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giffelsauthorphotocredittoTimothyFitzwaterDavid, I’d like to begin, if I may, by saying “thank you” for taking the time to talk with me. I’ve been a big fan of yours for as long as I can remember, and this is kind of, almost surreal for me.

Please. It’s my pleasure. Don’t be nervous. You’ve got five minutes.

 

Some might say that The Hard Way on Purpose is the greatest book written about coming of age in postindustrial Akron, Ohio, in at least the past half-decade. Would you agree?

Considering the publishing industry’s insatiable appetite for essay collections about life in America’s Rust Belt, that’s high praise. Thank you.

Liza Monroy_005Wait, you did what?

I married my best friend for his green card shortly after September 11, 2001. He’s gay and from a Middle Eastern country I call Emiristan to help protect his identity. His student visa was expiring and he would have had to return to live in the closet in a homeland where he could be killed were it found out that he happened to share a gender with the person he romantically loved. I much preferred for him to stay in West Hollywood and with me. In Emiristan, he would likely have had to enter an arranged marriage with a woman, so he entered one with me, instead. Ours had fewer restrictions and no expectations.

Domenica_Ruta_ 32

The Library of Congress breaks down your book into these categories: Children of drug addicts—Massachusetts—biography—drug addicts. What genre would you put your book into?

I really dislike reducing any work of art to a DSM-IV listing. My mother was more than her addictions and mental illness. And I am more than her daughter.

ag2Like writing this memoir wasn’t exercise enough in accelerating through self-consciousness and isolation, now I have to interview myself about it?

Apparently.

 

You’ve been quoted calling your new memoir, The End of Eve, “a comedy about domestic violence.” What’s up with that?

When I was working on the book I found it a bit tricky to explain to people what I was doing.

I’m writing about lung cancer!”

“A great project about watching my beautiful, crazy, abusive mom die!”

I must have sounded so depressing. People would go all doe-eyed. So I started saying I was writing a comedy about domestic violence. Well, that didn’t go over so well, either. Because, of course, domestic violence isn’t something to laugh about. But here’s the truth: I grew up in a violent household. My relationship with my mother always included some level of violence. But it also included a lot of humor. Some days, aking my mom laugh was the only way to get her to put down her weapons. It was the only way to get her to drop the drama. And laughter is a real way to relieve tension—that’s not just a quirk of MY family of origin, it is what is true.

JenPercy_authorphoto_creditMichaelKreiserYou switch from past tense to present tense halfway through Demon Camp. Why the shift?

I wanted to show a change in my psychology and relationship with my subject matter. Present tense gives the reader a sense of immediacy; it allows us to experience the world as it is being perceived at the moment. It is raw and unprocessed information. The moment I arrive to Portal, Georgia, where a great deal more people believe in demons than do not, my ability to process the world at any remove had begun to fail. It’s like the first time you step off a plane in a foreign country. For a while, the country is greater than you. You see everything. Feel everything. It’s too much. You’re a sponge, really. So, I felt consumed by Portal. This shift also represents, on a formal level, what a traumatic memory can do to someone. It can trap them. The immediacy of a traumatic memory is one of its distinguishing traits. 

cooper.t.photo © Ryan PflugerDon’t you just love writing?

Yeah. It’s so fun, quick, and easy.

 

Were you surprised to be included on The New Yorker’s 20 under 65* list?

Yes, totally. That was crazy. Such an honor. Although in truth, I would gladly give back the honorific to be five inches taller. It sucks being a short dude (except when I’m in Miami, New York, or Southeast Asia). See the chapter entitled “40 Successful Men of My Stature or Shorter” (pg. 215) in Real Man Adventures for further explanation.

 

Instead of just telling me to go read a chapter in your book, why don’t you tell me about Real Man Adventures.

I have a lot of them in the book.

Dani Shapiro credit Kate UhryReally? Three memoirs?

I know.

 

So what is it? A narcissistic disorder? Or do we need a new category for this in the DSM-IV?  Memoirmania, maybe? 

You don’t pull any punches, do you? Okay. So I wrote three novels. Then a memoir. Then another two novels. Then another memoir, which was a total surprise. That one—my memoir Devotion, nearly knocked me over. I literally almost fell down when I realized what I was doing. A spiritual memoir? Really? After that book, I thought I was done with the form. But now I’ve gone and written yet another memoir, sort of. I say sort of, because Still Writing, my new book, is about writing.  But stories of what formed me as a writer found their way in there. So, yeah.

Travis-Kurowski-author-photoSo literary magazines, eh? What gives?

Well I’ve been reading literary magazines since college at Southern Oregon, where I used to troll the library between classes. My creative writing teacher, Vincent Craig Wright, had mentioned the names of a few lit mags in class one day—Ploughshares, Missouri Review, Mid-American Review—so I was curious to see what these things were. And I liked what I found. (Work from Jim Shepard and Yiyun Li memorably drew me in, as did the famous Paris Review interviews. Nowhere else in Oregon had I been given direct access to maps of the imagination.) Soon I began reading some of them kind of regularly. The Paris Review. Story Quarterly. New York Quarterly.

Holly Hughes by Kara Flannery 2You have been the editor of the annual best Food Writing anthology since its first edition, in 2000. What exactly do you do to “edit” this book?

Well, editing is sort of a misnomer. What I really do is more like glorified dumpster-diving – I cherry-pick essays and articles that have already been published somewhere else, either in print or on line, in the course of the past year. I don’t edit those pieces at all – I don’t need to.  They’re already just about perfect, or else I wouldn’t have picked them. Probably a better name for what I do would be “curator.”

Justin St. GermainYour book came out two months ago. Are you finished with your book tour?

We should probably stop calling it a “book tour.” I only did five readings, and I only had to get on a plane once. Although I’m going to the Texas Book Fest next week. I’m excited. I’ve never been to Austin.

 

That’s surprising. It’s in the Southwest, and you’re a Southwesterner.

The question of whether Austin qualifies as the Southwest, and/or where in Texas that dividing line falls, has occupied hours of my life. I might survey some Austinites (Austinians?) about that. I think I’ll know better once I’ve been there. Southwesternness is like pornography: you know it when you see it.

Mark RussellWho are you to rewrite the Bible?

A fan. But that’s okay, because the Bible is mostly fan-fiction. Most of the books of the Bible were written centuries after the events they describe and were written for the purpose of making old stories relevant to the people of their own time. So I don’t feel like I’m out of line. In fact, I feel like I’m working within the framework of a long-established tradition.

david_schickler

Schickler!  Tell us about your new memoir The Dark Path!

It’s about how I pursued the Catholic priesthood in my youth and early 20s.  Here are some very real obstacles I faced:  Quicksand.  Neo-Nazis.  The tango.  A psycho student who wanted to kill me.  A nympho hotel concierge who wanted me to kill her, in bed.  Oh, and true love.

 

Koestenbaum, Wayne in 1985 - (c) Louisa CampbellWhat are you wearing right now?

Pink shorts, a prussian blue t-shirt, and red underwear.

 

Why would a reader care about what you are wearing?

Because a reader is also wearing something, I presume, and a reader might wish to be encouraged to take seriously what he or she is wearing, or at least to note its details.

 

How do you begin writing an essay?

By noticing what is in my mind at this exact moment.

Weaver-ZerchersmallerYou wrote an entire book about Amish romance novels? I didn’t even know there was such a thing.

Eighty-five new Amish romance novels were published in 2012 alone; that is about one every four days. (And I arrived at those numbers using a very conservative definition of “Amish romance novel”; depending which books you count, that number would be much higher.) In 2002, only two new Amish romance novels were published. On a recent Christian fiction bestseller list, five of the top ten titles were Amish. And the top three novelists of Amish fiction have sold over 24 million books.

Gross credit Tracy ShamSo, we’re in a chic, if somewhat anodyne, hotel room, somewhere in the Northeast, and it’s raining outside. Perfect setting for an interview.

If you say so.

 

Why so crabby? You should be happy. This is the kind of situation you live for: you’re exhausted, you’re far from home, and the weather is bad, but you’re warm and dry and have nothing to worry about.

You’re right, of course. But I’m in that right now—I don’t yet have your kind of perspective on the situation. Maybe later, tonight or tomorrow or next week, I’ll look back on today and think, I had it good. At this second, however, I just want to curl up. Except, of course, I’m happy to talk to you!