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My husband works at a treatment facility for youth with emotional and behavioral issues. He reports that his students love films and novels about the end of the world. They fully believe the world as they know it probably will end, whether it be by war, climate change, or economic collapse. They aren’t afraid of this, though. What they love about these narratives is the idea of being a survivor, of seeing the structures of the existing world crumble, of creating a society full of fellow survivors who will create a new world the right way. Who can blame them? They’ve already been failed by family, school, and social services. For them, and many disenfranchised people, the idea of collapse comes as a kind of relief. The world is bad. Perhaps destroying it and starting over is the only way to create a better future. Apparently, my husband’s students are not alone.  Apocalyptic narratives are all over current popular culture, from films like World War Z to Noah to the wildly popular series The Walking Dead on the small screen.

Song of the ShankShe comes out of the house and sees fresh shapes in the grass, a geometrical warning she does not understand. Blades mashed down under a foot, half-digested clots of earth where shoe heels have bitten in, mutilated worms spiking up through regurgitated blackness—piecemeal configurations, suggesting a man’s shoe, two, large, like Tom’s but not Tom’s since Tom never wears shoes in the country. A clear track, left foot and right, running the circumference of the house, evidence that someone has been spying through the windows, trespassing at the doors.

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 7.37.52 AMEdan Lepucki’s characters in her debut novel California are living during a time of duress. When I met the author, so was I. Cal and Frida coexist alone in the woods after the collapse of civilization. When Frida gets pregnant they go in search of others, but the community they encounter is full of secrets and peril. My catastrophe occurred when my writing mentor committed suicide. Personally, I was devastated, and professionally, I was lost, until a friend led me to Edan. She gave me a safe place to write again. I signed up for classes with Writing Workshops LA, the company Edan founded and runs from her home in Berkeley. A staff writer at The Millions, she previously published the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and her stories have appeared in magazines like Narrative and McSweeney’s. While being smart, witty and outgoing, she is kind and generous to emerging writers. I promised Brad Listi this interview would entail “two blonds talking about death and destruction,” since California takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. He was all for it. Don’t tell him, but when Edan came over to my place for Brown Butter Peach Bars (like Frida, I like to impress people with my baking skills), the conversation never grew dark. In fact, we hardly quit laughing. This is that interview.

preparingtheghost_final.indd“During the hauling in of a herring-net,” Moses Harvey wrote, “the live creature got somehow entangled in the folds, and became powerless.”

Perhaps Harvey—the man who, in 1874, was about to become the first-ever photographer of the giant squid—saw it as his duty to restore power to it, body and myth, myth and the body.

“It proved to be…gigantic,” Harvey continued.

Author Photo linocutSo, you just weathered a really difficult Upper Michigan winter. I mean, the icebergs just melted in Lake Superior, and all these eager bastards are swimming in it already. What did you do to inaugurate the summertime, symbolically or otherwise?

I drank from the hose.

Chest Pains

By Zach Ellis

Essay

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I’m going to tell you a story about breasts. Tits. Boobs. Bosoms. Chesticles. Headlights. Hooters. Jugs. Knockers. Melons.

Mine.

The first time I noticed my father staring at my chest, I was a fourteen-year-old girl. I was doing jumping jacks in our basement for exercise. He asked if he could join me. We faced one another, sweat pouring off my forehead. Journey was on the radio. We jumped at the same time, his middle-aged body facing mine. Steve Perry reminded me to not stop believin’ as I caught my father’s eyes, staring right at my tits. Just enough time for us to get out of sync. Just enough time for him to see me following his gaze. He walked away when the song was over. We never said anything about it.

The second time I noticed my father staring at my chest, I was a grown man.

meryl-gordonHow did you pick the topics for your two books, Mrs. Astor Regrets, about the final years of Brooke Astor, and The Phantom of Fifth Avenue, a biography of Huguette Clark?

The ideas came straight from the headlines. Both of these women were centenarians from the Social Register who became front-page news towards the end of their lives. They were at the center of family fights and prosecutors’ investigations. I was drawn to trying to understand the mysteries in their histories.

unnamed (1)Huguette Clark grew up surrounded by famous works of art in her father’s vast 121-room Fifth Avenue mansion in Manhattan. Her father William Andrews Clark, a copper mining mogul and former Montana Senator, bought out the auction houses of Paris, London and New York, amassing more than 200 paintings by masters such as Corot and Gainsborough and sculptures by Rodin. But while collecting art was her father’s passion, Huguette’s passion became creating it.

Stag by Arv Miller

In 1949, Marilyn Monroe, then an obscure starlet, posed for a beer ad shot by Tom Kelley at his commercial photography studio in Hollywood. According to some accounts, a Chicago-based calendar manufacturer, John Baumgarth, saw the ad while visiting Los Angeles and inquired about the model: would she pose nude for a calendar? In other accounts, Kelley recruited Monroe for the calendar job on the day he shot the beer ad, knowing that Baumgarth was shopping for nudes. Either way, nude photos could wreck a Hollywood career at the time, as Monroe was keenly aware, so she only accepted the job after being persuaded that nobody would recognize her. To further protect her anonymity, she asked Kelley to schedule the session for night, with no assistants save for his female business partner. Kelley agreed, and Monroe arrived at the studio at seven p.m. and posed for two hours on a red velvet theater curtain that covered the floor and complemented the color of her hair, then a reddish blonde. Twenty-four shots were taken, and Baumgarth chose one of them for the calendar he marketed as “Golden Dreams,” a name suggested by Monroe’s blondness, though it also inadvertently referenced the nighttime shoot.

The TNB Book Club is proud to present Ruby, the new novel by Cynthia Bond, available now from Hogarth, as its official July selection.  And coming in August:  Forest of Fortune (Tyrus Books), the new novel by Jim Ruland.  Sign up now and start getting books!

AldenJonesThe adjectives “dark” and “raw” are often used to describe the stories in Unaccompanied Minors. Are you a “dark” person? Is there perhaps something wrong with you?

It’s funny you should ask that. My wife and I have an ongoing struggle with television and what to watch together. She can’t handle anything violent or cruel. Somehow every show I love involves this element of intensity and often this intensity is measured by how far into some area of darkness – crime, violence, psychological terrain – the show and the characters are willing to go. She says “Modern Family!” and I say “True Detective!” And we meet in the middle with “Orange is the New Black.” So this is something I think about a lot: Why am I drawn to the dark side?

Goldman, Francisco author photo credit - Mélanie MorandI fell in love with the writer Francisco Goldman in 1992 when I read his semi-autobiographical first novel The Long Night of White Chickens, in which a young man who is half Central American and half American Jewish becomes obsessed with the political murder of a Guatemalan woman he has adored since childhood. Since then Goldman has published the novels, The Ordinary Seaman (1997) and The Divine Husband (2004), a nonfiction book, The Art of Political Murder (2007), and the very autobiographical Say Her Name.

Goldman, Interior Circuit jacket art 9780802122568From the air, on a flight in, what the eye mostly picks out from the megacity’s stunning enormousness is a dense mosaic of flat rooftops, tiny rectangles and squares, and a preponderance of reddish brown, the volcanic tezontle stone that has forever been the city’s most common construction material, also other shades of brown brick and paint, imposing an underlying coloration scheme. But there are also many concrete and metallic surfaces and many buildings painted in pastel and more vivid hues like bright orange, and rows of trees, and parks and fútbol fields, and modern towers rising here and there, in Polanco, Santa Fe, and the august Torre Latino Americano at the edge of the Centro, and the straight and snaking traffic arteries, beady and silvery in the sunlight, and an infinite swarm of streets. You think, of course, awed, of the millions and millions of lives going on down there. (I reflexively think, as I have for years whenever flying into the city, that she’s down there somewhere, living her mysterious life beneath one of those tiny squares, her too, and also her, Chilangas, female residents of the DF, who over the past two decades I’ve met only once or twice but who left an impression, women who almost surely no longer remember me.) From the air, perhaps because it is such a predominately flat city and almost all the roofs are flat and because so much of it is brown, Mexico City looks like a map of itself, drawn on a scale of 1:1, as in the Borges story “The Exactitude of Science,” which refers to “a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point.”

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We’re in a homeless shelter in Asheville, NC. We think it’s funny. How did all these people in some hellish hickish place like Asheville NC get homeless, that’s what we want to know. It’s so crowded we have to sleep on the floor.

I’m with this dyke Spike who I met in Ft Lauderdale, FL. She’s got an old white Toyota and a tent where we’ve been sleeping the past month.

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Please explain what just happened.

You just walked in. A Question Robot with an attitude. Hello.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Not my earliest, but when I was five, I pushed a tin can deep into a huge barrel of duck feed, specifically as an act to remember forever.