Because we’re all necessarily less promiscuous during weeks of staying at home, I thought this funny, fast-paced novel from Erin Judge might be a good way to harness our pent-up erotic energy.
From Rare Bird Books: “Natalie has made a promise: a vow of celibacy, signed and witnessed by her best friend. After a string of sexual conquests, she is determined to figure out why the intense romantic connections she’s spent her life chasing have left her emotionally high and dry. As Natalie sifts through her past and her present, she confronts her complicated feelings about her plus-sized figure, her bisexuality, and her thwarted career in fashion design.”
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I first encountered Tihi and his writing in a Portland coffee shop on a dreary, drippy afternoon the day before the start of the 2019 AWP Conference. Running Wild Press had organized an offsite open mic and my friend Sakae was going to read a poem so of course I was going to go.
At the reading, I heard BA Williams light it up as she always does. I heard Sakae read “Oakland,” a poem that paints a poignant portrait of an East Bay childhood (dear to my heart because I grew up not far from there) and that was published by Dryland Lit. And I heard Reuben read a short piece of fiction.
The story Reuben read from, “Hope It Felt Good,” begins thusly: “This is what happens when your man fucks Celia Washington.”
I was hooked from the beginning. An exploration of a jealous, seething mindscape. A queer male author inhabiting the persona of a vengeful woman. The physical, mental, and spiritual transformation caused by something as simple as adultery. These combined into a charged and hilarious fable that turned in interesting, unexpected ways.
When Sakae, Rachelle Yousuf (another BookSwellAdvisory Group member), and I began to plan an event for Lambda LitFest 2019, we asked both BA and Tihi to read and join the discussion. In September, at the Intentional Intersectionality: Amplifying Queer Voices of Color reading and discussion at Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, Tihi read from “I Want You,” a story that centers on an HIV+ man who goes on a rare night out.
Last week, in the midst of sweeping public health announcements and adaptations, I read and re-read all the stories in Dark Corners. They move in surprising ways. They contain telling details and entertaining mysteries of unfolding. They reward sustained attention.
To give you a bit more flavor of the collection, here are my quick takes on each story:
“Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” is a modern day feminist fable about the siren song of incipient sexuality.
“2016” documents a family unraveling amidst tragedy and social unrest.
“Localized Politics” is a dissociative portrait of a political campaign worker fractured by stress.
“I Want You” looks at the ways we we struggle against isolation.
“Money Men” is a disturbing take on sex work and the choice of political activism or apathy.
“Death and Taxes” charts a father-son relationship before and after a fatal illness.
“Hope It Felt Good” is all about what happens when your man fucks Celia Washington.
“Super Rush” is a speculative story that asks in literal terms if you love yourself, what then?
“Denial Twist” explores the tragic consequences of hate crimes and how we do and don’t recover.
“A Step Toward Evolution” is a twisted revenge reenactment of intimate biological warfare.
“Come Clean” is a horrifying tale of violence and its ramifications, told from a child’s perspective.
What I appreciate about Tihi’s stories could fill pages. In this limited context, I’ll say what I value most is the boldness of his stories to venture into taboo territory, the way extreme conditions beget extreme emotions, and how they move page by page into stranger, darker, speculative territory while keeping a realist grounding.
We did it! We made it through the beginning of 2020 and now we’re back with Season 2 of the BookSwell Intersections literary podcast.
This episode was recorded in the Rare Bird offices in DTLA in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. Host Cody Sisco is joined by co-host Dan Lopez, special guests Viva Padilla from Dryland Lit, Julia Callahan from Rare Bird Lit, and interview guest Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo of Women Who Submit. We discussed #DignidadLiteraria and the fallout from American Dirt, barriers to inclusivity and equity in publishing, and how writers and publishers are navigating the changing literary landscape.
The stories and dreams we share with each other are ever-evolving. The ground shifts beneath our feet. We return to familiar corners and find ourselves out of place and time. Made in L.A. Vol. 3: Art of Transformation explores interior states of emotional drift and the evolving place we call home.
This anthology series showcases a diverse range of voices and genres. Like the City of Angels where these stories were born, nothing is off-limits. Literary or contemporary, fantasy or science fiction, each story in this volume invites you to view this urban landscape through a different lens.
Vol. 3 contributors include: Noriko Nakada, Andrea Auten, Erik Gonzales-Kramer, DC Diamondopolous, AP Thayer, Karter Mycroft, Lenore Robinson, Roselyn Teukolsky, AS Youngless, Barry Bergmann, Nolan Knight.
At this Read & Relate, we’ll be discussing the LA settings we miss visiting right now and how LA inspires our fiction.
Local bookstores are essential for a thriving local literary arts scene. Please consider purchasing your books directly from one of these loca, indie bookstores. You can place orders by phone or online and opt for delivery or pickup.
“She makes it look so effortless,” said contributing essayist Monica Corcoran Harel during the February 2020 publication party at Chevalier’s Books for Slouching Towards Los Angeles: Living and Writing by Joan Didion’s Light. Harel was speaking of Didion’s writing and of her style. Didion’s choices about clothing and accessories big and small (bright yellow muscle cars and dark sunglasses) are celebrated, as is her ability to frame herself within her surroundings, especially while posing for photographs. The word “icon” came up more than a few times during the event that featured a rich conversation about the new anthology of Los Angeles writers examining her legacy.
At the event, anthology editor Steffie Nelson presided at the podium introducing the contributors, four of who were female, a testament to the ground Didion broke while writing for The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and The Saturday Evening Post during the 1960s. Her career skyrocketed from there.
I listening to the discussion among contributors from the second row, feeling embarrassed and discomforted by the white wine seeping into the crotch of my pants. In trying to get a selfie showing the standing room only crowd, I’d spilled a very modest pour into my lap. It felt like a gallon. The selfie came out slightly blurry; a combination of genuine excitement and disappointed exasperation appears in my expression. Effortless? Definitely not.
That is the point, however, to much of Didion’s writing. Her
work may look effortless, but periods of writing droughts and doubts
accompanied her productivity and success. As evidenced by the scope of
contributors to Slouching Towards Los
Angeles, Didion inspired generations of writers to pursue careers in journalism
and creative writing; she never promised it would be easy. Her writing attests
to the very opposite.
Among other topics, Didion’s essays explore both the siren song that attracts many writers to New York, the inevitable souring when New York no longer entrances, and the refuge that LA provides. Contributors Ann Friedman and Christine Lennon each trace their journeys following this well-trodden path, both ending up, as Didion did, in Los Angeles. Friedman writes, “New York was someone else’s story that I halfheartedly inhabited because I was painfully aware that I hadn’t yet written my own.” When asked during the event if any of Didion’s lines stuck in her head, she said, “Of course,” and echoed the classic line, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Lennon described her journey driving cross-country, and said the inspiration for her essay came from a photograph of the writer-icon that hangs “in her powder room.”
All this talk of Didion’s migration reminded me of my own fraught,
brief relationship with New York. Like Didion, I was born and raised in
Northern California and moved to New York as an ambitious young adult. But I
was not yet committed to what I perceived as a financially nonviable writing
career, and I knew internships at literary magazines couldn’t cover my
expenses. While my stint lasted only a single year, that one New York winter provided
vast portions of discontent and misery for this California native. Whereas
Didion regretted staying at the party too long, perhaps I arrived too late.
Upon my graceless return home to the San Francisco suburbs,
I began to climb out of a slump of depression, failure, and self-doubt. I
should have read more Didion in that moment instead of returning to my formative
narrative refuges of science fiction and fantasy, which I re-read between
moments of staring at the cracks in the ceiling of my old room in my parents’
house, wondering how to reboot my life.
Some things I learned from that period of recovery: a good
diet, physical exercise, and a benign climate can do wonders for lifting one’s
mood. So can fully embracing the literary impulse as I learned while taking
creative writing classes at San Francisco State University. What is it about
the act of writing that we find comforting?
In Heather John Fogarty’s essay, “On Keeping a Cookbook,” she investigates Didion’s notes about food prepared and served to a bevy of guests in her Malibu, Hollywood, and Brentwood homes. Fogarty ascribes the habit of note taking to a desire “to create a sense of order and connection to time and place… There is safety to be found in nostalgia, even if that safety is imagined and memory parts ways with the reality of the moment.” My own experience with note taking suggests that its potency lies in helping making sense of chaos at the time of writing, rather than to fuel nostalgia sometime in the future.
During the period of my recuperation, I threw away all my
high school journals, a decision I knew would be consequential. The journals
were full of painful memories, vividly rendered and perhaps not distant enough
in time to be safe, yet they also captured details I can never recover. I
suspected one day I might want to read my notes but decided instead that I needed
to move forward, to create the life I wanted to live without being trapped by
the records I kept. Not everything worth remembering fits well within the
confines of a page or a photograph.
The question of how we reconcile our past now that we’re grown was raised explicitly by the lone male contributor present, Joe Donnelly, in his exploration of his evolving feelings toward two versions of The White Album: Didion’s essay collection and the Beatle’s album. During the event Donnelly sat apart, or more accurately, stood mostly to one side and apart. A small detail that alone signifies little. But—if I’m able to analyze the situation with a fraction of Didion’s meticulous insight—throughout the evening he commanded more than his share of attention.
It never occurred to me in the moment to stand up and point
to my wine-dampened crotch, grab some attention, and connect myself to the
proceedings. If only I had the gumption to not care what anyone thought about
me, my writing, or the spectacle-of-me, I might be writing memoir. I could fill
a book with dozens of stories covering decades of adventures, but I’ve never
wanted to create a spectacle of myself. But there was Didion, lurking in the
frame, or just outside of it, as she spun stories about California and Los
Angeles that were much bigger than they first appeared.
Reading Didion now, in light of how she impacted other
writers as talented as those featured in Slouching
Towards Los Angeles, puts me in a mind to expand the trajectory of my
writing career and to excavate some of the stories buried in my memory. Studying
the approach of the contributors to this anthology has opened some doors of
possibility as surely as psychedelics open the doors of perception. I’m
grateful to Nelson for exploring the byways and deep reservoirs of inspiration
that Joan Didion has bestowed on us. I’m looking towards the horizon and
imagining what might be coming our way to be born.
Happy New Year to all of our listeners! This week, we’re here to help you get a jump start on your 2020 TBR list, with recommendations from our panel. Managing Editor Cody Sisco, along with Co-Hosts Rachelle Yousuf and Irene Yoon recap their year in reading and discuss what they’d like to see in the literary landscape next year.
Cody sits down with local LA author Carla Sameth to talk about her recent release, One Day on the Gold Line. They delve into religion, addiction, and the writing process, as well as their shared appreciation for the LA writing scene.
If your New Year’s Resolution is to attend more literary events, Shannon Eagen has you covered with events for the whole family in early January.
About Carla Sameth
Writer. Teacher. Mother. As a writer, Carla hopes to help readers feel less alone and more resilient. As a teacher, she strives to help others tell their stories and hone their craft while experimenting with new forms. The journey of motherhood informs much of her writing.
Through meditations on race, culture, and family, One Day on the Gold Line tells the story of a lesbian Jewish single mother raising a black son in Los Angeles. A memoir-in-essays, it examines life’s surprising changes that come through choice or circumstance, often seemingly out of nowhere, and sometimes darkly humorous—even as the situations are dire.
While escaping from a burning boat, Carla realizes that if she died, her one regret would be not having children. She overcomes miscarriages to finally give birth to a son. Motherhood’s usual struggles are then complicated by identity, community, and the challenges of creating a blended family. The overarching theme of these loosely woven reflective tales is the storyteller’s dream of the “perfect” family, the pursuit of which hurls her from one crisis to the next, ultimately meeting its greatest challenge in the form of her teenage son’s struggle with drug addiction.
We polled our favorite authors and literary community organizers for their reading recommendations this holiday season. They responded with titles across a range of genres. There is something for everyone in the list below.
The BookSwell Crew has been hard at work producing our Intentional Intersectionality reading and discussion as a part of the 2019 Lambda LitFest.
This week, we’re doing a debrief and recap on the somewhat stressful but deeply rewarding process of putting together a live literary event.
We’ve also included excerpts from the talented artists that Managing Editor Cody Sisco, Intersections Co-Host Rachelle Yousuf and BookSwell Advisor Sakae Manning gathered together at the Armory Arts Complex. Enjoy the poetry and prose of these vital voices.
Finally, Shannon Eagen rounds out the episode with recommendations for literary events in the next two weeks, including a star studded event you should buy your ticket for ASAP!
B.A. Williams is a queer writer and performer from East Long Beach, CA. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is currently working on a novel-length manuscript and poetry collection. When she isn’t writing or performing she is developing a platform which seeks to uplift communities of color, redefine “otherness,” and distribute intersectionality with various modes of art. B.A. co-curates and hosts un::fade::able – the requiem of Sandra Bland and is the content manager for lovedby.her, a digital storytelling platform that showcases and celebrates Black queer love. Her poetry and prose focus on all things “other” with a heavy emphasis on Blackness, womanhood, and queerness. Her work is featured in Rigorous Magazine, Every-Other Broadsides, The Rumpus and The New York Times Parenting.
Evan Kleekamp lives in Los Angeles, where they founded NOR Research Studio. With Kim Calder, they directed Les Figues Press from September October until July 2019. Their writing has been featured in X-TRA Online, Open Space (SFMOMA), the Los Angeles Review of Books, Fence, and Tripwire: A Journal of Poetics. Evan has performed, lectured, and given talks at CalArts, Otis College, the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, the Poetic Research Bureau, and Columbia College Chicago. They are the author of two chapbooks, 13 THESES ON STATE-SPONSORED BLACK DEATH IN AMERICA (Kastle Editions, 2016) and Once Upon a Time I Was Michael Thomas Taren (Ghost City Press, 2017). Evan is currently editing an artist monograph and writing a novel.
Reuben “Tihi” Hayslett is a queer activist, writer, and storyteller and current resident of Long Beach, CA. His first fiction short-story collection Dark Corners debuted in 2019 through Running Wild press. Dark Corners received a star rating by Kirkus and was recently included in the swag bag for George Lopez’s Celebrity Golf Tournament. Tihi currently works at Demand Progress, leading online campaigns against the overreach of government surveillance, and is a Lead Training Associate with the Oakland-based Center for Story-Based Strategy. Before relocating from Brooklyn to Southern California, Tihi produced Rustik Storytellers, a monthly oral storytelling live show in 2013. In 2016 he co-produced PRACTICE, a safe-space live storytelling show designed to encourage new-comers to take up the oral storytelling tradition. As a fluent speaker of Dothraki, one of the languages created for HBO’s Game of Thrones, Tihi recently worked on the upcoming Netflix series Daybreak as a Dothraki Language Consultant.
Roxana Preciado is an indie author and artist recognized for her work as a poet and activist. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, she migrated to the US at four-years-old and has been writing poetry since the age of twelve. She has released three books of poetry with the most recent being Hood Educated. In this work, Preciado explores evolution and healing, connecting the disparate parts of her past self into a unified whole.
Preciado uses poetry and her story to support community engagement and activism around DACA and, as a survivor, to raise awareness about violence against women. She often speaks to Latinx and LGBTQ+ youth to help them find their own voice and tell their stories. Preciado is completing her graduate degree while continuing advocacy work for her various communities. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California with her wife and son.