Featured Authors

Featured Authors

Featured Authors: An interview with Brian Leung

SB: Your short story collection, World Famous Love Acts, was published by Sarabande in 2004; you’ve published two novels since then. You’ve been very busy the past few years, how have you balanced (or juggled) writing, educating, and directing, all while appearing as a member of the levelheaded literati?

BL: I’ve nothing sage to say here, just that it’s my practice not to make promises I can’t keep, and to focus on what’s practically possible. That is, I couldn’t say that I’ll finish a novel by the end of this month, but it’s not so hard to say, if I write just a bit every day, I’ll have a novel draft in a year. I can’t say to my students I’ll get your story comments back to you tomorrow, but I can plan to read two a day, so it’s possible to get them all back in ten days. And, importantly, I make sure to tell myself that it’s okay not to do “X” in favor of spending quality time with friends, family, and primarily, my partner. I’m over-extended to be certain, but my pragmatic bent keeps me sane.

You’ve also found time to serve Louisville’s literary community through Lousville Literary Arts, where you’re the Treasurer. How does this environment vary from an academic community?

The purpose of LLA is to bring readers and writers together and we recognize that those folks aren’t necessarily affiliated with Academia. In fact, looking at our annual Writer’s Block Festival, you see that our city is filled with folks from all walks of life interested in literary pursuits; there’s a great deal of cross-pollination. A difference might be that creative writing related to Academia focuses more on literary writing than popular and/or commercial writing. For community events, it’s more likely to find pure genre writing,  like fantasy or sci-fi. Though, as I say that, I’m reminded of all the fine literary genre work my students are writing at UofL.

I’ve read that your greatest inspiration comes through promotion and discussion of your contemporaries’ work. You recommend assisting other writers first, as it will prove beneficial in the long run. Is this a selfless act or “scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours?”

I’m pretty consistent on this point, and it’s something I teach in my classes. There’s nothing cynical in the premise at all. I believe writers should be in service to other writers as a co-equal responsibility to their own work. That can manifest itself any number of ways; maybe it means taking an afternoon to read and comment on a friend’s poetry, or subscribing to two or three literary magazines. If you’re a writer with the goal to have an audience, I think you have an ethical obligation to be a “consumer” as well, because if we writers aren’t our own reliable, core audiences, how can we expect the attention of those we hope to invite into the conversation?

You displayed great strides in your most recent novel, Take Me Home, which is both “literary” and terrifically entertaining. Is it possible to bridge the distance between academic and commercial or mainstream writers?

I politely reject the distinction because I’m not certain what term we need here. It’s like we’re holding onto an idea that isn’t applicable. In my department, there are two fiction writers and two poets, and all of us in one way or another have addressed popular genre and/or downright play in our work.  This seems largely the case these days but the news hasn’t gotten out.

But let’s go back to terminology: one person’s mainstream is another person’s popular is another person’s commercial is another person’s literary, and all that is subject to the vagaries of time. Any of these might come from an academic mind, and often do. However, I think Dave Eggers and Michael Chabon had it about right when they overtly spoke to the literary world of fiction and asked what happened to story telling? Did everything have to sound like an Updike or Carver story? That said, I love the honesty of Judith Krantz, who said in an interview that she wasn’t harboring some little literary volume under her pillow at home. That’s not what she wrote.

We need to do a better job of making distinctions between interesting writing and lazy writing. Those are the terms I’d use. There are some recent vampire novels that contain lazy writing and some that contain interesting writing. It’s not about the vampires, it’s about the sentences.

By the way, I just counted. I bought just seven books of poetry last year. Shame on me.

World Famous Love Acts, Brian Leung
14.95

Entertainment Weekly Editor’s Choice
Winner of a Lambda Literary Award

Sweeping and fearless, World Famous Love Acts overrides stereotypes of race, age, gender, and sexuality.  In this remarkable debut collection, Brian Leung creates a diverse landscape of distinctive characters. Among them, a 4’ 10” hyperblonde Asian adult-film actress in Los Angeles, an archeologist working in China with her sun-scarred skin, a Midwestern screenwriter trying to “burn off” his accent, and a man with AIDS waiting to go home to die.

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Featured Authors, Writers on Teaching

Writers on Teaching: Lauren Shapiro and Critical Thinking

For me, teaching and writing have always been related; though while working on Easy Math, I wasn’t teaching poetry or even creative writing. I was variously teaching remedial English composition, ESL, Research Writing, College Preparatory, and Critical Thinking. In essence, I was teaching classes I never had to take, and many of my students were first generation undergraduates or they didn’t speak or write English fluently. I was in the position to help them gain basic important writing and thinking skills.

The experience heightened the weirdness I felt about the world—here I was living in Wisconsin, of all places, talking about diagramming sentences and FANBOYS (coordinating conjunctions) to students who were desperately clinging to the coattails of what they imagined to be the American Dream. It was an abrupt transition from working toward an MFA and discussing poetry and poetics with like-minded people.

Walking into class, I often felt that I was entering a poem written in the Surrealist tradition. Sometimes the only bridge I could build was by using pop culture icons as examples for concepts I was teaching. So Britney Spears has this new song out, right? This changed me in a number of ways.

Most immediately, I began to consider more fully the education system in America—whom it served and why—and it made me think about logic in general, or the lack thereof, in contemporary America. This entered heavily into the content of my poetry, while also changing my worldview significantly, which is a more oblique way of entering a poem.

Now I teach creative writing to more privileged students at a small liberal arts college on the East Coast. It’s surreal again, in a different way. There’s the clichéd saying that you learn as much from your students as you teach them, and while it’s odd to quantify learning in that way, what I took away, and what entered my work, was a new sensibility based on the varied experiences of the students around me.

Easy Math, Lauren Shapiro
14.95

Aesop stood on end, Shapiro’s poems tells wry fables that defy our instinct to find a moral to the story. “There are an infinite number of ways to torture the soul with hopefulness” she tells us, so instead we have ways to survive—crooked grins, twisted logic, and equations of jello shots, amusement parks, and post-it notes that never add up.

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself, follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

 

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Interviews, Featured Authors

"The Next Big Thing:" Kiki Petrosino Participates

Kiki Petrosino’s second poetry collection will be available this August, she’s responded to “The Next Big Thing” questionnaire–a self-interview project for poets about recent or upcoming work. We’ve posted her answers along with some tags for other poets also participating in the world wide web venture.

SB: Where did you begin generating ideas for Hymn for the Black Terrific?

KP: Re-reading Moby Dick, I encountered Melville’s description of “the black terrific Ahab,” and started thinking of the ways obsession can warp the mind. This book is about dysmorphia–the bodily kind, in which the sufferer sees his or her body as ugly or deformed, and the special poet’s variety, in which the poet disdains her own creative output no matter how promising it may be.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Also: Suffering. Also: Not Suffering.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The final section of the book features a recurring female figure whom I call “The Eater.” She should be played by a Venus Fly Trap.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Let’s all freak out about beauty.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published and represented by the talented people at Sarabande.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About two years.

What other books would you compare this collection to within your genre?

Better yet, here are the books that my book would like to invite on a date: Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars, Sabrina Orah Mark’s The Babies, Darcie   Dennigan’s Madame X.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Food and eating; body image and American womanhood; Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia; two recent trips to China; one recent marriage (mine); darkness and its varieties.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The titles of the poems in one section of the book are taken from the English translations of dishes that were served to me on my trips to China. In English, the titles became whimsical and inspiring, though they had little to do with food. Examples: “Tun Back Your Head and There is the Shore,” “I Love You. No Discussion.,” and “Linked to Blood.”

Hymn for the Black Terrific, Kiki Petrosino
14.95

Petrosino offers us wildly inventive lyrics that take as launch pad allergenesis, the contents and significance of swamps, a revised notion of marriage, and ancestors—both actual and dreamed. The eponymous second section storms through Chinese delicacies, doubts, and confident proclamations from regions of an exploratory self. Hymn for the Black Terrific is a book of pure astonishment.

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself, follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

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Featured Authors

Featured Authors: L. Annette Binder on Bliss and Unease

Binder's debut collection of short stories, Rise, will be released tomorrow.

Unease. Michael Chabon calls it “the midnight disease” in his novel Wonder Boys. “He was the first one to have the midnight disease,” his narrator says of a writer he knew as a boy, “to have the rocking chair and the faithful bottle of bourbon and the staring eye, lucid with insomnia even in the daytime.”

This unease is probably essential if you want to write. It can be generalized or exceedingly specific. Unease in our skin, in our appearance or our relationships, in our place in the world. Unease about writing or about not writing. It probably started in the sandbox. It will follow you where you go, and you should be grateful. If empathy is the fuel for a writer then unease is the starter that turns the engine.

Dr. Richard Barager, a nephrologist who writes fiction, notes the anxiety inherent in both writing and practicing medicine. “This mysterious, discomfiting anxiety reliably and predictably dissolves shortly after greeting the first patient I see,” Dr. Barager says. “Like an alcoholic needing a drink or an addict needing a fix, I am addicted to patient care, because the act of placing myself in the service of another human being makes me blissful.”

Bliss. Knifemakers know it when they are working at the forge. Pianists and painters and woodworkers. Fishermen who work all week so they can drive up to the reservoir Saturday before dawn. They’ve found something they love and they’ve made it their sharpening stone. They could live a thousand years and still they’d be learning. Their anxiety goes away every time they come back to what they’ve started.

Ernie LaMere was a maitre d’ for years before he retired to Los Angeles. He lived in Studio City, right beside a desolate stretch of the L.A. River basin. It was nothing but concrete and weeds when he started planting geraniums in 1987.  By the time he died eight years later he’d planted a quarter mile of flowers.  I walked that path right after his passing. I sat on one of his benches, and I thought how lucky he’d been. He woke up every morning and did what he loved. And how sad it was, too, because once you’ve found the thing you love eight years isn’t nearly enough, and neither is eighty. (To read about Ernie, click here.)

Bliss and unease. The thing you love pulls at you. It needles you when you’re lazy. Get back to work, it says. You have less time than you think.

I’ve been gone from Colorado more years than I lived there, but it’s August now and I can’t help but think about my childhood summers. The dry heat and the sky shimmering above the mountains before the storm clouds came. First silver and then black, they rolled in like ocean waves. Three o’clock in the afternoon and the electricity in the air. Waiting, waiting for the thunder and the first fat drops on the cement. All these years later and this is what I remember: There was nothing better than the moment just before it started.

Rise, L. Annette Binder
15.95

The stories in Rise are fairy tales, except that the witch, lucky Hans, and the frog prince are all characters at the fringes of everyday life. There are rockets, swells of starlings, and children who disappear into thin air. In "Nephilim" angels mate with mortal women and birth giants; Freda is more than 50 and still listening to the creak of her bones growing. In "Halo" a nimbus appears above the heads of those with only a short time to live. The hospital, of course, is full of them, but so is the mall. These are stories where a man can be blind and still see the stars. L. Annette Binder writes magical tales with authority and restraint, and we believe her stories, every one.

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself, follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

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Featured Authors

Featured Authors: Paula Bohince on Still Vibrant Spirits

Paula Bohince is the author of The Children and Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods.

While living in the Clampitt House, I was able to visit, for the first time, Emily Dickinson’s Homestead, Herman Melville’s Arrowhead farm, and Edith Wharton’s Mount. It was wonderful to be able to see these places.

My husband had come for a visit, and we began with Dickinson’s Homestead. We were the only ones in the house at the beginning of the tour, and it was nice to have a bit of a private experience. After seeing the living rooms, we climbed the stairs to be met with the breathtaking image of a white dress (a replica) in a glass box, filled out by a headless mannequin. This image begins “Evergreen,” one of the poems in The Children. It was a little unreal to stand in Emily’s bedroom, to see how small her writing desk was, and how small her bed seemed.

One of the strange pleasures of the tour was that the guide had poems on hand, and we were invited to each read a Dickinson poem aloud while standing in a room adjacent to her bedroom. I did it, but not without a bit of trepidation. Her spirit still feels so strong in the house. Afterward, we walked to her grave and sat for a while. Before her death, she had requested that her body be carried through the field of buttercups behind her house to the cemetery. This arresting image found its way into “Evergreen.”

We made the short drive from the spare hominess of the Homestead to the chilly isolation of Melville’s farm. The house was closed at the time, but we poked around the outside of the barn; saw a plough rusted in the grass; and gazed out on Mt. Greylock, the mountain that is said to have been the inspiration of the character of the whale inMoby-Dick. A poem from this experience is called “Greylock” and is included in The Children.

I’ve tried to write poems about Wharton and The Mount, but none have worked. I was most struck by her desk, kept behind a velvet rope, her annotated copy of Leaves of Grass, the luxurious wallpaper in some of the rooms, and the overall grandeur of the mansion. I do, though, keep a postcard of her on a bookshelf in my office. In the photograph, she’s dressed to the nines, with two of her beloved dogs, one perched on each of her shoulders. I think I love this memento more than any poem I could write for her.

Paula is also a guest blogger at Orion, you can read another post by her here.

The Children, Paula Bohince
14.95

The Children examines the ache and balm of nostalgia; nature’s cycles of brideliness, decay, and rebirth; and the beauty that is the afterimage of loss. Isolation is embodied by such figures as Melville at his desk, Christ on the morning of His arrest, Woolf walking into the Ouse, and a lynching victim as viewed by child witnesses. Contemporary questions of selfhood and solitude are explored with luminous depth. In a landscape of dogwood and locust, The Children offers us life twice seen, sorrowful and sumptuous. 

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself, follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

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