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Stefankiesbye… also in The Staked Plains. What you say about how you can read society by the way it treats its dogs. It’s a massacre. By the way, what are goatheads?

Goatheads are small stickers that look exactly like small goat heads. They are so common in New Mexico that many people avoid walking barefoot across their lawns. Every summer and fall they seem to multiply. To me, they signify how unwelcoming the New Mexico landscape can seem at times.

skythecolorofchaosAfter the guests left, Soeur came clomping in the scraggly grass across the yard, making the bugs fly, yelling about a book I’d borrowed without permission. She who never yelled. She who was small and skinny with dark, soft eyes that avidly studied the world around her. A quiet child who concentrated intensely, her fingers trapped in some science book. Sometimes she read detective novels, sometimes the lacquered glamour ads in magazines. She read books thoroughly from beginning to end, as she did not believe in skimming or jumping pages. She studied hard in the evening, doing her homework, one subject after another, one, two, three hours straight.

In photos of Soeur and me, I was always much bigger: heavier, thicker boned, thoughtless in the way I claimed space. She was skinny but filled the air with her presence.

M.J. Fievre’s memoir A Sky the Color of Chaos (Beating Windward Press, 2015) chronicles Fievre’s childhood during the turbulent rise and fall of Haiti’s President-Priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide—a time of nightly shootings, home invasions, robberies, and the burning of former regime members in neighborhood streets. During the late 1980s and 90s, from when Fievre was eight-years-old to 18, Haiti’s government changed forms eight times; the Haitian people endured fraudulent elections, three military coups, a crippling embargo, and a United Nations occupation. A Sky the Color of Chaos will be featured at the Miami Book Fair International on Nov. 21.

In connection to the release of the book, Fievre had a conversation with writer Jan Becker. They addressed some of the themes explored in the book, including domestic violence, father-daughter relationship, and PTSD.

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What’s it like to be on a first date and say you wrote a book called Inappropriate Sleepover?

Well, the guys mostly look scared and/or confused, but I feel great!

She liked the crunch of the white snow.
The androgynous bulk of orange
encapsulating her long frame. In town
there were double takes and a sense
of foreboding. You look sixteen, her father said
on seeing her in new ballet clothes.
She was eleven. Bringing down her first
pheasant felt natural. She could imagine
getting pheasants to fall from the sky
without a gun. She could imagine
herself all in white like the fallen snow.

bookcoverNotes on My Sister, the Fox

Around Maple Shade, people still refer to me as “Meri Nester’s brother.” Meredith Ann Nester’s look perfectly suited the early-1980s: long, blonde hair (enhanced by Sun-In), Bongo jeans from Merry-Go-Round, cut sweat shirts, and jelly pumps. I wore husky Wranglers, tube socks, and glasses that remained tinted indoors. Meri made varsity cheerleading by eighth grade. I played trombone and sent away for free pamphlets from the Consumer Information Catalog. Meri was the barefoot girl in Bruce Springteen’s “Jungleland” who sat on the hood of a Dodge and drank warm beer in the soft summer rain. I’m the misfit who listened to Rush’s “Subdivisions,” and wondered how a Canadian band knew that the suburbs had no charms to soothe the restless dreams of my youth.

If Meri Nester reacted to Maple Shade like I did, I might not have gone crazy. But she didn’t react to Maple Shade like I did. And so I did go crazy.

photocredit Thomas V. Hartmann

Let’s look over your writerly bio. It says here you’ve written two books on your love of the rock band Queen (God Save My Queen I and II), a book of poems (The History of My World Tonight), something called “humorous nonfiction” (How to Be Inappropriate), and edited a book of sestinas (The Incredible Sestinas Anthology). What’s this book called?

It’s called Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects.

 

That’s a pretty long-ass title.

You can call it Shader for short.

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Michelle Brafman’s debut novel, Washing the Dead (Prospect Park Books, 2015) is, above all things, about the healing power of love and forgiveness, about letting go of the toxic wounds of betrayal and hurt. In fact, Brafman experienced a similar transformative purge; she admits that she felt “fluish” at times when writing it. The novel, told in first person by Barbara Blumfield when she is 17 and also when she is  53 (the two narratives woven together in what Brafman calls a double helix), centers on her family’s expulsion from their Orthodox Jewish community after her mother has an affair with a gentile. After Barbara is called back to the community thirty-five years later to perform the ritual burial washing of her beloved teacher, she is forced to confront her mother’s sins and secrets, as well as her own.

 

JEN MICHALSKI: Washing the Dead explores themes of exile, forgiveness, and redemption in an Orthodox Jewish community in Milwaukee, and you start it off with a bang: an affair. So where did that come from?

MICHELLE BRAFMAN: Yes, the inciting event in the book occurs when the main character, Barbara, discovers that her mother is having an affair, and so begins the family’s exile from their spiritual community. I’ve been told that the story reads a bit like a mystery, and as you read on, you learn that nothing that happens in these opening pages, including the affair, is as it seems. Affairs are complicated, I think. Perhaps they are often less about succumbing to some hot sticky lust and more about escaping an unbearable emotional intensity or healing old wounds or filling unmet needs for love or myriad other motivations. I wasn’t thinking so clinically, though, when I decided to use the affair as a means to launch this family into the diaspora. The idea evolved from digging into my characters’ family history and imagining how the carnage from their secrets might be expressed via misdirected and destructive efforts to secure love.

51zq2-7RLLL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” — Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man)

It’s not hard to see the need to understand ourselves as the central motivation for art. Whether we’re talking about painting or sculpture, poetry or the novel, the fictionalization of reality—its depiction and abstraction, its reordering and refocusing—offers the chance not only to escape into someone else’s life, but a new lens through which to see ourselves and our world, a means to reckon with reality and our place in it.

SeidlingerAuthorPhoto (1) (1)You know you could go out tonight. It’s Friday.

It’s always the same imperative–go out, bar, show, some reading, something. I’m tired, okay? I’m tired and I really should get back to this novel.

 

You never go out anymore.

Priorities. Besides, you should be glad that I’ve chosen to stay in tonight. I wouldn’t pay you any mind if I went out.

 

So I’m second-rate to you?

I wouldn’t say that, but you exist essentially for the same reason I’m deciding to deny any kind of social interaction tonight, or for the remainder of the weekend for that matter: I wrote what became The Strangest in a two week sequence of denials–in particular, social denials, where I did nothing but read, write, edit, repeat. You were the only one on my mind and man, let me tell you, you really bummed me out.

TheStrangest_2015_07_27_CVF (1)One morning was different. It proved to be different enough. I was at the bars, but when one of the officers started getting close, I went to the far end of the cell. There’s a part of the cell that remains shadowed even during what I figure is high noon. It is my idea that they don’t see me there.

If they don’t see me, maybe I don’t exist.

I don’t exist, and they don’t so much as bother me.

They don’t feed my fears.

They had been doing that a lot the past couple days.

Questioning, always questioning. I came to the conclusion that I was guilty. But that wasn’t enough for them. Officers and prisoners and the occasional person that doesn’t look like they belong in a prison, only stopping by, they question. With their gaze, they question.

KolayaauthorphotoHey, what’s that swirly thing on the cover of your book?

It’s an image of a particle collision. Abhijat Mital, one of the book’s characters, is a theoretical physicist. The book’s about a town whose residents are in conflict over plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider (a tool for studying particle physics) under their homes, schools, and farmland.

 

Did you pass high school physics?

Barely. And only thanks to a kind physics teacher who was either unable to do basic math while computing my grade or–more likely–was just ridiculously kind and indulgent with his students.

Charmed Particles—FINAL CoverNote from the author: This chapter comes from the middle of Charmed Particles. The novel’s about a town whose residents are in conflict over plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider (a tool for studying particle physics) under their homes, schools, and farmland. The book follows two unconventional families—the Mitals and the Winchesters—as the controversy affects them all in different ways.

This chapter is about the two daughters of these families, Meena and Lily, whose friendship connects the two families. Meena’s family comes from Bombay. She was born in the U.S., but her parents immigrated to the States as adults because of her father’s job at a facility in town called the National Accelerator Research Lab. The excerpt is set in the 1987 in the fictional Chicago suburb of Nicolet, where Meena is one of only a few students of color in her school.

He cleared his throat with bulldozers
had the necessary work permit from the city
taped to the side of his face
removing dirt from the windpipe
he found trapped miners that had died down there
their once blackened faces now skeletal
huddled together like an American football team
discussing a play that never happened
but lest you think my mud brains hung up on simple excavation
there is still the clouded mind to address, always clouded
with a thick haze of grievous confusion
the benchmark of basic clarity never met
sitting in dark cafés with stupid French names
folding the newspaper like a losing hand of poker

9780393249187_custom-6d99ab5183fa2e212a7f36feafc85944b3bfa3d0-s300-c85There was a time when, at least in England, theatre mattered, and by theatre one must also include television drama and plays written for radio; in those days a director could draw from the same stable of actors and often directors: stage, screen, radio. There was really no shortage of opportunity for original plays, which led to many novelists also writing scripts. Money is money, exposure is always good, and learning how to do more than one thing with your craft is a kind of gift. Finished your book? Great—write a script. Quality was usually high back in the late 70s and early 80s, and sometimes the plays chosen, cast and taped were either banned outright from broadcast, such as Roy Minton’s Scum, written in 1977 and only seen fourteen years later, or Dennis Potter’s 1976 BBC play, Brimstone and Treacle, which had to wait eleven years before it could be shown, or so controversial that they made the editorial pages of the stately broadsheets of the day. Many of the actors who appeared in them are still box-office draws: Dench, Mirren, Nighy, McKellen, Irons, among others. The late 70s and 80s were, at least in the UK, thought of as the Golden Age of Television. Then there were only three channels: BBC1, BBC2, and ITV, this last one an independent station that drew programming from both regional and London sources. Channel 4 was still in the future. The major TV slot for original plays was BBC’s Play for Today, which meant that what you wrote for these weekly 50-minute slots uninterrupted by commercials (one paid, and still does pay, for a television license simply to operate a set in the home) should reflect what was happening now in Britain. Unlike in the great big United States, where the effects of anything short of a Supreme Court decision or a government shutdown often takes time to roll out and be felt, in Britain the fan would get very messy the moment the shit hit it. Back in 1977 there were several different labor-related slowdowns and strikes that would result in piling garbage on London streets, striking fire brigades being replaced by soldiers on army equipment, and electrical outages often preannounced by time and location in the London Evening Standard. These had an immediate effect, and the public was polarized between those who supported Labour and the trades unions and those who were vehemently against them, the latter being responsible for electing a Conservative House of Commons and causing the rise of the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher.