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fam
I saw my father twice.

1. In Virginia, just before he closed his apartment door after saying he couldn’t let anyone in until his wife returned from the grocery store.

2. In court, just before the judge ejected my brother and me from the courtroom because we were laughing too hard while the bailiff cuffed him.

About the first time.

When my trio of a family drove from our home in San Antonio, Texas to visit my birthplace, Alexandria, Virginia, a few miles from D.C. Five-year-olds, my brother and I begged our mother to see him. She knew. Of course she knew. That he lived with a woman who wasn’t the mother of his children. Not us or the two before us. The youngest of twins, I stood back with my mother while my brother knocked. Door latched, my father peered through a sliver of an opening. In a quivering voice he claimed he couldn’t let anyone in until his wife returned from the grocery store. Then he closed the door.

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Your book is about the many birds who live with you—they seem to be in every corner of your house. How does that affect your writing?

Well, it is sometimes strange to have animals talking to me when I’m working. But they can be helpful. For example, our African gray parrot, Mia Bird, often sits in my office and commands me to “Focus! Focus!” as I write. That usually does the trick if I start drifting off. One time, a rainbow lorikeet named Harli was quarantined for a few weeks in my office—we separate and observe new birds before introducing them to the flock. As I worked, Harli would settle on my head and groom me, kindly plucking a hair or two along the way. By the time her quarantine period was over, I had a small, perfectly shaped oval of bare scalp on the top of my head. Still, I did get a lot of writing done during those few weeks.

Raffin_BirdsofPandemonium_HC_jkt_LRI rise every morning just after 4:00 a.m. — gladly on most days — and pad as silently as possible across the terra-cotta- tiled floors of our home. If I make the smallest sound as I pass by the dining room, they might hear. I don’t want to set off our resident clown posse — not yet.

“Hello? Want out! I love you!”

Darn. Shana is awake. I ignore her squawky blandishments, and she tries harder.

“Pretty mama, pretty mama. I love you!”

I smile to myself and wait her out. Finally, silence returns. As I finish a mug of tea and an hour of administrative work in my office, dawn flares over the foothills of the Santa Cruz range to our west. Every morning at first light, I step outside into the bewitching bird music that heralds another day at Pandemonium Aviaries, the home and bird sanctuary that I share with my family, two donkeys, a pair of goats, a collie, a sheepdog, one understandably aloof elder cat, and some of the world’s most remarkable birds.

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So, you wrote about the dead guy again.

You mean my best friend who died five years ago in a mountain climbing accident nearly ten years to the day after he’d been mauled by a grizzly in Yellowstone Park? Yes, I did write about him again. The book is called Altitude Sickness.

 

Why?

Well, we were best friends for over two decades and, like I say in the book, we got together and broke up more times than the earth has rotated the sun, so I’d say his sudden death at the age of forty-two was fairly earth-shattering. We loved each other deeply and his death nearly destroyed me. And I’ve been a writer most of my professional life, so it’s kind of hard to bypass all this.

GinaBNahai 2How Long?

To write the book? Seven years.

 

Were you getting paid by the hour?

Yes. In gold bullion. So I held out because the price of gold’s been going up of late. That, and I couldn’t get the story right to save my life.

 

Which story is that? I stopped counting after the first dozen.

Yes, I realize there are many characters and each one has his own life and struggles, but the main story, about the value of Truth, is what took so long to shape.

COVER Altitude Sickness“That funeral ate balls,” my brother Gus said as we walked through the Seattle rain to his car. He unlocked the doors and Dad got in the passenger side, while Mom sat in the back with me. I can be a tad verbose, but couldn’t speak. My mouth, like my heart, felt cauterized.

Mom reached for my hand. “Oh, honey,” she said. “I know this is awful.” She paused. “Where should we take you to eat?”

Usually I’d tease her about Greek protocol, how we hone in on food no matter the circumstances. We’d just left my best friend Neal’s funeral, though, and everything seemed absurd, but not in the funny way.

Saving April

By M.J. Fievre

Memoir

school girlsApril shows me her cuts. Small razor cuts spread on her arm. She’s managed to shape some of them like stick houses—triangles atop squares. Others are words—fuck them. Several of the wounds are still fresh. I want to run the tip of my finger on them, ease the pain, but several years of training stop me—I’m not wearing gloves.

April lets out a short laugh and shakes her head; the silver skulls dangling from her ears slap her jaw. The other students call her Ms. Ugly, but I find a certain beauty in her witchy features: the long, pale face and pointy chin, the crooked nose. The dark eyeliner brings out her daring eyes under ever-frowning brows.

The door of the classroom is ajar, as I never talk to students alone in closed quarters. I’m not teaching middle school for the long haul, but no scandal is going to force me out the door before I decide to call time. April whispers, “I did it to myself, you know. All the pain inside… I have to hurt myself.” Teeny-tiny zits cover her forehead. Her hair, which has been backcombed, is recalcitrant whenever her friend Katrina attempts to fix it in my Literature class.

April pulls down her long sleeves and folds her arms, black fingernails repeatedly scratching the purple shirt—reopening wounds through fabric. “You know what I like about you?” April asks. “You always look so damn unimpressed.” She hides a smile at the corners of her black lips. “I’d love to see your face when the shit hits the fan.”

LuminousHeartRaphael’s Son died alone in his car, sitting upright behind the wheel with his safety belt on and his throat slashed from right to left—a clean, some would say artful, cut of almost surgical precision. His body was discovered at 4:45 a.m. on Monday, June 24, 2013, by Neda Raiis, his wife of seventeen years who, according to her statement to the police, had found him cold and unresponsive in his gray, two-door Aston Martin with the personalized license plate—I WYNN—as it sat idling against the wrought-iron gates of their house on Mapleton Drive in Holmby Hills. Nearly one hour before that, Neda had been awakened by the sound of what she imagined was a car accident—metal crashing against metal—on the street. She had spent the next fifty minutes drifting into and out of sleep. Then, finally, she had decided to investigate the source of the earlier disturbance, risen from bed, and walked the length of the yard to the front of the estate. The sound she had heard was that of the Aston Martin crashing head-on into the gate.

some big thunder is stomping through the river
and i am listening
nobody else is listening the way i do
i drop you out of this house
drop you out the floor like a cartoon
i can be the man now and the woman
i can be the enemy to whom you say
don’t you know proper how to feel
i write all day and i say everything
i listen to the sky
and i say
everything
and nobody says much
i move real slow

Jac-Jemc-HeadshotWhat do you struggle with most in writing?

Time. Everything takes longer than I think it will, more drafts than I think it will. Then there’s the business and admin side of things that eats up so much free time. Then the joy of reading and supporting other people’s work. I also work a more-than-full-time job that’s entirely separate from my writing, as well as taking on smaller writing-type/teaching jobs from time to time. I function best when busiest, but I have a partner and family and friends I love so much, and I want to offer help and support to them, and I can’t really fathom turning them down in favor of writing most of the time.

bolano2

A review of Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction by Chris Andrews (Columbia University Press, 2014), Bolaño, A Biography in Conversations by Mónica Maristain, translated by Kit Maude (Melville House, 2014) and A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer (New Directions, 2014)

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Some readers turn to fiction to find not a mirror of the world they live in with all its ambiguity and ugliness, but a comfortable construct where beginnings are followed by middles and conclude with at least moderately-happy ends. The bad earn their comeuppance, while the good get the girl/win the man/score the job/enter heaven. It’s a version of the Elizabethan worldview, where a society riven with murder and incest and terror always rights itself in the end. “The time is out of joint,” Hamlet says early on the play, and at the end young Fortinbras will ride in to reset the clock. A broken world always ended up mended, all its gears and springs put back in place. We tell ourselves stories to make sense of the wayward quality of our lives. We tell stories to soften the painful edges and pull the sting out of the bad moments we wish had never happened. We tell stories because we always want everything to end happily ever after, just like we were taught as kids, when the big people read to us. Even our memories get a little soft and rounded over time, just to shine a kinder glow on ourselves. But the twentieth century also made vividly clear just how chaotic and uncertain life is. Evil can rise up in the pathetic guise of a nondescript German corporal, or of a skinny disaffected ex-Marine in his Texas backyard with a mail-order rifle, not to mention—going back a few centuries—the pious crucifixed footmen of the Spanish Insurrection who promised you heaven and then broke your legs. It’s the smiling soldier who marches you under the sign that claims Arbeit macht frei, or the man who calls you out of the dark doorway and draws you into the Mexican desert with his guarantee of mercy and salvation. This is the world of Roberto Bolaño; this is the carnival of wandering troubadours and lost souls.

vedaWhen someone asks me what type of stuff I write, I usually have about five seconds where I think, “How much should I tell this person?”

Should I bring up sexuality and the sex industry? Should I just stick to parenting and gender? What about bdsm?

And to take it even further, how much do I tell people who are already in my life? My parents? My husband, who is not a writer? My friends, most of whom are not writers?

DifferentBedEverytime(new)(large)The Wrong Sister

Okay. Say the reason you’re stuck here in limbo is totally unclear to you. Say you were a woman who cared about little but treated others basically well. Say you had a twin who was married to a doctor, but because you were so ambivalent, you never agreed to partner up, never liked anyone enough to commit or even give someone a real chance, to ever approach the situation where you might have to explain these feelings to another human being because you’ve joined to have and to hold, in sickness and in blah blah blah…

IMG_9879-300x225Always a cauldron of some fleeting controversy or another, the literary world roiled with a genuinely serious scandal over the past two weeks. A number of well-known writers and editors, including Stephen Tully Dierks and Tao Lin, were accused of sexual or emotional abuse.

One of the flashpoints in the resulting fracas was an essay posted to Hobart  by Elizabeth Ellen. In the piece, Ellen offers her opinion on the ongoing reaction to the scandal.

The essay is difficult and troubling, but well-worth reading.

Billy

By Sarah Braunstein

Essay

winona-ryder-heathersI said to my best friend Marie, “I am in love with that boy.”

She screwed her nose. “Why?”

I could not answer—I had no idea. I saw him one day in our high school stairwell and love appeared. It was nonsensical and absolute. It had all the characteristics of a cartoon anvil.

Marie said, “Well, he’s really good at math.”

“And he looks like Billy Baldwin. Have you noticed that?”

Nowadays, Alec is the hot Baldwin. But back then, in 1992, it was Billy.

“The actor,” I cried, “from Backdraft!”

She said, “Yeah, I know who Billy Baldwin is,” and then I wept.