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.

Charmed Particles—FINAL CoverNote from the author: This chapter comes from the middle of Charmed Particles. The novel’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. The book follows two unconventional families—the Mitals and the Winchesters—as the controversy affects them all in different ways.

This chapter is about the two daughters of these families, Meena and Lily, whose friendship connects the two families. Meena’s family comes from Bombay. She was born in the U.S., but her parents immigrated to the States as adults because of her father’s job at a facility in town called the National Accelerator Research Lab. The excerpt is set in the 1987 in the fictional Chicago suburb of Nicolet, where Meena is one of only a few students of color in her school.

He cleared his throat with bulldozers
had the necessary work permit from the city
taped to the side of his face
removing dirt from the windpipe
he found trapped miners that had died down there
their once blackened faces now skeletal
huddled together like an American football team
discussing a play that never happened
but lest you think my mud brains hung up on simple excavation
there is still the clouded mind to address, always clouded
with a thick haze of grievous confusion
the benchmark of basic clarity never met
sitting in dark cafés with stupid French names
folding the newspaper like a losing hand of poker

9780393249187_custom-6d99ab5183fa2e212a7f36feafc85944b3bfa3d0-s300-c85There was a time when, at least in England, theatre mattered, and by theatre one must also include television drama and plays written for radio; in those days a director could draw from the same stable of actors and often directors: stage, screen, radio. There was really no shortage of opportunity for original plays, which led to many novelists also writing scripts. Money is money, exposure is always good, and learning how to do more than one thing with your craft is a kind of gift. Finished your book? Great—write a script. Quality was usually high back in the late 70s and early 80s, and sometimes the plays chosen, cast and taped were either banned outright from broadcast, such as Roy Minton’s Scum, written in 1977 and only seen fourteen years later, or Dennis Potter’s 1976 BBC play, Brimstone and Treacle, which had to wait eleven years before it could be shown, or so controversial that they made the editorial pages of the stately broadsheets of the day. Many of the actors who appeared in them are still box-office draws: Dench, Mirren, Nighy, McKellen, Irons, among others. The late 70s and 80s were, at least in the UK, thought of as the Golden Age of Television. Then there were only three channels: BBC1, BBC2, and ITV, this last one an independent station that drew programming from both regional and London sources. Channel 4 was still in the future. The major TV slot for original plays was BBC’s Play for Today, which meant that what you wrote for these weekly 50-minute slots uninterrupted by commercials (one paid, and still does pay, for a television license simply to operate a set in the home) should reflect what was happening now in Britain. Unlike in the great big United States, where the effects of anything short of a Supreme Court decision or a government shutdown often takes time to roll out and be felt, in Britain the fan would get very messy the moment the shit hit it. Back in 1977 there were several different labor-related slowdowns and strikes that would result in piling garbage on London streets, striking fire brigades being replaced by soldiers on army equipment, and electrical outages often preannounced by time and location in the London Evening Standard. These had an immediate effect, and the public was polarized between those who supported Labour and the trades unions and those who were vehemently against them, the latter being responsible for electing a Conservative House of Commons and causing the rise of the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher.

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.


You hit 40. You quite literally hit it, when your knee gives out and you lunge across the kitchen—flinging a handful of Ikea cutlery and then placing your hand squarely into the green frosting numbers on your birthday cake.

Marilyn, your best friend, appears in the doorway. “What was that?” She’s the one who bought the cake, one of those perfectly rectangular jobbies from the supermarket—Marilyn never bakes, or cooks at all, actually, as it would ruin her nails. This particular cake had had an image of a semi-nude man on a bear skin rug.

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.

unnamedA trail of fencing rode up and down the hills, cutting through the farmland. Small hand-lettered signs surrounded by black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace advertised tomatoes, squash, honey, apple cider, and peach wine. Al wasn’t slowing down, so Lum realized she’d have to ask. “Al, you mind stopping at Smiley’s a bit?”

“Sure thing. It’ll have to be quick. I could spend hours looking at his stuff.” Al pulled off the highway and Smiley strode toward the truck. Large freckles sprinkled his broad nose, spilling across caramel-colored cheeks.

“Howdy, folks.” He opened the door for Lum.

“Hello, Smiley.” Lum had known Smiley for most of her life. Five years younger than Lum, he’d accompanied his mother, the washer-woman, to their farm. “How’s your aunt and uncle?”


In the box where I keep this story, the woman in the doorway of the hotel room was tall and blonde. She had swept-back bangs in the process of growing out. At 2 a.m., the Flagstaff air was crispy outside. Jacket-weather already. Winter was on deck with its frost threat. Besides the front desk staff I passed on the way to the room and this blonde woman who was in my way, I hadn’t seen another person since I’d arrived. Most people were done for the night. I stood in front of room 234 of a Courtyard by Marriot waiting to be validated.

I was 20-years-old, and believed in terrible things. I thought Savage Garden made some pretty good music. Folgers made some pretty good coffee. And Drew loved me. Love, like lust-love, like he needed me in the middle of the night because the middle of the night is when you truly realize what you want, like it was crazy but understandable how he’d always burned or bit his tongue and that’s why he couldn’t ever kiss me.

“Drew is sick,” this woman said.

Not sick-sick. Drunk-sick. Curled in a ball while his body expressed poison. The metamorphosis. Toxic to non-toxic.

“He called me,” I said in the key of I don’t know who I am, my voice rising in pitch.

biosaraAfter school, Rachel comes over and we climb through the craggy hole in the fence and into the park. Everything is wet because it always is but we don’t care. We climb across the hillside to a patch of trees where Rachel likes to smoke cigarettes. We lie back on the grass and I listen to the leaves tap against one another.

“We should have a party at your house,” Rachel says for the hundredth time. Rachel loves parties and lugs me along on weekends. Parties are too chaotic for me but I am a teenager and that’s what we are supposed to do. Says who, I don’t know. Says Rachel. Rachel has streaks of blue in her hair because of course she does. She glitters everywhere she goes.


Tell us about the most recent poetry reading you gave.

Last weekend I read for a series in Nashville called the Et. Al. reading series. The series has been happening for a while, but last weekend’s was the first to take place in the Sauvage arts space, run by my sister Lydia Gamble and her friend Ashley Boyd Jones. Both are talented photographers. Ashley collects and sells very good clothes (including a nice supply of vegan fur coats) and Lydia does a variety of fine visual art, including woodprints and some glass pieces. The reading felt extra-special to me because my mom, one of my brothers, and both of my sisters were there. The poems I read were some of my most personal and revealing I’ve ever written, I think, so it was really good to have my family there.

—After Catullus

My house disgusted me, so I slept in a tent.
My tent disgusted me, so I slept in the grass. The grass disgusted me,
so I slept in my body, which I strung like a hammock from two ropes.
My body disgusted me, so I carved myself out of it.

My use of knives disgusted me because it was an act of violence.
My weakness disgusted me because “Hannah” means “hammer.”
The meaning of my name disgusted me because I’d rather be known
as beautiful. My vanity disgusted me because I am a scholar.

My scholarship disgusted me because knowledge is empty.
My emptiness disgusted me because I wanted to be whole.
My wholeness would have disgusted me because to be whole
is to be smug. Still, I tried to understand wholeness

as the inclusiveness of all activities: I walked out into the yard,
trying to vomit and drink milk simultaneously. I tried to sleep
while smoking a cigar. I have enough regrets to crack all the plumbing.
I’m whole only in that I’ve built my person from every thought I’ve ever loved.

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.

AG-FrontTwo yellow streamers formed an equals sign in the dean’s door frame. No one told me it was his birthday. The news might have been in one of the e-mails I deleted without opening. With the constant threat of staff eliminations, it seemed like a good idea to check the door for a card and add my signature. I got a few inches from his door. My eyesight is bad. Legally blind is one way to put it. It’s not how I like to put it.


By Patrick Moloney



A neighbor killed himself. He got in his car and drove to the woods. He walked out into the brush, put a gun to his head and ended some pain. The weight of it fell to the ground with him.

He seemed the cliché. A happy guy, beautiful family, successful career. I would see him walking his Golden Retriever and smoking a cigar, always smiling, always positive about the weather, or ready to talk baseball. He was on the school board, was always busy doing good things for the community like raising money for a new pool at the high school or coaching baseball or being a good father to three kids. He was making a difference.

Everyone who knew him extolled his virtues, which were many. But now we wonder. What had he been carrying that was so heavy he couldn’t hold it in any longer?

What was his secret pain? What was under his skin?

Was there some evolutionary need to hide that pain? To give up his life rather than reveal it? Was dying the better option than living with his agony? What is the shame so great it kills? Or was there just not enough of something in him when he needed that something the most, was there some chemical, some element of life he was lacking?

We are all many strata: DNA, RNA, bones and tissue of ancestors, animal fears and flights, pasts we had no role in, diseases and mental states—all stacking our geology. The slightest tremor brings it all to the surface. What we’ve stood on for years, our crust, in a moment can be broken open, gone. And sometimes we can’t seem to put it back together. Maybe we shouldn’t even try.