@

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

JMC Author PhotoIntriguing title, True Stories at the Smoky View. Is the Smoky View real? Have you stayed there?

Both the name and the location of the motel are fictional.

One summer, years ago, while traveling with my son, I stayed at a similar motel, but that was in Virginia, not Tennessee. On the other side of I-81, to the west, loomed very high mountains. By dinnertime the sun had already disappeared. The light was eerie. The sun had set, but not really. After dinner we went swimming, and there was a frog in the pool. My son, too, remembers it as a magical evening. He’s a herpetologist now. Maybe that frog cast a spell on him.

 

Hmmm. Could Jonathan be a stand-in for your son?

Jonathan’s a fictional character. To some extent, I suppose, he’s based on a boy I sat across from at dinner one night. I remember thinking: this kid has been adopted into the wrong family. But Jonathan’s an orphan, with a very different family history.

Rollins_0921

 

So you’re doing the whole meta-fiction thing now?

No, just here to talk about my book with my favorite critic.

 

But you did try meta-fiction, didn’t you?

Yeah, there was a failed story that didn’t make the final cut in which a semi-fictional version of myself confronted all the book’s characters at the Cafe Kopi in Champaign, Illinois.

AFSulli_1

Start with the premise. A skinhead and a butcher run over a lion in December in Canada. How does this kind of thing happen?

Loose zoo laws. Or at least loose exotic animal laws.

The province of Ontario has surprisingly loose regulations around keeping wild animals. Certain cities like Toronto have passed by-laws to prevent this, but Ontario itself is full of small, family run zoos with little to no real oversight on a regular basis. You can spot a lot of them off the highway when you head north to cottage country. It’s also a lot easier for any private citizen to own an exotic animal than you might expect. And it’s a lot easier for these animals to escape than from your standard, big city zoo. Every so often these escapes make the news, but it usually disappears after a while. The past few years have seen major escapes in Florida, Ohio and Alberta. It happens more than you think. Enforcement has ramped up a bit since 1989, but it’s still common enough to pop-up in your local police blotter or Facebook feed.

amina_gautier5.creditjennibryantI notice that every time someone asks you when you’re going to write a novel, you get pretty snippy about it. Sometimes even—dare I say?—downright snarky. Do you hate novels so much?

I don’t hate novels at all. There are many novels I absolutely adore! A Lesson Before Dying, The Age of Innocence, Beloved, The Color Purple, Erasure, Fight Club, The Known World, Montana 1948, Not Without Laughter, Passing, Quicksand, The Remains of the Day, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Their Eyes Were Watching God –just to name a few.

 

Don’t you want your books to sell? Don’t novels sell better? Why don’t you just shut everybody up and write one?

I am a writer who is a literature scholar and professor and that is the lens through which I look to see the world of writing. So I know that there is no correlation between a book’s advance or publisher and the book getting invited into the academy.

SamSlaughter2

 

I’m going to go ahead and ask this because we’re all thinking it: are you drinking right now?

I have some double chocolate hot cocoa, if that’s what you mean.

 

Is that a shot? What’s in it?

It has water…and hot cocoa mix. Land O’ Lakes, if you must know.

Fabienne Author PhotoDancing in the Baron’s Shadow is about two brothers living through a real dictatorship that most people don’t even know about. How did this story come to you?

I had these two characters in my mind for a long time: two brothers in Haiti, one socially and financially more successful than the other, but the other, kinder and more heroic. I had it in my mind that someone should write about Haitian history and politics through fiction. The Duvalier era was tempting, because I couldn’t think of any story that brought up that slice of history, except maybe for Graham Greene’s “The Comedians.” Those were hard years of tyranny and censorship, when people were killed or imprisoned, or vanished without explanation. Haiti was dubbed “the nightmare Republic” back then, and still, it intrigued the rest of the world. That period in time was a goldmine waiting to be excavated.

kobek author photo 2Why did you write I Hate the Internet?

I Hate the Internet was inspired by four years of living in San Francisco’s Mission District, more or less the high water mark for a flood of the hypergentrifying tech superclass.

 

What was that like?

Awful, like watching someone die of cancer. You could see class warfare on a daily basis, painted in miniature. People who’d lived in the neighborhood forever were being steamrolled by an unending tide of bad taste, money, and designer denim. And the money, almost invariably, came either from web-based advertising revenue or sales of consumer goods built by slaves in China.

Kristopher Jansma credit Michael LevyKris, now that I have you here, can I ask what exactly this book of ours is about?

This “book of ours” as you put it, is a novel called Why We Came to the City, and it is about five friends living in New York City, struggling with their big dreams and small mortalities in the face of overwhelming odds.

 

That sounds like something that I could really identify with.

Is that a joke?