Author Archives: Kati Heng

Beauty Doesn’t Seem to Go Anywhere: An Interview with Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon

There’s a sort of guilty pleasure that comes with reading a book illustrated on every page. Even more delicious is an illustrated book filled with exposed affairs, connected relationships, and literal-drawn-out lines of influence exposing our favorite artists from the decades gone by. When these elements come together in The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence, the result is the most electric read with which to start the new year.

I had the chance to ask writer Catherine Lacey and illustrator (and Weird Sister contributor!) Forsyth Harmon more about their new book, their favorite tidbits of gossip, and more:

Kati Heng: I know you had to cut down and leave out sooo much to include so many of these relationships in your book. If you were to write and illustrate a single book about the intermingling affairs of one couple or group (since it seems like every didn’t just settle for one partner!), who would you focus on and why?

Catherine Lacey: Anaïs Nin was a big inspiration for the early research and looking back, she was also one of the most prolific characters in the book as far as friendships, affairs and alliances go. Her diaries and letters reveal a sort of fervency she had about the people in her life and she left troves of writing about her relationships.

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FROM THE STACKS: Black-Hearted Woman – David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System

unnamed-1I read my first piece by David Foster Wallace, a (relatively) short first-person essay about attending a tennis match, when I was a sophomore in college and began buying each and every one of his books at a rapid speed almost immediately. He quickly became my favorite author for the rest of my college years, and still shares the title of favorite author in my mind (the sharing is new, and I think, a good sign of an adult openness to trying new things).

Between his works, I can’t pick a favorite piece of writing. The dark mastery of The Pale King can’t be pitted against the bizzaro-rawness of his short story collection Girl with the Curious Hair. You can’t set aside the fact his (perhaps) magnum opus Infinite Jest annual gets readers to commit to an Infinite Summer, in which they read the 1,079 page masterpiece over the course of three months.

So no, I don’t have a favorite work by Wallace. But, The Broom of the System has become the one of the books most treasured on my shelves.

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To Cut / To Snap :: An Interview with Kelly Luce

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If you weren’t already tuned into Kelly Luce after her debut story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail hit shelves in 2013, now’s the time to change things. Kelly Luce’s first novel Pull Me Under, coming out November 1, is primed to astound. Following the life of Chizuru, a woman who’s left Japan after she ages out of the juvenile detention system (it’s no spoiler to say this here: Chizuru , in a fit of rage, fatally stabbed her classmate at the age of 12), Pull Me Under uncovers a story of redemption, truth, and how the past continues to touch the present. Read on to hear some questions from this brilliant young voice:

 

Kati Heng: Can you tell me about the time you spent in Japan? What did you do there, and in what ways did it influence the novel?

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Identity is a Fickle Thing: An Interview with Marisa Silver

A child is born in an unknown country and two things are immediately noticed: The girl, named Pavla by her parents, is both beautiful and her growth is absolutely stunted. So begins Marisa Silver’s magical new novel, Little Nothing, which traces Pavla’s transformations from a young girl with dwarfism to a beautiful non-dwarf teenager, and finally, into a wolf. The story bursts with magic, with the longing to discover identity, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a forbidden love between Pavla the wolf and the man who protects her. I spoke to author Silver about this new novel, so read on to reveal more of the magic:

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Kati Heng: Is there a metaphor hiding inside Pavla’s transformations from dwarf to beauty to wolf?

Marisa Silver: When I wrote the book, I avoided thinking about what it meant. I know that’s probably an odd thing to say, but if I decide in advance what a novel is supposed to be about, what its big themes are, then the resulting work will not find its way towards surprise. I just put my head down and write characters and try to make their actions and behaviors true for them during any given emotional moment or situation.

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Because We Want Control: An Interview with Melanie Finn

The Gloaming centers on an accident – a woman, Pilgrim, swerves her car to avoid hitting a dog that has run into the street and instead strikes and kills three children waiting for the bus. Recently divorced, her life out of her hands and feeling the weight of whispers all around her, Pilgrim runs away to Africa, only to find the accident haunting her even there.

It’s intense, raw, a story less about moving on with ones’ life than learning how to live aware of life’s messy, connective tissues. And of course, it’s a testament to the striking writing of its author, Melanie Finn. I got the chance to ask Finn a few questions, about the story, her connection to Africa, and how a person should deal with the weight of their own actions:

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A Mix of a Sassy Teenager and a Crotchety Old Lady: An Interview with Hadley Freeman

One of the most enjoyable, personal, and feminist books I’ve read this summer had to be Hadley Freeman’s 80s film exploration Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Any More). Not only is this a book that examines in detail some of the greatest films of (dare I say?) all-time such as The Princess Bride, Coming to America, Pretty in Pink, and Ghostbusters; the real draw of the collection is Freeman herself. Reading this book is like having a way cooler older sister watching the film right alongside you, pointing out the lessons you would have overlooked while simply laughing at the classic John Hughes wit. It’s hard to finish the book without feeling like Freeman is that cool upperclassmen in school that for some inexplicable reason, has taken you under her wing as friend, and a girl like me couldn’t waste the chance to extend that feeling into an interview. Read on to see some of the questions I couldn’t help but ask her about the book, feminists in film, and of course, Ghostbusters:

Kati Heng: As I read the book, I kept thinking that the subtitle very easily could have been “What 80s Movies Taught Us About Feminism and Why We Don’t Learn That Stuff from Movies Anymore,” or something catchier. Did you ever consider releasing this book in a more upfront feminist version?
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Trying to Express Something but Can’t: An Interview with Chelsea Martin

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Mickey, the new novella from Chelsea Martin, starts as the story of a breakup gone wrong. The unnamed narrator dumps Mickey almost as soon as the story starts before asking him back, asking him for favors, pushing him away and pulling him in every confusing direction. It’s a tale of an accidental dominatrix, until, that is, the third major character of the novel, the unnamed girl’s mother, is introduced. The novel opens up, explains the narrator as a human rather than some dumb, flawed millennial as we see every one of the girl’s actions reflected back onto her from her own mother.

It’s a fascinatingly quick, yet intense tale of flawed relationships and the cycles they create. I couldn’t help but ask Martin to tell me more:

Kati Heng: Is the narrator of Mickey in any way based on, or like you?

Chelsea Martin: She’s a character. She’s not me. Her experiences are different than mine and her relationships are different and her personality is different. But I do see the book as a self-portrait in some ways. I was working through some personal stuff while writing it. That stuff just didn’t get expressed literally in the book.

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The Guy Was a Walking Metaphor: An Interview with Susan Perabo

Author Susan Perabo

There’s a story in Pushcart Prize winner Susan Perabo’s new collection of short stories, Why They Run the Way They Do, where an awkward stuffed-animal armadillo creates a metaphor for a struggling marriage. How is that even possible, you wonder? I have no answers. Perabo’s magic lies in her ability to pull beauty, insight, and depth out of the most mundane experiences. Read on to learn more about Perabo and some of the stories included in her collection. 

Kati Heng: The first quote I fell in love in this book with comes quickly — “My father thought the Hanleys were lunatics, but…he believed it was important for me to be exposed to lunatics — provided they were harmless — in order to be a well-rounded adult.” Did your parents share this same theory? Who were some of the “lunatics” you were exposed to while growing up?

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Books Breed At Night: An Interview with Toni Nealie

A few days after 9/11, our fifth-grade English teacher had us spend an entire class period writing a fictional story about what happened in New York. Being Minnesotan kids, most of us didn’t understand and couldn’t totally appreciate what happened that day, but we were nevertheless scared of some unknown people from an unknown place attacking our cities. Free-form writing was supposed to be our release.

I remember writing a story about a happy family from India that moved to New York because they loved America in early September 2001. In my story, the family was out sightseeing on 9/11 when the towers went down and their uncle lost his leg because he didn’t run fast enough and was crushed in the rubble (facts/precise detail about what exactly happened was unclear to me at this time). My story ended with the little girl central character visiting her uncle in the hospital where he told her not to be scared, that everybody in America has been nice to him, and that it is the terrorist, not the Americans, she needs to fear. Obviously, a 10-year-old’s story of an immigrant’s 9/11 experience is nothing if not idealistic.

The only thing my fractured story had in common with the essays contained in Toni Nealie’s collection, The Miles Between Me, is this American, post-9/11 fear of “the other.” Moving from New Zealand to the U.S. just two weeks before 9/11, Nealie faced the real struggles of being an “other” in a country so crazed to stand united within itself.

Between these essays on place and what “home” means to someone navigating the rules of citizenship, Nealie’s essays delve even further into the world of motherhood and its peculiar identity, her family’s possible criminal past, to the future she sees for her sons, two boys from the same parents with different skin tones. Nealie’s work offers more insight into the idea of place, home, and family than almost anything you’ll read this year.
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Kati Heng: Can you give me a time frame for when these essays were written?

Toni Nealie: They were completed last year, but most originated when I was completing my MFA. Some began ten years ago, but fragments morphed into quite different essays. I’m happy that I kept bad early drafts—line or paragraphs that I coaxed into fully fledged essays.

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This Kind of World Building :: An Interview with Sofia Samatar

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Confession time: as much as I’d like to consider myself a well-rounded reader, I hardly ever read fantasy books that don’t contain “Harry Potter” in the title. It’s hard to find one I like. My brain can’t find a way to care about stories of troops of men trekking through dragon-filled lands to find a mysterious object. I can’t relate to a lot of the typical fantasy genre novels that come to mind.

Luckily, there are authors and books out there like Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories (the sequel to A Stranger in Olondria, though it can totally stand on its own, too), a fantastic tale of an ancient war and four women both brought together and torn apart by it’s horrors, all doing their very best to change my perception on the whole fantasy genre.

What’s different about this novel? Although it’s hard to put my finger on the *exact * reason, let me just spout off a few: Gorgeous, gorgeous poetic writing. An invented language that’s equivalent to botany on a page. A kickass leader of the troops named Tav, a woman who basically picks up the slack and outshines the male counterparts trying to follow in her warrior footsteps. Romantic, racial, religious storylines and struggles that a non-fantasy devotee can care about.

Not convinced? Read this interview with Sofia herself, and then go read The Winged Histories for yourself:
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