Monday, February 26, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Chin-Sun Lee

 


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!


Joining us today is Chin-Sun Lee. She is the author of the debut novel Upcountry (Unnamed Press 2023), and a contributor to the New York Times bestselling anthology Women in Clothes (Blue Rider Press/Penguin 2014). Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Georgia Review, The Rumpus, Joyland, and The Believer Logger, among other publications. She lives in New Orleans. More at www.chinsunlee.com





Why do you write?

I write to process questions I have about the world and myself. It’s the way I examine moral and social dilemmas or indulge in my curiosities by imagining how my characters might respond in any given circumstance. In a way, it’s an extension of how much I loved playing with dolls as a kid (apologies: as I write this Barbie has taken over the universe). I didn’t just dress up my dolls—or undress them, cut off their hair, paint on new faces—I put them in situations. It’s imagination and problem-solving, self-entertainment and exorcism.

 

What’s the most useless skill you possess?

I can pick up—and drink from!—a glass of wine with my toes.

 

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Teleportation: I would love to be able to instantly transport objects, people, and myself somewhere just by wishing it so!

 

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

I am so close to finishing my second novel now, and when it’s done, the first thing I’m going to do is clean my house from top to bottom, then have a celebratory dinner out with friends. After that, for at least a week, I want to do nothing but just read whatever I want.

 

Would you and your main character(s) get along?

Hmm. Of my three main protagonists, I would get along best with April, for her no-nonsense manner and caustic sense of humor. Claire was initially based on someone I actually disliked, so even though I grew to love her as a character, in real life I’d probably still find her too prickly. As for Anna, the young naïve Korean cult member, I’d want to either shake her or hug her. Maybe both.

 

If you could cast your characters in a movie, which actors would play them and why?

Such a fun question! Carrie Coon is absolutely my first choice for Claire—she’s wonderfully flinty and neurotic, but has a humanity and intelligence that could soften the character. I could see either Reese Witherspoon or Elizabeth Banks play April; both are sassy blond beauties capable of looking and acting weathered. For Anna, I love Han Ye-ri, who played the young wife in Minari; she has a quiet intensity and stillness.

 

What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

Henry James, W. Somerset Maugham, Paul Bowles, Flannery O’Connor, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, Vladimir Nabokov, Haruki Murakami, Lucia Berlin, Mary Gaitskill, Javier Marías, Roberto Bolaño, Denis Johnson, Laurie Stone, Chris Kraus, Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Kushner, Sigrid Nunez, Rachel Cusk. . .the list goes on and on.

 

What’s the one book someone else wrote that you wish you had written?

Only one?!—impossible. This would change depending on the moment, but in this moment, I’ll say that Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is a freaking masterpiece. It’s a beautiful mess at times, but that whole WWII section is feverish brilliance. . .he must have been touched by the gods while writing it.

 

Do you think you’d live long in a zombie apocalypse?

NO. I wouldn’t want to. I’m so easily terrified, I’d probably take myself out before encountering one of those ghouls.

 

Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler?

Definitely a hoarder.


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Monday, February 19, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Edward Belfar

 



I had retired the literary Would You Rather interview series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!


Joining us today is Edward Belfar. His collection of short stories, Wanderers, was published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2012. One of the stories in the collection was chosen as the winning entry in the Sports Literature Association 2008 fiction competition, while another was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  His fiction and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Shenandoah, The Baltimore Review, Potpourri, Confrontation, Natural Bridge, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Tampa Review.  As a reader for The Plentitudes, he reviews both fiction and nonfiction submissions.  He earned his BA in history and MA in creative writing at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and his PhD in literature at Temple University.  He lives with his wife in Maryland, where he works as a writer and editor., and  can be reached through his website at www.edwardbelfar.com.





Why do you write?

One reason for writing fiction is the joy that it brings me, at least when it’s going well.  In contrast to a lot of my other work, my recently published novel A Very Innocent Man is predominantly comedic in tone.  Readers have said to me that they could tell that I had a lot of fun writing it, as, indeed, I did.  To create something new that gives others pleasure is a source of great satisfaction.  At the same time, though, writing is just as much an act of discovery as of creation.  I find that building a parallel world that functions in a more comprehensible manner than the one in which we live sometimes helps me to gain a better understanding of the motivations that underlie my own actions and those of the people around me.     


What do you do when you’re not writing?

I enjoy cycling and have completed the Seagull Century, a 100-mile bike ride on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, every year since 2018, except for 2020, when it was cancelled due to COVID.  Some of my other interests include reading, playing the guitar (poorly), going to concerts and plays, and traveling.   


What’s your kryptonite as a writer?

The same computer on which I write is also connected to the web.  Having to research something for a piece I’m working on can prove hazardous because I am prone to falling down internet rabbit holes.  


What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

I have too many to list, and my favorites tend to change depending on what I am reading at any given time.  I do have some constants, though.  My list would skew heavily toward nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russians: Tolstoy, Checkov, Gogol, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Vasily Grossman, among others.  I have read Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Heart of a Dog a couple of times each, and even the second time around, both books had me laughing out loud all the way through.  I do have a strong predilection for dark comedy, so it is not surprising that some  of my other favorite writers include Walker Percy, whose fiction provided the subject for my dissertation, Flannery O’Connor, Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh, and Jaroslav Hasek.   


Describe your book in three words.

Kathy Fish, one of the writers who provided blurbs for A Very Innocent Man described it as a “twisted redemption story.” The novel covers a year or so in the life of a New York City physician named Robert Rosen, who loses everything following his arrest for selling opioid prescriptions and then attempts to reinvent himself as a life coach and motivational speaker.  His path toward redemption, though, is anything but straightforward.     


Would you and your main character(s) get along?

I probably would not get along very well with the main character of A Very Innocent Man, who is a rather unpleasant sort.  On the other hand, observing—from a safe distance—the scrapes he gets into would provide me with much entertainment.  Writing about them certainly did.  

 

If you met your characters in real life, what would you say to them?

It depends which ones.  Some of the characters in A Very Innocent Man, such as the Russian mobsters, I would prefer to avoid altogether.


If you were stuck on a deserted island, what’s the one book you wish you had with you?

That one book would have to be a doorstopper and worth reading again and again.  I’m going to say Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate.  It is a great sprawling novel of Soviet military and civilian life during World War II, by turns tragic and funny, grand in scope but acute in its portrayals of individual characters.  It is a twentieth-century War and Peace, and it makes most other novels seem small by comparison.    


What is under your bed?

I don’t want to know.


Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler?

I am definitely a book hoarder.  My home is groaning beneath stacks of books for which I have no room on my bookshelves.

 


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Life's going great for Dr. Robert Rosen. He has a New York City medical practice, his dreams of TV fame as "Dr. Sober-Up" are coming true, and he's making big bucks selling oxycodone prescriptions for cash. What could go wrong? Sure, his personal life is a bit rocky-his brother, mother, and son all seeing him as a swindler and a low life-but you can't have everything. Besides, he has a wonderful young assistant/girlfriend in Tamika Jones and a skilled if out of control mentor in Dr. Barry "Bulldog" Bullard, so really, who needs them?


Unfortunately, his opioid side business includes selling prescriptions to a bogus pain clinic run by Russian mobsters, mobsters who don't have a lot of respect for Dr. Rosen's position nor his fees, nor, for that matter, his apartment and personal possessions.


Inevitably, his house of cards collapses when one of his patients rats him out to the FBI and he is arrested. Out on bail, he can't work, he is hemorrhaging money, and the prospect of spending a long stint in prison looms. He's got to do something, but the more he tries to get ahead of his troubles the worse they get.


Finally he hits on a plan: reinvent himself as a life coach and motivational speaker. Once again, his fortunes appear to be on the rise. However, he finds, to his dismay, that he cannot escape his criminal past; the Russians have not finished with him yet.

In the spirit of John Kennedy Toole and Chuck Palahniuk, a Very Innocent Man is a darkly comic novel that, as with all good satire, may not be so absurd after all.


 https://bookshop.org/p/books/a-very-innocent-man-edward-belfar/19991556?ean=9798986245966


Monday, February 12, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: David Harrison Horton


In 2023, I decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!


David Harrison Horton is a Beijing-based writer, artist, editor and curator. He is author of Maze Poems (Arteidolia) and the chapbooks Pete Hoffman Days (Pinball) and BeiHai (Nanjing Poetry). He edits the poetry zine SAGINAW. davidharrisonhorton.com





What made you start writing?

When I was a kid in elementary school, I thought it was fun to play around with words. I think that sense of play and fun are at the root of why I pursued writing more seriously later on.


What do you do when you’re not writing?

I have periods when I’m writing interspersed by periods of reading. I like to keep these activities separate if I can. When not engaged in a writing project, I also like to make lists of things that might be interesting to write about. Half my notebook is ideas that I might want to pursue further. The other half is quotes from what I’m reading. It’s fun to read through these notebooks when I start to feel that it’s time to write again. I wish I had the daily discipline and writing practice of folks like Stephen Ratcliffe who write every day, rain or shine. But I don’t. 


What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

I bought a manual Smith-Corona typewriter off of Craigslist in Oakland in 2005 for $25. I also consider good pens a worthwhile expense.


What are you currently reading?

I’m re-reading Beckett’s Molloy and just started Jennifer Nelson’s Harm Eden (Ugly Duckling, 2021) this morning.


What’s the single best line you’ve ever read?

“and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1.9). There are a lot of lines from more modern and contemporary sources that I really like a lot, but that one is a humdinger of a line. 


What’s on your literary bucket list?

I’d like to read at St. Mark’s and the 92nd Street Y in New York.


Do you read the reviews of your books or do you stay far far away from them, and why?

I have only had a few reviews so far of my first collection Maze Poems. I read them with great appreciation. It’s very interesting to see how others process the work and the connections that get drawn to other works or schools as part of that processing. I think reviewing is important work. Reviews, social media posts, comments on Good Reads and Amazon, etc . . . these are all very important to the life of small press books. I wish more poets would review books more.


What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

I wish I had had more contact with other poetic traditions from around the world earlier. While I’ve barely scratched the surface on this, I’ve found reading classic and modern texts from outside the West very fruitful. I’m not sure how much this has impacted how I write, but it has definitely expanded my understanding of different approaches that can be taken.


What are your bookish pet peeves?

Peeve might be too strong a word, but with poetry, I am very interested in the mechanics of the poems, how the poems work as poems, and how they work together in conversation as a collection. When I read a book that seems more like diary entries, for example, I sometimes wish the writer had put a little more time into tightening the language to ratchet up the tension and cohesion of the pieces presented. But I accept that different writers have different priorities, so maybe peeve is too strong a word for this. 


Are you a book hoarder or a book unhauler?

I seem to amass a lot of books, but I try to give away as many books as I can to people who I think would enjoy them. I’d rather give these books to friends than sell them to a secondhand bookstore. There are only a couple of books that have made several moves with me. 


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Maze Poems by David Harrison Horton blend Montaigne-esque essay with the surrealist practice of automatic writing. The thought and language of each fit within a visual maze format, literally the shape of that thought. Or rather, each thought fits the shape of its maze.

“David Harrison Horton has successfully slowed down the reading experience and made it deliberate, the charms of the poems reveal themselves when you take the time to unlock them, but these phrases and images lock themselves away again even before you have finished reading the poem. This makes for a challenging reading experience, but a challenge necessitated by a bold and inventive new format.”

 – Eyad Darras from Canonical Podcast


Buy a copy here: 

https://www.arteidolia.com/arteidolia-press-maze-poems-by-david-harrison-horton/


Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Eat Like An Author: KIMBERLY GARRETT BROWN

When most people get bored, they eat. When I get bored, I brainstorm new series and features for the blog, and THEN eat. A few years ago, as I was brainstorming and contemplating what I wanted to eat, I thought how cool it would be to have a mini-foodie series where authors share the things they like to eat. Photos and recipes and all. And so I asked them, and amazingly they responded, and I dubbed it EAT LIKE AN AUTHOR. 





Today, Kimberly Garrett Brown joins us to celebrate her debut novel CORA'S KITCHEN  for Black History Month and shares her favorite go-to recipe. 


NOODLES AND CHEESE




Spaghetti and parmesan cheese has been my go-to dish since I started cooking for myself. 

 

I love the simplicity of tossing a package of spaghetti in boiling water, draining it, and mixing in some butter and grated cheese.

 

My love for this dish comes from the fact that macaroni and cheese is my absolute favorite food. When I was growing up, my grandmother made macaroni and cheese as a side dish for fried chicken and mustard greens with turnips. This wasn't anything like macaroni and cheese from a box. It had chunks of butter and grated cheddar cheese, baked to a crispy brown with the occasional burnt edges. That plate of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and greens felt like love on a plate to me. I crave it whenever I need comfort for my soul. 

 

Unfortunately, it requires a lot of prep time, so noodles and cheese have become a quick and easy replacement. 

 

Over the years, as I have become more of a foodie, I have experimented a bit with this dish. Watching all those cooking shows has turned me into a want-to-be chef. Anyway, I got the idea to sauté rainbow Swiss chard and bacon one day, mix in spaghetti, and toss it with parmesan cheese. The Swiss chard provided the bitterness of the mustards and turnips, and the bacon added a saltiness of the salt pork or smoked meat my grandmother used in the greens. It turned out pretty well.

 

I never considered this dish anything other than my macaroni and cheese substitute until a recent trip to Italy. I discovered it is very similar to an Italian dish called Cacio e Pepe — which translates to cheese and pepper. It's made by heating a little olive oil in a skillet, tossing in the pasta, and topping with cheese and pepper. The cheese is melted by the heat from the pan and the olive oil. It made me feel like a real chef to have instinctively done something similar when making my noodles with cheese, bacon, and Swiss chard.

 

As a writer, I instinctively know what makes for good writing, but I don't always trust myself the same way I do when I cook. I worry too much about what people think, which I don't care much about when cooking. I cook what nourishes my soul. This year, I'm challenging myself to write more like I cook. 

 

My elevated noodles and cheese has become quite popular with my family. My daughter has even made it for a dinner party she threw for friends. When she called for the recipe, I was a little taken aback. I'm not big on recipes, but here's what I told her:

 


Kim's Elevated Noodles and Cheese

 

I bunch of Swiss Chard.

I Package of Spaghetti

2-3 slices of bacon chopped up

Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (I probably use upward towards a 1/2 cup)

 

Cook spaghetti according to the directions on the box.

 


Rinse the Swiss Chard to get off all the dirt. Dry in a paper towel. Roll the leaves up together and cut off the stems. Chop the roll into slices and then cut each slice in half. It will give you stripes of Swiss chard. Chop up the strips of bacon before you cook them into little chunks. 

 


Cook the bacon over medium-high heat in a middle-to-large skillet until it is just about crispy. Drain off half the bacon fat. Toss in your Swiss chard and sauté until leaves are tender. Remove from heat. Use a pasta spoon to transfer pasta from the water to the skillet. Toss with bacon and Swiss chard. Add cheese to taste, salt and pepper.

 

KIMBERLY GARRETT BROWN is Publisher and Executive Editor of Minerva Rising Press, a literary press dedicated to publishing women writers. Her best-selling debut novel, Cora’s Kitchen, won the 2022 Story Circle Network Sarton Women’s Book Award for Historical Fiction and the 2022 Bronze Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for multicultural fiction.  It was also a finalist in the 2018 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and the 2016 Louise Meriwether First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Black Lives Have Always Mattered: A Collection of Essays, Poems and Personal Narratives, The Feminine Collective, Compass Literary Magazine, Today’s Chicago Woman, Chicago Tribune, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA at Goddard College. 

Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook   |    Instagram

 

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Winner, 2022 Sarton Award for Historical Fiction; Winner (Bronze), 2022 Foreword INDIE Award for Multicultural Fiction

It is 1928 and Cora James, a 35-year-old Black librarian who works at the 135th Street library in Harlem, writes Langston Hughes a letter after identifying with one of his poems. She even reveals her secret desire to write. Langston responds, encouraging Cora to enter a writing contest sponsored by the National Urban League, and ignites her dream of being a writer. Cora is frustrated with the writing process, and her willingness to help her cousin Agnes keep her job after she is brutally beaten by her husband lands Cora in a white woman's kitchen working as a cook.

In the Fitzgerald home, Cora discovers she has time to write and brings her notebook to work. When she comforts Mrs. Fitzgerald after an argument with Mr. Fitzgerald, a friendship forms. Mrs. Fitzgerald insists Cora call her Eleanor and gives her The Awakening by Kate Chopin to read. Cora is inspired by the conversation to write a story and sends it to Langston. Eventually she begins to question her life and marriage and starts to write another story about a woman's sense of self. Through a series of letters, and startling developments in her dealings with the white family, Cora's journey to becoming a writer takes her to the brink of losing everything, including her life.

“Cora’s Kitchen delves deeply into what it means to be a Black woman with ambition, to make choices and keep secrets, and to have an unexpected alliance with a white woman that ultimately may save both of them. Kimberly Garrett Brown renders Cora with immense empathy, acknowledging and confronting Cora’s own prejudices and allegiances and the social pressures that continue to reverberate far beyond this story. Cora’s Kitchen is a poignant, compelling story in which misfortune and fortune cannot be teased apart, and literature and life have everything to do with each other.”
—Anna Leahy, author of What Happened Was: and Tumor

“In Cora’s Kitchen, all women will find their challenges and longings expressed with unflinching honesty. Kimberly Garrett Brown’s characters are faithful to a time, yet timeless, transcending the years to both painfully and beautifully illustrate the struggles women face to find and fulfill their vocations. Spellbinding.”
—Erika Robuck, national bestselling author of The Invisible Woman

“… powerful … Brown speaks to timeless struggles of women who had ambitions that reached beyond traditional expectations. … An affecting novel of female friendship and a desire for independence.”
—Kirkus Reviews


Monday, February 5, 2024

the 40 But 10 Interview Series: Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar

 


In 2023, I decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!



Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American writer. She is the author of Morsels of Purple and Skin Over Milk. Born to a middle-class family in India, she later migrated to the USA with her husband and son. A technologist by profession and a writer by passion, she won first place in  ELJ Micro Creative Non-Fiction Prize, placed in the Strands International Flash Fiction Festival, and is the runner-up in the Chestnut Review Chapbook Contest. Her stories have been shortlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Awards and SmokeLong Micro Competition. She is currently a Submissions Editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. More at https://saraspunyfingers.com. Reach her @PunyFingers

 



 

 



What made you start writing?


I started writing when I immigrated to the USA from India, about 18 years ago. Moving here provided solitude and time because I came on a dependent visa, unable to apply for a job. My son was two years old at the time, so I created a mommy blog. Then, I started writing about my immigrant experience, the differences in the culture I observed, and the persistent longing to be home. Fiction came much later when my life here settled down into a steady routine.


 

What do you do when you’re not writing?


I have a full-time job as an Information Technology professional. That keeps me busy throughout the day. When I have free time, I read, cook, listen to ghazals, and watch Netflix.


 

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?


I would love the ability to record and replay dreams. The reels that play in our minds at night are sometimes scary and sad and we’re glad to open our eyes and realize it was not the reality. Other times, they are so sweet that we never want them to end. Dreams could be the perfect fodder for writing as they provide lots of what-if scenarios and alternate realities to spin out endless tales.

 

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?


It’s hard for me to say it’s finished. The only thing on my mind is editing/revisions to make it better, to change this paragraph or that chapter. I am so mired in doubt and anxiety that I don’t think of celebrating the milestones. Perhaps, I should.


 

Describe your book in three words.


Poignant, hopeful, real

 

What are some of your favorite websites or social media platforms?


Twitter:  @PunyFingers

 Instagram: @sara_siddiqui24

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/sara.siddiqui.3954

 


What is your favorite way to waste time?


Watching Netflix and not enjoying it—just begrudging the hours I could have utilized better in reading or writing something.

 

What are you currently reading?


“The Blue Bar” by Damyanti Biswas and  “Aimless Love” by Billy Collins.

 

What’s on your literary bucket list?


So far, I have published a collection of stories titled “Morsels of Purple” and a novella titled “Skin Over Milk.” Publishing a full-length novel is definitely on my bucket list.


 

Do you read the reviews of your books or do you stay far far away from them, and why?


I read them to know what the audience thinks about the book. It’s interesting to know what parts resonated with some readers and what elements alienated others. It helps widen my perspective on a new project.

 

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Skin Over Milk tells the story of young Chutki and her two sisters who bear the weight of being unwanted daughters in 1990’s India. Told through Chutki’s eyes, we feel the innocence that is childhood, allowing the gratitude for a crust of bread thrown away by her brothers, or the simple joy in making prank phone calls. We meet characters, such as the father who curses their mother for giving him useless girls, the brothers who don’t seem to appreciate the luxury of education. But we also meet the loving grandfather, Dada, who will die and watch over them like a star in the sky and their beautiful, beautiful mother, Ammi, who does what she can to make all of their lives bearable. Exquisitely written with a jeweler’s eye for detail, the deftest of hands with characterization and storytelling, this is a brilliant and unforgettable read. 

--Francine Witte, author of Dressed All Wrong for This and The Way of the Wind

 

"The summer of 1990 brought rain and more rain to our little town of Muzaffarnagar." Thus begins Sara Chansarkar's chapbook, Skin Over Milk, an elegantly written and immersive family story told over the course of twelve short chapters and through the collective point of view of the family's siblings. We readers get a strong sense of this particular family's joys and heartaches, struggles and traditions. Chansarkar knows how to weave her stories seamlessly and disarmingly, with heart and humor and tenderness. It is a testament to this writer's mastery that I never wanted the story to end. Highly recommended." 

~Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works


Purchase a copy here: 

 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B4FV35VG