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Brooklyn Book Festival 2017

22 Sep
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From a mural in Coney Island

Last week I went home for the Brooklyn Book Festival and it was so lovely! Tuesday night, my parents took Michael and me to Malachy McCourt’s event at Greenwood Cemetery for his new humorous book Death Need Not Be Fatal. I love that the cemetery is also a literary venue with a club called the Death Café; the coordinator promises “the history of cremation has a few laughs.” Perhaps my favorite (non-funny) thing McCourt said is this, regarding his atheism:  the conception of hell is “ecclesiastical terror. I don’t want to hang out with the people who invented that.”

We also went to the Whitney Museum to see Alexander Calder‘s refurbished, motor-driven mobiles and “An Incomplete History of Protest,” an inspiring exhibit tackling art as protest from the 1940s to the present. The views from the Whitney are fantastic. It’s hard not to fall in love with New York over and over again.

On Friday, I took Amanda Thomas of Lanternfish Press on an instagram tour of Coney Island, one of the settings of Daughters of the Air (my first novel, formerly known on this blog as Dirty and releasing December 5!). Sunday was the big day for the book festival, and I was so happy to meet readers excited about weird fiction! Then that afternoon I took LFP’s publicist Feliza Casano on an instagram tour of Gowanus, another major setting of Daughters of the Air. Check out LFP’s blog post on the book festival here. I’ve included a few highlights highlights from Coney Island, Gowanus, and the festival right here:

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Stay tuned for more book news next week! And if you’d like to get that news right in your in-box, I’ve got a short and sweet monthly newsletter you can sign up for here.

The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller

24 Aug

HungerAngelAfter I read The Land of Green Plums a few years ago, Herta Müller joined a short list of authors whose work I want to read all of.  I am not the sort of reader who methodically works through an oeuvre; I crave different voices. But this list includes Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, and Mavis Gallant. (It used to include Angela Carter; I adore her short fiction, but actually found trying to read her novels like trying to eat an entire chocolate mousse cake.) Müller’s fiction is poetic and harrowing and sheds light on the country my family comes from.  For me, she is a must.

For my third installment of  Women In Translation Month, I tackled The Hunger Angel. This novel tells the story of Leo Auberg, a young German man in Romania deported to a labor camp in Russia in January 1945. I was surprised to learn that this happened: all Germans living in Romania and from the ages of 17-45 were forced to “rebuild” the Soviet Union. Indeed, as Müller explains in her Afterword, this was something shameful that Germans in Romania only discussed among themselves, if they discussed it at all. (Müller emigrated to West Germany after being persecuted by Ceausescu’s secret police.)

The Hunger Angel meditates on objects. Life in a gulag is tedious, so in lieu of a tight narrative arc, the first two-thirds of the book move laterally from things like cement and coal to yellow sand and firs. There’s a weirdly loving chapter about a kind of shovel known as “the heart-shovel,” which, by virtue of its design, allows Leo to forget himself as he works in ways that other tools or tasks don’t.

And, of course, as the title implies, there’s a food problem. With just one piece of bread a day and two bowls of cabbage soup, and no mid-day meal, the hunger angel emerges an antagonist who skews how prisoners perceive their world and how they behave. But memories of food from childhood buoy Leo and his prison-mates. One day, every summer, his mother would take him to the Café Martini where he could gorge himself on sweets:

We could choose among marizpan truffles, chocolate cake, savarins, cream cake, nutcake roll, Ischler tartlet, cream puffs, hazelnut crisps, rum cake, napoleons, nougat, and doboschtorte. And ice cream–strawberry ice cream in a silver dish or vanilla ice cream in a glass dish or chocolate ice cream in a porcelain bowl, always with whipped cream. And finally, if we were still able, sour-cherry cake with jelly.

As if being in a gulag is not challenging enough, Leo is in the closet. When men and women dance on Saturday nights (who knew they had dances, albeit sad dances, in gulags?), he remains off to the side. Men and women couple in the barracks; he does not. Though he observes: “Half-starved humans are really neither masculine nor feminine but genderless, like objects.” Over the course of the novel, this meditation on objects also becomes a larger meditation on loneliness and longing and trying to stay alive.

Leo has a poet’s eye, and it is that vision, that attention to language, which makes reading this essential book bearable.

Fall Classes at Hugo House

15 Aug
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A fresh green chestnut

Sharpen your pencils: I’m teaching two classes at Hugo House this fall. Member registration opens today and general registration opens August 22. Scholarships are available: apply here by August 25!

  • Wall-to-Wall Writing Prompts will be a fun-for-everyone one-day writing bonanza. I’m bringing in all my favorite prompts. If you’re eager to kick start some new writing, this one’s for you. Come with some overheard lines of dialogue and leave with six story openings and a plan to finish at least one. Meets Saturday, September 30, 1-4 pm. Sliding scale pricing available for this class. Please call Hugo House at (206) 322-7030.
  • Fiction I  is a six-week intro to fiction, with a special focus on character, plot, and landscape. We’ll read short stories from James Joyce, Jamaica Kincaid, Flannery O’Connor, Sherman Alexie, and Louise Erdrich, among others. Writing prompts in and out of class will be geared toward writing a short story, though of course all the skills covered are applicable to novels. We’ll also learn the basics of the workshop model. Meets Saturdays from October 14 to November 18, 1-3 pm.

Hope to see you then!

“The Ball” by Irène Némirovsky

10 Aug

Golder

I read Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française in French to prepare for my language exam at UW. Among the three works I inched through, it was the only one I managed to finish that summer. (The others were Swann’s Way, which I hope to tackle again one day, though it will probably have to be in English with some kind of Proust support group, and a vintage collection of short stories in a volume designed for college students, which was kind of stodgy.)  What I remember best from Suite Française, other than the scenes of Parisians evacuating before the German Occupation, is Némirovsky’s use of light. A woman hiding in a house shrouded in trees seems trapped in something aquatic. It was then that I learned and cherished the word glaucous.

Other than the fact that the French were fleeing the Nazis, there was no whiff of anti-Semitism in that book that I, with my limited language skills, could detect. So I was surprised, when reading Claire Messud’s introduction to the collection David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair that Némirovsky was virulently anti-Semitic, a token Jew at a right-wing newspaper, and a convert to Catholicism. Not that any of this saved her in the end. (For an in-depth discussion of Némirovsky see Susan Rubin Suleiman’s The Némirovsky Question.)

Michael read “David Golder,” the novel that made Némirovsky famous at 26. Though the story is well-written, the stereotypical depictions of Jewish businessmen did not sit well with him. (It should be pointed out, if you don’t know, that the stereotype of the banker Jew is a result of centuries of discrimination, as Jews were not allowed to practice most other professions or own land.) I wondered whether the popularity of “David Golder” had any connection to pandering to stereotypes. I decided to save my time and skip to “The Ball.”

Here, the Kampfs are a nouveau-riche couple who want to throw their first big party. M. Kampf “made a killing” in the Stock Market and in just four years they moved from a modest apartment to one that could accommodate (if a bit uncomfortably) 200 guests. The story was published in 1929 and you can feel the imminent doom.

M. Kampf is Jewish (alas, the Jewish stockbroker) and his wife is Catholic. They’re raising their fourteen-year-old daughter Antoinette to be Catholic. Mme. Kampf, whose past is questioned and who married M. Kampf for money, is desperate to host a glamorous party that will establish her reputation with the aristocracy. She hires a band to play the blues and the Charleston, and orders a bevy of roses, buckets of champagne, aspic, oysters, foie gras, caviar sandwiches, game, fish, petit fours, and, a modern luxury to be delivered fresh at 11 pm: ice cream.

Poor Antoinette keeps getting in the way of party planning. It is her violent emotions that attract me most to this story. Her thoughts feel the most real, compared to the somewhat flat, Mme. Bovary-esque aspirations of Mme. Kampf. Indignant, in bed, Antoinette thinks:

To them a fourteen-year-old was just a kid–to be pushed around like a dog…I want to die! God, please make me die…Dear God, sweet Holy Virgin, why did you make me their child? Punish them, I’m begging you. Punish them just once, and after that, I’ll gladly die.

Antoinette’s desire for vengeance suggests something darker here than your run-of-the-mill teen anger, but it also pushes this story deliciously to its conclusion. The characters probably aren’t any more likable than in “David Golder,” not that that is a requirement for my reading pleasure. But Antoinette’s course of action moves the story toward a complex, yet surprisingly tender, picture of mother-daughter conflicts.  If you like the glamor of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age Stories, or coming-of-age stories in general, you’ll want to check this one out.

“Translation is not kale” in The Seattle Review of Books

10 Aug

WITMonth2017-2August is Women in Translation Month. This is the fourth year of the campaign, which was founded by literary blogger and biophysicist Meytal Radzinksi. I’m a big fan of this effort to raise awareness about women writers in translation and read more of them. And, I’m super excited to have my piece “Translation is not kale” in The Seattle Review of Books today, which discusses WITMonth in a wider context and revels in some of my favorite-favorite books. You can read “Translation is not kale” here. I’ve also got three reviews scheduled right here on my blog, starting today and continuing the next two Thursdays. More soon!

 

“Marital Rifts Three Ways” in Women’s Review of Books

31 Jul
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Eleanor Roosevelt in a très chic hat.

I’m happy to have a piece in the July/August issue of Women’s Review of Books, discussing Jade Sharma’s Problems (Coffee House Press), Julia Franks’ Over the Plain Houses (Hub City Press), and Angela Woodward’s Natural Wonders (FC2). You can purchase a digital copy here.

In other news, last week I had a lovely time chatting with fellow LaSalle Storyteller Award winner Peter Mountford and Scott James of Solipsis Publishing about the writing life and the impact the award has had on our work. You can watch the video here. The deadline for the 2017 award is August 28. If you’re a Washington State fiction writer, you should apply!

 

Lanternfish Press To Publish My Debut Novel

6 Mar

I am beyond thrilled to announce that Lanternfish Press is publishing my debut novel, Dirty, in late 2017 or early 2018. Dirty is a magical realist work about a teenage runaway whose father is disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War.

The seedlings of this book emerged long, long ago, in 2001. And I worked on the first draft in fits and starts for years until I decided an MFA at the University of Washington would help me get it done. Then, mid-way through the program in 2010, Michael and I managed to travel to Argentina. (There was a pitfall to super cheap plane tickets; I wrote about it for Airplane Reading.) At graduation, my thesis advisor David Bosworth compared the process of finishing a novel to the gestation of a whale. Fast forward to 2017. Not sure which beasts gestate for 15 years. But this labor of love will see the light of day!

Lanternfish is based in Philadelphia and makes gorgeous, genre-blurring books like Vikram Paralkar’s The Afflictions and Christopher Smith’s Salamanders of The Silk Road. The moment I read Lanternfish’s cred0, I knew it would be a good fit:

READ. READ VORACIOUSLY. READ WRITERS WHO DON’T LOOK LIKE YOU. READ FOREIGN WRITERS. READ DEAD WRITERS!

Writing is a conversation. It can offer people who lead wildly different lives a window on each other’s worlds. It can bridge gaps between cultures and gulfs in time, overcoming unbearable solitudes. We tend to click with writers who’ve grappled with many stories and whose work is informed by that broader perspective.

I am so delighted they agreed.




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Bright Spots of 2016

21 Dec
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From Della tramutatione metallica sogni tre by Gio. Battista Nazari, 1571

Dang it. Despite world affairs being horrendous, I’m going to relish some good things that happened in 2016. First, I achieved my goal of obtaining 100 rejections (106!). If you’re not getting rejecting 90% of the time, you’re not aiming high enough–so goes the wisdom from Creative Capital. The fruits of this labor paid off with eight publications. Here they are, plus other goodness. (Find the zoetrope!)

 

My plans for the holidays including gorging myself on kreplach, cholent, pizza, and rainbow cookies and devouring Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters. Happy winter solstice!

Winter Class: Writing About Place

14 Dec

pieter_bruegel_the_elder_-_hunters_in_the_snow_winter_-_google_art_projectPieter Bruegel the Elder – Hunters in the Snow (Winter) – 1565

This winter, I’m teaching Writing About Place at Hugo House. In this six-week class, we’ll read stories by Flannery O’Connor, Louise Erdrich, and Ursula LeGuin, among other illustrious authors. We’ll write about places we know, places we don’t know, and places that exist only in our imaginations. And, we’ll talk about memory, research, and world building.

 

Class meets Wednesdays 5-7 pm from 2/22-3/29. Hugo House is located in First Hill, an easy-peasy trip from downtown and right next to the always-free Frye Art Museum. Speaking of place, if you’ve not been to the Hugo House’s temporary home, you’re in for treat, with a light-filled atrium and mysterious winding hallways.  Registration is now open. The scholarship deadline is 12/16 and there’s an early bird discount until 12/19! Hope to see you there.

December Events

27 Nov
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Olympic Sculpture Park; photo by George Szilagyi

As the year winds down into its darkest days, I hope you’ll join me for one of these events. If you come to two, I will give you a lollipop.

  • Friday, December 2, at 8 pmThe Furnace Says Goodnight at Hollow Earth Radio. Thirteen Furnace writers contributed pieces that Corinne and I have woven into a single story. The pieces are at turns raw, luminous, defiant, and hopeful. I’m super excited to see the collaboration come alive on stage.  And there will be klezmer music! Please come help us celebrate our last performance. If you’re not in town, you can tune in online at hollowearthradio.org.
  • Wednesday, December 7, at 7 pm: Superfriends: Moss + Pacifica at Open Books. Two literary magazines near and dear to me are having launch parties for their latest issues. I’m in Moss #6! Pacifica published my first poem back in March.
  • Tuesday, December 13, at 7 pm: Seattle Fiction Federation at Richard Hugo House.  A fiction-full night! I’m reading alongside Steve Sibra, Lucy Hitz, and Donna Miscolta, whose story collection Hola and Goodbye just came out from Carolina Wren Press. There’s also an open mic, so come with up to 5 minutes of fiction to share.
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