Archive for January, 2012

Ten Everywhere: Sarah Rose Etter and Tongue Party


In ten words (no more, no less), describe Tongue Party.

SRE: A crazy chapbook I wrote published by the fantastic Caketrain.

So, where did you find the cover art embroidered girdle?

SRE: Caketrain found it and sent it to me. My first thought was “What the hell is this?”

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I became obsessed with that tongue girdle, I couldn’t get the shape and texture of it out of my head for days. I remember pulling my phone out while I was driving so I could keep staring at it. And that’s when I realized exactly how genius Caketrain really is – they found something so new, something I’d never even dreamed existed, and turned it into something I couldn’t stop thinking about.

I love dedications to mothers, fathers, brothers … but Dan Driscoll, the Nantucket photographer?

SRE: Dan Driscoll is not just a Nantucket photographer!

Dan Driscoll is a professor I freaked out on at Rosemont while I was in grad school. He handed out an Amy Bloom story once that pissed me off for some reason and I spent half of a class period screaming at him about it, then stormed out of the classroom. He didn’t fail me after that Amy Bloom meltdown, and went on to become my thesis advisor while I was working on Tongue Party. He’ll deny it and say Tongue Party was all me, but he really understood what I was trying to do with those stories from the beginning and his feedback was incredible. We’re still good friends and I still scream at him often. But he is not a photographer from Nantucket. 

(Koala Tide) – What happened on the fourth day?

SRE: Probably a lot of koalas rotting, their flesh being pecked at by various sea birds.

(Cake) – Have you ever enjoyed cake, by yourself, birthday and a glass of milk?

SRE: I’m not sure I’ve ever just eaten cake solo. I don’t think I have. It’s always been at a birthday party, wedding or funeral. Cake is a pretty social thing, now that I think about it. We all have an excuse to stuff ourselves with sugar and frosting so let’s do that together to celebrate or mourn. Maybe we are marking the passing of time and acknowledging our own mortality with desserts. Maybe there’s a giant cake clock ticking somewhere, a giant, delicious, sad cake clock.

Why the distinction of two separate sections of the book?

SRE: The two sections were just a gut decision, which I know nobody wants to hear. I should say, “Oh, the stories are split like that to show Cassie’s growth as a character.” But that wasn’t my thought process. I just split it into two parts because I wanted the collection to be balanced and never thought of doing it any other way.

What is the best and worst thing about sacrifice?

SRE: I don’t even know how to open up this can of worms. There are so many varieties of sacrifice, it’s hard to even know where to start about what’s best and worst.

(Husband Feeder) – How about a list of things you would never eat?

SRE: Pickles. I hate pickles more than anything on this planet. Anything food involving pickles or pickling or being pickled repulses me. God, pickled beets. Don’t even make me think about pickled beets. I’m dry heaving. I officially hate this interview now.

I see you have a Special Thanks going to The Philadelphia Flyers. True or False: Briere is the man! (He used to be the Sabres captain).

SRE: True. Briere is great, although I almost sobbed when he missed that penalty shot during the Winter Classic. He’s always a lot of fun to watch in the playoffs. So thanks for that, Buffalo!

Take a look through your iTunes – what song best represents this book?

SRE: Probably “Secret Admirer” by Pissed Jeans. I’ve always loved “Secret Admirer” because the lyrics create such an awesome juxtaposition. The concept of being both a nice guy and a stalker is really appealing, unnerving and effective. I think there are similar juxtapositions in the book, odd pairings that hopefully evoke an emotional reaction. Also, I don’t know if any other song I’ve heard opens as strongly as that one – once you hear Matt Korvette start that howl, you can’t really get it out of your head. There’s a terrible desperation in that song and in his voice, but also a softness, a kindness. There’s something terribly romantic to me about that song. 

What is your favorite line in this book and why?

SRE: Ah, I’m not good at questions like this. I don’t sit around too much thinking about good lines I’ve written. It’s sort of like in hockey when they say you shouldn’t stand around admiring your own pass because that’s when someone is going to slam you into the boards.

In ten words (no more, no less), describe your next project?

SRE: In progress. In progress. In progress. In progress. In progress.


Sarah Rose Etter, Tongue Party, Caketrain
bl pawelek, Ten Everywhere

I Remember & Shane Allison


First things first, I Remember (recently released from Future Tense Books) is built upon a static structure – each segment preceded by ‘I remember’ – creating a vibrant and consistent rhythm throughout the book. Yannick Murphy, our last interviewee here on Monkeybicycle, recently released a novel The Call which is also built upon a rhythmic structure where each section of the book responds to a particular ‘call’. And though we learn from the jacket copy that I Remember was inspired by Joe Brainard’s I Remember, what else drew you to this kind of overall approach to a full-length title, what brought you to force yourself into this Oulipo kind of move?

SA: Well, I didn’t know Joe Brainard ever existed before I took a poetry workshop with David Trinidad back when I was a student at the New School. He was the one who introduced me to Brainard’s I Remember. I really have to thank him for that because I don’t think my book would be out there now without learning of Brainard and how he influenced New York School poets. When I opened the first page of I Remember that did it for me. I fell in love with the book, the form, and his ability to take the genre of memoir and turn it on its ear. So when I got the class assignment to write out my own memories, I jumped at the opportunity. What was only supposed to be a page or two, turned out to be 60 pages of my own thoughts and memories. The process is and continues to be very therapeutic for me. I don’t think I will ever stop doing this. I wouldn’t say that I’m obsessed with I Remembers. I find myself giving it a break, but always coming back to it, each time bigger than before.

MB: I Remember also plays very heavily on pop culture references of the 70’s and 80’s, and so as I laughed at mentions of Pop Rocks and The Jetsons and Bugle Boy jeans, I wondered how this book might be received by someone who was born much earlier, or much later – what will those readers find in this book? Also, say, in 25 years, or 50 even, how do you think the cultural relevance of I Remember will have shifted, and how might it be received and/or read?

SA: When I initially read Brainard’s book, I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to identify with some of his memories being that much of it was before I was ever a thought, but that’s what’s so great too. His book, as well as mine, acts as a history lesson in popular culture. What you can’t identify with, you can respect and find yourself saying, “Oh wow, I remember that happening, or ‘I can’t believe he went through that and lived to tell about it here.” I hope to do the same thing with my book. It’s not just a book in which the readers read about short moments that happened to me, but something where you have bouts of nostalgia. As I continue to write up more of these, I find that one memory triggers another and another and so on. Something as simple as a flower can trigger memories you thought were long buried in your mind.

MB: Another aspect of I Remember that constantly caught my attention was how many specific names and situations from your own personal narrative you divulge. Are these at all changed to ‘protect the innocent’ as they say, or are they rendered exactly as you remember them? And, in terms of this kind of very personal writing, was there any worry, prior to the book’s publication, about upsetting people who are also a part of these remembrances?

SA: In regards to the people I mention, I tried to stay on a first name basis, but many of these people  that I know or have known are friends of mine, so they get what I’m doing and understand that they impacted my life largely.

MB: I was really curious as well about how the book was composed both during the writing process as well as the editing rounds and final ordering with Kevin Sampsell and Bryan Coffelt at Future Tense. First, can you talk with us a little about how you wrote the book – how many of these remembrances were written per day, how much editing was done on each, how much did you restructure or reshape each segment as you wrote?

SA: Well, I had already had 60 pages of material and gradually worked on the manuscript as months and years went on, collecting it all in notebooks and journals and sometimes finding myself remembering things when I wasn’t always at my desk so I would jot things down on napkins, even my hand at times. Kevin was instrumental in making sure that the book was as tight as possible with the best lines. He wanted me to talk more about those that weren’t so quite clear and that forced me to delve deeper into a particular memory. I’m learning to do that with the new material. We both went through a few edits of the book to get it where we both wanted. As for the cover: I really did have this image of me being very young. I thought it would suit the theme perfectly and Bryan turned my idea into reality, which I love.

MB: And in this same vein, when it came time to editing, how did the manuscript re-shape or evolve as you worked towards publication, or is the final ordering and layout of I Remember ordered and structured as you wrote it? For instance, there are several repeats of certain remembrances in the book, and I wondered if this happened during the writing or the editing or both, and what kind of importance those moments then play in the overall narrative thread?

SA: As a writer, I don’t think the editing process ever stops. I think it’s always this ongoing process. There’s nothing in the book that I wish I had have left out. With something like this, I had to decide early on how honest I wanted to be and what I wanted to put out there. You either go big or go home. I wasn’t interested in sugar-coating anything. There are some lines like the more erotic memories that I kind of both cringe and laugh at, but I’m glad I put them in the book. With this it’s all about the good, the bad, the ugly and the embarrassing in one book. I can’t be afraid of being judged. At the end of the day none of that shit matters. Other than the deletion of a few memories, the book was published in the same way I recorded my memories. I wrote what came to me. Memories don’t get filed away in one’s mind alphabetically.

MB: If readers dig I Remember (which they will) and they want to read more from you (which they should) which of your books would you direct them to next, and why?

SA: I have a poetry collection that came out last year called Slut Machine from Rebel Satori Press. It’s a book that had been a longtime coming and I am just as proud of it as I am of I Remember, so check it out as well as the plethora of poems I have online. I also write short stories and edit erotica for Cleis Press, which I quite enjoy, but I’m the type who always tries to move the line. I am gradually moving into novel writing. I am at work on a YA novel as well as a new collection and I’m moving into the next chapter of ‘I Remember’ material for a new book perhaps.

MB: And if readers of this interview haven’t bought themselves a copy of I Remember yet, what do you think their problem is?

SA: I don’t know too many people out here that don’t like me. J Even if you don’t, check out this book anyway. It’s the only book you will ever need if you’re thinking of blackmailing me.

Purchase a copy of I Remember here.

The Call & Yannick Murphy

Seriously, how do I get so lucky? After having read and loved all that was Yannick Murphy’s latest novel The Call, I get the chance to ask her some questions about this new book & her writing process!

MB: One of the most talked about aspects of your latest novel The Call is its structure, written as a constant barrage of specific call and response, each bit of writing and narrative introduced with its antecedent, for example “What the kids said the next evening” or “What the doctor, my doctor, wore when I went for my exam” or “Who holds my pager while I’m swimming in case there is an animal emergency” Can you talk with us a bit about how you decided to start using this structure and what it was like to write under this kind of controlled arrangement?

YM:  Writing in a controlled arrangement actually liberates some writers much more than if they were able to write free form.  A controlled arrangement immediately sets up a tension, which adds to the entire headlong direction of the story.  The tension is that is revealed is that the writer is always having to struggle with transforming the arrangement so that it’s dynamic at every turn.  The form is always rebuking the writer and making the writer’s job difficult, so it’s up to the writer to try and create the illusion that the story is breaking free of the form without actually breaking the form.  That’s the fun part!

MB: The Call also plays heavily on the emotional impact of life-changing events – a severe injury, a coma, new found family relations, medical uncertainty – is this a planned trajectory of the novel, established before you began writing, or is this focus on emotional intensity more like a thematic pull that only appears so vibrant after you put the book to rest?

YM: Planning novels is difficult, you have to commit yourself to a trajectory, and then you have to be open to taking the risk of swerving away from that trajectory because sometimes literary occasions arise that are too good not to put on the page.  I don’t think I consciously plan novels, but I do think a part of me sometimes looks pages ahead, other times I’m only looking back and trying to find my next sentence in the sentences that came before it.

MB: Another aspect of The Call is a reliance on unresolved elements. For instance, David, the veterinarian narrator, is regularly told to pay attention to “his levels” either via his wife Jen or his doctor or his own slender worry about wellness and longevity, but the reasons for these levels and all the concern is never made explicit. Can you talk to us about why you chose not to divulge many details about this medical aspect, and also perhaps what you hope that does to readers?

YM:  The more an object or element isn’t named, the closer it feels to the reader, and makes the reader’s reading experience unique.  In real life, if something is of importance to us, we don’t name it right away either.  We first know its nature, and the feeling it invokes within us.

MB: But to dispel one mystery for us, your biography says that you live in Vermont with your veterinarian husband and your children, so of course one can’t help but link that to The Call, the veterinarian husband and the children and the maple trees tapped just as we can assume they are in Vermont – so just how much of The Call is your own life rendered into fiction?

YM: All writers borrow from their real lives, especially when some of their real lives happen to coincide or intertwine with the lives of interesting characters.  It’s not always necessary to make everything up, not when such good stuff is right in front of you.  The work is training your ear and recognizing what to include and what not to include from the real world.

MB: And for fans of your other novels – Sea of Trees, Here They Come, and Signed, Mata Hari – can you talk with us a little about the differences and similarities between The Call and those previous books? Where do they meet, where do they diverge, and what kind of progression is The Call in your novel writing experience?

YM: All the novels try and push the envelope a little by using structures that take a few pages of getting used to, but once you’ve read the first few pages, you are immersed very quickly into the mind of the storyteller.  It’s as if the writing in the books is trying to engage the reader in a new language, but the comprehension of that language takes very little effort, and the rest of the reading is as easy as riding a bike, but unlike any other bike you’ve ridden before.  The novels are all similar because they are all written in the first person. (Except for Signed, Mata Hari, which is written from multiple points of view including first person.)  The novels are also all different because the stance from which they are written varies.  Here They Come, for example, is written from a very close stance, you are privy to some immediate thoughts that the girl character has about her ordeal growing up.  In Signed, Mata Hari, the stance is at times a little farther back, and there are more instances where you can tell that Mata Hari has filtered her thoughts on a subject or an experience relating to the events that led to her incarceration.  In The Call David Appleton the veterinarian is also divulging thoughts that seem to randomly pop into his head, and draw the reader in close to his psyche.  However, the effect of these ruminations appearing in an arrangement format like the call log, also work to formulate a kind of distance from the character’s thoughts.  This distance almost creates the illusion of the book being written in third person, giving the reader a more objective perspective on David’s life than a true first person narrative.

MB: Lastly, for people who have not read The Call and need a tiny shove to get them purchasing this novel from their respective booksellers, what would you say to make the case for picking up a copy of The Call?

YM: It’s short!

Purchase a copy of The Call here & read more from / about Yannick Murphy here.