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North author photo 1_by Jenny ZhangI was having a hard time interviewing myself, so I decided to let my book interview me. These questions are all taken verbatim from dialogue in the first chapter of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, posed to/by Sophie or another character.

DSC_2150You’re a hard guy to track down.

I know, I know. I’m sorry. I just have a lot of obligations and duties—many roles to play.

 

What roles?

Husband, father, son, brother, department chair, mentor, friend, book reviewer, writer, etc.

 

So, mulattos, eh?

Yup.

grow2Your debut collection is titled, My Life as a Mermaid, but there aren’t any mermaids in your book. I’m guessing you haven’t actually lived as a mermaid?

Only in my head. I love to swim, though, so that counts for something. Had I known about Weeki Wachee Springs when I was younger, I may have spent a summer or two getting paid to wear a mermaid costume and performing in an underwater theater. But if that had happened, I’m guessing this book—and my life—would’ve turned out differently.

 

Speaking of “my life,” where did the title come from? If the book is not about mermaids, then what part of it, if any, is about your life?

Before it became the title of a story in this collection, it was a joke I made about a particular way I flip in the water to make myself dizzy, something I’ve been doing since I was eight years old. It doesn’t look like much, and I admit it’s highly ridiculous (or refreshingly uninhibited?) that I still do it as a forty-something woman. Somehow the phrase, ‘my life as a mermaid,’ stuck. I always thought I’d use it as the title of my memoir, but it took on fictional proportions after that.

Photo_ Shane Hinton_credit Keir MagoulasThere are a lot of fictional Shane Hintons in your book.

Like you, for one.

 

Exactly. What’s that about?

Well, I think it’s important to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. We feel betrayed when we find out something that has been sold to us as “real” is actually some combination of fact and fiction. I want to play with that distrust.

 

You’re saying the stuff in this book didn’t actually happen?

Some of it happened. Some of it didn’t. If the reader ever starts to wonder what’s real and what’s not, I think that’s a pretty special area of possibility.

Ann Packer by Elena SeibertYour new novel, The Children’s Crusade, is about the life of a California family over the course of five decades. The parents are mismatched, and the novel traces the effect of their troubled marriage on their four children. The mother has a certain amount of antipathy toward the youngest, and the book focuses to a large degree on that. Kind of depressing, no? What made you want to write such a novel?

Michael DowningGiotto?

Giotto di Bondone. Greatest painter in the history of the world.

 

Says who?

For starters, Dante.

 

What about Michelangelo?

He thought so, too. The very first drawings we have by Michelangelo are copies of figures from Giotto’s frescoes.

ElizaFactorAfter reading Love Maps, Joe Weisberg says he finally understands women.

Yes. You, too, can understand women for only $15.

 

Does Joe’s wife agree about him understanding women? 

No, but that’s just Joe’s wife.

 

Why do people get married in the first place?

I don’t know. Why do we fall in love? Why do we bomb each other, or stab people we love/don’t love/could love in the heart? My son, who is considered nonverbal by the experts and tabulators of our world, still taught himself how to say: Why do we do?   

Jeremy Hawkins 3Reluctantly conducting this interview with Jeremy Hawkins is Waring Wax, one of the main characters in Hawkins’ new novel, The Last Days of Video. Wax is the rude, misanthropic, binge-drinking owner of Star Video, the embattled video store at the center of the novel. He is 45 years old with shaggy salt-and-pepper hair, grungy in dress and grooming, and today, as always, not in a very good mood.

Waring meets Jeremy at a bar. Jeremy is a foot taller than Waring, with a full red beard and an out-too-late-last-night pallor. They sit at the bar, side by side, and order beers. A long silence ensues. Finally Waring begins…

 

ShyaScanlon2014List ten things that scare you about being an author.

Being bad. Being stupid. Being unworthy. Being unread. Being misunderstood. Being irrelevant. Being out of my depth. Being overlooked. Being complacent. Being bad.

 

That’s nine.

One counts twice. One is two things.

 

Speaking of being bad, the early reviews of The Guild of Saint Cooper seem pretty mixed. Do you think they’re fair?

Of course.

 

You tend to be kind of long-winded in interviews but I’m not getting that here.

I usually become loquacious when I’m nervous because I try to cover up the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

faceThis is kind of weird, isn’t it?

What? The whole interview with yourself thing? Nah, it’s butter.

 

I think it’s kind of weird. But I’ll give it a shot. Tell me, why the misspelling in the title of your book?

Misspelling? There’s a misspelling?

 

Yeah, Witchita Stories. Shouldn’t it be Wichita Stories?

Oh, yeah, I see what you’re saying. But no, it should just be plain old Witchita Stories.

Thirlwell, Adam (c) Peter Marlow (for L&C)So what you’re saying is: it’s never you?

Exactly.

 

As soon as you say I in a novel, it’s always someone else?

What I mean is: perhaps to the outside world this might seem strange, where I am interviewed by my double –

 

Well exactly –

But what I want to say is: how different is this to what happens every day when someone writes a novel? Or even: when someone reads a novel? Always you have this blurring of identities. Or not so much blurring as separation.

Cate Dicharry_Print Ready_Michael KreiserSo how does your mother feel about the language in the title of your book?

She thinks it’s fucking great.

 

I know her a little, I have a hard time believing that.

My mother may be mannerly but she’s an innovator. She has no trouble finding ways to boast without actually having to say the title of the book. When she tells family, friends, strangers at the grocery store that her daughter has this terrific novel out and they ask the title, she says, “I’ll send you the link.”

Alexis-Andre

At 11:11 on a Tuesday night in January, I called my own number and was slightly annoyed to find myself at home. I know it’s important to have these little discussions with yourself but, these days, I often find myself in a bad mood. (And vice-versa, of course.) The time before a book is published is a mild but constant irritation, like thinking you’ve left the stove on when you’re miles away from home. So, I struggled to be civil.[1]

– How are you? I asked.

– I’ve been better, I answered.

– Something on your mind?

– I can’t stop thinking about Harry Mathews and Italo Calvino.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh photo credit BeBe JacobsTesting, testing.

I think it’s on.

 

I love Vietnamese food. Just wanted to let you know.

I do too.

 

Arnold-Daniel1-400x300-2Wait, your new book, Snowblind, is a short story collection. Why’d you write one of those? Don’t you know people don’t read short stories?

Don’t panic. I can promise you Action! Adventure! Derring-do! The stories in Snowblind are mountaineering adventure tales in the vein of Jack London or Robert Louis Stevenson, but with modern characters and climbs. For reasons beyond me, stories with satisfying narrative arcs have become taboo in certain literary circles. I think stories should be gripping, and I’ve yet to meet the reader who genuinely feels otherwise.