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Realism and the Fantastic as Very Much the Same: Q&A with Kathryn Davis

(photo by Emma Dodge Hanson)

(photo by Emma Dodge Hanson)

In Kathryn Davis’ novel Duplex (Graywolf Press, 195 pages), the suburban mundane is interrupted by the magical, the mythic, and the bizarre. In a neighborhood of duplex housing, kids play on the street as robot neighbors fly past them, sorcerers and Bodies Without Souls drive by in Mercedes, and teddy bears become human babies. Two coexisting narratives alternate from chapter to chapter, as two worlds slide past each other and often overlap. The intimacy between these worlds is such that the particularities of each echo the other, the realities of both merging into one.

The novel, recently published in paperback, follows such characters as Miss Vicks (who is described as “a real woman; you could tell by the way she didn’t have to move her head from side to side to take in sound”) and her neighbor, Mary, who happens to marry a sorcerer; robots who look like people, a baseball player who sells his soul for success. The narrative of this cast alternates with that of the narrative of Janice and the neighborhood girls, who, as though at a sleepover, listen to their cooler, older peer,as she tells them stories about the phenomena of their world. Janice’s stories, many of which could stand alone as fables, do more than just interrupt the more linear narrative of Miss Vicks and those around her. These stories ground the world of the novel as one with a long history of bizarre occurrences that are perceived as both mystifying and entirely ordinary by its characters.

One way of allowing yourself to experience the brilliance of Duplex is by accepting that the novel thrives in its departure from logic; the text is not there to hold your hand. The reader instead treads through the thickets of the strange, often leaving one scratching her head. Those wishing to follow a story whose plot has a traditional structure, with a clear climax and conclusion, might not find what they expect, but they will find themselves bedazzled and delighted with the narrative’s unconventionality. We spoke with Davis via email about Duplex and the uses of plot and genre in her work.

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In the Winter Issue

Issue No. 102 offers for your enjoyment more of the country’s finest stories, poetry, essays, and visual art:

Michael Jaime-Becerra’s “Omer, March 1987”: A boy out skateboarding stumbles upon his mother’s affair.

Melissa Yancy’s “Dog Years”: A scientist must make time for her family, her career, and, somewhere in there, cure one son of his devastating disease.

Laura Esther Wolfson’s “Infelicities of Style”: In the hinterlands, a young dance critic experiences the complications of art.

Octavio Solis’s “Retablos”: How may times has El Paso lamed him? Yet how many times has he walked back to his past walked away?

Plus, fiction from Josh Emmons (a slacker in France takes in her American cousin), J. Malcolm Garcia (a social service agency for homeless serves as a predator’s lair), Kate Petersen (a young woman returns to England and a love eluded), A. Nicole Kelly, Kathleen Alcott, and Jeffrey Moskowitz.

Also, work from artist Julio Cesar Morales’s series We Are the Dead, and poetry from Chuck Carlise, Lucille Lang Day, Rae Gouirand, Andrew David King, Joshua McKinney, Suzanne Roszak, and First Time in Print poet Andrew Gavin Murphy.

You can get a copy of No. 102 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Winter issue.

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Finding Communion with Characters Half a World Away: Q&A with Jack Livings

Jack LivingsBack in late July, Michiko Kakutani gave a first book of fiction the sort of review authors rarely receive. It was an unqualified rave of Jack Livings’ story collection, The Dog (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux; 240 pages). “With ‘The Dog’,” Kakutani concluded, “Mr. Livings has made an incisive—and highly impressive—debut.” One could go even further. With The Dog, and its eight brilliantly told stories set in contemporary China, Jack Livings has delivered one of the best books of 2014—if not the best debut work of fiction by an American writer this year.

Much as Ken Kalfus did with Russian society in his story collection Pu-239, or the legendary B. Traven’s accomplished with Mexico in The Night Visitor and Other Stories, The Dog immerses itself into a “foreign” culture and unassumingly but palpably renders it for the distant reader (i.e., the average American). Whatever perception of otherness the reader might have held is torn down. In its place appears a deep recognition of these myriad characters whose anxieties and fears, accomplishments and failures, injustices suffered and resiliencies displayed all speak directly to us. We gladly inhabit these often comic, often tragic lives.

In the title story, a beleaguered Beijing man, who incinerates bodies for a living, is summoned home by his cunning and boorish business partner, who also happens to be family. In “The Heir,” a rebellious grandson and the opportunistic cops of the Public Security Bureau pique Omar, a Uyghur crime boss of dead-eye ruthlessness: “Once, a Kazakh had brushed against Omar’s wife in the market. The man apologized profusely, prostrating himself, delivering gifts in the following days. It’s nothing, Omar had said. He waited ten years to pour hot lead down the Kazakh’s throat.”

Elsewhere in The Dog, the same desperation irradiating U.S. newsrooms infects the staff at the Guangzhou Post in “Mountain of Swords, Sea of Fire,” a funny, salty tale that culminates in the moral reckoning of a veteran newsman: “He’d nearly frozen to death chasing the Panchen Lama on his exodus across the mountains of Nepal. He’d roasted in the sun for weeks at Lop Nur waiting for a subterranean nuclear test. He could have stayed in the newsroom, pulled the Xinhua file off the telex and punched up the copy, but he’d insisted on being there in person to feel the ground tremble. It mattered to him to witness the story. What had that all come to?”

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Appreciating the Engaging Decade-Long Conversation Started by n+1

Happiness The collected pieces in Happiness: Ten Years of n+1 (369 pages; Faber and Faber) range from scintillating reflection, sharp economic or social analysis, realistic and depressing conclusions regarding the fate of the world economy, climate change, and the nature of humankind to the transformation of communication in the technological age, an extended satire on hypochondria and disease in America, and the perverted image of sexuality and portrayal of the self in media. Happiness is a conversation starter—easily accessible to any and all readers, yet nuanced enough to appeal to those who see what the current state of things really is.

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ZYZZYVA in the 2014 Best American Series, Pushcart, and Best New Poets

The annual anthologies recognizing the best work among the hundreds of U.S. literary journals and magazines have once again been very kind toward ZYZZYVA.

As we joyously reported on our Facebook page back in June, two marvelous works of fiction we published in 2013—marking the print debuts of young writers Daniel Tovrov and Rebecca Rukeyser—received major nods. Tovrov’s story “The News Cycle” (issue No. 99) will be appearing in the Pushcart Prize 2015 anthology, and Rukeyser’s story “The Chinese Barracks” (No. 97) will be included in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014. Now we can add to that list Jacques J. Rancourt, whose poem “Open Shed” was published in issue No. 98; the poem will be appearing in Best New Poets 2014. We are deeply proud to have published their work.

And we are no less proud of the work from the slew of our contributors which made the none-too-shabby Notables lists from the various Best American series. Just as it is extremely difficult for a work to be featured in any of these anthologies, it is also no small feat for a work to be acknowledged as a “notable.” To share company with “notable” work from The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and the like is cause for delight. So we list those ZYZZYVA contributors here.

From The Best American Short Stories 2014 Notables:
“The Wedding Visitor” by Elizabeth Spencer (No. 98)
“Day of the Dead” by Don Waters (No. 99)

From The Best American Essays 2014 Notables:
“Lorca in the Afternoon” by Anne Raeff (No. 98)
“The Bombardier’s Handbook” by Moritz Thomsen (No. 99)

From The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014 Notables:
“I Want to Continue” by Kimberly Lambright (No. 98)
“Photisms” by Juan Pablo Villalobos (No. 99)

A hearty congratulations to all, but one last thing—a big thank you to all of our readers. Your subscriptions, donations, and other forms of support make what we do possible. So, our sincerest thanks.

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In the Fall Issue

Issue No. 101 offers for your enjoyment more of the country’s finest stories, poetry, essays, and visual art:

Vauhini Vara’s “We Were Here”: Betwixt the fancy turkey meatballs and Ava Gardner (no, not that one) dying down the hall, there exists in an apartment building all that could ever matter.

Matt Sumell’s “Gift Horse”: Break into mom’s house, make sure you see Grams at her nursing home, and please, please try to keep it together.

Soma Mei Sheng Frazier’s “Mr. Chompers”: Honey, the single mother asks her hypothetical husband, why can’t it be enough that her young daughter’s smart? Why does she need her to be smarter?

Jim Krusoe’s “Traffic”: The author tries to fit the puzzling memories of his parents, his father’s drinking, and the accidental death of a child into some kind of truth.

And a portfolio from artist Ana Teresa Fernandez, whose featured paintings and photographs document scenes from performance art.

Also, fiction from Earle McCartney (a family farm gets unsettled by the constant presence of the teen son’s girlfriend), Ricardo Nuila (on a doctor’s spectacular crack-up), Elena Mauli Shapiro (the repo men come to take away a home), Peter Rock (incorporating the photography of artist Shaena Mallett) and Emily Fridlund.

Nonfiction from Jill Logan (“A Daughter’s Letter to Tamsen Donner”), and poetry by Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Joseph Di Prisco, Jeff Ewing, John Freeman, Casey Fuller, Troy Jollimore, Genevieve Kaplan, Alyse Knorr, Katie Peterson, Charles Harper Webb, and the Frankenstein Sonnets of Simone Muench and Dean Rader.

You can get a copy of No. 101 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA and we’ll start you off by shipping you the 101st issue.

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Mystery Mapped Across Backs: Geoff Nicholson’s ‘The City Under the Skin’

the city under the skinGeoff Nicholson’s newest novel, The City Under the Skin (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; 272 pages), takes place in an unnamed city where women are kidnapped, then released back into the streets, now bearing poorly tattooed maps across their backs. Told from various points of view, the winding story follows a handful of characters—Wrobleski, a professional killer who begins to collect these tattooed women; Billy Moore, a criminal trying to turn his life around but who agrees to one more job; Zak, who happens to work at a map shop and is unwillingly dragged into the mystery, and Marilyn, who’s obsessed with finding out who’s collecting these women and why—until all the parties, and loose ends, arrive at an almost too tidy end.

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In the Spring & Summer Issue

In our newest issue, we gather contributors past and recent:

Rebecca Solnit’s “Grandmother Spider”: A meditation on the paintings of Ana Teresa Fernandez and the ways women are made to disappear from history.

Daniel Handler’s “I Hate You”: The story of a souring young man at a birthday dinner with old friends in Oakland. (The party is over.)

Elizabeth Tallent’s “Mendocino Fire”: The peripatetic life of a young female tree-sitter, raised, and perhaps forsaken, in the wilds of the forest.

Katie Crouch’s “To Bloom, to Burst, to Blaze”: An essay on Sylvia Plath, and a haunting failure of friendship set in the days of the first dot-com boom in San Francisco.

Erika Recordon’s “Normal Problems”: The tale of an otherwise perfect mate turning over a new leaf for his love … no more murdering women.

Glen David Gold’s “The Plush Cocoon”: In which the best-selling novelist recounts a short-lived childhood in a beautiful house full of amazing objects, and a dark past his young mother tries to keep at bay.

Also, fiction from Héctor Tobar (falling asleep is the hardest thing for a successful Mexican contractor in Los Angeles), Ron Carlson, Michelle Latiolais, Scott O’Connor, and artist Paul Madonna. Nonfiction from Jim Gavin (on the education of a high school sports stringer), David L. Ulin (why magical thinking gets us through plane flights, if not life), Edie Meidav (“What is the story of death? The first is that death creates stories.”).

And new poetry from two former U.S. poet laureates and early ZYZZYVA contributors—Kay Ryan and Robert Hass—as well as from Dan Alter, Valerie Bandura, Noah Blaustein, Christopher Buckley, Michelle Patton, and Austin Smith. Blueprints from artist and author Jonathon Keats on how to mechanically slow down time for entire cities, and incredible photographs of California on fire and in drought by Jane Fulton Alt and Bill Mattick.

You can get a copy of No. 100 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA and we’ll start you off by shipping you the 100th issue.

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Reckoning With Seeing What We Want to See: Walter Kirn’s ‘Blood Will Out’

Blood Will OutIn 1998, author Walter Kirn (Thumbsucker, Up in the Air) agreed to drive a crippled Gordon setter from Montana to New York and deliver the dog to Clark Rockefeller. Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out (Liveright, 272 pages) details his fifteen-year friendship with a man he long thought to be a Rockefeller, but turned out to be a wanted murderer.

After the delivery of the dog, Kirn and Rockefeller maintain a long-distance friendship, with Kirn making one additional visit to the East Coast in 2002. But when Clark kidnaps his own daughter in 2008, Kirn, along with the rest of the world, finds out that the man portraying himself as a Rockefeller was actually Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant wanted for the 1985 murder of John Sohus in San Marino, California. Wanting to know how he, along with everyone else, was duped by a simple con man, Kirn sits through Gerhartsreiter’s 2013 trial. “The trial was my chance to right all of this. To call off a deal I shouldn’t have agreed to.”

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The Need to Keep Maintaining Balance in Whom We Publish: ZYZZYVA’s VIDA Count

This week, VIDA, Women in Literary Arts, released its 2013 count results. Since 2010, the annual count compares the number of women to men published in major and respected national publications; importantly, the count also looks at the distribution of books by female and male authors that are reviewed, as well as the number of female versus male book reviewers.

Equality is ideal, not only for its own sake, but also for the sake of publishing the best journal possible. In every sense, it serves ZYZZYVA as much as any other journal to maintain a balance between male and female voices, both in print and online. Though for the most part we find that in the normal course of planning our issues our content is always nearly balanced, from time to time it takes the gentle guidance of the editorial hand to ensure that’s the case. And gently guide we do—with each issue, blog post, and event, we ask the questions that we feel every journal ought to ask: “Is this balanced, diverse, and compelling? Who is being heard? Who is not? Are we proud to share this with our readers?”

Zyzzyva VIDA pie chartTo that end, we are indeed pleased to share how our numbers compare to those of other publications examined by VIDA. We are committed to maintaining and improving this balance this year, and in the years to come.

And to provide further transparency, here are the results of our own in-house audit of our print issues over the last three years (representing the efforts of our current editorial team since January 2011).

2011 Totals:
51 total
Women: 22
Men: 29
Women=43%

2012 Totals:
64 Total
Women: 25
Men: 38
Women=39%

2013 Totals
61 Total
Women: 32
Men: 29
Women=52%

Although we published more women authors in 2012 than we did in 2011, the percentage slipped in 2012 mainly due to an imbalance in our Spring issue. While there is bound to be some movement in these numbers from one issue to the next, we’d much prefer to see nothing more disparate than a 60/40 split, and have been, and will continue to be attentive.

In our upcoming 100th issue (due out this April), we’ll celebrate an abundance of formidably talented contemporary women writers with a powerhouse lineup: new essays by Rebecca Solnit, Katie Crouch, and Edie Meidav; fiction by Elizabeth Tallent, Michelle Latiolais, and Erika Recordon; and poetry from Kay Ryan, Valerie Bandura, and Michelle Patton.

In VIDA’s efforts to recognize those publications that value a balance among contributors, we hope they will help bring attention and support to those publishers (including small publishers like ZYZZYVA) who strive for such balance, year after year.

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Translating Horror: Hassan Blasim’s ‘The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq’

The Corpse Exhibition To translate may be “to turn from one language into another.” But there is another meaning—to “remove from one place to another”—the underlying current being that the felicitous translation is not merely one of technical and semantic moves. Translation, as Borges’ “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” purports as much as lampoons, is an act of rewriting for a culture with a wholly different epistemic, lexical, and historical foundation. Those things that revolve around and jut forth through the translated text— from editorial interjections and the frameworks of the material book to a culture’s sensibilities and history—render the text as a protean force shifting among its many allegiances.

Yet at the root of every translation is an awareness of inherent impossibility, a situation where something like Pound’s logopeiea (“the dance of intellect among words”) stops when one flits outside an author’s aesthetic realm. Faced with the buttressing sentences of Raymond Roussel’s story “Parmi les Noir”—“Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux billard…” (The white letters on the cushions of the old billiard table), “Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux pillard…” (The white man’s letters on the hordes of the old plunderer)—even the most inventive translator could only restate the French with an underlining gloss explaining the movement between “billard” and “pillard.” Aesthetic recalcitrance is so firmly rooted in the original text that a translated version does not give itself up to the individually, historically, and lexically formed subjectivity of any new context.

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Pushing Against the Constraints of Circumstance: Q&A with Kate Milliken

(photo by Adam Karsten)

(photo by Adam Karsten)

Kate Milliken is a graduate of the Bennington College Writing Seminars and recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Tin House summer writing workshops. She has recently published her first collection of short fiction, If I’d Known You Were Coming (University of Iowa Press, 134 pages), for which she was awarded the 2013 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Stories from this collection have appeared in a variety of publications, including Fiction, New Orleans Review, and Santa Monica Review. Her story, “A Matter of Time,” was published in ZYZZYVA’s Fall 2013 issue.

Told in the intimate details of Milliken’s prose style, If I’d Known You Were Coming’s stories—some of which follow recurring characters in new contexts, while others add to the thematic resonance while being unto themselves—coalesce into a stark display of the implications of tragedy on the American family. Toward this end, Milliken presents situations in which, as in the case of “A Matter of Time,” the banal of a dinner party is disturbed by dark undercurrents that expose her character’s fantasies and despair. At other moments, Milliken is interested in the aftermath of tragedy and in how characters inherit and are constrained by traumas to which they have been both passive victims and active participants. Milliken’s work seems to be an attempt to wrest agency from the past, to embrace human possibility before old memories and pains devour us.

Kate kindly agreed to be interviewed by email about her new collection, writing, and her future endeavors.

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