An Interview with Lance Olsen, author of Dreamlives of Debris

photo credit: andi olsen

Lance Olsen is the author of more than 20 books including eleven novels, one hypertext, critical studies, short-story collections, a poetry chapbook, and two anti-textbooks. His work has appeared in such places as Conjunctions, Black Warrior Review, Fiction International, Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, Village Voice, Time Out New York, BOMB, Gulf Coast, McSweeney’s, and Best American Non-Required Reading.

He is a Guggenheim and an N.E.A. fellowship recipient and teaches at the University of Utah.

We recently talked about his forthcoming book Dreamlives of Debris.

EB: Dreamlives of Debris seems to me to be in part a book about bodies. What prompted you to write this particular retelling of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur?

LO: The central point of view in Dreamlives of Debris lies with the Minotaur. We’re not talking about a monster with a bull’s head and human’s body here, though, but rather a little deformed girl whose parents hide her away at birth from public view in the labyrinth below Knossos.

She calls herself Debris, and possesses the ability to hear/see/feel the thoughts, memories, desires, pasts and futures of others throughout history, from Herodotus to Silk route traders to Borges, Derrida, and Edward Snowden. In fact, she can’t stop herself from channeling those voices. That’s the problem.

Her body, then, becomes a kind of living instrument through which time and others travel. That may sound like a science-fiction trope. But her state is also a metaphor for our Heraclitean bodies, how they are portals through which we are in good part constructed by temporality and the voices of strangers.

I’m also deeply interested in our culture’s notions of monstrosity: What does such an idea mean, and what does it reveal about what our society must repress to remain whole?

EB: It seems to me that there is a special value to retelling myths in that it both challenges the myths themselves and challenges contemporary mythologies. Is that part of what you had in mind here?

LO: Absolutely. Rewriting is a form of re-righting, bringing essential narratives into a contemporary key, because through retellings we un-tell, compose our present rather than perpetuating someone else’s past, interrogate the assumptions behind received narratives, recast them so they continue to mean for us.

By doing so, we remind ourselves that there are always other ways to narrativize our lives, which is to say other ways to live them, than the ones we’ve been taught.

EB: In Dreamlives of Debris you seem to be defying the reader to keep up, and the text sent me to Wikipedia more than once. How should readers approach the book?

LO: When I begin composing a work, I often ask myself what its central metaphor is, then follow that down through overall structure all the way to word choice. Here that metaphor is the labyrinth.

I laid out Dreamlives myself in InDesign, as interested in building a novel as in writing one. Every page is a perfect square loud with white space. Each represents a different room in Debris’ labyrinth. And each arrives without a page number, so it’s easy to become disoriented, lost, as a reader, just as Debris and her victims become disoriented, lost at the level of narrative.

Because the novel arrives with no conventional location markers, the reader may feel a bit freer to jump around, begin to think of reading as a mode of choreography, a way of being in the world, taking various paths as the mood strikes, for as long as the mood strikes, and then perhaps wandering off in a different direction.

Another way of saying this: Dreamlives is, I hope, both an estrangement of the reading process and an invitation to read widely, freely, wildly, thinking of the novel as one part of a larger textual constellation (including, say, Wikipedia, other tellings of the Minotaur myth, a dictionary), whose dots one can join in a multitude of ways.

EB: Can you tell us a little about how you balance the experimentation and the quest for revelation — or truth — in your work?

LO: I’m a subscriber to Roland Barthes’ observation: “Literature is the question minus the answer.” So the kind of writing that excites me most isn’t that which presents a truth (I might call that propaganda) so much as that which presents a problematics, both at the stratum of form and theme, meant to challenge us to see and feel and think in unusual, complex, and — all going well — illuminating ways.

Truth suggests a telos, an end, a point of arrival, a product. I guess I’m more interested in the journey through the unending labyrinth.

EB: In Dreamlives of Debris you comment on grammar and language quite a bit, saying for example that “grammar is by nature a category of error,” that “people put too much faith in grammar” and that “language is a proliferation of distance,” and at one point referring to a chamber that “stank language. Vowels, mostly.” How do you feel about grammar and language?

LO: We started off talking about Dreamlives as an investigation of bodies, of embodiment, which is definitely the case, yet in my mind the novel is equally an investigation into the problem of language —a problem that has dogged theory for the last hundred years plus. The more philosophers and writers have tried to tackle that idea, whether Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, or Derrida, the more language has come to seem slippery and gorgeous and a system that is both profoundly flawed and beyond which we cannot think.

The question only gets more fascinatingly complicated when we ask precisely what the relationship between language and the body is. These days theory tends to privilege the latter, but of course we can’t think the body without language, nor can we think language without the body.

Debris understands this at a cellular level.

EB: I was struck by the name Debris, so I did a little googling and found that there are people named Debris. What do you make of that?

LO: I had no idea! I’m without words.

EB: Your work is known for rebelling or resisting the concept of genre. What do you think of genre?

LO: Genres are a series of reading codes we’ve been taught to recognize. They allow us to have relatively predictable, comfortable relationships with texts. But those that I respond to most are the ones that destabilize our reading experience in various ways, including by fusing and confusing genres, or trying to work outside them altogether.

Experimental narrative isn’t just another genre like, say, detective fiction or romance, in other words. Rather, I think of it as a possibility space that invites us to move beyond categorical thinking.

EB: You’ve been a writer for some time now. How has your notion of innovation evolved?

LO: I guess a good way to put it is this: none of us are the same readers at forty we were at fourteen, or at sixty we were at six. So what constitutes the concept of innovation will change for each of us over time, depending on what we’ve read, how we’ve lived, how we’ve changed (I wouldn’t quite say “evolved,” which might connote progress for some), how we’ve been educated, even where we’ve inhabited. So one person’s mind-bending experimentation may be another’s ho-hum status quo.

I suppose, given my own set of circumstances, my tolerance for what some might call extreme texts has gone up.

I’ve grown immune, perhaps, to many species of the infection.

EB: How does your approach to writing affect you as a reader? What do you think about when you read other people’s work? And who do you read?

LO: I think of writing as a mode of reading, reading as a mode of writing. Both are extraordinarily active practices, interactive ones, ones that are continuously in motion. That’s what’s tremendously exciting for me about sitting down with a book or before my laptop.

Samuel R. Delany once observed your writing is only as good as the best book you’ve read within the last six months or so. I like that thought. It motivates one to read widely, both across time and space.

So, let’s see, how to comment on who I read. Well, maybe emblematically. In the last week I’ve read a couple really amazing books: for fun, China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts; for teaching Anne Carson’s Nox and David Clark’s hypermedial piece 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein. I’ve just started Carlos Fuentes’ Nietzsche on His Balcony.

And I find the ongoing conversation with my students continually energizing. This week in my graduate Experimental Forms workshop, for instance, one of them has produced a digital interactive fiction that keeps unwriting itself, while another has built an art book, based on a Mayan creation myth, that opens up, page by page, into a colorful three-dimensional flower as you read it.

That’s the kind of work that makes me want to get back to my desk as soon as possible and start writing — like our lives and aesthetics depended on it, which they do.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

LO: Thank you! What a pleasure.

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An Interview with John Enders

John Enders is a freelance writer, photographer, and journalist with interests in blue-water sailing. international business, foreign policy, wine and exotic travel. He worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, and served as the editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings and as the executive director of the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

In honor of the centennial of Ashland’s Lithia Park, Enders has released his book Lithia Park: The Heart and Soul of Ashland. Enders’ great-grandfather, Henry G. Enders was on the first Parks Commission.

EB: What prompted you to write this book on Ashland’s Lithia Park?

JE: In a conversation two years ago with Bruce Dickens, then-superintendent of Lithia Park, it became clear that a history of the park had never been written. When I started looking at it, I realized it was very timely, with the 100th anniversary of the park’s dedication coming up in 2016.

EB: How did you go about researching the history of the park? Did you run into any difficulties?

JE: First, I read everything I could find about the park. Marjorie Lutz O’Hara, Ashland’s longtime resident historian, wrote a pamphlet on the park’s history a number of years ago, and there were a couple of other short pieces published in various places. The biggest difficulty I had was convincing the Ashland Parks Foundation board members that it was a worthy project. That was difficult to understand, frankly. It is a fundraiser for the foundation.

EB: What does the park’s history have to say about the values of Ashland, then and now?

JE: The park is the centerpiece of the town. It says, very clearly, we value and appreciate open spaces, natural beauty, and conservation.

EB: What was the most surprising thing that you learned?

JE: That a group of 60 Ashland women were instrumental in convincing the men who ran the town that creation of the park must happen.

EB: I understand that the park’s design was innovative for its time. How so?

JE: The central portion of the park was designed by John Hays McLaren, the long-time superintendent of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. And he was heavily influenced by his mentor, Frederick Law Olmstead, who had been instrumental in creating New York’s Central Park. The central idea of their park philosophy was simple: parks should be made for and accessible to all people, and should bring nature into the city. Throughout history, parks had largely been for the rich.

EB: How has the park shaped present downtown Ashland, good and bad?

JE: I see no downside. The park has been a central part of the town since it first was dedicated in 1906. The Ashland plaza is immediately adjacent to the entrance to the park, and visitors and locals alike use the park heavily for all sorts of activities. The idea that the city should have an permanent tax levy to fund parks, and that an elected parks commission should be in charge – independent of the city council – was a revolutionary concept.

EB: If things had gone differently with the park, what would Ashland be like today?

JE: A huge political struggle surrounded the first years of the park’s formation. The commercial club, the predecessor to the Chamber of Commerce, and others wanted to build a large, privately-operated “resort” in the middle of the park. Another faction, including my great-grandfather Henry Enders Sr., insisted that the park should remain in public hands and that private, for-profit activities in the park should be severely limited. The 100-acre park would not exist today if the first group had won the day. It was a brutal battle. One of the reasons I loved doing this book was the role my ancestor played as one of the first park commissioners.

EB: What other projects are you working on?

JE: I am a bit of a fanatic regarding the history and politics of Latin America, and as a journalist I lived and worked in South America for several years. I’m working on a book on the last days of Ché Guevara, who was killed in Bolivia in October 1967. It’s a collaboration with a Bolivian colleague and the Bolivian army officer who captured Ché. I’ve also got a couple of fiction projects underway.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

JE: My pleasure, Ed.

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An Interview with Victor Lodato

Victor Lodato is a novelist, playwright, and poet. His first novel, Mathilda Savitch, was called “a Salingeresque wonder” by The New York Times and was on the “Best Book” lists of The Christian Science Monitor, Booklist, and The Globe and Mail. Mathilda Savitch won the PEN USA Award for Fiction and the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize.

Victor’s second novel, Edgar and Lucy, was published this week (St. Martin’s Press). Lena Dunham calls Edgar and Lucy “profoundly spiritual and hilariously specific” and Sophie McManus lauds the “tender, funny, living immediacy of its characters.”

Victor is a Guggenheim Fellow and the recipient of fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, The Princess Grace Foundation, The Camargo Foundation in France, and The Bogliasco Foundation in Italy.

His work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Granta, and Best American Short Stories. A recent essay was published in the “Modern Love” column at The New York Times.

Originally from New Jersey, Victor lives in Ashland, Oregon and Tucson, Arizona.

EB: Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you find your way to writing?

VL: As a kid, growing up in New Jersey, in a working-class Italian-Polish family, I was the odd duck, writing poetry and melodramatic skits that I begged my older jock brother to perform with me. When I went to college (the first person in my family to do so), I entered a fine arts program, to study acting. After college, I was an actor for years. Often, though, I found myself being cast in plays that I didn’t really care for (for instance, a stint as Nicky the warlock in a revival of the 1950s Bell, Book, and Candle). Eventually, I decided to try my hand at writing some one-character plays for myself. Over a six-year period, I wrote and performed seven one-man plays, supported in part by a Solo Theater Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. It was a busy and intense time, but, ultimately, I burned myself out. I’m basically an introvert, fairly shy, and after years of doing these shows, I realized that I felt much more myself when I was writing the pieces, rather than performing them. I stopped acting and became a playwright—and then, twelve or so years ago, I switched paths again. I wrote my first novel—Mathilda Savitch—which was published in 2009.

In regard to the multiple genres I’ve worked in, I used to feel that it was the moody, somewhat depressed Polish boy in me that wrote the poems, and then the more hot-blooded Italian boy that wrote the plays. But, in writing fiction, I feel like those two sides of me collaborate. Fiction seems to allow me to incorporate the various aspects of my nature into a single undertaking.

EB: I was really captivated by your first book, Mathilda Savitch, and by the wild combination of world-weariness and innocence that the title character brought to the narration. How did you capture such a voice?

VL: Mathilda’s voice just arrived in my head one morning with incredible force and clarity. And though the first words seemed a bit ominous (I want to be awful. I want to do awful things), I knew that they weren’t coming from someone evil, but rather from a child—a willful adolescent refusing to be contained. I really can’t begin any piece of writing without this deep connection to a voice. With Mathilda, I felt from the start that I knew her in my body, in my breath. Where such voices come from is one of the mysteries of the writing process, and one that I tend not to question.

EB: In some way that book seemed to be an allegory of the experience that young people—and all of us—had with terrorism. Is that part of what you had in mind?

VL: I started to write Mathilda Savitch in September of 2002, almost exactly one year after 9/11. The first few months of writing, I wasn’t thinking—at least not consciously—about terrorism or tragedy or grief. I didn’t know what the story was. I was simply following the voice of this young girl, who at that point was still a stranger to me. Over time, though, I began to see that Mathilda and I had a lot in common. Whereas I began the novel one year after 9/11, the story of the book begins one year after the death of Mathildaʼs beloved older sister, Helene. Terrorism hovers in the background of Mathildaʼs world, as well, and I can see now that by borrowing this child’s voice, I was able to address my own fear and confusion and sadness about 9/11 in a very open and innocent way. It was liberating to write in the voice of a child, from the perspective of someone who is still learning the world and interpreting its complexities for the first time. I think, in some ways, grief turns everyone into children: innocents standing before the incomprehensible.

EB: In Edgar and Lucy, your new novel, you tell the story of death and tragedy in an Italian-American family in New Jersey and young Edgar’s surreal path out of childhood. This seems to be a novel about what is real and true, and in which none of the characters are clear-cut. As a writer, you seem to be pushing us out of our comfort zone but holding our interest at the same time. What’s the key to that balance? For me it was in the small, familiar details of description.

VL: You always want there to be some kind of suspense in regard to what will happen next, or even in regard to understanding the motives or morality of the characters. I think at the core of all writing and reading is mystery—the ultimate mystery being, who are other people? One writes—and reads—in an attempt to answer this question, or at least to get closer to an answer.

Ultimately, I want to write stories that have transformative power—for the reader, for the characters, for myself. I guess I’m a romantic in that I want to read and write books that will change me, change my life. I like books that are grounded in emotional truth, but that can also feel mythic. Of course, I never think about myth at the front of my brain while writing. It’s more something I feel in my gut—a sort of physical sensation, a sense that this story is a matter of life and death. In Edgar and Lucy, the hero of the story is really Edgar. And his power isn’t physical strength or even overt bravery, but rather this sort of uncanny ability to love ferociously and to offer kindness in the most unlikely situations, and to offer it to people who don’t seem to deserve it. It’s funny, writing this book I realized how strangely rare real kindness is, when it’s the simplest thing in the world and should be so easy to offer. And I guess if I’ve woken up from a ten-year dream of writing this book into a world in which there is suddenly so much unkindness, then I feel good about putting this love story into the world at this particular moment. Because, ultimately, that’s how I see this book—as a love story. And not just one story, but a number of love stories that are all connected to each other. It took everything I had in me to write this book. I don’t take fiction writing lightly. I really do believe that fiction, both the writing of it and the reading of it, is a very civilizing thing. In it, there’s the possibility of learning to love people who are nothing like you—and that’s where the miracle of art happens, and you change.

EB: I wondered if the crispness of the characters in your novels—Edgar, Lucy, Mathilda—comes from your being a playwright. How do you see the two styles of writing as coming together in your work? Was it difficult to write a longer piece or did you find that freeing?

VL: Certainly, writing from voice and character is an extension of my work in the theater. When I write, I actively feel myself taking on the characters, performing them, really, while I work. I never write without talking to myself, without speaking the words out loud as I put them down.

I guess one could say that the medium of theater is fate, while the medium of fiction is memory. I try to bring into my fiction some of the danger of theater, to create narratives that, even as they describe the past, are somehow infused with a present-tense theatricality that raises the stakes of the emotional transactions.

One of the things that I love about writing novels is the freedom to let the story unfold over a greater length of time. In a play, the magic circle drawn around the characters has to be much tighter. When crafting a play, I invariably find that I write more scenes than I can actually use. In a play, too much extra material, too many diversions, can be fatal, especially if these things impede the sense of inevitability, the sense that we are witnessing characters caught in the wheels of fate. And while a novel’s power can be reduced by excess baggage, as well (and, in writing mine, I do think I apply my playwright’s habit of precision), the form is clearly a roomier one—one that allows the characters to have a few more detours of thought and situation. And, having fallen so deeply in love with Edgar and Lucy and Mathilda, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to give them a more generous life.

EB: I was struck by an early scene in the book where Edgar’s teacher is encouraging students to draw bananas and wine glasses, but Edgar wants to doodle instead. Does writing have a doodling aspect to it?

VL: I love this question. As Edgar says: drawing is when you have to make a picture of something that’s in front of you; doodling is when you just make stuff up. And writing, for me, is much more like doodling—at least in the beginning. I never work with a plan or an outline. For me, a first sentence is often like a crazy blob of paint that my subconscious throws down on the page—and then I work from there toward a greater understanding of the picture. Often, the first few paragraphs are a kind of free association—which I follow in an attempt to discover what’s really on my mind. I like to stay dumb as a writer, especially in the early stages of creating a story. I’ll trip myself up if I try to control things, or pretend that I know more that I really do.

EB: As a linguist, I feel compelled to ask about the names of your characters: Edgar and Lucy Fini, Mathilda and Helene Savitch. These are not your usual Ashleys and Michaels. What’s the role of characters’ names in fiction?

VL: To be honest, I usually just stick with the first name that pops into my head for a character. Only rarely do I question this impulse and change the name. Edgar was born to me as Edgar—the same for Lucy, the same for Mathilda. Even if a name seems a bit odd, I just go with it. And then of course sometimes the name leads me to understand more about the character later. When I landed on the name Edgar, it made me question who had given him this name—a question that ended up revealing some things to me about his father. Also, the name Edgar seemed sort of “gothic”—and maybe that encouraged me to lean into some of the more gothic elements of the story.

I do think, in many ways, that this book is a true gothic, in that it’s about Edgar and Lucy’s complicated connection to the past, and there’s definitely a sense of the past as a source of malignant influence. And of course all of this is happening in an updated version of the ruined castle, which is the dilapidated Fini house, certainly a haunted place. While working on this novel, I sometimes imagined a playful subtitle: Edgar and Lucy, A New Jersey Gothic—and this actually gave me permission to go with a more heightened kind of storytelling, and not to be afraid of the emotional temperature of the book—which gets pretty hot, at times. I was often sitting at my desk, shouting or laughing or crying. I can only imagine what my neighbors must think.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

VL: Thank you, Ed, for asking such good questions!

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An Interview with Sarah E. Stevens, author of Dark Moon Rising

Sarah E. Stevens began her love of writing and fantasy with the tales of Narnia, Middle Earth, and Pern. A fan of all fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction, she started playing Dungeons& Dragons with the good old boxed sets. She still plays today, but divides her time between art, work, family (her partner Gary, their three kids, three cats, some fish and some hermit crabs), and writing. Dark Moon Wolf is her first novel.

Sarah E. Stevens lives in Evansville, Indiana. You can learn more at her website sarahestevens.com and Twitter feed @sessiesarah .

EB: Tell us about Dark Moon Wolf.

SS: Dark Moon Wolf is a paranormal novel about Julie Hall, who discovers her four month old baby Carson is a Werewolf. She’s a single mom and a librarian in Jacksonville, kind of an everywoman, and estranged from Carson’s father—who never even knew she was pregnant. In her search for answers, Julie travels to Greybull, Wyoming to find her ex-boyfriend in the hope he has some idea of how Carson could be a Were. She does find answers, but also becomes the target of a mysterious enemy that’s out to kill her—or her son.

In addition to the intrigue of the plot, my novel revolves around motherhood and strong female friendships. Julie’s relationship with Carson is crucial throughout the book. And she couldn’t survive without a tight trio of friendship that springs up between her, her best friend Sheila, and a Werewolf named Eliza.

EB: The story involves a single mom who discovers that her son is a werewolf. How did you come up with that idea. And how did your kids react?

SS: When my son Zack was four months old, he bit my shoulder so hard that I actually have a scar from one of his teeth. He wasn’t being vicious—he was in pain from teething and from acid reflux and he just clamped down as I held him. It HURT. At the time, I remember saying a bunch of swear words and then randomly thinking, “Well, at least he’s not a Werewolf.” Then I thought… wait a minute, what if he WERE a Werewolf? How would he have become a Werewolf? That would mean everything we think we know about Weres is wrong… And that was the seed of the book. My kids think it is hilarious that Zack’s bite spawned the whole thing. And Zack likes to look at the scar on my shoulder, even though he definitely feels bad that he hurt me.

EB: How did you develop your Werewolves to be so different than the typical Weres?

SS: I love reading fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction, so I’ve read a lot of Werewolf novels. But one thing that’s always rubbed me wrong is that most writers imagine the wolf swallowing the human. Were stories describe communities focused on the alpha male, who’s usually the bad-boy love interest. What if Weres were more human than wolf? Or as much human as wolf? What if pack status didn’t revolve around brute strength, but something else? Those questions were central to my development of the Weres’ relationship to the moon and its powers. I wanted my Weres to be more than just shape-shifters, and to be less patriarchal in structure.

EB: Part of the story is set here in southern Oregon. Is this a particularly good setting for the supernatural?

SS: I think so! Besides, write what you know—isn’t that what they say? The opening of Dark Moon Wolf is set in southern Oregon. Julie’s best friend even teaches at Southern Oregon University. Julie’s adventures then take her to Greybull, Wyoming and Las Vegas—both places I’ve travelled to and know something about.

EB: What the attraction of werewolves, vampires, and so on to readers, in your opinion?

SS: Part of the reason we like fantasy in general, I think, is for the escapism it provides. Who doesn’t want to think they might meet a fairy around the corner or experience real magic in their normal lives? Paranormal fiction merges our everyday lives and fantastical elements, so we can inject ourselves into that built world in a different way than is possible in high fantasy. I think that meld of reality and fantasy is a major part of the allure. At the same time, all fantasy genres just provide a different canvas on which to explore the same central life questions that all literature explores.

EB: Dark Moon Wolf is part of a planned series. What’s next?

SS: The second book in the series, Waxing Moon, is also under contract and in the editing process. The entirety of Waxing Moon is set in southern Oregon, and I had a lot of fun describing the area and bringing in locations like Lithia Park. In Waxing Moon, Julie and her son are under attack from a group Salamanders, a paranormal species with powers of light and fire. Salamanders and Werewolves exist in a kind of yin-yang relationship, balancing the sun and the moon. I enjoyed coming up with what is—to my knowledge—a new paranormal race. Waxing Moon also brings in a couple of love interests for Julie.

EB: You are a self-described “board-game geek.” What are some of your favorites?

SS: Such a hard question! Everyone in my family of five is a board game geek. When I talk about board games, I mean modern niche/hobby board games, not things like Monopoly or Risk (which are fine games, just not what I mean!). I prefer Euro-style strategy games like Terra Mystica, Euphoria, and Viticulture. Lighter games—Mysterium, Carcassonne—and party games such as One Night Ultimate Werewolf also get a lot of play at our house. Our family has a standing Thursday night Dungeons & Dragons campaign and we also play Magic the Gathering, a collectible card game. Overall geeks.

EB: Who are some of your favorite authors?

SS: Everyone who loves fantasy is going to start with J.R.R. Tolkien, for good reason. I grew up also reading C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin, and Octavia Butler. Right now, two of my favorites are Robin Hobb and Sharon Shinn. I met Robin Hobb at GenCon this past summer and went totally fangirl on her. I love her skills at world-building and the way she develops characters.

EB: You’ve also got a day job. Tell us a bit about your writing life.

SS: I don’t find nearly enough time to write. I work full-time, teach a university class on top of that, and have three kids. I’m working on book three of my series right now, tentatively titled Rising Wolf. I have a separate book living in my head, and hope to have time to start it in the next six months. Sometimes I snatch 30 minutes of writing in the morning before work. Sometimes I write during my lunch time. Sometimes I write for an hour or so in the evenings after the kids are in bed. There are days I don’t write at all, though—too many of those. Thank goodness for things like iCloud, where my most recent manuscript can be pulled up anywhere, anytime. I also have other hobbies that demand some time—gaming, painting, making chain maille jewelry. I try to remember that every word and every page counts!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

SS: Thanks so much for having me!

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Diversity in Young Adult Literature, a guest post by Zoë Dean

Zoë Dean is a senior at Southern Oregon University, majoring in business and minoring in English

What is Young Adult literature?

The general assumption between the book industry and readers is that young adult books are suited for ages twelve to eighteen years old. But the definition what is really “young adult” varies, The Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse (ERIC) defines young adults as those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) streches that definition up to 25. (Nilsen and Donelson). Alleen Pace Nilsen and Kenneth L. Donelson wrote that their concept of YA could “mean anything that readers between the approximate ages of twelve and eighteen choose to read either for leisure reading or to fill school assignments.” This is a pretty broad statement but it captures the somewhat vague boundaries of the genre. YA is a relatively new genre. In 1942 Maureen Daly wrote what is considered to be the first book written and published explicitly for teenagers Seventeenth Summer. But it was only in the 1960s that the Young Adult Library Services Association actually coined the term “young adult” with books like S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, paving the way for the first boom of young adult literature in the 1970s, including the works of Judy Blume, Lois Duncan and Robert Cormier. The 1980s saw the rise of R.L. Stine and series dramas like Sweet Valley High. A dip in the ‘90s due to low birthrates in the ‘70s meant less readers and the Young Adult Library Services Association to launch Teen Read Week in an effort to encourage teens to read in 1998. But it was in this time period that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series took off, leading the way for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and into the modern genre of today’s YA literature.

A hallmark of the young adult genre is transformation, ranging from realistic portrayals of growing up to the paranormal transformation of a teen werewolf. It mirrors the teenage mindset of being “caught between two worlds, childhood and adulthood,” remarks Jennifer Lynn Barnes, a young adult author, Ph.D. and cognitive science scholar. “Teens wanted things that were real, that they connected with,” Levithan said. “It doesn’t have to reflect reality directly. They love ‘The Hunger Games’ not because it’s real in that it happens, but the emotions there are real, and it’s very relatable” (Strickland). Now the YA genre itself is transforming. Molly Wetta, a collection development librarian, acknowledges there has been a trend of mature content in YA books. “Many books are being labeled with a 14 (or even 15 or 16) and up target audience, instead of 12 and up.” It is Wetta’s conclusion that YA is expanding to include a more mature audience, adults. These “mature” young adult novels are being designated to a category called New Adult. Goodreads explains, “New Adult fiction bridges the gap between Young Adult and Adult genres. It typically features protagonists between the ages of 18 and 30… focusing on issues experienced by individuals between the area of childhood and adulthood, such as leaving home for university and getting a job.”

The argument for (diverse) Young Adult literature

In a 2011 article titled “Young People are Reading More than You” Withers and Ross found that “kids are buying books in quantities we’ve never seen before… We are right smack-dab in the new golden age of young adult literature.” In 2010 Kids & Family Reading Report found that 43 percent of the children ages 9-11 believe the most important outcome of reading books for fun is to open up the imagination, and 62 percent of the same demographic say they read books for fun “to be inspired by storylines and characters.” Half of the 9-11 year-olds surveyed by Scholastic said they read books to “help you figure out who you are and who you could become.” Michael Cart acknowledges this:

Teenagers urgently need books that speak with relevance and immediacy to their real lives and to their unique emotional, intellectual, and developmental needs and that provide a place of commonality of experience and mutual understanding…young readers need to see not only their own faces but also those of people who are different from them, for it’s in this way that books show them not only the differences but also the commonalities that comprise their humanity. By acquainting readers with the glorious varieties of the human experience, young adult literature invests young hearts and minds with tolerance, understanding, empathy, acceptance, compassion, kindness, and more.

Scientific American backs up these claims reporting that “Even reading short stories about friendship between in- and out-group characters is enough to improve attitudes toward stigmatized groups in children…[reading] results in keener social perception and increased empathy — empathy being defined more or less as the ability to alternate between different perspectives on a particular person or situation.” (Stetka). Alvina Ling, executive editor at Little, Brown, says that it is important for young readers to have access to books with diverse characters because “it helps foster acceptance and understanding of different people. These titles are for that child who is not seeing himself in the books he’s reading or a child from a different culture to have compassion towards people who are not like him” (Diaz).

The influence of young adult books on their readers present perhaps the strongest case for diverse literature. Research backs up the claims that reading improves empathy and compassion, expands world views, and decreases negative bias. Reading diverse stories helps instill insight and compassion, not to mention bringing diversity into stories make things interesting. Junot Diaz reminds us that is was issues of race that created the X-men, the extermination of Indigenous people laid the foundation for science-fiction’s first contact stories, a history of colonialism and imperialism created Star Wars.

What is diversity?

The We Need Diverse Books movement says diversity is “All diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA+, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural and religious minorities.” Malinda Lo, co-creator of DiversityInYa.com and YA author, expands on this by saying diverse books need to have a main character or one of the primary point-of-view characters fall under one or more of these categories. As Lo puts it, “Characters of color, LGBT and disabled characters deserve to be the heroes of their own stories.”

Rudine Sims Bishop at the Ohio State University wrote an article on the concept of “windows and mirrors” in children’s literature. “[Reading] becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books… When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part of.” Bishop’s paper explains that children in dominate social groups often see themselves in the books they read, their own lives and experiences are mirrored back at them. Not only does this harm the children who do not see themselves in literature, but it denies the children who only see reflections of themselves the opportunity to see through a window to other’s lives. The books that portray the multicultural world that they live in help them realize their connections to all other humans.

In an interview, Junot Diaz laments the lack of representation he saw when he was growing up, “You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought is… if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves” He reflects back on his childhood, thinking that there was something wrong with him because the society he was part of seemed to deny the existence of people who looked like he did. As a writer he became inspired to create mirrors that would reflect kids that were like him, so that they “might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Challenges diverse books face

In 2014 there were 65 YA fiction titles on the best seller list, among them only 10 featured a main character of color, which is only 15 percent. To put this number in perspective, 38 percent of the children living in the United States in 2014 were people of color. In the 65 bestselling YA titles, eight included LGBT main characters and only two featured characters with disabilities (Lo). And, just because this representation was technically there, it does not mean that it was truthful or positive. Many books lack quality representation, side lining the diverse characters to best friend roles off to the side, or worse creating culturally appropriate or negatively stereotypical characters that give a distorted view of a real people’s experience. The movement for diversity in YA books asks for cultures to be authentically represented, reflective of the many diverse lived experiences. The worlds in books provide one of the first opportunities children have to explore the world.

There is one category where diverse books have a strong presence, unfortunately, it’s on banned book lists. It seems diversity is slim— except when it comes to book challenges. “Among the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000–2009, 52 books included some kind of diversity — that’s 52%… Over half of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000–2009 addressed issues about race, sexuality and/or disability; or were about non-white, LGBTQ and/or disabled characters” (Lo). Often books what fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream status quo are challenged for reasons such as explicit language, but Lo argues that often explicit language is a discussion of minority perspectives. By banning these books result in “closing off dialogue and preventing readers from experiencing stories and lives outside the mainstream” (Lo). There’s a reason for this, Lo points out, and it’s not a pretty one: institutional racism and heteronormativity. “these are not simple issues, and there are no brief sound bytes that can explain the way that racism and heteronormativity are embedded in everyday life for everyone living in the world today” (Lo).

The good news

It had been two years since Malinda Lo conducted her research of young adult literature, and things have started looking up. There is a positive trend towards more diverse books. More are being published, and gaining widespread acceptance. More and more people are connecting with these stories.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz wrote Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a book about the love story of two Mexican-American boys in the 1980s to reflect his own experiences. But, that didn’t stop a teen girl in 2015 from identifying with the novel, “even though she wasn’t a gay boy…the tight-knit Mexican-American families reminded her of her own” (Wetta). Alaina Leary, a writer who self identifies as a queer, disabled woman, was often disappointed to read stories where characters that she related to were killed off, magically cured, or otherwise forgotten in some way. That changed in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows series, published in 2015: “In this series, we’re given scenes where disabled characters face their limitations, as well as scenes where the disability isn’t a major player, which is the lived experience of pretty much every disabled person I know. Our disabilities are important, but aren’t always a factor. … it does show that a character can be badass and disabled, that limitations aren’t inherently bad.”(Leary). Six of Crows has also been praised for its diverse characters who represent a range of experiences and deal with issues of disability, internalized ableism, and mental health. Issues like homophobia aren’t brought up in the fictional world that Bardugo creates, which is an important and purposeful choice. Normalizing diversity in fantasy worlds helps in normalize it in the real world. This falls under Malinda Lo’s advice to writers, to take responsibility for the worlds they create, and be conscious of the effects that they have on real people.

Michael Cart believes no other literary form or genre is as important as young adult literature. “Books show not only the differences but also the commonalities that comprise humanity… By acquainting readers with the glorious varieties of the human experience, young adult literature invests young hearts and minds with tolerance, understanding, empathy, acceptance, compassion, kindness, and more” (Cart).

The future is bright for diverse young adult literature. Looking into 2016 and beyond we are seeing more books tackling issues ranging from blindness and agoraphobia to the story of a transgender Italian-Pakistani painter. The world of YA is being filled with all new windows and mirrors for people of all ages to see not only themselves, but others in.

Works Cited

    Booth, Heather. “Embracing Diversity in YA Lit.” School Library Journal. N.p., 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Literature for Today’s Young Adults. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1980. Print.
    Dwyer, Liz. “Closing the Diversity Gap in Young Adult Literature.” TakePart. N.p., 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    “FanBrosShow Episode No. 30 – The Junot Diaz Episode.” SoundCloud. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Leary, Alaina. “Alive, Disabled, and Essential: How Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Six of Crows’ Series Made Me Feel Real.” Brooklyn Magazine. N.p., 30 Nov. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Lo, Malinda. “2014 LGBT YA by the Numbers.” Diversity in YA. N.p., 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Lo, Malinda. “Book Challenges Suppress Diversity.” Diversity in YA. N.p., 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Lo, Malinda. “Diversity in 2013 New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers.” Diversity in YA. N.p., 20 Apr. 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Stetka, Bret. “Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter.” Scientific American. N.p., 09 Sept. 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Strickland, Ashley. “A Brief History of Young Adult Literature.” CNN. Cable News Network, 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Tauber, Daveena, and Meg Elison. “The State of Publishing: Young People Are Reading More Than You.” McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. N.p., 8 Feb. 2011. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    We Need Diverse Books http://weneeddiversebooks.org/ Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
    Wetta, Molly. “Who Is Young Adult Literature For? – The Hub.” The Hub. N.p., 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
Posted in History of Publishing Observations, Ideas and Opinions | Comments Off on Diversity in Young Adult Literature, a guest post by Zoë Dean

An Interview with Peter Mitham, editor of Amphora

Peter Mitham’s writing has appeared in more than 80 publications worldwide. Based in Vancouver, Canada, he chronicles news and trends in real estate, agriculture and food for such publications as Wines and Vines, Good Fruit Grower and Business in Vancouver. His academic work includes a bibliography of author Robert W. Service (Oak Knoll, 2000). He has edited Amphora, the thrice-yearly journal of the Alcuin Society, since 2009.

EB: How did you get interested in book arts?

PM: I remember being sensitive to typefaces when I was a kid. I remember liking larger point sizes, but then gravitated towards the work of Grosset & Dunlap, which published the Hardy Boys books. In retrospect I would say I liked the layout, the way it made the adventure stories even more readable. I also collected stamps, and many of the designs Canada Post issued in the early 1970s reflected guidelines of designer Allan Fleming, who also produced the iconic logo of the Canadian National Railway Co. and assisted in designing the Hymnal jointly published by Canada’s Anglican and United churches in 1971. I recall Fleming’s work appealing to me at the time, and I would like to think it influenced my later interest in the book arts.

EB: What is the Alcuin Society and its journal Amphora?

PM: Based in Vancouver, Canada, the Alcuin Society formed in 1965 to bring together enthusiasts of the printed word – and the well-printed word at that – and support the likes of Wil Hudson, a small press printer who went on to work with the famous Inuit printmakers in Cape Dorset on Baffin Island. The society, a registered not-for-profit organization, now focuses on an annual Award for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. It also presents a medal for lifetime achievement or extraordinary contributions to the book arts in Canada, the Robert R. Reid Award. Its journal, Amphora, appears three times a year and serves the broader, original audience for the society – people engaged in everything from calligraphy and the book arts to book selling, collecting, and reading.

EB: What sort of people does the Alcuin Society attract? Can anyone join?

PM: Yes, anyone can join the society. The membership is international and made up largely of book collectors, librarians, and those engaged in small press ventures, design and the book arts generally. We joined forces with the Bibliographical Society of Canada on a national book collecting contest, and there’s some overlap in membership and interests with that group, too.

EB: Do you have some favorite books, design elements, or fonts?

PM: Content determines my favorite books, so I would be hard-pressed to pick just one! Gaspereau Press does nice work, though, often with letterpress jackets and an obi (paper strip) holding them in place. With respect to fonts, I favor serifs and use Baskerville on my business card. I’ve gravitated towards Bell in recent chapbooks I’ve prepared for family and friends.

EB: I find that many people are interested in the book arts and have very strong opinions, but the elements are not taught widely. How can people learn more?

PM: Read, practice; repeat. I was fortunate to participate in a workshop on book repair at the end of Grade 7 or 8 – though the memory is dim enough that perhaps I was simply encouraged to consider participating! At any rate, the fact that it was even an option stands out. My real exposure came in university, where as a Master’s student I took a course in bibliography intended to help us understand how books were put together and the manufacturing process that created the physical texts I was studying (and how errors might have crept in). This prompted me to attend sessions that introduced me to what contemporary book designers and publishers were doing. I would occasionally make chapbooks, and continue to listen to and observe what others were doing. A more formal approach would be to register for workshops community centers and local arts groups offer, and combine it with reading and becoming familiar with the work and opinions of those whose work you admire. Robert Bringhurst and Andrew Steeves, and the essays in Devil’s Artisan and Émigré have all played a role in my formation.

EB: Are there some books about books that you’d recommend?

PM: Andrew Steeves, Smoke Proofs: Essays on Literary Publishing, Printing and Typography is a recent book that offers a good introduction to various aspects of contemporary book production; Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographical Style is a classic; Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue–Celebrating 25 Years in Graphic Design is a collection of the magazine’s best essays that will have its fans. Read, and then follow up on dropped names to see what else you can discover.

EB: Any thoughts on restoration versus conservation of old books?

PM: Conservation comes first, helping books to age gracefully. I hope everyone has some knowledge of the basic principles (I learned some as part of work towards a badge in the Scout movement). Restoration is important for books that have suffered abuse, neglect and other misfortunes. (I have some that could benefit from that kind of attention!) There are certain volumes we prize as individuals and a society that benefit from restoration efforts, helping us to prize them for what they are rather than what the ravages of time have made them.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

PM: You’re welcome – thanks for the opportunity.

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An Interview with Peter R. Field, founding publisher of the Timberline Review

Peter R. Field was a story analyst for Miramax Films and New Line Cinema in New York, and is currently an MFA candidate in Dramatic Writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. He was Student Assistant Editor on The Louisville Review and served on the Willamette Writers Board of Directors for four years. He is the founding editor of The Timberline Review.

EB: Tell us a little about The Timberline Review.

PF: The Timberline Review started up at the end of 2014 with a first issue publication date of August 2015, what we thought might be the only issue. The idea was to give Willamette Writers members a gift in celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary. Once we realized the original concept would be much stronger by including submissions from all over the world, we expanded the guidelines. Thanks to the internet, and a modest online presence, the whole notion of the timberline seemed to spread enthusiastically. Issue #4 is now available!

Before you ask, let me explain a little about the timberline. Pam Wells, my founding co-editor, and I were brainstorming names and kept returning to what seemed to us to be powerful physical images of the Pacific Northwest. Rocks. Water. Trees. So much great writing includes that tangible, visceral connection to place. I thought of the timberline, that ecological edge on the mountain where the trees just stop growing. The Timberline Literary Review sounded like a good name. Pam instantly took to it, but she dropped the Literary.

I should also mention that, after the first issue, we made the decision to pay the writers! Yes, we pay our contributors a modest one-time use fee of $25. Incredible as it may sound, this in itself sets The Timberline Review apart from hundreds of journals that pay nothing. Let me also mention that the journal is funded by Willamette Writers (an Oregon non-profit in support of writers everywhere), and staffed entirely by volunteers.

EB: What sorts of writing are you interested in receiving?

PF: First and foremost, we’re not looking for writing, per se, about trees, despite what our name suggests. The Timberline Review publishes new works of short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and essays, from emerging writers and well-established writers, and everywhere in between. We’ve taken pieces from retired doctors, social workers, lawyers, several of whom have seen their work in print for the first time in The Timberline Review. We’ve received some great writing from playwrights, writing in fiction for the first time, and from writers exploring hybrid narrative forms. The mission statement says we seek strong, brave writing that speaks to the times we live in. I know that may sound abstract, but I want to emphasize a sense of urgency, and dialogue, in the literary culture between writers and readers. This goes to the heart of everything, really, the importance of art, and artists, and keeping the conversation going. You might say The Timberline Review enables a little part of that conversation.

EB: How did you and editor Pam Wells get involved with this venture?

PF: Way back in 2014, I was on the Willamette Writers board of directors, and during one board meeting we were engaged in a free-floating discussion about the 50th anniversary coming up (in 2015). Pam happened to be at that meeting, and when I suggested doing a literary journal, she responded enthusiastically. There was a lot of back and forth, hammering out details regarding design, printing, submissions, staffing. We talked to freelance writer and editor Eric Witchey. We talked to Karen Mann, Managing Editor of The Louisville Review. We sought advice from Portland writer Brian Doyle, also the editor of Portland Magazine. Brian gave us lists of other publications and resources he thought we could take inspiration from. And he gave us a powerful essay for our first issue, “The Manner of his Murder,” which received a special mention in the 2017 Pushcart Anthology.

Brian also wrote a foreword for that first issue, a distinctly Doylesque version of our mission statement, that starts with the declaration. “Well, you would have to be four kinds of silly to start a magazine these days. You would have to be some fascinating amalgam of brave and crazy.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, but this short excerpt captures the gist of what we’re about:

“…if we don’t catch and trade and foment and spark and share stories of substance and pop and verve and zest and pith and fury, we will be slathered by an endless insipid ocean of sales pitches and lies. And that would be a shame.” (used with permission of author)

EB: What’s featured in the current issue?

PF: Another feature of The Timberline Review is our use of cover art from local artists. Our first issue featured a gorgeous woodblock engraving by Kevin Clark, an artist in Roseburg. Issue #2 had a cover from an I-phone photograph of Haystack Rock, by Corvallis photographer Bill Laing. The third issue used a portrait by Portland artist Judy Biesanz, and the current issue, Winter/Spring 2017, features an image from another Portland visual artist, John Fisher, that strikes me as oddly fitting to our purpose. The title of the piece, “Ascension,” says it all.

So what’s inside the cover? New poetry from several local poets, Kim Stafford, Brittney Corrigan, Devon Balwit, a lovely poem from Julie Price, a poet who lives in Illinois (and whose work was recognized in 2016 as the winner of The Rattle poetry prize). A terrific story from Jaime Balboa, a Los Angeles writer, inspired by a tragic news story, but told almost as a modern day fairy tale. That piece is called “Raziel’s Last Enchantment.” This is a story that must be told, but it’s not a light piece. Another piece that seems to take issue with the conventions of narrative form is Suzanne Cody’s “Island (I),” both inviting and startling.

Mike Francis, a writer from the Oregonian, gave us a first-person stream-of-consciousness account of his experience as an embedded journalist in Iraq. Natasha Tynes, from Rockville, Maryland, shares a fictional perspective of a would-be Jordanian emigrant in “Uniform.” Even though we don’t request specifically themed material, themes do seem to emerge that complement and counterpoint and more or less peacefully co-exist with each other. “Halab”, by Tala Abu Rahmeh, and Chris Ellery’s “Sparkler”, give us two distinct views of Aleppo.

EB: What’s been the most surprising thing about launching The Timberline Review?

PF: Maybe more of a discovery, than a surprise, but what I love about the journal is the eclectic nature of the whole process. It’s a process of assembling parts into a collage, in this case, literary works of different forms, with this amazing variety of voices and ideas. Sometimes the term aggregation is used to describe a collection like this, but I prefer to think of it as an assemblage, which hopefully stands on its own as a distinctive form.

It’s definitely been a surprise at how well the journal has been received, and how, as a new tangible artifact of contemporary culture, we’ve emerged from the “endless insipid ocean” to stake this claim on the literary landscape.

strong>EB: What other writing projects are you involved in besides The Timberline Review?

PF: I’m at the end of a low-residency MFA program, through Spalding University, in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve written a screenplay that I’m shopping in Hollywood. And I’ve got a nonfiction book proposal I’m working on in the middle of the night. Pam has decided to move on from her role as editor. She’s deeply involved with the graduate program in book publishing at Portland State University.

Issue #5, the Summer/Fall 2017 issue, which is now open for submissions through April 30th, will go on with new editorial staff.
Stevan Allred, a Portland writer known for his book A Simplified Map of the Real World, published by Forest Avenue Press in 2013, joins us as fiction editor. C. Wade Bentley, a poet and teacher who lives in Salt Lake City, returns for his second stint as poetry editor.

I mentioned Brian Doyle’s role in the genesis of The Timberline Review, and we’ve also included him on our advisory board, along with Per Henningsgaard, director of the PSU Book Publishing program.

EB: How can readers get a copy of The Timberline Review?

PF: The Timberline Review is available through the website(timberlinereview.com), for single issue purchase, or by subscription. A number of local bookstores carry us — Powell’s, Annie Bloom’s, Broadway Books. The Southern Oregon Chapter of Willamette Writers usually has copies for sale at their meetings ). We get around to various events, Wordstock, Poets & Writers, AWP. We’re in a few local libraries in Portland and Corvallis. Bloomsbury Books might have a few copies on the shelf by the time you read this.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

PF: Ed, this has been a delight to talk with you about The Timberline Review, and I want to encourage every writer and reader out there to find a way to participate in our cultural discussion, a conversation that must never end.

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The Legacy of the Grimm Brothers: Origins and Transformations–a guest post by Amalie Dieter

Amalie Dieter is a senior at Southern Oregon University working towards a BA in English & Writing and a BS in Environmental Science & Policy.

The Grimm brothers are the most associated with the fairy tale genre compared to any other author or fairy tale collector and their work has been translated into 150 languages and is known throughout the world (Zipes xi). Despite this wide recognition and fame, how many people really know the original origins and purpose of the tales collected by the Grimm brothers? And how did these tales transform from their original state in 1812 to the many adaptations we see today? Numerous authors and scholars have written and researched the history of the Grimms and their tales and have found that their transformation is in large part due to the readers themselves.

The first edition published the Grimm brothers was fairly small compared to the eventual 210 tale edition: “Today the Grimms’ tales fill two fairly thick volumes, but in 1812, after five years of collecting, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm had only found enough tales for one small book” (Bottigheimer 27). The Grimm brothers did not originally collect these tales for children to read: “When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm first developed the plan to compile German folktales, they wanted to capture the “pure” voice of the German people and to preserve in print the oracular poetry of the common people” (Tatar 341). The original intent of the Grimm brothers was a scholarly project to preserve the oral traditions and cultural viewpoints of the German people, but after the first printing of the collection everything changed.

The readers’ response to the first edition of the collection was not what the Grimm brothers had been hoping for:

To a great extent the Grimms’ scholarly ambitions and patriotic zeal guided the production of the first edition of the Nursery and Household Tales. But once the collection was in print, reviewers weighed in with critiques that took the brothers back to the drawing board to revise, rescript, and redact. One critic denounced the collection as tainted by French and Italian influences. Another lamented the vast amounts of “pathetic” and “tasteless” material and urged parents to keep the volume out of the hands of children. (Tatar 343)

In the following editions of the Nursery and Household Tales the Grimm Brothers made many changes. They fleshed out the texts they had collected, often doubling their length and they polished the language used. The biggest change of all however, was the intended audience of their collection of tales, from scholars to children (Tatar 343). In order to make their collection suitable for children the Grimm Brothers made many additions and redactions to their collection: “The Grimms were intent on eliminating all residues of risqué humor in the tales they recorded, yet they had no reservations about preserving, and in some cases intensifying, the violence” (Tatar 344). Many of the tales the Grimm brothers had collected originally contained innuendo and sexual content that was considered to be inappropriate for children. The Grimm brothers also added religious references to the text and instructive motives to the tales in order to make them a sort of teaching device for children (Tatar 49). The violence of the tales only intensified over the editions, but during this time period violence was everywhere.

The Grimms would have been exposed to much of the political turmoil of the eighteenth-century: “The French Revolution of 1789, which was followed by grisly reports of the execution of Thermion, affected Wilhelm’s young imagination. His earliest watercolor drawing depicts a bloody scene from Louis XVI’s execution, as his head is held aloft before the gathered mob” (Bottigheimer 3). Other events and changes in Europe during this time were the Napoleonic Wars, the Romantic movement, Kantian philosophy, the age of Metternich, the July revolution in France, he struggles for constitutional government in the German states, the revolution of 1848, and the rise to power of Bismarck (Peppar xii). These events and changes in Europe influenced the additions and reactions to the Grimm brothers’ collection.

Some examples of changes the Grimm brothers made to their collection are found in the tales of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel. The Grimm Brothers made the tale of Cinderella more violent than the one written by Charles Perrault: “The Grimms delighted in describing the blood in the shoes of the step sisters who try to slice off their heels and toes in order to get a perfect fit. The German version also gives us a far less compassionate Cinderella, one who does not forgive her stepsisters but invites them to her wedding where doves peck out their eyes” (Tatar 30). Some of the transformations the Grimms made were to serve as harsh lessons for children (Zipes 14). The Grimms revised the Red Riding Hood tale so that the Huntsman rescues Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, while in the original the young girl rescues herself by distracting the wolf with a strip tease (Tatar 18). The Grimms erased all of the inappropriate erotic content and added in behavioral imperatives such as: “When you’re out in the woods, look straight ahead of you like a good little girl and don’t stray from the path” (Tatar 19). Many scholars have pointed out that some of the rewriting and edits the Grimms did made the women in the stories less independent, giving us the role of damsel in distress. The Grimm brothers also took out any “scandal” of their version of Rapunzel: “In the first version of the Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales, Rapunzel asks the enchantress why her clothes are getting so tight and don’t fit any longer” (Tatar 113). This was taken out and replaced with a less harmful line. The Grimm brothers also made Rapunzel a “wife” to the prince so as to not suggest that Rapunzel’s twins were born out of wedlock (Tatar 113). Other edits were made in general to many of the tales, for example many of the original evil women in the tales were mothers, but the Grimms changed them to step mothers.

A lot has been written about where the Grimm brothers got their tales: “Few readers know that more than half of the 210 fairy tales included in the Grimm anthologies had a woman’s hand in them, whether they were recorded from her storytelling or recorded by her as she listened to another storyteller” (Paradiz xi). Many of the people who provided the Grimm brothers with tales were girls and young women who were in the brother’s social circle:

Wilhelm’s informants were as young as 14-year-old Dortchen Wild, one of six daughters of the town apothecary Rudolf Wild who lived across the street from the Grimm family. Dortchen’s older sister Gretchen, another tale contributor, was 20. The two girls and their mother told Wilhelm several folk tales and many fairy tales, some of which – like “The Frog Prince,” “Frau Holle,” The Six Swans,” and “Many Furs” – later became well known in the English-speaking world. (Bottigheimer 28)

The three Hassenpflug girls (Marie, Jeannette, and Amalie) were also principal sources for the Grimm brothers. The three girls provided the brothers with many tales including, The Seven Ravens, Red Riding Hood, The Girl Without Hands, The Robber Bridegroom, Sleeping Beauty, King Thrush beard, Snow White, and The Carnation (Bottigheimer 29).

The changes that the Grimm brothers made to their collection of tales has influenced two centuries worth of generations and continues to shape our world today: “In this century, Walt Disney’s film versions of fairy tales, beginning with Snow White in 1937, helped add to familiarity with the stories. In recent years, widespread enthusiasm for every sort of fantasy, from science fiction to horror movies, has included a strong up swing of interest in fairy tale” (McGlat vii). There are many Disney adaptations of fairy tales and the tales collected by the Grimm brothers: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Frog, and Tangled are just a few examples. These adaptations of course do not resemble even the edited editions of the Nursery and Household Tales, not to even mention the originals. Most women and girls in these adaptations are either damsels in distress or villains, gone are the women who save themselves with their imagination, bravery, and quick thinking (Zipes 74). There is also very few traces of violence and sexual content left in any of the tales we see today, however many still cling to the idea of role models of behavior, instruction, and morality (Zipes 152).

It is unclear whether or not children stories will return to their original form, seen in the eighteenth century, but recently there has been an increase of films and television series based on fairy tales that are of a much darker nature than the Disney film adaptations. One popular television series is Once Upon a Time, which contains material from many tales and myths including: Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Rumplestiltskin, Rapunzel, and Cinderella. In this show many women are damsels in distress or villains, but there are also many more who are strong women who save the day. Red Riding Hood in this enchanted world is actually the wolf herself and her grandmother is one tough old lady who comes to the rescue of many of the characters (Once Upon A Time). Another current TV series is Grimm, which is a spin on the Grimm brothers themselves. This show is set in current society and is a cop drama with a fantastical twist. In this show a Grimm is someone who collects tales and information about magical creatures and then uses that information to hunt them down (Grimm). The Grimm TV series includes many of the details of the tales collected by the Grimm brothers and reflects more of the original versions, especially the violence the Grimm brothers were known for describing in their tales.

Walt Disney Pictures is even embracing the return to the darker versions of fairy tales with the musical fantasy film, Into The Woods, which was produced in 2014. In the introduction of The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales you find this description of fairy tales:

Fairy tales are up close and personal, telling us about the quest for romance and riches, for power and privilege, and, most important, for a way out of the woods back to the safety and security of home. Bringing myths down to earth and inflecting them in human rather than heroic terms, fairy tales put a familiar spin on the stories in the archive of our collective imagination. (Tatar xii)

The film Into The Woods embraces this description of the classic fairy tales literally and figuratively. Much of the material used in this film comes from the original versions of the Grimm tales. Red Riding Hood in this film is a clever girl who tricks the baker and his wife out of many of their goods, however she does end up needing rescuing. The wolf is represented by a deviant man like the original version and includes instructions like “do not wander from the path and beware of strangers” (Into The Woods). After the encounter with the wolf Red Riding Hood becomes more independent, a girl who wears a cape made of wolf skin and carries a knife to protect herself with (Into the Woods).

The tale of Rapunzel in this film is a mixture of the old and new versions, it does contain the sexual content that the original version did, but it contains many of the other details. Some of these include: the enchantress getting Rapunzel because her parents stole from the enchantress’ garden, the enchantress locking Rapunzel in a tower, thorns blinding the prince, Rapunzel being banished to a swamp, Rapunzel’s tears healing the prince (Into The Woods). The tale of Cinderella in this film adaptation contains the violence of the original Grimm version, where the stepsisters have their toes and heels sliced off to fit into the slipper and Cinderella’s birds blind the stepsister for their cruelty (Into The Woods). Also, from the original Grimm tales the theme of wish fulfillment, of wanting riches, children, and a different life are included in this film.

What would literature, culture, and society be like today if the readers of the 18th century had not called for the Grimm brothers to edit their collection or if the Grimm brothers refused to do so? The Grimm collection of tales have changed many times over for the past two centuries, but that is the nature of fairy tales: “Fairy tales are never fixed and always changing from one region to another, from one teller to another, they still preserve a stable core” (Haase 31). Even though the fairy tales we know today may not reflect the original Grimm collection, their legacy lives on through the adaptations and the inspiration they passed on to other authors, scholars, and collectors.

Works Cited

    Bottigheimer, Ruth B. Fairy Tales: A New History. Albany: Excelsior Editions, 2009. Print.

    Bottigheimer, Ruth B. Grimms’ Bad Girls & Bold Boys: The Moral & Social Vision of the Tales. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. Print.

    Ellis, John M. One Fairy Story Too Many: The Brothers Grimm and Their Tales. Chicago, University of Chicago, 1983. Print.

    Grimm. By Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, and Jim Kouf. NBC Universal Television, 2011. DVD.

    Haase, Donald. The Reception of Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions. Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1993. Print.

    Into The Woods. Dir. Rob Marshall. By James Lapine. Walt Disney Pictures, 2014. DVD.

    McGlat, James M. The Brothers Grimm and Folktale. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1991. Print.

    Once Upon A Time. By Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. ABC Studios, 2011. Digital. Netflix. Web.

    Paradiz, Valerie. Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales. New York: Basic, 2005. Print.

    Peppar, Murr B. Paths Through the Forest: A Biography of the Brothers Grimm. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971. Print.

    Tatar, Maria. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.

    Zipes, Jack. Grimm Legacies: The Magic Spell of the Grimms’ Folk and Fairy Tales. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015. Print.

    Zipes, Jack. The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to Modern World. New York: Palrave, 2002.

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An Interview with Allie Sipe

Allie Sipe is senior in the SOU Honors college. An English major, writer, coffee aficionado. She was the first student ever from outside the University of New Mexico to join its honors journal Scribendi.

EB: Tell us a little bit about your internship at Scribendi.

AS: I attended the University of New Mexico last term semester (Fall 2016) to work as a staff member for the honors literary arts magazine Scribendi.

EB: What sort of things did you do?

AS: During class time and in projects outside of class, I worked on a little bit of everything: staff teambuilding, typography and design practices, fundraising and community outreach, critical assessment of creative works, and copy editing. I’ve designed a flyer calling for submissions to the magazine, created a modern book cover for Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and read through hundreds of creative works to narrow down what belongs in the magazine. I’ve also gone to Santa Fe to ask local businesses to consider donating items to our magazine’s silent auction and spent hours making sugar skulls to sell as a fundraiser at the Marigold Parade. Some of my favorite time is spent in the office with the other staff members, working on design or copyediting assignments for class and sharing ideas and laughs.

EB: What did you learn?

AS: What’s become most clear to me is that the production of a magazine takes a whole range of skills, ideas, and hard work. Each staff member contributes their unique perspective to what should be in the magazine and how it should look. Every single person is essential – there’s an enormous amount of work and collaboration involved in the production of a magazine. Even when we have different opinions from one another (especially during the debates about which pieces belong in the magazine and which do not), I have learned the value of listening to each individual and respecting their opinions. Scribendi is one of the most tangible examples I’ve ever seen of a diverse range of thoughts and ideas coalescing into one successful creative effort.

EB: How did the work complement or expand on your academic studies?

AS: Almost everything I’ve been doing with Scribendi has complemented my academic studies in English in some way, which is incredibly rewarding. Specifically, I’ve learned tons about critically evaluating literary works. Reading through so much creative nonfiction and articulating to others what is effective has given me the confidence to pursue my own writing. This couldn’t be better timing right before I graduate from Southern Oregon University and hope to pursue graduate school.

EB: What was the most interesting aspect of the internship? Any surprises or revelations?

AS: I honestly didn’t expect to find such a welcoming, accepting community through Scribendi. Coming in, I didn’t know if it would be possible to find a close sense of community at UNM, a school with about 30,000 undergraduates. I’m excited to know that a healthy, inclusive community is achievable in many, if not all, environments and places.

EB: How did you like Albuquerque?

AS: I think Albuquerque itself is one of those places where, if you’re from there, it’s a family member: only you can insult it and no one else can because, deep down, you love it. That being said, I’m not from here, so I think I should keep my mouth shut. I do love the people I’ve met in Albuquerque, and New Mexico is a beautiful state. The green chile is also excellent.

EB: Any advice for other students thinking about internships?

AS: If you’re even considering an internship or study abroad opportunity, find a way to make it happen. Meeting new people and collecting different experiences is invaluable, and it just gets more difficult to take these kinds of opportunities the older you get. Apply, commit, and tell everyone your plan so you can’t back out. I almost talked myself out of this, but I am so glad I didn’t. I’ve made friends and professional connections that will change the course of my life.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Congratulations on a successful internship.

AS: Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience!

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An Interview with James Anderson

James Anderson grew up in the Pacific Northwest and completed an undergraduate degree in American Studies at Reed College and a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College in Boston.

In 1974, while still an undergraduate, he founded Breitenbush Books, whose authors included Mary Barnard, Bruce Berger, Clyde Rice, Naomi Shihab Nye, Michael Simms, William Greenway, John Stoltenberg, Sam Hamill, and Gary Miranda. Anderson served as Breitenbush’s publisher and executive editor through 1991.

His poems, short fiction, essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in Northwest Review, New Letters, The Bloomsbury Review, Solstice Magazine and elsewhere.

From 1995 to 2002, Anderson co-produced documentary films, including Tara’s Daughters, which chronicled the plight of Tibetan women refugees as carriers of Tibetan culture in the diaspora. The film won Best Documentary at the New York Film Festival.

An Ashlander for several years, Anderson published his first novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner, released by Crown in 2016 in hard cover and paperback. Marilyn Stasio, writing the New York Times Book Review said that Anderson’s voice, like his terrain is “High, dry and severely beautiful… Anderson is one fine storyteller.”

EB: How did you come up with the idea for The Never-Open Desert Diner?

JA: I recently wrote a piece on process where I suggested that there were essentially two kinds of novelists: architects and gardeners.

When we create, in whatever medium or genre, I believe the impulse can be broken down to either exploring (gardeners) or building (architects.) Both processes produce great novels, but I am firmly in the gardening category—yes, I am answering your question—which, for me, means I walk out into the field and start planting, then cultivate and harvest whatever pops up. Sometimes some very strange and wonderful plants begin to grow. The seeds might be a snip of dialogue, a location, a description or, most often in my case, a central image, however indistinct, that carries within it an emotion, or several. In this sense I do not actually begin with the idea of a story. My novel The Never-Open Desert Diner began with simply imagining a two-thousand foot granite mesa cliff swirling in that beautiful red light of the Utah desert. That was how I began the writing. The novel itself ends with that description. I just plant, water and watch through the process of composing the rough draft; and then, when I have the crop in front of me, and I know what the story is—that is, the story that has been revealed to me—I revise and revise what originally sprouted in situ.

EB: The Utah setting struck me as perfect–a place where people go to get off the grid. Did you consider any other locales? I couldn’t see it in Oregon, for examplen

JA: Well, I was born in Seattle and raised primarily in verdancy of the Willamette Valley, but also on the Oregon coast and a little in Northern California. Most people, even Oregonians, tend to think of Oregon as predominately represented by the Willamette Valley and the coast, when in fact two-thirds of Oregon is the high desert that I love—Bend, Burns, Fossil, Baker City, Dufur, Crane Prairie and so on. The novel could have easily been set in the arid high desert region of southeastern Oregon if high desert was all there was to the setting, except there isn’t the unique quality of the red-tinged Utah light of which my friends and literary heroes Terry Tempest Williams and Bruce Berger write so eloquently. I know that region and how the light suffuses the soul and body there in ways that are magical and terrifying and bathe human time in geological time and rhythms and a kind of spirituality borne of the natural world. Glancing ahead to your fine questions, I see we will touch upon paradox, and for now all I will is say that my novel and the story, and the characters, are very much entwined with paradox, contradictions, living oxymorons.

EB: Ben Jones was an engaging character—a kind of forgotten man who maintains his dignity in the face of adversity. I found myself liking him even though we had little in common. You seemed to build his character through a series of small decisions her makes.

JA: Thank you. Dashiell Hammett said that we are not measured by how we deal with success but how we handle adversity. Who a person is at his or her core is not revealed by one grand action, good or bad, but on everyday actions that indicate a pattern. Ben is struggling, as we all do. He makes poor decisions sometimes. Yet he is always trying. This struggle is illuminated through the person point of view, which includes internal monologues of that struggle. As I was shaping Ben Jones as a character I wanted him to be average, not some kind of super hero, or someone with special skills. For me, and this has always been true, the people I admire most are the ones who get up every damn day and do the best they can, often against incredible odds, no parades, no medals of commendation. When my novel was being rejected I was often asked, from thriller and mystery editors and agents, “What’s your protagonist’s super power?” I knew what they were asking and I knew my answer wasn’t going to excite them. Ben Jones is not a former Navy Seal, nor does he have friends in powerful places. His super power is he gets up and does a job for a low wage that few appreciate and he tries to do the right thing—and occasionally fails—and gets up the next day and does it again as well as he can do it. That’s my idea of a hero. It was immensely gratifying that so many readers and reviewers thought so too.

EB: The title is filled with contradiction—a never open dinner. How did you choose that?

JA: Ah, yes, the title—my original title was DESERT CELLO. My publisher didn’t like it, and a number of friends thought it didn’t communicate enough about the story. One of them, my friend and literary agent (not mine) Ann Rittenberg, told me I should change the title. She’s as smart and perceptive a book publishing veteran as one is likely to find. Ann represents James W. Hall , Dennis Lehane and C.J. Box , to name just a few. She told me to read my first chapter and ask myself what image or phrase comes to mind.

In the first chapter the diner, which is really named The Well-Known Desert Diner, is nick-named The Never-Open Desert Diner by locals. Its owner, Walt Butterfield, and his diner, are central to everything in the story. I suggested the title to Ann and she immediately said, “I love it!” I then polled a number of friends, many of whom are writers, and the consensus was that it was a good title. I am of the opinion that the title of a novel is the true first line of the novel; it is the first thing the reader sees. The best titles ask questions, or create questions in the readers mind, if only implied, and should deepen and change throughout the reading of the novel. The title I chose, in my opinion, does exactly that. It conjures the archetypal image of a diner in the desert, provides the setting and sense of place, and asks, “Why is the diner never open?” My title (besides the fact that I love its rather whimsical and lyrical phrasing) does all a good title should do and in the process compels the reader forward.

EB: The supporting characters seemed paradoxical too. How did they arise?

JA: This is a great question, and I am glad to respond, because perhaps this is a quality that appealed to readers. The entire novel is slightly subversive and it achieves this through contradiction and paradox and provides much of the dramatic and comedic tension. When I use the word ‘subversive’ I do not mean it strictly in the sense of undermining a government, but undermining tradition, even genre, by intentionally mining opposites, though in the rough draft this was not consciously done but in subsequent drafts I worked to emphasize it. We have an old itinerant preacher who hauls a life-sized wooden cross up and down an isolates desert highway; a very smart and self-reliant homeless, single, punk pregnant teenager who becomes the heroine of the novel; a diner that is perfectly maintained and yet is never open; a truck driver who has no tattoos, and in a way meditates on and celebrates the natural world; a cello that has no strings and whose music is never actually heard yet provides an imaginary soundtrack to the novel. I cannot tell you how the characters were invented. Ginny, the homeless, punk pregnant teenager started out as just a nightshift clerk in a Walmart and slowly grew to a greater presence in the novel. I like the idea of going against type, against preconception, and in the case of Ginny, since every detective (though Ben is not really a genre detective) there is a kind of sidekick, Gal Friday, who is a pragmatic femme fatal. I turned that on its head by making that person a pregnant, punk teenager. I made Ben Jones, the protagonist truck driver, the ultimate exile orphan, a Jewish Native American. Ben doesn’t know for sure. He was abandoned as a baby on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon and was thought to be the baby of a Jewish social worker and a Native American man and as a young boy, Ben was adopted by an older, childless Mormon couple in Utah.

EB: What’s next for you?

JA: The Never-Open Desert Diner is the first of a trilogy, though I prefer to think of it as a triptych, more of a panorama in sections, though related, each is also a stand alone work. The second, Lullaby Road, is at Crown Publishing Group now and should be out in early 2018. Right now I am working on a memoir about being raised by a single, divorced mother in the 1950s—back when America was “Great.” (Insert sardonic smile here.) Also a collection of stories and novellas.

EB: Who are some writers you read? Or who have influenced you?

JA: That’s a long list. Early on, of course, Mark Twain, William Carlos Williams, Conrad Aiken. Sounds uninspired but nonetheless, true. I read books in every discipline and I firmly believe that a writer’s wellspring should draw from diverse sources of inspiration. In contemporary American fiction I am consistently blown away by Michael Chabon , Luis Alberto Urrea and Sherman Alexie. I read a lot of nonfiction, memoirs and biographies, history, geology and natural history, with an emphasis on environmental studies, but particularly physics and neurobiology. Most recently the work of Steven Pinker and Murray Gel-mann and Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters. For the past few years I have been especially drawn to the concept of Entanglement Theory for its far-reaching implications in every aspect of human existence. Of course, I also read a lot of philosophy, particularly Zen Buddhist, both popular and scholarly, among them (returning again and again) are the works of Shunyru Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, D.T. Suzuki, and one of my particular, and these days somewhat obscure favorites, is Nishida Kitaro.

I also read a lot of contemporary poetry (too many to mention) and, for lack of a better word, popular fiction, including C.J. Box and Cormac McCarthy. Then there are the works I read in translation. I am a huge fan of Enrique Vila-Matas, Laura Restrepo, and the late Umberto Eco. Everything I read informs my work in one way or another. In terms of The Never-Open Desert Diner, particularly the works of Bruce Berger and Terry Tempest Williams (who I mentioned earlier) plus, James Crumley, John D. Macdonald and Thomas Merton, especially his translation of the 2nd Century desert ascetics published as Wisdom of the Desert.

EB: Any advice for aspiring fiction writers?

JA: Sit down. Shut-up. Read. Write. Write. Write. Learn all you can all the time from everyone and everything.. And damn it, have fun! And write.

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