Photo credit: Steve Dillon
Describe your book.
My first novel, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
, follows Paul Polydoris, a 23-year-old queer shapeshifter and sometime college student, living in Iowa City in 1993. Through the course of the novel Paul transforms his body at will in a series of adventures that take him from Iowa City to Boystown to Provincetown and finally to San Francisco. I sometimes describe the novel as thinly veiled autobiographical fiction, but of course I am not literally a shapeshifter.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I was (and still am) obsessed with D’aulaires' Book of Greek Myths
; I loved the illustrations especially — I traced them and copied them and stared at them for hours. Perhaps unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me, I was most drawn to the stories of Hermes, Aphrodite, and Dionysus. Those are the original Greek myths for me.
When did you know you were a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer, but felt humiliated by the cliché of that longing. In college I had a clippings file of xeroxed pages of books in which some variation of the sentence “all my life I wanted to be a writer” appeared. I wrote angsty poetry in my teens and made zines a bit later, but didn’t start writing seriously until I was 30. I was working at a web development company as an “information architect” (student loans, don’t judge) when my girlfriend said, “Why are you in that soul-crushing job? You’re a writer.” That was a turning point for me mentally, but I don’t think I described myself as a writer out loud until halfway through my second graduate creative writing program. I found it much easier to say “I’m a graduate student” than “I’m a writer.”
What does your writing workspace look like?
I wrote most of Paul
at various coffee shops in Philadelphia and Western Mass, so my writing workspace looked like a table, or part of a table, likely shimmed with a napkin, ideally near a plug, with at least one empty coffee cup and me listening to something familiar, maybe the Cure or PJ Harvey, on repeat to block out the café sounds.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Frivolity, excess, shiny things. But maybe that says more about who's around me.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I have a decent collection of queer club flyers and zines and political posters and various ephemera from the ’90s. I thought I’d dump everything into the novel and be done, but the sparks of joy remain.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
When I was a queer teenager living in New York, on 9th between B & C, I used to walk by what I thought was Eileen Myles’s apartment every morning on my way to my receptionist job at the Putumayo warehouse in Soho. I think I thought poetry was contagious. I later found out that Myles lived on an entirely different block, but by then we’d become friends, which made the idea of a literary pilgrimage more awkward.
Offer a favorite sentence from another writer.
“There are, to be sure, persons who wish to extract from books guiding principles for their lives. For this sort of most estimable individual I am therefore, to my gigantic regret, not writing.” — Robert Walser, The Robber
(Trans. Susan Bernofsky)
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
My current guilty pleasure is the The Vampire Diaries
. I just started season 5 and am firmly on Team Damon. Please no spoilers! Similar past guilty pleasures have included Degrassi
, and True Blood
. I’m not proud. I sound like I’m bragging, but I’m not.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve gotten such good advice in my life! My trouble has generally been in following it. But I will answer this sincerely. When I was 20, my friend Deb told me, “Don’t pathologize your desires,” and this has turned out to be a distillation of important wisdom for me. I think as a young queer person I badly needed to hear that; I have returned to that idea often in my life, even when I’m struggling with something (say, The Vampire Diaries
Create a Top Five Book List of Your Choice.
We’re living in a golden age of queer and trans fabulist writing — fiction which limns the space between fantasy and literary realism, drawing from traditions of magical realism, surrealism, SFF, and mythic retelling. In the spirit of queer excess, I’m including two Top Five lists.
My Top Five Queer Fabulist Novels
by Amber Dawn
When a Fox Is a Thousand
by Larissa Lai
An Arrow's Flight
by Mark Merlis
Girl Meets Boy
by Ali Smith
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars
by Kai Cheng Thom
My Top Five Queer Fabulist Short Story Collections
Look Who's Morphing
by Tom Cho
Painting Their Portraits in Winter
by Myriam Gurba
Her Body and Other Parties
by Carmen Maria Machado
Kill Marguerite and Other Stories
by Megan Milks
Blue Talk and Love
by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
÷ ÷ ÷
teaches writing at Mount Holyoke College, edits fiction for Fence
magazine, and has been awarded fellowships by Lambda Literary and Radar Labs. Their publications include a chapbook, Position Papers
(Factory Hollow Press, 2016), and a novel, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
, a 2018 finalist for the Lambda Literary and CLMP Firecracker Awards. Paul
, originally published by Rescue Press in 2017, is now published in the US by Vintage/Knopf.