An Interview with Lena Bertone, author of BEHIND THIS MIRROR

As runner-up of our chapbook contest (judged by Matt Bell!), Lena Bertone got a special tour of the Origami Zoo. We took her to the marsupial enclosure. Origami kangaroos opened their pouch folds to reveal baby origami kangaroos. Origami sugar gliders soared paper-thin on the wind. An origami koala bear spent an inordinate amount of time looking at its two-dimensional reflection in a pond. As we sat among these pouched and paper mammals, Lena Bertone answered questions about her forthcoming chapbook, her current reading list, and what she keeps behind her own mirrors.

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

Lena Bertone: I’d want to be a cat that when you turned it around, it looked liked a chicken.

OZP: Congrats on being runner-up in our chapbook contest! Aside from this, what’s the coolest contest/raffle prize you’ve ever won?

LB: Definitely the best thing I’ve ever won was The Lit Pub’s prose contest, and Molly Gaudry is publishing Letters to the Devil as a result. It will be out super soon!!

OZP: Many of the stories in Behind This Mirror are obviously fairy tale influenced. What’s your relationship with fairy tales and how do they interact with your work? What other writing/writers do you feel influenced these stories?

LB: I have no idea how to answer this question. Looking at my stories, they are obviously fairy tale-influenced, but mostly I do not set out to write fairy tale-influenced stories. I think that often, when I wrote these stories, I was thinking about beauty and ugliness, deception and irony, love and darkness, all of which, of course, are fairy tale topics, but they’re also the topics of everything. I remember my dad telling me the story of Pinocchio over and over when I was a kid, and how it changed a little every time, and how dark and complex it was. I remember my mom telling me the story of Cinderella and very naturally adding the gory, bloody details of the version she knew from her childhood. These were stories of intrigue and magic and horror, not mere fairy tales.

Maybe another part of it was growing up in a two-language household. There’s this great ferocity to Italian/Sicilian; it’s so phonetic and perfectly structured, but idiomatically, it’s crazy violent and hilarious. My sister and I like to remember the things our relatives used to say to us as kids—which we never thought twice about then, the violence was so normalized. Sample: Vi pighiu a bastunati = I’m going to beat you both with clubs (which beating never actually occurred).

As an adult, I’ve read lots of versions of fairy tales and also read and loved authors who combine real and magical worlds; I also love the kind of poetic-puzzly prose that can be squeezed into short spaces, a la Lydia Davis.

Behind This MirrorOZP: What are you working on right now? Any exciting projects in the works? Any sneak peeks you can give us?

LB: I have a few things I’m working on. My Ettore Majorana stories that have been in Wigleaf, Hobart, and Nightblock are a continuing series that may turn into something bigger.

OZP: What are you reading right now? Anything you’d recommend?

LB: I’m reading the new Grimm’s fairy tale book with the earliest renditions of the tales that the Grimm brothers wrote down. They’re gruesome and wonderful. I just got fellow ASU alum Todd Kaneko’s book The Dead Wrestler Elegies in the mail last week, and have been reading Bill Konigsberg’s first novel, Out of the Pocket. He’s also an ASU alum. It’s exciting when your friends have books! I’m lucky that I have a lot of friends with books these days.

OZP: Most of the stories in this chapbook are very short. Tell us a bit about that. How do you see a large number of very short stories interacting within a collection vs. fewer, longer short stories? What was sequencing this collection like? I have trouble putting ten stories in an order, so the task seems daunting. What do you like about the short-short form?

LB: I have a kick-ass writing partner, and we have been exchanging writing almost daily for a few years. We generate little bits of things, and sometimes they become stories, and sometimes they don’t. This process is a big part of why I’ve written many short pieces in the last several years; but honestly, I don’t think I’m very good at constructing the traditionally structured, “longer” short story, and even the longer stories in this collection are segmented and not-plotty.

One theme that runs through many of my stories is the idea that there’s often some confusion between the sleeping and waking states. I was thinking about that when I put the stories in the order they’re in now. This collection may represent one long sleep cycle.

BehindThisMirror_FPOZP: Is the Magician who appears in a couple of stories in this chapbook ever going to make a return appearance? What will his final trick be? Do you see any of the other stories as being interconnected/concerning the same characters?

LB: That magician is kind of a jerk. He’s also the most obvious performer of any of these characters, and I think the magician stories are a little Brechtian in their starkness and darkness. The magician might come back. He will definitely have a twirly mustache if he does.

There’s a smart-mouthed woman in one of the magician stories, and I see her as a sister to many of the other women in the collection—many of my women are a little rude, a little ugly, a little horrified, and a little horrifying.

OZP: If we were to break into your house while you weren’t home and look behind all your mirrors, what would we find?

LB: Dust? The inside-out of a potato-chip bag?

***
BEHIND THIS MIRROR by Lena Bertone is available for pre-order now! Make sure to check out all our great holiday deals, too: buy one, get one free, or five books for $20!

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.

***

Together, Apart by Ben Hoffman is available here.

Chapbook Contest Winners & Finalists

We are so pleased to reveal the winner and finalists for the first-ever Origami Zoo Press chapbook contest. Our winner was chosen by Matt Bell. Winner receives $250, publication and twenty-five contributor copies. Honorable mention receives publication and twenty-five contributor copies. Look for these titles late 2013/early 2014!

WINNER
Ben Hoffman
Together, Apart: Stories

Matt Bell said: “A fine combination of smart, funny, and moving, and of long and short work—I thought it had a lot of variety while still feeling cohesive as a chapbook. And it’s the one that I found myself continuously coming back to.”

HONORABLE MENTION
Lena Bertone
Behind This Mirror

So happy to welcome Ben and Lena into the Origami Zoo Press family!

FINALISTS
Will Kaufman—No Window
Raki Kopernik—Hat Head
Tim Raymond—The Great Rest Stop Massacre
Vincent Scarpa—Pain Management
Pablo Pinero Stillmann—Death of the Father: Two Stories
Jan Stinchcomb—Flesh/Fluid
Cam Terwilliger—Your Vision Awaits You

A big thank you to our winners, our finalists and everyone who entered! We had a great time reading all these manuscripts, and it was so hard to narrow the selection down—there were so many amazing, powerful stories we loved that we are not able to highlight here. We appreciate your words and your support of Origami Zoo Press.

And another big thank you to the man, the myth, Matt Bell for judging this contest! Be on the lookout for his novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, forthcoming this summer from Soho Press.

Chad Simpson Pitches His New Chapbook

Et tu, Chad? Now even Chad Simpson, author of the very first Origami Zoo Press book, Phantoms, is trying to enter our chapbook contest, even though it is not allowed. We know you love us, past Origami Zoo authors, and we love you, but we just cannot let you commandeer the contest.

(To those of you who aren’t former Origami Zoo authors, remember: today is the last day to enter our first ever chapbook contest, judged by the man, the myth, the great writer Matt Bell!)

December 30, 2012

Dear Sam,

I know you sent us that email saying OZP authors couldn’t enter this year’s chapbook contest. And I know you’ve already pretty much turned down Laura and BJ and Brian when they queried you. But I have this idea I think you should know about. Basically, I want to write a book of stories told from the point of view of origami animals, and OZP would obviously be the perfect place to publish it.

I’ve been working on the first story, and it’s about this origami giraffe. He’s a widower, and his two origami giraffe sons, aged 9 and 7, have cystic fibrosis. It’s the day before Halloween, and this giraffe dad, he’s looking across the street and sees his neighbor has carved these miraculous pumpkins. One of them, it looks like Jack Nicholson from The Shining. It’s perfect. The giraffe dad, he hadn’t realized it was almost Halloween. I mean, his kids, they have cystic fibrosis. Every day is this struggle. They’d brought up Halloween costumes in the recent past, but he’d looked right past it. Most nights, he wakes up around three a.m. to the sound of one of his sons coughing. He walks down to his sons’ room, and then pounds his origami giraffe hooves on his coughing son’s back, trying to break up the mucus in the boy’s lungs. It kills this giraffe dad to exert so much force on his son, but he does it anyway, diligently, five or six nights a week.

And then there’s this Jack Nicholson staring at him in the form of this Jack-o’-lantern. His mouth open in a mean smile. Pure crazy eyes looking back over where his shoulder would be, if he weren’t just a head and actually had shoulders. Our origami giraffe dad is looking at the Jack-o’-lantern and thinking hard about smashing it in the street, revealing what’s left of its pumpkin guts, letting them rot. It occurs to him that maybe his neighbors are being insensitive, displaying their pumpkin-carving skills like this, and he could knock on their door and strangle his neighbors with his giraffe hooves right there on their front porch.

Then, he hears one of his giraffe boys. They’re in bed. It’s nighttime, and dark, and they’d been sleeping before he stepped out onto his front porch, but now one of his giraffe boys is coughing. It’s loud. It sounds like it hurts. He turns on his giraffe heels and heads inside, calling out to his sons, asking if they’re all right. He begins ascending the stairs, which had been refinished just weeks before his origami giraffe wife passed away in her sleep. He is halfway up the stairs and the coughing is getting louder. It’s a thing he can feel in his giraffe bones. He cranes his giraffe neck back down the stairs, and through the glass in the front door, he can still see his neighbor’s pumpkin. It’s like some small world that has been carved by gods and then set on fire. It looks like a thing that might burn forever.

December 31, 2012

Dear Sam,

OK, so you don’t seem to have liked that idea I had about the origami giraffe dad and his origami sons who are suffering from cystic fibrosis. I’ll admit it: That’s actually the only story I’ve thought through so far, but I’ll come up with more, I swear, if you let me submit to this contest.

I’m thinking right now about an origami elephant sitting in the back seat of a car. His best friend’s mom has decided to take him and her son to Florida for spring break, even though she’s poor and can’t afford such a trip.

Our origami elephant, as soon as the car is pulling out of his friend’s apartment complex in Indiana, he knows they’re never going to make it to St. Petersburg.

I’m thinking about a stop they might make somewhere in South Carolina. They stop because the elephant mom needs a break from driving, because she needs sleep—she’s tired, and a little strung out, her elephant ears, they’re drooping—and then the origami elephant boy and his friend are walking along the beach and they see these seagulls floating on the ocean not far from shore. The elephant likes how peaceful the seagulls look lulling in saltwater, in the give and take of the waves, and his friend starts tossing rocks at the gulls, trying to scare them. The elephant doesn’t like this at all. He holds his breath each time a rock gets tossed in the air, hoping the gulls will remain safe, hoping his paper trunk doesn’t trumpet in fear, and for a while, the rocks thunk in the water and sink to the ocean floor, like nothing.

A little while later, though, while the elephant is thinking about the rest of the trip, the trek from South Carolina to Florida, the trip he’s pretty certain they aren’t going to end up making—because his elephant friend’s mom is going to meet someone, or because she is going to realize she doesn’t have enough money to keep going—his elephant friend is going to toss one of those stones into the air, and it’s going to land smack-dab on one of the seagulls. The seagull will buckle and then sink, and the whole thing will seem to happen in slow motion, and our elephant will stand there with his feet in the sand, looking from the stars emerging in the sky to the water, waiting for that seagull to re-appear, to come choking back to the water’s surface.

So now you what two of the stories in the chapbook might look like. Holla at me? I really can’t imagine publishing these stories with anyone but OZP.

Yours,
Chad

P.S. I just realized it’s December 31. Happy New Year!

Laura van den Berg Pitches Her New Chapbook

Remember how BJ Hollars kept trying to enter the Origami Zoo Press Chapbook Contest, even though previous OZP authors are ineligible? Well, Laura van den Berg (author of OZP short-short chapbook There Will Be No More Long Titles Without Long Titles) seems to have gotten in her head that she should be able to entry. Check out her pitch below.

December 16, 2012
Dear Sam—

Hey, what’s up? What are your holiday plans? I plan on getting super drunk and waking up underneath a Christmas tree.

Totally kidding!

I know we’ve already talked about the OZP chapbook contest and how it wouldn’t be cool for past OZP authors to submit, BUT here’s the thing: I have the most amazing idea for a chapbook….are you ready for it? A series of short-shorts, all written from the point-of-view of the LOCH NESS MONSTER. The working title is O, Loch. As you might already know, monsters are kind of my thing, so this is genius, right? Right?

Talk soon!

Laura

December 18, 2012
Hey, Sam—

So that no is still a no, huh? Listen, no worries. I’m a professional. I understand. I just wanted to give OZP a “first look” at Oh, Loch, you know? But if them’s the rules, then them’s the rules.

I’m on my third—ha! I mean, fifth—glass of spiked eggnog. Wish you were here!

Laura

December 20, 2012
Sam—

Please forgive me, but I just can’t stop thinking about this OZP chapbook contest. I have been working away on Oh, Loch and, just between us, I think it is the best thing I’ve EVER done.

An excerpt: “The golden mist rises curtain-like. The creature surveys the surface. A shadow on the water, or a delicious fish?”

“Surveys the surface”—nice alliteration (or whatever you call it), eh? This chapbook is all about RHYTHM and SOUND.

Sam, if this doesn’t convince you, what will? What will?

Please say yes!

Laura

BJ Hollars Pitches His New Chapbook

So, despite the fact that we made it clear that prior Origami Zoo Press authors are not eligible to enter the Origami Zoo Press Chapbook Contest, we keep receiving emails from our authors, trying to convince us to let them enter. BJ Hollars has been particularly persistent, sending the following string of emails, gchat messages and texts.

Email 1:
Hi, Sam. B.J. here. Listen, I know Origami Zoo Press is doing that chapbook contest (super cool!), and I know I probably shouldn’t enter given that you guys just published my “In Defense of Monsters” chapbook and all, but I just wanted to throw an idea your way.

So, you know how “In Defense of Monsters” like, defends the existences of monsters? Well what if I wrote a chapbook in the voice of the monsters trying to defend my own existence. We could call it “In Defense of Hollars” and we could have these crazy essays from Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster, etc.

You’re probably asking yourself “But BJ, why would monsters need to defend you?” Here’s the answer: out of straight-up pity. Because here’s the thing: when you Google “Sasquach” you get a gazillion hits, but when you Google “B.J. Hollars” you only get four (five if you count my high school tennis stats). Anyway, these monster-voiced essays could be sort of like, “Thanks for the defense and all, Hollars, but I’m not the one at risk of disappearing…”

Anyway, just a thought. (Though admittedly, sort of a sad thought…)

Yours,
BJ

Email 2:
Hey Sam, haven’t heard back from you yet on “In Defense of Hollars.” Pretty great idea, right? Right?

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Sincerely yours,
BJ

Text:
Sam–let me know on InDefHollars ASAP.

Googlechat:
bjhollars: Hey Sam! You get my text?
bjhollars: I know you’re there–the little green circle is by your name…
bjhollars: Okay, that little green circle went away. You there?
bjhollars: Maybe I’ll try texting you again. Talk soon!

Text 2:
Sam. Whatz up? You down w/my idea or what?

Email 3:
Hey Sam, I think your email may be down or something. Haven’t heard back from you in awhile. And I don’t think you’re receiving texts, either. And finally, Googlechat is a little funky on your end. I chatted you and saw the green circle and everything, but no response.

Technology’s the worst, am I right?

Love,
BJ

Email 4:
Not sure if you’ll receive this or not, but let’s nix the idea. I think I’ve played this monster thing out. Just got an email from Sasquatch4Real@aol.com who wrote: “Me trying to keep low profile. You make this hard! I never defend your existence. Also, quit bothering Sam with dumb ideas. Shameless, Hollars. You embarrass humans with antics.”

Crazy, right? Wonder how he knew your name…

-BJ