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RosnerBYJulia McNealWhat do you love/hate about being a writer?   

I get to do things like this — interview myself, I mean. Which is kind of a love/hate thing right away.  Because in this type of activity there is a temptation toward grandiosity and humility all in a single moment.  Because I have to wonder who really cares what I might ask myself and what the answers might be. Because when I post on Facebook that I’m going to do this and invite some help with questions, I actually receive some really intriguing and compelling suggestions. The point is, I truly enjoy (I am amazed at this!) being given the chance to investigate myself and to know that this is “my job.” Asking myself questions and trying to answer them is in fact a basic description of my full-time employment.

Electric City_FINALBefore the name Electric City there were other names, and before those names there were no names at all. The river carved itself into the valley, remembering everything. Pines thickened and pushed against the sky. Autumn went dark, then ghostly, freezing into the hibernation of winter; spring resurrected the landscape and the creatures that filled it, painting the scenery back to life. Summers shimmered with wet heat until fall erupted into a riot. The story repeated and repeated, the same and yet not the same, year in and year out.

COVER_0You are the man who sang “God Bless the Magyar” after we lost the war. I watched you sway by a bullet-pocked door, heard you testing the national anthem’s loose notes, a lost war’s afterthoughts. I hadn’t heard it since school, and then school was called off. All up and down Saint Matyas Street, wind chased your song among tattered banners and plackards and flags. Elms cast their shadows on smashed cobblestones, windowsills lined with wash. A corpse swayed against a streetlight in accompaniment, its belt buckle clinking the pole, red-checked shirt cheery against the dull sky. Its urgent clogged smell permeated the air, the sad clothes on clotheslines.

Author Karen KarboThe Diamond Lane was first published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1991, Overlook Press published a trade paperback in 1993. What’s it like to have a book go out of print, then be reissued in a gorgeous new edition with sexy French flaps, and an introduction by Jane Smiley?

Long before The Diamond Lane was published the first time, Dr. Egon Spengler prophesied that print was dead. And yet, it lives on. The only way print can continue to survive can is in beautifully designed editions like this new one from Hawthorne Books. So far, there’s no app that can completely satisfy the human need for the tactile experience, and if you’re a reader, eventually you’re going to tire of Kindle, that cheap floozy, and settle down with something you can gaze upon, you can feel and hold. Also, crack open a book and take a whiff. There’s no smell like that ink-on-paper smell. As far as being lucky enough to have Jane offer to write an introduction, I am humbled beyond measure. I have been a huge fan of hers since The Age of Grief. She’s one of our greatest contemporary writers, plus a kick ass horsewoman.

Cover_TheDiamondLaneFreak accidents ran in the family. What else was Mimi to think? First Fitzy, now Shirl. What happened to lingering diseases? What happened to people dying in their sleep at eighty-five? The world was as reliable as patio furniture in a hurricane. It was so awful it made her laugh. The day after it happened she called in sick. She was convinced if she went to work, on the twenty-first floor of a building on Sunset Boulevard, the FitzHenry luck would bring on an earthquake. Mimi and Mouse were ten and nine when their father, Fitzy, was run over by a dolly.

1027 A friend of mine emailed me recently to ask for help with a personal essay. It was a short piece about how all the great stories seem to be about doing heroin or cheating on your spouse.

She’s not imagining that. There are some great stories out there about doing heroin and cheating on your spouse.

The piece reminded me of certain “envy essays” I’ve seen around on writer’s blogs, The New York Times, and in interviews. “I’m so jealous of Lena Dunham/Cat Marnell/Cheryl Strayed.” Very talented and determined people have these feelings.

splash-footballmond

I’m a big Steve Almond fan.  I think he’s one of our smartest and gutsiest writers.  His latest book, Against Football (Melville House), is surely one of the year’s most provocative titles.  Almond offers a searing analysis of America’s most popular sport, going deep where most sports writers tend to stay safely in the shallows, challenging the reader’s assumptions about what the game means, and what its massive cultural import says about our society.

Steve and I had a great conversation on my podcast1 not too long ago, and this past week I had the chance to catch up with him via email for some follow-up questions.

amina_gautier5How did you select the title for Now We Will Be Happy?

There’s a long and a short answer to that question. The short answer is that the title comes from Rafael Hernandez’s song “Ahora seremos felices,” which translates into English as “now we will be happy.” Hernandez was an important Puerto Rican composer of music; titling the collection after his song is a way in which I honor him.

Gautier_front (1)Aguanile

The phone calls from my grandfather began after Charlie Palmieri died. Grief-stricken, my grandfather called each time one of his favorite musicians passed away. Delicately, he announced the passing as if it were that of a family member or someone we had actually known. The calls had little to do with any ability on my part to appreciate the musicians he revered. He turned to me by default; none of his children shared his interest in the music. My mother and uncles eschewed all things Puerto Rican, and his second set of children shunned his tastes, preferring hip-hop and Top 40 tunes. Though not the aficionado he was, I had spent my summer vacation humoring him, and now he treated me like a fellow enthusiast, viewing me as a sympathetic comrade, a person who shared his first family’s blood but not its resentment.

Role/Model

By Gayle Brandeis

Essay

young compositeMichael and I had lunch at The Castle today, a new Middle Eastern restaurant in Riverside. The lentil soup was fantastic, spiked with lemon. The Lebanese salad was tart and fresh, a dice of cucumber and tomato and mint. The place is new, but not really. I can’t remember if you and I ever went there together back when it was still Pitruzello’s, back when you were still alive–I don’t think so, even though I can picture you in one of the booths, your pale skin glowing against the black vinyl; I can picture you there the way you looked before I was born, when people mistook you for Audrey Hepburn, your hair in a short beehive, a cigarette between your fingers. I can’t remember if I ever told you I answered the restaurant’s call for lunchtime tearoom models in 1987, when I was nineteen. Probably not. As much as you wanted your girls to be open with you, more often than not, your measuring gaze made us pause .

Even now, at 46, I’m not sure what compelled me to respond to the ad they placed in the San Bernardino Sun. I hated modeling as a kid–I was too shy, too self-conscious in front of the camera. I cried at almost every audition, every photo shoot. At nineteen, I didn’t see myself as the modeling type, either. I was a hippie chick with hairy armpits and legs, a sophomore at the University of Redlands. I had gained the freshman fifteen and then some eating three cafeteria meals a day, the only vegetarian options being cheesy, starchy casseroles like lasagna and enchiladas. My belly stuck out nearly as far as my small breasts; my face was almost as round as it had been when I was on long term steroids a few years before. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was awkwardness. Flaws.

todgoldbergheadcolorYour last book came out in 2011. It’s 2014. What have you been doing all this time?

Honestly? Writing. And writing and writing and writing. But sometimes, that just means I’m not writing at all, I’m just thinking about writing, thinking about what I haven’t written, thinking about what I’d like to write, thinking about maybe never writing again because, these days, there’s just an awful lot of good stuff on TV and if my choice is to sit quietly in my office writing murder stories or watching an infinite number of episodes of Chopped, well, Chopped wins. It’s a sickness, it really is. I find it profoundly, psychically comforting to watch other people cook food I’ll never eat while I – with absolutely no acuity in the field whatsoever – make snap judgments on the quality, taste, and general success or failure of the meal.

Gangsterland_FINALPrologue

April 1998

When Sal Cupertine was going to kill a guy, he’d walk right up and shoot him in the back of the head. Shoot someone in the face, there’s a good chance they’ll survive. Sal never messed around with a gut shot or trying to get someone in the heart. It was stupid and made a mess. You get told to kill a guy, you killed a guy. You didn’t leave it up to variations in the wind and barometric pressure and all that Green Beret shit he saw on TV. No, Sal knew, you just went up and did it. Be professional about it and no one suffers.

This morning, a list of wounds to commit
to memory: contusion, abrasion, compound fracture.
There’s no irony in the lecturer’s voice, in her floral dress.

She says Let’s cut to the chase and shows a wrist
flayed open to bone. She doesn’t spare the shiny ligament
ribbons under the skin, the marble eyes of a lynched

Dylan laughing hiresWhat’s the question you most dread being asked?

Grad students ask it all the time: When I write about Rainey Royal getting molested, is that based on personal experience? There’s a story about that in my first book, too, Normal People Don’t Live Like This. But my writing teacher in Los Angeles, the novelist Jim Krusoe, once said: Answer the question you want to answer. So: Can I just talk about writing? I like going to the basement, to dark, uncomfortable places, and seeing what kind of unfamiliar language I can construct for what’s going on. And as a writer, I think the less you say on paper the more the reader imagines.

deskjob TNBI chugged hard on the last of my beer and wiggled the empty can in the air for Mustachio behind the bar to see. Another cold sweaty can arrived with its short shot buddy. Then another. And another. A parade of cans and shots across the bar and the place filled up with people.

A woman I recognized came through the door and pushed her way into the crowd. She walked down the bar and sat next to me on the only empty stool.