Category Archives



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

2012 Totals:
64 Total
Women: 25
Men: 38

2013 Totals
61 Total
Women: 32
Men: 29

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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Her Charming Passion: Wendy Lesser’s ‘Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books’

Why I ReadI was a bit suspicious as I approached Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 212 pages). It’s not that Ms. Lesser—founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, author of nine previous books (including one novel, The Pagoda in the Garden), and a prolific literary critic herself—lacks the credentials to write a long, meditative study of the passion she has made her career. (Quite the contrary; I can imagine few more qualified than her.) Rather, I was worried that, by virtue of her position vis-a-vis books and the Professional Writing Life, such a study would be rendered too cloistered, too pedantic—too, in a word, unpleasurable—to appeal to anyone but those lucky enough to get paid to read. A cursory flip through the contents only added to my qualms: chapter titles such as “Novelty,” “Authority,” and “The Space Between”; paragraphs full of pithy descriptions of often unfamiliar texts. How could any of this hope to capture, much less add to the undefinable, the ineffable, the complex yet simple joy we feel when we read a good book?

“It’s not a question I can completely answer,” Lesser writes, beginning her prologue as if in anticipation of my worries, inviting us into what she hopes will be a conversation between our ideas and hers: “You are my silent partner in this enterprise. As I make observations and assertions, you give your assent or withhold it, according to your own opinions. Sometimes I may persuade you, and sometimes you may resist. In either case, the conversation continues for as long as you are reading this book, and possibly after.”

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In the Winter Issue

In our newest issue, time and worlds bend:

In Juan Pablo Villalobos’s “Photisms”: A little boy tells his distracted psychiatrist that he sees mysterious green lights and hears a voice telling him, “See you in the non-world.”

In Lisa Teasley’s “Full Circle”: The bonds between a couple stretch across eras and genders, forged by incredible loss, rancor, and love.

In Monique Wentzel’s “Modern Speedwash”: A struggling woman finds a portal to a universe she’s made different choices and has a comfortable life to show for it. But can she so easily give up the life she knew before?

And in Moritz Thomsen’s “The Bombardier’s Handbook”: An excerpt from the late author’s once-lost World War II diary speaks afresh to the anguish and horror of war.

Also, a conversation in verse between Matthew Dickman and Kazim Ali; fiction from Daniel Tovrov on the new (unforgiving) newsroom; Mary Otis’s story on a mother and daughter’s reckoning while camping near the beach; Don Waters’s tale of a terminally ill man who waits for the end in Juarez; Catherine Brady’s story of  a bankrupt woman in San Francisco, fighting against more than just foreclosure on her home; J. Malcolm Garcia’s noir set in a homeless program in the Tenderloin, plus new poetry from Heather Altfeld, John W. Evans, and Wendy Willis (including a recipe for huckleberry jam).

And featuring artwork by Tom Stolmar and Marcus Covert, and a portfolio of  David Maisel’s eerily beautiful photography of Western landscapes ravaged by mining.

You can get a copy of the Winter issue here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Winter issue.

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With Mercer Out of the Hospital, ‘Swearing in English’ Finally Has Its Big Night

John Mercer

John Mercer

Earlier this year, when Oakland actor and author John Mercer was due to take the stage for the opening night of his one-man show drawn from his memoir/essay collection, Swearing in English: Tall Tales at Shotgun, he was otherwise occupied: he was in the hospital with viral encephalitis, a life-threatening illness that would keep him there for 11 days.

The advertised shows were cancelled, and the book launch never happened. (You can read more about the memoir here.)

Now Mercer, who is a member of the Shotgun Players, has recovered and the show will go on. What was going to be a one-night show for November 11 at the Ashby Stage (across the street from Ashby BART station) sold out, so a show for Tuesday, November 12, at 8 p.m. has been added. (The performances will also serve as the long-awaited book launch party and signing.) You can click here for tickets.

“I have wanted to call it The Back from the Dead Show,” says Mercer. “After all, it’ll be only 11 days after Halloween. Or since zombies cannot be gotten rid of, no matter how much we want them to please, please go away, The Zombie Virus Ate My Brain Show. Both in appropriately appalling taste. Or, since its 11/11, we could call it The War Is Over Ceasefire Show.”

Mercer is in the meantime busy writing stories for his next book, and says he’ll return to acting in the new year when Shotgun presents all three parts of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia.

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More ZYZZYVA in the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays 2013

Best American Short Stories 2013We announced here earlier in the year the inclusion of two ZYZZYVA pieces in the forthcoming Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories: respectively, Dagoberto Gilb‘s “A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died” (Issue No. 95, Fall 2012) and Karl Taro Greenfeld‘s “Horned Men” (also Issue No. 95).

Today we learned ZYZZYVA made the Notable lists for both prestigious anthologies, too. Ron Carlson‘s story “Line From a Movie” (Issue No. 96, Winter 2012) won recognition in BASS, and two nonfiction works were similarly recognized in Best American Essays: Rick Barot‘s “Morandi Sonnet” (No. 96) and Luis Alberto Urrea‘s “The Mr. Smith Syndrome” (again, No. 95, unofficially known as Our Most Acclaimed Issue Thus Far—and by the way, if you don’t have it, why not get a copy?)

Best American Essays 2013Upcoming and recent contributors to ZYZZYVA also appear in both anthologies for work published elsewhere. Vanessa Veselka (No. 96) will have her GQ piece “The Truck Stop Killer” republished in Best American Essays. J. Malcom Garcia, whose work in McSweeney’s lands him on the Best American Essay Notable list, has a story coming out in our Winter 2013 issue.

On the BASS Notable list this year are Don Waters (Issue No. 94), for work in Southwest Review, and Elizabeth Spencer, for a story in Epoch. Waters also has a story in the Winter issue, and you can read Spencer’s story ”The Wedding Visitor” right now in the latest ZYZZYVA. And making the Notable list of both anthologies is Peter Orner (No. 94) for work in Ecotone and Fifth Wednesday.

Congratulations to all! We are honored to be working with and supporting such fine writers.

UPDATE: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013 named four ZYZZYVA stories on its notable list: “A House Well Furnished” by Brian Boise (Issue No. 95), “Chemistry” by Rob Ehle (Issue No. 94), “Joshua Tree” by Dawna Kemper (Issue No. 96), and “The Wheel at the Cistern” by Bruce McKay (No. 96).

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In the Fall Issue

In our newest issue, ZYZZYVA asks: Having kids—what could possibly go wrong?

In Eric Puchner’s “Heavenland,” a stalled L.A. artist finds his style—and his relationships—severely cramped after the birth of his son.

In Vanessa Hua’s “A River of Stars,” a pregnant mistress in Southern California is cornered by the wishes of her married lover in China.

In Nana K. Twumasi’s “Pica,” a widowed father tries to make sense of his young daughter’s troubling eating compulsion.

And in Kate Milliken’s “A Matter of Time,” a suburban mother hopes a dinner party with an old and successful friend can salvage her dreams.

Plus stories from Kirsten Chen (on a Singapore teen’s complex bond with her family’s Filipina maid), Kimberly Lambright (in which a direct connection is made between a foundering marriage and God’s angst), and Southern great Elizabeth Spencer (on a family wedding serving as the wistful homecoming for a divorced cousin).

There’s also new verse from acclaimed poets Zubair Ahmed, David Biespiel, Rebecca Foust, John Glowney, Miriam Bird Greenberg, Diane K. Martin, Annie Mascorro, Jill Osier, Jacques J. Rancourt, and Caitlin Vance, as well as a portfolio of work from the outstanding Dean Rader.

In nonfiction, Anne Raeff ‘s “Lorca in the Afternoon” offers a requiem for a once estranged, anger-filled ex-boyfriend. And we introduce new writer Rosie Cima and her story (“Going Solo”) of a solitary young man haunting the neighborhoods and bus lines of Buenos Aires.

You can get a copy of the Fall issue here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Fall issue.

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Chiapas, the Zapatistas, and the Moral Opportunity: Q&A with Michael Spurgeon

Let the Water Hold Me DownOn January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional or EZLN) marched out of the jungles of the Mexican state of Chiapas to occupy its capitol, San Cristóbal de las Casas. Like his protagonist Henry Singer, author Michael Spurgeon had a bird’s-eye view of the occupation from the balcony of his girlfriend’s apartment directly overlooking the city’s main square. In his new novel, Let the Water Hold Me Down (Ad Lumen Press; 372 pages), Spurgeon chronicles how the events surrounding the Zapatista uprising stir Singer out of a state of relative inaction as the lives of those around him are inexorably drawn into the larger conflict.

The book is based on Spurgeon’s experience as a young man, little more than a year out of college, vagabonding around Mexico with a friend, intent on trying to write a novel of their own. Surviving on savings, they hopped aimlessly from city to town. Yearning to leave the sweltering Oaxacan coast, they decided to aim for the relatively cooler climate of Chiapas. The first time Spurgeon heard the name “San Cristóbal de las Casas,” the name of the city that has come to determine the course of his life, he was already on the bus that would take him there, chugging its way up into the highlands.

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