Photo credit: Johanna Breiding
Describe your latest book.
addresses what it’s like to have a body at its most mutinous/motley; it's a journey of strange forms. The collection is comedic and raw and its protagonists are mostly joined together by a lack of self-awareness that teeters on the dangerously in-the-dark. The 12 (often very short) stories unravel like self-surgeries from intoxicated or otherwise compromised hands. But sometimes, briefly, this unknowing quality pans outwards, implicating our own world directly: a world where sex and gender imperatives are so inadequate they have to be undone.
When did you know you were a writer?
Honestly, it was pretty recently, though I’ve been “acting like one” since I could write.
I think it really became clear to me when I started using writing as a place to explore my most embarrassing junk, rather than as a place to dodge or amend it. Suddenly stories had this weird quality where they could teach me something — albeit often something kind of ugly or hard — I didn’t know about myself.
What does your writing work space look like?
It’s a tiny plywood-lined shack falling off the back of our Echo Park rental. I love it.
What do you care about more than other people?
Inanimate objects. Yesterday my girlfriend called a bouquet in our house “ugly” and even though I of course secretly agreed, I rushed to cover its ears.
Share an interesting experience you've had with a reader.
One time I was reading at The Poetry Project in NYC and every time I mentioned sex (which I did a lot then because I was still trying to dodge other things), an audience member made an extremely loud protuberant grunting sound. Finally I think he had to leave.
Tell us something you’re embarrassed to admit.
This Q&A is activating my oldest fears, which are, of course: being boring, not cool.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Dorthe Nors. Karate Chop.
Incisive, pared down. Unexpected. Revealing. Plus it has an amazing cover.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
As someone who feels more easily through “things” than other people or my own emotions, I’ve had SO MANY collections because it’s painful (literally) to throw anything away. This might have made me a hoarder, but then I moved to a railroad apartment in Brooklyn with zero closets. Plus, my north node is Virgo, so I can’t hoard; it’s bad for my astrological evolution. Instead I close my eyes, whisper “sorry,” and throw things away. My clunky collection of paint-by-numbers sailboat paintings, for instance. Recently my neighbor from Brooklyn moved around the corner, i.e., has become my neighbor in LA, and he brought one of the paintings I’d done this with. Seeing it was unsettling. I can’t tell if that painting down the block is a positive or negative thing.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
When I was 19, a friend and I pilgrimmed to Lesbos. We said we were going for Sappho
, but really we were going for lesbians. We were shocked to find everyday Greeks there — “Technically, they’re all Lesvians!" I kept saying. On the Sappho side, there were only a few Germans who were opening a hotel. They gave me a haircut (a fade) on the beach, in view of Sappho’s profile. I rented a motor-scooter and immediately crashed it.
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
I like the last sentence of my book, Large Animals
. “‘Can I please have a taco,’ I said.”
What scares you the most as a writer?
I was going to say “writing,” but that seems too easy. Although it’s kind of true. I’m scared of composing fresh work. I guess this is because “it will be bad,” which it inevitably probably will be. Not just bad — but in my pre-writing imagination, ruined. Like think of all that possibility that existed when all those strange idea cousins were clinking around in your head. And: zap
. The writing makes them pedestrian, evacuated of potency, unrescuably mundane. On the flip side, I love editing.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
I’m obsessed with a title that already exists, Memoirs of a Polar Bear
. So I would ask Yoko Tawada
if I could borrow hers. Or could I subtly change it? Memoirs of a Pilar Bear
. Memoirs of a Po-lair Bear
. It’s actually such a good title there can’t even be a subtitle, because so much feeling just kind of hangs around it, implied.
But then I’m also obsessed with the title The Last Wolf
by Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai
So maybe my formula is: “fierce animal” plus something that seems to be significant and eulogy-ific?
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
A favorite quote: “The ache of something that is not publicity, a place that moves constantly, so that it can always be not so much alone but alive, is I think the determined goal of the true pervert today. Whether that pervert is a woman, or an intellectual or a poet, or just a brat does not ever have to get resolved. Ultimately that pervert must die and so will go her idea. But for now she’s making some room around that shivering thought.” – Eileen Myles
I don’t know what it’s from, except a virtual “sticky” on my laptop.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
I’m not sure if this is a grammatical pet peeve, but I can’t stand repeating words. I have an unproductive aversion to it and always try to scrub my stories of lazy vocab. But then — I read something I love and it says “large” or “animals” (just as an example) five times in a paragraph and I don’t even notice it.
Do you have any phobias?
I hate separating pairs. (Is there a term for that?) Almost more than anything.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
Just one? So many. Online shopping. Cans (they have to be) of too-strong IPA. Recently, the show Scandal
. Expensive drop-crotch shorts. The purple pixelated body emoji.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’m infamously bad at remembering quotes, especially when asked. I do know Lynne Tillman
probed me once about a novel I was suffering through. She asked me if I “believed in it enough to fight for it.” The answer was (sadly) “no.” But I’m probably remembering it wrong. What did you actually say, Lynne?
How much sleep have you gotten in the last three weeks?
I think 100 percent none. My girlfriend and I have a newborn.
Share a top five book list of your choice.
Lists of “bests” really make me sweat, but here are five books I love right now about bodies that activate the “mutinous” or “motley” or “multiple”:
1. Gargantua and Pantagruel
by François Rabelais
by John Keene
3. Zipper Mouth
by Laurie Weeks
4. My Struggle, Book 4
by Karl Ove Knausgaard
5. A Body, Undone
by Christina Crosby
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received her MFA at Bard and was a 2013 Graywolf SLS Fellow and 2010 Fiction Fellow at the New York Foundation of the Arts. She has written for Fence
, and the art journal Parkett
, among others. She is a co-founder of New Herring Press, and lives in Los Angeles.