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SEAN_MICHAEL-1770_NB_FINALEwebWhat’s your name, where do you come from?

My name’s Sean. I was born in Scotland and raised in Ottawa, but I live in Montreal.

 

Why don’t you have a Scottish accent?

I did, but I lost it.

Us-ConductorsSnow was falling in streamers on West Fifty-Ninth Street. The studio was nearly silent.

I stood at the window, looking into the flurries. Head- lights flashed and went away, distant gestures of civilization. Heat lifted from the radiator. All my students had stayed home. There is weather all around us and then sometimes it interrupts our lives, as though a temporary new law has been passed.

There was a bell from downstairs.

I picked up my watch and went to the door to wait.

George Korolog Photo

Isn’t it hard to pen and ask yourself questions that could possibly cause you look like a pompous ass?

Yes, very hard. It is incredibly easy to be seen either way, and this only adds another layer of complexity to the equation. Freud would have a field day with this, wouldn’t he?

A damp stench of wildflowers. The
memory of vacant highways fixed in

her bones, a recurring memory oozing
tragic lines, cracking the marrow with

guttural airs not meant for human ears,
lies driven too deep, too hard, too often,

I find naked Jesus
in the King Cake a zombie brought
from Della Calce Street

so I have
renewed my luck
I drain a shot of absinthe

headshot_smallWhen we last spoke, in 2011, you attempted to pass yourself off as an unlikely Rock Novelist. How did you go about making the transition to unlikely Surf Novelist?

It all started with a place. La Libertad is a bizarre and fascinating beach town on El Salvador’s Pacific Coast. It’s home to a world-class point-break, as well as a serious crack cocaine epidemic. I spent a lot of time there in my early twenties—back when it was still below the surfing radar and I was a Peace Corps volunteer about 50 miles away. The beauty and the grit of La Lib, with its mix of surfers, fishermen, drug dealers, and addicts is something I always wanted to write about.

K99_coverIt wasn’t long after I’d broken up with Alex, a few short months into my service, a year and a half before the earthquake. Some girlfriends from my training group talked me into a weekend at the beach. Four of us rented two rooms in La Posada’s cheap wing—which was the first time I ever saw the place. Once our backpacks were shoved inside, we all went to a shorefront restaurant for midday drinks.

I’d not surfed in years, and never outside of Hawai‘i. It hadn’t occurred to me that there might be waves in El Salvador. Straight away, I could tell a swell was running. The rocky point—which began at the restaurant—stretched far out to sea. It was longer than any wave I’d seen on Oahu, and had no closed-out sections. I studied it while the other girls smoked and chatted.

Soon, I saw a bearded gringo, prone on his surfboard, riding white water into shore.

I sit dumbfounded as your
yellowed body asserts itself
into my cringing awareness.
Only yesterday you were
an old soul peering through
young eyes at a world wearing
gossamer garments to hide
black and blue secrets.

SeanHartofilis_FC2 cropPlease explain what just happened.

I saw my nieces in the basement. They’re up from Florida and are the best.  

 

What is your earliest memory?

At track practice when I was very little, I overran the finish line and was jumped, for reasons I’ll never understand, by two little boys who I’m guessing were brothers. They pushed me down and pulled my hair and kicked me. Then their mother showed up and did the same to them. I wrote about it in a short story published by The Harlem Times called “The Summer of St. Nick.”  

My daughter in the frantic evenings
Knits some stars and secrets,
Some pictures of our old wet pots,
Some letters loosely hanging
Over our home library attic.

Woolf_Emma

As my second book The Ministry of Thin comes out this month, the question I keep being asked is this: what does a ‘recovered anorexic’ have to tell us about body image and feminism?

Quite a lot actually. I believe that, as women, our desire for thin is getting way out of control. I believe that many women who do not have an actual eating disorder have profoundly disordered eating; diets such as 5:2 are normalising deeply abnormal habits. You may roll your eyes (as I do) at the crazy tongue-patchers, drip dieters, intermittent fasters. You may laugh at the Werewolf or Vampire or Caveman devotees. But no matter how feisty or feminist you think you are, I bet you’d like to lose weight. 

The Ministry of Thin_FINALAlice and I are walking down the aisle marked Dairy. I take four small tubs of Total 0% Greek yogurt, a couple of raspberry-flavor Müller Lights. I add a four-pack of vanilla probiotic Activias, then a two-pint carton of skim milk. My sister grimaces at the red-top milk—“Skim? That stuff looks like dirty water.” I nod cheerfully, “I know, tastes like it too.” We turn the corner into the aisle marked Meat, where it’s Al’s turn to stock up: bacon, chicken, and some kind of fish.

At the checkout line, we look at our baskets: butter, bacon, and eggs in hers; muesli, pita bread, Greek yogurt in mine. I also have apples, broccoli, bananas; Al has sparkling water, salmon, avocado.

See what she’s doing, and see what I’m doing? Without even thinking about it, we both have our forbidden foods—or, if not entirely forbidden, substances we steer clear of. Al never buys coffee or wine, although she will have the occasional cappuccino or glass of wine when she’s out. I literally don’t go near butter, and I wouldn’t know how to cook any of the meat she buys. Odder than her wariness of caffeine, and my strict vegetarianism, is our avoidance of whole food groups. I don’t do fat; she doesn’t do carbs. A few decades ago these might have seemed strange rules to follow, but these days they’re pretty normal. In the twenty-first century most women police their diets in some way.

Photograph of Novelist Katie CrouchBestselling author Katie Crouch (Men and Dogs; Girls in Trucks) has a new book out. Abroad is a quick-moving, high-action read that plays out both our best and worst fantasies of being a young, beautiful foreigner in Italy. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, so wonderfully vivid, you might just confuse them for people you actually know (or have read about in the news!).

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 10.42.10 AM

One of the things my little brother does at work is take a kidney out of one person and insert that kidney into another person all while keeping both people alive. This is not something I could do if you paid me, as my great aunt used to say, “all the money,” nor could I tell a patient the cancer has spread, or the liver no longer functions, or that the end is, in all likelihood, near. My brother tells people these sorts of things regularly, and then, instead of weeping, he goes on with his workday. He can write prescriptions; he can diagnose exotic diseases. He is handsome and admirable, and people tell me he’s one hell of a surgeon.

alan_michael_parker_2013What the hell is this?

A novel.

 

But it’s got 99 stories and some of them have the same titles?

That’s true.