ZYZZYVA EventsOctober 5, 2016
In Conversation with Vanessa Hua
Location: 7:30 p.m., The Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, San Francisco.
Description: Hua, the award-winning writer and author of the story collection "Deceit and Other Possibilities," discusses her work with Managing Editor Oscar Villalon. Free. For more info: http://bit.ly/2auWKLhOctober 15, 2016
ZYZZYVA Fall All-Stars at Litcrawl
Location: 6 p.m., Dolores Park Cafe, 501 Dolores Street, San Francisco.
Description: Readings by contributors Earle McCartney, Caille Millner, Dominica Phetteplace, Octavio Solis, and Deb Olin Unferth, hosted by Managing Editor Oscar Villalon. Free. For more info: http://sched.co/7vp4
ZYZZYVA e-mail updates
Our Fall issue, replete with fiction, nonfiction, and poetry:
A wide-ranging and revealing conversation between Andrew Foster Altschul and Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff, on writing, memory, and the craft of memoir.
Lori Ostlund’s “A Little Customer Service”: A waitress questions the value of services rendered when she finds herself in the bed—and the distressed home—of a rich, carefree customer.
Ann Cummin’s “Divination”: The burden of a brother toiling the land, serving his no-account father.
Adrienne Celt’s “Big Boss Bitch”: They were certain they’d found the perfect female candidate for president. Then she started thinking on her own.
Mark Chiusano’s “The Better Future Project”: Even amid the work of political protest in the YouTube age, unrequited love can’t be ignored.
A trio of poems from a striking emerging voice, Kaveh Akbar; as well as new stories from Kathleen Alcott, Earle McCartney, and Fatima Bhutto; and nonfiction from Peter Orner (on encountering the work of Alvaro Mutis in Zapatista Chiapas) and Brad Wetherell (on his complicated relationship with a woman he tutors in English in Prague).
Plus a portfolio from artist Kota Ezawa, and poetry from Christopher J. Adamson, Mary Cisper, Mallory Imler Powell, Austen Leah Rosenfeld, Adam Scheffler, and Judith Skillman.
Adrienne Celt’s first novel, The Daughters (W.W. Norton/Liveright), won the 2015 PEN Southwest Book Award and was named a Best Book of the Year by NPR. Her writing has been recognized by the PEN/O. Henry Prize, and her fiction has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, Epoch, Prairie Schooner, and Ecotone, among other places. She also publishes a webcomic at loveamongthelampreys.com.
Her work of fiction, “Big Boss Bitch,” which she describes as “my horror story about the first female president,” appears in the Winter issue. The “horror,” by the way, isn’t in the fact of having a female president, but what happens to said female president. The following is an excerpt, but if you’d like to read Celt’s story in its entirety, you can get a copy here.
Kaveh Akbar founded and edits Divedapper. His chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, will be published in January by Sibling Rivalry Press, and his first full-length collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, is forthcoming from Alice James Books next fall. He is the recipient of a 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.
Three of Akbar’s poems appear in the Winter issue, including this one, “Portrait of the Alcoholic with Relapse Fantasy.” We provide the poem in full, but you can read Akbar’s other poems—”Against Idleness” and “You Came to Feel the Fur But Didn’t Expect the Snout” in Issue No. 107, which you can buy here.
“Obsessions” is our web-only essay series that asks emerging West Coast writers to examine the books, poems, songs, television shows, images, or whatever else that has been dominating their attentions lately. We continue with this piece by Vanessa Martini. Martini is a bookseller at City Lights Books. She lives in San Francisco.
My saved eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist searches, with commentary on what late capitalism’s insidious grasp makes me believe each item will do for my life or say about it:
Honda CB450 Four
If I get this it means at some point I actually got my driver’s license, which means I figured out how to schedule beyond what I already do, so there’s something totally implausible already. I’ll have my driver’s license and have gotten my M1 certification, and I’ll have a sweet little zippy bike, classic looking, red preferred, black or silver acceptable, even something like turquoise could be considered, but not yellow, not bright green. It will be mine. I won’t be sitting on the back anymore. It will be mine, and I will ride wherever I want, whenever I want. Because of this I will go to the beach more often than I do, and up to Marin more than I do, and maybe my dad will even get back on his BSA sitting in the garage, the one that’s silver with a purple stripe—dreamy—but, alas, too tall for me. We could ride together. Maybe at least he can teach me how to fix it because he’s best when he’s teaching me things, even though I get bratty and sassy, and we piss each other off, he has something to focus on, the teaching part, and he’ll have to show me how to change my brake fluid or whatever it is instead of not saying anything at all or saying something that upsets me and then he gets upset that I’m upset and the way he tries to tell me he’s upset upsets me more, and then he feels somehow infringed upon or uncomfortably pressed into feelings he doesn’t understand so he resorts to this clipped anger, this weird clipped anger, and I retreat and cry and am sullen. Things are better when he has something to teach me, like how to change brake fluid. I will also look extremely cool when I take off my helmet and shake out my hair.
Rick Owens leather jacket, size S
This will make me look like my job pays a lot more than it does. It will make me look like the sort of person who buys bottles of wine she will not drink for at least ten years so as to “let the tannins soften,” who has a white cat despite an all-black wardrobe, who regularly visits the dry cleaners, who has bookshelves that fit everything, no stacks required. The sort of person who has enough space. More than enough. An excess of space, with minimal stuff in it (a place for everything and everything in its place). A person who does not sweat, with immaculate hair the wind seems not to bother. A person people take seriously. A person who is left alone on the bus at night—who probably does not even take public transit, yes, this jacket will make me look like someone with the luxury of privacy, who can envelop herself in solitude and lambskin with equal ease. Sometimes the looking-like is enough to push past what really is.
Japanese tansu chest
There is a house where I live, alone, no roommates. There is enough room for the tansu chest. Aside from a bar cart, it is the only piece of storage furniture in the house not used for books or that does not have books somewhere on its surface. I keep many generously-sized towels in there, the kind that really cover up everything when wrapped around your body, chest to knees nearly. There are also sheets that are soft from years of washing but show no signs of wear beyond a faded tag. They seemed expensive at the time, but hey, you get what you pay for, right? There are smaller towels, too, for the hands and faces of visitors who stay on a squashy sofa or in my bed, depending. They come frequently and from all over, and I am glad to have them. I bring them to the best coffee in my neighborhood, the best Thai, the small store selling lovely things. They think it all charming and tell me they’re glad I’ve found a place for myself, they mean it, too, I can see them meaning it somewhere in their eyes, and they are the type of friend whose word I trust implicitly after many years of different kinds of friendship all layered together like many-colored glass to form one distinct hue for our friendship now. We go out for breakfast and then on a long walk. One of us brings an apple or a pear in a bag and we stop and share it somewhere with a nice view. I picked this walk just for the view, and I point out landmarks. There is the theater, there is the grocery store open twenty-four hours and never seeming quite real inside, there is a house where I used to live. We lapse into not talking very much but it feels soft together. Eventually we get back to my house. I give them a glass of water and then they want to take a shower, so I open the tansu chest for a towel. While they shower I nap accidentally on the couch (it’s just so soft). It is quiet and cool in the house, my house, my house alone. Soon it gets dusky. Candles are lit, the windows open. My friend makes dinner as a thank-you for hosting. Fresh pasta with shrimp. Some bread to get the sauce up. A green salad, sharp with lemon and cracked pepper. White wine, cold from the fridge. Somehow there is always more to discuss.
Mauro Javier Cardenas (whose story “Dora and Her Dog” was published in Issue No. 104) is the author of the new novel The Revolutionaries Try Again (Coffee House Press). Harper’s Magazine has described his first novel as “a high-octane, high-modernist” work “from the gifted, fleet Mauro Javier Cardenas.” And in its starred review, Publishers Weekly said “Cardenas dizzyingly leaps from character to character, from street protests to swanky soirees, and from lengthy uninterrupted interior monologues to rapid-fire dialogues and freewheeling satirical radio programs, resulting in extended passages of brilliance.”
Cardenas spoke to ZYZZYVA Managing Editor Oscar Villalon about his book at Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco earlier this month.
Ann Cummins is the author of the story collection Red Ant House (2003) and the novel Yellowcake (2007). A former Lannan fellow, her work has been published in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s and in Best American Short Stories 2002.
Her story “Divination” is set in the Southwest region in which Cummins was born, but takes place in a distant era, one that places the narrative in the category we would call a Western (and as anybody who has read Stegner, Cather, McCarthy, or Oakley Hall knows, what a wide and rich category it is). A story about the uncompromising realities of family and laboring from the land, “Divination” is another welcome example of Cummins artistry. The following is an excerpt from her story. It can be read in its entirety in Issue No. 107, which you can order here.
The following is the introduction from a conversation between our contributing editor Andrew Foster Altschul and Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff. You can read an excerpt of their conversation following the introduction, and, of course, can read the conversation in its entirety in Issue No. 107, which you can buy here.
It’s hard to think of a pair of writer-siblings as celebrated, or as prolific, as Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff. Between them, they’ve written nineteen books, including novels, short-story and essay collections, and a travel narrative. But it was their acclaimed memoirs Geoffrey’s The Duke of Deception (1979) and Tobias’s This Boy’s Life (1989)—that first earned them wide readerships. The brothers’ parents split up when Geoffrey was twelve and Tobias was five, and they grew up separately: Geoffrey with their father and Tobias with their mother. The memoirs deal with their unusual childhoods, from perspectives that overlap only occasionally—the brothers did not really get to know each other until they were young adults. Over their careers, both have won numerous accolades and have risen to positions of prominence in academia—Geoffrey as the director of the graduate writing program at the University of California at Irvine, Tobias as professor of English at Stanford University. I am one of only a few writers lucky enough to have studied with both Wolffs. In 2012, I invited them to the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University for a public conversation about memory, family, and the precarious art of writing one’s own life.
In her novel Angel of Oblivion (289 page; Archipelago Books), Maja Haderlap depicts a dilapidated, Slovenian-speaking valley in Austria following World War II. During the war, the Nazis identified this area in the south of the country as one riddled with partisans. Many were hunted down and killed, while others were taken away to the camps. (Among the survivors, it is debatable which fate was worse.) Now it’s the 1960s, and fragmented families people the valley, farmers who repeat the stories of their neighbors’ and kins’ annihilations like chants. Haderlap’s story focuses on one particular group of survivors, the Zdravkos, a family preoccupied by food and death, just like everybody else in the valley.
Pulling from her own family history, and narrating the story through the Zdravkos’ daughter, Haderlap introduces each member of the clan through his or her relation to food. When we meet Father, he is working with the cattle. “You can read Father’s moods from the cowpat’s flight. If he tosses the manure in a high arc to the back of the heap, he’s feeling confident. If he flings the cowpats hard against the front of the manure pile, he’s irate.” Father’s past colors the entire novel, never allowing us to forget his nightmare of hiding from the Nazis, alone in the mountains as a boy of 12. Thus his irate moods can burn toward the suicidal. One of the novel’s most striking scenes happens early on when Father locks himself in the apiary with his gun. We sympathize with his pain, and continue to do so afterward, even as he later threatens the rest of the family with the same gun.
Over the course of a relatively short but extremely productive literary career, Christine Sneed has already achieved a substantial, and enviable, body of work. Her first story collection, 2009’s Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, was awarded the AWP Grace Paley Prize and long listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story prize.
Both for its attention to detail, and its close, caring, but unsentimental attention to the complicated lives of women (and men), Portraits is in Paley’s spirit at the same time as it honors the tradition of what O’Connor called “the lonely voice’’ that characterizes the under-respected story form.
Sneed, who is the faculty director of the MA/MFA in Creative Writing Program at Northwestern, followed that success with an ambitious novel in 2013, Little Known Facts, about the hidden costs, and familial complications, of Hollywood fame. In a glowing front-page review in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Curtis Sittenfeld wrote, “Christine Sneed has written a novel just for us: Little Known Facts is just juicy enough to appeal to our prurience but smart enough not to make us feel dirty afterward.”
Nothing daunted, Sneed next spread her wings further with Paris, He Said, a novel about a struggling artist who moves to Europe at the urging of an older gallery owner who sets her up in his apartment. Robin Black’s notice for the Times said, “With clever and graceful prose, Sneed deftly guides a story that explores whether satisfaction follows when one’s deepest wishes come true.’’
In her newest book, the just-published The Virginity of Famous Men (320 pages; Bloomsbury), she returns to her favored form of the short story, with deepening psychological explorations and a commitment to sympathetic, knowing understanding of the spaces between us—how we punish each other, and often ourselves, because of these missed connections.
Sneed took time to talk with us via email about the new collection, and her career:
ZYZZYVA: In a sense, The Virginity of Famous Men seems like a coda to Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry. Apart from the fact that they both have great titles, what similarities—or differences—do you see in the two works?
Christine Sneed: I suppose most writers would have to say this, but I’m most interested in relationships—whether they’re between spouses, siblings, parents and children, friends. The tensions that arise in everyday life have always been a source of inspiration, and I suppose that even with the stories that are a little more out there (with on-the-verge characters who count a ghost as a close friend, or another who is applying for a job in a manner that probably won’t get her too many offers), I’m most interested in how people connect with each other, or else the opposite—how we alienate each other. That dominant theme is the same here as it was in Portraits.
Tim Murphy’s latest novel, Christodora (432 pages; Grove Press), arrives in the middle of a cultural yearning for the seedier, more affordable, which is to say “idealized” Manhattan of yesteryear. Novels like Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire and television shows like Netflix’s The Get Down have embraced nostalgia for the cultural ferment of New York City in the ’70s and ’80s, its sense of an expansive and generative squalor. Superficially, Christodora bears this same stamp. Titled after a run-down East Village apartment complex two of Murphy’s protagonists buy for dirt cheap, the novel lovingly renders New York at its nadir. In the midst of that era’s decrepit neighborhoods, social upheavals, and myriad health crises, Christodora locates pleasure in the interstices of seemingly multiplying apocalypses. Whether it’s describing the dark ecstasy of a gay club or the contradictory pleasures of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the scenes here ripple with a so much life they prevent Murphy’s novel of the early years of the AIDS epidemic from being reduced to a 400-plus-page tome of human suffering. Covering six decades (even stretching into the 2020s), the novel deftly navigates an interconnected cast of Dickensian intricacy, as well, resulting is a convincingly rendered portrayal of the textures and rhythms of New York City, past and future.
“Being unemployed feels like being in The Sims’ Build Mode, but with less soothing music.” So declares the nameless narrator at the heart of Mickey (200 pages; Curbside Splendor), the new book from Chelsea Martin. As Mickey opens, its main character – a struggling young artist – impulsively breaks up with her long-term boyfriend and is soon fired from her job. These events springboard our hapless protagonist into ruminations on grand existential concerns like the struggle to pay rent, the inherent loneliness of the human condition, and why cheese and crackers are so damn important at gallery showings.
Mickey is one of this summer’s literary gems, a book that bummed me out and made me laugh in equal measure. It’s no exaggeration to say the novel represents a benchmark for Martin, with Mickey delivering the fullest realization of her signature style, one that is droll and detached, and yet offers uncanny insight into the nature of our closest relationships, whether they be with our lovers, friends, or parents. It’s a book Martin will continually have to refute is autobiographical simply because she imbues her narrator with a voice so real it feels as though it must be born of lived experience. Chelsea Martin was kind enough to talk to me about Mickey and her creative process, including how to write without censoring yourself and producing art from a place of malaise.
ZYZZYVA: I was thinking about Mickey in the context of your last book, Even Though I Don’t Miss You, which came out in November 2013. For me, Mickey seems like a major artistic development for you as a writer and, based on reviews I’ve read, I’m not the only reader who feels this way. When you’re working on a new book, how much do you think about it as an evolution or follow-up to your previous release?
Chelsea Martin: Early on in the process of writing Mickey, I remember feeling panicked that I had not “finished” Even Though I Don’t Miss You, because in Mickey I was still processing some of these same themes and feelings and had more to say on these topics and was making similar stylistic choices. I was worried I was writing the same book again. But Mickey evolved into something completely different. I think there is definitely a through line, probably several, connecting the two books, and I feel good about that.
The project I’ve recently started also shares many of the same ideas as Mickey (and is even further from Even Though), but I feel much less panicky about it this time, because I know it will change and develop. Finishing a book doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done processing something or are going to stop thinking about it or being interested in it.