An Interview with Ben Hoffman, author of TOGETHER, APART

As winner of our first chapbook contest, judged by Matt Bell, Ben Hoffman got a behind-the-scenes look at the Origami Zoo: we took him to our hatchery where origami eggs were unfolding to reveal the origami animals within. Of course, they all start out looking like a flat sheet of paper, but Hoffman got to see as each one was folded into shape and welcomed into the world. While a baby paper sea turtle wiggled into the pinched corners of its newfound paper shell, Ben talked to us about self-help books, nuclear meltdowns and what to do with the bubblegum in your egg baby.

Ben HoffmanOrigami Zoo Press: If you were an animal in the Origami Zoo, what would you be?

Ben Hoffman: A kudu, and here is what a kudu looks like. How fun is it to say kudu?

OZP: You were the winner of our very first chapbook contest. How’d that feel?

BH: Amazing. It’s great to win anything, of course. (It’s great to be published, period!) But when the judge is a writer you admire, and winning puts your work alongside the work of writers you admire, it’s even better.

OZP: The stories in Together, Apart are pretty wildly diverse in content and length. What is it that you think unites them? How did you decide to bring them together in chapbook form?

BH: I view the two longer, more traditional stories, which open and close the chapbook, as bookending the series of flash fictions in the middle. But the stories all share common strands, or themes, if you prefer—among them the wreckage of our desires and our struggle to find safe harbor, even as we have the feeling safe harbor is only temporary.

Some readers prefer perfectly cohesive collections, but I’m a fan of collections in which one story somehow bursts out of the web the other stories are building with each other. Even as that story is escaping, however, it still ought to be linked by a thread or two, right? In the chapbook, that story is “Next Time They Will Wow Them With The Shiny Stuff,” which is radically different in content and tone from the other stories, but still contains the strands mentioned above.

OZP: What else are you working on right now? Any exciting projects in the works?

BH: Yes, thanks for asking! I’m trying to wrap up—knock on wood one hundred times—a collection of stories, one of which is forthcoming this summer in The Missouri Review. And I’m about 75 pages into the first draft of a novel about which I won’t say too much, except that it begins during the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown—begins, basically, with “One For The Road,” one of the stories in the chapbook. I’m in the stage of writing just before despair sets in and I’ll have no idea where to go next, so things are going great right now!

OZP: What are you reading right now? Anything we should check out?

BH: So many things! I was a terrible reader in 2013, and I’m trying to make up for it this year. I’m currently bouncing around between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Need New Names, Jamie Quatro’s I Want to Show You More, and Eric Tran’s Affairs With Men In Suits. I recently devoured Pamela Erens’ The Virgins in two sittings. And based on past OZP crushes, I think you might really like Ramona Ausubel’s A Guide To Being Born.

Together, ApartOZP: Any advice for the proud new parents of the egg babies that came with the deluxe editions of Together, Apart?

BH: Put your baby to bed before you read the stories, unless you want your baby to grow up really fast. Don’t leave your baby with teachers; you can’t trust them. Finally, you’ll need to decide: is the enclosed Bubblicious the beating pink heart of your egg baby, in which case it must stay forever wrapped in the egg? Or is it merely gum, which you should remove and chew immediately upon arrival, recalling the very taste of your own childhood? Really, it’s a choice each parent must make for him or herself.

OZP: If you were to write a self-help book a la Three and a Half Paths to Happiness, which appears in one of your stories, what would it be? What kind of self would it help readers become?

BH: Much like the mother in the story, I’m skeptical of self-help books, because they often paper over the world’s complexities, which writers ought to be interested in, and because there are rarely shortcuts. (And yet! The idea of a shortcut or of any one particular path to happiness is so incredibly alluring, isn’t it?) But if I were to write a self-help book, I’d strive to help readers become more empathetic. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to teach empathy to adults. I can only offer the basics: travel; get a dog; stay hydrated; remind yourself you don’t know very much and ought to learn more; spend as much time as possible outdoors on sunny afternoons.

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Together, Apart by Ben Hoffman is available here.

In Defense of Monsters: Final Copy Raffle

In Defense of MonstersIn 2012, Origami Zoo reopened its paper doors with In Defense of Monsters by BJ Hollars, a collection of essays arguing not that certain apocryphal monsters might exist, but that they might not not exist. We were so happy to have been able to publish this set of essays, which includes illustrations by Greg Liebach and has since been taught in university classrooms. Read more about it in our interview with Hollars.

Now, we are both happy and sad to say, we’re down to our final copy of In Defense of Monsters (at least for the foreseeable future). We wanted to do something special for it, so, for the next week, if you order any of our books, you’ll be entered in a raffle to also win the final copy of In Defense of Monsters AND a signed copy of Sightings by BJ Hollars! Each book you order gets your name in the hat once, so you can stack the odds in your favor pretty easily—it’ll just mean you’ll have to acquire a bunch of great, Origami Zoo-approved reading material.

Our other titles include Floater by Kate Bernheimer, An Elegy for Mathematics by Anne Valente, There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights by Laura van den Berg, Level End by Brian Oliu and our chapbook contest winner Together, Apart by Ben Hoffman. Good luck!

Origami Zoo at AWP 2014

If there’s one thing that makes me believe time is a flat circle, it’s AWP. I’ve been trying to organize the events of the past week into a sensible chronology, but I think everything’s still all out of whack, so I’ll just give you the highlights:

1. Hanging with Origami Zoo authors Chad Simpson, BJ Hollars, Brian Oliu, Anne Valente and Kate Bernheimer. We missed you Laura van den Berg!

2. Meeting contributors to Hayden’s Ferry Review, where I’m finishing up my term as editor. It’s always so rewarding to meet writers excited about being in the journal. Feel like a very tangible success. Also, our new Twitterer, Heath Wilcock, stole the show.

3. Ordering a pizza to the Sheraton with famous Ploughshares blogger Lyndsey Reese.

4. Attending a stellar panel on eco-fabulism, which featured some of my favorite writers and came with a handy list of eco-fabulist texts to read.

5. Seeing OZP crush Lucas Southworth read from his debut collection of stories.

6. Watching as Sal Pane tried hopelessly to get the Knicks game on in the hotel bar, but instead breaking one of the TVs.

7. Eating elk sliders.

8. Making it onto the Twitter Board.

9. Going to a bar called the Unicorn where there was an arcade in the basement, and eating the best pie of my life (peanut butter and jelly) at Pie Five.

10. Carrying a giant box on our shoulders down the escalators, yelling, “Excuse me, heavy box, coming though,” and then, slightly quieter, to the box, “You all right in there Mr. Palahniuk? We’ll get you home safe.”

11. Reading for Parcel as part of the Versal-organized Journal Porn reading, also featuring Big Fiction and Two Lines, as well as killer Seattle band XVIII Eyes, whose CD I’ve been playing on repeat.

12. Seeing old friends, making new ones, being in a place where so so many people are as excited as you are about stories and poems and essays and words, buying way too many books that I am so excited to read. Just as soon as I finish this thesis.

13. Not being spotted by anyone at the nearby Chipotle, even though James Brubaker tried.

Thanks to everyone who bought Origami Zoo chapbooks in Seattle! And thanks to everyone who even just stopped to admire them. We really appreciate it. And if you missed your chance, they’re still available here, including a pre-order for our next chapbook, Together, Apart by Ben Hoffman!

Posted in AWP

Show Some Love for Love: Brian Oliu

We asked our writers to show some love for their favorite love (or anti-love) stories, poems or essays for the month of February. Continuing our series is Brian Oliu. Check out his recommendation below and, after that, check out the mysterious trailer he just posted, which seems to concern his collection of video game essays…

Brian OliuWhen I was first asked to provide a favorite love poem for Origami Zoo Press February Love Month, my mind immediately went OLENA KALYTIAK DAVIS, which, I have to admit, is kind of strange: Kalytiak Davis isn’t exactly a love poet–in fact, her poems are often about wanting revenge for being wronged–the mysterious Italian paramour that stole her husband from her is always sweetly & scarily referenced in her poetry & it is kind of unnerving. However, “sweet reader, flanneled and tulled” is an absolutely incredible poem to an ex-lover that encompasses all of the vindictive smugness that comes from the time after being wronged by someone you used to love. I have been thinking about this recently–as someone who writes primarily memoir-esque nonfiction, the research that needs to be done is the research of your own past. It’s incredibly dangerous stuff, especially when dealing with the poetic or the lyric, as the goal is to draw out emotion from your audience. In this poem, you can see that process: of reminiscing, of trying to draw out things that have been dormant. The wound here isn’t fresh, & so it is an excavation of sorts–we are along for the dig. At its conclusion, in true essay fashion, Davis admits ‘I had been secretly hoping this would turn into a love poem.’–letting us know that the process of the piece was intended to bring something else as a conclusion. This is the beautiful & dangerous thing about love, & a beautiful & exciting thing about writing: where we start is not often where we finish.

Show Some Love for Love: Ben Hoffman

We asked our writers to show some love for their favorite love (or anti-love) stories, poems or essays for the month of February. Below, check out Ben Hoffman’s recommendation, and check back here Friday for big news regarding Ben Hoffman’s forthcoming chapbook, Together, Apart.

Origami Zoo PressMarie Helene-Bertino’s story “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph” is both a breakup story that is not really about a breakup and a story about faith told by a narrator who does not have much of it. And it’s amazing. The story, which appeared in American Short Fiction‘s Spring 2010 issue and serves as the final story in Helene-Bertino’s debut collection Safe As Houses, starts like this:

I am quitting a boy like people quit smoking. I am not quitting smoking. The pamphlet insists: Each time you crave a cigarette, eat an apple or start a hobby! Each time I think about Clive, I smoke a cigarette.

The obvious next step for this cynical narrator is to move into a nunnery. At one point, she calls God. (God hangs up.) And yet, somehow, she gets to a lovely ending in which, at least for one day, everyone is lucky, carrying this cynical reader right along with her. “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph” is about what happens when romantic love runs out, and how that resulting sadness, that ruined faith, can sometimes morph into a different sort of love altogether.

Show Some Love for Love: Anne Valente

We asked our writers to show some love for their favorite love (or anti-love) stories, poems or essays for the month of February. Below, check out Anne Valente’s recommendation.

“The Wormhole, A Romance” by Margaret Patton Chapman (Diagram 10.3)Anne Valente

One of my favorite love stories is Margaret Patton Chapman’s “The Wormhole, A Romance,” published in Diagram in 2010. This story brought me to tears the first time I read it, and the effect is much the same now every time I read it (I’ve bookmarked it on my desktop). This story sneaks up on you. Through much of it, the narrator seems to largely be recounting the disorientation of having passed through a wormhole into a world that closely resembles her former world but isn’t quite – a similar apartment, similar cat, similar streets and friends and family. But it becomes clearer as the story progresses that the narrator has lost someone she loves and is coming to terms with a world that no longer contains that person.

Details become fractals, all slightly off, and all obsessed upon and reiterated – the cat, the leaves, maps, the streets. Routes are possible and impossible through time and through space. The narrator offhandedly addresses a you while logically trying to piece together this wormhole world, a mirage that breaks in the end when the narrator simply admits, “I know you moved through but just not to here.”  This is a love story in the worst way, a romance of time and space, and a meditation on loss.

Show Some Love for Love: BJ Hollars

We asked our writers to show some love for their favorite love (or anti-love) stories, poems or essays for the month of February. Below, check out BJ Hollars’s recommendation.

BJ Hollars

BJ Hollars

LOVE IS AN ARMADILLO

Unconventional, perhaps, though my favorite love story has always been Brady Udall’s “Otis is Resurrected.”  It’s the story of two brothers—one a caregiver for the other—who learn to love each other despite the elephant in the room (which happens to take the form of an armadillo).

Yes, that kind of armadillo—the armored little creature which Udall’s narrator describes as a “tiny gray tank,” a “dimwitted rat,” and a “night-devil,” amid a variety of other less-than-complimentary phrases.  Yet this armadillo serves as a gift and a curse shared between brothers, a creature that brings them together and tears them apart, all while hissing and pissing and seeming to relish his protected status.

I could go on, though only at the risk of shouting “Spoiler Alert!” from the rooftops.  Rather, I encourage you to read it for yourself, or listen to it here (Act III of This American Life), and prepare to fall head over heels in love.

Writer Crush #30: Lucas Southworth

UnknownWe’ve long read and admired Lucas Southworth’s work just about everywhere—elimae and Wigleaf and West Branch, but he really caught our eye a couple weeks ago with the haunting “A Murder in Four Shorts” up at Tri-Quarterly. The sheer graphicness of the violence here is tough to read, and genuinely scary, but it is powerful and ultimately moving.

Many of Southworth’s stories are like this, though sometimes the violence isn’t so prominent—sometimes it’s merely a hum teeming beneath the surface of the story, a sense of dread radiating outwards. I’m only halfway through with his debut collection, Everyone Here Has a Gun, but even so, it’s easy to see why Dan Choan, who selected the book as winner of the Grace Paley Prize, said, “Everyone Here Has a Gun took me on a roller coaster ride that I’d never been on before.” (And yes, whether it’s a makeup artist who accidentally shoots the man she’s made to look like Abraham Lincoln or a room full of people milling about, muttering to themselves, everyone here does have a gun.) Sourthworth’s fiction seems to have absorbed all the tropes we find in pop culture, particularly in film, particularly in horror movies, chewed them up and spit them back out in new, compelling forms—it takes all our anxieties about living in the contemporary world and makes them into ghost stories and fairy tales.

I was very happy that the prose editors over at Hayden’s Ferry Review (the other publishing venture I’m involved in) selected Southworth’s story “There Isn’t Any Ghost” for our most recent issue (also found in EHHAG). It’s one of the aforementioned ghost stories, following a mother and her son as they move to a new house (where else?) in the middle of the woods. The key here is the only thing haunting them is each other. It’s a quietly thrilling and creepy read. While much of Southworth’s work shows how well it can manage innovative concepts and forms, the power of his prose is often subtle and understated (which is what we all want: to perform the trick of great, meticulously-wrought writing but make it seem effortless, natural). This story is a testament to how skilled Southworth is with prose at the sentence level—for just a sneak peek, you can even read him discuss all the alternate versions of the story’s last sentence over at the HFR blog. Then, do yourself a favor (or maybe the more appropriate phrase would be “terrify yourself for weeks”) and pick up Everyone Here Has a Gun.

Writer Re-Crush #1: Laura van den Berg

The Isle of YouthWe’ve never done this before, but we loved Laura van den Berg’s latest book The Isle of Youth so much, we couldn’t help ourselves. We are crushing on her all over again!

From her debut What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us to her chapbook There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights, we knew to expect gorgeous prose. We were swept away. The women in her collection are trying so hard to stay afloat, to understand how they got here and where exactly they are headed. In a matter of words, we were lost with them, engulfed by past tragedies and increasingly desperate hopes. When the stories ended, we left these women and their lives, still breathless. We took our time making my way through the collection, savoring each one, sentence by sentence. We let them pull us in and pull us under, and when we emerged a handful of pages later, Laura’s stories lingered with us for days. Even now, flipping through the book, it’s easy to slip back in.

But we aren’t the only ones who have been so taken with The Isle of Youth. Just yesterday, The Story Prize listed it on their list of Outstanding 2013 Short Story Collections. But this is just the most recent recognition the collection has won. NPR, Flavorwire, New Republic, The L Magazine, and The Boston Globe (among others!) listed it on their various “Best of 2013″ lists! NYLON chose it as their January pick for their book club, and Laura gave a fascinating interview about the movies that influenced the collection. She reads from her story “Lessons” on Monkeybicycle‘s podcast series.

All of this is to say: Congratulations, Laura, on another fantastic collection!! We are so happy to see so many people digging your work, and we can’t wait to see what you come out with next! In the meantime, we’ll just keep crushing…

Writer Crush #29: James Brubaker

A quick scroll through James Brubaker’s publications list will make it difficult not to be a fan, even before you’ve read any of the stories. With titles like “Flavor Flav Travels Through Time and Reads About Himself on Wikipedia” and “This Box Contains a Quantity of Hydrocyanic Acid that May or May Not Have Already Been Released by the Decay of a Small Amount of a Radioactive Substance. Also, there is a Cat in the Box. (A Choose Your Own Adventure Story)” and “Brian Wilson and the Universe,” it’s no wonder that we love his work.

He’s a time-travel, television and music nut, all of which I count myself as too, and he treats these pop culture topics with a literary tenderness. Brubaker is my favorite type of writer in that he is deadly serious about play. About fun. About writing stories that are compelling narratives with great heart but, you know, also have Flavor Flav traveling through time.

The first story I read by him appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review #51, called “A Speech on the Occasion of the Discovery of the Last Melody Known to Man (Dedicated to Philip Adler, PhD).” It’s a story that plays with form as well as a great mystery tale, and one that effortlessly and beautifully writes about music—one of the hardest things to accomplish in fiction, I think.

Just yesterday I sat down and, in one furtive page-flipping session, read his chapbook forthcoming from Sunnyoutside, called Pilot Season, which is simply a collection of fictional pilot episode synopses. Like the rest of Brubaker’s work, it’s hilarious and clever, but there’s also a real commitment to looking at how television reflects and reveals what it’s like to be human. These little pieces are essentially about the human condition—if the human condition were a reality show that ends with the losers spending the rest of their lives in crippling debt. And let’s face it, it kind of is.

Be on the lookout for James Brubaker’s first story collection, Liner Notes, which was selected by Stephen Graham Jones as winner of the Subito Press book prize in fiction and will be out this year. He also is associate editor of the Collapsar, which is one of my favorite very new journals—they’re publishing killer stuff.