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hallebutlerThere are a lot of conversations in this book. What’s your worst conversational habit?

I don’t like to talk about myself or what I’m doing because I find it embarrassing (or I’m afraid it will be embarrassing), and then I get annoyed when the person I’m talking to is going on and on about themselves, like I wish they were as embarrassed as I am, or like it’s impolite to not be embarrassed. But then I keep asking them questions about themselves, so what are they supposed to do?

jillian_cover“And my boss was like, ‘We have to get this,’” said Carrie. “So we walked up to the guy and my boss was like, ‘I’ll give you fifty dollars for that llama,’ and he did it.”

“Oh my god, that’s hilarious,” said Jessica. “Steve, check out this llama at Carrie’s desk.” Jessica handed the phone to Steve. Everyone was smiling.

“That’s a life-size llama,” said Steve.

JoshWool_Bookshelves

 

Sarah, tell me, is there anything more navel-gazing than a self-interview?

I was just wondering the same thing. If there is, I can’t imagine it.

 

Would you consider your inability to imagine it a personal failure?

One of many.

BINARYSTAR_COVERWe hug the edge of the Earth all the way to L.A. We take turns choosing the music: John, me, John, me. We always end with John.

We play a game where I name a band and he names a band that ends with the last letter of my band. We play until we come around to bands we’ve named already.

We drive in circles whenever we leave the Pacific Coast Highway, not knowing where on Earth we are.

John reads to me from the books he bought in Portland.

All sentient beings have at least one right, he says.

He lights a cigarette and opens the window. Cold salt air rushes my face.

All sentient beings have the right not to be treated as property.

Do you ever feel like property? he says.

All the time.

4582134Where have you been? Four years feels like a long time between books. Is that how long it takes you?

There was another manuscript I was working on for two of those four years – and I stopped when I found myself lost. I couldn’t figure out that spark of the story that had intrigued me in the first place. It was buried in multiple edits. Sometimes you have to know when to walk away.

 

So then you wrote The Grown Ups? New day, new idea?

I wish! I did the moping thing really well. I wasn’t pleasant to be around. I knew I would write again – but I didn’t know about what. The reality of my writing life is that I have trained myself to sit in a chair every morning, same time, to write. I had never experienced this scary lack of motivation, or the fear that I might not like the next idea either. It was like squinting into the sun. I had to face it – but I didn’t really want to.

grown ups pb c-1Happy Birthday Suzie Epstein (Sam – 1997)

 

It was the summer all the children in the neighborhood caught a virus.

One by one they were felled for a week that involved buckets next to beds and cool towels to swab foreheads and mouths. Their mothers speculated the origin, placing silent blame on Suzie Epstein’s fifteenth birthday party, where Sarah Epstein, derailed by an argument with her estranged husband that took place in the front driveway of their home during the party, left twenty or so unattended teenagers to open all the cans of soda in the cooler and cut the cake, sharing forks and drinks and saliva with abandon. The bug spread so fast that Suzie Epstein’s party had taken on the mythic proportions of a bacchanalia, the gossip chain now fueled by exhausted women whose nostrils were lined with the sour smell of their children’s vomit.

In the evenings, when stomachs had quieted before the next bout began, women gathered on front stoops. If you looked down the street at dusk you would see an uneven trail of red dots, like a runway lit by a madman. Mothers, solitary and weary smokers, afraid to spread the germs to each others’ homes, called from porch to porch to check on the wellness of the children contained within. How’s Frankie? Ruthie? Bella? Peter? Did Mindy get it too? Has the fever broken yet? Do you need extra buckets? I’ll leave some on your porch.

Lynn Sloan by Chester Alamo-CostelloPrinciples of Navigation tells the story of a marriage. Isn’t marriage a kind of ho-hum topic?

While I enjoy reading about a boy stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with a tiger as much as the next person, what I like best are novels and stories about people who are recognizable to me. We are all surrounded by marriages. Some of us are even married. Marriage is a fundamental institution. And marriage is a real cauldron. It can protect the individual and it can bury the individual.

PoN  coverA walk, that’s what he needed, and maybe he’d try to catch his friend Wolf for lunch. He might tell Wolf about the baby, even though he and Alice had discussed waiting another month, until the end of her first trimester, before they let the news out.

Outside the art department building, the wind bit through his jacket. He gave up on the idea of a walk and headed straight for the student union. Heat hit him as soon as he entered the glass building, and plinking sounds wafted from the game room. A few scattered people sat at small tables in the dining court, no one paying any attention to the overhead TVs. On the far side, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the snow-covered soccer field.

KardosAuthorPhoto 1-2014Your new novel is Before He Finds Her. What’s it about?

Melanie Denison is 17 and has lived her whole life in the Witness Protection Program. Now she’s pregnant and doesn’t want her child to live in fear like she has. So she sets out on a quest to find her father, who murdered her mother years earlier and is still at large.

 

Where’d you get the idea?

There’s a second narrative thread that tells the story of the antagonist (Melanie’s father) in the days leading up to the mother’s murder back in 1991. He is a secular doomsdayer, convinced of an imminent planetary cataclysm. This guy had been in my head for years, along with the question: What happens when you’re absolutely convinced the world is going to end—which would happen to solve all your problems in one fell swoop—and then the world doesn’t end?

 

I heard that the movie version of Before He Finds Her is currently in development with J. C. Chandor slated to direct, and Abigail Breslin and Ryan Gosling slated to star. Is that true?

Actually, no. Nothing is true about that.

Before He Finds Her coverThe road ended where the beach began. At first, still a block away, he saw water brilliantly alit with sunlight, the beginning of three thousand miles of shining sea. But as his eyes adjusted and he crossed Ocean Avenue, he was hit with the truth: plastic containers, crushed cans, overturned shopping carts and postal bins and waves of junk shoved ashore by the incoming tide. Worse this year than the last, worse than ever, and it wasn’t lost on Ramsey that he felt drawn to the place where all that trash ended up. Every damn year, he thought, was one earth’s revolution closer to the end of his life, and so far his life had amounted to a heap of garbage. There was no point to any of it. He was broke, friendless, estranged from the old man, unable to hold down a job, and his only reason for staying in this town was that moving would cost money. That, and the half-dozen consistent marijuana customers who gave him a fighting chance at paying whatever landlord had been too lazy to do something as simple as a proper credit check.

One of Ramsey’s customers had only one arm and wore a permanent smirk. He had the bad luck of being born a year earlier than Ramsey and got sent to Vietnam. Now he worked pest control, spraying other people’s homes with poison. Even that guy could keep it together. Ramsey stood on the boardwalk, looking down at the ruined beach and adding self-pity to his list of faults. He turned around and got irked by the guy who seemed to be looking at him.

stevehimmerGood morning. Your novel Fram is about people at work, more or less, but by the end of the story I wondered if some of your characters might need to seek new employment. So I’m going to ask you what Forbes says are the most difficult job interview questions.

Oh, um… okay?

 

Why is there a gap in your work history?

It hasn’t been that long, has it? What’s the usual time between books? I guess it feels like this one took a long time because the research for it and some of the ideas have been in my head for years. So I’d say I’ve been working on it in one way or another all along, even if it’s not clear on my résumé.

 

Tell me one thing you would change about your last job.

I don’t think I’d want to change it. My last book, I mean. There are things I sometimes wish I’d done more of or less of, like any writer, probably. But at some point I guess a book is as close to what you ideally want it to be as you’re capable of making it at the time and you have to accept that even though there might be another level to go to maybe you’re not going to get there. At least not this time. Does that sound defeatist? Like an apology for bad art? I don’t mean it that way.

frambigUnderground again and out of the heat so more comfortable for it, on the platform and shoulder to shoulder with other government employees at his own grade and above or below, Oscar awaited a train. Across the tracks on a wall hung a huge poster advertising the TV show Alexi had mentioned, To The Moon!, with its big silver slogan, “Who will conquer the greatest frontier?”

He shook his head, sighed to his scuffed shoes, and wondered how anyone could get so excited about something that’s all automated, the work done by computers, while women and men who could be anyone or even no one sit in a box and wait to arrive so they can turn around and go home. There’s the science, of course, he wouldn’t disparage that, the behind-the-scenes unsung work of professionals like himself, but why pretend there’s more to it? Why pretend it’s real exploration when it’s mostly a video game? The astronauts mere avatars for self-directed machines.

10459009_10152214303511127_1046608401945286575_oIn a crumbling-stucco corner house off Frazier Street, lived a boy who believed he was nothing at all.  Nightly, his drunk father’s eyes glowed red, and he spit fiery words, but not until fists hailed down on his mother did the boy run for the space between the stove and cabinets. There he crouched crying, “Coward! Coward!”

He listened hard through screams and breaking for his mother’s breathing. Sometimes she went silent, and he wanted to be more than a boy hiding between the stove and cabinet. There he fingered the black abyss of a crack in the linoleum praying, “Fall in. Fall in. Fall in. Fall in,” and one night his father did.

Deji Olukotun by Beowulf SheehanDeji: I’m not sure what the point of another interview is. What can you tell me that Google can’t?

Bryce: Slow down, there, Deji. You’re way too pushy.

Deji: It’s a Nigerian quality. We like to get things done.

Bryce: You’re half-Nigerian. Anyway, not all Nigerians are like that. Some of them do yoga.

Deji: They were probably disinherited from their families. So, about my question–answer it.

NISCover2015It took four nights of heavy drinking, cajoling, and a wet kiss from Leon’s girl Fadanaz for Thursday to say he would consider going into the water. Even then he never thought it would come to pass. But soon they were sitting in the Merc next to a row of strelitzia palms that wound along a dirt road to the beach in the dusk, their fronds spreading out like press-on fingernails. He would have been able to hear the pounding surf if Leon wasn’t thumping his Kwaito music, and they’d both grown up near the sea so he didn’t smell the seaweed any more. Thursday had resolved that this time he would be firm with Leon—he was not going in the water, there was no way he was going in.