The Cincinnati Review was named one of the 100 Essential Sites for Voracious Readers by MastersinEnglish.org. We are number nine and proud of it. They list as a must read our blog entry: Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: Solipsistic Collapse Edition. If you’re considering a master’s degree or you’re an educator looking for a resource, check out this tidy site, which “cater[s] to English majors, or those who are considering taking their education in English literature and composition a step further.”
Archive for the ‘Peteroy's Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers’ Category
Like a human harpoon, Don Peteroy drives into the capacious, frenzied, sophistical, groping, transient, contentious, flameproof, satiate, igneous, whale-loving heart of Michael Czyzniejewski with this latest edition of Peteroy’s Irrelevant Questions.
Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of the story collections Elephants in Our Bedroom (Dzanc Books, 2009) and Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions (Curbside Splendor, 2012), as well as a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. He teaches at Missouri State University, where he serves as Editor of Moon City Review.
Question: You, Michael, are not an adverb and adjective addict. I’ve read your two collections, and not once did I write in the margins, “For the love of God, Michael, ditch the modifiers!” You use them sparingly because, I assume, 1) you understand that simple nous and verbs should do the job, 2) you trust your reader’s imagination, and 3) you don’t want to be considered an inept writer.
I have bad news for you. For now on, whenever you decline to use a modifier, another whale dies. How will you conduct your career as a writer, knowing this? Be careful of your response. It could massacre many whales.
MC: What I’d do is this: I’d rampage for a while, staying away from writing, you know, back-alley cockfights, some underground Russian roulette matches, a few androgynous prostitute weekends, a gun/military memorabilia show or two. That sort of thing. Refreshed, I’d then make up a character who has a magically real speaking disorder that invokes a string of adjectives before each noun. For instance, he’d greet his mother for morning porridge by saying, “Top of the fantastic, invidious, bright, officinal, clear, iatric, monosyllabic, hairy, hypnagogic, disingenuous, clavate, pregnant, invasive, Zeitgeist, phony, bibulous, polyamorous, gooey, volant, shameful, malodorous, sullen, acephalous, yellow, meretricious, common day, divaricate, Kafkaesque, redundant, trabeated, cheery, saliferous, divergent morning to you, Mumsy!” At that she would smile and give him his porridge.
At that point, I would feel as if I’d saved enough whales for me to sleep at night, enough adjectives in the bank. If I had to use adverbs, however, I’d just let the whales die: Krill would love me, Ahabs would want to be me.
Don Peteroy is at it again, asking relevant writers irrelevant questions. But could this be the last Irrelevant Question he irrelevantly asks? Writer Andrew Farkas imagines this grim future, and provides an answer that Peteroy didn’t want to hear. At this posting, Peteroy is still recovering from his psychic break.
Andrew Farkas is a fiction writer from Akron, Ohio. He is the author of Self-Titled Debut, which won the 2008 Subito Press Prize for Experimental Fiction, and has published fiction in Northwest Review, New Orleans Review, Whiskey Island, Emprise Review and The Brooklyn Rail, among others. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois, where he helps run a letters racket on the Near West Side. We published his short story “Sky Party” in Cincinnati Review 6.1.
Question: What’s my next question going to be?
AF: Don, you’re a good guy, so I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your next question is going to be “What’s my next question going to be?” It’s also going to be the question after that. And the one after that. Don, have you ever read one of those old horror stories where someone gets caught in a loop and consequently they’re doomed to repeat the same actions over and over again forever? Have you, Don?
When we read those stories, I think the reason we think they’re so creepy is because in our world, things don’t keep repeating themselves in exactly the same way. By reading one of those stories, we’re forced to look at a world that is completely foreign to ours and wonder what it’d be like if that sort of repetition existed here. You can never step in the same river twice, you can never go home again, that’s the world we live in, but not you, Don.
Oh, at first it’ll be funny. You’ve asked me this question, then without really even thinking about it, well maybe you’ll ask Michael Martone or Lydia Millet or anyone, really, and you won’t worry about it. For a little while this question will be your schtick. But then you’ll say, “I’m done with this question,” only to your consternation, you’ll find that, once again, you’ve asked that very same question. And then again. And again. I hate to be the one to tell you this, Don, but soon CR will suspend your portion of the blog. They won’t fire you or anything. They’ll just say you need some time off. Of course you’ll want to ask why, but when you try to ask you’ll say, “What’s my next question going to be?”
It hurts me to do this, but someone has to, so I’m going to fast forward now, fast forward to the future, where you’ve stopped talking, terrified of what you might say. You’ve gone on a search to find how you might move beyond your one and only inquiry. Alas, this search has been in vain. You can’t get to the heart of your problem without asking some other question, though for you there is only the one. Perhaps you’re on a mountain top there in the future, or in a desert, desperately wondering if you will ever be delivered from this sad fate ripped right from an old horror story. But just like in those old horror stories, and I hate to do this to you, Don, we have to leave you there, because I can’t see anymore of the future than this. But I thank you, Don, for letting me take part in this interview. Let me know if you have any other questions.
When Cincinnati Review staff member Don Peteroy isn’t busy reading for class, writing 200-page translations (via Google Translate) of 16th-century German adaptations of Hamlet, or playing in his band, he likes to ask writers he admires irrelevant questions. We’re honored to have two replies to share with you, from Lauren Groff and David Yost.
Lauren Groff is the author, most recently, of the novel Arcadia (Voice, 2012), as well as of The Monsters of Templeton (Voice, 2008) and the story collection Delicate Edible Birds (Voice, 2009). Her short stories have appeared in many journals, including the The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, and Glimmer Train, as well as in the Best American Short Stories in 2007 and 2010. She lives in Gainesville, Florida.
Question: Where are your shoes? I’m not talking about your literal shoes, but your metaphorical ones.
LG: To understand where exactly my shoes are—which is a very good question for me, in truth, because I prefer to go barefoot at all times, splinters be damned—I need to first understand what my shoes are. Is it strange that I thought at first of the less-common genre of shoe? Not the kind that lovingly cups tender toes and protects those sad and fallen arches from shattered glass; not my authentic cowboy boots, bought in a flush of glee when I found out I’d won a fellowship I was longing for; not the soccer cleats, a whole size too small, to which I’d sacrificed many blackened toenails, but which were the only shoes ever to allow me to score. No; I thought of a rusted horseshoe above a barn door at a farm in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, where my family lived for a few years before returning to Cooperstown for good. The horseshoe door led to the paddock, where our tiny pony, Imp, lived. Imp was a nasty bastard. Once, when I was five years old, I was contentedly riding on Imp’s back when the jerk tore out of my father’s grasp, rushing me headlong toward a fence, an oak, an apple orchard; I narrowly escaped brain damage by clinging to his mane with my fists and teeth like a flapping human limpet. His horseshoe had been nailed up above the door—for good luck, I was told. On the day I noticed that one nail had come loose, canting the horseshoe down and spilling some of its luck, I found our poor white cat, Marshmallow, in a trough inside the barn. He was stiff and, it finally dawned on me, dead. For a long time afterward, I stood in the doorway, under the horseshoe, unable to go in or out. Inside, all was dark, humid, stinking, a trash-bin full of dog food crawling with maggots, the beloved cat who wouldn’t stir. Outside was an angry pony, ready to spill my brains. Inside, safety but obscurity; outside, risk and sun. We are born with a certain amount of luck, and the rest we have to make for ourselves. I took a step, choosing the light, the flight in the face of the demonic. That’s where my horseshoe still swings, half full of luck, half ready to be filled.
A former Peace Corps Volunteer, David Yost has served on development projects in the United States, Mali, and Thailand. His fiction has appeared in more than twenty publications, including Southern Review, Witness, Pleiades, Asia Literary Review, and The Sun. His anthology Dispatches from the Classroom: Graduate Students on Creative Writing Pedagogy is forthcoming in November 2011 from Continuum, and his story “The Carousel Thief” will appear in our next issue, due out in May. An appreciation of that story—written by Luke Geddes—appeared on our blog earlier this week.
Question: Let’s say that an angry God has put a curse on you. The God says, “Every time you write a new story, poem, play, or essay, a Shakespeare play will vanish from both history and collective memory.” Would you continue to write stories?
DY: Do I get to pick? A world in which nobody reads Pericles, King John, Cymbeline, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII, and the three plays of Henry VI would be basically the same as ours, so that buys me eight more stories at least. I imagine I’d draw the line at Coriolanus and The Merry Wives of Windsor and then try to break into television.
Yes, blog readers, it’s yet another installment of the peculiar probings of Don Peteroy—a CR-hosted series in which the ever-provocative DP pitches profoundly preposterous questions at hand-picked prosists. This week’s featured writer is one of our own—Margaret Luongo—who has made three appearances in our pages, and who was last seen wearing a blaze-yellow babydoll tee printed with the words DEAD INSIDE.
Margaret Luongo is the author of the story collection If the Heart is Lean (LSU Press, 2008). Her stories have appeared in Tin House, Jane, Fence, Granta on-line, The Cincinnati Review, The Pushcart Prize anthology, and other venues. She teaches creative writing at Miami of Ohio. One of her best friends teaches Shakespeare and wears combat boots.
Question: If you had to eliminate one author from the canon in exchange for three months of world peace, who would it be? Explain your answer.
ML: I’m sure many contemporary authors, if they were so privileged to be in the canon, would take themselves out of it for three months of world peace. Then there’s the problem of the existence of a canon; haven’t we been trying to alter it or get rid of it? But let’s say there is one and we all know who’s in it.
My husband and I talked about this. Shakespeare’s name came up. Eliminating Shakespeare from the canon would really screw the economy. Think of all the professors and actors who would be out of work. On the other hand, ejecting Shakespeare might cause a backlash and increase the popularity of his work: protests by the 20% (People Who Make a Living Off Shakespeare) might ensue. Actually, I think it would be very good for Early Modern scholars to be cast aside this way; they would become defiant and achieve punk status. Films could be made about their dying art. When the Chinese government banned the Chinese opera, a moribund form became suddenly wildly popular. While interest in Shakespeare’s work hasn’t diminished, maybe this exile from the canon would spark interest among populations previously alienated. It’s tiresome and obvious, but maybe Shakespeare is the answer? I am already more interested. Can’t you imagine publicists for dead or aging authors fighting for the right to be cast away? “This three months’ peace sponsored by the Melville Estate.” Cormac McCarthy could consider giving back; we’ve been tormented by his apocalyptic vision in prose; now he could give us the gift of peace—and probably increase his sales.
Our regular blog-readers (whom we casually yet affectionately refer to as bloggulers) are already familiar with Don Peteroy’s recurring feature, in which our volunteer-cum-inquisitor poses a single, and singular, question to a hapless group of innocent wordsmiths of his choosing. (He likes them—a lot—though sometimes it’s hard to tell.) Don is also a musician, a fictionist, and he takes a whole lot of vitamin E for reasons unknown to the rest of us (probably to give people the impression that he’s healthy when, actually, his diet consists of blue Jello sprinkled with either Corn Nuts or black olives—depending on his mood). Anyway, this time around, Don takes his questions—and his choice of “writers”—to a cosmic level. We casually yet affectionately refer to it as the “Whoa, dude” level. As for Don, we refer to him as Jasper. (We like to keep him guessing.)
Adrian Matejka is the author of The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003), Mixology (Penguin USA, 2009), and The Big Smoke (Penguin USA, forthcoming 2013). He teaches at Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, where he serves as Poetry Editor for Sou’wester and as Co-Director of the River Styx at Duff’s Reading Series. You can find him at www.adrianmatejka.com or on Twitter: @adrian_matejka.
Question: At a reading you gave in Louisville, you mentioned that at one time, you were a huge R.E.M. fan. I was too. Like many long-term R.E.M fans, I’ve often wished that they’d return to their old sound, the beautiful music they made between 1982 and 1989. Let’s imagine that we can alter history. Let’s say that a new old REM album could suddenly appear. Let’s put it between Life’s Rich Pageant and Document. It’d be full of great songs. There’s a cost, however. You will have to give up your favorite poem; that is, erase it from existence. Would you be willing to do this, and why/why not? Screw it, let’s keep this going. I know you like funkadelic. How about we add another twenty minutes to Hazel’s solo in “Maggot Brain” for your next five poems? How about we give Public Enemy another album, between It Takes a Nation . . . and Fear of a Black Planet at the cost of every poem you’ve written in the last two years.
AM:It’s great that you asked about R.E.M. because I was just reading an interview with Michael Stipe this past weekend. In response to a question related to what he would miss about performing live, Stipe said: “I have to give everything I have for every song or I’m just that sad guy that’s in his 40s and holding onto some teenage dream. We didn’t move through the last decade with that feeling at all. I gave everything I had.”
I think there is a direct connection between my drive to write poems and my own “youthful dream” of leading the Africa 70 or spitting rhymes over a 9th Wonder beat. The drive could just be a function of having failed as a musician, but I’d like to think it’s also part of the mechanism we employ as writers of poetry. As Ezra Pound wrote, “Poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.”
Or maybe the “teenage dream” is really about audience or artistic relevance or social impact. I mean, music is the universal and can made with an ear toward a community of listeners that has the potential to be very large. It is a social construct as well as an artistic one. Especially now, with so many avenues for musical networking and the shift in the ways music is distributed.
The thing is, poetry doesn’t have the same kind of social permission or potential universality as music. Partially because of its self-referential nature, poetry is written with an ear toward an already-established (and very small) audience. But even with that limited audience, poetry is the closest thing to music we can make with our words, and it can alter the way a listener/reader interacts with the world.
I’m thinking of how Pablo Neruda’s Love Poems reify our perception of what “love” is. Or the way Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art” cause us to reevaluate the intersections of poetry and politics. Or how Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “the mother” works in a space that was so ahead of its time that the always-incendiary Richard Wright suggested she take the poem out of A Street in Bronzeville.
I doubt anyone has this kind of life-altering experience reading or hearing my poems, but I know people have been changed by R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe.” So no question, I’d go for the transformative and trade poems for another R.E.M. album. Not only that, but I’d feel like the Yankees swapping cash for Babe Ruth when I did it. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’d like to see somebody write a book of poems that’s the equivalent of this lost R.E.M. album. I don’t have the chops to do it, but I bet someone else could.
Greg Benjamin lives in Ohio with his wife and children. He has written a critical line of business software for the medical, financial and public industries. He’s written seven novellas in invisible ink. He is writing next-generation mobile applications software for his start-up, Fourth Landing. He ’s always available for lease and can often be found maundering near local airports and museums.
*Interviewer’s note: You might be scratching your head right now, wondering what, exactly, Mr. Benjamin has published. The fact is, Mr. Benjamin hasn’t published a thing, and he has no interest in writing fiction or poetry. He writes code. He’s proficient in many computer languages. Does that qualify him as “a writer”? I’m inclined to say yes.
In 1997, when I wanted to be a poet, a friend loaned me a poetry collection by Jackson Mac Low. Mac Low used “non-intentional” composition methods to construct him poems: random number generators, computers, algorithms, and so on. The poems were beautiful. Check him out: http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/maclow/
Here’s the question: Can something be considered “art” if it’s essentially machine gibberish? Better yet, does something cease to be “art” when it serves a practical purpose (like Mr. Benjamin’s computer code compositions)?
My answer: code is art.
Question: Why do you eat things?
GB: I have no idea what the hell that means. Right now, as I sit here in front of an LED screen, debating the effect of crossing parallel polarizers—which, of course, are oxyrepublican lunch boxes of ionic compounds and double refraction properties—it occurs to me that the sitcom pilot always crashes and burns upon departure.
I could get into a fist fight at a local bar, have my face bashed in, my lungs collapsed, and my spinal cord contorted just enough so that I can be intravenously fed the delectable goodness of the finest university hospital. But I’ll do nothing of the sort. Speaking of sorting, there’s a certain melancholic sway that comes with each beating compression of a keyboard. I liken it to the comfortable uneasiness you get when returning to your desk after your car stalls in the ladies restroom and you tap out your pass phrase only to realize a second too late that you did not scrub your paws with the office hand sanitizer and your fingerprints recede into seclusion and your skin takes on the grainy white reflection of southern Kentucky mash, and right there you have it: without eating things, I’d have nothing in my stomach. I write 479,133 lines of zero’s and one’s when 11 lines will do the trick. I’m saving the world, one keystroke at a time.
CR staff member Don Peteroy is a curious guy. “Where are the fire extinguishers?” he asked us when he first came to a staff meeting. When he stopped by the office a few days ago, he wanted to know what we would do if we were walking down the sidewalk and someone threw a baked potato at us. When he lobs these loaded (with butter, sour cream, and chives) questions, we mostly hedge and then make an excuse about needing to go get the mail.
But Don’s put that curiosity to good use lately, asking relevant writers he admires some pretty irrelevant questions. Here’s the latest installment in his series, which we are delighted to host:
Melinda Moustakis was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, and raised in Bakersfield, California. She received her MA from UC Davis and her PhD in English and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. Bear Down Bear North, her first book, won the 2010 Flannery O’ Connor Award in Short Fiction and was published in September 2011 by University of Georgia Press. Her stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Conjunctions, Cimarron Review, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. She is currently a visiting professor at Pacific Lutheran University and was recently named a 2011 National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 writer.
Question: Let’s say that a huge publisher is interested in giving you a $50,000 advance for your next work. But you must first pass the General and Literature Subject Exams—the dreaded GREs—before the book goes to the printer. They want a score of at least a 720 on both, including math. Also, if you expect them to promote your book, you’ll have to take the SAT again, and score 30% higher than you did last time. Any state exams that you took in high school, of course, would have to be taken again. They’ll be kind, though; they’ll give you a week to study, and a tutor at a reduced rate of $100 an hour. What would you do? Why or why not?
A) Every time I take a test, a moose shows up and eats it. Apparently, GRE tests taste better than bark. Must be something about all those bubbles you have to fill in. If the test is administered on a computer, the moose simply kicks in the screen.
B) It is my understanding, and the understanding of the state of Alaska, that GRE actually stands for Grizzly River Exam and SAT for Salmon Aptitude Test. The verbal portion of this GRE requires one to roar loader than a 720-pound grizzly while standing on a river bank. The math portion of this GRE requires one to calculate how many moose per second it takes to outswim a 720-pound grizzly across a river. As for the SAT scores, in the tradition of every storytelling fisherman and fisherwoman I have encountered, each salmon one catches is thirty percent bigger than the previous salmon in the previous version of the story of catching said salmon.
C) The answer to every question: Go fishing.
D) All of the above.
E) None of the above.
Brock Clarke (former Cincinnati Review fiction editor) is the author of five books, most recently Exley and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, which was a national bestseller and has appeared in a dozen foreign editions. His stories and essays have appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, OneStory, The Believer, Georgia Review, Southern Review, have appeared in the annual Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South anthologies, and on NPR’s Selected Shorts. He lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches creative writing at Bowdoin College.
Question: Here’s what happens: some tech-savvy kid in Worms, Nebraska (a real town), creates a computer program called The Clarke-1. It writes Brock Clarke–like stories. The stories are completely indistinguishable from yours; so similar, in fact, that even the most enlightened Clarke scholars cannot tell the difference. Furthermore, the program’s coding mimics your metal processes to such a great extent that it knows what you’re going to write before you even write it. The kid produces a Clarke story every week and sends them, under his name, to all the great literary magazines. One day, you get in a magazine in the mail. You read a story by some kid in Worms, Nebraska. It happens to be the story you’ve been thinking about writing. You investigate; you comb through back issues of Tin House and Hudson Review and so on, and discover that this kid has written everything you’ve thought of writing. What, Brock, are you going to do about this?
BC: What I do is: I start thinking of a story in which a kid in Worms, Nebraska, creates a program called the Clarke-1, etc. And when the kid and his computer program begin to write a story that I’ve thought about them, they realize that a) the jig is up, or b) this computer program was even a more pathetic and navel-gazing pursuit than they’d thought possible. And when they realize this, they’ve not only created an exact replica of a Brock Clarke story, but they’ve also created exactly what it feels like to read and write a Brock Clarke story.
Now for our third and tasty installment of “Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers,” in which Don Peteroy, Cincinnati Review staff member-extraordinaire, conducts one-question interviews with writers in an attempt to discover what makes them tick—or, rather, what they think about ticks:
Alex M. Pruteanu is the author of the recently-released novella Short Lean Cuts (CreateSpace, 2011). His work has also appeared in Peer-Amid, The Legendary, Girls With Insurance, Trick With a Knife, Amphibi.us, Slingshot Litareview, and Pank Magazine. Pruteanu subsists and generally uses too many of this planet’s resources in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area in North Carolina.
Question: Let’s say that you’re in the bathroom, brushing your teeth. Suddenly, you see the bathtub go down the drain. Then the toilet goes down the bathtub’s drain. Then the sink goes down the bathtub’s drain. You can more or less figure out what might happen next. How would you stop this madness?
AP: Yes. Indeed. It’s obvious that the simple act of brushing one’s teeth has somehow defied the laws of quantum mechanics, brushing aside the brilliant work of Dr. Stephen Hawking and ruthlessly opening up a black hole in the universe. Personally, I have known this for quite some time now and, therefore, have stopped brushing my teeth. I look at every session missed as saving a baby universe out there somewhere. And that makes me feel good. Also, in the decade and a half that my mouth has not seen a toothbrush, I can proudly announce that, although I’ve lost a few teeth along the way, I am now able to whistle much better.
Dinty W. Moore, is author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life, forthcoming from Wisdom Publications in May 2012, as well as the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize in 2009. His other books include The Accidental Buddhist, Toothpick Men, The Emperor’s Virtual Clothes, and the writing guide, The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction. He worked briefly as a police reporter, a documentary filmmaker, a modern dancer, a zookeeper, and a Greenwich Village waiter before deciding he was lousy at all of those jobs and really wanted to write memoir and short stories. Moore has published essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, and Crazyhorse, among numerous other venues. He is a professor of nonfiction writing at Ohio University and can be had cheaply.
Question: Let’s imagine that price tags appear all over your body. If you try to rip them off, it hurts. You go about your day in isolation. You notice that whenever you do something productive with your hands, the prices on the tags that are attached to your fingers increases. Whenever you come up with a good idea, the price of your forehead skyrockets. Likewise, the opposite occurs: bad ideas and lethargy decrease your apparent value. How would you reconceptualize your life, or would you just go to a doctor and have the darned tags surgically removed?
DM: This is fantasy, right? I mean, it sounds like some of my worst days as of late, and maybe you’re seeing something I can’t see? Are the tags yellow or blue? Are you gifted with special sight? I’m really freaking out right now. But to the question at hand: I would reconceptualize my life. Just learning to spell “reconceptualize” would probably take my forehead over the $100 mark, which would make me beam with pride. All that goofy smiling would surely raise the price on my cheekbones and along the corners of my eyes. So I would smile some more. An infinite capitalist feedback loop would be created. More forehead action. More smiling. Watch those prices climb. I would eventually sit down from the effort. My sacroiliac price would skyrocket, no doubt. (I’m no cheap piece of you-know-what, you know.) But how long could I keep this up? And are there any buyers? Is the demand real or just a Dinty bubble? In my wildest dreams, foreign investors would purchase me piece by piece, until I no longer existed as a distinct entity. Then, totally disassembled, I wouldn’t have to answer bizarre e-mails from random graduate students in Cincinnati. Never. That would be bliss. Did I spell Cincinnati correctly? Did my forehead price just jump through the roof?
From this point on, the interviewer will refer to himself as “Random Graduate Student” or “RGS.”
Maya Pindyck is the author of the poetry collection Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press, 2009) and the chapbook Locket, Master, winner of a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Her work has appeared in journals including Poets & Artists, Sycamore Review, Bellingham Review, Mississippi Review, and Tusculum Review. Besides teaching at the Frederick Douglass Academy VII in Brooklyn, she is also a visual artist and a co-founder of Project Voice, a growing compilation of women’s abortion stories.
RGS: Let’s say that you get hired to teach at a brand new writer’s conference in the Bahamas. When you show up for the first class, you notice that all of the students are wearing bear costumes. Furthermore, they communicate only through growling and moaning. You quickly discover that this is a conference for writers who have a fetish for bear costumes. To make matters worse, you look at the revised conference schedule—which you’d received minutes prior to the class—and realize that you’re teaching, “The Craft of Bear-Enthusiast Sonnets.” How would you handle this?
MP: I would grin and bear it.
And now, the second installment of Peteroy’s Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers, a little feature we here at CR are happy to host, where CR volunteer Don Peteroy asks the writers he admires patently absurd questions in an effort to move the literary conversation sideways (or maybe to force it to vibrate in place for a bit; we’re not exactly sure).
Heather Fowler received her MA in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University. She has taught composition, literature, and writing-related courses at UCSD, California State University at Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College. Her work has been published online and in print in the US, England, Australia, and India, and appeared in such venues as Night Train, Storyglossia, Surreal South, JMWW, PANK, Prick of the Spindle, Short Story America, among others. Her poetry was recently featured at MiPOesias, The Nervous Breakdown, poeticdiversity, and The Medulla Review, and has been selected for a joint first place in the 2007 Faringdon Online Poetry Competition. Her debut story collection, Suspended Heart, was released by Aqueous Books in December of 2010. A portion of her author’s proceeds will be donated to a local battered women’s charity in San Diego, CA.
Question: Let’s say you found out that every time you write a new story, poem, or essay, someone in North Dakota gets a life-threatening disease. Would you continue to write? Explain.
HF: Yes, I would still write. But I would maintain plausible denial for the first hundred victims, trying all sorts of things like dictation, secretarial help, etc. However, in the event that any writing transcribed or otherwise recorded still caused life-threatening diseases for North Dakotans, my ego to be known as the first female writer, historically, to cause North Dakotan death by the mere practice of her art would be hard to relinquish. I would also wonder if even my thoughts could be perilous to North Dakotans, and thus have survivor’s guilt for every new diagnosis.
At this point, I would have a powwow with my children, say, “Babies, Mommy’s stories are killing people.” I’m sure they would nod, aware of this already. “No, real people,” I’d say, flipping on the news for their review. If they then said, “Mommy, for the good of North Dakotans, who almost qualify as an endangered species, we fear you must off yourself right now. We will endure the sacrifice,” then I’d do what they say, you know? I believe in WWCD. Children are much wiser than grown-ups, after all.
Roy Kesey’s debut novel Pacazo was published by Dzanc Books in February 2011; the UK/Commonwealth edition will be appearing in 2012 courtesy of Jonathan Cape and Vintage. His previous books include the award-winning novella Nothing in the World, a historical guide to the Chinese city of Nanjing, and the story collection All Over, which made L Magazine’s recent Best Books of the Decade list. His stories, essays, and poems have been widely published and anthologized, with work appearing in Best American Short Stories, The Robert Olen Butler Prize Anthology, and New Sudden Fiction, among other places. He is the recipient of a 2010 prose fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently lives in Peru with his wife and children.
Question: Let’s say that you’re at a bookstore in Brooklyn. You find a literary magazine called The Back Door Review. It contains your story, “Wait.” However, it’s printed backwards. You don’t recall ever agreeing to this. As luck would have it, the editor of the magazine is standing right there. She introduces herself. What would you say to her?
RK: The first thing I would say to the person you describe under the circumstances you describe is: ”Holy fucking shit! What the fuck am I doing in Brooklyn? I live in Peru! What are you, some kind of time travel ninja editor witch person? Or what, exactly?”
Then I would say, ”Also, just out of curiosity, why did you name your literary magazine after a 2008 porn flick directed by Seymore Butts and starring Tom Byron, Mark Davis, and Dee?”
Then I would ask if she knows anywhere I could get a really, really, really good sandwich.
A few months ago, CR staff member Don Peteroy announced he was going to conduct an interviewing experiment. His idea was to contact writers he admires (he is an intrepid, yea tireless, journal reader) and ask them each an absurd (yea, downright ridiculous) question—a question designed to throw said writer off balance and elicit an unrehearsed, fresh (yea, sometimes silly) response. The results were crazy good fun, and in support of that spirit—as well as in support of writing and writers everywhere (not just in our pages)—we asked Don’s permission to post these questions and answers on CR’s blog. I mean, any clown can ask an author what writers influenced him/her, but only Don Peteroy would ask something like “If you were an item on the McDonald’s value menu, which one would you be and why?” And so, here is the first installment of Don Peteroy’s Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers.
Valerie Fioravanti’s linked story collection, Garbage Night at the Opera, won the 2011 G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and is forthcoming from BkMk Press. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including North American Review and Cimarron Review. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy to research her novel, Bel Casino. She lives in Sacramento, where she teaches private workshops from her home and runs the Stories on Stage reading series.
Question: Let’s say the ghost of Herman Melville appears in your bedroom. You’re completely sober and sane, by the way. He tells you that you must write Moby Dick II: It Lives, or else he will haunt your family for ten generations. Everyone in your family will go nuts. He also tells you that the book will ruin your career. What are you going to do?
VF: I’d say, “I would prefer not to,” of course. He deserves to be on the receiving end of that line, don’t you think? After that, I’d just tell him to bring it. I’m an Italian girl from Brooklyn, and ghosts wouldn’t exactly faze my family. They’d just commiserate with him about how much I hate being told what to do, and make room. That’s apartment life—there’s not space enough for everyone to go to private corners where stuff festers. You learn to confront your demons, living or dead, and find a way to coexist.
Besides, Moby Dick already has a sequel. It’s Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. I’d read Hank some gorgeous bone passages, point out how homosexuality no longer needs to be a latent theme, and encourage him to rest easy in his afterlife. Art is legacy. It’s Ahab and his whale-sized obsession. Career is the middle-aged guy with the stressball, and who willingly chooses him? If Melville still needed placating (’cause really, what’s with all the threats?), I’d mention how “Bartleby the Scrivener” made my throat constrict from claustrophobia, and how much I loved Benjamin Britten’s all-male opera Billy Budd. Second generation innovation. The guy with the stressball can’t touch that.
Mary Hamilton is a writer and optician living in Los Angeles. Her debut book, We Know What We Are, was released last year from Rose Metal Press.
MH: To be a total nerd about this, the truth is a star “disappears” at least every day. Such is the way of the universe. But, if it was really up to me, like, if it was my fault, well, yes, I would use one verb a day. Just to keep the balance going. I think I would feel important, having such responsibility. Of course, what calamity if, one day, my verb makes our sun disappear. That would suck. But, such is the way of the universe.