color-author-photoOkay, I know you’ve been really nervous about this self-interview, but why don’t you just drink a cocktail, grow a pair, and I’ll ask you some questions.

(The author makes a vodka gimlet.)


So, who are you, Micah Perks?

That’s exactly why I didn’t want to do this. I knew you were going to be like that.


Like what?

A wiseacre.

carolineheadshotI hear there’s a juicy story behind Cruel Beautiful World?

Not juicy as much as tragic. When I was in high school, I sat behind a girl who was smart, funny, and engaged to a man in his late 20s, whom she said was a “little controlling.” I never understood it. When I was in college, I heard that her fiancé had stabbed her 43 times. Then I was haunted. I didn’t understand how you could stay with someone controlling until I had a two year relationship of my own with a guy who never raised his voice, and was so quietly, verbally abusive, that I thought I was losing my mind as well as my self. He didn’t want me to eat (I went down to 95 pounds). He didn’t want me to see my friends and he monitored my writing. When I finally was able to leave, I happened upon something online from the sister of my high school friend, who was still trying to process what had happened and why. And I sat down and started to write.

fuentes-author-photo-by-brittainy-laubackBecause even when I am talking to myself, I am talking to other people, I asked the writers (my friends) Shamala Gallagher, Kristen Gleason, Prosper Hedges and (my husband) Thibault Raoult for some help. Their questions are interspersed with my own and ones I have been asked in the past, some ordinary, some not.


Your novel, The Sleeping World, just debuted. Since it’s your first novel, the autobiography question must be asked. Is it about you?

Yes and no. The setting and events are very distant from my own life, yet there are emotional parallels throughout the book. The Sleeping World follows four college students during the political turmoil of Spain’s transition to democracy. The narrator, Mosca, is looking for her brother who disappeared two years ago. One year before I started writing the book, my brother fatally overdosed. I kept this loss to myself and wrote through it, instead of speaking of it. Mosca and I are both haunted by our lost brothers. I wanted/needed to explore haunting and how death fundamentally alters one’s world. The desire to be haunted turns ghost into a verb. From that a new space is created, with its own rules, its own realities.

headshot_vhWhat’s your book about?

I write about immigrant families navigating a new America, straddling cultures and continents. From a Hong Kong movie idol fleeing a sex scandal, to an obedient daughter turned Stanford pretender, from a Chinatown elder summoned to his village, to a Korean-American pastor with a secret agenda, the characters in the collection illustrate the conflict between self and society, tradition and change.


Matt, you’re a big fan of making ridiculous lists as a way of generating material for these weird little stories you like to write and which Stillhouse Press has kindly decided to publish in a book titled Maybe Mermaids and Robots are Lonely. So why don’t we try that here.

Cool, sounds fun.


Great. Let’s start with this: list your five favorite emerging or emerged writers that many people probably haven’t heard of.

Okay, right off the bat, that’s hard. And, also, I thought this was supposed to be about me?


Just … just answer, dude. Get over yourself. We don’t need the commentary.

bluvaasheadshotWhat prompted you to write Beneath The Coyote Hills?

I was walking down the hallway in a Berkeley motel, demoralized after a disappointing reading tour in the Bay Area to promote my last story collection, Ashes Rain Down. Only six people showed up at my S. F. Central Library event, including three homeless folks, fewer at Book Passages in Marin County. I’m thinking, “What’s the point? Maybe I should quit.” Not writing, but give up trying to gain attention for my work. To hell with it!

It hit me at that moment how obsessed we all are with success and failure, myself included. It’s in our DNA, our collective madness. The cause of so much despair and moronic Donald-Trump boasting. Right then, the concept for the book popped into my head. I had to write about this madness.

michellecroppedDo you feel weird interviewing yourself?

Um, not really.


Say more.

When I was in junior high school, I wanted to be Phil Donahue (not to be confused with Dr. Phil who is neither as smart nor as badass). I raced home during my forty-five minute lunch break, turned on the tube, made myself a sandwich, and tried to figure out what piping hot question Mr. Donahue or one of his audience members would ask next. I prepped for these sessions by interviewing myself, using a hairbrush as a mic, and trust me, it was a whole lot easier guessing my next question. After the show was canceled, I moved on to Oprah, Charlie Rose, and my current idol, Terry Gross.

Barrett, Igoni (Victor Ehikhamenor)Just like Sean Carswell’s self-interview, I, too, asked my wife, Femke van Zeijl, who is a journalist as well as being the only person who knows why I dread dreaming of toilet bowls, to ask me questions as if she didn’t already know the answers. And then I rewrote her transcription.


First of all: why aren’t you interviewing yourself?

Because I know what questions to ask myself that I find impossible to answer—the kind of questions we keep asking until the day we stumble off this mortal coil. And so, in my head, this self-interview had grown into an existential issue that would require an entire novel to answer. I consider the publicity-oriented parts of writing as disparate from the creative process. The public appearances, the press interviews, etcetera, are all part of the writer’s job, yes, but interviewing myself is too close to the creative process. Thus I figured I would turn to my in-house journalist, since she knows nearly everything there is to know about me. That’s the closest I could come to a self-interview. Besides, journalists enjoy meeting deadlines, while I almost unfailingly miss mine.

Majka, Sara (Chris Ward)Is there anything you wished you could have talked about the book?

I kept waiting for someone to notice the dots–to ask why, online, a lot of times the dots on my book are yellow but on the actual physical book they’re orange. Also, the author photo, I thought someone might ask about the background, because it has striking green and white stripes. I wanted to be able to say that it was at a park in Philadelphia, that my friend, Chris Ward, was taking pictures of me in nature, with trees, and then I saw the striped shed and asked about it. I figured he would say that it was a bad idea but he also liked the idea.

1429283316376There’s a lot of motherhood in your collection. Why?

Writing and motherhood rolled in on the same thunder, flashed with the same white electric. I’d just finished grad school and I read Louise Erdrich’s memoir and her babies slept in their baskets while she wrote. I was jolted awake by motherhood, and it seemed to me that the world was too.

Motherhood was also a foreign land. It amazed me, and I wanted to describe everything I saw. The pressure to write was acute, and because my days were bounded, insular, but with this exalted view, that tension intensified.

But then I ventured outside, and the air still echoed from the thunderstorm, but let’s say my mother was there, my mother-in-law, my grandmothers—there were women and children everywhere—and it turned out that what I was seeing was at once universal and personal.

Louise Miller_select_8744So, you are a pastry chef and your protagonist Olivia Langford is a pastry chef…is this really an autobiography thinly disguised as fiction?

It isn’t! I’ve never lit any of my places of employment on fire, or had any affairs with people at work, or lived in the country. All of the characters of The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living are fictional, as well as the places, the town and the plot.

But I did lean on many of the everyday details of my life. I have spent the greater part of the last twenty-two years in a professional kitchen, so it was delightful to get to play with the images and tastes and textures I experience every day. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is not only my debut novel but the first novel I have ever written. It was comforting to write about something so familiar while learning how to actually write a novel. That task alone felt like a big enough leap.

Irina & AllisonFive Questions/Five Dresses

Who: Authors Irina Reyn and Allison Amend.

Where: A Diane von Furstenberg sample sale in the Flatiron District of NYC.

What: Irina purchased a discounted oversized scarf; Allison came out with a cute dress (A-line, not wrap), and a black eyelet top.

How Much: That’s not polite to ask. Let’s just say everything was steeply discounted.

Present: Every single woman in Manhattan. And two men.

JJ_AuthorPhotoOkay, let’s start with just, like, what’s the deal with this book?

It’s about a 16-year-old named James Salley who finds out that he’s the Antichrist.


The Antichrist? Really? Like The Omen?

Kinda, yeah, but funnier, and without Gregory Peck. One review called it The Catcher in the Rye meets The Omen. That was nice.

Carswell_1I had trouble coming up with questions to ask myself, so I asked my wife, who is a psychologist in a prison, to ask me questions like I was one of her inmate patients.

I see that you were placed in the mental health system. What prompted this?

I wrote a book about my favorite authors and their metaphysical ukuleles. It’s as crazy as it sounds.


What makes it crazy?

I didn’t mean to do it, exactly. I started out bored one day in New Mexico, kind of stranded in a diner, so I started writing about Herman Melville’s time with in the Marquesas, living with a tribe he believed were cannibals. The story seemed more real to me once I gave Melville a ukulele, so I went with it.


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.