Category: Interview (Page 1 of 4)

TCR Talks with Tim Murphy

By Scott Stevenson

Tim Murphy is the author of the novel, Christodora, longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal.  It was also named a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian and an Amazon Editors’ Top 100 Books of the Year.  As a journalist, he has reported on HIV/AIDS for twenty years.

Correspondents is his follow-up to Christodora and was an Amazon Best Book in May 2019.

This multi-generational novel follows the life of an American reporter of Lebanese-Irish descent, Rita Khoury, and her Iraqi interpreter, Nabil, who is gay and persecuted by his culture.

Tim described to me how he wanted to depict Rita and Nabil’s families so we could appreciate how a family in the Middle East is not so different than those in the West. They are just subjected to more extreme circumstances. This story takes us to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Each location suggests a different stage of civil conflict. Iraq’s conflict is in progress and Lebanon is in a stage of aftermath.  Correspondents stops before the Arab Spring begins, but the DNA of the future Syrian civil war can be detected.

The Coachella Review: How do you feel about the Iraq situation today?

Tim Murphy: I’m amazed at the extent they’ve been able to pull it back together. It is an extremely complicated place. It really reflects what Lebanon when through in the 70s and 80s. Lebanon is still an extremely fragile place. Unfortunately, Iraq has become a proxy for Iran.

TCR: Omnivoracious, the Amazon Book Review blog stated, “Correspondents is proof that the best novels are as important and insightful as nonfiction.” Since you’re a journalist, what made you decide to write fiction instead of nonfiction?

TM: My day job for 25 years has been as a freelance journalist covering HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ issues. I’ve written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, POZ and The Nation. I got into kind of a rhythm and the work kind of comes to me. Now I take assignments that allow me to make a living and give me some creative freedom. I always wanted to be a novelist. I started a neighborhood paper when I was nine, and a school paper when I was ten. I guess I always wanted to be a journalist too. I published two gay YA novels in my twenties and felt like I wasn’t done with fiction. I hadn’t written fiction in the decade before Christadora and wanted to give it another chance. No one had written a narrative version of AIDS, so that’s where Christadora came from. I kind of felt the same way about Correspondents.  There hadn’t been a real-life, journalistically-informed novel. I really like researching for novels and wanted to examine the intersection between fiction and nonfiction.

TCR: Elliot Ackerman, author of Waiting for Eden stated, “Correspondents is the novel I’ve been hoping would emerge for a long time.” Your book really takes flight in the chapter where Rita and Nabil meet.  Can you talk about that?

TM: I read endless, endless accounts of journalists covering Iraq and I wanted to show the dynamic of journalist and interpreter. The interpreter is the fixer and my reader needed to see both of them awkwardly establishing their dynamic. I had to show them jostling and developing their rapport. Also, I wanted their families to be mirror images of each other. That family could be my family. When you see the effects of the occupation (in Iraq), you feel it in a very real way.

TCR: It seems Rita and Nabil both struggle with loneliness and isolation. Can you talk about how those themes play into their stories?

TM: I never really thought of them as isolated. Nabil experiences more of that than Rita and is isolated in his sexuality. He is alone in that knowledge. I never thought of her as isolated. I don’t really see her that way. There is an event where she and her family became isolated in their grief.

TCR: Don’t you think she is isolated for being a single woman in the Lebanese culture?

TM: Not at all. Her father is very ambitious for her. The pursuit of education is a very big thing for that community. Her mother is more of a victim to that type of thinking, that a woman shouldn’t have a career.

TCR: Who is telling this story? From the very first page, I sensed a guiding voice. Why did you choose an omniscient point of view instead of writing in first person?

TM: It’s told in close third, a third that felt like a first. I really like that old-fashioned voice that can telescope into different characters’ heads. I haven’t written anything in first person since YA.

TCR: There is a chapter with a shooter and it has a very different tone than the rest of the book. Can you talk about that shift?

TM: I wanted the shooter chapter to be very strange for the reader. I wanted to capture his confusion and show him as addled and confused.

TCR: Correspondents is not set entirely in the Middle East. We do spend some time in Boston and Washington D.C., as well as El Cajon, which is Spanish for ‘drawer.’ I didn’t know about the Iraqi émigré population there. As a reporter, how do you feel about the lack of media coverage in the aftermath of the Iraq occupation? Have we put this conflict in a drawer?

TM: That’s interesting. I never thought of it that way. The Iraq debacle is a thing we walked away from, and I was aiming for the Karmic element in the book. The roots of that conflict are deeply embedded in our roots of high tech violence and the gun culture. The U.S. is so big. We’re a superpower. It’s almost like you live in the Death Star and you don’t realize it. We accept our militarism and don’t interrogate it. It’s so completely part of American life and has become this thing we accept.

TCR: Why did you need to tell this story?

TM: I’m a very political author. For a narrative to be compelling, you have to tell a good story. I wanted to write real characters.


Scott is pursuing his MFA in Nonfiction at UCR Palm Desert and spends the rest of his time steeped in the advertising world of Hollywood delivering the commercials and trailers you can’t skip on the internet or on your mobile device. He loves to explore Southern California. There is always an unchartered neighborhood with an interesting history waiting to be discovered in the City of Angels. It helps if there’s a bar or coffee shop or both located there. He was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, a flyover city for helicopters smuggling cocaine from South America in the 1980s. He recommends watching “Cocaine Cowboys” to understand his native state. @scotterson on Instagram

TCR Talks with Steve Almond

By: Kaia Gallagher

Described by commentators as funny, big-hearted and joyfully obsessive, Steve Almond has been a newspaper reporter, an acclaimed writer of short stories, an essayist and the author of ten books over his twenty-year writing career.

Almond’s published short story collections include My Life in Heavy Metal (2002), The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories (2005), God Bless America: Stories (2011), and Whits of Passion (2013). Many of his 150 short stories have been featured in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mysteries, the Pushcart Prize, and Best American Erotica.

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TCR Talks with Maggie Nelson

BY: Aimee Carrillo Rowe and Juniper

Maggie Nelson’s writing resists reification. She attends to what she calls the “multitude of possible uses, possible contexts” of words, creates shifting frames of reference, and defies genre with works that are part poetry and autobiography, theory and criticism. Readers are drawn to the suspended quality of Nelson’s writing, to the agency it provides the reader to question meaning.

Nelson has published nine books, offering intimate narrations of the personal that uncover questions of theory. Jane, The Red Parts, and The Art of Cruelty make up a three-book meditation on violence that opens with her aunt’s murder. Her cult favorite Bluets consists of 240 numbered prose poems that tell a non-linear narrative of recovery from romantic loss while caring for a friend made quadriplegic in an accident. Throughout, she muses on the color blue to reveal the inextricability of heartbreak and desire, love and grief, and the role of art in mediating dualisms. Most recent is Nelson’s The Argonauts, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, her story of becoming a mother with a trans partner. The book challenges normative notions of the family while refusing to trap queerness under a banner of knowability.

Nelson has earned numerous accolades, including a MacArthur Award, a National Endowment of the Arts Award for Poetry, and a Guggenheim Fellowship for Nonfiction. She works as a professor of English at the University of Southern California. The Coachella Review had the great privilege of interviewing Nelson on the craft of writing discourse that is multivalent, in which unknowing is beautiful, for in it there is “infinite conversation, an endless becoming.”

THE COACHELLA REVIEW: “My writing is riddled with such tics of uncertainty. I have no excuse or solution, save to allow myself the tremblings, then go back in later and slash them out. In this way I edit myself into a boldness that is neither native nor foreign to me.” Can you describe how you edit yourself into boldness? What does this feel like in your body?

MAGGIE NELSON: It feels like sitting in a chair and running down a sharp pencil! The beauty of writing is that you don’t have to take something like boldness head on. You just keep making better sentences, eliminating dross and cant, and you get there.

TCR: That’s interesting, because our next question may be related, conceptually, for you. We were thinking of the way José Muñoz imagines queer utopia, à la Bloch, as an astonishment at the mundane and wondered whether your preoccupation with the color blue in Bluets works, in part, as a practice in astonishment? Or is astonishment only something that can result sentence by sentence, like boldness?

MN: Right, I don’t think astonishment is something you can hunt down directly. As Bluets says, such demands are murderous to beauty. If you practice the art of paying close attention, astonishment can be a side effect. But it’s the attention that matters, and that comes first.

TCR: If the stanzas in Bluets were rearranged, would the narrative remain equally true?

MN: Well, it’s not a collage. It builds. I don’t write for truth per se—I don’t know what true means exactly—but certainly it wouldn’t be the same book, in which case whatever truth value or truth effects it achieves right now would be lost or changed.

TCR: ‘I’m not on my way anywhere,’” Harry sometimes tells inquirers. “How to explain, in a culture frantic for resolution, that sometimes the shit stays messy?” What is at stake in going nowhere or writing against or without teleology—without a need to accomplish, complete, or even move forward under a logic of progress? Have you gone up against any strictures around time in the publishing industry? Without being on the way anywhere, how does a writer know when a project is finished?

MN: I don’t think there really are big strictures around time from the literary publishing industry, not such as there are for journalists writing for deadline. In my experience, most everyone bragging about having missed a deadline and being in trouble with their publisher etc. is stretching the truth a bit, in an effort to make their work sound more desperately needed and awaited than it is. Perhaps that fantasy is what keeps them working. Baldwin had it otherwise, conjecturing that “it is only because the world looks on [the artist’s] talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important.” That’s more my POV. Also, one can move forward without teleology—arguably that’s how the entirety of the universe, including life on earth, evolves. You can evolve without teleology; even Darwin said so. That said, every artist usually feels the need to “resolve” a piece—you want to make it better, as best as it can be, until it’s time to finish or abandon it. This, in my experience, is a very nose to the grindstone activity, not really hospitable to disruption by more macro concerns. It takes the time it takes.

TCR: You’ve said, “I have never really thought of myself as a ‘creative person’—writing is my only talent, and writing has always felt more clarifying than creative to me.” Do you consider this “clarifying,” in part, as a form of archiving queer culture or is your intention limited to the personal?

MN: I’m realizing that I’m not really addressing some of the nuances here about queer culture, and that’s because the word “queer” isn’t one I myself use very much, at least not in the way you’re using it here. I’m not against using it this way, but it’s just not native to me. I prefer a relationship to it that’s more skeptical and flickering than clarifying, ever unsure about what it means, rather than using it as if it’s a knowable adjective, noun, or verb. This is especially so these days, as the word’s connotation has changed quite a bit from when “queer theory” first ascended, with all its confidence about queering everything it touched, and knowing what that would mean.

TCR: You used to live in New York City and now live and teach in Los Angeles. New Yorkers and Angelenos notoriously love to compare the two cities. Does the feeling of a place—L.A., New York—animate your writing process?

MN: I left New York when I was 33, so it’s hard to know now what about my writing process there had to do with youth and what had to do with New York. Certainly in L.A. I’ve had the time and space to spread out, and I’ve moved primarily into longform nonfiction since I’ve lived here, and away from poetry. Poetry was the social and linguistic glue of my life in New York. I don’t have that here, but I have other things. Big sprawling thoughts and reams of sentences. I like it okay.

TCR: You take the title, The Argonauts, from a Roland Barthes’ passage: “‘I love you’ is like ‘the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.’” In the final acknowledgement addressed to Harry you say: “Thank you for showing me what a nuptial might be—an infinite conversation, an endless becoming.” In your exploration of the boundaries of literature, what is the role of renewal and how do we create literature and theory that acts as dialogue rather than declaration? How can memoir explore the boundaries between people?

MN: I tend to think that all literature is dialogue, even that which announces itself as declaration. I also believe in being an emancipated reader, who doesn’t feel overly interpellated or bossed around by any particular book, who knows she can always take it or leave it. We dialogue with the dead by reading, and we dialogue with ourselves.

TCR: You’ve referenced Octavia Butler as a writer of speculative fiction whose work is critical to imagining freedom. Is your project on freedom influenced by speculative fiction?

MN: I like a lot of speculative fiction and think it delivers all kinds of innovations in thought and vision, but honestly it hasn’t been the deepest source for me, and I don’t lean on it much in my new project. I remain most riveted by the kind of speculation and imagining and enlivening that comes from drilling down into the what is, asking if we really know what is as well as we presume we do. Sometimes the idea that we need speculative fiction to alter that relationship strikes me as, I don’t know, too literal or something. I mean, one can engage in world-building by breathing differently or changing one’s mind as much as by imagining a mutant race living in a parallel galaxy. But I like it all, and I’m glad that world-building and world-changing come in many forms.

TCR: There’s a scene after Harry’s read a draft of The Argonauts where you sense Harry’s initial, unspoken reaction “as quiet ire.” The next day you have lunch together and go through the draft page by page. The passage ends with Harry asking, “Whatever—why can’t you just write something that will bear adequate witness to me, to us, to our happiness?” The narrator’s interiority responds, “Because I do not yet understand the relationship between writing and happiness, or writing and holding.” Do you feel you are closer to understanding this relationship now?

MN: Nah, I think it’s not really answerable. I mean, Harry’s question was, even at the time, kind of a rhetorical one—the reason why I couldn’t do what he was asking is that no writing can bear adequate witness to relationship. A book is an aesthetic event with its own needs and forms of logic. Those will inevitably deform the largesse of life and love, even if that deformation is in service of holding something, or seeing a few things clearly. You can intimate that largesse, you can mark down a few things from the flow. But life escapes, as it should.


Aimee Carrillo Rowe is a memoirist, theorist, and culture critic. She is a professor of Communication Studies at California State University, Northridge and the author of Power Lines: On the Subject of Feminist Alliances (Duke University Press, 2008), Answer the Call: Virtual Migration in Indian Call Centers (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), and a study of healing, sovereignty, and indigeneity in performance communities, entitled Queer Xicana: Performing the Sacred (under review). She is an MFA student at UCR, Palm Desert, where she’s writing a memoir about queer single motherhood entitled, After Birth: Memoir of a Queer Family.  

Juniper (@june_moon) lives and writes queer futurism in Brooklyn. They are working on a collection of birthday stories as well as an essay entitled “Pseudo-Art in the Springtime” on the creation of self.  

TCR Talks with Elaine Grogan Luttrull

By Anjali Becker

Elaine Grogan Luttrull is not your average CPA. Through her company, Minerva Financial Arts, Luttrull works to build financial literacy in creative professionals and creative arts organizations, helping people figure out how to make the business side of their creative ventures a financial reality.

Luttrull is also the author of the book Arts & Numbers: A Financial Guide for Artists, Writers, Performers, and Other Members of the Creative Class, a resource for writers (and creative professionals of all stripes) who intellectually understand that financial literacy is important but may not be entirely clear on where to begin.

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TCR Talks with Sirje Kiin

BY: KAIA Gallagher

Sirje Kiin is an Estonian writer, poet, and journalist currently living in South Dakota, and the biographer of Marie Under, one of Estonia’s best-known poets.

Born in 1883, Marie Under established herself as one of Estonia’s premier poets in the beginning of the twentieth century through her expressionist and neo-romantic poems. Her early poetry explored themes of happiness, joy, and erotic love. Later, during the 1920s, she addressed topics related to justice and death, with lyrics that merged dark, apocalyptic visions with a yearning for happiness and all-embracing love.

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TCR Talks with Helene Stapinski

BY: Lindsay jamieson

 

Helene Stapinski is a best-selling author of three memoirs: Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History, which has been made into a documentary; Baby Plays Around: A Love Affair with Music; and her latest, Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy. Her essays have appeared in several anthologies, including Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up.

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TCR Talks with Elizabeth Crane

BY: Jaime Parker Stickle

Elizabeth Crane is the author of such novels as We Only Know So Much and The History of Great Things. She has a unique, honest, and quirky voice, and you’ll relate to her characters, even those at odds with each other, recognizing them as friends or family. Crane’s writing is addictive in all the best ways.

When film director/writer/producer Donald Lardner Ward suggested Crane adapt her novel We Only Know So Much into a screenplay, she did. The result is an award-winning film.

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TCR Talks with Karen Bender

BY: A.M. Larks

Karen E. Bender is the award-winning author of Refund, A Town of Empty Rooms, and Like Normal People. Her latest work, The New Order, is a collection of highly political short stories that discuss tragedy, isolation, and terror. The New Order dives headfirst into the current cultural milieu by addressing sexual assault, gun violence, the perils of social media, and the life of Jewish Americans.

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TCR Talks with Abby Geni

BY: A.e. SANTANA

Abby Geni is the award-winning author of The Lightkeepers and The Last Animal. Her latest novel, The Wildlands, explores the traumatic repercussions of a category five hurricane when it hits Mercy, Oklahoma, and demolishes the home of the McCloud family. Orphaned, the children attempt to go on with their lives but are swept into a world of dangerous, fanatical eco-terrorism that is both frightening and understandable. Through their story, Geni examines the turbulent state of our natural world and plays with the line between saving the planet and destroying ourselves.

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TCR Talks with Mart Kivastik

BY: KaiA GALLAGHER

For a small country of 1.3 million people, Estonia has a rich and long-standing literary tradition based on centuries of folklore and lyric poems. The country is located on the Baltic Sea to the south of Finland and shares its eastern border with Russia.

At the end of World War II, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, forcing many of the country’s authors and playwrights into exile. A select few remained in Estonia but found themselves constrained by Soviet censorship.

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