Tuesday, November 29, 2011

so i'm reading this frank o'hara poem

There's no Tuesday interview today. So I'm reading this Frank O'Hara poem: Now I am quietly waiting for / the catastrophe of my personality / to seem beautiful again, / and interesting, and modern.

And visiting these two favorite blogs: forty-sixth and grace and 16 house. And wanting to see this exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. And admiring Something Changed's reading list.

And next week we'll have a Tuesday Interview from Peter Orner.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

until I realised

The entire structure for the novel appeared in my head, fully formed, as ravishing as a crystal palace on a distant hill. I remember leaving the library that day, passing into the sunshine on the green, overwhelmed with the grandeur of this design and filled with a sense of personal magnificence, and this euphoria lasted for another minute until I realised that I had no idea how to write such a book. Jeffrey Eugenides in The Guardian
Crew member taking a movie of an iceberg, Greenland 1939. Smithsonian via gealach

Monday, November 21, 2011

the tuesday interview: kara levy

I met San Francisco writer, Kara Levy at a Peter Orner reading at Dog Eared Books through another writer friend, Cora Stryker. The reading was for JoyLand Magazine where Kara is the SF/Bay Area editor. Later, after another reading, we talked about what we say when people ask, "what do you write about?" Kara sometimes says, "sickness and the body." Well, they don't usually ask again after that.

RQD: What are you working on? What interests you about these characters?

Kara Levy: Right now I'm working on a novel — it's a sort of humorous adventure novel that follows a self-proclaimed journalist-turned-Professional-Sick-Person on an unlikely quest to find a cure for Crohn's Disease. Crohn's Disease isn't curable (yet), but the novel involves a fake medieval-style pilgrimage, battle reenactments, a few infidelities, some madcap teenagers, and a lot of capes and baubles in the characters' quest to see if it could be. It's as much about these characters' quest to find a cure for something incurable as it is about their beliefs (or lack thereof) that the impossible could be possible, through belief or friendship or will or something we can't even understand. As an optimistic skeptic, that's a theme that interests me a lot. I'm also polishing up my finished story collection, Doctors of the Natural World, which examines issues of illness and the body too. In that book, the recurring question seems to be, "What choices do we make after the body makes choices for us?" I spend a lot of energy trying to convince people it's not depressing. I guess you'll just have to read bits of it to believe me.

RQD: What art or artists interest you?

KL: I feel like I've been hugely influenced by standup and screen comedians: Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Lucille Ball, George Carlin, and so on. There's so much more than humor behind those performances — and performers — than meets the eye. I'm really interested in comedy for what it can do to express real things about our experience, sometimes more than theater or performance that purports to be serious. I also love medieval art, particularly architecture. You'll see a lot of that showing up in my novel. Is it appalling to say that I wrote a whole story in my collection while listening to an Akon song on repeat? Truth: That happened. Akon knows things.

RQD: What book, story or poem do you return to over and over?

KL: Oh, geez, so much. Lorrie Moore's Self-Help is inescapable for me. I think I have two copies of it, for some odd reason. I also love Andre Dubus's story "Fat Girl," and go back to that often. I've reread Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler many, many times and I always learn something new, particularly about structure (which is not a strength of mine). In recent years I've found myself often revisiting a Wells Tower story, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned." It's the title story of his collection, and I think it's so brilliant. It's the perfect storm of humor and pain and character and story. He takes the unfamiliar and makes it so familiar it's almost disorienting. I wish I could figure out how to write anything even closely approximating it.

RQD: What are you reading now?

KL: I'm reading Eric Puchner's Model Home. A friend recommended it to me, and I'm really enjoying it. I also just started Erik Larson's In the Garden of the Beasts, also on a friend's recommendation. I find fictional-style retellings of history fascinating. It reminds me a little of a book I loved in high school, Alison Weir's The Six Wives of King Henry VIII. I remember thinking it was such a revelation that history could be communicated so compellingly. (No offense to my high-school history teachers, who were also, of course, totally compelling.)

RQD: What did you read as a kid? What is its impact on your work now?

KL: As a kid I loved Roald Dahl, but I don't think I realized until much later in life just how dark he really is. I also liked the Madeline l'Engle books, and then, when I got to middle school, I decided on A Separate Peace as my favorite book. Tortured, woeful Funny! Common theme: I reread it as an adult and was like, Wait, what? I think I saw impact as a different thing back then. The impact was a lot, lot less reading it fifteen years later. Sometimes it's interesting to go back and revisit things you've always held up so high, you know? Sometimes they're just as you remember them, but for different reasons, and sometimes the distance shows you how much your taste has changed, or your threshold for certain types of narratives.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

city arts and lectures

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Joan Didion.
Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

the tuesday interview: elana k. arnold

Elana K. Arnold's book Sacred is coming out in Fall 2012 and I can't wait. She's one of those people (Like Lindsay Leavitt) who writes books, raises great kids and is funny and down to earth and you sort of want her to be your best friend.

RQD: What are you working on? What interests you about these characters?

Elana K. Arnold: Right now I’m doing the research for the sequel to SACRED, my first novel, which Random House/Delacorte is publishing next fall. SACRED and its sequel entwine Kabbalistic mysticism and provocative romance. So I’m reading lots of texts, trying to deepen my own understanding of this complicated and ancient topic—Kabbalah, that is. I love my protagonist,Scarlett because she’s flawed and somewhat broken but determined to heal and grow. Also, both SACRED and its sequel deal with horses—Scarlett is an avid rider—and I love writing about horses.

RQD: What art or artists interest you?

EA: My first love, even outside of fiction, is books. I love memoir; David Sedaris thrills me, John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye was wonderful, Temple Grandin is amazing. When I listen to music it’s often James Taylor. His voice brings me back to my childhood since my parents always listened to his music, too. And I have a guilty fascination with celebrities… not necessarily as ‘artists,’ but as human beings.

RQD: What book, story or poem do you return to over and over?

E: Easy. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman is always nearby. Everything by John Irving, particularly A Prayer for Owen Meany. And Paul Auster’s books—namely The New York Trilogy—probably because I’m still trying to figure it out.

RQD: What are you reading now?

EA: Aside from texts about the Kabbalah—Arthur Green’s A Guide to the Zohar and Daniel C. Matt’s Essential Kabbalah—I’m revisiting mystery novels (a sort of pleasurable research). There are competing stacks of Agatha Christie and Harry Kemelman on my table. And I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild; I preordered it.

RQD:What did you read as a kid? What is its impact on your work now?

EA: Anything I could get my hands on. Anne of Green Gables and Gone with the Wind were huge for me, I devoured all of Christie’s books, and was fascinated by Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sex But were Afraid to Ask (which I found in my grandmother’s library!). All the Pretty Horses and Cowboys are my Weakness taught me that you could write about horses without being insipid. I read literary fiction—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Rand—and trashy bodice-ripper romances. I was an indiscriminate reader. I think the result is that as a writer I smash together everything I love, highbrow and lowbrow alike.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

already, the facts dissemble

Understand, I love you, even as I turn from you like this,
stumbling breathless down a dim and disappearing street behind
a man who squints at house numbers, bewildered, about to say
something I can almost hear.
From "Apology" by Marie Howe

your clever hands never lie

Friday, November 11, 2011

because the new york times doesn't have comics

It turns out that working on Because the New York Times Doesn't Have Comics is a blast. Last week's issue is archived here. Plus, M. put together a Vimeo channel (in our house, this one from anima istanbul is a runaway hit) and started an Indiebound list of the book recommendations we've received. What are your favorite kid-friendly links?

Video: Don't Go from anima istanbul on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

the tuesday interview: nova ren suma

I bought Nova Ren Suma's book, Imaginary Girls, because I loved the cover (I love covers) but when I read the first three pages, I slammed the book shut. Damn this book is good. I saved it for my SF/NY flight and as soon as I got settled, I started in again. I didn't look up. I didn't watch the movie. Five hours went by and I was completely transported.

RQD: What are you working on? What interests you about these characters?

Nova Ren Suma: I’m working on a few things—all in different stages—so my head’s a mess right now. My next YA novel coming out with Dutton (release date still to be determined) is a ghost story, in a way, and sometimes the pieces I write for it deeply disturb me. WHO wrote that? I think. And then I realize… Oh, that was me. The characters in it, these girls with frightening fates, have been haunting me for the past year. I’m interested in rescuing them from what they have to face, and I think they’re interested in pulling me in with them.

RQD: What art or artists (not fiction, but theatre, painters, music, etc.) interest you?

NRS: There is a photographer who’s fascinated me for years. I first discovered her photographs in a college photo class, when we were studying self-portraits, and she’s been my favorite artist ever since: Francesca Woodman. It’s a very sad story (she committed suicide at age 22), and in her beautiful black-and-white images—many of which are of herself—you can see how stunningly talented she was. There’s so much said in these images, by the way she blurs herself out and hides within the frame, by what’s shown as well as what’s not shown. I can’t even articulate how much I love her photographs.

I’m also drawn to female musicians—to a certain kind of voice (always honest), and a storytelling quality in songs. I have such a crush on Amanda Palmer… she’s amazing. And I’m a huge fan of Chan Marshall, Karen O., PJ Harvey, Emily Haines, and Alison Mosshart. I’d listen to, and write to, any song they sing.

RQD: What book, story or poem do you return to over and over?

NRS: There are some books I’ve read again and again and will continue to, probably for the rest of my life. One is a novel called The Last Life by Claire Messud; I’m obsessed with it. Another is Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr. Then there are the short stories, the Alice Munro collections and Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (which I’ve been known to read aloud to others, especially his story “Dirty Wedding,” which, just… wow) and Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun and the brilliant fairy-tale retellings in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.

RQD: What are you reading now?

NRS: I’m reading some YA manuscripts I must keep secret… but I’m loving what I’ve read so far. I also believe in using tempting books as motivators, so my reward for finishing the proposal pages of my next novel and turning them in to my agent will be 1Q84, Haruki Murakami’s new novel, which promises to be very magical.

RQD: What did you read as a kid? What is its impact on your work now?

NRS: I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. When I look back, I see that the books that most impacted me were the novels I found on my mom’s bookshelves. She was—still is—an avid reader. Seeing her read and love books all throughout my childhood certainly shaped me as a person and ignited this dream in me to write my own books one day. When I was about twelve or thirteen I borrowed her Margaret Atwood books: Cat’s Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale. They opened my eyes to what kinds of stories I could tell. They showed me that stories about girls could be books, too. I decided I’d grow up to be a writer very soon after that.

Photo: Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots,

Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 on view at SFMOMA

Monday, November 7, 2011

restroll and stroll some never deepening beach

Shoes via Dores

before all that

Ruby said I’d never drown—not in deep ocean, not by shipwreck, not even by falling drunk into someone’s bottomless backyard pool. She said she’d seen me hold my breath underwater for minutes at a time, but to hear her tell it you’d think she meant days. Long enough to live down there if needed, to skim the seafloor collecting shells and shiny soda caps, looking up every so often for the rescue lights, even if they took forever to come.

It sounded impossible, something no one would believe if anyone other than Ruby were the one to tell it. But Ruby was right: The body found that night wouldn’t be, couldn’t be mine.

We had no idea—this was before the blue-flashing strobe through the pines; the spotlit glare on water; the skidding over rocks; the grabbing of shoes, any shoes, of clothes, any clothes. Before we went running through the brush and the sharp sticks cut our bare feet. Before the heart in my chest went pounding, all the while wondering, Is this really happening? when it was, most definitely it was. Before all that—all we wanted was to go swimming.

From Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. Tomorrow on The Tuesday Interview

Photo by Keegan Gibbs via Aubrey Road

and the goddaughter said

Joe Davis designed this site for me and the goddaughter said, "it's like a secret."

Friday, November 4, 2011

through honesty

I am always very precisely implicated in my films, not through narcissism but through honesty in my approach. Agnes Varda

Thursday, November 3, 2011

she said that we'd see buffalo

We fought. When my mother and I crossed state lines in the stolen car, I’d sit against the window and wouldn’t talk. I wouldn’t even look at her. The fights came when I thought she broke a promise. She said there’d be an Indian reservation. She said that we’d see buffalo in Texas. My mother said a lot of things. We were driving from Bay City, Wisconsin, to California, so I could be a child star while I was still a child. Anywhere but Here, Mona Simpson via distraction no. 99

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

the tuesday interview: andrew sean greer

I still find it surprising when writers I admire say yes to my interview requests. Andrew Sean Greer is one of those writers. He's our writer, a Bay Area writer, and he's always struck me as someone you'd like to have around, someone who, as he says, is "game for a mysterious adventure."

RQD: What are you working on? What interests you about these characters?

Andrew Sean Greer: I'm finishing the third draft of a novel called "Many Worlds" that is a literary novel set in multiple universes. As for these characters, I finally get to have some people with a sense of humor!

RQD: What art or artists have an effect on your work?

ASG: Poetry and painting has the greatest effect on me; poetry because they are doing the hard work down in the mines, and what they bring up always inspires my own work, and painting because there is something about the intensity of the painted flat surface that mesmerizes and moves me outside all reason. I find portraits to be fascinating. But for intensity, something like Cy Twombly or Serra's recent show of drawings at the Met really do it for me. Big overpowering movement. Cleverness does nothing for me; emotion is all I'm interested in with art. That probably goes for fiction as well.

RQD: What book, story or poem do you return to over and over?

ASG: Now I don't return to things because I love them; I return to them because they help my writing. These are related but not the same. And I'd say Proust and Grace Paley and Wallace Stevens. They always knock my socks off and get me going.

RQD: What are you reading now?

ASG: I'm reading Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium

RQD: What did you read as a kid? What is its impact on your work now?

ASG: I read antique children's fiction--you know, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, and Tom Sawyer, and the Boxcar Children and all that--that gradually turned into fantasy and science fiction and then turned into philosophical fiction by high school like Camus. Strangely enough, I still find those old books satisfying in ways that sci fi and even Camus are not, anymore. I think it's the quality of the writing and characterization. And the sense of people game for a mysterious adventure!

Drawing: Richard Serra "Late September" 2001