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Nicole-Rollender-The-TNB-Self-Interview

Who are you? And also, why do you write? Actually, why don’t you just write me a poem right now?

Poetry is: an artifact of the shining me, the radiant, the torn: the execution of that self: the contending with who do I think I am to live so freely here: walking this riverbed: kneeling in dirt: putting my lips to cemetery stone: loving the glow of metacarpal bones under me, in my stumbling: decay: in my children: their spines: their flows: their jaws: my God, where are you blinking?: because I am among the abandoned: scattered: fragmented: a broken word: do you know what I mean by broken?: because even swallowing: even: broken: witness: heard: any song: any move into slow: the dead hold out their palms: I approach as lamb: for food: for daisies: for slaughter: for an end to thirst: for white blooms on my tongue: for being in a body: disembodied: embodied: an embodied spirit: the intersection: revenant against my teeth: a rosary for sorrow: a litany to see the dead in mirrors: joy in finger bones: if I lay me down: if I lay me down: because I have wished for death: but now I would go fighting: the poem is: my voice: my clawing for light: my internal song/scream/cry: it’s the part of me that will endure: here: can I believe that there is a skyward: that my bones float in it: unsheltered: here.

Why do I write poetry? It’s the part of me that will endure: here.

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This is an incredibly depressing book. The Mercy of the Tide, huh? Should be called The Mercilessness of the… Pages. Or something. Jesus! It’s unrelenting, the bummers.

Great. Thanks. Great way to start an interview. And let the record show that I don’t entirely agree. It’s a downer at times, sure, but I think there are bright spots. And I don’t think it was an arbitrary decision the writer made. Like, “Ah, I’m just gonna make an unrelenting crapshow of four people’s lives for three hundred pages. Just for the hell of it.” It’s about story, you know?

 

Right, but you know what I mean. You seem pretty upbeat in real life, you know? Jolly enough dude.

But you and I know the torpor that lurks beneath, don’t we?

anneraeffcredit-dennishearneYour work is very tied to history and to the effects of cataclysmic, violent events on individual lives. Can you talk a little bit about the role of history in your fiction and fiction in general?

We are all shaped by the past, by our individual experiences and by the combined experience of all human beings. That is what history is. In Spanish the word for “history” and “story” are the same, which makes sense to me. I think I am especially conscious of “history” as “story” and “story” as “history” because of the history/story of my family and also because my father was a historian, so I grew up learning a lot of what we call “history” while at the same time I was learning my parents’ and grandparents’ “stories,” especially those that intersected so dramatically with the Holocaust, war and revolution, all of which are considered part of “history.” For me they were part of the same narrative. What I try to do in my fiction is what all fiction tries to do—evoke the connection between individual lives and the narrative of humanity.

Natashia_DeonHey, Natashia Deón!

Hey, gurl!

 

Do you mind if I ask you questions that you’ve been asked recently? Can I start with what that silly lady asked in the Take-Out line?

I have nothing else to say about that lady. I’m happy now. I have snacks.

 

What are you eating?

Chicken tamales. And this is Tapatio sauce.

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Answers to Interview Questions about The Unfinished World,

Taken from Yelp Reviews of Famous Museums around the World

 

Why should people read your book?

“It’s pretty interesting and is not a long-winded affair…Many people enjoy lunch here and it’s open to the public. Truly amazing and massive collection of mammals, historic artifacts, dinosaurs, etc… Dedicated to both ecclesiastical and secular topics.”

 

How long did it take you to write the book?

“After I got my ticket, I didn’t waste much time, started to explore. I could have spent weeks here. But I got it done in a day, though we rushed through a lot of it.”

Jessica Chiarella_Photo Credit Shane CollinsSo, from the description, your book is about a group of people who get new bodies in order to cure terminal illnesses…

Yes, they’re in a pilot program called SUBlife that transfers their memories into cloned versions of their old bodies. They wake up with a body that’s theirs, it just doesn’t have any of the environmental damage their old bodies had. No scars, no wrinkles, no tattoos, none of the little traits that they’re used to in their daily lives. And the impact of that loss turns out to be rather severe.

 

You mean, this turns out not to be a good thing?

It’s a very good thing, because it does save their lives. Everything works the way it’s supposed to, medically speaking. They’re completely cured. Except the emotional impact of losing so much of their physical identities begins to weigh on the members of the pilot program when they try to renter their old lives. So it’s not the miracle that it seems to be.

Charles Lambert 01_21a Patrizia CasamirraI’ve heard you say that, unlike Socrates, you prefer the unexamined life. So how does this feel?

Opportunistic. Uncomfortable. But I’ll do my best. Just don’t get too personal.

 

Hmm. Aren’t you a little old to be publishing a debut novel?

I thought you were supposed to be on my side. Do we really need to be talking about this? In any case, it isn’t really a debut, just a US debut. I’ve published three novels, short stories and a quirky memoir in that small island over to the right of the United States. You know, the one with the Queen and all those green and rolling hills.

 

Is that where your novel is set?

Next question.

Carly Hallman1Let’s get down to it. What made you decide to publish your first novel, Year of the Goose, at age 28? Why not 30? Everyone knows that no one knows anything until at least age 30. On the other hand, why not 13? You could’ve been a child prodigy. You could’ve appeared on 60 Minutes.

What can I say? Mistakes were made.

 

Speaking of mistakes, it’s a well-known fact that many individuals nurse hobbies and interests such as playing tennis, folding origami, and crafting old-fashioned toys such as whirligigs, pinwheels, and kites. Why not pursue one such hobby or interest? In other words, why spend years of your life bumbling along in Beijing and writing a very weird book about ridiculously wealthy Chinese folks?

I don’t like to talk about it, but there was once an unfortunate incident involving a pottery wheel and a stubborn would-be vase that absolutely refused to take shape. Suffice it to say, I tried hobbies. Hobbies didn’t work.

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.

unnamedWhat or Who is Lum? Why is Lum the title of your book?

Lum is the name of the main character, short for Columbia. She tried to get rid of her childhood nickname and have people call her Columbia, but it didn’t stick. She is a thirty-three-year-old intersex woman living in Depression era Virginia. I tried to come up with other titles, but Lum sounded right.

 

Intersex? Is that like Trans?

No, “intersex” is an umbrella term for many conditions where a person’s genitals are not consistent with what is considered normal for males or females.

 

So she’s a hermaphrodite?

Intersex is the preferred term. Hermaphrodite indicates that someone has all the parts of both genders, which just isn’t the case. I picked a syndrome that Lum has, congenital andrenal hyperplasia (CAH), and then used the manifestations of that condition in her story.

unnamedColin Fleming’s fiction appears in Boulevard, AGNI, the VQR, Post Road, and Cincinnati Review, with nonfiction running with Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Boston Magazine. He’s a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition, and is completing three books at present: Same Band You’ve Never Known: An Alternate Musical History of the Beatles, a novel about a reluctant piano prodigy called The Freeze Tag Sessions, and Musings with Franklin, a novel told entirely in conversation between Writer, Bartender, and the guy from the suburbs who dresses up as Ben Franklin.

 

So: how do you feel about me writing while you’re asleep?

How do you feel about me walking seventy miles every week and bringing you along? And this is how you want to handle the pronoun thing?

Photo_ Shane Hinton_credit Keir MagoulasThere are a lot of fictional Shane Hintons in your book.

Like you, for one.

 

Exactly. What’s that about?

Well, I think it’s important to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. We feel betrayed when we find out something that has been sold to us as “real” is actually some combination of fact and fiction. I want to play with that distrust.

 

You’re saying the stuff in this book didn’t actually happen?

Some of it happened. Some of it didn’t. If the reader ever starts to wonder what’s real and what’s not, I think that’s a pretty special area of possibility.

Ann Packer by Elena SeibertYour new novel, The Children’s Crusade, is about the life of a California family over the course of five decades. The parents are mismatched, and the novel traces the effect of their troubled marriage on their four children. The mother has a certain amount of antipathy toward the youngest, and the book focuses to a large degree on that. Kind of depressing, no? What made you want to write such a novel?

Michael DowningGiotto?

Giotto di Bondone. Greatest painter in the history of the world.

 

Says who?

For starters, Dante.

 

What about Michelangelo?

He thought so, too. The very first drawings we have by Michelangelo are copies of figures from Giotto’s frescoes.

hallebutlerThere are a lot of conversations in this book. What’s your worst conversational habit?

I don’t like to talk about myself or what I’m doing because I find it embarrassing (or I’m afraid it will be embarrassing), and then I get annoyed when the person I’m talking to is going on and on about themselves, like I wish they were as embarrassed as I am, or like it’s impolite to not be embarrassed. But then I keep asking them questions about themselves, so what are they supposed to do?