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image2343sBefore the Boston Marathon bombers were identified, my friend Genevieve said a prayer: “Please don’t let them be Muslims.” She is married to a Muslim man from Morocco. When they lived in America shortly after the World Trade Center bombing in 2001, he was routinely pulled aside by security officers because he “looked like a terrorist.” Now they live in Paris, and they hope that the recent shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo won’t cause another wave of anti-Muslim hysteria.

I hope so, too. But I know how easy it is to imagine the worst in people, once the idea that they’re dangerous is planted in our heads. It can happen to any of us. It happened to me.

Lynn Sloan by Chester Alamo-CostelloPrinciples of Navigation tells the story of a marriage. Isn’t marriage a kind of ho-hum topic?

While I enjoy reading about a boy stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with a tiger as much as the next person, what I like best are novels and stories about people who are recognizable to me. We are all surrounded by marriages. Some of us are even married. Marriage is a fundamental institution. And marriage is a real cauldron. It can protect the individual and it can bury the individual.

PoN  coverA walk, that’s what he needed, and maybe he’d try to catch his friend Wolf for lunch. He might tell Wolf about the baby, even though he and Alice had discussed waiting another month, until the end of her first trimester, before they let the news out.

Outside the art department building, the wind bit through his jacket. He gave up on the idea of a walk and headed straight for the student union. Heat hit him as soon as he entered the glass building, and plinking sounds wafted from the game room. A few scattered people sat at small tables in the dining court, no one paying any attention to the overhead TVs. On the far side, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the snow-covered soccer field.

porochista_splash

Brad Listi talks with author Porochista Khakpour, author of the critically acclaimed novel The Last Illusion.  Listen to the podcast here.

Wrapped in Plastic coverTelevision in the new millennium can be a glorious place, where boundaries are pushed regularly, often by Hollywood heavyweights. It’s where directors such as David Fincher and Martin Scorsese come to experiment with long-form storytelling, and where renowned actors like Kevin Spacey, Jessica Lange, Steve Buscemi, Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick, and many others are willing to commit their time and talents. Sometimes there’s the allure of a great story that can be told in one season (an enticement that drew bona fide movie stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey to HBO’s True Detective). Other times, there’s the appeal of both creativity and freedom (Kevin Bacon only has to shoot 15 episodes a season of Fox’s The Following, allowing him to pursue big screen roles while also enjoying a steady paycheck). With the advent of edgy original programming across networks like AMC, Showtime, FX, Netflix, and HBO, the appeal of working in television has never been higher.

Andy Burns Headshot - cred Moment CommunicationsSo, you’ve written your first book. Is it a dream come true?

Um, sort of. I actually hadn’t dreamt of putting out a book for years. Back in my university years, when I was doing my undergrad in English and Creative Writing, creating a novel or short story collection was pretty high up on the priority list. But time and ambition changed my thoughts on pursuing that avenue. I’m an impatient person, so the whole process of sending out short stories for potential publication and waiting to hear back was just not in my make-up. Had two of the ladies from ECW Press not suggested I make a pitch for their Pop Classics line, I don’t think I ever would have considered it. I’m so thrilled it worked out, though. There’s something pretty damn surreal about holding a book with your name on it.

KardosAuthorPhoto 1-2014Your new novel is Before He Finds Her. What’s it about?

Melanie Denison is 17 and has lived her whole life in the Witness Protection Program. Now she’s pregnant and doesn’t want her child to live in fear like she has. So she sets out on a quest to find her father, who murdered her mother years earlier and is still at large.

 

Where’d you get the idea?

There’s a second narrative thread that tells the story of the antagonist (Melanie’s father) in the days leading up to the mother’s murder back in 1991. He is a secular doomsdayer, convinced of an imminent planetary cataclysm. This guy had been in my head for years, along with the question: What happens when you’re absolutely convinced the world is going to end—which would happen to solve all your problems in one fell swoop—and then the world doesn’t end?

 

I heard that the movie version of Before He Finds Her is currently in development with J. C. Chandor slated to direct, and Abigail Breslin and Ryan Gosling slated to star. Is that true?

Actually, no. Nothing is true about that.

Before He Finds Her coverThe road ended where the beach began. At first, still a block away, he saw water brilliantly alit with sunlight, the beginning of three thousand miles of shining sea. But as his eyes adjusted and he crossed Ocean Avenue, he was hit with the truth: plastic containers, crushed cans, overturned shopping carts and postal bins and waves of junk shoved ashore by the incoming tide. Worse this year than the last, worse than ever, and it wasn’t lost on Ramsey that he felt drawn to the place where all that trash ended up. Every damn year, he thought, was one earth’s revolution closer to the end of his life, and so far his life had amounted to a heap of garbage. There was no point to any of it. He was broke, friendless, estranged from the old man, unable to hold down a job, and his only reason for staying in this town was that moving would cost money. That, and the half-dozen consistent marijuana customers who gave him a fighting chance at paying whatever landlord had been too lazy to do something as simple as a proper credit check.

One of Ramsey’s customers had only one arm and wore a permanent smirk. He had the bad luck of being born a year earlier than Ramsey and got sent to Vietnam. Now he worked pest control, spraying other people’s homes with poison. Even that guy could keep it together. Ramsey stood on the boardwalk, looking down at the ruined beach and adding self-pity to his list of faults. He turned around and got irked by the guy who seemed to be looking at him.

Boredom

Accountability

The salt is out everywhere and right now we are in the midst of a rain that is frozen.  I’m content to remain here and do various things that need doing, but the dogs, they are bored. And I am anxious over their boredom. I feel responsible for it. I feel responsible for everybody’s boredom. Even yours. My therapist would probably remind me that nobody actually holds me accountable for their negative feelings, least of which their boredom. Nobody. Probably not even the dogs.

I know she’s right. At least about people. At least about you. But I do tend to think that I am in my dogs’ thoughts constantly. They are in mine, after all, and it only makes sense it would work the other way. They may not “hold me accountable” for their boredom, but they certainly hope I will fix it. On the list of things they hope for every day (a new bone, a fresh tennis ball, a squirrel under the shed, a groundhog sighting) there is certainly this: Bald Man Relieves Us from Boredom.

Look, scratch what I said previously. I’m positive the dogs do, in fact, hold me accountable for all of their feelings, especially their boredom.

Epistolary

By A.M. O'Malley

Poem

Dear Brother,

The night you were born it was summer in Chino Valley. That night the curly valley was a bowl of lizards. I drank Fresca and counted wasps. Our mother, in another room of the house, tried to be calm. Earlier that day in the whitest heat I crept to her bedroom window to watch your father try to induce her, playing with her plate sized nipples. I was caught. You were late.

We need air all the time.

9781612481364-1I met Lori Horvitz several years ago at an artists’ residency, where she was writing this book, then tentatively called “Dating My Mother.” She read the title piece, about her recent break-up with a woman whose eccentric restaurant behavior rivaled that of Lori’s mother, who once responded to a bug in a bowl of soup by saying, “It’s pepper. Just eat it.” The piece was sad, not only because it was about a failed romantic relationship but because the mother in the title died young, when Lori was in her early twenties. I was moved by Lori’s struggle on the page to disentangle herself from a dysfunctional way of paying homage to her mother by unconsciously choosing to date women who resembled her.

21 + 21 = 42

By Carley Moore

Essay

Last summer I turned 42 years old. On the morning of my birthday, my then-boyfriend asked me what I was doing when I was 21, half that age. I said, “Baking quiches, dropping acid, and chasing boys.” I imagined this retort as a tweet—short and to the point. I’d managed to get my life at that time down to 39 characters, and it was mostly accurate.

At 21 years old, I was obsessed with Molly Katzen’s Moosewood cookbook, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I was going to a state school in upstate New York, not far from the home of the Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, which had always seemed to me a cultural mecca in a vast state of industrial depression and blight. Ithaca was the home of my favorite thrift shop, Zoo Zoos, and a lot of cute hippie musicians I dreamed of fucking. The cookbook was steeped in that same sexy, vintage, hippie musician lore. I imagined myself cooking for one of those musicians. I could be his “old lady” for a recipe or two. Many of my activities then were overlaid with a fantasy plot line, worthy of an episode of Laverne and Shirley or Three’s Company. I was rarely just doing something; I was doing that thing while imagining I was in the TV sitcom version of it. As a child, I’d made it through my sometimes chore of washing the dishes by pretending I was in a Dawn dish soap ad.

My favorite pages in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest offered a basic crust and quiche recipe on one page and on the facing page a list of choices for fillings—cheeses, veggies, and meats (if you must). It was my favorite type of recipe, more about endless iterations and the idea of a food more than its reality. That year, I regularly turned out a ham and cheese quiche, brown gazpacho, and rocky oatmeal bread that my roommates and I ate with lying gusto to prove to ourselves that because we could cook–we were adults.

stevehimmerGood morning. Your novel Fram is about people at work, more or less, but by the end of the story I wondered if some of your characters might need to seek new employment. So I’m going to ask you what Forbes says are the most difficult job interview questions.

Oh, um… okay?

 

Why is there a gap in your work history?

It hasn’t been that long, has it? What’s the usual time between books? I guess it feels like this one took a long time because the research for it and some of the ideas have been in my head for years. So I’d say I’ve been working on it in one way or another all along, even if it’s not clear on my résumé.

 

Tell me one thing you would change about your last job.

I don’t think I’d want to change it. My last book, I mean. There are things I sometimes wish I’d done more of or less of, like any writer, probably. But at some point I guess a book is as close to what you ideally want it to be as you’re capable of making it at the time and you have to accept that even though there might be another level to go to maybe you’re not going to get there. At least not this time. Does that sound defeatist? Like an apology for bad art? I don’t mean it that way.

frambigUnderground again and out of the heat so more comfortable for it, on the platform and shoulder to shoulder with other government employees at his own grade and above or below, Oscar awaited a train. Across the tracks on a wall hung a huge poster advertising the TV show Alexi had mentioned, To The Moon!, with its big silver slogan, “Who will conquer the greatest frontier?”

He shook his head, sighed to his scuffed shoes, and wondered how anyone could get so excited about something that’s all automated, the work done by computers, while women and men who could be anyone or even no one sit in a box and wait to arrive so they can turn around and go home. There’s the science, of course, he wouldn’t disparage that, the behind-the-scenes unsung work of professionals like himself, but why pretend there’s more to it? Why pretend it’s real exploration when it’s mostly a video game? The astronauts mere avatars for self-directed machines.

Bed2

Originally I’d bought the bed for another girlfriend, the one before C. She’d insisted I get a king-size, one with enough space to guarantee a good night’s sleep, one where she could lay on her back, her arms crossed over her chest in a death pose, insurance against my slow creeping during the night to slide my hand under her pillow, happy to feel the weight of her head through down and feather. I slept on the right side (as I do now with C.), the side nearest the bathroom, my path a sliver of wood floor and wall, the same tightrope walk I still make now in the dark, the wall to steady me as I negotiate dog-in-dog-bed, bench, rug, dresser, and door. Most nights I arrive at the bathroom unscathed, but others produce bruised ankles, calves, and tails. The bed is too big for the room, no question; the bed has been too big for every room.

In part, I am to blame. I chose an Eastern king, a choice only Californians must make when sizing up from a queen. The California king is a longer (+4”) and narrower (-4”) bed than its Eastern counterpart, an implication we’re taller and skinnier here in the Golden state. More likely, it’s a product of our constant need to be original. I explained the difference to my girlfriend, the one before C., rattling the tape measurer across the room so she could appreciate the extra width I was willing to sacrifice. She waved me off and told me it was my bedroom, my house, so I should be the one to decide.

But the bed’s size wasn’t my girlfriend’s only complaint. Noises, even small ones, would wake her. She would sit up, put in her earplugs, and announce she was signing off for the night. I waited until then to tell her things I was too scared to say when she could hear me. Once, just as she was falling asleep, I whispered, I’ve been praying that you’ll stay. Her eyelids flickered, and for a moment I thought she’d heard me.