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Jessica & Matthew

Five Beers, Five Questions

Who: Authors Matthew Norman and Jessica Anya Blau

Where: A dive bar with dangerous parking (try to get out of the lot without getting hit by oncoming cars) in North Baltimore. Three TVs played the baseball game. The pool table was in continuous use.

What: Natty Boh, a beer the locals drink.

How Much: 3 dollars a can.

Present: a nice multi-racial mix that properly represented the people of Baltimore.

But: With the exception of the bi-racial lesbian couple eating burgers, everyone looked like they could use a good long stint in rehab. Especially the guy with the open, weeping, mouth sore who asked Jessica to play pool with him.

Natashia_DeonHey, Natashia Deón!

Hey, gurl!

 

Do you mind if I ask you questions that you’ve been asked recently? Can I start with what that silly lady asked in the Take-Out line?

I have nothing else to say about that lady. I’m happy now. I have snacks.

 

What are you eating?

Chicken tamales. And this is Tapatio sauce.

Cathy DaveCathy Alter: We spent a lot of time thinking about celebrities and thinking about what our crushes (and by “our,” I mean the collective our) meant to us back when we had them and what they mean to us now. So the first thing I want to ask you after bathing in the stew is this: If you could be any celebrity for a day, who would you be?

Missile ParadiseLove Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ron Tanner, author of Missile Paradise, and Jim Magruder, author of The Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, discuss their new novels.

 

Ron Tanner: Let’s dispatch the most obvious question first: in 1983, you were a grad student at Yale, where you dormed in Helen Hadley Hall. Your novel, Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall is about a diverse, rowdy, and randy group of grad students at Yale in 1983 and they live in Helen Hadley Hall.  How much does it matter that this story is autobiographical?

 

Jim Magruder: With two exceptions, the entire cast is based on people I knew. That said, there is a lot of me in every love slave (“Becky Engelking, c’est moi”) even if only one of them most corresponds to the facts of me in ‘83. It turns out readers don’t care who was real and what was invented. They create their own versions of the characters as they go along.

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.