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12/04/2009 12:00 PM |

Rachel Zucker is the author of Museum of Accidents (Wave Books, 2009), The Bad Wife Handbook, The Last Clear Narrative and Eating in the Underworld (all published by Wesleyan University Press), as well as the co-editor (with Arielle Greenberg) of Women Poets on Mentorship. She lives in New York where she teaches poetry and is a labor doula. She’s reading at Cake Shop on Sunday, December 6th, as part of the Polestar Poetry Series.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Well, Sarah Manguso said, “Your book’s about the impossibility of total attention to anything. (Right?)”

That seems very accurate if a little vague.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
My husband and I recently got rid of our cable and have mostly stopped watching television. At first this really felt like going through a painful withdrawal as I am a TV addict (especially for well produced, extended series). But, my husband is now reading aloud to me from Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and I find that this is just as satisfying! It’s a great story, totally transporting! Also, I’m obsessed with “This American Life.” Every single show changes how I think about life.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
My mom’s.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
No.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Well, here’s my favorite “fan email” I’ve ever gotten:

Hi Rachel –

Tom brought home your new collection. I think you’re fucking talented.

That is all.

Lisa

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
All the love letters I wrote to boys who didn’t even read them.

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11/19/2009 11:00 AM |

Curtis Smith is the author of the story collections The Species Crown and the recently released Bad Monkey (both from Press 53). Last year Casperian Books published his second novel, Sound and Noise, and this spring, they’ll put out his next, Truth Or Something Like It. Also next year, Sunnyoutside Press will release his essay collection, The Agnostic’s Prayer. His stories and essays have appeared in over fifty literary journals and have been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, and The Best American Spiritual Writing.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
In a blurb for my story collection The Species Crown, Jim Clark, the editor of The Greensboro Review said: “These are not tales to calm our jackrabbity hearts.” I think that fits my work pretty well-most of my characters are on edge, unsure of themselves and their motivations. They’re an anxious and nervous bunch.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I watched the Anvil documentary last week. Perhaps I’d have trouble sitting through a concert, but those guys were awesome and incredibly inspiring. Through the hardest times, they believed in themselves and their art and their vision. That’s pretty cool.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
I’ll go with a tell-all about either the Brat Pack’s shenanigans or the mullet-wearing gang that was the 1993 Phillies.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I never went the starving artist route: I’ve always had a day job. I’ve taught special learning at a public high school for 28 years. That pays the bills (sometimes barely, but they get paid).

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Someone who finishes one of my books and thinks that someday they’d want to read another. I doubt there’s any higher praise than that.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Outside old love letters, no. Mistakes are all part of the process of learning to ask the right questions. Anyway, that Ray Bradbury story about the guy traveling time and stepping on the butterfly has always freaked me out. I don’t even think about messing with the past.

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11/12/2009 4:00 AM |

Joanna Rawson’s new collection, Unrest, is just out from Graywolf Press. She is the author of a previous poetry collection, Quarry, winner of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ Award Series in Poetry. She lives in Northfield, Minnesota.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
A very distinguished looking guy (suit & tie, mall glam-shot) on goodreads.com says about my new book Unrest that “The reader ends up having to do too much work.” Our man Douglas Jones might be right. Then again, you should hear what my mother said about it.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I’m not sure that lives, at least L Magazine readers’ lives, need to change for the better.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
I don’t sprint. I stroll at a stately pace to the store, since from where I live that would be about 13 miles. And that store doesn’t stock just any old Greeks. But if I were to undertake such an incredible journey, it would have to be a kiss-and-tell by one of Cesar Millan’s dogs.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
No I haven’t ever been out of food. I have, however, since I live in Minnesota, been a scarving artist—usually January-March.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Mud wrestling.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Some bad checks, in college.

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11/05/2009 4:00 AM |

Douglas A. Martin’s new novel is Once You Go Back. Next Wednesday, the 11th, he’ll read at the Center for Performance Research.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Once when I read with Wayne Koestenbaum, he said it was “like Gertrude Stein with a hard-on.” I think that was pretty true.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I saw the poet Laura Mullen stage and reinterpret Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece.” She did this at a conference instead of giving a standard paper. Everyone should try it.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
Toni Morrison’s.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Yeah. Before I did sex work, mainly prostitution. It was odd to be mostly satiated body-wise but not in the mind, though that gave me something to write about. Before that, because I really didn’t want to go to the bad community college in Georgia my mom said was the best we could do, I went to the state school anyway and lived basically on potatoes and ice-water and sugar for a while, so I had some practice.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
If I was talking to someone about books and they said something nice about one of mine without knowing that’s who they were talking to.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Like letters to people and stuff, but then I basically do. I’ll rework them somehow based on how they were received or not, ignored, dismissed, whatever. Then you can always just make a poem or something. Just like if you write an essay but then it’s no good for whatever reason.

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10/29/2009 4:00 AM |

Marie Mockett’s first novel, Picking Bones from Ash, was just published by Graywolf Press. She reads tonight as part of Graywolf’s 35th anniversary celebration, at the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Maud Newton said my book is “deeply preoccupied with girls, talent and power. That’s pretty much where my head was. And, yes, the book takes place in Japan, but there are no helpless geishas, though later on in the book, there’s some Miyazaki-inspired surrealism. Also, a ghost and some demons.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
Listened to: Kurt Elling’s “Dedicated to You” on Concord Records and Laurence Hobgood’s “When the Heart Dances” on Naim. Real, complex, not-schlocky-but-still-romantic, accessible and sophisticated jazz.

Watched: The new Tosca at the Met. I loved the theatricality and the eerie men in black and the very padded torture room. The The new Toscabooers have no imagination.

Food: I still mourn the closing of the Burmese Café in Jackson Heights and hope for its revival. For authentic Japanese food, there is still nothing like Aburiya Kinnosuke, though it’s a little Tokyo-salty. I remain amused by the beffudled New York Times reviewer’s experience at Aburiya; we aren’t used to real Japanese food in the US.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
It’s none of my business of course, but I’d love to know about AS Byatt’s youthful affair with Cecil Day-Lewis and how much of that went into the writing of Possession.

Also, what exactly went on between Nureyev and Fonteyn? Both are dead, so chances are we won’t find out. But these muse-like, passionate relationships that border on the romantic are fascinating to me. Maybe the Greeks were right and inspiration is always borne of love. Except historically, it seems to me, most women get screwed over by these arrangements.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Who is ever helped by starvation and poverty? This is a fantasy of rich people, or people who want artists to represent something for them and don’t think through the reality of what is really required to create—and sell—art. My mother tells me she grew up after the war eating crickets and catching minnows like a lot of Japanese, many of whom were less resourceful and starved to death. I have a ways to go before life is truly that awful. As for being poor; aren’t most of us poor in New York City, except for the bankers (and, really, despite their whining, they don’t have it as bad as they think they do)?

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
The ideal interaction is between the reader and the book—and does not involve the writer. It worries me that books are becoming calling cards for the writer as celebrity. If celebrity as an end is so important, then why should any of us bother writing books at all? It takes a long time to write a thoughtful novel—a lot of solitary, inward thinking time. This has nothing to do with the artist up on a stage at a later date “standing for something,” and using his work or life as a “teachable life moment.” We are too hungry for gurus.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
I tend to be obsessive. It’s not good for me to engage in too much regret.

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10/22/2009 4:00 AM |

Vincent McCaffrey has owned and operated the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop for more than thirty years, first in Boston, and now online from Abington, Massachusetts. He has been paid by others to do lawn work, shovel snow, paint houses, and to be an office-boy, warehouse grunt, dishwasher, waiter, and hotel night clerk. He has since chosen at various times to be a writer, editor, publisher, and bookseller. He can still remember the first time he sold books for money in 1963—and what most of those books were. Hound is his first novel.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Of all the reviews, the one that tickled me the most was one of the first by Paul Tremblay, the author of The Little Sleep. Its accuracy is a question I cannot answer with any modesty:

“McCaffrey’s bookseller, Henry Sullivan, is as endearing, frustrating, and compelling a character I’ve come across in some time. Hound is more than Henry’s show, however. It’s a slow burn murder mystery, a sharp character study, a detailed exploration of Boston, and a mediation on the secrets of history—both personal and universal. But I’m wasting our precious time trying to pigeonhole his wonderful first novel. Hound is, quite simply, a great book.”

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I read constantly—mostly history, fiction, and poetry. Of all the books I have read recently, and read again, Liberty and Freedom by the great historian David Hackett Fischer would most fit the potential of changing a reader’s life permanently.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy?
Charles Fernley Fawcett. One of the most incredible human beings I have ever heard of, never wrote about himself. A founder of the International Medical Corps, explorer, resistance fighter, soldier, airman, filmmaker, actor, wrestler, and perhaps the best drinking companion of all time.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I have been a child of middle class prosperity for most of my life. The closest to starving I have ever managed was in New York in 1965, as a student living in a four floor walk-up on Avenue A. I wrote about it in a novel, Habits of the Heart, currently posted on my website.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
That a reader of Hound should give the book to their best friend and say, “Read this. You’ll love it.”

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Luckily those stories never found their way to print and I have thrown them in the trash—all but the lot in the attic of my parents house which was sold when I was away at college. I have often wondered about them.

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10/14/2009 4:00 AM |

Zak Sally is a musician (formerly of the band Low, and more recently releasing a solo album, Fear Of Song), publisher (of La Mano books), and comic artist (the Eisner Award nominated Recidivist, and ongoing serial Sammy The Mouse, published by Fantagraphics/ Coconino). His most recent book is Like A Dog (Fantagraphics), a hardcover collection of his early ‘zine work and assorted short pieces. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and son.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Well, i’m really happy with the “anonymous” quote on the back of Like A Dog: “Like A Dog reads like a hairy, 450 pound man in a speedo trying to give you ice cream at your sister’s wedding,” but the fact is, I wrote the damn thing.
Comics is generally (and sometimes maddeningly) a medium where you DON’T hear a lot/get a lot of feedback… mostly stuff just trickles out here and there. The word “claustrophobic” works pretty well in regards to Like A Dog, I think… I really WISH i heard more people describing Sammy The Mouse as “funny,” but i think most people find it creepy and depressing.

I think it’s funny, damn it.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
Well, I did a ten-day “master cleanse” a couple months ago where all I “ate” for ten days was maple syrup, cayenne pepper and lemons. That was pretty fun (but not as much fun as i thought it’d be).

I just attended the Small Press Expo (in Bethesda, MD), and am still wading through all the awesome small press stuff I picked up at that thing; anyone who thinks that the small press or minicomics scene is dead obviously isn’t paying attention; the whole thing was deeply inspiring.

But as far as ONE THING: my old pal John Porcellino’s new book (collecting issues between 1996 and 2002 of his long running minicomic “King-Cat Comics and Stories”) Map Of My Heart (from Drawn & Quarterly) is just astounding; I mean, I make a couple appearances in this book (and my publishing company has put out a book by him), so I’m nowhere near objective about John or his work, but… this really is a collection of the best work he’s ever done, and I honestly believe that then years from now, people will look at John’s body of work as a singular and important piece of artâ�‚��€�not “comic” art, but ART, and Map Of My Heart is 300-some pages of cold hard proof of this fact.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
I honestly don’t have a decent answer for this.

Not like “I’m above it all”, I just… don’t really give a hoot these days.

Madonna’s looking awfully strange these days, though.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
It depends. I don’t think I’ve ever been brilliant (unfortunately).

When I was younger, not having a pot to piss in probably pushed me in some ways (not all of them good), art-wise; but once you’ve got a mortgage, wife, and kid, everything ceases to be… I won’t say “romantic”, but let’s just say that it’s a pretty simple thing to not give a fuck when you’ve just got yourself to worry about.

Being broke in recent years has been no fun whatsoever, and I am now trying to find ways to become perpetually rich and powerful.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
One where they make me rich and powerful.

No that’s a joke (but interested parties please contact me).

I’d say a real, human interaction on some level is ideal for me, in whatever form it takes; and as abstract as it may sound, receiving a handwritten letter has taken on a damn near magical quality for me. It’s such a rare thing in this day and age on so many levels, to sit down and concentrate, use your HAND to write a letter, then take the time to stick it in an envelope and put it in the mail. I really cherish the handwritten letters I’ve gotten over the years.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Generally, anything over six months old has PARTS you’d like to change or take back (it used to be somewhere around 30 seconds). But right now, I’d settle for the complete eradication anything I created between the ages of, say, 6 and 25.

Can we do that?

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10/08/2009 4:00 AM |

Rachel Sherman is the author of The First Hurt, a collection of stories. Her novel Living Room will be released on the 20th of this month.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
I really like what Judy Budnitz said about The First Hurt. She said “Sherman writes stories like splinters: they get under your skin and stay with you long after you’ve closed the book. These haunting stories are both wonderfully, deeply weird and unsettlingly familiar.”

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I watched an excellent documentary called Forbidden Lie$ about a literary hoax. I ate an amazing cake from Ladybird in Brooklyn.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
Bethenny Frankel (from The Real Housewives…). She is always alluding to a strange and difficult childhood.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I’ve been a Starving Artist for a long time. I chock it all up to good fodder.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
It is always satisfying when a reader is somehow touched by my work. If I can make someone feel something, I guess that would be ideal.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Of course! But I’m not going to mention those things…

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10/01/2009 4:00 AM |

Daniel Nester is the author of How to Be Inappropriate. Earlier this month, he spent a week in skinny jeans, and wrote about his ordeal for the L.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Rachel Shukert says my writing has an “irreverent, elegiac sensibility to subjects ranging from the essence of literary truth to the enduring mystery of flatulence.” I like that. It makes me sound smart.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
As I type this, I am re-listening to the Comsat Angels‘ 1980 LP Waiting for a Miracle. Superb. It’s best to listen to these tracks while mildly stoned and driving in my friend Tom’s Chevy Nova circa 1985, but coffee and computer speakers got the job done in a pinch.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
That’s easy: Bert Convy.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Hmmm. For some five years, I attended Rutgers University in Camden, NJ, and lived off-campus in the poorest city in the United States. I subsisted on generic ramen and single-sold eggs and cigarettes and bought one at a time from the only bodega open after dark. I drank 40s of Coqui 900, bowls of grain punch, and smoked dirt weed. My soundtrack consisted of NWA, Anthrax, Kiss, 2 Live Crew, and mid-period R.E.M.

It was much better than it sounds. I don’t know if I was an artist then, actually, or if I am now. I was, however, an English major. I do know that there were points along the way where I was genuinely scared, where I realized that renting an apartment in a the better blocks of a ghetto wasn’t just a college kid slumming it by choice, but it had become, in fact, the only place I could afford to live. Whether those years made me Brilliant, improved my Character, or increased my Self-Reliance remain to be seen.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
The handshake where you wiggle your middle finger into the other person’s palm.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Most of the poems, all of the blog posts.

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09/24/2009 4:00 AM |

Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her MFA at Emerson College. She is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences and the 2009-2010 Emerging Writer Lectureship at Gettysburg College. Her fiction has appeared in One Story, American Short Fiction, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008, Best New American Voices 2010, and The Pushcart Prize XXIV, among others. Her first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books, October 2009), is the winner of the Dzanc Prize and was recently selected by Barnes & Noble for their Discover Great New Writers Program. To learn more about Laura, please visit www.lauravandenberg.com. (Photo © Miriam Berkley 2009.)

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Once someone commented that my stories seem to revolve around my obsession with monsters. Given that half the stories in my collection involve a creature of some sort—Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, Mokele-mbembe—that’s not entirely inaccurate.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
Read: Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marías. A masterpiece.
Watched: Rachel Getting Married was pretty great—far more complicated and intense than I had expected. Also, Summer Hours. It’s positively exquisite.
Eaten: the omelet has untold possibilities. Arugula, watercress, delicious cheeses, exotic mushrooms.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
Johnny Depp. If only for the photos.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Not starving. Frugal times, but never without food.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Having them present me with a chocolate cream pie and a big glass of wine and then buy hundreds of copies of my book. Or even just one.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
There are days when I want to take everything back.