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Girl Factory

A yogurt parlor in a corner mall somewhere in the city of St. Nils contains a dark secret in its basement, and Jonathan, the mostly clueless clerk who works there, just wants to fix things once and for all. But, beginning with an early encounter in an animal shelter that leaves three dead, things don’t always work out the way they ought to. Or do they? Filled with memorable characters, including two dogs (one too smart for his own good) and a retired sea captain, this unsettling darkly comic novel is an exploration of memory, desire, and the nature of storytelling. More disturbingly, Girl Factory raises questions about the ubiquitous objectification of women, the possibility for change, and the nature of freedom.

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  • Page Count: 196
  • Direct Price: $12.00
  • List Price: $14.95
  • 5 1/4 x 7 1/4
  • Paperback
  • May 2008
  • 978-0-9794198-2-9
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Jim Krusoe has written five books of poems, a book of stories, Blood Lake, and a novel, Iceland, published by Dalkey Archive Press. His stories and poems have appeared in the Antioch ReviewBombDenver QuarterlyThe Iowa ReviewFieldNorth American ReviewAmerican Poetry Review, and the Santa Monica Review, which he founded in 1988. His essays and book reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, theWashington Post, and Manoa. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest fund. He teaches at Santa Monica College and in the graduate writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Iceland was selected by theLos Angeles Times and the Austin Chronicle as one of the ten best fiction books of 2002, and was on the Washington Post list of notable fiction for the same year. A collection of his stories, Abductions, which will be illustrated by Dani Tull, is scheduled for publication in September 2007.

"In his delightful second novel, Girl Factory, Jim Krusoe manages to take lowly yogurt to new heights of repugnance...As with the best kind of horror story, Girl Factory occurs in a seemingly ordinary  setting, and it's precisely the clash of the mundane with the horrific that makes the narrative so absorbing."
—Julia Scheeres, New York Times Book Review


"Only Jim Krusoe would find true pathos in yogurt.  This book is not just funny—it's eerie, and vivid, and strangely sad, too.  His work is full of the most curious urgency: I love to keep reading, and I don't know what I'm waiting for, exactly, but I know whatever I find will hover in my peripheral vision for awhile after I'm done, and that's exactly what happened here."
—Aimee Bender, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt


"In the basement of a Southern California yogurt shop one hot summer night, Jonathan, a down-on-his-luck-fro-yo-slinger, discovers several young, beautiful naked women encased in glass and suspended lifelessly in a milky mixture. Jonathan's boss, Spinner, catches him nosing around and reveals his experiment: acidophilus, yogurt's active culture, has the uncanny ability to preserve and nourish life, he explains, and the women bobbing before Jonathan's wide eyes are making 'an investment in their future.' When foul play suddenly makes the women Jonathan's wards, he has to see if he has the right stuff to care for them—and perhaps free them. Poet Krusoe's fiction debut is as whimsical as multicolored sprinkles and as sweet as dollop of Pinkberry."
Publishers Weekly


"Jim Krusoe pulls off a balancing act between science fiction and subjectivity in this playful, funny novel."
—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times Book Review


"He is never heavy-handed—his writing is too unpretentious, his characters too wonderfully peculiar... And this makes Girl Factory the best kind of novel—a wildly imagined tale with its own rules."
—Lauren Sanders, Bookforum


"Girl Factory is a humorous, genre-jumping, carnival-ride of a novel.  It's smart, weird, unsettling, and downright fun to read.  It's no wonder Jim Krusoe is one of Southern California's most notoriously daring literary icons."
—Mark Jude Poirier

 

"Jim Krusoe is one of America's most sincere satirists, a treasured literary oddball. No one interweaves the comic, the absurd, the outrageous, and the mundane or plays them off each other the way he does. It's been said that a truly unique literary production proposes its own genre. Surely that's true of Girl Factory, which twists tropes from Frankenstein, Bluebeard, contemporary headlines, old movies, the biology of extinction, the self-help movement, conspiracy theory, and more into a highly readable, unpredictable postmodern novella that always privileges unadulterated imagination. 
—Amy Gerstler, author of Ghost Girl


"LA author Jim Krusoe's second novel, Girl Factory, begins with the planned execution of a preternaturally intelligent Rottweiler"Dog Too Smart for Own Good," the newspaper headline readsand ends with an aborted prison break. This, then, is a love story, albeit one involving a most curious basement and vats of life-sustaining goo (the goo, which recalls the nutrient-rich fluids of Krusoe's equally delicious first novel, Iceland, keeps the girls of the book's title in a state of suspended animation. The book is creepy and comic; it's hero, a frozen yogurt shop manager, is fecklessness personified." 
Los Angeles Magazine


"The way that Krusoe takes his time with description, trailing along a passage as casually as Jonathan examines a victim, gives the work a surreal feeling in the midst of familiarity. Like a hallway with off-color light, the words seem like they possess much more than what’s being conveyed..."
—Elizabeth Millard, ForeWord Magazine


"But in the end, what I appreciate most about Krusoe is his quiet sincerity, his voice that puts its arm around your shoulder, embracing the many possibilities of the world while also acting as an intervention against its ugliness."
—Robert Silva, The Quarterly Conversation


"By the end of Girl Factory, it's obvious that Krusoe is a keen satirist who knows exactly what he's doing... Everything he writes about seems fresh and enthralling and new, but somewhat off. It's an experience akin to seeing the most beautiful face you can imagine, but the eyes are out of alignment by a fraction of an inch. Girl Factory is frightening and fascinating, and even though the conclusion doesn't tie up every loose end, it's a complete and satisfying book, a weird signal from another world that catches your attention and then is gone."
—Paul Constant, The Stranger


"In a weirdly charming—if dark—way, Krusoe manages to keep the reader teetering between disbelief and empathy. The novel is unexpectedly a page-turner. We gladly accompany Jonathon in his quest for recognition and redemption, keeping our fingers crossed that he will prevail."
—Virginia Allen, The Bloomsbury Review


"In Girl Factory, Jim Krusoe has served up a shaggy dog tale of the highest quality. It’s impressive that a novel with so much to offer is as tightly constructed as it is, and it’s refreshing to come across prose this free-wheeling and fun. And though you can easily spot Krusoe’s precursors—Sterne, Kafka, Barthelme, Lynch—presiding over this book as its surrealistic and humorous godfathers, Girl Factorystill manages to remain a work that’s wholly Krusoe’s own: hilarious, oddly touching, and dizzily readable."
—Michael Jauchen, Rain Taxi


"A gentle polemicist with a back heart, Krusoe wants to sound the alarm for a spiritual rot that lurks among the whiz-bang innovations of a world that can now cryogenically preserve bodies or twist together DNA like so many Pinkberry flavors."
—Marc Weingarten, LA Weekly


"What ensues is a comic and moral kind of nightmare; a dark, funny, formal inquiry into suspension of disbelief as the common ground of storytelling and self-justification." 
The Believer

Chapter Two


“What is it with those old guys, anyway?” I asked Spinner one Sunday afternoon after one had hobbled up the steps from the basement storeroom and walked out the front door without so much as a nod.

 

“Don’t sweat it, Jonathan,” Spinner answered. “They have some kind of a club down there. I just rent the space to them for their meetings. They don’t cause trouble, and it helps them out.”

 

But from then on I began to be more aware that although I had been given no key to the basement storage room, apparently any one of these aging males could come and go as he pleased during meeting hours, and never bother to purchase any yogurt at all. There was nothing all mysterious about them in their usual old-guy attire or hats and Rocksport walking shoes, but even though I was certain a person as proper as Gertrude could not possibly have married someone about whom there was a hint of shadiness, still there was something about them that made me not quite trust what was going on.

 

In the absence of any additional information — and certainly Spinner was not forthcoming in this regard — at first I thought vaguely about drug deals, but the men who went down to the basement looked nothing like South Americans, or salt-encrusted speedboat captains from the Gulf of Mexico, or even strung-out jazz musicians. Without exception though not exactly unfriendly, they seemed introspective, and completely preoccupied with some matter, the nature of which I could not guess. 

 

Then late one summer Sunday night something happened — and this is where I have to ask your pardon as I turn (but I hope only for a little while) into a sort of narrator of a bad science-fiction novel before returning to Yours Truly, the person who you know, and possibly have come to trust, though only in a limited way (and who could blame you) at the present.

 

The summer night I am referring to had followed an especially hot day, so the evening was warm as well, a condition that was very good for the frozen yogurt business, as you might guess, and thanks to a prolonged flurry of cones, bowls, bars, and family packs, by closing time the store had made a healthy profit. Spinner, who was with me as usual, looked happy about all the money he taken from the register to arrange in piles on the counter, but he also seemed especially tired. It was late, so late that the lights in the other shops in the mall where Mister Twisty's was located had been long turned off. Spinner put the money into stacks, counted it, and wrote the totals on a pad. He then took all of the stacks, plus a lot of change, too, and stuffed them into a canvas bag to take it home with him. It was only after he had finished that he paused.

 

"You know, Jonathan," he said, coughing and using an empty yogurt cup to cover his mouth, "I think I'm coming down with one of those darned summer colds. Would you mind wiping down the counters and polishing the machines by yourself? Then you can lock up the place. If you'd like, you can come in a little later tomorrow to make up for it. I’ll call you in the morning, and we can work things out."

 

Spinner wiped his nose, handed me his key ring, and left. "Sleep well," I yelled after him. “Give my best to Gertrude.”

 

He waved back, possibly wobbling just a little, I thought, and then I was alone. I looked out the dark window at the empty parking spaces in front of the pizza shop, the nail salon, Pets Incorporated, McReedy’s Hardware, and the mall’s thrift store, The Treasure Chest. The diagonals that marked the places off for cars looked like nothing so much as children, possibly Cub Scouts lying down with their arms at their sides as a part of some emergency preparedness exercise, waiting patiently as they waited for their pretend treatment to be finished so they could go home and maybe play a video game.

 

This was the first time ever that Spinner had trusted me with the keys to Mister Twisty’s, but at any rate I was feeling very tired myself, and for some reason, a little sad also. From the basement I could hear the hum of the giant cooling machines as I sprayed a little Windex on the counters to wipe away the stickiness, and rubbed down the swirl machines with chrome cleaner. And I was just about to go home when I heard, or thought I heard, a difference in the intensity of sound coming from below me. For a moment I thought I might be coming down with a cold, or maybe the flu myself, but when I shook my head and pressed my sinuses everything seemed fine. It was probably nothing, but just suppose there was some kind of a malfunction in the equipment downstairs, or even one of the old guys had had a heart attack and fallen into the machinery. We never really kept track of who went down and who came back up, and for all I know there might be someone down there, dying this very minute. I knew that Spinner had said he’d been working on the equipment a few weeks earlier, but I also knew that he had told me once, when I first began to work there, never to go down to the basement for any reason at all.

 

On the other hand, if there wasn’t any old guy down there, what would there be? Would there be a chessboard with a small library of mate-in-three problems and solutions? Would their be drugs, and if so, what sorts would appeal to men so old they sometimes seemed barely able to push open Mister Twisty's heavy glass front door? I imagined an ordinary kitchen table, lit by a single bulb. Across the table's surface would be piles of laxatives and virility-enhancers, with maybe a scale for weighing out their doses. I had no great moral issues with drugs — after all, yogurt was a sort of a drug — but I had to be careful. If what was down there was against the law, it would mean that I'd have to decide whether to turn Spinner in or not, and he'd been kind to me where the legal system might well not be. I didn't want to send Spinner to prison over some principle I didn't particularly agree with. If there weren't drugs however, then what were those old guys doing down there in their clubhouse amid the compressors and freezers, cartons of cones, and boxes of Gummy Worms and sugar sprinkles? I decided that it was time for me to check it out, once and for all, for myself.

 

But after all he had given me his keys. Suppose I went back home to my apartment and, say, a fire broke out here at the yogurt parlor? Spinner had been good to me despite his cranky ways; I would hate to be responsible for the combustion of Mister Twisty’s. I would never forgive myself if something happened that I could have prevented. True, I knew nothing at all about yogurt cooling apparatus, but I could check it out, and if I saw smoke, for example, then I could call Spinner and wake him. He didn’t live too far away. So I decided I would go down to the basement, look around, and then, if everything seemed OK, lock up again and go home. If everything was fine, I decided I wouldn’t even have to mention it.

 

I searched the fat ring of keys Spinner had entrusted to me until I found the one to the basement room. It was small and silver, with a surprisingly pleasant, roundish head. I walked over to the door, aimed it at the lock, and whoosh, the key entered as if sucked in by a vacuum. I turned it and drew the door back toward me. A blast of noise from the machinery below hit my ears; the door, I could see, was a lot thicker than I'd ever guessed, and the machinery sounded powerful enough to explain, to some degree, the vibrations along the floor.

 

I assumed there would be a light switch at the top of the stairs, but I didn’t need it. Keeping one hand out for balance along the smooth plaster wall to my right, I walked carefully down the wooden steps. There was a faint glow coming from the bottom, so the task wasn't as difficult as you might imagine.

 

Once at the foot of the stairs, I was slightly surprised to see that the dull, yellow glow came, not as I’d imagined, from some bare bulb suspended from the ceiling, but rather from the walls and corners, from what looked like giant, softly glowing Popsicles. Not only that, but the basement itself was much larger than I had ever guessed. It was far larger in fact than the whole floor of the yogurt parlor above, and must have stretched at least to McReedy's Hardware, and possibly even beneath Pets Incorporated, at the far end of our corner mall. The stairs from Mister Twisty's, however, appeared to be the only entrance or exit to the place, and as my eyes slowly grew accustomed to the light, I could see a cooling machine certainly more grand than any I'd imagined — four or five times bigger in fact than any yogurt refrigeration apparatus I'd ever seen in trade magazines, possibly ten times more powerful than would be necessary to supply a modest frozen yogurt outlet such as Mister Twisty's.

 

 Beneath and around the shadowy shape of the immense machine, I could just barely make out a mess of pipes and wires running along the floor like the radii of a spider's web and connecting those tubes of glowing lights I mentioned earlier. The whole effect was like sitting in the center of some dark, medieval chapel, watching the sunset as it lit up a circle of very dim and very narrow stained glass windows. It was beautiful and mysterious.

 

“Hello,” I called out, and waited for an answer.

 

No one answered, and neither, once I’d smelled the air, was there any sign of smoke.

 

So I was just about to turn back and go upstairs when it occurred to me that I'd probably never again have another chance to take a really good look at all the stuff down there.  The next morning, either cured of his sniffles or crammed full of over-the-counter cold medications, Spinner would reclaim his keys, and in the future he would close down Mister Twisty’s just as he had every night for the whole time I'd worked there, with me standing beside him, helpless, watching. But whatever Spinner had going on down here, it was clearly more than yogurt.

 

This was the time, I decided, to take a closer look at those glowing objects placed around the walls.  I chose one set of pipes running out from the central compressor and followed it to a tall cylinder with a sort of a burnished metal cap and a shiny metal base, out of which stuck three silver fins, strangely like those early rockets that landed on London in newsreels of years ago. Or, to use a more modern analogy, it resembled a seven-foot tall version of one of those fancy Italian espresso boilers you sometimes see in trendy coffee bars, hissing and wheezing out phlegmy portions of java. Between the base and the cap was a wide band, about six feet tall, of cloudy glass, or possibly Plexiglas. It was that glass which was the source of the dim glow.

 

I placed my hand against the glass, and felt a slight hum, almost a pulse. Moving my hand then to the bottom of the cylinder, down between the fins, my fingertips inadvertently brushed against what felt like a toggle switch. I hesitated, wondering whether it might be connected to an alarm, but then I reasoned that you don’t go around installing alarm switches in the hopes that a burglar will deliberately set one off. My forefinger slipped under the smooth metal ball at its tip and I flipped it upward. At first nothing happened. Then there was a flicker from behind the surface, and slowly the glass brightened from its faint glow to reveal the form of a young and actual and completely naked woman — somewhere in her twenties, I guessed. Her hands were at her sides; her blue eyes were open wide; her hair moved slowly as a whisper in the liquid that had held her there, for who knew how long?

 

To say I was “surprised” is not nearly adequate to describe my feelings at that moment but it will have to do.

 

The woman was blond, her pale hair floating like boiled egg whites in whatever mysterious liquid that enclosed her, her blue eyes slightly crossed, her nose straight and thin, her breasts white and symmetrical, her knees knocked, her feet slender, with bluish veins running along their tops down to her toes like mountain streams pouring out of a glacier. In the clear watery substance that surrounded her, the follicles on her arms, lifted away from her skin as well as her scalp, took on a special sheen, making it seem that she was lit from within as well as by the light streaming out of the now-luminous fluid. She had a slight overbite, and her nails were ragged; she must have chewed them in the past when she was nervous.  I walked around the cylinder. There were no visible signs of violence to her body — no gunshot or stab wounds, and no discoloration around her neck that might have indicated strangulation. In fact, except that she couldn't possibly still be alive in that vat of who-knew-what, she didn't seem to be dead at all.

 

I looked around and felt nervous. All at once I was aware that each one of those dimly glowing rocket/coffeemaker type appliances that lined the other walls of the basement room might have a similar form waiting for me. A chill went down my back. Almost against my will, I walked over to the next glowing tube, maybe three yards away, found and flipped the toggle switch. Once again the light flickered and the glass slowly grew brighter to reveal one more naked woman, this time of possibly Hispanic ancestry, a beautiful black-haired young lady with thin wrists and ankles, skin the color of toast when the toaster is set on “3,” and long, slender toes and fingers.  Then, as if I were not even in the basement any longer, or even in Mister Twisty's, but had already finished a hard day of work, returned to my apartment, made myself a cup of steaming Ovaltine, drank it, climbed into bed and fallen asleep and was already in the middle of a complicated dream, I walked from cylinder to cylinder, turning on the light of each to reveal its contents.  My fears proved only too well founded. Each cylinder did contain a woman: the blond one, the Latina, an Asian, a black-skinned woman, and slightly set apart from the rest, one who looked to be an Eskimo (or Inuit, I think is correct), all young, and all waiting for something.

 

But for what?

 

And what was this business of all the different women? Had it been the old guys who had put in this request?

 

Without knowing when exactly I had begun to do it, I found myself pacing like an animal caught in a cage, in tighter and tighter circles until I began to get dizzy and realized that all this walking was stirring up a fair amount of dust. Stop, I told myself. Slow down. You don’t want to start coughing; it might attract someone (but I couldn’t imagine who would hear me down there). Then I spotted one last (at least I hoped it was the last) cylinder that had been partly hidden away behind the stairwell, one I hadn't seen when first I began my gruesome trek. I walked over and flipped on its light.

 

I took a breath.

 

And another.

 

My God, I thought — it’s Mary Katherine.

 

But how could that be?

 

Because although it was true that the woman behind the glass looked exactly like Mary Katherine, had Mary Katherine's auburn hair with her neat widow's peak and Mary Katherine's tiny ears (I squinted to see if this woman’s were pierced as Mary Katherine’s had been, but I couldn’t be sure); Mary Katherine’s delicate mouth, Mary Katherine’s crimson lips, now forever moistened by that mysterious fluid surrounding her; Mary Katherine’s golden eyebrows which nearly touched; Mary Katherine’s kneecaps, as sweet as two porcelain teacups; and Mary Katherine’s breasts, still fresh, still plump and desirable, this particular woman could not possibly be the same Mary Katherine that I'd known twenty years ago precisely because this woman looked so very much like her.  My mind spun like a racing car out of control and then, coming into the straightaway out of the far turn flipped over once, twice, hit the wall, burst into acrid flames right in front of the grandstand, and took out three rows of the expensive seats along with it.

 

It was by the light of those flames I examined the woman once again. It seemed obvious: If shewere Mary Katherine, and not just some fantasy, surely she would have to have aged, just as I had over the years. I'd lost muscle tone, a little hair, and even some flexibility in my joints, which was a particular disappointment to me a few weeks earlier when I had failed to qualify to join the Mall Employee’s Bowling Team. I had also accumulated wrinkles, occasional indigestion, and a tic in my left eye that appeared when I was nervous, one I could feel coming on at that very moment. But this version of Mary Katherine floating before me now was exactlythe same, given, of course, that nobody's memory is all that good over time. For example, there was a small mole over this woman's right hip bone, though I couldn't be positive if Mary Katherine's mole had been on the right or the left side, or even, to tell the truth, if Mary Katherine actually had a mole, or if instead the mole had belonged to someone else I’d known, but I subsequently had pasted it onto Mary Katherine in the messy scrapbook of my memory. If I only had a photo I might have checked, but strangely, because I had believed our time together would last a lifetime, I had distained such crude mementos as beneath the purity of my love.

 

Without a photo, how could I be sure? Clearly, if Mary Katherine could speak at that moment (“How are you, Jonathan? I'd hoped I would never see you again as long as I lived") the answer would be simple, but without even a gesture there was no way to tell who this woman actually was.

 

So I just stood there like some kind of boob in front of what they used to call the boob tube and stared at my own reflection, darkened and smeared by the curving glass as it stretched atop this woman's all-too-familiar form, and I listened to the hum of the compressors as they compressed not just the gas they were using to cool the cylinders, but time itself. Then from behind me I heard a cough, and for a moment I had the wild thought that one of the women, as in a fairy tale, had suddenly come to life, in a minute could be asking for my help.

 

"Surely," the voice behind me said, "you didn't think I would forget to install a silent alarm system, did you?”

Your books and stories are highly unusual and often border on madcap – men rowing in a lake of blood, or falling into volcanoes, or discovering women suspended in yogurt – what inspires you to push storytelling to its limits?

 

I’m interested in how much we need to believe in stories, and how far we will go to suspend disbelief. I can feel every cell of my body shift the minute someone says, “Let me tell you a story,” and sometimes I think: why should I believe you? — but then I do, because it’s more pleasurable than not believing. Another word for “madcap” in your question might easily be metaphor, or nightmare, in my opinion.

 

Girl Factory is set in a frozen yogurt store, which houses young women, suspended in vats of an acidophilus solution in the basement. Hmmm... now what started you thinking about girls in yogurt – where did that image come from?

 

Where the women came from exactly, I’m not sure. But the yogurt parlor itself only happened on the fifth or sixth attempt to tell a story, and there is something about yogurt that seems to be important to my imagination, maybe something in bacterial action I find inspiring. It was yogurt that allowed the story to begin, not the women. The women in the basement arrived later because I needed something that would cause me to push my limits.

 

Could you name any writers who you would consider influential to your work? What about new or contemporary authors?


I am most drawn to Eastern European and Japanese writers, but there are hundreds of others who have influenced me. The most interesting thing is that often they are people whose work I absolutely cannot — would never be able to — imitate in a thousand years. But if I had to write the way they do I wouldn’t be able to write at all.

 

You are dealing with large themes, such as death, grief, reanimation, fate, coincidence; how do you then produce such a humorous work?

 

For me it’s a given that comedy involves a kind of distance-viewing — or at least multiple points of view — of circumstances that often involve real pain of one sort or another. I suppose in that regard comedy is an anodyne, as well as a means to examine these ideas. Large themes seem to be the ones I care most about.

 

It is easy for me to see Girl Factory cinematically, and am actually reminded of themes and characters that wouldn't be out of place in a Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Science of Sleep) film. Do movies influence your writing?

 

Not specifically, although I like to try to be as visual as I can. If you want to know my favorite movie, it’s Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.”

 

Is the American novel dead?

 

And if it were, what would be different? In any case, I don’t know anyone who writes to prove or disprove that case.

 

Do you think people make their own luck, or is fate what we all have to deal with?

 

A great question, and one I try to pose through fiction.

 

What is your writing process like? Has it differed from book to book? Do Jonathan’s attempts to reanimate the women remind you of the writing process?

 

I hadn’t connected Jonathan’s work with writing until now, but that seems as good a metaphor as any. Each book is completely different in that it starts with a scene I find interesting. Then I add another scene and another, and at some point I have to figure what the book is really about, which of these scenes are important and which aren’t. I’ve finally learned that I need far many more drafts than I ever thought, not even to polish the book, but to find the actual story the book wants to tell. In every case it’s been a different one than the one I began with.

 

Your choice of first person narrator gives us a close-up perspective of Jonathan's anxiety, ambivalence and memory. What other benefits do you think first person narration offers?

 

For me there are several benefits: In the first place a narrator can sell a story, and when a person writes stories that stretch the possible as mine do, this selling is important. Certainly a narrator who is dangerous can also add a layer of tension more than a narrator who is neutral. I continue to marvel about how most of us justify our actions to ourselves, and using a first person narrator magnifies this.

 

Do you always use first person?

 

I try to avoid the first person at all times and usually fail.

 

You teach writing – how does that impact on your own work?   

 

Teaching writing reminds me of the basics: details, story, all those things that I need to be reminded of on a weekly, if not hourly, basis. Also watching people’s work change over time reminds me that writing is always a kind of collaboration between a writer and a willing reader, and how there are often several ways to create an effect, to make it better and more clear. It’s made me a better listener and more patient with my own progress.

 

You seem to have quite the following as a teacher. Any guesses as to why your classes are so popular?

 

The people in my classes are astute and generous and widely read, and many are published writers. I think the classes are popular because it’s the goal of everyone in the room to make other people’s work better, not to discourage anyone. As for me, I hope I never let good work slip by without sufficient praise.

 

What is your philosophy about teaching writing? What brings out the best in people? What brings out the best in you?

 

Praise + challenge.

 

If you were to objectively view your book (incredibly hard to do, I know) what do you think the main theme is?

 

Resurrection. At least I’m working on two other novels now that are meant to continue exploring this theme.

 

You began your career as a poet – what brought you to writing prose? How do the two forms differ for you? What are the benefits of writing prose for you?

 

What brought me to prose was that my poetry was starting to bore me. It was becoming increasingly hard to surprise myself. It took me five years to make the switch, and I wasn’t even aware of what I was doing at the time. I didn’t know I was learning about fiction; I only knew I missed writing things I cared about. For me poetry is mostly about a self declaring itself in relation to the world. Fiction (which is why it was so hard for me) actually proposes a model of a world with a self imbedded in it. I like fiction because it forces me out of my limits, spills over the edges, and after several years I still know practically nothing about it. In addition, there’s also something about having to arrange facts in a line that keeps me honest, or at least less prone to self-distortion. The fact is I don’t really consider myself a real fiction writer. Someone once said I don’t write real novels, but “a poet’s novel,” and whether true or not, I‘m happy with that notion.

 

If you could generalize about the work being produced today, in this country, what could you say about American authors?

 

These days a lot of American writers seem surprisingly committed to realism, almost as if they didn’t write it down there wouldn’t be a real world. There is nothing wrong with realistic writing, of course, though it does trouble me that historically it seems a favorite of totalitarian states. When I want the real world, I’ll generally walk to the market and buy a carton of yogurt.