Category: Interview (Page 1 of 3)

TCR Talks with Eli Ryder

By: Daniela Montes

Eli Ryder is a man as diverse as the fiction he loves. He is a professor, a father, and a writer. He goes from playing the guitar and singing around a campfire to filling you with horror when you read his prose. His story “A Quiet Street” was a Roswell Award honorable mention this year. Eli is one of the cofounders of the online literary magazine Automata, where he and his colleagues publish prose that pushes the boundaries of weird.

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TCR Talks with Rebecca Makkai

REBECCA MAKKAI TALKS ABOUT THE RELEASE OF HER NEW NOVEL, THE GREAT BELIEVERS

By: Kaia Gallagher

A masterful story-teller, Rebecca Makkai blends tragedy and humor in her recently released book, The Great Believers, a novel that tells the very human story of Chicago’s gay community as it faces the emerging AIDS epidemic during the mid-1980s.

The story revolves around a small group of gay men who find their relationships disrupted, their identities challenged and their hopes for the future dimmed as their friends fall ill and die around them.  A second narrative follows Fiona, the sister to one of the deceased, as she travels to Paris in 2015 still haunted by the shadow memories of those she lost.  Within a broader context of homophobia and government indifference, the story highlights the ephemeral nature of present time and the ways in which the past, present and future are all very much connected.

The Great Believers builds on Makkai’s illustrious writing career.  Her first novel, The Borrower was chosen as the Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, an O Magazine selection and one of Chicago Magazine‘s choices for best fiction of 2011.  Since its debut, it has been translated into seven languages. Her second novel, The Hundred-Year House won the 2015 Novel of the Year award from the Chicago Writers Association and was named a best book of 2014 by BookPage.

A prolific author, Makkai’s published work has appeared in Harper’sTin House, the Wall Street Journal, and New England Review. She has received fellowships at Yaddo and the Sewanee and Wesleyan Writers Conferences and was the recipient of an NEA literature fellowship in fiction in 2014.  She is on the faculty of MFA programs at Northwestern University and Sierra Nevada College, and is the Artistic Director at StoryStudio Chicago.

The Coachella Review was pleased to have the opportunity to interview Makkai by phone just prior to the release of The Great Believers.

 

The Coachella Review: Congratulations on the publication of The Great Believers.  How does your experience in writing this book compare to your other two books?

RM: Compared to my other books, The Great Believers is much more research-heavy.  I could not be writing about a real time and place and such a sensitive topic without doing a ton of one-on-one in-depth interviews and a lot of primary document research.  My other works were entirely about the creative process and only a little bit about research.  This felt like equal parts research and writing and it’s stronger for that.  It doesn’t read like non-fiction. It’s not meant too.

The research process behind this writing was really intense. I was both writing and researching for five years. It was four years of “full throttle” which is pretty fast for a novel of this length.

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Summer 2018


Mathieu Cailler
Fiction Quickenings

Chelsea Catherine
Nonfiction | Pockets and Corners

Frannie McMillan
Poetry July 4th

Bonnie Watts
Poetry | What

Carol Guess
Drama The Incident

Emily Townsend
Nonfiction | The Innocent Non-Threatening White Young Woman

Lucas Cardona
Fiction My Magazine Life

Michael Seeger
Poetry | Passing Storm

Carolyn Núr Wistrand
Drama | Watchwomen

D. Gilson
Nonfiction | Last Will and Testament: A Mad Lib

David Starkey
Poetry | Five Arguments in Favor of My Beatification

Art Hanlon
Fiction | East China Sea

Nels Hanson
Poetry | Calendar

Elizabeth Bruno
Poetry | Skinny-Dipping

Stephen Elliott
Fiction | Los Angeles Stories

Andrea Hoag
Nonfiction | Our Breasts: A Love Story

Carolyn Supinka
Poetry | First (Found) Fig

Stephanie Kaplan Cohen
Poetry | Suicide

Valerie Miner
Fiction | LA Fourmi Faim

Danielle Joy Foley
Poetry | The Beginning and The End: A Love Poem with 2 Parts

Bonnie Lykes
Nonficiton | Developing World

Liska Jacobs
Interview | TCR Talks with Liska Jacobs

The Coachella Review is a literary arts journal published by the University of California, Riverside–Palm Desert Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts.

 

TCR Talks With Liska Jacobs

By: David Olsen

Liska Jacobs holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The RumpusLos Angeles Review of BooksLiterary HubThe Millions, and The Hairpin, among other publications.

Catalina, is her first novel. 

The Coachella Review: I was in attendance last fall when you were interviewed by Mark Haskell Smith. There was a story regarding the sacrifices you made in order to go through your MFA and complete your novel Catalina. Specifically, regarding a bed with a barrier around it. Can you share a few details about that experience? I found it extremely inspiring.

LJ: Ha—you’re referring to the “witch lines,” which was what my husband and I called the circles of Ajax around our bed in an effort to keep cockroaches away. Those were some sleepless nights. This was soon after I quit my job at the Getty Research Institute to pursue writing full-time. My husband and I were in our twenties; we had no savings. We sold a lot of our things and moved into an apartment complex off Martin Luther King Blvd.

We never had a fridge because no matter how many roach bombs we set off, we just couldn’t get ahead of it. We became expert happy hour goers. I knew where to get $1 tacos, or two-for-one sliders and really strong mai tais. A couple of months into our lease, we lost our couch to the infestation. I remember trying to carry it down the stairs to the alley, and halfway down a cockroach crawled out, right next to my hand. These weren’t the small German cockroaches; they were American cockroaches, which are big and brown and have very thick exoskeletons. You have to whack it with something heavy, ten, twelve times, and then it can lay eggs before it dies. I just dropped the couch. My poor husband had to take it out to the alley by himself. Luckily, it was one of those cheap lightweight IKEA couches. We were down to a few kitchen chairs and our bed by the time we moved out.

This was during that year of relentless heatwaves too, when Los Angeles just felt like it was melting and would never see rain again. That kind of heat gets to people. I got a job downtown, at The Last Bookstore, and the tension down there was razor’s-edge sharp. Someone fell from a balcony on the building next door and died, there were multiple ODs in the park across the street, and weekly jumpers on the Red line. I worried a lot about whether I had made the right decision leaving the Getty. And I can tell you no one in my family understood. To them I had quit a career for a part-time book-buying gig downtown. It was great getting into UCRPD because it meant I hadn’t lost my mind, I could write, and an MFA program agreed. Plus, loans to pay for a nicer apartment!

TCR: So, Catalina. I read this book and I really loved it. It actually bears some similarities to the novel I’m writing in terms of a protagonist on his/her way down. And lots of drugs. I know you get the question a lot about whether or not this has elements of autobiography, so I won’t bother you with that question. But where did you get the inspiration for this narrative and its protagonist, Elsa?

LJ: Thank you! I’m so glad you liked it. I love Elsa. She’s an amalgam of many women I know, including myself, but she also came from a long tradition of women on the edge in literature. I’m a huge Jean Rhys fan, so any of her heroines, but especially Sasha Jenson from Good Morning Midnight. Also, Joan Didion’s Maria Wyeth in Play It As It Lays, and of course Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood from The Bell Jar. I’m a huge fan of literary fuck-ups, actually. To be unlikeable and to err is one of the most radical things a woman can do. It’s rebelling against the status quo, a rejection of what a woman should be. We’re lucky to be living in a time when there are so many great female characters that really challenge readers. My favorite contemporary fuck-ups are probably Olga in Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment and Kitty from Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home.

TCR: What about the name of the novel? Why Catalina? Had you considered other locales as the inspiration? Did you visit the island for “R&D”?

LJ: My editor likes to joke that I’m a “method writer” because I did go over to Catalina several times. Place is so important, and I have to get it right. Not just the description but the feel of the place too. I tried out a few spots before I settled on Catalina. At one point, I thought they could sail to one of the Channel Islands, but I needed the two halves of Catalina to make the book work. All the characters are struggling against their inner selves and who they pretend to be. So, I wanted that same kind of tension reflected in the place. Catalina is perfect for that. On the one side of the island you have Avalon, this very touristy area made up like a small Mediterranean town—like a back lot or a set. On the opposite end is Two Harbors, this natural landscape with only one restaurant and one bar; Catalina Island foxes and bison come down from the mountains; bald eagles nest on the rocky cliffs.

I’m doing something similar with my second book. I guess I like to write stories that take place somewhere beautiful because no matter how I set up the characters, dark things happen. And I love the tension created between that kind of dichotomy. Beauty and ugliness, lightness and darkness. I think that’s where human truth exists, somewhere in that gray area between the two.

TCR: Let’s talk a little bit about process. Do you have a defined process for writing a novel-length manuscript? Are you an outliner? Or are you a Stephen King “Excavator” writing into the ethereal fog?

LJ: I like that, “ethereal fog.”  I don’t outline a whole lot, but I do always start with characters and place. There’s a peg board above my desk that I use as a sort of mood board. I take those cheap magazines they sell at Walgreens or CVS that have different haircuts/styles and cast my characters from there. Sometimes if I’m feeling fancy, I use foreign Vogues. I pin color swatches from Lowe’s to invoke place—Lapis Lazuli, New Terra-Cotta, Raging Sea were the colors I had pinned for Catalina. From there it’s all about what kind of situations I can put my characters in and how they bounce off each other.

TCR: Revision is another thing that interests me. Some people seem to love it, some not so much. I like revision a little better than the initial rough draft because I can see the characters and plot arcs more clearly. Where do you fall on this argument?  

LJ: They’re both gratifying in different ways. The initial draft is exhilarating because it’s so raw. It’s just you and your characters and you’re just riffing and spilling your guts out onto the page. Later there’s an agenda and it becomes more refined, which is satisfying in a different way. It becomes something outside of yourself, like a child. Part of you but also its own entity. Even after the tireless revisions I did on Catalina, I can still see traces of myself, but it’s more of a din than a flat-out echo.  

TCR: It seems like it’s every writer’s dream to get an agent and a two-book deal with Farrar Straus and Giroux. And you did it. Congrats, by the way. I had another friend publish a novel recently and they had been through fifteen drafts, thought they were done, and the publisher gave them twenty pages of notes and revisions. I am curious as to the kinds of edits that you underwent during that process? Did you feel like you had a completed, ready-to-publish manuscript when you queried? Can you give us an example of a change that was requested?

LJ: Thank you! It’s been wonderful, and I feel very lucky.

Catalina started out as a short novella that I wrote in a couple of weeks right after leaving the Getty Research Institute.  I submitted part of it during my first workshop with Mary Otis. She was nurturing and enthusiastic and after she read the other pages, she told me to keep going. I really fleshed out the novel during my time at UCRPD, working with Mary and also Mark Haskell Smith and Tod Goldberg. By the time I started querying agents, I thought I had a manuscript ready for publication. Which is hilarious because I did another three revisions with my agent, and five more with my editor!

One of the things that kept changing was the ending. I just couldn’t nail it. The original ending, back when it was a novella, didn’t feel right after I fleshed out Elsa. I had been with her for so long, gotten to know her so well, that I really wanted a happy ending. I wanted to believe that times had changed since Jean Rhys was writing. Her characters drink and have sex and reap the consequences, but that was almost a hundred years ago! Did Elsa really have to be punished? And I realized, eventually, that yes, she cannot come out unscathed. So, I went back to my original ending and cried into my gin.  

TCR: I understand that you have another novel coming up soon and have turned in a draft? Do you have a time line for that one yet? Can you give us a small teaser for the next installment from Liska Jacobs? Where is it set? Do you have a byline?

LJ: Yikes, I should be working on that right now! The deadline for my second book is fast approaching. I think we’re eyeing publication late next year (fingers crossed). I’m really excited about it. While working on Catalina I had several ideas for other books, and this one was next in the chamber. I can tell you it deals with womanhood and all its complexities. I want to untangle that dark root of female need—for a child, for sex, for sisterhood—and how those needs bend and change with age. It takes place during a very hot summer in Rome and Puglia.  

TCR: You completed your MFA and published your thesis (also a dream many share). Can you give those of us in that category some words of advice? Anything about your particular experience that resonated with you and helped you along your path?

LJ: Originally Catalina was going to be called The Worst Kind of Want, partly because it’s a line one of the characters says to Elsa, but also because my desire to write, to publish was almost all consuming. It’s the type of want that borders on need. The kind that makes you take up drinkingor measure the distance between bridges and the ground below. I mean I gave up everything except for my husband, who for some reason stuck by me. I was ready to burn it all to the ground. But humans are basically black holes of desire and nothing we throw at it fills it up. You just go on wanting. I guess my advice is, know it’ll never be enough. You’re in this for the long haul. Do it because you can’t do anything else.


David M. Olsen is a full-time insurance broker, writer, editor, and poet. He is a graduate of Stanford’s OWC program in novel writing and is also an MFA candidate at UCR-Palm Desert. He is at work on a collection of linked short stories, a novel, and a chapbook of poetry. David is also the fiction editor at the The Coachella Review. In a past life David won awards as a chef and brewer. He is a Cicerone, Sommelier, and is a certified pizzaiolo trained by 11-time world champion Tony Gemignani. He resides in Pacific Grove, California.

TCR Talks with Rebecca Makkai

BY: Kaia Gallagher

Acclaimed by Vanity Fair to be a rising literary star, Rebecca Makkai demonstrates her versatile storytelling ability in Music for Wartime, a collection of 17 stories written over a 13-year period. Reflecting on Makkai’s diverse career, the stories vary in their narrative structure but connect around the central themes of music and war. To tie them together, Makkai has added three oral history accounts shared by her paternal grandmother, Ignacz Rozsa, a famous actress and novelist in Hungary, and her father, Adam Makkai, a Hungarian-born linguist.

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TCR Talks with Tyler Dilts

By: Felicity Landa

Tyler Dilts spent his childhood investigating police work, hoping to one day follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he found himself to be much more interested in writing about crime than pursuing a career solving it and has since become the author of five books on crime fiction, including the Edgar Award nominated, Come Twilight, and the forthcoming, Mercy Dogs. His chilling and sometimes terrifying novels explore the complex and haunted characters of the Long Beach homicide department and the murders they solve. Dilts’ Long Beach Homicide series has gained quite a following amongst crime fiction fans, Long Beach natives, and many others. “Someone told me to set a couple of long-term goals, for motivation,” Says Tyler Dilts. “So I set some goals that I thought would be impossible to reach,” he told me when we met in L.A. to discuss his upcoming novel. “I thought, I’m going to sell a quarter of a million books, and I’m going to get nominated for an Edgar award. And in the last year, I’ve realized those goals weren’t as unrealistic as I thought.” He laughs, “I’m still in shock that those things have happened. Having so much success as a writer still baffles me.”

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TCR Talks with Megan Stielstra

by: Gina Frangello

I feel what could be described as an inappropriate amount of pride in Megan Stielstra. Stielstra was a student (not my student) in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago when I was just beginning my teaching and editing careers, and at that time, the nearly-a-decade age difference between us seemed, as it does with very young people, enormous. Still, it was already clear that Stielstra was a storytelling powerhouse. Just get her into a room—an auditorium at Columbia’s fabled “Story Week” or the dark basement of a bar—and she would, with her words, her voice, her sheer physical energy, bring the house down. I once saw her tell a story while “Living on a Prayer” blared in the background, and what would have, in the hands of just about anyone else on the planet, seemed potentially ridiculous, instead was transformed into a live wire of emotion (albeit not one devoid of intentional comedy). To hear Stielstra on a stage is to recall Cixous:

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TCR talks with Samantha Irby

By: Dein Sofley

Samantha Irby unwittingly began her writing career to impress a dude. This was 2009, when MySpace was the thing. Her little posts entertained him. They dated, and when that thing came to an end, with the encouragement of friends, she launched her blog about the “dumb stuff that was happening to me every day,” Bitches Gotta Eat.

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TCR Talks with Ben Blatt

By: A.M. Larks

In his latest book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, Ben Blatt uses his data journalism skills to tackle writing’s lingering questions and examine adverb usage, gender pronoun tendencies, reading levels, and writers’ favorite and fallback words.

Although Blatt uses statistical analyses to show that writers generally follow their own writing advice, word counts grow in size after the first publication, and co-authors rarely get equal title space on book covers, his work isn’t a math book disguised as a creative writing book. Blatt uncovers interesting insights into style and writing tendencies by looking at rule breakers and followers, including best sellers, critically acclaimed works, and fan fiction, to give the reading public and would-be authors a comprehensive view of what writing looks like by the numbers.

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TCR Talks with Jean Hastings Ardell

BY: Nathania Seales Oh

In Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey, Jean Hastings Ardell co-authors the deeply moving memoir of Ila Jane Borders, a woman shattering gender stereotypes in a male-dominated profession while navigating her secrecy, shame, and eventual acceptance of her sexual orientation.

Throughout the book, Ardell points to transformative moments of struggle in Borders’ life: as a child at home and in the church, as a young woman on the baseball field and in male locker rooms, and at a Christian university where she played before being signed to play professionally. There are moments of levity alongside anecdotes of profound loss and rejection that show the reader Borders’ path to authenticity and success.

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