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We ran wild at night, effortless, boundless, under a blood-red sky—to where and to what we couldn’t have known. We craved it, that someplace. We were two little girls, sisters, daughters with no mother, distrustful of the freedom we were given, knowing she shouldn’t have left. We tore across dirt campgrounds where we slept, naked but for our mud boots, letting the wind shiver up across our bare chests. We stole bags of chips from the canteen on the pier. Our feet pounded the crushed oyster shells in seaside motel parking lots when we’d search for drinking water, and we let calluses thicken up our soles to withstand the hot desert sand, or dash over a highway of broken glass, wherever we’d been dropped. We scampered across the foggy cliffs that separated Pacific Coast Highway from the ocean in old ballet slippers, as nimble as two fairies, our long red hair whipping into tangles in the wind. We bumped up against the night, without stopping. We stole wrinkled leather sneakers that were two sizes too big, and wore them until they fit. We raced in the sand, fought in the dusk. We knew we were not invisible. We tightened belts around our stomachs at night and bicycled unlit sidewalks and sometimes tucked up our knees and steered with no hands through the darkness. No one hit us. We believed we were unstoppable. We slept under sleeping bags, beneath trees, and pushed our backs against cliffs, our noses cold.

We waited for our mother to come back.

Tell us. Are you a robot?

No.

 

Can you prove this?

Yes.

There are three things that robots cannot do,” wrote Maxon. Then beneath that on the page he wrote three dots, indented. Beside the first dot he wrote “Show preference without reason (LOVE)” and then “Doubt rational decisions (REGRET)” and finally “Trust data from a previously unreliable source (FORGIVE).”

Love, regret, forgive. He underscored each word with three dark lines and tapped his pen on each eyebrow three times. He hadn’t noticed that his mouth was sagging open. He was not quite thirty, the youngest astronaut at NASA by a mile.

I do what robots can’t do, he thought. But why do I do these things?

What do you eat for breakfast?

Steel cut oats, dried black cherries, nonfat yogurt, flax, and maple syrup.  Two double-espressos with steamy hazelnut milk.  Best breakfast I know of.

 

Agreed.  So…about the new novel.  You know the question I’m going to ask.

True.  But go ahead.

1

CHINOOK

 

He was on lunch duty when it happened, jacketless because of the Chinook wind and composing in his head a line or two about the color of the sky reflected in the wet school-yard pavement, the ice-rimmed, quickly vanishing puddles, clouds whipping past upside down . . . sun oil water. If he had a minute before class, he’d jot some notes to remind himself, and tonight or tomorrow, the weekend maybe, craft the lines. Meanwhile, these gusting, transitory moments of pleasure verging on epiphany, ears full of word sounds not quite articulable. He told himself he was lucky: The reward was having such feelings at all, being a man attuned to his surroundings enough to experience the old spine tingle beholding a thing of beauty, not in mining his particular sensitivities for a poem. In the midst of this, something else, too—a push, a seismic shift in the surrounding school-yard energy that put him on the alert, making him momentarily more enthralled by the windblown colors and reflections as he tore his attention from them back to the here and now—and then it was in their voices, too, and he knew, because he’d been in the job long enough to recognize all the signs. There was a fight. He would now be called upon to do something. Act. These were old-enough kids, grades nine and ten, no one would come running for him; no more grade-school, middle-school tattletales (“Fight! Fight! Mr. Franklin—quick!”), those simpler, earlier years of his teaching career long gone, like so many other things. They’d flock around, these kids, oversize strangers, cheering maybe or just silently longing for more, for torture, each one thankful it wasn’t him in there getting pummeled, but no one would stop it.

How many babies do you have? Which one is better?

I have one baby.

 

What is the best year?

1992.

 

Of all the Dragonlance novels, what is the best Dragonlance novel?

Some may find it unconventional to ignore the foundational Weis and Hickman trilogies, but there is something distinctive about the Elven Nations

Some Frozen Night

Madison, Wisconsin

 

He’s been drinking with this guy for a long time.

It’s good.

It was a rough day and this just sort of happened. The guy sat down and ordered a bourbon, neat, and after ten minutes of silence, the two of them saying nothing and drinking their drinks, looking up at the TV, they started to chat. First about the basketball game, then about campus, then about classes, then about the cold. Then women.

AND THE NIGHT AFTER THAT.

On Tuesday night, around five p.m., the two of them—Odile and Jack—are in the break room just before their shift starts. And they are staring at each other suspiciously, Odile peering from behind a diet soda pop can, eating a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off. And Jack begins to talk first, asking, “So, are you working tonight?”

“Duh,” she says, smiling, with a mouth full of bread.

“I guess so,” he says.

Before I came to stay at the Manse I lived in an old townhouse on the north side of Washington Square, where my cousin Max and I rented rooms from a middle-aged German man named Gerhard Gottlieb, the uncle of one of Max’s old flames. I was never entirely sure what business Gerhard was in, but he was usually out of the country, and he gave us the run of the place in his absence, provided we walk his dog, a purebred boxer named Ginger, and feed the tropical fish in his enormous Victorian aquarium. Max and I were the only ones paying rent, but there were often two or three others staying on the vacant floor above us. We were all “in the arts,” as we liked to say with intense but undirected irony, which is what left us free to take Ginger out during the day and to spend our nights entertaining ourselves in that old house, drinking bourbon and smoking those thin, elegant joints that we all rolled so easily.

Sister Stop Breathing

What can you do if you want your sister to stop breathing?

Ice her up and drive north. Head to Santa Cruz. There you will find a main street called

Main Street. You can showcase her to people. Go to the Kinko’s parking lot and introduce her. Say, “I bet you didn’t know I had a sister! This is she. She’s made of ice.” The kids will want to touch her arm, and the sister will move in tiny waves. Once you have asserted that the sister exists and she is made of ice, breathe down her frozen face. The sister will begin to melt. The children will scream.

There is no class Priscilla enjoys less than English Comp. She has never understood why anyone should be required to take a lesson in the language they already speak totally fine. She doesn’t want to be a writer, can’t imagine any job she’d want to have where she’d have to either write or do math, the two least fun things she can think of. So, as the professor is going on about something, thesis statements or effective organization, or some other boring-ass shit, she’s zeroing in on only enough of the example on the board to start scribbling notes for a paper about her relationship with Brody Jenner.

I first met Ross Angelella (I just can’t call him by his official author name – J.R. Angelella – because, well, I’ve never called him J.R. and I don’t know anyone else who has, either, but he has good reasons to be called J.R. on his books, reasons which are not revealed in the interview below, but which exist somewhere on the internet and I trust that if you search long enough, you’ll find the story and you will be justifiably moved) in 2007. I’d made the fateful decision to attend Bennington for graduate school and Ross was assigned to be my student mentor. That he was ten years younger than me and was just starting out and I was heading towards the middle of my career and was already running an MFA program seemed a little weird to me (I’d Googled the hell out him, too, so I’d read his LiveJournal and was, well, somewhat concerned that he was a serial killer, but that’s another issue all together). His job was simple: to prepare me for the harsh world of low residency graduate education…which, in this case, consisted of him calling me one evening and telling me to buy one of those foam mattress tops if I wanted to be able to sleep on the prison beds Bennington uses in their dorm rooms. That seemed like an extremely solid and learned piece of advice, so from there we went on to talk about a series of mundane things for about an hour. There were lots of giggles. I think I may have rolled out the word “fucktard” early on, just to make sure he wasn’t one of those people easily offended by my common vernacular. He showed no ill effects, so we pressed on. And we’ve kept pressing on for five years.

You’ve just returned from Bolivia. What were you doing there?

Besides drinking coca tea, eating llama meat, and dancing fitted out with a cap that had a penis sticking out of my head? I was collaborating with a wonderful nonprofit in Cochabamba, Educar es fiesta, that believes training in the arts prepares young people for life. They work with kids in difficult circumstances and families in crisis.  For a lot of these kids, like many of the young people I’ve worked with in Los Angeles, school is a site of frustration, failure, and disrespect, so we did our writing workshops with kids sprawled out on the floor of a circus tent.

1.

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a white woman who likes black men. I like the stories black men tell and the way they talk and the way they look at me, this way they have of being sure and tentative all at once, and yes, oh yes, I’m not gonna hide it, the hard sweet way they ball. Still, I don’t like having that reputation, white folks–not to mention the sistahs–all thinking I’m just after black cock. So let’s be straight: at the time I’m talking about, the only black cock I was on intimate terms with was attached to Samps, and I wasn’t after Samps, we just…well, OK, we fucked, we fucked a lot, but I want you to know the guy was homeless, penniless, quite likely clinically insane. Believe me, I didn’t have my hands on anything you would want.

Tell me about the painting that was the germ for this novel.

I’d organized a tour as part of a teacher’s conference at the Hunter Museum of American Art on how to use art in writing assignments. We were shown several paintings and then told to choose one as a writing prompt. I was drawn to a painting called Confrontation by Hughie Lee-Smith, which showed two girls not looking at each other on a surreal and crumbling beach front (on loan from the Smithsonian American Museum of Art). The painting expressed alienation and disconnection, and hinted at a destructive past. I asked myself, who are these girls and what has happened that makes so disconnected? Almost immediately, I decided the girls were sisters, but one was adopted, Korean. The novel took off from there.