see: my book all about making up fiction in order to process an unexpected catastrophe).

PROLOGUE TWO                   POP!_Cover

PORCELAIN GOD

The dudes who remodeled my mom’s master bathroom forgot to take away the old pink toilet. So there it stood, in the middle of our front yard—a constant amidst the turning, falling leaves of autumn.

We figured they’d be back for it, the toilet. After a week or so of rousing suspicion among the other residents of Green Street, the unspoken realization hit us: that pink throne was our problem now.

One crisp November afternoon, my mom and brother and I all found ourselves standing around the thing with steaming cups of coffee in our hands. My mug had a chip and read: “Nobody’s Perfect.”

“How heavy is it?” My brother tried his best to surmise the toilet’s heft with his mind then tilted it with his free hand.

Kim Brooks PhotoSo what should people know about you, Kim Brooks?

That’s really hard. What should they know about me? … Wait, why should they know about me?

 

Because you wrote a book. You want people to read that book. And people these days are interested in knowing about the people who write their books. It’s a spiritual value added tax.

Ah, okay. I see. Um, I’m a genius.

599105446454460d9c53a7721746d9af_xe8j5tIt was a typical, two-story frame house, the kind of colonial one saw all across the Corn Hill section of Utica, a small white house with a green roof, green shutters, a green door, a wide front porch with a swing and a couple of white rocking chairs and a view onto the street, the goings-on of the neighborhood. When Max imagined, as he occasionally did, what it might be like to have a family of his own, he saw them in such a house, on such a porch, in such a swing. Leading up to it was a walkway of gray paved stones lined by hedges. The hedges were expertly trimmed, never overgrown, curving gently into the front yard in which Irene and Abe had long-ago planted a peach tree that now towered almost to the second story windows and dropped its soft fruit onto the porch every July. The fruit never rotted there or went to waste. Irene swept it up into her apron, ushered it into her kitchen with its white counter tops scoured daily, covered in matching canister sets, its drawers full of egg whiskers and potatoes mashers, a cozy breakfast nook in the corner and coffee percolating besides the stove. It was a house with everything a man could want or ask for, a house with not just the basics a person needed to survive —heat, plumbing, a roof to block out the elements— but all the small comforts that made it a place that drew a person in, invited him back. Max looked up at the Auer home, at the sun hammering at the windows, the peach tree swaying lightly in the breeze, the white nubs of a dogwood overhanging the porch like little bells. And on the porch, the person who brought it all into being, a beautiful brunette planting flowers in a window box. Abe Auer had come to this country with nothing; now he had all this. Yet still he worried. Max stood a moment, dizzy in the drinkable summer air, trying to make the disjointed ends meet, and then he remembered why he’d come, that it wasn’t his job to solve all the human mysteries of the world. He stepped forward, waved hello to Irene Auer.

IMG_3561Opening Hijinks

Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors, Andy!

Stop it.

 

Really? I thought debilitating self-consciousness was your thing.

Not anymore. I’m way past that.

ContraryMotioncover9780812998283Late Saturday morning—a warm day with an armada of big white clouds overhead—Audrey and I head up to a wedding I’m playing in Glenview. I can’t afford to turn down a gig and I can’t afford to give up one of my days with her, so I sometimes impress her into service as my roadie. Surprisingly, she doesn’t seem to mind, maybe because she gets to wear her frilly white dress with the green sash and her shiny Mary Janes, or maybe because she gets a roadie’s prestige without having to perform any of a roadie’s tasks.

Today, for example, she’s only carrying her stuffed unicorn that had its electronic guts removed one grim day, just before I was asked to leave the Rogers Park apartment, when Milena apparently heard the unicorn’s song one time too many. Now, rolling my 85P harp up a broad concrete walkway to the church entrance, with Audrey and her mute unicorn in tow, I can’t help but feel we’re a pair of refugees from the land of nuclear families, making a bid for repatriation.