@

IMG_3912

Answers to Interview Questions about The Unfinished World,

Taken from Yelp Reviews of Famous Museums around the World

 

Why should people read your book?

“It’s pretty interesting and is not a long-winded affair…Many people enjoy lunch here and it’s open to the public. Truly amazing and massive collection of mammals, historic artifacts, dinosaurs, etc… Dedicated to both ecclesiastical and secular topics.”

 

How long did it take you to write the book?

“After I got my ticket, I didn’t waste much time, started to explore. I could have spent weeks here. But I got it done in a day, though we rushed through a lot of it.”

Rachel Cantor - high-res - photo credit Bennett BeckensteinWhat’s your book about?

It’s about Shira, a translator who doesn’t translate because she doesn’t quite believe that it’s possible to bring words from one language to another. Instead, she temps as a filing clerk and dogsbody, usually in the boroughs. When she gets a call from Romei, a Nobel Prize-winning poet who asks her to translate his latest work, she’s stunned. He offers a plausible explanation for his choice, she agrees, and ecstatically envisions new life for herself and seven-year-old daughter Andi. But as Romei begins faxing her sections of his work, we, and eventually she, begin to realize that Romei has another agenda, one that involves Shira personally.

 

Sounds like you’ve kind of memorized that pitch.

I have, rather.

DZ photoWhy this title: The Amado Women?

I thought it fairly well signaled that this would be a novel about the lives of women; their lives are complex and contradictory. Amado, Spanish for beloved, is the family surname. I love that wonderful undertone because all four main characters are beloved, they just may not realize it. Also, as a Zamorano I have gone through life at the tail end of the alphabet, and I wanted to shake things up a bit.

 

Not a lot of guys make the cut in this book. You got a thing against men?

Nope, not at all. I just wanted to make women’s lives the centerpiece.

Jessica Chiarella_Photo Credit Shane CollinsSo, from the description, your book is about a group of people who get new bodies in order to cure terminal illnesses…

Yes, they’re in a pilot program called SUBlife that transfers their memories into cloned versions of their old bodies. They wake up with a body that’s theirs, it just doesn’t have any of the environmental damage their old bodies had. No scars, no wrinkles, no tattoos, none of the little traits that they’re used to in their daily lives. And the impact of that loss turns out to be rather severe.

 

You mean, this turns out not to be a good thing?

It’s a very good thing, because it does save their lives. Everything works the way it’s supposed to, medically speaking. They’re completely cured. Except the emotional impact of losing so much of their physical identities begins to weigh on the members of the pilot program when they try to renter their old lives. So it’s not the miracle that it seems to be.

Charles Lambert 01_21a Patrizia CasamirraI’ve heard you say that, unlike Socrates, you prefer the unexamined life. So how does this feel?

Opportunistic. Uncomfortable. But I’ll do my best. Just don’t get too personal.

 

Hmm. Aren’t you a little old to be publishing a debut novel?

I thought you were supposed to be on my side. Do we really need to be talking about this? In any case, it isn’t really a debut, just a US debut. I’ve published three novels, short stories and a quirky memoir in that small island over to the right of the United States. You know, the one with the Queen and all those green and rolling hills.

 

Is that where your novel is set?

Next question.

WT-purpleIt’s explained nicely in the blurb, by the way, but could you give us a quick premise/sum-up of your book, Over For Rockwell?

Okoye is pretty much a regular guy in his second year of college, which to him feels like a dead end. He wants to draw comics and he feels trapped doing the liberal arts thing. He’s also developed some romantic ideas about Hong Kong, based on movies and descriptions from a Chinese pal. So he drops out of school, goes on a whim, and from there his life explodes, in terms of excitement. Not that he gets much drawing done . . .

Carly Hallman1Let’s get down to it. What made you decide to publish your first novel, Year of the Goose, at age 28? Why not 30? Everyone knows that no one knows anything until at least age 30. On the other hand, why not 13? You could’ve been a child prodigy. You could’ve appeared on 60 Minutes.

What can I say? Mistakes were made.

 

Speaking of mistakes, it’s a well-known fact that many individuals nurse hobbies and interests such as playing tennis, folding origami, and crafting old-fashioned toys such as whirligigs, pinwheels, and kites. Why not pursue one such hobby or interest? In other words, why spend years of your life bumbling along in Beijing and writing a very weird book about ridiculously wealthy Chinese folks?

I don’t like to talk about it, but there was once an unfortunate incident involving a pottery wheel and a stubborn would-be vase that absolutely refused to take shape. Suffice it to say, I tried hobbies. Hobbies didn’t work.

nonameFancy meeting you here.

Are you really going to lead with that?

 

So what is your debut novel, Twister, about?

In Twister, a small Midwestern community grieves the loss of a young man killed in a war. Coincidentally, or not, there’s also a huge storm coming. The story opens with Rose, the soldier’s mother, but then broadens to include a number of other characters—Rose’s estranged stepsister, a neighboring family, townspeople who appear at first glance to be less connected to the loss. In retrospect, I think I wanted to explore how a community copes with momentous change and existential threat—the germ of the story first appeared on the page during the long build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Will they survive it? And if so, how will they be changed?

Author photo - Jennifer Miller 28credit Diana Levine29How did the idea for The Heart You Carry Home originate?

Growing up in the nation’s capital, I spent every Memorial Day visiting the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally on the National Mall. From a young age, I was curious about these seemingly brusque, intimidating biker-vets: why such a deep love of motorcycles? And why, decades after the war, did Vietnam remain so central in their lives? In my twenties, I was finally able to immerse myself in their world on a two-week journey from California to DC. The stories of the men who carried me across the United States on their Harley-Davidson’s and Hondas formed the basis for this novel, about a young woman struggling to understand how Vietnam and Iraq has shaped the men in her life.

Stefankiesbye… also in The Staked Plains. What you say about how you can read society by the way it treats its dogs. It’s a massacre. By the way, what are goatheads?

Goatheads are small stickers that look exactly like small goat heads. They are so common in New Mexico that many people avoid walking barefoot across their lawns. Every summer and fall they seem to multiply. To me, they signify how unwelcoming the New Mexico landscape can seem at times.

SeidlingerAuthorPhoto (1) (1)You know you could go out tonight. It’s Friday.

It’s always the same imperative–go out, bar, show, some reading, something. I’m tired, okay? I’m tired and I really should get back to this novel.

 

You never go out anymore.

Priorities. Besides, you should be glad that I’ve chosen to stay in tonight. I wouldn’t pay you any mind if I went out.

 

So I’m second-rate to you?

I wouldn’t say that, but you exist essentially for the same reason I’m deciding to deny any kind of social interaction tonight, or for the remainder of the weekend for that matter: I wrote what became The Strangest in a two week sequence of denials–in particular, social denials, where I did nothing but read, write, edit, repeat. You were the only one on my mind and man, let me tell you, you really bummed me out.

KolayaauthorphotoHey, what’s that swirly thing on the cover of your book?

It’s an image of a particle collision. Abhijat Mital, one of the book’s characters, is a theoretical physicist. The book’s about a town whose residents are in conflict over plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider (a tool for studying particle physics) under their homes, schools, and farmland.

 

Did you pass high school physics?

Barely. And only thanks to a kind physics teacher who was either unable to do basic math while computing my grade or–more likely–was just ridiculously kind and indulgent with his students.

headshot 2I heard you just got married. Do you really think you two were old enough?

I know, I know. I’m forty-five. Everyone’s like, What are you doing? You’re just kids. You don’t even know yourselves yet.

 

You wanted to honor your fiance’s large Chinese-American family, as well as your own family, which comes from places in the heartland where mofungo might be something people would treat with Gold Bond. How did that work out?

Well, we did spot our florist on the day of the wedding foraging for flowers on the side of the road.

Also, we catered it with food trucks. Mofungo featured prominently.

unnamedWhat or Who is Lum? Why is Lum the title of your book?

Lum is the name of the main character, short for Columbia. She tried to get rid of her childhood nickname and have people call her Columbia, but it didn’t stick. She is a thirty-three-year-old intersex woman living in Depression era Virginia. I tried to come up with other titles, but Lum sounded right.

 

Intersex? Is that like Trans?

No, “intersex” is an umbrella term for many conditions where a person’s genitals are not consistent with what is considered normal for males or females.

 

So she’s a hermaphrodite?

Intersex is the preferred term. Hermaphrodite indicates that someone has all the parts of both genders, which just isn’t the case. I picked a syndrome that Lum has, congenital andrenal hyperplasia (CAH), and then used the manifestations of that condition in her story.

JT_Pic_EditThe back cover describes Academy Gothic as “hardboiled mystery meets academic satire.” How did you come to blend these two seemingly disparate genres?

The year I started Academy Gothic I was living on a steady diet of novels by Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Those writers are remembered in part for their world-weary tone, and to a slightly lesser extent for their plots, but I’m not sure they get as much credit as they deserve for their sense of humor. This was around the time my teaching colleagues and I endured a never-ending procession of what might charitably be called indignities. Our offices, for example, were relocated to a former swimming pool in the school’s abandoned gymnasium. That our move paralleled the fate of the title characters from Revenge of the Nerds did not go unnoticed. A few of us, recognizing the futility of anger, appreciated the Kafkaesque qualities of our plight and persevered accordingly.