Short Story Month Celebration: Lena Bertone

Lena Bertone author photoTo celebrate Short Story Month, we’re asking Origami Zoo Press authors and other writers we admire to sweet-talk a story (or stories) they love by contemporary and/or emerging writers. Today, Lena Bertone talks about N. Michelle AuBuchon. Check out previous posts by Leesa Cross-SmithAnne ValenteBJ Hollars and Justin Lawrence Daugherty.

I read the story “The Haircut” by N. Michelle AuBuchon in Caketrain 12 last year. And then I read it again and again.

Here’s what I love about that story: it’s a story that’s straightforwardly told and easy to understand until it isn’t, and even then it still is. It’s a story with a single narrator until it has three narrators and even then it still has just one. It’s a story about dead and living people who become each other, though not really, but yes, they really do, and one of them, or maybe two, get a haircut, but in the end, it really is only one. I love that it’s a simply told story that makes the complications of love and grief reside so plainly on the surface of its storytelling. Here’s an example in which the narrator is both the husband and the dead daughter:

I had the feeling of remembering being scared of her, that woman, my wife, but then I just got to wanting to cut Mother’s hair, and I said, ‘Hold still, Mother, these scissors are sharp.’

In an essay called, “A Few Men Who Begged Me Not to Write about Them,” AuBuchon does a similar thing with her storytelling: she keeps the reader posted on the process and progress of the essay she’s writing. The essay is about the problem of being silenced by men, and writing the essay is one way that she unsilences herself:

I become obsessed with recording everything men don’t want me to. Their motivation to quiet me seems to parallel, if not exceed, their motivation to be with, in, or around me.

She writes about men who don’t want to be written about, and she reveals some things about them but not others. She writes as though it is ambivalence that makes her waver between concealing and revealing, but in truth, by including me, the reader, in these seemingly offhand decisions, she shows that she has the power to choose how she tells the story:

Afterwards, I take the train into the city to visit this editor I’ve been seeing, but, again, full disclosure: I’m omitting this section, because it was a short, not very interesting section, and he was the most insistent on being taken out of the essay. So anyway, he and I break up after a fight about the essay and something else I can’t remember.

In revealing what she’s been forbidden to reveal and chatting with her reader so easily about it, AuBuchon is showing the ways in which matters of silencing and revealing are so ubiquitous and morally tenuous. Much as she does in “The Haircut,” she makes the reader complicit in her narrative. When I’m reading her work, I feel like I’m looking at it from the inside out, and AuBuchon accompanies me through the whole strange and illuminating experience.

***

Lena Bertone is the author of Behind This Mirror (Origami Zoo Press) and Letters to the Devil (The Lit Pub). She has stories forthcoming in Sundog Lit and Condensed to Flash: World Classics. Check out our Short Story Month sale!

Short Story Month Celebration: Justin Lawrence Daugherty

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To celebrate Short Story Month, we’re asking Origami Zoo Press authors and other writers we admire to sweet-talk a story (or stories) they love by contemporary writers. Today, Justin Lawrence Daugherty talks about Carol Guess & Kelly Magee. Check out previous posts by Leesa Cross-SmithAnne Valente, and BJ Hollars.

I like weirdness in stories. Stories where elements of the surreal and strange feature prominently. Grizzly bears living in a house with a couple having marital troubles. Irradiated jellyfish showing up in a town following a mine disaster. Whatever. I want the strange. It has to work with what the story’s trying to do, of course, but I am drawn to the strange.

Carol Guess and Kelly Magee’s “With Dragon” works the way other stories in With Animal (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press) do: the strange offspring of women are various animals and these children cause unique issues for their parents. Guess and Magee write:

“Though heat welled in her, she shivered and heaped blankets on her body. Her husband stopped sleeping with her, complaining that she steamed up the room. Her side of the bed darkened with stains that looked like scorch marks.”

In these very short stories, there is a breaking apparent immediately. The shock of these offspring is parallel to the discord in relationships between people and within individuals. The mother in this story knows things are bad and going to get worse. And, they do. Instant tension and instant escalation. Too much flash and short fiction rests and marinates in minimal tension or no tension at all. On internet message boards, the mother posts:

“She wrote, Do you ever feel like your baby is stronger than you? To which the message boards replied nothing.

She wrote, Do you ever wonder if you’ve made a mistake? but she didn’t bother to check the replies.”

Guess and Magee are masters with word economy. There is so much power in each word and sentence. And, each sentence builds on the last, makes what came before more important. These writers know how to keep the reader invested and worried:

“When the day came, the sky hung wreathed with fire. She stood in the kitchen, smoke peeling from her thighs, fire breaking instead of water, water what might put her out. Her husband splashed orange juice on her skirt. Ran red lights until lights stopped turning. Hustled her into the emergency room with the D word: Dragon.”

The quotidian is mixed with the strange. Dragon and orange juice. The internet and fire-reduced husbands and wives as left-behind ash mounds.

There are comments on the quotidian living in the strange. And, the strange is alive and menacing and pushing mothers to the edge. What I love most in great fiction is this almost-collapse, the at-the-edge teetering of people about to break. This story, and the other stories from With Animal are full of these moments. Guess and Magee don’t tell you what to think. There is no obvious message. I want to burn in the details of these stories. I’ve adored Guess and Magee’s work for a long time. If anyone is really lighting it up in fiction right now, these two are doing the thing.

***

Justin Lawrence Daugherty lives in Atlanta. He is the publisher and founder of Jellyfish Highway Press and the founder of Sundog Lit. He is the Fiction Editor at New South Journal and co-pilots Cartridge Lit, a lit mag dedicated to literature inspired by video games. He never says anything at @jdaugherty1081.

Short Story Month Celebration: B.J. Hollars

BJ HollarsTo celebrate Short Story Month, we’re asking Origami Zoo Press authors and other writers we admire to sweet-talk a story (or stories) they love by emerging writers. First up, we had Leesa Cross-Smith and Anne Valente, today we have B.J. Hollars!

When asked to write of a rising star writer, I could’ve easily assembled a triple-digit list; this, I think, is one of the primary perks of teaching. Though, of course, by doing so, I’d have had to rank 100 people’s creative work, which was a task I was hardly up for (not only because the idea of “ranking” makes me squeamish, but come on, it’s nearly finals week!).

And so, I went with the simpler route: a tried and true writer I trust—Charlotte Kupsh, a name you’ll surely hear again.

Full disclosure: Charlotte’s a former student; one I had the pleasure of working with throughout our shared time at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She holds the “distinct honor” (by which I mean “dubious honor”) of having worked with me more than almost any other student. And so, I hope you’ll forgive me my gushing. Over the years, she endured my classes, served as editor for the campus literary magazine I advise, and—given her propensity for punishment—even allowed me to work with her on an independent project entitled Until the Land Runs Out, a collection of carefully researched stories that traces generations in the river town of Eau Claire.

While Until the Land Runs Out yielded several pitch perfect stories, the one I most want to highlight is entitled “The Pontecorvo, 1884.” Published in the fall 2014 issue of The Madison Review, the story recounts the experiences of Andrew Johnson, a Norwegian-immigrant-turned-lumberman, who, in the summer of 1884, endures one of the most dangerous floods in Eau Claire history. The story drifts between the flood of 1884 and the summer of 2013, the juxtaposition serving as proof that, as Charlotte puts it, “The city has changed, but the river has not.”

As the flood ravages the city, readers become privy to Andrew’s past encounters with water; namely, his trans-Atlantic crossing on the Pontecorvo so many years before. It was a passage fraught with its own setbacks, one that first clued Andrew in on the unfeeling nature of nature.

While the story’s highly wrought prose and meticulous research make for a heart pounding narrative, for me, it’s the subtler moments that most resonate. With a light touch, Charlotte makes evident all that Andrew doesn’t know: “It is his first year in Eau Claire,” she writes. “He doesn’t know it yet, but over the next six years, the city will lose over four thousand residents, citizens vanishing like the last of the lumber rafts…” By revealing Andrew’s ignorance, we readers become knowledgeable; a technique that provides us with the vast, textured historical research that brings a story from the past back to life.

And it is indeed a story of the past (you need only Google “Pontecorvo shipwreck” to see for yourself). But what makes Charlotte’s story so good—and what makes me want to sing its praises with the gusto of an ancient mariner—is that she utilizes history as a tool for her narrative, and her usage of it always feels effortless. This is not a story bogged down in minutiae; rather, it’s a story that’s quick on its feet. Though born a century or so later, Charlotte recreates the world of a 19th century river town with such precision that we readers never question it. We are with her from the first page to the last, from the initial raindrop to the glimmer of post-storm sun.

It probably goes without saying, but it was a joy to watch Charlotte write and rewrite this story. But let me be clear: mostly, all I did was watch. She was the one who boarded the raft and set off into the river. All I did was beam proudly, as I do today, from the safety of the shore.

***

B.J. Hollars is the author of several books, including two forthcoming in 2015: From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test.

Short Story Month Celebration: Anne Valente

Anne ValenteTo celebrate Short Story Month, we’re asking Origami Zoo Press authors and other writers we admire to sweet-talk a story (or stories) they love by emerging writers. First up, we had Leesa Cross-Smith, and today we have Anne Valente!

In celebration of Short Story Month, I’ve spent the first half of May reading the work of Jaclyn Watterson, a fiction writer currently based out of Knoxville, Tennessee. Her stories have been all over the place in recent months, and rightly so – they capture the disorienting threats of modern life, of the female body in public space, and the strange, subtle horror of human interaction. “Nor Do They,” just published in Two Serious Ladies, recounts the unsettling fear of public transportation. “Recompense” in The Newer York describes the horror of a daughter watching a trail of men spill from her father’s mouth. “Some of Us Had Been Sucking Our Friend Carrie” depicts a group of women meeting up to finally stop devouring and bruising their friend, all discussed over brownies and champagne. And “A Baby is a Dreadful Thing,” recently published in Cura, places the reader in a world where women are being turned into infants, a world where women are no longer seen in public places – not on public transportation and not in libraries, their ranks diminished to hiding out in apartments.

Watterson’s surreal fictions subvert the reader’s expectations, not only for the worlds they explore – worlds where women are under constant threat, and where the stranger the world becomes, the closer its resemblance to our own flawed world – but for the sentences themselves, sliced against one another to destabilize narrative itself. A subtle menace grows on the page through the shape of each sentence. Watterson’s syntax and diction build a sense of dread and foreboding, as the best of horror films do, and yet there is grace and punctum in each story as well. Her fiction explores not only the grotesque but the collective as well – what it means to be part of a group of women or else a group of friends, or a group of children growing up together and growing away from one another, their bodies changing and morphing and pulling them apart.

Watterson’s fiction has just won Psychopomp Magazine’s 2015 Short Fiction Contest, judged by Kate Bernheimer and to be featured in the journal’s summer issue. I can’t wait to read the winning story, “Charlie’s Kidney,” when it releases this summer. Watterson’s full-length collection, Ventriloquisms, was recently a finalist frontrunner in Civil Coping Mechanism’s Mainline Competition, so I’m keeping an eye out for the lucky publisher who will surely snap up this book soon.

***
Anne Valente is the author of the short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names (Dzanc Books), the fiction chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics (Origami Zoo Press), and the forthcoming novel, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down (HarperCollins). She can be found online at www.annevalente.com. You can snag her Origami Zoo Press chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics, in our Short Story Month sale!

Short Story Month Celebration: Leesa Cross-Smith

L CROSS-SMITHTo celebrate Short Story Month, we’re asking Origami Zoo Press authors and other writers we admire to sweet-talk a story they love by an emerging writer. First up is Leesa Cross-Smith!

“Halibut Point” by Molly Dektar begins There was a young soldier sitting at the bar, in those digital-print fatigues. I love reading about soldiers. If there’s a soldier in the first sentence, I will keep reading. And the last line at the end of that short first paragraph is My last boyfriend taught me that, if you have all the signs of looking good, it doesn’t matter if you really do or not. That sentence tells me so much about the narrator. It’s lovely. As a reader, we know she’s had a boyfriend, that she listened to him, that she believed him when he told her this thing. Him saying that gave her some confidence and she needed it.

She goes on to write:

He said nothing. It was clear to me that he was going to die.
“You look awful,” I said.
“Fuck you.”

And something I love about stories is when the characters immediately dive in to talking to one another. No introductions, no real back story. We’re in the conversation and even when few words are said, we can see them and hear them and get a feel for who they are just by the words they choose to use or not to use.

We went to the beach, to Halibut Point. We could hear the Atlantic but not see it—a black, rushing void. The water glided up to us, then foam tore along its edge. When he held my hand, he rubbed it gently with his fingers. We collapsed onto the sand. He was like two men, or aided by ghosts. His skin felt cold and the water felt hot and I was shaking my head like no, that can’t be right.

Every word in that paragraph has a purpose. Nothing is wasted. I especially love foam tore along its edge.

“You must have broken a lot of hearts,” I said.
“What?” he said. I had my head on his heartbeat, in a spot-on impression of a gesture of love.
“Leaving like this. Did you break your mama’s heart?”
“Sure, I’m breaking some hearts,” he said. 

I think this dialogue is so sweet. I think spot-on impression of a gesture of love is perfectAnd oftentimes when I see a soldier, I think the same thing. Did you break your mama’s heart?

He was feeling his neat haircut with his drunken hand. The sea gasped like a person with a new limp. I could have told him all my hopes and fears: a soldier is just like a priest.

A soldier is just like a priest, again. Perfect to me.

I thought, this boy never knew his dad either. It’s the way he held up his head—that’s why I went to talk to him, not the uniform.
“You’re doing it to break hearts,” I said, smiling, but he couldn’t see it. I was using my cell phone to illuminate the ground, and the dark flung itself from us like a centrifuge.

When she writes this boy never knew his dad either, we get that the narrator didn’t know her dad and we get that she is perceptive or projecting, all at once.

And the ending. I love the ending. I had the feeling when I reached the end of this story. The feeling I like to get when I reach the end of every story. The feeling that I’m sad it’s over, the feeling that I want to go back and read it again, the feeling of being surprised at how the author took me from the first line to the last without my even realizing I was kinda holding my breath in the way I always kinda hold my breath (even if not literally) when I’m reading something beautiful. The feeling. This story gives me the feeling. I love it, I love it, I love it. I read it years ago and still think about it. I love Dektar’s light hand, as well as the exploration of these complicated emotions and the simplicity of the story. Absolutely adore.

***

Leesa Cross-Smith is a homemaker, a house cat. She is the author of Every Kiss A War (Mojave River Press). Every Kiss A War was a finalist for both the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Iowa Short Fiction Award. She is the editor of WhiskeyPaper/WhiskeyPaper Press and lives in Kentucky with her husband and babies. Find more @LeesaCrossSmith.com and WhiskeyPaper.com.

Short Story Month Sale!

Behind-This-Mirror-GridHere at Origami Zoo Press, we are celebrating short story month with a sale, in hopes of getting more short stories in the hands of more eager short story readers. If you’ve already purchased or enjoyed our chapbooks, consider getting some as a gift! This sale lasts all month, so get ‘em while they’re hot: any OZP chapbook only $5 or all five for $20!

We’ll be celebrating short story month in other ways, too, so in between the many collections you devour this month, keep an eye on our blog for reading recommendations from our authors as well as special guests!

For all of May, get any of our short story collections for just $5!
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 Or go crazy and get all 5 for $20!


AWP sale for those of us at home

Not attending AWP this year? That’s okay. You can still get our books on sale…and then they’ll arrive right on your door! You don’t event have to go through airport security with them.

Grab any of our longer fiction chapbooks for $5 each–the same deal you’d get at our table in Minneapolis!


Titles


Or, you want a couple of our books at once? How about a 2-for-1 sale? Grab any two of our titles for $8!


Twofer: List 2 titles below


 Just because you’re not going to AWP doesn’t mean you have to miss out on getting some great books–and for cheap!–in the convenience of your own home. No awkward networking conversations necessary.

 

Origami Zoo Press Clique at AWP!

Hello Origami Zookeepers!

If you’re heading to AWP in Minneapolis this next week, we’ve compiled a handy schedule (organized by author) so you can track down your favorite Origami Zoo writers and tell them how much you love their Origami Zoo chapbooks.

Thursday-Saturday
Lena Bertone and editor Sam Martone will be running the Lit Pub/Origami Zoo Press table (TABLE 1922), selling books and schmoozing with all you lovely writers. Come say hi! Extra special thanks to Lit Pub for sharing the space with us.

Ben HoffmanBEN HOFFMAN
Thursday, April 9
3:00-5:00 PM—Hanging out at the Devil’s Lake table

Saturday, April 11, 6:00 PM
UNCW Alumni Reading at Ling & Louise’s Bar & Grill

 

 

 

BJ HollarsB.J. HOLLARS
Thursday, April 9
7:00 PM-10:00 PM—Iron Horse Reading at Muffin Top Café, 1424 Nicollet Avenue

Friday, April 10
10:00-10:30 AM—Signing at New Mexico Press, Table 608
1:00-3:00 PM—AWP Ascent Reading, Room 208 A&B, Level 2

 

 

Brian OliuBRIAN OLIU
Wednesday, April 8
7:30 PM—Rock and Roll Reading at Nomad World Pub, w/ Robert J. Lennon, Melissa Febos, Rob Spillman, & others

Thursday, April 9
4:30 PM—Panel: Everyday Oddities: Natural Fact and the Lyric Essay, w/ Joni Tevis, Christopher Cokinos, Chelsea Biondolillo & Colin Rafferty

Friday, April 10
4:00 PM—2X2 Reading at Segue Café, w/ Matt Bell, Carson Beker, Traci Brimhall, Caroline Crew, Alex McElroy, Salvatore Pane, & Elise Winn

Saturday, April 11
9:00 AM—Panel: The Challenge & Attraction of the Young Essayist, w/ Lucas Mann, Kristen Radtke, & David LeGault

Anne ValenteANNE VALENTE
Thursday, April 9
7:00 PM-10:00 PM—Iron Horse Reading at Muffin Top Café, 1424 Nicollet Avenue

Friday, April 10
11:30 AM-12 PM—Book signing: Cincinnati Review Table (Exhibit Space 1730)
3:00 PM-4:00 PM—Book signing: Dzanc Books Table (Exhibit Space 1112)

 

 

Laura van den BergLAURA VAN DEN BERG
Saturday, April 11
10:30 AM—Panel: Sweeping the Steps of the Temple: On Writing a First Book, w/ Arna Bontemps Hemenway, Jamie Quatro, Julia Fierro, Nickolas Butler
8:00 PM—FSG Originals Reading

 

 

 

Hope to see you there! Follow @s_martone on twitter to stay abreast of Origami Zoo AWP happenings!

Posted in AWP

Review: FIND ME by Laura van den Berg

61jMqLx1ofLWhen I first read What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us as a very young writer, it was hugely affecting and influential: with all its bizarre and beautiful stories of apocryphal monsters, new identities and unfamiliar landscapes, it was the perfect book for me at that time, and I couldn’t imagine this writer, Laura van den Berg, would ever produce anything else as good.

Jump forward a few years and van den Berg follows up that collection with The Isle of Youth, a marvelous collection that honed and built up the vision of What the World Will Look Like to provide stories that felt even tighter and showed off a writer totally comfortable taking her characters and their voices wherever they needed to go. It seemed like a magic trick: one snap of her fingers and here were these new, powerful stories—stylistically familiar but also fresh, new, striking in their differences.

And that brings us to now, hot off the heels of the release of Find Me, van den Berg’s debut novel. It’s hard for me not to think of it in relation to her previous work, simply because van den Berg is one of a few young writers I can think of whose voice, in everything she does, is so distinct, so unmistakably hers. Find Me feels like the logical culmination of the fiction van den Berg has been publishing the past few years. Her prose here is still unabashedly beautiful without being sentimental or cloying, straightforward and direct without feeling simplistic or dull. You never feel lost in a van den Berg story, which is probably good, because her characters, figuratively and literally, are.

And yet, Find Me also turns some of van den Berg’s tendencies on their heads. For example, at the outset of the novel, instead of finding (ha ha) ourselves in Scotland or Madagascar or Antarctica, those vast natural landscapes that van den Berg’s attention to place will conjure right outside our bedroom windows, we are in the blank, anonymous, sterile hallways of The Hospital, somewhere in an America ravaged by a mysterious illness. Don’t get me wrong. Place is still hugely important to the book, but the imaginative work feels immediately set apart: instead of depicting the world as is, in all its weirdness, van den Berg reinvents the world and puts its weirdness in a pandemic blender.

In her recent interview with us, she mentions how the two halves of the novel stand in opposition to each other. The first half follows Joy as a half-willing prisoner in The Hospital, while the second half sees her hitting the road. The movement of the two halves are certainly distinct, but the book as a whole, structurally, feels like one continuous spiraling outward in its imagining of the mysterious hospital and the devastated country. We start very small, very trapped, standing on a single spot looking out a single window, but with every page the universe expands around us. The the act of reading this book is like the act of unfolding a map, and that is one of its greatest pleasures: looking for what strange corner will be illuminated next.

It’s hard to discuss this book because I don’t want to give too much away. At every turn it is surprising and unpredictable, featuring unexplained magic, buried secrets, unseen pathologists, rabbit masks, angel wings, hallucinogenic tunnels and always more. Find Me privileges discovery over an action-packed plot and is all the better for it—we have plenty of those stories elsewhere. This, instead, is about a character and a world at a tipping point, searching for a place where healing can begin with all its unsightly scabs and haunting phantom pains. It is, ultimately, both a love letter and a scathing hate note for memory, the way we choose to memorialize our lives and our world, or the way we can’t ever choose, the way things we want to keep can vanish and things we want to escape track us down no matter where we go.

FOUND: The Laura van den Berg Interview

 With Laura van den Berg’s debut novel Find Me seemingly taking over the internet, we wanted to celebrate with the author herself, so we brought her back for an interview at the Origami Zoo. We visited a new enclosure, the Post-Apocalypse Exhibit, which featured all manner of Origami arthropods and birds and rodents who will surely survive any world-ending event. Together, we watched the mutated origami chipmunks scuttle around, storing paper nuts and berries in their two-dimensional cheeks, and van den Berg told us about place, genre and lists.

You can order Find Me here, and if you want even more Laura van den Berg, we are happy to supply you with There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights, now only $6!

Laura van den BergOrigami Zoo Press: So, Find Me is your debut novel after two collections of stories (and one chapbook from a really excellent small press, I hear). How does the experience differ? Did Find Me begin as a story and simply blow up or did you always envision it as a novel? Did you feel working on short stories helped you in moving to a novel or was it hard to get out of the short story mode? And finally, this is your first published novel, but is it your first novel ever? I feel like so many writers say they have to write one novel that they put away forever before getting to what becomes the first published novel.

Laura van den Berg: It was a big transition for me. The difference in scale, of course, but also in process: when I’m working on a short story, I can work in small increments, in the course of daily life, and actually have it add up to something. With Find Me, I found that incremental approach didn’t work at all. I ended up taking a lot of long break and doing the most crucial work at residencies, where I could disappear from my life and into the world of the book. I agree that a lot of writers typically have a few novels in the drawer but Find Me is the first novel I saw through to the end. I have a handful of novel openings in the drawer, but I never made it past seventy or so pages before losing interest.

OZP: At the outset of the novel, we find ourselves in a relatively familiar genre setting: post-pandemic hospital quarantine. Did you enjoy playing around with this genre? What were the challenges that came with it, especially given the popularity of collapse-of-society stories lately? (I feel like certain tropes quickly become very distinct or subverted as the novel progresses, which was fun and exciting to read.)

LVDB: I love playing with genre. I’m naturally drawn to quixotic and idiosyncratic characters, and genre can be a way of helping their story to find a solid shape. It can be fun to nod to certain tropes and equally fun to mess with them. The novel is divided into two parts and while the first part is set entirely in the hospital, the second place takes place on the open road, where the more traditional dystopian elements fall away and a slightly more tilted narrative emerges. I love books that change the rules on the reader. It can be a lot to ask of a reader, to make that leap with you, but that’s what I aspired to do with Find Me.

OZP: Place has always been hugely important to your work in my mind. What stays with me the most from Isle of Youth are all the ever-shifting landscapes and locales the stories take us too. At the beginning of Find Me, place works really different–in a way, there’s a lack of place, given the blankness of the hospital, the limited access to what’s going on in the outside world and of course the fact that the outside world has drastically changed from the one the patients used to know. Did you go in with certain goals or ideas for the use of place in your novel? Or did it just arise naturally? How did you negotiate the strange confining space the characters inhabit in comparison to the characters in your stories, who are often explorers or wanders in sprawling natural landscapes?

LVDB: In many ways, the two books [of the novel] stand in opposition to each other tonally: the cold of winter vs. a movement toward warmth (Joy is journeying toward Florida); landlocked vs. coast; stasis vs. movement; coolness vs. heat, in both place and in Joy’s voice. I was interested in how these two settings might contrast each other, though there are some mirrors as well. The stasis of the hospital was a challenge and the pilgrims that appear in the beginning of the book and recur later on initially were an attempt to address that challenge; I needed something alive in the landscape, an exterior narrative that Joy can track.

61jMqLx1ofLOZP: I love lists. Find Me is more or less structured around the lists our narrator Joy makes in her head, for pretty much everything. They work in part as memory exercises as prescribed by the hospital, but it also seems Joy has been making lists for longer than that. How did you arrive at lists for this kind of scaffolding? Did it lead you anywhere surprising? Was it difficult to sustain? I think Find Me‘s use of these lists is fantastic, but I can also imagine a novel that might not employ them as well, where they may become exhausting to read or too repetitive or simply not interesting. Was there anything you consciously did to make sure that didn’t happen here?

LVDB: At a certain point, I knew there were layers of Joy’s character that I had not yet accessed and that I needed to find a way to get there. The lists began as a kind of exercise, a way to access those deeper layers, but then they ended up becoming absorbed into the book and became pretty integral to the structure. It made perfect sense for Joy’s character, given her desire to order the world.

With any kind of structuring device, repetition can be a real risk, so I wanted to make sure the lists evolved. As we near the end, they become progressively more abstract, whereas the earlier ones are more practical. A list of facts about Kansas or the rules of the hospital vs. a list of things that live forever, for example. That evolution reflects Joy’s shifting relationship to the world.

OZP: Joy’s relationship (or lack thereof) with her mother and her attempts to reconcile her abandonment with her love/need for this person are big driving forces in this novel. There’s no dearth of father/son relationships in all genres of fictional media, but I feel like there are fewer analogous mother/daughter stories (some come to mind in books, like Swamplandia! and No One is Here Except All of Us, but the TV/movie landscape seems pretty barren or, when there are these relationships, they are often secondary or even tertiary). Am I not looking in the right places or do you find this to be the case too? I’m not sure there’s more to it than the obvious sexism/marginalization at play here, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on all that in relation to Find Me and your other work.

LVDB: Interesting! Well, I love the mother/daughter relationships in Fiona Maazel’s Last Last Chance and Miriam Toews’s All My Puny Sorrows and Barbara Comyn’s The Vet’s Daughter and Marguerite Duras’s The Lover and Heidi Julavits’s The Vanishers and Elliott Holt’s You Are One of Them. I wouldn’t say any of these books are “about” mothers and daughters, but those bonds are certainly important. Sometimes people do ask me why I write so much from the point-of-view of women and my answer is: voice. I start a lot with voice, and the voice is always a woman’s voice, and so that’s that. I really admire authors who can seamlessly cross the boundaries of gender, but I’m not particularly stressed about not being in possession of that gift. There so many narratives that attend to the stories of men, and I’m happy to attend to the stories of women for as long as those voices grab me.

OZP: What are you reading right now? Any recommendations? Any books coming out this year you’re super excited about?

LVDB: I’ve just started Satin Island by Tom McCarthy—I love his work, so I’m very excited for this book—and I am anxiously awaiting Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Also Tania James’s The Tusk That Did the Damage and James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods.

OZP: And finally, what’s next for you, writing-wise? Have you got another project (or projects) in the works yet or are you just focusing on the release of Find Me at the moment?

LVDB: I’m making creeping progress on a new novel, set in Havana, and I’m also working on some new stories.