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.
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.
Summer has finally arrived in sunny Los Angeles, and we hope you all had a wonderful Pride Weekend! Dan Lopez and Cody Sisco are here to dig deep into Michelle Obama’s runaway hit, Becoming, and Dan recommends books that fill his very particular current obsessions — LGBTQ YA and Sci-Fi! After that, enjoy Cody’s conversation with Shonda Buchanan that covers the history of World Stage Press, Leimert Park, and Shonda’s own imprint at Tsehai Books — Harriet Tubman Press. You won’t want to miss Buchanan detail her moving journey of self-discovery and owning her identity, and the cherry on top of this interview is a truly phenomenal reading of one of her poems. You can find out more about Shonda on her website, and while you’re exploring, be sure to check out World Stage Press and Eso Won Books. And finally, are you looking for events that don’t feature the typical glossy beach reads of the summer season? Shannon Eagen has you covered with some June book signings (and a book club!) celebrating slightly less mainstream genres. Enjoy!
Episode 3 is here, and our listeners are in for a treat. To kick things off, Managing Editor Cody Sisco does a lighting round book roundup with Sarah Labrie. After that, enjoy an extended interview between Cody and rising literary star Patrick Nathan. His debut novel, Some Hell caught the attention of readers and critics alike. The heartbreaking coming-of-age/coming-out story was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, and is a 2019 Lamdba Literary Award finalist. We’re so grateful Patrick took the time out of his busy schedule to chat about his career, his upbringing in small-town Minnesota, and the increasing demands placed on authors in the contemporary publishing landscape. Finally, we’re excited about all things Literary LA in April but as usual…the list is overwhelming. Lucky for you, BookSwell Contributor Shannon Eagen is here to give a roundup of some of the “can’t miss” events for lit fans that are looking to support underrepresented voices in our crowded literary scene.
We’re back for Episode 2! Today, BookSwell’s Managing Editor Cody Sisco is joined once again by Irene Yoon, Sarah Labrie and Dan Lopez. Rachelle Yousuf is our latest addition to the Intersections crew, a book event coordinator with The Freya Project and YALLWEST. In this episode, they confess to skipping events to stay home and read, turning away from literary fiction and local authors who truly capture the spirit of Los Angeles in their work.