The Unexpected Fun and Disquieting Worlds of Oliver Zarandi

Oliver Zarandi

Full disclosure: I blurbed Oliver Zarandi’s new collection Soft Fruit in the Sun, so I’m not exactly an impartial observer when it comes to his writing. But that’s not a bad thing: Zarandi is a writer worth championing, someone whose writing takes readers to wholly unexpected places and revels in bizarre yet familiar imagery. And so we talked about the making of his collection, the writers he admirers most, and what his take is on the current Premier League season.

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Songs Without Music: A Conversation with Cathy Ulrich

Cathy Ulrich

“The thing about being the murdered girl is you set the plot in motion.” All 31 pieces of flash fiction in Cathy Ulrich’s debut collection Ghosts of You (Okay Donkey Press) begin with a variation of this sentence. Ulrich is a writer from Montana, whose work has appeared in Fiction Southeast, Cleaver Magazine, and The Atticus Review, among other venues. In Ghosts of You, she gives the murdered girls and women so frequently used as plot devices back their stories. In this conversation, Ulrich explains her deft use of repetition, the anger that fueled the collection, and the influence Law and Order reruns had on the collection.

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The Complexities of One Man’s Life, With Added Dog: A Review of Mary Miller’s “Biloxi”

Biloxi cover

When it comes to finding ugliness, unexpected beauty, and weirdness in everyday life, no author does it quite like Mary Miller. Her understated, straightforward prose is a treasure trove of illuminating morsels that strip away pretense and reflect humanity in all its glorious range: unpleasantness, pettiness, aching, love, hope, heartbreak, longing, lust, depression, humor, and confusion abound. At once a novel and a sociological treatise of loneliness and heartbreak, Biloxi, Miller’s latest novel, is a hybrid narrative that’s part novel, part love letter to human darkness, and part ethnographical observation of an old man and his dog. Oh, and it’s all strangely beautiful and engrossing. 

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An Unexpected Portrait of a Fictional Seattle: Talking “Emerald City” With Brian Birnbaum

Brian Birnbaum

Some novels hew their focus to one particular character or motif, pushing that theme through infinite permutations. Others opt for a sprawling and vivid campus, sometimes combining elements in ways that have never been seen before. That’s the case with Brian Birnbaum and his novel Emerald CityIt’s at once a portrait of institutional corruption, a description of a familial relationship unlike many that show up in the pages of fiction, and an illustration of changes taking place in the city of Seattle. I spoke with Birnbaum about the genesis of his novel and how its unique structure evolved.

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Beyond the Rock Novel: James Brubaker’s “The Taxidermist’s Catalog” Reviewed

In James Brubaker’s new novel, the titular Taxidermist’s Catalog is a long-rumored lost and final LP by folk musician Jim Toop, the sort of album that haunts fans’ existences, like a full-band recording of Springsteen’s Nebraska. The Taxidermist’s Catalog “is, famously, an album that was never properly completed” before Toop, at age 27, wandered into the desert to die — or was murdered, or, if fan sites are to be believed, was abducted by aliens. The “hardline conspiracy theorists” populating fan messageboards scrutinize Toop’s pre-disappearance records for contextual clues to support increasingly odd assertions, with his disappearance in 1977 the only certainty. The online Toop community’s many and sundried conclusions often include a woman named Angela, presumably of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, who is mentioned by name in his early work. A cottage industry emerges as Toop fans descend on the town, where “they go to restaurants and bars, acting all casual as they ask obtusely worded questions about UFO’s and cults and whatever other bullshit they’re interested in” regarding the swirling rumors surrounding the musician’s disappearance, and townspeople, much like those in Cornish, New Hampshire prior to the death of J.D. Salinger, do what they can to keep their secrets secure.

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“I’m Looking For the Surreal Moments of Real Life”: An Interview With Jac Jemc

Jac Jemc

Whether she’s navigating the secrets people keep from one another or venturing into the world of the uncanny, Jac Jemc has established a particularly haunting corner of fiction where she explores the unpredictable and disquieting. This week brings with it the release of False Bingo, her second collection of short fiction, and one which demonstrates Jemc’s impressive range as a writer. I talked with her about the collection’s origins, her work in both the supernatural and realistic, and caught a glimpse of what might be next from her.

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“I Wanted It To Be Like a Country Song”: An Interview With Noah Cicero

Noah Cicero

Noah Cicero has written several books. I find great comfort in Noah’s ouvre, in the sense that he has never seemed interested in limiting himself to a particular type of story. The Human War was an influential, early-millennial beat-style meditation that unsarcastically grapples with the pointlessness of war, while Go to Work… is basically a political action-thriller, replete with government conspiracies and a firefight. There’s the philosophical discussion of Buddhism in Blood-Soaked Buddha/Hard Earth Pascal. There’s both lost-love poetry (Bipolar Cowboy) and bleak observational poetry (Nature Documentary). There’s a menagerie of stories, snippets, eBooks, collected works, all testaments to Noah boldly exploring new territory without any sense of self-doubt or obligation to construct some kind of “brand.” And so now there’s Give it to the Grand Canyon, which is a deeply personal, plainly written travelogue about living and working in the Grand Canyon National Park. From the casual discussions of how one goes about getting a job there (they will hire anyone) to how one goes about getting to the job there (a lot of driving, no matter where you’re coming from) to how one goes about, well, doing the job there (serving ice cream to disappointed tourists), Noah’s story is a relentlessly realistic collection of vignettes. What I mean is that there are no twists, no manufactured dramas, no heroic deeds, but instead everything – from the unadultered danger and beauty of the canyon itself to the vague interpersonal relationships among the staff – is written as it is experienced, is remarked upon as it happens, is left to fizzle or ferment without any constructed symbolism or structure.

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