Writers Talking About Anything but Writing: Jihyun Yun

An Interview with Jihyun Yun on Soup, Cottagecore Aesthetics, & K-Pop

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing is a series of interviews in which we ask writers to take a break from trying to document the world and just kinda chill out in it for a while.

Laura Villareal (LV)

This is a cozy list of topics to talk about as we move through the winter months. What are some of your favorite soups? Do you have any recipes that you love?

Jihyun Yun (JY)

Oh, this is hard, there are so many! Soup is my favorite kind of food and I could happily eat it for every meal of the day (and I often do!). My ultimate comfort soup in the winter is probably a Korean one called Seolleongtang  which is a very mild bone broth seasoned with only salt, pepper, and scallions. It tastes very simple and soothing, but it’s an all-day endeavor to make and it’s very temperamental. If you don’t boil it long enough, it’ll be too thin and if you boil it at the wrong heat, the broth will turn a little brown from marrow. I have lots of memories of coming downstairs in the middle of the night and seeing my mom asleep against the kitchen island with the burner still going behind her. I feel like most latchkey kids have one particular dish that their parents would often make in bulk and leave for them to pick at throughout the week. Bone broth keeps well in the fridge, so it was mine. I probably complained about being sick of it when I was younger, but now it’s what I crave when I’m lonely or miss my family.

I also love pho and Vietnamese noodle soup dishes of all kinds, which feels like a given for anyone from the Bay Area. When I’m back in California, San Jose pho is always one of the first things I seek out.

As for recipes, my go-to is this soft tofu stew recipe. It’s spicy, comforting, customizable and most importantly, very east to make (if you can find the ingredients).

LV

I’ve seen so much more cottagecore content across social media platforms since we began isolating during the pandemic—like people are making sourdough starters, starting gardens, etc… What interests you about cottagecore?

JY

It’s a pretty new interest, and I have to admit I don’t know a whole lot about it yet. In all honesty, my interest in cottagecore only started during the pandemic when I came across BlackForager on Instagram (I don’t know if she would consider herself cottagecore, but she teaches her audience how to identify plants, forage and make amazing things like acorn jelly and pawpaw bread from scratch. I learn so much from her content, I hope everyone checks her out!).

Personally, I’m not interested in the little house on the prairie decorative/fashion aspects and more interested in the cultivation aspect. Like everyone, I too have made sourdough and started an herb garden this year. I’ve also found lots of personal fulfillment in processes like making jam or canning and pickling things: all labor that I have always been too busy for. I wonder if the rise of cottagecore lately is, in addition to most of us being sequestered to our homes and desperate to escape zoom, a reaction to the many failures of capitalism that the pandemic has made even more obvious. I’ve been unemployed for months and hit the point of feeling like “oh, you want to bail out wall street but leave folks to survive on a $1,200 check with no rent relief and grocery prices going up? Fuck you, I’ll learn to make my own bread.” Which is, I know, such a small rebellion. But anything that gives me any sense of agency right now feels immeasurably important and fulfilling.

Also, I think now is the time when we all need to lean fully into any somatic pleasures that are available to us: touching soil, baking and eating pie, sunning ourselves outside with hot tea. All things the aesthetic seems to advocate for.

LV

I totally agree about how we need to “lean fully into somatic pleasures” right now. Cottagecore seems to encourage folks to see the process before the product. You mentioned finding fulfillment in making jams, pickling, and baking. Was there a process that surprised you by its simplicity or that you enjoyed more than a store-bought product?

JY

I had no idea that making jam was so simple! I made it for the first time when I forgot to put a bag of frozen mixed berries in the freezer. It was basically mush when I discovered it, but I didn’t want it to go to waste so I threw it on the stove with a bunch of sugar and some lime juice and hoped for the best. There’s something very comforting about tending to something over low heat for a long time, and it ended up great! I prefer it to most commercial store-bought jams for certain because I can personalize the sweetness levels. Lately, I’ve been enjoying experimenting a little more with adding spices and citrus peels to batches. It’s a nice way to pass time and level up my breakfast game.

LV

K-Pop fascinates me. It’s a wonderful hybrid mix of genres and the stars work so incredibly hard to hone their craft. I’ve said more than once this year, “Who knew K-Pop stans would save us all” after they’ve taken over hateful hashtags and Trump’s Tulsa Rally. What do you think it is about this genre of music that has made its fans an ally in the revolution?

JY

K-pop fans and Tik-Tokers sabotaging the Tulsa Rally was one of the rare things that made me belly laugh during the pandemic. It’s been really wonderful to see fans getting involved in this way (often by trolling. Like that time when they crashed police tip apps that were collecting information on protesters by flooding it with K-pop memes). The most salient instance that comes to mind though is when BTS fans matched the group’s 1 million dollar donation to the Black Lives Matter global network in less than 24 hours. Truly incredible, and if it’s possible to stan a fanbase, I definitely stan the BTS Army.

I think it has less to do with the music and more to do with the type of fans internationally that are drawn to K-pop in the first place. The fact that they are able to love the genre at all indicates that they’re people who are less likely to be deterred by arbitrary borders like language or cultural differences.

I think it also needs to be said that while there are many non-Black allies within the K-pop fandom, the fandom does span across all demographics. Many of these efforts were initiated by and contributed to most fervently by Black K-pop fans.

LV

Yes, excellent points! Especially the point about K-pop stans not being “deterred by arbitrary borders like language or cultural differences” What are some of your favorite K-Pop groups?

JY

My favorite K-pop group is definitely BTS! I’ve been a big fan since 2016, and it’s been so lovely to see them breaking down linguistic barriers in the states and challenging stereotypical notions of western masculinity. Maybe it’s because I never really expected to hear Korean on national television here, I feel personally invested in their success.

Aside from BTS, I really like girl groups. I listen to Twice when I’m down and want to cheer up, I listen to Red Velvet when I want to relax, and I listen to Mamamoo when I need energy. K-pop is so often denigrated for no good reason that often just boils down to xenophobia, but it’s a very diverse genre and I think there is something for everyone if people listen to it with an open mind.

January Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

Look at 2021 as 2020: The Redo. December might have been wishy-washy, but January will be a seize-the-day kind of month. Break out your New Year’s resolutions and embrace 2021 like it’s going out of style. Don’t forget to live in the moment, too—the now is everything.

And you have two story picks this month. After 2020, I thought you deserved a treat.

  • Teaser: “When she comes home from space, the astronaut will feel so heavy. She will lift her arms from her sides, marvel at the immense weight of them.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

Now is the time to play your cards, Taurus! If there’s something extra you’ve wanted to take on, this is the time to do it to it. A confidence boost should lighten your steps by the end of the month. So, those insecurities don’t stand a chance.

But first, this mesmerizing read:

  • Teaser: “She took cold showers. She ate peanut butter sandwiches, drank chocolate milk, and watched re-runs of Bewitched. Maybe she could be a mother, after all.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Let’s be honest: December wasn’t half bad. You got to feed your inner gremlin. Be a holiday junkie. Turn into a carnivorous houseplant—all that fun stuff. This month, though, you’ll be coming down from your sugar high. In fact, indecision may visit you on the daily.

Combat nauseating January by stocking up on good stories and poems. Speaking of…

Teaser: “If the river flowed only once a year we would / be drunk on the whole expanse of it, / we are the riff in this song, / we gulp birds & frogs & cattails, / because here we are, this is the day.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Don’t worry about high tides, you responsible stick-in-the-mud—just kidding!—because it looks like calm waters ahead. You might even feel on top of the world for the next 31-ish days. Oh, and keep your peepers open: A new relationship is on the way!

I have just the story pick for you, too.

  • Teaser: “When we finally met, it was at the library where I worked. I was shelving books on astronomy. ‘Did you know the bigger a star, the shorter its lifespan?’ someone asked from behind me.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

In January, you’ll want to stay with the stars. Honestly, the holidays can have that effect on the best of us. Keep your feet on the ground with some tough love and good ol’ fashioned discipline. You might sparkle in summer, but you can shine in winter, too.

When you need a break, here’s a monthly story pick that’s just for you:

  • Teaser: “You’re across the bar jingling quarters in your cupped palm, blue-faced from the light of the jukebox, looking for songs that aren’t there when a woman wearing a purple tutu on her head says she’ll read my palm for a shot and a beer.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Some sticky days are in your January forecast. Bad news aside, you only need to put in a lot of effort to turn that frown upside down (sorry, dad humor). Schedule some extra Skype calls and visit your loved ones to make up for it. And treat yourself to a little TLC, of course.

My recommendation? Read this great story pick:

  • Teaser: When we get back to the river, other drifters amble along hoping we’ll share, and sometimes if we’re feeling the fellowship, we’ll offer a short pull. Otherwise, forget it. River rules: There are no rules.”
neuromancer by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

They say Leos can be great partners for balanced folks like yourself. This month, take the opportunity to declare some romantic intentions (virtual style!) Knowing you, the whole thing will be disorganized and just a tad over-the-top. Be true to yourself, but maybe don’t ask to meet their parents yet.

In the meantime, check out your story pick for January.

  • Teaser: “Like how the first thing you did when you were alone with him was to press the release valve over his heart and listen quietly while he spilled words that came out trailing dust from being held in for so long, subtly coated in disbelief that someone could do this, one random night at 1 a.m. in a nightclub.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Congrats, you made it to 2021! I wasn’t sure if you would still be in one piece (I kid, I kid). According to my tarot cards, this should be your best New Year yet. Start January right and make a few changes in your life. No need for olive branches—psh, that’s not you—but put that ambitious nature to good use.

On the way, dip your toes into this fantastic read.

  • Teaser: “Both turned to the child, whose mouth had dropped open, unhinging, jaw distending to mid chest. There were no teeth inside, only a gaping darkness, wide enough to fit a grown man’s shoulders, wide enough to fit the universe, every star in the sky.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

Since it’s the New Year, you’ll be in hyper-go-mode. This past year has been hard for most people (to put it lightly). I know staying indoors drives you crazy, but you’re almost to the finish line—do whatever it takes and hold out a little longer. Lap those stairs between your bed and your work station. Call friends. Read, read, read.

Speaking of, this story pick is sure to hit all the notes for you.

  • Teaser:He snaps a photo, listens to the whir. Crawling into his car, Jackson turns the ignition and sets out toward Sarasota, his window down, Polaroids trailing his exhaust like orange oak leaves.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

Man, you’re killing it, Capricorn! Winter looks like a stellar time for you. The stars will be aligned in your favor till the 19th. Having said that, there might be a pinch of negativity toward the end of the month (come on, don’t groan). Enjoy your time in the limelight before you go back to being your responsible self.

Start by cracking open this gorgeous read.

  • Teaser: “And I painted with a brush until you told me you’d like nothing better than to live surrounded by the whorls of my fingerprints, forever.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

You had your fun in December, but now, it’s time to cut the holiday chord and get back to business. Try your hand at some much needed reflection. Think about your goals for the New Year; i.e., ponder what’s important and quit shelfing any pesky obligations.

Treat yourself with an enthralling story pick.

  • Teaser: Once everyone is counted, the numbers don’t match from the notebook to the preliminary count I’ve been given to audit. I realize I haven’t counted myself. And I bear back down to count again but it’s too late, everyone has moved and changed clothes and changed families and homes and names.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

It’s Jumpstart January, Pisces. This means you can ditch the storm cloud from 2020 and start fresh. After all, your adaptable nature is ripe for a transformation. Climb out of that cocoon so you can start planning for a new stage in your life.

But remember loved ones from the past, too. Try to keep their memories alive without losing yourself.

  • Teaser: “and you’ll want to friend them back / for that split second before you remember / they’re dead—and more so in the hollow pause after”

December Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

November was all about indulgence. This month won’t be quite as satisfying, but it won’t have any Debbie Downers, either. Greet the end of the year and reflect on your goals for 2021. I might be biased, but I have a feeling that it will be your best year yet.

Start by digging into this offbeat and arresting read. 

  • Teaser: “Day 1. It started when someone forgot the cereal.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

A few health issues might make an appearance over the holiday season. Combat them with all the things you love, virtual style. Try a tea or coffee advent calendar. Buy some chocolates, go on a blind date with a book—Etsy has all the good ones!

Once you’re settled, immerse yourself in this heartbreaking, beautifully written story.

  • Teaser: Don’t think about how you know things about your best friend that even her future husband doesn’t know, like how she got that scar on her foot and why she refused to watch any movie set in outer space.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Last month, you motored through all kinds of creative projects. Now, it’s time to feed your inner gremlin/holiday junkie/carnivorous houseplant. Set aside some nights so you can recharge and mentally prepare yourself for the wintry season. C’mon, you’ll be more productive if you rest up.

And don’t forget your stock pick:

  • Teaser: “Scott and I found the ghost in our attic. She was sitting in an old rocking chair my mother didn’t think matched the rest of our decor. I pulled on the light string.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

You might become a tad disappointed with your friends. Try to remember that they’re only human, and this year has been hard on everyone. The other areas of your life will be sprinkled with goodness. You might stumble into a new relationship come January, but let’s save that surprise for the New Year. 

Lose yourself in this enthralling read.

  • Teaser: “The day I lost my mind, I stepped into my clip-in biking shoes, and sailed through the morning like a rock through a window, determined to bike to work despite the cold.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

This month, you’re due for some oh-so-fun complications. Don’t fret, though; everything will clear up before you can say “Grandma got run over by a reindeer!” (Do kids still know about that song? No? I’ll see myself out). P.S. Your cheery nature will shine extra bright around the 19th

Oh, and save this moving poem for when you need a treat.

  • Teaser: “Now I sit on her small couch, / at times a stranger to her, at other times another client, / only occasionally myself.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Treat chilly December as an opportunity to make up for lost time. You might prefer the burnt ends of summer, but when it comes to creative endeavors, the winter season could offer all kinds of inspiration for your angsty soul. 

But first, this mesmerizing read:

  • Teaser: She wears $45 lipstick called Heart’s Blood™ and leaves red blots on the linen napkins she makes me set out for her. She waxes her eyebrows away and then draws them back on in the shape of the Gateway Arch.”
female icarus by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

Oh Libra, I’m glad you made it through summer and fall. Now you can sprint into the holidays and party like it’s 1999. In your home. Virtually. Hey, at least there’s no shortage of wine! Don’t forget to hydrate and eat lots of bread. Bonus: You might just get a certain promotion at work (wink, wink). 

In the meantime, check out your story pick for December.

  • Teaser: “Those nights were not the beginning of a winning trajectory or the start of a big finish—they were the pinnacle of our spirits, the peak brightness of our light-shining hearts.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Guess what, Scorpio? Your November romance is still going strong! That’s an impressive feat to pull off during a pandemic. I would say don’t be a shrinking violet—your accomplishments this year were downright impressive—but that’s not a concern for charismatic folks like yourself! Mind you, I say that with love.

Before you strut your stuff, though, crack open this truly unique read.

  • Teaser: “When you are inhabited by a geography, its waters – / the animal scent of the marsh, the brine-soak / of the ocean – rise into your mouth. You swallow.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

It’s that time, my friend: Winter has finally come! Most nights, you’ll dream of snow and wake up giddy. Cackle from the rooftop. Sing in the shower. Get a little wild or a lot cozy. Channel all that energy into whatever you choose—it’s your month to shine, you lovely ball of sugar/spice/everything nice.

I have just the story pick for you, too.

  • Teaser: “Edith will continue to visit that patch of forest, looking for secrets in sunlight, shafts of whispered incantations hiding among the trees, decades of worship with her eyes closed.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

In December, your careful plans may go ass over tea kettle. It’s either that or you’re fated to run into a bee’s nest (What? These tea leaves can be hard to read.) If it helps, you’re supposed to get a reprieve around the 16th for some sweet, sweet relief. 

This compelling story will distract you from wishy-washy December.

  • Teaser: “In month six of quarantine, I still feel a writhing squid in my throat when they call.” 

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Good news, Aquarius: This month is sure to sparkle like a wintry wonderland. More good news: Your relationships are going to blossom now more than ever. Why, you might ask? Apparently, the cosmos rolled the dice in your favor!

When you’re not giving thanks to the heavens, check out this innovative story pick.

  • Teaser: Thank you for calling, how may I be of assistance tonight? yes, I can tell you if he’s thinking about you (he is) and whether or not he’s going to call you (probably not tonight, though he should tomorrow), but I can’t tell you how to be happy without the knowledge that you crossed his mind while he washed the dust from his hair, the other parts of his day circling the shower drain.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

November might have been pedal to the metal, but in December, you’ll be back to cruising speed. In fact, there’s no need to put on any airs this month. Wear those old robes and start a Netflix show or a garden-balcony-hobby. You deserve to start 2021 feeling rested and refreshed. 

Your story pick is a stunner, too.

  • Teaser: Grace will keep every baby tooth in a tiny porcelain treasure chest. She will keep an inch of umbilical cord, dehydrated as a pressed rose.”

TO FUGGEDABOUTIT OR NOT TO FUGGEDABOUTIT

In celebration of the recent release of F(r)iction #17: Memory, we bring you this read-along…

Friction #17 with Tea

This year has been a real dumpster fire, and if the technology existed, I’m sure there would be plenty of folks lined up (six socially distant feet apart) to eternal sunshine the whole sordid mess of it down the drain. Opting in to selectively edit unpleasant memories from one’s mind is an appealing prospect for anyone who’s ever experienced a loss, a breakup, or an internet comment-thread, but is ignorance really bliss? Is forgetting the best medicine? Think about how frustrating it is when we can’t remember that actor’s name or who sang the song that’s earwormed its way into our brains—would forgetting an entire YEAR bring us welcome relief or would we find ourselves in a “no memories, ‘mo problems” situation?

Since science hasn’t yet given us the option to permanently erase what ails us, there’s no empirical data about whether or not the benefits of memory-scrubbing outweigh its possible downsides. So, to help you draw your own conclusions on the matter, here are ten unforgettable (groan) books about forgetting—a diverse sampling of fiction and memoir, adult and YA, prose, and graphic storytelling containing accounts of both voluntary and involuntary memory loss. Did I forget anything? 

The Low, Low Woods

by Carmen Maria Machado, DaNi (DC Comics, 2020)

In the dying coal-town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania, two teengirl BFFs, El and Vee, wake up in a deserted movie theater with their underpants on inside-out and no memories beyond the film’s opening credits. What begins like an SVU episode pivots sharply into Buffy’s feminist-supernatural territory as we discover that the pervasive memory loss affecting the town’s female population is far from its only concern: sinkholes swallow people whole, the woods teem with malformed creatures and magic mushrooms, and the local witch can only do so much. So the pals unite to battle the patriarchy and the packs of skinless men, seeking justice for the town’s women in-between college application essays and smooching other girls.

The Book of M

by Peng Sheperd (William Morrow, 2018)

What happens to humanity when a mysterious phenomenon begins affecting a percentage of the world’s population, causing first their shadows, and then their memories, to disappear? Even more worrisome here is the object impermanence—whatever the shadowless forget vanishes from the world, and what they misremember manifests, so now guns fire rounds of thunderstorms and deer have wings on their heads. The world becomes increasingly unstable and unpredictable, as the epidemic threatens to erase thousands of years of human progress: transportation, cities, literature. It’s also hell on relationships. If you think it’s bad when your spouse forgets your anniversary, think about what could happen if they forgot…you.

True Story

by Kate Reed Petty (Viking, 2020)

Following a night of teenage partying, Alice passed out in the backseat of the car driving her home. Afterward, two boys bragged about what they did to her while she was unconscious. Although she has no memory of being sexually assaulted, she’s ashamed, and suffers through the fallout of reputation-damaging rumors and victim-blaming until the incident is swept under the rug to protect the boys’ future. Fifteen years later, Alice is still defined by what she can’t remember, and her sense of self and self-worth have suffered from the lack of closure. Reflecting Alice’s fragmented memory, the novel shifts through multiple perspectives, genres, and formats, mixing up facts, fiction and memory until the true story emerges. 

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

by Sarah Hepola (Grand Central Publishing, 2015)

For an actual true story of alcoholic amnesia, there’s Sarah Hepola’s frank, funny recovery memoir. Organizations offering memory-wiping services may not exist, but Hepola managed to achieve countless memory gaps DIYing the process with blackouts caused by excessive alcohol consumption. More grandiose than mere unconsciousness, blackouts are the demonic possession version of passing out, where your body carries on doing and saying all sorts of things without your knowledge. This means that sometimes you wake up in a dog bed and sometimes you wake up in the middle of having sex with a man you’ve never seen before, unsure what country you’re in, living out some NSFW Quantum Leap fanfic. “Oh, boy,” indeed. 

The Book of Memory

by Petina Gappah (Faber and Faber, 2015)

We all know that our memories can’t be trusted, but can we trust a CHARACTER named Memory?

Memory is an albino of Shona descent sitting on death row in a Zimbabwean prison, convicted of murdering her white adoptive father; a loving man whose wealth afforded her every opportunity in life. Whether or not she did it, and why, is the question at the heart of the novel, but (M)memory is slippery. She shares her story in circuitous, occasionally contradictory episodes, frequently alluding to how malleable memory can be as she orbits the truth and keeps her secrets close. Memory puts the ‘lie’ in ‘unreliable narrator,’ ultimately proving that neither capital-m Memory nor lowercase-m memory is trustworthy. 

The Good Son

by You-Jeong Jeong (Penguin Books, 2018)

Although “murdering your mother” is the kind of thing anyone would like to forget, if there’s a chance you didn’t actually do it, it’s probably worth investigating. After waking up covered in blood in the duplex apartment he used to share with his mother—and now shares with her corpse—over the course of three intense and revealing days, the seizure-prone, memory-gapped Yu-jin will do just that. Armed with his mother’s journal and what little he can remember from the night of her death, he will stop taking his blackout-inducing epilepsy meds and try to get to the bottom of what he did—or didn’t—do. 

More Happy Than Not

by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015)

Sixteen years spent growing up in the boogie-down Bronx have exposed Aaron Soto to many adult-sized problems: gun violence, racism, his mother’s struggles to make ends meet, and his father’s recent suicide. He’s been dealing with his grief and depression alongside some lingering neurological quirks following his own suicide attempt. And yet, it isn’t until he starts developing romantic feelings for his new friend Thomas that he decides to pay a visit to the Leteo Institute to take advantage of their memory-altering/uncomfortable-urge-suppressing services. Then he’ll finally be able to reciprocate the love of his otherwise-perfect girlfriend Genevieve, right? It’s not like sexual orientation is one of those deeply-rooted core identity thingies, right? 

The Memory Police

by Yōko Ogawa (Pantheon Books, 2019)

In The Book of M, amnesiacs inadvertently forget things out of existence, but in the ultra-dystopian world of The Memory Police, the opposite is true, and object-specific amnesia is compulsory. Not only must the citizens of the novel’s unnamed island collectively forget the existence of certain items—hats, flowers, boats—they must also gather and destroy the physical objects themselves, ensuring that what happens in amnesia stays in amnesia. Failure to do so puts them at risk for a visit from the titular Memory Police, who can also make the disobedient disappear. 

🎵 They command you while you’re sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve complied or not, so forget for goodness’ sake. 🎵  

The Blinds

by Adam Sternbergh (Ecco, 2017)

In the real world, snitches get stitches, but in the town of Caesura, informants and criminals live together in harmony, thanks to the magic of memory erasure. It’s a next-level experiment in Witness Protection; a gated community deep in middle-of-nowhere Texas for both criminals and victims of crimes looking for a fresh start. Cut off from the rest of the world, free to leave—but not to return—these folks are given new identities and selective memory wipes freeing them from the knowledge-burden of what they’ve done or who wants to kill them, whether those individuals are on the outside or…right next door. It’s an elegant system: Don’t ask, don’t know, can’t tell. What could go wrong? 

Mother Daughter Widow Wife

by Robin Wasserman (Scribner, 2020)

A woman suffering from dissociative amnesia forgets who she is and abandons her home and family…twice, years apart. Wendy Doe, stripped of her identity, becomes more symbol than woman; a clinical puzzle to those studying her case and a family mystery to her daughter Alice. As Wendy begins to reinvent herself without the weight of memories and obligations, the novel shifts from psychological to philosophical suspense, becoming a reflective examination of the relationship between identity and memory. How much of who we are is dependent upon our memories? What could we become without the roles and expectations assigned to us by others? And, circling back to our original question: can forgetting everything be an opportunity for growth and healing? 

November Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

Embrace your true self this month. Don’t put on any airs with friends or family members or roommates. Instead, wear those worn but comfy clothes, buy that baked good over three-point-five berries; opt for indulgences over a harsh regimen. You deserve a break and, frankly, 2020 has been kind of a nightmare.

First thing’s first: Crack open this raw, stunning read:

  • Teaser: “November whispers purgatory / wrings its hands until / sound sleep and shivers / slough off of its skin”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

Last month was all about campy movies and old habits. November won’t be quite as exciting, but it won’t have any big downers, either. Use this time to start thinking about your goals for 2021. I might be biased, but I have a feeling that the new year will be one of your best yet. 

Celebrate with this fun and offbeat story. It has teeth, after all. 

  • Teaser: They hold me to it. George and Ross’s heads roll over to me. Bill rubs his belly, and it’s time. They take me, and I hold the heads in my arms. Bill and Lynnie sing to me. Chant to me. Like I’m the only one.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Treat dreary November as an opportunity to make up for lost time. (What? It’s all about October and December). When it comes to creative projects, the heart of autumn is your time to shine. So, don’t give in to your moodiness or inconsistent nature all the time. C’mon, I know you can do it!

Your reward is this touching yet inventive read:

  • Teaser: “Makeisha has always been able to bend the fourth dimension, though no one believes her.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! This means you can dive into a new project and immerse yourself in all that goodness. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the drama around you. Stay in that cocoon, friend. 

After you read your story pick, of course.

  • Teaser: “Behind Mitch’s parents stood two creatures. A tall, thin woman with long white hair and large ivory horns, wearing several necklaces heavy with human teeth.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

Since it’s officially pumpkin-spice-everything-nice season, you’ll be in a cheery and hyper mode. A few changes will come your way around the 16th, though. That would be a bummer for most people, but you’re a rock star when it comes to this stuff. Keep being your fabulous self!

Start by digging into this poignant read. 

  • Teaser: “And now sure enough, she finds herself dazzled by glass and steel, by crowds of faces. Thankful for the sense of invisibility in this new world, yet longing for the green fields of home.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Now that October has ended, you might want to cool it with the nightly shenanigans (unless you remember to bring a parka). This month, you’ll have an opportunity to see things for what they are—not how you want them to be. No judgment if you need to shove your head in the sand.

Or, you know, find a shovel. But read this story pick first.

  • Teaser: “Down in tunnel-dark, light slices past manhole cracks, like peeking up through vertical keyhole, decaying stink, and I never really saw her until I could barely see her at all.”
the golden age of radio by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

Some butter-side down days will hit near the end of autumn. If you’re so inclined, try a little maximum effort and turn that frown upside down (sorry, dad humor). When you’re not channeling your inner Deadpool—yikes but also freaking awesome—spend extra time with loved ones to make up for the cloudy days. 

My recommendation? Distract yourself with some gorgeous poetry.

  • Teaser: “the way sleep begins as speculation, marmoreal / & lush. the mind loosening its ropes on the body”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

For you, the flavor of November is a Jack-Skellington-style-romance. Halloween may be over, but you can still channel The Nightmare Before Christmas. So, buy extra breath mints and whisk your partner away for some hot n’ heavy dates. We’re talking shower-singing levels of happiness here. It’s your month, after all!

And check out this fantastic story pick. 

  • Teaser: For their wedding in a temple on a lone hill, she wears a transparent red dress, a black veil over her face resembling a cobweb. A rose garland on his frail-white frame, electric-blue shades taped on his pointed nose.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

If last month was ripe with good times, then November will be more of a contemplative period for you. You might even forget about the latest holiday. And that’s fine. This year, you won’t be interested in celebrating with turkey or pie. Stay true to the course, friend—it’ll be winter before you know it. 

In the meantime, I have just the story for you. 

  • Teaser: “Everyone is already gone, but the dregs of their drinks remain. Shuffling along the bar, glugging flat half-glasses of IPAs and DIPAs and Belgians, he catalogs their tastes: lipstick, cigarettes. Forty flavors of bitterness.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

Start this month with a bang. October may have been all about family, but November will be a full-steam-ahead kind of month. Finish old projects and embrace the end of the year. Change is ahead, my friends. Don’t freak out—that’s a good thing.

Your monthly read awaits, too. 

  • Teaser: “The girl in the mirror waves from afar, like she doesn’t care. She doesn’t recognize me, like I have unzipped me to come out as somebody else.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

November will be a tedious month of boredom for you. Try to ride it out so your brain can recharge (stop to smell the roses and all that). While you’ll enjoy the next few weeks, it’ll still be an unremarkable time for you. Around the 20th, commune with nature or try retail therapy.

And read your story pick, of course.

  • Dad, by Jo Withers
  • Teaser: We knew it was mean but when Dad started losing his mind, we persuaded him he was dead already.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

October was all about having fun and embracing your marshmallow center. Think of November as “opposite day,” so put on that game face gathering dust in your closet, and prepare for a few anvils in your professional or personal life. Sorry to break it to you!

Try to recover with this mesmerizing read:

  • Teaser: “In bed, it was so quiet, I heard the acorns drop from the oaks onto the graves as if someone was knocking.”

A Review of Heck, Texas by Tex Gresham

Published September 4, 2020 by Atlatl Press

Heck, Texas is not a novel. The cover even says so. It’s a fairly short work of fiction by Tex Gresham, who also wrote the excellent nonfiction piece “Matchstick 66” published in F(r)iction #15. The book is 125 pages of experimental fiction, so I’m pretty sure that the “not a novel” description excludes novellas as well. Heck, Texas is more like a joke book. A very bleak, disturbing, and yet creative joke book. There isn’t much in the way of narrative cohesion. Instead, the book uses a series of vignettes to illustrate life in heck-on-Earth, Texas. Based on geographical locations in the book, Heck, TX seems to be between Houston and the Louisiana boarder. 

The text is generally chaotic, with the rules of writing and style completely thrown aside. Capital letters and punctuation are for the birds, while ampersands abound. Brief lines of verse break up the onslaught of violence and abuse in each vignette. Occasionally, a photograph or drawing will break up the text, while the different typefaces for the vignettes keep the reader aware that the stories are disconnected in time and space. 

The book is divided into three sections. The first two are entirely made up of these disjointed vignettes. The third is the closest Heck, Texas comes to a conventional plot and character arc. This section is written like a screenplay, where a madman named Ishmael journeys through town burglarizing houses, screwing with pedestrians, haunting storage units, and evading authority. 

Most characters exist on the fringes of society: they’re poor, they’re ugly, they’re addicts, they’re suffering. The way they’re described is as though they are unwritten song titles from the deranged southern metal band The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza: “this is in the back of his car––kick drum with torn head, empty pack of newports, nine unused spiral notebooks, book about the coulthurst murders in alaska, & a gallon of eggnog.” 

Most of the stories are tragic, and the ones that aren’t end with a cruel joke at the character’s expense. For example, one character is at a club one night and slips into an existential crisis. His stream of consciousness covers meaning, solipsism, beauty, and living in the present. He comes to some profound realizations. Once he’s finished rambling, a stripper asks him, “Okay, but like do you want a lapdance or not?” 

It’s a foul-mouthed book, with plenty of offensive language and slurs. But the bad language illustrates the closed-minded and ignorant people that inhabit Heck, TX. I’m reminded of Mid90s, a 2018 film that took some flak for using homophobic slurs. The movie depicted a specific youth culture and time where what is now considered hate speech was common vernacular. In the same way, Heck, Texas is simply holding up a mirror to the worst parts of Americana. 

I give Gresham a lot of credit for a book this nasty being his debut. If you’re the type of person that can find humor in the macabre, if there’s a streak of misanthropy in you, if you’ve been desensitized to violence by a supremely violent culture, then this book might be for you. If you’re easily offended, if you’re an empath who feels all pain, and you don’t enjoy immature toilet humor, then this book definitely ain’t for you. The seventh page of the book even ends with a footnoted warning: “to continue with more shit like this, turn the page[.] to stop reading shit like this, burn the book[.]”

I like Heck, Texas for the same reason I like the music of Father John Misty. Both completely own their shit. Josh Tillman as Father John Misty is a self-absorbed asshole know-it-all. He indulges that side of himself and owns his flaws, giving honesty and authenticity to his music. Tex Gresham has written a book that is so crass and vile in a political climate where making racy jokes is not welcome, but he also owns what he likes. He finds humor in pain, in body horror, and reminds readers that what is taboo does not have to be off-limits. A lot of readers will only see the offensive stories in this book at face value. They won’t spend time trying to understand why someone wrote such a disturbing comedy: Heck, TX exists all over the United States. 

Eight years ago, my house caught on fire. When I walked inside the next day and saw how wrecked my living room was, I blurted out laughing and disturbed the insurance agent who was walking around with my landlord. Heck, Texas is like that. In a world, a town, a culture so sick, all you can do is laugh. Heck, Texas is, as Anthony Fantano once so eloquently said, “the feel terrible hit of the summer.”

An Interview with Lara Ehrlich

What inspired you to write this collection? Did you always know you were going to create a short story collection, and if so, how did that affect your writing process?

The collection began with the title story, which I began writing as a young adult novel. I wrote hundreds of pages but it wasn’t gelling, and I realized that’s because it was meant to be a short story! I pared it down to the kernel of the story: the relationship between the mother and daughter.

While writing this and the next few stories in the collection, I was interested in exploring the threshold between childhood and adulthood and how fraught this period is with anxiety, fear, shame, and desire—feelings children don’t yet understand when anticipating their adulthood. Throughout the years, my focus shifted to the concerns of adulthood, wifehood, and motherhood—the various roles women accumulate throughout their lives. 

As these themes came into focus, I began writing toward them. For example, the protagonists of “The Vanishing Point” and “Burn Rubber” were originally male, but as the collection became woman-centric, I realized that all of the stories should be from a female perspective, and I changed those protagonists into women. That choice transformed the stories. My goal was to publish the stories as a collection so I wrote with that cohesion in mind, even as I published them individually in literary magazines.

These short stories all have some animal element in them, whether it’s real or fantastical. Did you go into creating this collection of stories with that element in mind?

I was halfway into the book before I realized that the stories all had animal elements, some more obvious than others. Once I recognized this element, I began to incorporate it more consciously into the stories. In part, this obsession comes from my love of fairy tales, which so often center on the transformation of animals into humans and humans into animals as a means of both entrapment and escape. 

In the swan maiden folktale that’s central to “Animal Wife,” for example, a human man steals a swan’s feathered cloak, trapping her in human form. There are many variations of this myth, featuring selkies, snakes, and fish, in which a wild beast is trapped and domesticated. She eventually reclaims her skin and returns to her true form, abandoning her family along with her human identity. 

Each of the women in these stories are unique, yet they’re easily recognizable as women we know, or women we have been. How did you tackle creating these characters? 

I tackled each character differently. I’ll use Diana, the protagonist of “The Vanishing Point,” as an example. Diana constructs a biomechanical deer suit and lives in the woods behind her childhood home. I needed her to be physically believable as a human and as a human wearing an animal body—and mentally and emotionally believable in her attempt to escape her life through transformation. 

I grounded Diana with realistic details so readers could suspend their disbelief as Diana embarks on her fantastical transformation. I interviewed women scientists to accurately represent Diana’s biomechanics career and the challenges she’d face as a woman in academia. I learned that the emphasis on postdoctoral research, grant-funded positions that prevent PhD scientists from starting their careers in earnest until their mid-thirties, pressures women to choose between work and family. I gave Diana this anxiety of being caught between her career ambitions and her yearning for a family, having just lost her parents. I did a lot of character layering to capture what Diana’s body feels like at various points, how her mental state changes, what she wants, and what, by the end of the story, she’s resigned to want. 

We get to see not only how situations affect the women in your stories on the surface, but also how those same women choose to react to those situations at a deeper level. How important was it for you to show the inner lives of women?

It’s crucial! In the majority of these stories, I found my way into a protagonist’s inner life through her exterior life, through transformation and fantasy. In “Foresight,” for example, a woman drinks a potion that allows her to see the outcome of every choice she makes, which branches off into countless other choices until she can see all of her possible lives branching into infinity. The protagonist lives hundreds of lives in the space of that 800-word story—but in the physical world of the story, only a few minutes pass. Nothing more happens on the surface than the woman drinking Foresight and lying on the couch; the story takes place in her inner world. Each story in Animal Wife is driven by its protagonist’s interiority; the story’s situation is often a vehicle for accessing it.

Some of these stories seem to have similar scenarios for their characters, such as a group of girls waiting for their friend who left in a strange boy’s car or relationships with significant others that don’t end well. Did you intend to have similar moments in your stories or was it something that just happened? Is there a shared world for any of these stories? 

While I didn’t intentionally incorporate those scenarios, they came through organically within the world of the stories. Once I noticed the echo, I consciously leaned into it to ensure that the scenarios resonate in a new way each time. In “Six Roses,” a teen girl drives off with boys she doesn’t know, leaving her friends feeling helpless and scared. In “Burn Rubber,” an adult woman recalls a friend who had driven off with strangers and projects that scenario upon her own young daughter, reflecting her fear that she’s losing control over her child. 

The stories are not linked, in that their characters don’t cross over or the locations are not the same—but they could exist within the same world. It was important to me that the world of the book be cohesive, believable, and follow its own rules—but that harmony doesn’t depend on the stories existing in the same town or within the same group of friends. Even the two pieces that are closest in nature, the bookending stories that share an origin myth, could be two parts of the same story from different perspectives—or their own stories within the world of the book. 

Lara Ehrlich. Photo copyright Janice Checchio. 2019. www.janicechecchio.com

I was fascinated by the strength of your shortest pieces. How did you manage to encapsulate a whole story in just one paragraph?

I strive for stories that are stark and efficient, where every word feels necessary like poetry. I pared the shortest stories to their hearts so they feel powerful and complete in a compressed space, whether that’s a few pages, a paragraph, or a single line. It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that a story must be thousands of words to be important, but length isn’t a measure of significance. Sometimes I’ll revisit a piece and challenge myself to tell the same story in one page, then one paragraph, then three sentences, and finally, one sentence. By paring it down to its finest point, I sometimes find that’s the story I’ve been trying to tell all along.

When it comes to many of the Animal Wife stories, there seems to be an underlying thread of tension or emotion that we don’t quite recognize immediately. What inspired this narrative choice? How did you decide to go about teasing that out?

The stories are not plot heavy. In “Burn Rubber,” for example, a woman becomes psychologically trapped in her car and drives around the Chicago suburbs for an indeterminate amount of time. On the surface, there’s not much to that story—but a story doesn’t have to be driven by plot; it can be driven by other elements that create a sense of momentum, like ratcheting up tension in the characters’ inner lives. 

In “Beware the Undertoad,” the teenage protagonist returns to her grandmother’s house at the beach summer after summer, encountering the same group of vacationing kids, including a boy who becomes the object of her fantasies. As she grows up, her relationship with the other kids—particularly the boy—becomes more emotionally fraught, as does her understanding of a sea monster the children call the Undertoad. Her anxieties and fears drive the story toward a physical confrontation with the boy and the monster. 

In some of the stories, your main characters have names, while others remain unnamed. Was this an intentional decision or did it just end up that way? Would you say there is a benefit to having unnamed characters?

It’s an authorial choice that impacts the way readers experience a story. When a character’s name is withheld, it’s unsettling. You’re denied a level of intimacy with that character, and the character is denied that intimacy with herself. I didn’t name the character in “Burn Rubber,” for example, because her identity has been subsumed by her role as a mother and a wife, which has eroded her sense of self. She’s referred to as “the mother.” Naming is empowering. Un-naming is an erasure of self.

Now that your book is out there, what’s coming up next? Do you have any plans for another short story collection or novel? 

I’m working on a novel loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” about a restless siren who becomes human, only to find that she is equally restless in that body. She runs off with her daughter to open a mermaid burlesque where they perform as sirens. A fun note: Last summer, I attended the Weeki Wachee Sirens of the Deep summer camp in Weeki Wachee, Florida, where women have been performing as mermaids since 1947. There, the park’s legendary sirens taught me how to swim in a tail. I wrote about that experience in Lit Hub.

If there is anything you would want readers to take from reading Animal Wife, what would it be? 

Rage. I’m furious that my daughter was born into a world in which women still confront inequality, indifference, and violence. Our bodies are policed and raped and sold. Many still have to choose between family and career, and if we pursue both we are ground to the bone because work-life balance isn’t valued in our capitalistic society. Yet, we’re told that if we just “lean in,” we can “have it all.” 

That’s impossible. The cost of daycare is prohibitive, we’re still paid less than our male counterparts, and we carry the mental load at home. The more we feel we should be doing, the more inadequate we feel because we can’t possibly do it all. We blame ourselves because that’s what women do—and it’s what our society does. We’re bombarded with the message that we’re bad mothers, bad employees, and bad wives. We’re monsters.

Now add a global pandemic into the mix! COVID-19 has widened these cracks; as the New York Times reported, the pandemic is going to “take our women 10 years back” in the workplace, with one in four women contemplating dropping out of the workforce. Between August and September 2020 alone, more than 800,000 American women left their jobs, vs. 216,000 men.

Animal Wife doesn’t offer solutions—it’s not feasible to live in the woods as a deer or beat the shit out of awful men while rocking a sequined cape—although that’s what I want to do sometimes. But as we confront the systems and rules designed to keep women in kitchens, I hope these stories give voice to our rage.

An Interview with Emily Duncan

DH: When you started writing Wicked Saints, did you always know that you were going to take the universe to such an expansive level? 

ED: I always build too big, so that was inevitable. I had it planned as a duology because I had two points of view, which was to write book one and then book two would be about Serefin. My agent said, “You have three main characters though. So, that’s not a duology.” Because I don’t plan, I always have scenes that I know I want to write. I went into Ruthless Godsknowing that I wanted to write the salt mines, and I wanted to write one element of the end. The other four elements of the end were complete surprises to me. It didn’t end up turning out as I was expecting or planning for, because I didn’t write this thing expecting it to get so big. Now I’m at a point where I’m like, I don’t actually want to leave this world for a while. I would like to keep playing in this sandbox. But because I’ve poured so much research time into it, I don’t want to start that anew with something else. 

All your books shift between your three character’s perspectives. Was that always planned or was that decision made later?

Wicked Saints was always Nadya and Serefin. When I started writing Ruthless Gods, I knew I didn’t want to use Malachiasz yet, because he gets the third book. So as I was writing Ruthless Gods, I thought it was going to end up being the same structure as Wicked Saints, I wasn’t expecting all of the other point of view chapters that I ended up using. I kept splitting up the cast in ways that I needed other cameras. I needed to be able to look at different things and have Serefin in chapters that weren’t in his point of view, but I had split him off from literally everyone else, so I needed a new character. It worked very well in Ruthless Gods, but it ended up being a nightmare in book three because going from two strict points of view to three meant I turned in a 178,000-word draft which has been edited down to about the same size as Ruthless Gods, which is around 135,000. 

You wrote both in your acknowledgments and social media that compared to Wicked SaintsRuthless Gods pretty much murdered you. Why do you think it was so hard? How fast did you write Ruthless Gods?

I had never written anything that could be considered horror adjacent, so I was working with a whole new framework. I had the bones of Ruthless Gods down by the time Ruthless Gods started circulating. But Wicked Saints started circulating extremely early because we sent out a million bound manuscripts super early. So, on top of all of the craft side of things, I felt the pressure like, oh people like the first one. So now I have to do it again somehow. And I don’t know if I can.  I’m really glad I got the bulk of it done before I started getting reader opinions, so I could be like, I don’t care, the book is already done. There was a lot of pressure on all sides when I was writing Ruthless Gods. I never had to write a book that fast before.

I started Ruthless Gods in September of 2017 and it took a little over a year to write.

Did you get to take time off of work from your career as a librarian to write?

With Ruthless Gods, I wrote the beginning a bunch of times, and then I wrote a draft of 100,000 words. I emailed my editor and said, “I am just broken and I’m going to start over. I’ll turn it in on time, I promise, but I’m starting over.” I that was before summer, and summer at my day job was horrible, because Summer Reading is like Black Friday, but every day for two months straight. So, I lost that summer and I was behind because I had decided to start over at 100,000 words. I had gotten back to the 60,000 point of the book with a month left before my deadline and I slammed through it in less than a month. I would get home from work, I would eat something, and I would go to a Starbucks and write until they closed. 

Did your publisher ask you to release your books so close together? 

In the YA genre, it’s a book a year. Some of the authors who debuted the same year as me have ended up with their second books coming out next year. But the general expectation is to try to hit it the same time your last book came out.

How long was the editing process? When is the editing done?

I have no shame and I will turn in a draft to my editor that had entire chapters missing. She knows that I’m going to write it because I always do, and it’s fine. If we weren’t on this book a year timeline, I think I would not turn in drafts that have just scenes in brackets. It’s such a fast turnaround that I can’t self-edit because I need months of distance before I can look at a book and think, “Oh there are problems!” But the way the process works is I turn it in and my editor gives me a list of notes to edit, usually structurally. Because I don’t outline, I tend to spin in circles a lot as I’m trying to figure out how things put together. Line edits are when my editor says, “Okay but we didn’t actually need any of this. That’s where the bulk of my editing happens because at a prose level I write really messy. 

It’s interesting that you were tapping into horror while writing Ruthless Gods. What was it like to bring in those horror elements to this book?

It was so much fun. I didn’t grow up reading or watching horror. I haven’t seen most of the staples and I definitely haven’t read most of the staples. When I started Ruthless Gods, I thought there’s only one way to take this, it’s classic horror and I don’t know what that means. Then I started reading classic horror books, and I found that they’re kind of boring? Because it’s focused on being cerebral, nothing happens. It was hard because I don’t like gore and I don’t like things being shocking, but I really love horror movies that make you feel kind of uncomfortable and bad the whole time. Visually it maybe isn’t gross, but you just don’t feel good. Tapping into that in writing is really hard because how everyone reacts to horror is so different. I think Ruthless Gods is uncomfortable and there are people that said it wasn’t scary. It wasn’t supposed to be, it was supposed to be uncomfortable. So, it was hard to figure out how I wanted to handle that. 

In a trilogy, the first book has to feel like it can stand alone. The second book usually sets up a redemption arc that comes full circle in the third book. Was it liberating not having a big pitiful climax to work towards in the second book?

No, I loved it. The second books of trilogies are always my favorites. I really like the installments that are super dark the whole time, nothing is resolved, and then it’s just over. I know that YA readers hate this, but I love books that are like, I know you had questions from the first book. I will answer two of them. Then I will ask ninety-seven more and I will answer none of those. I kind of did that. I remember going to my editor and saying, “I can handle this two ways. I can end it and readers will think he’s dead. Or I can write the epilogue and let them know everything’s fine.” She said, “Emily, if you pick the first way, you would have to not talk about him for a year and you can’t do that, so write the epilogue.” I thought, you know what? That is a fair point. I admire authors who can be super coy and not reveal anything, but I just can’t do that. 

What was it like expanding an already super complicated mythology?

I like world-building where the entire point is to crack everything open. I don’t plan for anything, and I was feeling a little constricted. I like presenting things in a way where the reader has to bring in something of their own to the book. However, I wanted to be able to open doors so that if I were to go to other areas in this world that aren’t these two countries, I wouldn’t be rehashing a magic system that I already used. 

Are we to expect the same sort of jump in mythology expansion we experienced from book one to book two? 

No, because part of what made book three so hard was I hit a point with Ruthless Gods where I couldn’t go bigger. I had to keep it close, resolve things, and I hate resolving things. Because Ruthless Gods was so big and blew things open, I knew that I couldn’t do that again because book three is closure. I feel like each book has a very different vibe to it. Wicked Saints was a lot more high fantasy and Ruthless Gods is a little more horror, so it is paced more like an adult novel. Book three is not quite as dark, yet the cast gets split up in a different way. I’m trying to answer the questions from earlier in the story instead of posing new ones. It felt like there was less room for it to be so overwhelmingly dark. 

You’ve obviously developed the characters at an intimate level throughout the book. We have new beautiful romances coming to life, we have a lot of angst about trust, we have people growing as people, couples, friends, and enemies. What was it like to build the intimacy alongside this huge mythological concept? 

It felt extremely self-indulgent. The things that I like writing are the moments between the characters. I really like stepping back from the big things that are happening to hone in on character interactions. I have found that it’s more fun when it’s self-indulgent. But also, there’s that feeling in the back your head questioning if you are pushing the plot forward. I think it worked. My first drafts are always very sweet, nobody’s really mad at each other, because I don’t want them to be. In my first draft I built in the avenues for when I was going to pause and have a character moment. When I revised, I decided okay, we’re going to keep this character moment here, but we’re going to change how it’s happening because they should probably be mad at each other. I also wanted conflict between characters that had zero conflict in book one. The character relationships were the easiest part of the book because those are the things from Wicked Saints I knew I wanted to write.

Can you give us a preview of what we will get to experience in book three? 

I am going to leave a lot of things open because I’m not done with this world. We’ll see how readers react to that because I’m not going to answer all the questions. I’m going to answer the ones that I feel are the most important, but I know that there are questions readers think are super important that I do not. And so, we’ll see what happens. I’ll answer more than two questions, I promise. 

Are you planning on continuing with this world in a short story or comics?

Nothing is currently set in stone. What I’m working on now is set in the same world, but it’s two countries to the west and it’s happening at the same time as book three. It’s a lot more insular and has two settings and four characters. What I wanted to do is play around with something else, play around with a different country. Honestly, I have another trilogy’s worth of material about this specific cast. I feel like I ended the trilogy and I answered the questions that were asked in this specific trilogy but for a bunch of the characters, there is still more to do. But it’s publishing, so there are no guarantees. I don’t want to say I’m going to go back and write more because I don’t know, but I really want to. All I can do right now is work on something slightly different in the same world and see how that goes. 

Do you think you’ll stay with the YA genre?

Landing at a publisher that does, “crossover YA,” has meant that they let me play with these things that I think other publishers probably wouldn’t. I feel if I were somewhere else, Ruthless Gods probably wouldn’t haven’t ended up being so weird, long, and slow. I feel like I’m being allowed to inhabit an in-between place that I want to be. I don’t think I’m going to leave YA, but I feel like I have my foot in other areas already. 

Your book came out when a global pandemic struck the world. How has Covid-19 affected publishing your second book?

I was expecting it to be worse. I hadn’t really planned on doing many events so that didn’t really affect much of anything. There was the knowledge that the first week sales could have been better because there would have been actual bookstore foot traffic. There’s nothing really that could have been done to change it. I don’t think pushing the book later would have done anything, except cause problems. It does feel weird because there’s usually a rush of attention when a book first comes out and then months of quiet, and it’s hard to know if the quiet now is the normal cycle of things or if everyone has already forgotten about this book because it came out in the middle of a pandemic. I can’t let myself worry about it because there’s no doing anything about a global pandemic. It is what it is, you write the next book. 

October Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

In October, hurdles will dissolve like candy melts. You’ll even get a second wind around the 19th, so keep bobbing for those apples—er, goals. Not caramel apples or that chocolate you want to eat while you procrastinate (nope, not at all). 

Anyway! Save this delightful piece for a Halloween treat.

  • Teaser: “I pop people’s dreams. Literally. It’s good business, recession-proof even, because everyone has dreams.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

A few bad habits will rise like the dead this month (see what I did there). You might be tempted to bar the door, but one or two could warrant a closer look. When you’re not delving into your own psyche, bust out some stale candy and enjoy campy movies. It’s that time of year, after all. 

You also have this stunning story at your fingertips.

  • Teaser: Eyes closed tight—the humid air pressed heavy on the back of his neck, he closed his eyes tighter, hurting his own skull—a jawbone of no release.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Good news, Gemini! Pumpkin-spice season will treat you like an old friend. Minds like yours tend to thrive in that space between spring and summer, but you’ll still have a good time this month. Be your adaptable self and throw on that witchy hat (I know you want to, deep down).

But first, check out your monthly read.

  • Teaser: “the hovering moon splinters above / bodies not welcomed back to the living / trying to speak your name is / like throwing a fist in a dream—all air / no impact.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Don’t give into the social distancing blues. You can still be a zombie, but put on some cute clothes first. Buy your favorite treats, light a seasonal candle; pull out all the stops. It might just make you feel better. If all else fails, open your window and take in that crisp air (unless you’re near the fires, in which case, I’m giving you a hug, friend).

Keep distracting yourself with this moving piece.

  • Teaser: “After a while, I took him outside. There was no moon that night and as the stars blinked through drifting clouds, so did my son, eyes wide for the first time, taking in the whole dark world.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

This month, do your best “Kim K” impression and ignore the haters. They’re just jealous of your fabulous self. And don’t forget to reward yourself—you killed it at work last month, and now you get to reap the rewards (I’d apologize for all the word play, but Halloween is the best time of the year; sorry not sorry!)

Speaking of rewards, I handpicked this coffin just for you. Wink, wink. 

  • Teaser: “His coffin was quite pleasant, with silk lining and a comfortable pillow. More comfortable than that damned bed. He felt the tension pour out of him. He was more relaxed now than he could ever remember being while alive. Let her try and get this blanket.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

October will be a ghoulishly good time for you. What can I say; you must have racked up some serious karma points! Enjoy the ride while it lasts. Around the 25th, you’ll even get an extra boost from Lady Luck. Buy a lotto ticket or a Wonka bar—you’re bound to get something with a little gold.  

And read your monthly pick, of course.

  • Teaser: “This is more or less how it goes: / you wake up & the dragon is loose again. / the fields were black long before they could / bear you fruit. You wake up / with smoke like treacle in your throat.”
the nest by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

If September was a box of dollar-store chocolate, then October is See’s Candy all the way! That’s right, Libra: This month is all about you. The Day of the Dead will be your best day yet. For the time being, think of yourself as a four-leaf clover. A rabbit’s foot. A shiny penny. A unicorn to best all other unicorns—you get the idea. 

First thing’s first: Dive into this magical and engrossing read.

  • Teaser: Her brother arrives every few decades in a flurry of storm, snow on his shoulders and in his beard whatever the season outside. His magics are not subtle, and he reaches constantly for something larger.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Toward the beginning of the month, you’ll need to break territory lines and welcome a few guests. C’mon, I know you’re possessive, but good behavior will earn you some rewards. I’m talking down n’ dirty flirting around All Hallows’ Eve.

And don’t forget to howl at the moon. Tis the season, after all! 

  • Teaser: There was nothing really special about Patty except there was. This is the story of Patty: she was here, and we were better because of that. Because we loved her. And now she’s gone, but we’re still better.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

When it came to stress, you drew the short straw in September. This month, your spirits will lift—winter is coming, eventually, I swear—and only a few tiny obstacles will remain. For the most part, you’ll be in a pumpkin-carving, Death Becomes Her kind of mood (that’s a good thing!) 

Speaking of good things, I saved this poignant piece for you.

  • Teaser: “He peered in with the small flashlight he kept on his key chain and saw nothing. He inhaled but smelled nothing. He wondered of the hole’s depth.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

If last month was all about indulgence, then October is your time to shine in the family department. Schedule two or six video chats and rock that bonding time. If you need an icebreaker, hang that dangly skeleton, or put on those vampy fangs—just don’t tell your mom they’re not for Halloween.

In the meantime, check out your story pick!

  • Teaser: “On the morning of the last day of the faith, you bring me a bowl of fresh milk and a flower from your garden. Its petals are pristine, even though you had to carry it all the way up to the temple in the pocket of your apron.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Ignore those witchy calls and stay true to the course. I know pettiness can be tempting, but the high road will leave you feeling best. Of course, you could always dive into drama after the middle of the month (I won’t judge). 

If all else fails, your October story pick is an absolute treat. 

  • Teaser: Agent Heartbreak and the Misery Muse meet cute on a lonely-hearts cruise. Their gazes lock above the brunch buffet.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

Guess what, Pisces? It’s time to indulge in your favorite candy and light a bunch of candles (bonus points if they’re creepy). This month will be 98% fun with just a dash of reflection. Enjoy the end of this triple-digit summer and embrace the season, you Halloween junkie.

Start the festivities with this timeless read.

  • Teaser: “Red dirt. For miles. Nothing else surrounds the diner in The Middle of Nowhere, Arizona. A diner surrounded by dirt is the perfect place for peculiar things. Inside sit five booths of red vinyl riddled with cigarette burns and ketchup stains. The creases between the vinyl seats hide hardened fries, skin cells, ants, time.”

September Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

This month, you’ll have to fake it till you make it. Since you’re already kind of screwed—What? These tea leaves don’t lie—you could make the most of it and download that dating app. Apply to that job you’ve talked yourself out of, try that hobby you swore you’d never like. Do something adventurous.

Since you’re living up to your sign, I thought I’d live up to mine and bring you Halloween in September! (Don’cha just love me?)

  • Teaser: “The ten-foot-tall animatronic zombie had appeared on Ms. Fisk’s lawn seemingly overnight. Arthur met the garish thing at dawn when he came out to retrieve the newspaper.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

It’s time to work it, Taurus! If there’s something special you’ve wanted to take on, now is the time to leap from that plank. You’ll be struck by a confidence boost in September, too, so don’t waste this time. 

Let’s cap off the month with some truly stellar reading:

  • Teaser: Our fathers brag about common seals / that they are still in love with. / Dad talks about a girl / who ate her mackerel raw. / It flashed between her teeth / like rose quartz.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Don’t worry about any leftover negativity from August. You climbed those stress mountains like a pro. Even if your family hammers home some old issues, make sure you stay true to the course—i.e., your passions and beliefs—by being your creative, adaptable self. 

Reward yourself with this enthralling story. 

  • Teaser: “In the old days, men descended into the mines and picked at the walls for copper, for iron, for knuckle-sized nuggets of coal. They dug so deep that the air grew heavy and warm and then they dug deeper, following the veins of ore.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

This year might have felt like one long day, but the grind should only get to you for the first few weeks of fall. Keep your chin up and party hardy during that night out you have planned. (By night out, we mean social distance with the best of ‘em). 

Remember: You’re awesome. You do you and you’ll be just fine. Oh, and don’t forget your monthly read! 

  • Teaser: “I met God / at the aisle between / analgesics and wound care. / I was no longer in search / for healing, so I settled / for superficial repairs.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

Virgo might have stolen the spotlight, but good news: it’s all downhill from here! (Whoops, that was supposed to be positive.) Anyway, avoid heart-to-hearts this month and try to focus on work. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed by the bossman/bosswoman.

In the meantime, this unique story is sure to pique your interest:

  • Teaser: “So I begin to empty the house in me. I open the front door of my body—slowly, because it’s 2:33 a.m. and cells are sleeping, or being happy, or transmitting data, or whatever—and start throwing things out.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Strut your stuff in September and ignore the haters. They’re just jealous of your file organizer and milky-gel pens (who isn’t, honestly). Besides, this month is all about you! Take the time to feed all your personal gremlins. And don’t forget to indulge in drinks, too—it’s pumpkin-spice season.

Speaking of indulgences, I handpicked this story just for you.

  • Teaser: “In the parking lot she makes out with me, her perfume a shot of intergalactic scents, I can breathe in all night. We drive around in the dark, playing her favorite music, my truck with all the glitter looks like a traveling hip-hop band.”
golden locks by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

Don’t give in to the soap opera that is your life just yet. I know juicy gossip is tempting, but good things come to those who wait. Dive into the drama after the 16th and you’ll score most of your desires. Don’t pout—you’ll only get one measly thing if you leap now.

Distract yourself with this heartfelt and poignant read. 

  • Teaser: I fold the piece of paper smoothly. even though it is stained and creased and ripped from one of your old notebooks. I keep it close… For now, you are here.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Whew, your crummy weather report is over! We’re at summer’s end, which means you can gleefully welcome the crisp notes of autumn. Last month was all about dodging a few landmines. Thankfully, September looks like a time of recovery and stability. 

While you’re racking up rest days, check out your story pick for this month.

  • Teaser: A cough. He turned very carefully and looked at Sarah. She was sound asleep on her belly and breathing quietly. He lifted his head and listened and heard the cough again.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

You might be cast in the role of peacekeeper for this year’s production of “Skype Birthday Dinners and Family Game Nights and Possibly-Future-Holiday-Parties.” This won’t come naturally to you, so just try your best and enjoy that spiked punch. (What? You could still make punch).

But first, open this awe-inspiring read.

  • Teaser: “A toddler slouches in his pram, / fiddling with a galactic universe set. / Venus sits in another pram across him. / She notices his single dimple and points. / Mars looks up and catches her shimmering gaze and pink tutu dress.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

You might be feeling a little zombielike after the disaster that was August. You survived, you responsible goat, you, and now it’s time to treat yourself. Whether that means bath bombs, premium chocolate, or something in between, the start of autumn will be a time of indulgence.

Speaking of indulgences…

  • Teaser: “In the nineteenth-century Victorian house where the girls grew up, there were always at least seven ghosts.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Your ego might turn into Swiss cheese around the 10th of September. Don’t worry, though, Lady Luck will bring the cavalry at the height of the month (relief never tasted so sweet). In early September, spend your time with a few good friends.

And don’t worry: This compelling piece can help you through the roller-coaster month.

  • Teaser: A slip and a slide all the way to the dusty / bottom again. The cutting definition of geometry, of love. / The alignment of same sides, the slope of wanting more, of / never being satisfied with the bottom line.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

You entertained old relationships in August, so now it’s time to feed your intuitive, nature-loving spirit. Set aside some mental health days so you can reflect and mentally prepare yourself for holiday shenanigans. Try not to feel guilty, either! We all need downtime. 

In the meantime, this striking CNF piece is waiting in your queue.

  • Teaser: Remember how your uncle didn’t see it coming, but his secretary did. Remember. Remember how your mother told you she tried to run.”

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing: Paige Lewis

An Interview with Paige Lewis on The Simpsons, Radiohead, and Painting

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing is a series of interviews in which we ask writers to take a break from trying to document the world and just kinda chill out in it for a while.

Laura Villareal (LV)

The Simpsons has had a longstanding place in pop culture since it began running in 1989. I remember watching episodes after school as a kid while doing homework. How long have you been a fan of the show? What do you love about it?

Paige Lewis (PL)

I’ve been watching The Simpsons since as far back as I can remember. I was born in 1991—The Simpsons has been a living thing for longer than I have. It’s wild. Did your parents allow you to watch The Simpsons after school, or were you being sneaky about it? My mother didn’t want my siblings and I watching it, but she worked late, and we were brats.

I can’t speak for every Simpsons fan, but for me, The Simpsons was glorious from Season 1 through Season 10, and after that it gets sort of difficult to watch. So, when I talk about what I love, I am talking about Seasons 1-10 (and maybe a few stray episodes from Seasons 11 and 12). I love the layers of humor in the show. Like, it’s funny when you’re a kid—it’s got a lot of slapstick humor and silly phrases and faces. But then, the older you get and the more art, and literature, and music, and film you experience, the more references you understand, and the funnier the show gets. In a way, the early seasons reward you for expanding your knowledge. This also makes it possible to watch episodes over and over again without getting bored.

LV

I definitely had to be sneaky about watching it. Moms of the early 90’s were definitely anti-Bart Simpson! Maybe they were right to worry. Even years later, I find myself absentmindedly quoting episodes I haven’t seen in years. Is there a moment or a quote that you think of often?  

PL

Oh, I love that you just have quotes burned into your memory like that. I have some quotes that come up a lot in my daily life, but most are nonsense out of context—”I was saying Boo-urns.” Or “Sticking together is what good waffles do.” Or “I sleep in a racing car. Do you?”. Maybe they’re all nonsense even in context.

LV

Oh, for sure! The Simpsons seems to be everywhere. Do you have a favorite Simpsons-based memory either with the show or the brand?

PL

My husband, Kaveh Akbar, and I actually started talking because of our mutual love for The Simpsons! A few years ago, Kaveh took me to my first Simpsons trivia night in New York City. The whole trip up to NYC, Kaveh kept warning me that the trivia was really hard, that he and his friends usually only got a few questions right when they’d played, and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. But then we got there and in the first round I got 20 out of 20 questions right! I was the king of The Simpsons!

Don’t ask me about the 2nd and 3rd round.

LV

20 out of 20 is amazing! I can’t imagine being quizzed over that many seasons of information.

PL

Oh gosh, I should have mentioned that the trivia is only about Seasons 1-10. Due to quarantine, we actually just recently played our first game of virtual Simpsons trivia with like one hundred other Simpsons nerds. It was difficult because the questions are on a timer and you lose points for every second you don’t answer. I think maybe my favorite part of Simpsons trivia is the team names everyone comes up with. Last time, we were Team Discovery Channel!

LV

That’s such a good trivia name!

Like the Simpsons, Radiohead has a cult following. It seems to be a really polarizing band. I did a little research and found a wild assortment of Radiohead content—everything from Chuck Klosterman’s Kid A conspiracy theory to heated takes on each album to a YouTube mash-up called Radiohead Albums Portrayed by The Simpsons. This might be a spicy take, but for me, I got why people liked Radiohead when I heard King of Limbs on repeat at my job in 2011. Admittedly, up until then, I had only heard “Creep” and “Karma Police.” I know KOL is one of their least popular albums but I think it’s when Radiohead’s sound began to shift towards more electronic sounds which I thought was interesting. How would you rank the albums? What’s your personal favorite?

PL

Ranking! I feel ill-equipped to rank their albums. I will say I wasn’t very interested in King of Limbs when it first came out. I love it now, but it took years before it grew on me. Maybe I needed to work somewhere where it played on repeat?

By some kind force in the universe, “Creep” was not the first song I heard by Radiohead. Growing up, I found a lot of my favorite bands through my sister, Raychel. She’s seven years older than me and introduced me to most of my favorite music, movies, art, etc. One summer, while I was still in middle school, Raychel left her huge CD collection with me. And she had a lot of Radiohead CDs. The first Radiohead album I pulled out of her CD case was Hail to the Thief, which means the first song I ever heard by Radiohead was “2+2=5”. And after that first listen, I went bonkers. I wanted to hear everything they’d ever made. I read books about Radiohead, and I’d sit for hours watching YouTube videos of their concerts on the family computer, to the displeasure of absolutely everyone else in the house. I covered my school folders in pictures of Thom Yorke, like a little creep.

I feel like I bounced back and forth between wanting to marry Thom Yorke and wanting to be Thom Yorke. Once, I saw a photo of Thom wearing a shirt with a little bottle on it, and on the bottle were the words “Presse Ne Pas Avaler” (it means something like, “Don’t Swallow the Press”). And I convinced my mom to take me to a T-shirt store in the mall and they printed the image of the bottle on a shirt for me. It looked terrible, but I was so excited to wear it to school!

So, anyway, I have a soft spot for Hail to the Thief, but I think Kid A is my actual favorite album.

LV

I love that your older sibling got you hooked! Do you still feel that desire to know everything about Radiohead? I went down a nostalgia rabbit hole recently looking through the Radiohead Public Library. It’s such a treasure trove.

PL

The Radiohead Public Library is such a gift! But I don’t get obsessed with things the way I used to. I think part of my original obsession stemmed from a fear that someone would challenge my knowledge on the band—like, “Oh, you like Radiohead? Prove it! Name five B-sides!” And this wasn’t an entirely irrational fear. I’d been asked this sort of question by boys many times whenever I claimed to like something they liked. Today, I feel much more secure in my ability to love things without an encyclopedic knowledge of those things. 

LV

How do you feel about Thom Yorke’s solo work?

PL

I really love what Thom is doing on his own. He came out with The Eraser in 2006, and after playing it probably 100,000 times, I still love it. I often listen to Thom’s solo stuff while writing. His film score for Suspiria creeps me out a little, though.

LV

How long have you been painting? I’ve seen some of your paintings on Twitter and they’re really incredible! I really loved your hand-painted Simpsons diorama.

Are you working on anything right now?

PL

I started painting in high school. My friend Erial and I would bring cheap canvas and acrylics and paint outside of a bookstore. There wasn’t much to do in Bradenton, Florida, and our painting nights were something I looked forward to every week.

Thank you so much for being kind about my Simpsons paintings. In January 2012, I made a New Year’s resolution to paint a Simpsons scene every week. Here is the only photo I have of the very first Simpsons painting I did (if you look closely you can see three Radiohead posters in the background). I didn’t keep that resolution, but I did paint a ton of Simpsons stuff for my friends and beloveds.

I’ve been a little busy with teaching lately and didn’t paint much in 2019, but I recently made a post about painting cartoon scenes for anyone willing to donate $100 to Australian wildlife organizations, so now I’m painting a lot. I’m excited that people were willing to donate, and I love seeing what moments from The Simpsons people love enough to want a painting of.

LV

Wow, that would have been about 52 paintings in a year! Are you still taking requests for paintings to support Australian wildlife organizations? And if so, where should people contact you for one?

PL

I’m still taking requests, but I’m not going to be mailing out any of the paintings until it’s safe to leave my house. So, if you really want a painting and you’re a very patient person, DM me on Twitter!

She Speaks Storms into Being

Winner of the 2018 Winter Contest.

I.

I’ll love you the only way a rotten fish could love:
by slipping my rancid silver scales

under your tongue at night, impaling my eyes
and plugging your nostrils with them. Father, I’ll give you

my skull: cracked open, a goblet forcing you to
drink my rot if you sell me to a husband.

II.

I know––you love me enough to sever your ankles
and damn them into hooves. Daughter,

you speak thunder, a queen hunting for a spire––
I will find a worthy man for you; a man

who will eat his mother’s
heart for a taste of yours.

III.

Will I spin myself a gown from brimstone; lace
my fingers through Lilith’s? Become

woman: unsalvageable, apostate
wife left to lurk among the other broken ribs?

IV.

Please––let a husband draw
the lightening from your breath before

it turns to hellfire. Could you imagine
yourself unharvested? A passion

left to storm this countryside?

V.

Yes––SHE HANGS HER HEAD ABOVE FOREST FIRES;
THICKENS HER MUCUS WITH ASH––

Yes––SHE CRACKLES, PINE FLESH BURSTING INTO
WILD LUPINE, ASPHODEL––

Yes––THE LAND REAWAKENS IN HER TEMPEST;
SHE ROAMS THE CINDERS, STEAMING––