My first real conversation with David Leo Rice took place at the Schlafly Pasta House inside the Lambert St. Louis International Airport. We were both waiting for connecting flights after a rather zombified cusp-of-COVID writer’s conference, and we talked about Boston (where David had gone to undergrad and where I was finishing grad school), about being Jewish, about the Kabbalah, and about all kinds of books. It was a lovely conversation despite the increasingly bleak news that kept leaking out over the noise of the terminal. I soon after that read the first volume of A Room in Dodge City, which was easily one of the most fun and bizarre books I have read in a long time, and after reading an advanced readers copy of A Room in Dodge City, Volume 2: The Blut Branson Era, forthcoming this January from Alternating Currents, I was excited to (virtually) sit down with David, talk about the second volume of the trilogy, and continue our conversation about literature, Jewishness, and (perhaps) an end to a certain kind of world.
Elizabeth Ellen is a college dropout from the Midwest, as well as the recipient of a Pushcart Prize for fiction. Her stories have been published in American Short Fiction, Southwest Review, and Harper’s Magazine. Her first novel, Person/a, was chosen by Literary Hub as a “best work of experimental literature” in 2017.
We can only hope that it is a posture of frustration and new growth into so many other areas that led Scottish writer of science fiction and horror, Chris Kelso, to utter such a fatalist statement in the title at the age of thirty-two years old. Kelso is also a filmmaker, illustrator, and musician and by day a [*gasp*] high school English teacher. Since publishing his first short story at twenty-two in Evergreen Review, Kelso has been responsible for twenty-five books (nineteen books of his own—fifteen novels, three story collections, one non-fiction work—and six anthologies he edited or co-edited). He’s been nominated for a British Fantasy Award and some of his work has been translated into Spanish, French, and Sweden. The books cover a wild, weird range of topics, styles, and even quality, but the world would certainly suffer to be deprived of more Kelso works of fiction. Luckily, we have three recent volumes of his fiction to enjoy—his best works, he claims—before his first foray into non-fiction is published next year. This forthcoming book brings together two topics very close to Kelso’s heart, the writer William S. Burroughs and Kelso’s home, Scotland. The book involves Burroughs’ time in Scotland, mostly in pursuit of his Scientology fix, and is simply titled Burroughs and Scotland, but with the subtitle: Dethroning the Ancients: the commitment of exile (Beatdom Books, 2021). In the Appendix, Kelso provides his first published short story, “Naked Punch (redux),” which illustrates his debt to Burroughs.
I first met Maryse Meijer on a book tour where she was kind enough to read with Tobias Caroll and myself at the very fine Volumes Bookstore in Chicago, Illinois. We exchanged copies of our books and I quickly devoured Heartbreaker, all too happy to add it the following semester to my students’ reading lists. Her prose is sharp, focused, sometimes musical and possesses an undeniable kinetic energy. Her characters, filled with the burning embers of desire, are often longing for things that will tear the asunder, lead them into situations that give the reader pause, that ask us to consider the power of desire, that fill us, in the safety of our reading chairs, with a sense of danger. Bleak and uncomfortable but never disappointing, her stories unearth the best and worst in human nature. Her latest, The Seventh Mansion, centers on a disenfranchised young man, Xie, who discovers love in the bones of a saint, and through this love finds power to stand in the face of extraordinary odds and fight for what he believes in. A novel that is as much a love story as it is a literary call to arms, Maryse manages to create a book that I wish I’d read my entire life and only now have had the pleasure. When FSG Originals announced the release of The Seventh Mansion, I contacted Maryse for this interview. Always gracious, Maryse agreed and the follow conversation was conducted via email over several weeks this autumn.
Claudia, the protagonist of Kristen Millares Young‘s debut novel Subduction, is in a complicated place when the book opens. Her marriage has fallen apart, and she’s en route to conduct ethically fraught anthropological work in the Makah Nation. What follows is a haunting work about intimacy, tradition, and trust — and a thoroughly lived-in portrait of a place and a community. I talked with Young about the novel’s origin, its evolution, and how her own work echoed that of her protagonist.
All across America, Adam Gnade knows the blue highways and the sad honky-tonks and the names of towns that time will one day forget. He’s traveled this country enough by car, bus, train, and plane to make anyone want to stay home for a while. His home is the rural Great Plains of eastern Kansas, where when he’s not on the road performing talking songs and giving readings he’s taking care of a mini Noah’s Ark of rescue animals. This is where he does his real work of figuring out what he wants from this brief time we have.
Few musical formats have had the comeback narrative that vinyl has in the last decade or so. A new documentary film, Vinyl Nation, explores the enduring appeal of LPs and the subculture that’s grown around them recently — including the rise of Record Store Day. I talked with directors Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone to learn more about the film’s origins and how the project came to fruition.
Since mid-2019, it’s been a busy literary time for Maaza Mengiste. Her novel The Shadow King, recently released in paperback, is set in Ethiopia in 1935, when Italy invaded. Blending a bold historical scope with questions of identity and gender, the result is a thrilling read — and one which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. This year also saw the release of the new anthology Addis Ababa Noir, which Mengiste edited; it’s a taut collection of thrilling stories that encompasses modes from the realistic to the uncanny. I spoke with Mengiste about her recent work, translation, and what’s next for her.