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So, truthfully, how did you come up with the questions you’re about to answer?

Well, here’s the thing. Every time I attempted to actually compose a self-interview, I ended up answering every question like a professional athlete—you know: It is what it is. Just trying to take it one game at a time. My understanding was that I was shooting B-12 into my ass. I play the percentages. So I did the one thing I know how to do in the face of sounding like a cheese dick: I asked people to give me questions to answer so that I wouldn’t sound like a cheese dick. And then, if I didn’t like their questions, I altered them to what I’d like them to be, essentially rewriting my own self interview. Kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but slightly less awesome. I also took some questions from transcripts I found online of Michael Silverblatt interviewing David Foster Wallace and Vikram Chandra. These questions are denoted with a handy asterisk.

Cyprus

By Megan Power

Poem

I tap on his first floor window late
He parts the drapes, smiles faintly
Fag? I ask
He dresses for the cold
Joins me outside the residence entrance

We could be chest to chest
Steam enveloped in my shower
We could be front to back
Blanket wrapped in his bed
We could be mouth on mouth
Rain soaked in the park
We could be all this and
More anytime, anywhere
Right now
Redrawing the boundaries of our imaginations
Plunging into oblivion

Instead a thousand hours
In the cold dark we smoke
Inhaling exhaling three feet apart
On the butt-spangled walkway
Under partial moons and slapdash stars

Detailing particulars
Of the unremarkable
Schedules, forecasts, assignments
Without asking or having to he reaches into
My pocket for the lighter
Beyond that
It never goes

Some mix of
His understandable cowardice
Our lovely friendship
The twelve years
Between us

Detains

Drunk at the union or the pub
While the others carry on, their banter a perfect cover
He stares at me in a way that makes me itch
I can arrange him for you, he sneers, if I glance too long at someone
And I laugh as cruelly as possible,
Go on then
We gather our tools, go out to the patio and
Smoke

Meet him halfway
Provide a signal or
Create an opportunity
I can’t, won’t and shouldn’t
He’s the one with
Illusions left to amputate
A big blank book of failures

My need is not him-specific
Only even projected in his general direction
Since he’s always right in front of me
Smoking, a thousand hours in the dark

I mean – I’d be gentle
Oh so gentle
But his heart needs to be a sieve
Whereas now it is a kite

Something is possible between us
I’m not sure what
But a thing is possible


Dessert

By Matthew Gavin Frank

Travel

In Alba, Italy, rain and a market. In my hands, the white greased paper that once held an entire rotisserie rabbit. Its bones clack together as hooves, a horse in the distance. I clutch this paper coffin to my chest, as if for warmth, and scan the piazza for a garbage can. My hunt for refuse carries me into the covered pulse of the marketplace, and I have to blink to focus. Now unburdened by my desire to eat a whole animal, I am able to assimilate this lovely and special chaos. There are hundreds of vendors—fruit stands, fish stands, meats and cheeses; rounds, bricks, entire civilizations of cheese, octopus, persimmon. I toss my trash in a can beneath a string of blood sausage.

“Hey! Hey!” I hear someone shout.

The voice opens like the lid of an ancient hope chest, rides its dusty remnants and long dead dreams on the rain. If I were to look inside this voice I’d expect to find centuries-old taxidermy, owls with shellacked eyes and sawdust in the feathers. I hear it again, this time in triplicate.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!”

I have no reason to think it’s directed at me, but I turn to face a tiny knuckle of a man, dressed all in white, head so perfectly circular it could have been designed with a compass.

“Hey! Viene qua!” the frump calls from behind his fruit stand.

I turn and point behind me, my forehead certainly a mess of wrinkles. People cascade in circles, not one of them standing still. I turn back and touch my chest.

“Io?” I ask.

“Si, si,” he creaks, “Tu.”

I move forward and, as if stepping on a hidden button in the cobblestone, I activate this man to produce a baseball-sized fig from his fruit pile, bust it in half with his thumbs, and shove both bowled sides into his mouth at once. As if a magician waiting for applause, he, less than a second later, waves the cleaned purple fig skins at me as theatre curtains.

“Wow,” is all I can muster.

He holds a fat palm open to me. I freeze into position. He turns and retrieves another intact fig, this one even larger. Again, with his cigar-stub fingers, he breaks the fruit in two, its swampy sweet cilia waving yellow at my nose like a sea anemone. Soon, his hands are in mine, wet with warm rain, rolling the fig halves into my drenched palms.

“Prego,” he offers, but it could easily have been, “Abracadabra.”

I want to match his magic, so I shove both halves into my mouth. The music of the fruit shrieks soprano with cherry and yeast, the texture of limp comb teeth. This is a fig to resurrect the dreams of a great-great-grandmother. This is a fig to make her a little girl again, stretch her hair from stiff gray to blonde braided pigtails. I think of the tango and pull the stripped skins from my mouth. The frump actually applauds, laughing.

“Bravo! Bravo!” he bellows.

I laugh knowingly with him, having shared in his secret bag of wizard’s tricks.

I reach into my pocket, expecting a string of scarves, but produce only my wallet. When I flash a few coins, he shakes his head, a bowling ball on shoulders, and turns to help another customer, a middle-aged woman with a faux-snakeskin umbrella.

I feel large, and somehow filled-out, rounded, fat-handed, aged and neckless. This is a market without illusion. The magic here is real. Over the reptilian umbrella, I watch the man hoist a watermelon into the air.

 

This piece originally appeared in Brevity and was reprinted in Creative Nonfiction (The “Best of Brevity 2005” issue).

TNB TV

The book trailer for Totally Killer, Greg Olear’s dazzling debut novel about a doomed young twenty-three-year-old beauty who arrives in New York City in search of work and hungry for love. Part thriller. Part satire. Part period piece. Total page-turner. Olear seamlessly weaves historical events, nineties nostalgia, and the East Village of yesteryear into a noirish plot as suspenseful as it is far-reaching. The author interviews himself here. And you can read an excerpt right here. Trailer directed by Kimberly M. Wetherell.


LitPark is here!

TNB is thrilled to feature Susan Henderson’s LitPark in its pages, one of the most beloved (and valuable) lit-blogs on the web. In addition to starting vital conversations and interviewing a slew of terrific writers, Henderson has chronicled the ups and downs of writing and submitting her novel, The Ruby Cup, which will be published by Harper Collins in September 2010. Follow the peaks and valleys of that process—the writer’s block, the false hope, the face-on-the-floor depression, and the hard work of creating a novel–right here at TNB. This week’s column features some words for impatient writers who find themselves stuck in a field that seems to be all about…waiting.


Years ago, when I left my job as a rape crisis counselor, I was presented with a plaque. In beautiful calligraphy, my co-workers had listed the qualities they valued most about me: Dedicated Somethingerother. Compassionate Listener. Some Other Things. Patient.

I showed the plaque to Mr. Henderson, and he asked, “Do you think they meant this as a joke?”

Because not only am I known for listening only when I feel like it, but I will do things like put a frozen waffle in the toaster, and as soon as the edge is even slightly cooked, I’ll eat around the outside because I can’t wait two minutes for something I want.

You’d think I’d have picked a career that involved immediate rewards.

But logic is never one of the reasons a person becomes a writer. You know how it is. Your friends see you madly scribbling your ideas down on paper. They see you carrying around typed pages, crossing out words, circling things and drawing arrows here and there. They comment on how you disappear for weeks, sometimes months, to work on your manuscript. And, innocently, they ask, “What have you published?” And, “Can I read your book?”

They have no idea why these questions are so deeply frustrating. Or how a person can write for months, for years, and have nothing to show for it. Nothing that counts on their terms: A trip to the bookstore to find a beautiful hardcover book on one of those front tables.

It baffles them how you can write so slowly. How the things you’ve published are so hard to find. How you are never, or hardly ever, paid for your work. How, after not being paid for twenty years, you continue to call yourself a writer. And yet, that’s what you are. And you know the big break will come soon. It must. Because you’re good. Because you have things to say. Because you know your writing is better than the books on the bestseller list, or it will be after this next revision.

So what do you do while you hope someone falls in love with your work? What do you do while you hope for that career break?

If you’re an impatient type, you do this: You move forward. You put your finished manuscript in play, and then you get to work on the next one. And you try to make this new thing the best you’ve ever written. You move forward because a writer doesn’t wait; a writer writes.

It was late July.

The summer mangoes had dropped from the trees and were lying rotting on the ground, ripped open by feasting bugs and birds.  Their intoxicating sweet smell mixed with the heaviness of the night blooming jasmine.  This languid perfume created a thick, rarefied atmosphere that at times made breathing difficult.  In Miami, nature is often a mix of colorful abundance and dark decay.

This evening, I was walking home from a friend’s birthday party.  We had listened to the new Rolling Stones’s album, Aftermath, then turned off the lights and pretended to make out with the nearest girl.  Some party.  But then again, this was 1966 and I was only fourteen.

It was long after eleven.  I should have been home hours ago but was having too much fun to leave the party.  As I approached my father’s house, I realized that I had forgotten my keys.  The porch lights were on, my father’s car was parked out front but the house was completely dark.  He must have gone to bed early.

Not wanting to startle him, I knocked somewhat timidly.  A tornado of mosquitoes brought on by the summer rains swarmed around my head.

I knocked again, this time louder.   “Pop, it’s me, open up.”   No response.  Not hearing any movement from inside, I became concerned that something was wrong. I decided to walk back to my friend’s house to use his phone to call my father. As I turned to leave, I heard the front door’s deadbolt click open.  Relieved, I spin around ready to greet my father and apologize for coming home so late.

As I stood there, the front door remained closed.  I was wondering if the sound I had heard was just a very loud cricket or a buffo toad looking for a mate.  Then, ever so slowly, like in some black and white horror movie, the door began to creak open.  From the shadows emerged a tall man with grayish skin.  I had never seen this guy before; he had the stature and demeanor of Lurch.  Without any introduction, he looked at me with a cool stare and said in a flat robot-like voice, “We are currently in communication with the master souls of the eleventh plane.  Your father is deep in trance and cannot be disturbed.”

Lurch began to back away and close the door.  He then paused and asked, “Why did you even bother to knock?  After all, you are your father’s son.  Haven’t you learned to walk through walls yet?”