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todgoldbergheadcolorYour last book came out in 2011. It’s 2014. What have you been doing all this time?

Honestly? Writing. And writing and writing and writing. But sometimes, that just means I’m not writing at all, I’m just thinking about writing, thinking about what I haven’t written, thinking about what I’d like to write, thinking about maybe never writing again because, these days, there’s just an awful lot of good stuff on TV and if my choice is to sit quietly in my office writing murder stories or watching an infinite number of episodes of Chopped, well, Chopped wins. It’s a sickness, it really is. I find it profoundly, psychically comforting to watch other people cook food I’ll never eat while I – with absolutely no acuity in the field whatsoever – make snap judgments on the quality, taste, and general success or failure of the meal.

Dylan laughing hiresWhat’s the question you most dread being asked?

Grad students ask it all the time: When I write about Rainey Royal getting molested, is that based on personal experience? There’s a story about that in my first book, too, Normal People Don’t Live Like This. But my writing teacher in Los Angeles, the novelist Jim Krusoe, once said: Answer the question you want to answer. So: Can I just talk about writing? I like going to the basement, to dark, uncomfortable places, and seeing what kind of unfamiliar language I can construct for what’s going on. And as a writer, I think the less you say on paper the more the reader imagines.

Laila.Lalami.2014authorphoto

How do you pronounce your name?

Laila is pronounced like the Eric Clapton song. And Lalami rhymes with Rarity.

 

I bet you get asked that a lot.

Oh, only about five times a day.

 

So you have a new book coming out?

Yes, it’s called The Moor’s Account and it will be published by Pantheon in September 2014.

author photo 2010 hi resSo you just wrote a book about the challenges of committing to love when we all know how damn hard relationships really are. What do you know about love?

I’ve been in a marriage that didn’t work and now I’m in a marriage that works. I love love. It’s a great way to live in the world. But after spending two years writing a novel about love (and seventeen years living in love), I think that most of us dive into relationships with some kind of blind faith. We think: Ours will work. Ours will be different. There is no rule book. We make it all up as we go along.

Livings, Jack (C) Jennie Yabroff COLORLivings. That’s a Chinese name?

Yeah. Sure.

 

So you think that because you went to China twenty years ago you have license to write fiction about China?

I don’t know what right I have, but that’s what I did.

BruceHolbert-bwThere’s a high body count in your books.  Why?

Life’s cheap here in the Inland Empire.

 

John Berryman once said: It is time to see the frontiers as they are, Fiction, but a fiction meaning blood… Do you agree?

He killed Butch Cassidy with a metaphor, didn’t he?  I guess he would know then.

Q:

It’s gimmicky, but the whole idea of a self-interview is pretty gimmicky, right?

 

Q:

I don’t know. I read a bunch, as, you know, research, and they seem tricky, because you’re either earnest, in which case you seem boring, or you try to be funny, but that actually seems a lot harder to pull off than it’d seem. It’s kind of like trying to do “Who’s on First?” by yourself.

Allen, Jeffery Renard (Mark Hillringhouse)So it seems that you have a new novel called Song of the Shank, which is based in part on a real person, Blind Tom, a book that I understand took you forever to write. Tell us more about it.

Better you read it.

 

Okay. So can you tell us what is the most important thing readers need to know about this novel?

The book is many things at once, travels in many directions, explores a number of possibilities in an effort to engage the reader and engage the world. I hope that anyone who reads the book will resist any inclination to try and pigeon-hole it as say a historical novel, or a novel about slavery and Reconstruction, or a novel about a musician, since it is all those things and more.

SEAN_MICHAEL-1770_NB_FINALEwebWhat’s your name, where do you come from?

My name’s Sean. I was born in Scotland and raised in Ottawa, but I live in Montreal.

 

Why don’t you have a Scottish accent?

I did, but I lost it.

headshot_smallWhen we last spoke, in 2011, you attempted to pass yourself off as an unlikely Rock Novelist. How did you go about making the transition to unlikely Surf Novelist?

It all started with a place. La Libertad is a bizarre and fascinating beach town on El Salvador’s Pacific Coast. It’s home to a world-class point-break, as well as a serious crack cocaine epidemic. I spent a lot of time there in my early twenties—back when it was still below the surfing radar and I was a Peace Corps volunteer about 50 miles away. The beauty and the grit of La Lib, with its mix of surfers, fishermen, drug dealers, and addicts is something I always wanted to write about.

alan_michael_parker_2013What the hell is this?

A novel.

 

But it’s got 99 stories and some of them have the same titles?

That’s true.

James MagruderAre you gay?

Everywhere except Uganda.

 

What does that mean?

In America, the only way I pass for straight is if I stand absolutely still and don’t speak. In Kampala, which my partner Steve and I just fled in mid-March in the wake of the anti-gay legislation getting passed, the Ugandans we knew kept asking when I was going to take a wife and have children. They advised me to shoot for four, with one serving as backup in case anything went wrong with the first three. Lots of things can go wrong in Uganda.

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How do you go about writing?

I don’t know. I’m trying to find out for myself here on the farm. With every new book I try to reinvent the bicycle.

My father was a surrealist Estonian poet, my mother is an original poet in a more traditional vein. They have both been literary translators as well and so I grew up quite literally in a desk drawer. An open drawer of course. We have an old desk with big drawers and when Mother and Father were writing they kept the baby in the drawer where it could sit and play. Part of my talent for writing probably came from my childhood. Although, for a while, I resisted the impulse to write since it didn’t seem as if this work was particularly easy, and it isn’t.

Roxane GayYou have two books coming out this year. How the hell did that happen? What are the books about?

Well, I wrote an essay about publishing two books in one year that covers a lot of ground.

An Untamed State, my novel, is about Mireille Duval Jameson, a Haitian American woman visiting Port au Prince with her American husband and infant son. They are on the way to the beach when she is kidnapped in broad daylight and held for thirteen days because her father is reluctant to pay the ransom for fear that he will lose everything he has worked so hard to accomplish. The novel explores her life before, during, and after the kidnapping as well as how she reconciles the country she thought she knew with the country she discovers upon her kidnapping. This is also about how she comes to terms with her father’s betrayal and how she tries to find her way back to herself.

Ronlyn Domingue official author photoYou’re writing a trilogy which can be read “out of order.” How did that happen?

I didn’t intend to write a trilogy at all. I expected my second book to be one huge sprawling novel, but it morphed into something even bigger. A subplot about a female mapmaker, exiled for treason, took on a life of its own and became the trilogy’s first book, The Mapmaker’s War. The rest of the story grew so much that it split into two.