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RuizCamacho_color-2Antonio, congratulations on your recently published novel Barefoot Dogs!

Thank you! It’s not a novel, though. It’s a collection of short stories.

 

Oh. I was told your book tells the story of a single family in exile, so.

Yes, Barefoot Dogs revolves around the Arteagas, an affluent family from Mexico City who must flee the country after their patriarch is kidnapped. But their saga is told through short stories–each one from the perspective of a different member of the family, or some of the housekeepers who worked for them back in Mexico, as they face exile.

 

It’s not a novel then.

Technically, no.

 

That’s a bummer, man. We’ll keep this short, then. Haha.

Fine by me.

BarefootDogs.coverimage

It Will Be Awesome Before Spring

It is the year everybody’s planning to spend the summer in Italy. Tammy and Sash will take a photography workshop in Florence and Jen will take a cruise around the Mediterranean with her family, and mine will rent a house in Tuscany. We’ve already made arrangements to meet in Milan for a couple of days and perhaps drive to Portofino and hang out there for another day or two—Italian highways are the best, we’ve heard, and no one cares about speed limits there, same as here, but highways there don’t suck, so everybody agrees it will be awesome. Before spring breaks, we’re already taking Italian conversation over cappuccinos at Klein’s on Avenida Masaryk once a week with this beautiful middle-aged Genovese woman I remember as Giovanna but I’m sure that was not her name. She looks like Diane von Furstenberg when she was in her prime, only with much less expensive clothes. She wound up in Mexico because she met some guy in Cancún, and has been trying to make a living here since, teaching Italian and any other language to foreign executives, because she’s a polyglot. Whenever we want a break from class we ask her to tell us stories about her other students—she’s an avid raconteur too, so she can talk and talk for hours on end—and she comes up with the wildest tales. My memories of that year have started to blur and I can only recall the story of the Danish executive who’s taking English conversation and fashions a grinding, horrible accent, our teacher says, flapping her branchy hands over our cappuccino glasses as if they’re logs on fire and she’s trying to turn them into embers. Irregular nouns and verbs make this poor Danish lady crazy, Diane—let’s call the Italian polyglot that—admits with a frown that makes the crisp features of her face look worn rather than sophisticated, so every time Diane asks her to talk about her morning routine, the Danish lady says, “Well, firrst ting rright out of my bet, I torouffly wash my teets.”

J_Rubin_Color_6x7Has it started yet?

Shhh, shut the fuck up.

I’m gonna do the asking around here if you—

 

Your novel is about an impressionist, Giovanni Bernini. Who does he impersonate?

Great question. As a child, he has no control, really, over whom he impersonates. Then as he gets older, he starts to rein it in. At first, I think, he’s drawn to people who seem especially alive, charismatic. As he gets older, he prizes self-sufficiency. His word is “unrequiring.” He’s so malleable that he envies people who aren’t. He eventually becomes this very cold character, this nightclub owner named Bernard, in order to save himself from feeling too much, probably.

9780670016761_large_The_Poser“There you are! Christ!” Anthony Vandaline, of all people, came waddling up the stairs. “I’m a pilgrim in the dark. I’m searching and searching. And—ah, finally.”

At this late hour, only four men remained at the balcony bar, stoking each other’s laughter with shouted stories. One even bent at the waist, g ripping the back of a chair. Performing for me. Soon, I knew, would come the sharp compliment or offered beer, and I prepared myself by seeming unaware, a man immersed in his life. I stroked Lucy’s hand, doing that thing where I looked from her hands up to her eyes and down again. What she was saying in that low voice, however, the one she risked only when we were alone, I can’t rightly say, for I was listening to the men.

Then Vandaline arrived, and they fell silent. Lucy stood to meet him.

“Ugh, you’re one of those people who’s always heeere,” she said. “It’s like I’m gonna turn around and trip on you.”

“Look, my priest is gonna blush at this thing when I print it in full. All my sins. But I was talking to Max, and he said, and I quote, ‘the heart of his technique is something called’—yeah, here it is—‘the thread.’ ”

A show tune played through the house speakers.

“Now you answer this,” Vandaline said, “and I’m gone. I mean, I walk out the door.”

“It’s a skill you should practice more,” Lucy said.

IMG_2905Lisa is a really pretty girl and Gina and I aren’t, but still, she’s our friend. So when Lisa comes up to us in the Santa Monica High parking lot after school on Tuesday and asks us for a ride, we say yeah. And when I get in the driver’s seat and Gina sits down next to me, and Lisa opens the back door to get in right behind me, Gina turns to me with this wild, mean look in her eye and she whispers, “Let’s just go!”

Photo by Jeff Turner (Santa Clarita, CA)

Photo by Jeff Turner (Santa Clarita, CA)

 

My brain fissures at the junction of expectation and reality.

My surroundings tilt. Diesel engines cough. The freeway din blares and florescent lights buzz. Everything will be different now. This man plans to beat my ass for offending his sexual and gender sensibilities. I taste gasoline in my mouth.

IMG_0011What was it like the first time you heard My Aim Is True?

Hearing My Aim Is True for the first time was one of those aha moments for me that changed everything. From the opening chord of “Welcome to the Working Week,” I knew this record was something special. By the time I got to track four, “Blame It on Cain,” I knew I never had to listen to Pablo Cruise or REO Speedwagon ever again. Someone out there was making music that spoke to me and it hit me like a punch in the gut. I heard the snarl in Elvis’s voice, the cynicism dripping off every line and for me that was the noise that art made. It was liberation from my small town.

Elvis is King coverLiverpool, Nova Scotia, is the hub of the Lighthouse Route’s scenic drive along the province’s South Shore. Blessed by Mother Nature, it’s picturesque, book-ended by beautiful beaches, parks, and forests. As the home of the third oldest lighthouse in the province, it’s also rich in history but not exactly the center of the pop culture universe.

Even less so in the 1970s when, as a music and movie obsessed kid, I went to Emaneau’s Pharmacy every week to pick up magazines like Hit Parader and Rona Barrett’s Hollywood. Perhaps because I grew up in a renovated vaudeville theater (it’s true!) I was deeply interested in a world that seemed very far away, and those weekly and monthly magazines were my only connection to music and movie stars.
Liverpool wasn’t on the flight plan for the people I saw in those pages.

Blue house dropped out of the sky
Sculpture of a giant fish jumping from snow

There’s a lake at the top of the mountain that’s all light

Golden angel sitting on a mailbox, legs crossed
So what if the wind of prophecy’s long blown away?

How many mountains will God hang over our heads
               before we can read the Torah of sky?

saad 2You’ve never been to Iraq. You ain’t Iraqi. What the hell is your problem?

Escape from Baghdad is not a travelogue. It’s not a factual account of the war from the eyes of the victor. It is, as the name suggests, escapism, a fantasy, a depiction of the ‘other’.

 

Sticking up for the losers, eh?

Well it’s very easy to tell heroic stories about winners. Those are things people want to hear, but it’s boring. It doesn’t cover anything new, it becomes formulaic. At the same time, I think a straight up tragedy has little value to a reader, especially if you already know the story. I mean I know that Napoleon lost at Waterloo. I don’t really want to rehash that. If I’m rooting for Napoleon, I want a victory at the end. 

Lunar

By Molly Dickinson

Poem

Some tunnels are dark even though they are known. Like: how to choose my lunchtime apple. Like: which direction to run. And time is contracting in a way you didn’t warn me of. I’d be upset, but my body pieces are communing in ways you also didn’t warn of. I commune my eyes with my tongue, ears with my fingers. Flexing paths I did not know filled this body. One morning I find that my toes are conversing with my knees. They take me running in another direction and I find these things: goats that bleat, a worm filled fig, lupine-lady on her bicycle. Tonight, you told me to watch the red clay moon. So I’ve arranged my legs under my body and watch with my eyes closed. So under the wind my skin is shifting wisteria petals. So I soften against the ground, under your red clay moon. So I’m bare pieces: a gathering on my lawn, spread before this house. And I understand that I’m becoming reckless with my body in ways you’d scold me for. But I have changed the frequency of my ears and I can only hear the red clay moon.

EscapeFromBaghdad-CoverPromo2[1]A bell at the door then, the Ghazaliya bell, they called it, the knock of rifle butts against splintered wood, the three second grace time before boots and flashlights, lasers and automatic rifle barrels. Better than the Mahdi Army, who didn’t bother to knock, and who had never heard of the three-second rule. Dagr surged towards the front of the house, already sweating, thrusting Kinza back. It was his job to face the American door to doors, because he still looked like a professor, soft jawed, harmless, by some chance the exact composite of the innocent Iraqi these farm boys from Minnesota had come to liberate. And Kinza…with his hollow eyed stare, Kinza would never survive these conversations.

LM Bod pic

For the first week after my brother died, I drank a bottle of wine a day. Typically I’d have a coffee at 7:00 a.m., followed by a glass of wine and peanut butter on toast. I’d go back to bed and continue the marathon of TV crime drama from last night. The second I finished the first glass of wine, I’d have a second. Followed by another coffee, and a hit off a joint. 

Elizabeth Evans by Steve ReitzYou struck the supposedly galvanizing “Wonder Woman Pose” for at least the requisite two minutes. You’re writing with your favorite fountain pen. Also, you’re making up the questions, here. What’s with the racing heart?

I’m so much more comfortable with writing fiction than writing about my fiction.

 

Maybe you’ll calm down a bit if you focus on how you came to write this story of addiction and female friendships and lovers and betrayal and the human negotiations that endlessly fascinate you.

I’d written before about intense female relationships. I knew I’d be driven to dive into the topic’s sublime pools and scary quicksand again, and, eventually, that particular obsession attached itself to the germ of a story that had haunted me for years.

AsGoodasDead_HC_catThe fateful morning—no exaggeration, fateful—that my long- lost friend, Esmé Cole, showed up on our front steps, I was sitting at the desk in the room that I used for a home office. My chair, I remember, made an uneasy perch, all slippery and lopsided because I hadn’t bothered to remove the items that I’d dumped on the seat the night before: a manila folder crammed with information about a job applicant being considered by the English Department; a puke-green envelope holding an entry for a book prize I’d reluctantly agreed to judge; and, then, a three- ring binder of my own writing that creaked whenever I shifted in the chair.

The sky in the window over my desk was a clear blue that morning. The temperature outside would climb into the high eighties as the day progressed, but the room faced north and its exterior wall still held the cold that settled in on desert nights—this was October in Tucson, Arizona—which meant that the ancient space heater at the level of my feet pinged away, giving off a metallic odor that might have been unpleasant to somebody else (I connected it with writing and comfort, and so I liked it).

Esmé Cole Fletcher, I should call my long-lost friend. Esmé Cole—betrayed by me twenty years before—did take the name of the man she married. Once upon a time, she and I had vowed to keep our own names forever, but this is a tale about nothing if not about changes of heart.