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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.

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

Shit.

 

Yeah.

Let’s not talk about that.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

grow2Your debut collection is titled, My Life as a Mermaid, but there aren’t any mermaids in your book. I’m guessing you haven’t actually lived as a mermaid?

Only in my head. I love to swim, though, so that counts for something. Had I known about Weeki Wachee Springs when I was younger, I may have spent a summer or two getting paid to wear a mermaid costume and performing in an underwater theater. But if that had happened, I’m guessing this book—and my life—would’ve turned out differently.

 

Speaking of “my life,” where did the title come from? If the book is not about mermaids, then what part of it, if any, is about your life?

Before it became the title of a story in this collection, it was a joke I made about a particular way I flip in the water to make myself dizzy, something I’ve been doing since I was eight years old. It doesn’t look like much, and I admit it’s highly ridiculous (or refreshingly uninhibited?) that I still do it as a forty-something woman. Somehow the phrase, ‘my life as a mermaid,’ stuck. I always thought I’d use it as the title of my memoir, but it took on fictional proportions after that.

Photo_ Shane Hinton_credit Keir MagoulasThere are a lot of fictional Shane Hintons in your book.

Like you, for one.

 

Exactly. What’s that about?

Well, I think it’s important to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. We feel betrayed when we find out something that has been sold to us as “real” is actually some combination of fact and fiction. I want to play with that distrust.

 

You’re saying the stuff in this book didn’t actually happen?

Some of it happened. Some of it didn’t. If the reader ever starts to wonder what’s real and what’s not, I think that’s a pretty special area of possibility.

Ann Packer by Elena SeibertYour new novel, The Children’s Crusade, is about the life of a California family over the course of five decades. The parents are mismatched, and the novel traces the effect of their troubled marriage on their four children. The mother has a certain amount of antipathy toward the youngest, and the book focuses to a large degree on that. Kind of depressing, no? What made you want to write such a novel?

Michael DowningGiotto?

Giotto di Bondone. Greatest painter in the history of the world.

 

Says who?

For starters, Dante.

 

What about Michelangelo?

He thought so, too. The very first drawings we have by Michelangelo are copies of figures from Giotto’s frescoes.

ElizaFactorAfter reading Love Maps, Joe Weisberg says he finally understands women.

Yes. You, too, can understand women for only $15.

 

Does Joe’s wife agree about him understanding women? 

No, but that’s just Joe’s wife.

 

Why do people get married in the first place?

I don’t know. Why do we fall in love? Why do we bomb each other, or stab people we love/don’t love/could love in the heart? My son, who is considered nonverbal by the experts and tabulators of our world, still taught himself how to say: Why do we do?   

Jeremy Hawkins 3Reluctantly conducting this interview with Jeremy Hawkins is Waring Wax, one of the main characters in Hawkins’ new novel, The Last Days of Video. Wax is the rude, misanthropic, binge-drinking owner of Star Video, the embattled video store at the center of the novel. He is 45 years old with shaggy salt-and-pepper hair, grungy in dress and grooming, and today, as always, not in a very good mood.

Waring meets Jeremy at a bar. Jeremy is a foot taller than Waring, with a full red beard and an out-too-late-last-night pallor. They sit at the bar, side by side, and order beers. A long silence ensues. Finally Waring begins…

 

ShyaScanlon2014List ten things that scare you about being an author.

Being bad. Being stupid. Being unworthy. Being unread. Being misunderstood. Being irrelevant. Being out of my depth. Being overlooked. Being complacent. Being bad.

 

That’s nine.

One counts twice. One is two things.

 

Speaking of being bad, the early reviews of The Guild of Saint Cooper seem pretty mixed. Do you think they’re fair?

Of course.

 

You tend to be kind of long-winded in interviews but I’m not getting that here.

I usually become loquacious when I’m nervous because I try to cover up the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

faceThis is kind of weird, isn’t it?

What? The whole interview with yourself thing? Nah, it’s butter.

 

I think it’s kind of weird. But I’ll give it a shot. Tell me, why the misspelling in the title of your book?

Misspelling? There’s a misspelling?

 

Yeah, Witchita Stories. Shouldn’t it be Wichita Stories?

Oh, yeah, I see what you’re saying. But no, it should just be plain old Witchita Stories.

Thirlwell, Adam (c) Peter Marlow (for L&C)So what you’re saying is: it’s never you?

Exactly.

 

As soon as you say I in a novel, it’s always someone else?

What I mean is: perhaps to the outside world this might seem strange, where I am interviewed by my double –

 

Well exactly –

But what I want to say is: how different is this to what happens every day when someone writes a novel? Or even: when someone reads a novel? Always you have this blurring of identities. Or not so much blurring as separation.