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d11112b022aIs Everyone Loves You Back really your first novel, or do you have five more hidden in your desk?

I wish I had five novels stashed in my desk. But no, this is really my first novel. I did start one back in the late 80s. I got about 50 pages in and showed it to a writing class. Big mistake. One of the other writers, an experienced editor, or so I thought at the time, told me I had no idea what I was doing, that my pacing was all wrong, more like a short story than a novel, and that I would run out of steam unless I made an outline and slowed things down. Now that I am recounting this, I wonder why I didn’t just make the outline and keep on going? But I didn’t. I put the book away and never finished it.

China_Final_2_BleedsOriginally published in 1937, And China Has Hands, the final published novel of literary gadfly and political radical H.T. Tsiang (author of The Hanging on Union Square), takes place in a 1930s New York defined as much by chance encounters as by economic inequalities and corruption. Tsiang shows us the world of 1930s New York through the eyes of Wan-Lee Wong, a newly arrived, nearly penniless, Chinese immigrant everyman who falls in love with Pearl Chang, a biracial Chinese and African American woman who wanders into his life.

And China Has Hands editor and Tsiang scholar Floyd Cheung writes in his Afterword: “H. T. Tsiang, like his characters, sometimes seems like a man living at the wrong historical moment. He wrote about the double-consciousness of the Asian-American experience before the category of Asian-American was invented. He depicted a half-Black, half-Chinese character before the rise of multiracial consciousness or mixed-race studies. He performed the role of a trickster critic during a time when audiences wanted a native informant. He railed against Chiang Kai-Shek at the very moment that Chiang was being named Time Magazine’s “person of the year.” In addition, he endured Chinese exclusion, the Great Depression, World War II, and the McCarthy era. In short, Tsiang sailed against the wind and tides during his time in the U.S.”

summer-she-was-under-water-front-only-for-screenSam’s parents leave early the next morning to float down to the marina and fill up the newly repaired motorboat with gas. From the screened porch Sam and Eve drink coffee after their breakfast and watch the older Pinskis take their positions on board. Sam’s father turns on the motor and fiddles with the choke, a cigarette limp and unlit in his mouth. Pat and Karl Pinski seem to operate from some unspoken code, one in which the past is never mentioned, one’s current desires are never articulated, and allusions to the future are always vague but predictable. The only reason Sam can think of as to why someone would want to live in a minefield after a war is that they’d know where all the remaining mines are buried.

Barrett, Igoni (Victor Ehikhamenor)Just like Sean Carswell’s self-interview, I, too, asked my wife, Femke van Zeijl, who is a journalist as well as being the only person who knows why I dread dreaming of toilet bowls, to ask me questions as if she didn’t already know the answers. And then I rewrote her transcription.

 

First of all: why aren’t you interviewing yourself?

Because I know what questions to ask myself that I find impossible to answer—the kind of questions we keep asking until the day we stumble off this mortal coil. And so, in my head, this self-interview had grown into an existential issue that would require an entire novel to answer. I consider the publicity-oriented parts of writing as disparate from the creative process. The public appearances, the press interviews, etcetera, are all part of the writer’s job, yes, but interviewing myself is too close to the creative process. Thus I figured I would turn to my in-house journalist, since she knows nearly everything there is to know about me. That’s the closest I could come to a self-interview. Besides, journalists enjoy meeting deadlines, while I almost unfailingly miss mine.

the-staked-plains-coverThen said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.

She was a bad psychic when she arrived in Querosa, New Mexico, not because she didn’t possess the powers, but she couldn’t control them. Her husband moved them to the small town to teach at the college and she didn’t have anything to persuade him not to. “We’ll make it fun,” he promised, and after thirty days on the High Plains, the Great Drought began. People seemed friendly.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh photo credit BeBe JacobsTesting, testing.

I think it’s on.

 

I love Vietnamese food. Just wanted to let you know.

I do too.

 

Deji Olukotun by Beowulf SheehanDeji: I’m not sure what the point of another interview is. What can you tell me that Google can’t?

Bryce: Slow down, there, Deji. You’re way too pushy.

Deji: It’s a Nigerian quality. We like to get things done.

Bryce: You’re half-Nigerian. Anyway, not all Nigerians are like that. Some of them do yoga.

Deji: They were probably disinherited from their families. So, about my question–answer it.

51bh+kb+KXL._SY346_Body-without-Soul

It was a suburban street, one block long, the houses made of brick and built to last like the third little pig’s. Sycamore trees had been planted at regular intervals along the curb and the curbs themselves sparkled; I think the concrete was mixed with mica in it. I think when it was new the street couldn’t help but draw attention to itself, inviting envy.

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (2)In Matt Bell’s debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (Soho Press), we are lured into familiar territory—the world of fables and tall tales, where our expectations of the surreal, the grotesque, and the magical are fulfilled in ever-expanding layers. But beyond the illusions, beyond the world building, darkness, and the unknown is an allegory—a harsh yet beautiful lesson on what it means to be a man, a father, and a husband; to be a woman, a mother, and a wife. Told in layers, fractured into sections, unfolding in a grand tapestry that weaves emotions and actions into a complex series of destinies and consequences, this novel is not an easy read. But the reward is dense prose, powerful psychoanalysis, and the unsettling feeling that our own actions today—many miles from the woods with its failing bear, and its lake with its undulating squid—might be bound by similar rules and outcomes.

9781451678284Before I died the first time, my husband left me broke and alone with our two tiny children and it made me feel very depressed, etc. It’s the same old story: He went to buy cigarettes and never came home. Really. Wouldn’t you think you’d want to pack a bag or two, leave a forwarding address? Couldn’t he have at least taken the dog? These were the things I wondered in the beginning. Not: was he having an affair, or: was he mixed up in something nefarious, but: I can’t believe he wouldn’t bring his datebook, his favorite loafers; I can’t believe he didn’t change the lightbulb in the hallway before deserting us. He knew I couldn’t reach that lightbulb. The whole thing was unlike him. Then again, I was the one who died, which was unlike me, too.

Svoboda_Terese_cWhy the title Tin God?

According to my esteemed Dictionary.com,  a tin god is someone, esp. a minor official, who is pompous and self-important. I’m referring to my fallen conquistador who perhaps was once pompous and self-important but as soon as he is relegated to the journey into the unknown, he’s in trouble. He has to gouge a dead comrade out of his armor and steal his tin hat in order to protect himself. His deterioration is a paean to “A Distant Episode,” Paul Bowles’ perfect story about the fall of an academic in Morocco, although maybe all stories about the disoriented in exotic climes derive from Bowles or maybe Dante’s Inferno, or even Rabelais whose narrator resides inside Pantagruel’s mouth for six months and discovers an entire nation living around his teeth.

tin-god-cover_0All over the Middle West you find people who know I’m here. Why, there was this woman in Minnesota—you saw her in the grocery-line-kind-of-paper—who found God in her dishwasher, on a scratched plastic Goofy cup. But there are others who know there’s something going on and so are forever talking aliens. Aliens, and I don’t mean just the unregistered citizen-slaves who trim trees and pick fruit, they talk about people of real color, purple, for example, with weeds attached to the person’s undersides or insect parts where their mouths should be. Sometimes that same newspaper puts them on the front page with a star’s parts. And there are also those who know there’s something going on but they can’t quite put their finger to it. What they end up fingering usually isn’t god, in general, the human mind always running to evil like it does. Remember the girl who last year offered her firstborn to the rising river?  I was behind her, in my pickup.

The_Mothers_Jennifer_GilmoreWe were headed for the Verrazano Bridge, caught in traffic. It was several weeks before Thanksgiving, which I remember because there was a massive billboard hanging from a crumbling brick building off the highway in Sunset Park. It depicted an enormous cartoon turkey standing, feathers unfurled, on a dining room table, a family of six seated around it.

Though we were well into fall, the heat and gas from the cars rose up in waves; looking out it could have been a summer day, except for the trees lining the blocks off the highway, their branches reaching up, sky slipping through brittle claws. Ramon’s hands were tight on the steering wheel. And Harriet, sweet Harriet, sat behind me, panting in my ear.

“Honey.” I reached back to calm her. “Settle down, darling.”

wolitzerMegThere’s an appealing sureness to Meg Wolitzer when she speaks.  Her answers to questions are considered; she’s thought deeply about being a writer, a reader and the place of art in her life as well as in the “cultural conversation.”

Meg’s new book, The Interestings, is her ninth novel.  It’s a bigger book than her previous ones – longer, deeper, taking place over a greater span of contemporary history – about a group of friends who meet at the age of 15 at a summer camp for the arts in the Berkshires and what happens to them and their relationships over time.

201303-orig-botw-goodman-284xfallThursday Night – John

Kidnap was not the right word. John had simply meant to take Clara to breakfast at the corner diner, where they had good poached eggs and were especially kind to babies. But in the end he couldn’t explain the inexorable pull, the electric thrum that made him rise from the bed, strangely untethered, and begin to shave with scalding water, or the innocence of his motive — he just wanted to be with her. He couldn’t describe the indefinite urgency that had propelled him. Yes, he took the baby with him, but she was his daughter.