Archive for March, 2012
Posted By jatyler / 26th March 2012
In 2009, Publishing Genius Press released Justin Sirois’s MKLNG SCKLS, a collection of short faux works deleted from the larger body of an unpublished novel, Falcons on the Floor. MLKNG SCKLS was beautiful and intriguing, it bloomed in front of readers, and luckily, Adam Robinson saw fit to release the full-length novel Falcons on the Floor in 2012. Luckier still, Justin Sirois is a badass of kindness and so agreed to talk with us about this novel, the fattest ever released from Publishing Genius Press.
MB: Let’s start by talking about the transition between MLKNG SCKLS and Falcons on the Floor. You’ve said in a previous interview that when MLKNG SCKLS was released in 2009, Falcons on the Floor was in its second draft. What kind of editorial progression did the novel go through from that draft in 2009 to its release in 2012?
JS: If I’m remembering correctly, the 2nd draft hit over 90,000 words, which was far too long. I was too in love with the language of the whole thing and didn’t restrain myself enough – thankfully some editing hammered a lot of that lyricism out. Before giving it to Adam Robinson (Publishing Genius) to edit, I took out all the scenes with Salim’s father in the beginning of the novel. That was a tough edit – a lot of that material illustrated the bond between Salim and his father and reminded the reader that Fallujah was a vibrant town before the siege in April, 2004.
Adam Robinson helped me shave about another 5,000 words of the manuscript. We’d choose chain restaurants to meet at like Red Lobster and Applebee’s and pick over the book to see what could be cut or shifted. I’m not sure why we needed an editorial excuse to go to these restaurants. One time he left half a cheeseburger in my car, and I ate it a half hour later.
Some of that editing was tough. Adam pointed out that even though I understood the motivations on a historical level, the reader might not. That was one of his most important contributions. Originally, all of the soldier’s story was at the end. It was Adam’s idea to bookend the novel with that narrative which really changed the tone. I got lucky with Adam; he knew exactly where to steer the story and made Falcons a much stronger novel.
MB: Falcons on the Floor, as with MLKNG SCKLS, was written with the help of Iraqi refugee Haneen Alshujairy. Can you talk to us a little about the process of selecting a collaborative artist such as this, and what it did for / to both the earlier book and this full-length novel?
JS: Haneen was one of about 60 Iraqis I tried to interview, and I knew from the beginning that she was extraordinarily bright and willing to share her experiences. I’d eagerly wait for her replies and ask question after question. What I didn’t know at the time was she read a lot of Western (US/UK) novels. As our interviews got more casual, we started talking about film and books, music and social media. But the entire time we were corresponding, she had no idea I was beginning a novel.
After about three months, I asked her if she would like to consult on the book. I thought she was a perfect choice – her father was from Fallujah and the entire family lived there after leaving Baghdad. She was also very excited about the project which drove me to work even harder.
Obviously, Haneen added an authenticity that I would never have been able to provide. I haven’t traveled to Iraq yet. Going there in 2008 would have been a waste of time and money; even professional reporters at the time were complaining that it was too dangerous to leave their hotel rooms.
MB: And even with the knowledge that you had artistic cooperation from a former Iraqi citizen, I am still amazed by passages like this in Falcons on the Floor:
Eastward, people shuffled with crates balanced on their heads. Babies and extra blankets stacked on anything with wheels. For every family there was a donkey pulling a wagon, it seemed, and for every donkey there was another family parked on the side of the road as they readjusted photo albums tied to the swaying summits of suitcases, dining room chairs, television sets, barrels of bedding and boxes and boxes of dry good. A man shouldered a bulging pillowcase. His wife shouldered a newborn. Children lay on sacks of rice that lay on trucks, overburdened with end tables and rugs and clanging alloy bowls like bells tolling. The somber exodus meandered through dust and stood still when the human traffic could not continue.
I know that in previous interviews you’ve said what a large influence films and other Iraqi-related media have been in the writing of this novel, but even so, how did you manage to grasp the persistently ripe emotional suffering of this foreign place and its people, without having set foot on their soil?
JS: My empathy came from a mixture of really caring about the crisis in Fallujah and feeling furious about the actions of the Coalition. I knew, even before drafting the novel, that if I cared enough about this topic, that the project would have purpose; it would be a book that the world might actually benefit from. Knowing my heart was in the work made getting close to the material easier, but not easy.
This was the most intense research I’ve ever done for a project. I surrounded myself with images, I listened to interviews, watched everything I could, used Google alerts to keep my attention on daily events, and started posting one Iraq related photo a day on my blog. I understood that writing these books would change my life, but, over four years later, I never imagined how much this work would mean to me.
Currently, I’m helping ex-Marine Ross Caputi from Justice for Fallujah screen a documentary about possible depleted (or slightly enriched) uranium in Fallujah from anti-personnel rounds the Coalition used there. Falcons on the Floor only hints at that devastation as the report of uranium related cancers and birth defects weren’t reported on until much later.
MB: And as much as Falcons on the Floor is focused on the Iraqi experience, there is a wealth of American comparisons and parallels throughout the novel – TGI Fridays, pizza, ‘American looking’ SUVs – do these come from your own experience as an American writer penning a novel about Iraq, or are they more like a piece of Iraqi culture we are perhaps just not that familiar with as Americans?
JS: I was really careful to only choose American references that Haneen approved. There’s a FGI Friday’s in Cairo that she goes to a lot, and I thought I could add that into the novel. “American looking” SUVs was something Salim notes as they watch large, white Chevy Suburbans speed down highway 10 between Fallujah and Ramadi. Those models of trucks are common among private security contractors.
MB: There are also those moments when the characters of the novel, particularly Salim, experience a great amount of guilt for their various moments crossing the land, for example:
Surveying the evidence of what occurred here, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of being somehow responsible. It’s an unreasonable guilt welling up from nowhere rational.
Does that focus on guilt have possible roots in our own American guilt as well, guilt for what has happened to the Iraqi people, to people such as Haneen Alshujairy and her family, to their culture as a result of our ‘intervention’? This is not to say that Falcons on the Floor is a political novel, but doesn’t it share in the documenting of upheaval and subsequent remorse for certain actions, regardless of judgment on those actions?
JS: I’d have to say yes, it’s nearly impossible for me not to feel guilty. But Salim also feels guilty within the context of the story. Even though he would hate to admit it, he worked for the uprising; he designed propaganda that motivated local Fallujans to revolt.
MB: You also recently told me that Falcons on the Floor shares a release date with the eighth anniversary of the first siege of Fallujah. Can you talk with us about the importance of this date, of this event, not only in terms of the novel but as an as a worldly citizen?
JS: Even before the skyrocketing birth defects and cancer rates started coming out of Fallujah and the surrounding area, I knew the two sieges were historically significant. These battles were unique in a few ways. The politically complicated lead up starting with the Blackwater tragedy, the careless use of white phosphorous, the immoral use of force against civilians including the destruction of hospitals and schools, all of this is embedded in not only the Iraqi psyche, but the Arab and Muslim psyche.
Compound that with the insanity of uranium poisoning and you have a violent event in history that we will be paying for for generations unless we take drastic steps to address the problems.
MB: Lastly, can you take a moment here to explain to our audience about the Understanding Campaign, and how it is connected to you, Haneen, and Falcons on the Floor?
JS: The Understanding Campaign is still developing into what it needs to be, but originally it was a project that aimed to teach just one word of Arabic. The word is Understanding (pronounced Fhm in Arabic – Fuh’hem’). We made thousands of stickers, buttons, and t-shirts with the word, invited artists and designers to create their own versions, and tried to spread it as far as it would go. We’re not entirely satisfied with the viral campaign – no major media outlets picked up our efforts and enthusiasm waned, but we’re still kicking.
Right now we’re blogging about positive Arab, Muslim, and Muslim/American news from around the world and helping NGOs with their missions like the Iraqi Student Project and Justice for Fallujah.
Our books have a similar mission. If our work can bring people closer together, if it can generate empathy were it didn’t exist before, then we’re doing our job.
I was a huge fan of MLKNG SCKLS, and I’m an even bigger fan of Falcons on the Floor – there is a culture at stake here, an understanding of what ‘war’ really means, and it is important that we see all sides of this. So, get yourself a copy of Falcons on the Floor here, & read more from / about Justin Sirois here.
Posted By bl pawelek / 25th March 2012
In ten words (no more, no less), describe Code for Failure?
RB: Dysfunction, excess, women, booze, sex, drugs, youth,
Promotion – With a concussion, what album would have put you in a ditch instead of getting home safely?
RB: Pretty much anything instrumental probably would have made me fall asleep at that point. I’ve had four or five concussions now, and and I’ve probably done things I shouldn’t have with each. Including driving. But a guy’s got to get home. Something loud that I can focus on by singing along to helps.
Tell me about his parallel-life when he graduated college?
RB: Sadly, he was probably destined to have a similar job. Though instead of pumping gas he’d probably have jumped straight into construction (which came later for him anyway). And construction would have meant better money which would have resulted in more booze and drugs. A construction job would have come with a different breed of females, too. Debauchery would be a part of his life either way. Without getting back into college as a goal to shoot for, it might have been a bleak few years before he found his way into something else. But you never know.
Sorry, real gas question …. Why the 9/10ths at the end of the price?
RB: You know, that’s still a mystery to me. I’ve never understood. But then again, I don’t understand why things are always priced with 99 cents instead of whole numbers. Even numbers make more sense to me, but that’s the compulsiveness speaking.
Dreams – What other things get under your skin with this kind of job?
RB: Just the monotony, you know? You’re doing the same thing day in and day out. With writing you’re always writing something new, with design work it’s always a new project, but in the everyday jobs, the blue collar stuff it’s vital work, work that someone has to do, but it’s always the same thing. It’s something that I still battle with, and probably will for a long time.
Night Off – What is the one Dead Milkmen song you should listen to softly?
RB: “Takin’ Retards to the Zoo” when you’re at work (which I DID NOT DO at work a few weeks ago), “Punk Rock Girl,” because it’s like a prayer of young punk rock men, and “Tugena” if you want it to sound mildly decent.
Names – Well, do you have a child named Pirate yet?
RB: I do, but we decided to name him Lincoln. It’d be a lie if I said we didn’t consider Pirate for probably longer than we should have.
Code Twelve – What are some other codes involving people?
RB: I don’t think I realized when I wrote the book (too far back to have a clear memory), but I recently found it funny how the title comes from the narrator seeing pumping gas as code for failure, while independently from that there’s the code system used with the oil change service. In real life the code system was probably a more frequent undercurrent to my days. Back when I was in a band we had a song called Code Twelve, too, so it was clearly something that amused me. I don’t think that answered your question at all.
Drugged – so how was that day of sleep?
RB: As someone who hasn’t and doesn’t get enough sleep in life, there are few things that are as amazing as getting a mass amount of sleep any way you can get it. I’ve had a few instances in life where I got to sleep for more than twelve hours, either artificially or after days of not sleeping at all, and as disorienting as it is to wake up after that, it’s a feeling that can’t be replicated on 4-6 hours of sleep.
Gotta know – what was the worst thing ever at the station?
RB: Honestly I can’t remember if this is in the book or not, there was an instance where a woman decided to blockade the store (literally, blocking the pumps with her car and then sitting in the doorway) because I wouldn’t sell her a carton of cigarettes, calling the cops on someone when you know they’re just reacting poorly to a shitty day sucks, but I had no other choice.
How does the Code for Success begin?
RB: That’s a good question, and one I’m still trying to figure out. The first step is definitely marrying a beautiful and kind woman who believes in you more than you believe in yourself. I’ve got that down. As for occupational success I’m still fumbling for a fit, but I have to believe it’ll happen. For the sake of my sanity.
In ten words (no more, no less), describe your next project?
RB: Many things poetic and/or fictional, hopefully finding publishers soon.
Ryan W. Bradley, Code For Failure, Black Coffee Press
bl pawelek, Ten Everywhere
Posted By jatyler / 19th March 2012
YesYes Books came out heavy swinging last year with Gregory Sherl’s debut collection Heavy Petting, a book both beautifully produced and staggering with delicious poetry. YesYes Books also released their first chapbook Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johannson, which, as it turns out, was merely the tip of the poetic iceberg from Thomas Patrick Levy, now that 2012 has brought us his first full-length collection I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone, a tremendous book of poetry that begs and wants, that drives and pushes and hammers. And while not everyone may have had the chance to grab a signed copy of this new book at AWP in Chicago, thanks to the power of internet we can all share a little more insight into this collection and Thomas Patrick Levy’s writing:
MB: As we mentioned above, your chapbook from YesYes Books released last year and is now included in I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone. Can you open this interview by talking to us a little about how long it took to write the full collection and how you went about the final editing and ordering of the book?
TPL: I’ve been working on I Don’t Mind for a good two years. I don’t think of myself as the kind of writer that heavily revises his work, but this collection has had an interesting coming together. Many of the pieces in the book’s final section, A Perfect Archway, began as a series of questions and answers. I put together a chapbook of these poems, which was never published, and then I abandoned it.
The poems in IOWA and Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson were written independently of each other, but at around the same time. And the smaller sections of the book were originally written as pseudo-short stories that I never intended to do anything with.
Katherine Sullivan – the incredible publisher, workhorse, and therapist of YesYes Books – asked me for a manuscript I think early in 2011 and I didn’t have one to give her. I put together all the different parts of the book and began to realize that they are all different parts of the same narrative. My intention was never to have them all together, but once I saw the sections together in one place, I realized they belonged together.
Katherine edited a few pieces out and after I completely rewrote the final section of the book she helped me restructure and reorder quite a few of the pieces.
It’s pretty incredible when I think back on it. I had thought for so many years about what my first book would be. None of the things I had imagined happened exactly how I imagined they would yet the book is exactly what it is supposed to be despite my expectations. What I mean is, I couldn’t be happier with it. And I’m so grateful to Katherine for helping me realize the potential of these pieces. I think without her a good deal of it would have been abandoned because I had lost confidence in it and wouldn’t have pushed myself to rework what needed reworking. As writers I think it’s important to have someone you can trust read your work honestly like this. To tell you when something isn’t working, to push something that needs pushing, etc…
And, I have to thank Alban Fischer for the best cover I could have possibly imagined. I’m not sure how but he managed to make the formless vision of the cover I had in my head into the actual cover of the book. I think it’s one of the sexiest covers I’ve seen on a book in a while.
MB: Agreed. That cover is fantastic. Switching gears a little, while I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone is labeled as a poetry collection, many might (and could) read these works as flash fiction. In your mind, what is the difference between prose/poetry and flash fiction, and what makes I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone a book of poetry?
TPL: Katherine and I have had some discussions about this in the past. We originally, I think, discussed labeling the collection “lyrical prose.” But, and I don’t remember why exactly, ultimately decided to leave it as “Poems.” The pieces in this book are poems. But they are also fictions. And they are partly memoir. I couldn’t tell you exactly how to define prose, poetry, flash-fiction, etc… I don’t read all that much criticism or analysis or whatever – and by “all that much” I mean basically none at all – so I really can’t speak to the specifics of these genres and how one goes about defining the category one places a work within.
There are so many incredible writers putting out work that blurs the line between genres. Claudia Rankine, Eula Biss, Amelia Gray, and Brenda Coultas are a few of the writers who come to mind and have certainly influenced the writing in my collection in a direct way. All these writers categorize their work in their own way – poetry, stories, fiction, lyrical prose, etc. – yet their work feels to me as if they are very much similar. One can of course argue either way, and for each similarity I can draw between the work of these writers, I could find as many differences.
I think that ideally, I would prefer not to label work at all. But that seems to me a bit idealistic and, maybe, pretentious. Coming out with a statement along the lines of “my work exists outside of your genre’s confines” feels ridiculous and gross to say. For the record I did not say that on the record. It was an example.
I think the rule is how a collection feels. When I read a collection it doesn’t actually matter to me whether it’s called poetry or fiction or flash fiction or memoir. I feel that these things are in a way all essentially the same thing. To me, as the writer, my work is poetry and fiction and memoir all wrapped up into small paragraphs. Make of it what you will. I’m sure some fiction writers will be appalled at statements like this – and poets as well.
MB: In so many of these poems there is an amorphous ‘you’ that is addressed (and sometimes begged, pleaded with, cursed) but never identified. Who is this and/or where does this person come from in your writing process?
TPL: The “you,” in any piece of writing, is always of interest to me. It doesn’t always work but sometimes it does. There was a chapbook-length draft of the final section of I Don’t Mind which removed “you” entirely and replaced it with a “he” and a “she.” The draft didn’t make it to print because it didn’t work.
The “you” in my writing comes from the real world. As I said previously my writing is as much memoir as it is fiction. I draw from the events of my day to day life and make things up when I feel making something up is appropriate.
There was a time when I felt that writing – specifically poetry – should be factual. I think I took the cliché “write what you know” a bit too seriously. And having to adhere to this rule, which I imposed upon myself, did terrible terrible things for my process and the work I was producing. At some point a few years ago I began to own the fact that as a person in the real world I am tremendously uncool. Once I realized that I was uncool, I had nothing to prove in my poetry and this allowed me to start making things up in my writing. And I feel that a writer with no restraints can go wherever he or she feels like going.
So the “you,” I suppose, is a kind of muse. It’s, as you said, a sort of blob that takes on whatever traits I feel like giving it. “You” can be a woman or a man, a therapist, a punk rocker, a child, or even Scarlett Johansson. And the “you” of I Don’t Mind is all these things individually and sometimes all at once.
I think there’s a real freedom in mutilating the personalities of your characters in this way. The “you” serves whatever purpose I need it to serve in that moment. Perhaps this is something that could never work in a collection of fiction or a novel, but I think it serves the purposes of I Don’t Mind.
MB: Your imagery is often surreal, and builds (beautifully) by playing opposing images, items that conflict or are not usually connected, as in ‘Iowa’:
‘When I run out of seagulls I make corn from my gun. The whole yard is white with shit stain. You say IT RAINS A LOT. You say YOU’RE FULL OF CANDLE WAX. You make a tiny bed of kernel crust. You wake and make a flock of seagulls from the wood of an ear of corn.’
Can you tell us a little about how you navigate this style / approach?
TPL: I think it’s almost a little boring and obvious to say at this point, but perhaps not: to me, the most interesting and effective image is an image which is completely unfamiliar. All the writers I admire have the ability to make something plain feel fresh and interesting. When I am writing I consciously attempt to be confusing. This might make me sound, in some way, insincere, as if my work is an attempt to just confuse my readers, but that is absolutely not the case. For me, the goal is to confuse just enough to create the freshness.
My good friend Nick Strum – one of the YesYes Editors who did some work on I Don’t Mind – was explaining Keat’s concept of negative capability to me. Again, I’m plain dumb when it comes to criticism and things, but Nick Sturm is absolutely not dumb when it comes to criticism and things and he said that this concept I am trying to explain is negative capability. That seems pretty awesome to me.
MB: In I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone there is also a constant sense of unattainable want, of inexplicable need, as in ‘Foam’:
‘When we woke up on an island we thought we were dreaming. I said I WANT TO SWIM IN WATER SO CLEAR IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR BELLY. You made me promise never to leave you and even while we were naked in the sand I knew I couldn’t keep this promise.’
Where does this urgency come from in this collection?
TPL: This question is outright brutal. I have deleted my response so many times. I’m not sure how to answer it. I want to say that all these wants are born out of my actual wants.
I’m sort of a nut. I am quick to anger and I’m wrecked with insecurities. I hold them together some of the time, other times I do things like furiously clean the kitchen or all I want to do is break the bathroom wall into a puzzle. Mostly I can reconcile my character flaws and channel them towards writing rather than the people I love, but unfortunately the people closet to me are the most likely to be the source of my hostilities.
This is the central conflict of my life as a person and thus the conflict which is present throughout I Don’t Mind.
MB: Lastly, you are touring quite a bit for I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone in the coming months. Can you give us the low-down on where we can find you and who you are reading with?
TPL: Katherine has worked so many hours putting together what is now a mammoth, CROSS-COUNTRY, book tour which is taking place over the course of the next five or so weeks. The tour semi-officially began with the Sixth Finch & YesYes Books Presents! reading at AWP (videos now available via yesyesbooks.com) and stops through Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Then we head back to Chicago, Akron, Cincinnati, and Muncie. We’re still planning additional dates, and we work on the fly because YesYes Books is a crazy nuthouse in that way. We have some prospects together in Louisville, Blacksburg, Northern New Jersey, and Brooklyn.
We also have so many incredible writers coming out to read with us. Here are just a few of them, in no particular order: Nate Slawson, Emily Kendal Frey, Matt Hart, Kate Lebo, Phillip B. Williams, Jane Wong, Jeff Hipsher, Jonterri Gadson, Nick Sturm, Andrea Kneeland, Meg Pokrass, Diana Salier, and Amelia Gray. It’s really incredible to have such an awesome crew of writers coming out to read with me. A lot of them are also going to be promoting their own books, which were just recently released. It will be an awesome tour.
For additional information (specific information on venues and things) please check out the tour section on our website or the facebook event page.
Come one come all to these readings and support the great work of Thomas Patrick Levy and the upward trajectory of YesYes Books – or at minimum, dip into the lit stores for your own copy of I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone, a book that will not disappoint. Get your copy of I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone here, & read more from / about Thomas Patrick Levy here.
Posted By jatyler / 12th March 2012
Mutable Sound may be a publisher that some aren’t familiar with, but those who purchased a copy of their 2011 release, A D Jameson’s Amazing Adult Fantasy, were treated to Mutable Sound’s lovely design and Jameson’s brim-full lit goodness. And now, at the top of 2012, they have released another title in their increasing catalog, Colin Winnette’s truly wonderful and poetic debut novel Revelation, a book sure to help solidify Mutable Sound’s place in the lit-scene and to affirm Winnette’s position in the hierarchy of up-and-coming indie authors.
MB: Given that Revelation is a novel built on the accumulating calls of the biblical book of revelations, perhaps this is the most obvious place to start: Are you a particularly religious person? What is your religious background?
CW: I’m not a religious person at all, really. Far from it. But I had the unique experience of being a non-religious person growing up in a small town in Northeast Texas. So throughout my life I was steeped in various devoted interpretations of biblical narrative. The closest our family ever came to adopting a religion was when, in an arguably noble attempt to set our family on a, well if not more righteous, certainly more socially accepted path, my older sister (who was very young at the time) insisted our family begin attending church. The idea was that we would then be more like the other families in town, more like her friends’ families, and a little less…our strange selves. My parents were very open-minded and supportive, so we went. I don’t remember which denomination it was, or even what we did there. I only remember dressing up for a few Sundays in a row, then being very happy when we abandoned the project. Christianity, in one form or another, was the dominant religion in our hometown, but I never really got into it and, aside from this little experiment, I was never really asked to. Then, in grade school, I had a good friend who was Muslim, (his was the only Muslim family in our school, I think) and I used to talk to him a lot about his beliefs and his particular religious practices, and the benefits/challenges of these. I distinctly remember him telling me that I had to believe him about something or other because he couldn’t lie as it was against his religion. That struck me then as very convenient; to have a system of beliefs that worked as a set of rules governing your behavior. In my head, he didn’t have to worry about lying because he couldn’t lie. It was against the rules. I was open to, and enthusiastic about, his religious experiences and accounts because he was my friend and they were so unfamiliar to me. The idea of finding something like that for myself became appealing, and I asked my mother to take me to the library so I might read up on various religions and see which one best suited me. Then I too might have a set of rules by which to live. On the one hand, the project was a failure. No single text, or tradition, really fit me that well, but it all seemed really wild and each religion exhibited these great imaginative capabilities. I was learning a lot. At the same time, I was struggling my way through Tolkien, some Shakespeare, Greek mythology, that kind of thing. It’s probably for this reason that I have always viewed religious texts simply as powerful narratives, as literature, rather than existential truths or solid guidebooks for how to live. At best, I guess, they’re examples of how things could be, or might have been. But, again, this was just my experience. Since then I’ve always studied religious texts as/alongside literary texts, particularly the Bible, as it was such a dominant narrative voice in the town/state/country where I grew up. This was one of the initial sparks for this project, engaging a biblical narrative on literary terms, and exposing it to the same manipulations/experimentation one might any other literary tradition.
MB: And as a book that is shaped by the book of revelations, people might expect the usual apocalyptic story that tends toward epic devastation, but instead Revelation is focused very intently on a quiet, transformative upheaval. How did you come to this more subtle / personal approach to apocalypse?
CW: That’s a good question. I wrote a lot on this topic in a piece I did for Necessary Fiction, along with AD Jameson, Jen Gann, Patty Cottrell, Jesse Ball, Gabe Boyer, Zach Vandezande, and Thania Rios, which can be read here. In that piece I talk a lot about how this book is, on the one hand, an attempt to exorcise the dominant narratives I’ve been exposed to in my writing life. This includes biblical narratives, but also heavy-weight literary figures like Raymond Carver and Anton Chekhov, really a whole tradition of psychological realism with which I was hit over the head as a young writer as an example of the finest writing one might aspire to. And while I admire these writers, it all began to feel very limited and frustrating. So I looked for a way out. I discovered authors like Ben Marcus and David Ohle, or even Robert Coover, and more recently Amelia Gray, whose work is wonderfully unfamiliar and strange, and yet still feels incredibly intimate and humane. Part of this has to do with their various techniques for making the familiar unfamiliar, rather than abandoning it all together in pursuit of something altogether foreign. I got a charge out of that, I suppose. A big part of it is a certain sense of freedom and play I get from the authors I now admire most.
However, a more direct answer to your question would be to say this book is a collision of narrative modes, on a very basic level a formal experiment. And yet I’m still concerned with telling a good story, at least in this particular book. I think fantasies of the apocalypse will always have the capacity to move us because they have to address some of our, or at least my, primary occupations: the suspicion/concern that the world is beyond our control, and is quite possibly all going to shit, and the knowledge of our inevitable death. Many end-of-the-world narratives, particularly that of the book of revelation, are concerned with salvation: what it means and how it might be achieved. In Revelation I wasn’t interested in salvation. I was interested in what it means to live on in its absence. In the absence of a larger salvation narrative, it seemed only natural to focus intensely on the character’s everyday interactions and exchanges. How these characters lived from moment to moment, related to one another, and how quickly and easily that could change became very important to me. A friend of mine, the writer Zachary Coleman, told me “Revelation…like life and the lives found in the book, compiles a series of moments and events that make up a whole, which in turn bursts, fades, and disappears, leaving the beauty of those moments, and nothing.” I thought that was a really nice summary.
MB: Also, where many novels focus only on a pivotal moment in a character’s existence, Revelation takes the reader through the entire life of a character – from birth to death – can you talk to us a little about bringing a character through a fully evolved lifetime in the span of a mid-size novel?
CW: I wanted to link the experience of reading a book to that of a life lived. So the space between each chapter represents a considerable chunk of a life we’re speeding through page by page. The moments we’re given by the story are almost entirely in the aftermath of some major emotional/psychological/biological shift. So every time we’re reintroduced to the characters, they’ve changed. Sometimes a day has passed between pages, sometimes years. Change becomes the focus, and the way of knowing more about the characters and understanding their story, noticing what’s changed about them and what’s the same. So the idea would be that you’re constantly re-calibrating your sense/expectations of each character, while simultaneously feeling like you’re getting to know them better. The other side of this is that they are more rapidly approaching death than your average protagonist. For every installment these characters are thrust forward, more and more persistently toward the end. But to be approaching death in this apocalyptic world is the result of survival.
MB: Switching gears a bit, you’ve garnered praise from Ben Marcus and Adam Levin – as such, how much pressure is on Revelation as a debut novel, or on you as a debut novelist?
CW: I don’t feel any particular pressure on the book, as a debut novel. If anything, Ben and Adam’s support really boosted my confidence in the project. I’ve been a huge admirer of Ben Marcus’s work for a long time, and it was sort of a dream come true to suddenly be in contact with him, and then to have him read the book and say nice things about it, it was all pretty unreal, actually. As I started to say earlier, Ben Marcus’s work reinvigorated my enthusiasm for prose, and he led me to discover a wealth of authors working in a variety of exciting ways. While this book is not really like Marcus’s work, I probably never would have written it if it hadn’t been for him. My early writing had very different concerns. Ben’s work gave me permission to explore a little, and to have some fun. And there’s a remarkable sincerity at the heart of Ben’s work that has always really appealed to me. Having his support in the end was more than enough to leave me satisfied.
And while this may be silly of me, I haven’t given much thought to the potential pressures of this being a “debut” novel or on me as a “debut novelist”. I mean, I want people to read the book and for it to affect them, and I of course feel pressured to make the work as solid as it can be, but I’ve since moved onto other projects, and I’m more concerned with those now, I guess, than worrying about how this book is received or how that might effect people’s feelings about the new work. I do view each book as pretty singular, though they come from the same network of ideas and instincts. While the books may illuminate aspects of one another in some uncalculated way, I think the order in which they’re written or published is in many ways irrelevant.
MB: Can you recommend some other recently released first novels, other writers that are just now hitting the indie scene that we should be reading, or that you are?
CW: Yes! Well, this name is circling pretty widely, so I’m sure I’m not telling anyone something they don’t already know, but Amelia Gray’s novel THREATS (which I believe came out yesterday?) is really a fantastic read. It’s thoroughly engaging and strange and surprising. There aren’t a lot of novels like it. Also, I’ve been reading manuscript after manuscript by an author named Jen Gann. None of the books are published yet, but I’m really looking forward to the day she releases one of these to the public. She’s a really great writer. Right now she has a chapbook out with Magic Helicopter Press, called Backtuck. And you can read an excerpt from one of her novels in American Short Fiction. It’s called “Miniature Buffalos”. I don’t have a strong sense of how long he’s been around, but I only recently discovered Norman Lock, and he’s such a fantastic writer. His book Grim Tales is really incredible. There’s also a book by the poet Zachary Schomburg, called Viking, forthcoming on McSweeney’s new poetry imprint, that I had the honor/pleasure of serializing in Dear Navigator, the online journal for which I acted as associate editor. You can start reading it here, if you like. Unlike his other books, Viking pretty much follows a singular narrative, or the same basic set of characters (though the edges of what I mean when I say “narrative” or “characters” are pretty blurry), so in some ways it’s more like a novel. Steven Moore would probably argue for it as such. But it’s an amazing piece of writing. Just terrifying and thrilling and very moving. No one writes like him. There is a lot happening right now in the indie-lit scene, a lot to be excited about. I haven’t listed anywhere near everything, but these are places to start. These are the authors I’m thinking about daily.
MB: What is next for you, what is in the works? And will your next book be released from Mutable Sound or a similar indie label, or will you be seeking a university or mid- / large-sized publishing house instead? I’m always curious where authors see themselves going after the success of a first novel.
CW: Right now I’m finishing up a book of poems, that was originally titled Denton, TX. The book recently took on a collaborative element, though, and I’ll be finishing up the project with the poet Ben Clark. We’re now calling the book Kate Jury Denton Texas. That book’s in the works, not quite finished, but an excerpt will be published in the April issue of Mud Luscious Quarterly. I’m not sure what will happen to it after it’s finished, but we’re really excited about it. For right now, I have a collection of prose forthcoming on Spork Press, which will be out in August of 2012. I’m really excited about this collection, and for the opportunity to work with Drew Burk and the good folks at Spork. They make beautiful handmade books down in their lab in Tucson, and they represent some of my very favorite contemporary authors (Schomburg being one). Excerpts from this collection have been published in a few places, but two new excerpts will be out later this year in Hobart 14. And then I have two novellas coming out with Atticus Books, a mid-sized publishing house based in Maryland. They’re publishing the two books Gainesville and In One Story, The Two Sisters as a novella tandem, under the title A Long Line of Diggers. That book will be out in the winter of 2013. I love Mutable Sound, though, and I’m currently talking with them about coming on as an editor at the press, so that we might continue to work together. As for whether or not I’m seeking a university or mid-/large-sized publishing house, it all depends on the book, I think. I’m happy to find people who are enthusiastic about the work, and who put their whole selves into the publishing process, in the same way that I put my whole self into the writing of the books. I’ve worked with three very different presses on several very different books, but they’ve all brought a lot of energy to the project, and seemed genuinely excited about the work and what they might be able to accomplish by representing it. That’s really what I’m most interested in. I’m just looking to find people who like the work and are exciting to work with. I’m not sure where I see myself going exactly. My policy so far has been to make the books, put them out there, and then go wherever the energy is. And that’s worked out so far.
Revelation is a tremendous book worthy of every bit of acclaim it has already received and definitely a novel that should further help solidify Mutable Sound as an indie house to look out for. Live your own Revelation here, & read more from / about Colin Winnette here.
Posted By jatyler / 5th March 2012
If you were smart enough to nab up an early release copy of Melissa Broder’s Meat Heart, then you have already held in your hands one of these beautifully letter-pressed special editions from Publishing Genius Press. Broder, author of the previous collection When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother (Ampersand Books) returns this year with her second book, and it is, honestly, quite a wonder. Broder acts as a loving and bloody butcher to the heart and the consum(e)mation of words in this garden of poetic meat, and we feel very fortunate indeed to have chatted with her here:
MB: The opening volley of Meat Heart gives us poems that speak of lacking heart, of not being gentle, of fearless weight gain, of craving meat instead of vegetables or ‘milder’ foods – so in its opening dozen poems Meat Heart seems to have a great deal to say about resisting typically feminine stereotypes. Can you talk to us a little about where this approach comes from, and what it says (or might say) about you as a poet and about your poetic landscape?
MB: It’s got to do with hunger, bottomlessness, fear of insatiability. Abyssness. In waking life I buy into the beauty myth. I am invested. My body is invested, my face is invested. I have a need to feel “hot”. I will hurt myself to be “hot”—even if my intellectual ideals run counter. Hotness protects me from meaninglessness. It protects me from the void. Also, and perhaps as a result of this investment, I am afraid of hunger. Hunger is desire and I do not know where it will end. It is the void’s comeback. It could break the container. But in these poems I get to act out all that desire. I can explore every grotesque, infinite want. I am a pig in heat. And it is hot.
MB: There is also a raw / visceral kind of introspection throughout Meat Heart, poems that seek meaning in the literal bones, forehead, heart, or stomach in its stages of digestion – what feeds this poetic desire? Is it about countering the expected (heart = love) with the unexpected (heart = literal blood pumping organ), or is it something else entirely?
MB: Let’s just say I’m not thrilled with the limitations of the body. If I had my choice I’d live elsewhere. As an escapist, a dreamer, I can mindtravel anywhere. But in this lifetime the heart is made of meat. We’re tethered to it. A lot of these poems deal with that dichotomy.
MB: In fact the narrator or poet or the poems themselves seem focused on resistance in a variety of ways, the heaviest of which pits the ‘usual’ woman against the ‘usual’ man – as in a poem like ‘Ahoy!’, where the war is an internal pillaging:
I am channeling my grandmom’s fears
of common colds and foreign air.
The women judge me silly.
They say Unsisterly!
Your angst is old, so old.
To prove myself fierce
I run down the danger corridor
of his guts to his intestines
Who is this woman, this narrator if you will, and what is she amidst resisting in Meat Heart?
MB: This is a woman who sails down a man’s throat with a group of other women. They’ve just entered the lung and now the other women are starting to get snippy with her. She is resisting their judgments (or her perception of their judgments). She is very sensitive. So she runs. Luckily, the man’s intestines carry her favorite yogurt with full nutrition labeling. She can distract herself with that for a while. Eventually, the yogurt will end. Eventually she will be alone with herself. She’ll have to be still in her own judgments.
MB: Beyond these ideas of resistance and woman v. man / expected v. unexpected, there is also a heavy dose of religious imagery in Meat Heart, that of prayer and church, religious routine and deity-laced environments – where does this come from and how do you hope it functions in the overall reading of this collection?
MB: This comes from an ongoing relationship I have with a god I do not understand. God couldn’t not be in here. How it functions textually is for you to decide, but I know it ties into that desire for moreness and fear of not-enoughness. Like, there is something out there that can sate you baby.
MB: Another noticeable thematic assembly is that of animals – their skills and statures running beneath so many of the poems in Meat Heart. Can you talk to us a little about how these animals appear in your poetry, where they come from and, assuming that it is a conscious exploration, what they are meant to achieve?
MB: To be honest, I don’t even know how those little buggers snuck their way in. Once I made fun of the trope of the precious animal on htmlgiant. So of course this book has to be teeming with rabbits. I mean, it opens with a T.S. Eliot quote involving a bird of all things. That is like the twee-est of the twee.
MB: Lastly, as a poet, what new books of poetry or upcoming poets excite you the most right now? Who should we all be on the look-out for?
MB: Ariana Reines and CAConrad. I am gobbling their everything right now.
You may be too late for the special letter-press edition, but if we know Adam Robinson, the genius behind the publishing, then we can assume that the standard version of Meat Heart will be equally gorgeous, and no matter what, the insides will writhe with lovely poetic guts. Get your copy of Meat Heart here, & read more from / about Melissa Broder here.