Visiting Wonderland with Stacey D’Erasmo

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Recently, I talked with Stacey D’Erasmo about her superb new book, Wonderland, for Publishers Weekly. The transcript is now up on the PW website (though you need to be a subscriber to read the piece). I believe the interview will also appear in an upcoming print edition. (UPDATE: It is in the 3/17/14 issue)

D’Erasmo’s book, about a rock musician attempting a comeback, is full of fantastic, lyrical prose, and in our chat, we discussed just how she captured that “on the road” life. Turns out she actually went on tour with Scissor Sisters.

We talked long enough for multiple interviews, and I ended up cutting out more than I wanted. But the end piece represents the general flavor of our chat.

Here’s a link to the interview. I’m sure it’ll eventually pop up for free.

Chatting with Jessica Hollander

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I regularly write semi-anonymous book reviews for Publishers Weekly, but recently I got to talk to Jessica Hollander for the magazine. I wrote about her debut collection (this isn’t so much a secret, as we started our contact with, “Hi, I’m Ben, the guy who reviewed your book!”), and was so floored that, when the chance came to interview her, I jumped at the opportunity. During our Skype session, we touched on influence, books, and family. If you’re a subscriber to PW, you can read the whole transcript here. Hopefully the interview turns free for all soon.

My God, what have I done?

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A month or so back, I began exchanging emails with Ethan Rutherford, author of the great, great new story collection The Peripatetic Coffin, and elements of our correspondence are now up on Numero Cinq. Ethan’s a fantastic person, and in the interview, we talk books, the sea, nostalgia (Spokey Dokes, Garbage Pail Kids) music (Talking Heads, David Bowie), inspiration (Charles Baxter), and craft:

BW: Several small narrative elements in “Summer, Boys”—the Boz poster, Spokey Dokes, Garbage Pail Kids, Bambi vs. Godzilla—firmly and genuinely plant the story in the late 1980s. I’m guessing you were a kid during this time. Do you have fond memories of these knickknacks, and, if so, is it difficult to inject real elements of your childhood into a fictional story?

ER: I was a kid during the 80’s, though the references invoked in that story are a combination of the things I loved and what I understood Older Kids to love (i.e. the things I knew I should love too, but my parents either wouldn’t get for me, or wouldn’t let me watch). And it was a pleasure to allow myself to go back in time like that, remembering this or that cherished and fetishized, and now forgotten, object of childhood. Just a pleasure. All of it came right back. When you’re a kid, you love stuff. The few things that are yours are extremely important to you, emotionally and imaginatively; they link you to the world. Who am I? I’m a kid who lives for a new pack of Garbage Pail Kids. There’s always a concern out there—someone always brings it up—that if you include pop-culture touchstones in a story you are unnecessarily dating a piece of writing, ensuring that it won’t have resonance outside of the few people who cherished the exact same things you did, and therefore Won’t Become Literature. I get where that idea is coming from, but with respect, that theory of literature can go sink itself. It’s the most reductive way to think about fiction, that there are certain things you can and should be writing about. And for “Summer, Boys” in particular—a story that is about a fleeting moment in childhood, when meaning is attached to, and in many ways originates from, very specific pop-cultural flotsam—how could you not include the names? They’re not toy robots. They’re Transformers. That these things ascend as treasured objects, and then are promptly forgotten, or replaced—that’s the point of the story. And as far as that emotional sentiment also characterizes the friendship between the two boys, is where its sadness comes from.

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