(Mary Kay Zuravleff, Andre Dubus III, Edith Pearlman) Andre Dubus III, New York Times best-selling author of The House of Sand and Fog, and Edith Pearlman, author of National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Binocular Vision, read and discuss their work with Mary Kay Zuravleff, author of The Bowl is Already Broken and a PEN/Faulkner board member.

Published Date: July 24, 2013


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2013 A W P conference in Boston. The recording features Edith Perlman, Andre Debu iii, and Mary Kay Oli. You'll now hear Elise Blackwell and Emma Snyder provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:26):

Good afternoon. It's lovely to see so many of you out this afternoon. My name is Elise Blackwell. I'm on the board of directors of the A W P, which gives me a lot of glamorous opportunities to ask people to please turn in their cell phones off and to remind you to vote in the A W P election between now and April 15th, which you can do online. One other announcement, the authors have very kindly offered to sign books right outside the auditorium After the event, I would ask you to please wait to approach them until they can get to the book signing tables. Welcome to Andrea Dubus III in Edith Perlman, a Reading and Conversation. We'd like to thank Penn Faulkner for this literary partnership and for sponsoring the conference. I also direct an M F A program and I have 18 students here and one of the reasons they can be here is because of the $40 conference registration rate that sponsors make possible. So thanks especially to Penn Faulkner and for organizing this event for us today I'd like to now introduce Emma Snyder, executive director of Penn Faulkner. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (00:01:49):

Well, Penn Faulkner, thanks a w p as well, and Elise and Christian and everybody who's helping us put on this event today. My name is Emma Snyder. I'm the executive director of Penn Faulkner and we are so pleased to have you all here at Penn Faulkner's Reading as a literary partner of a W P at several times in the past few days, people have come up to our booth, booth five 11, although that's less relevant now, and asked us, who is Penn Faulkner? What exactly do you do? Because we're an organization that is known primarily for the Penn Faulkner Award for fiction, an extraordinary fiction prize given every year to the best work of American fiction in the previous calendar year. And so you may have heard our name a little bit this week because we announced the five finalists to the 2013 Penn Faulkner Award prize just last Wednesday.

Speaker 3 (00:02:40):

But Penn Faulkner actually has a life beyond the award, and that's something that is often not known about quite so much. Specifically the mission of the organization that the award exemplifies in a national sense is to bring readers and writers together and to foster a devoted sense of literary community to create opportunities for conversation. And that those conversations will lead to a cultivation of a promotion of, and a real appreciation of the most exceptional American literature that we produce here. And today, it seemed absolutely appropriate to present this event today, specifically here in the waning hours of a W p 2013 on the day that we invite the public in to take part in all of our events and specifically to feature to local writers extraordinary voices who speak to the experiences of this region, to these people who know each other, who know this place, these streets, and who can speak and talk about their different experiences and different ways of interpreting this place, this community that we have come to for the last few days and been appreciating will be more personally introduced by someone else who to me represents the best of literary community and literary culture.

Speaker 3 (00:04:01):

Mary Kay Ziff, who sits to my left, Mary Kay is the author of two novels. The Bowl is already broken and the Frequency of Souls and is a new novel man alive coming from F S G this fall. So keep an eye out for that. She has received the American Academy's Rosenthal Award, the James Jones first novel award and been nominated for the Orange Prize, but even more Mary Kay is someone who manages to ride that line between a sparkling witt and an extraordinary empathetic insight into human beings, both as a writer and as a person. And I've come to know this because she's a board member of the Penn Faulkner Foundation. We reside in Washington DC and so the way that our mission is embodied outside of the prize is through a reading series and through a Writers in Schools program, which are both very important to DC as its own specific literary community.

Speaker 3 (00:04:52):

And Mary Kay is an exemplar in that community of who writers can be for each other and who they can be for their readers. Someone who curates the Penn Faulkner Reading series at the Folger Theater, bringing in writers from all over the country, someone who goes into the DC schools and speaks with students and creating that next generation of readers and someone who is deeply supportive of her fellow writers in DC creating events for them. She's an extraordinary person. As I said, she has a sparkling Witt and there are a few people who would be better to lead this conversation today. So Mary Kay Ziff.

Speaker 4 (00:05:33):

Thank you, Emma. I feel like this is my event. It's an incredible honor to be on stage with Edith Perlman and Andre Deus iii. And I really thank all of you for joining us in this intimate setting. This is like being live from Yankee Stadium here. The Penn Faulkner Foundation's mission, as Emma told you, is extremely straightforward to bring readers and writers together. So even before we start mission accomplished. Right. All right, so the setup this afternoon is that I will introduce the two writers and I'll ask them each a few questions and then I will ask them to read during our session. So the hope is that this will unfold organically and we'll get to have a conversation as we do this. So allow me to start by introducing Edith Perlman. Edith was born in Providence, Rhode Island. She graduated about five miles from here at Radcliffe and for 10 years after college she worked as a computer programmer outside Boston for decades.

Speaker 4 (00:06:38):

She has lived about five miles from here in Brookline. So for those of you who wonder where she's been all your life, the answer is right here. Indeed. She has been called the Bard of Brookline and she sets many of her stories in a Boston suburb. She calls Ga Dolphin yesterday during the wonderful tribute to her Rosel and Brown called that town semi-fictional, which I thought was a whole new genre for us. Edith describes Ga Dolphin in one story as not so much out of fashion as beyond its reach. When I was on the committee that chose Edith Proman for the 2011 Penn Malamud Award, we thought we had discovered her previously and Patchett thought she had discovered her and there were many before who claimed the same. In fact, Edith Pearlman has been steadily publishing her acclaimed short stories and nonfiction since the 1970s.

Speaker 4 (00:07:36):

She has won the Pushkar Prize twice the O Henry Award three times and has been included in Best American short stories four times, and that doesn't even count her books or her nonfiction and travel writing. So why do we each feel an accomplice to her success? I have a theory about this and my theory is that Edith Perlman's stories allow us to discover her. Her fiction is like the most interesting person at a party rather than the frenetic center of attention. And her rye restrained narrative voice is fantastic company. The reader is her confidant, and so we feel singularly in on whatever story she is telling or not telling as in the case of the story where the suspense comes from. A husband waiting for the moment, his wife will tell the story he's heard throughout their married life. In Jan term, the high school narrator coins the word non inquisitiveness and explains non inquisitiveness along with just plain being.

Speaker 4 (00:08:42):

There beats all the good intentions of friends and neighbors, even the ones who left casseroles on the back porch. Edith is masterful at being there with empathy intelligence in which she tells stories of people becoming their best selves, even entails of suicide theft or a mercy killing. We feel she is listening to her characters rather than speaking for them, and she makes alliances, or as she calls it, accommodations rather than disdain or destroying. Her short stories have been gathered into four celebrated collections, how to fall won the Mary McCarthy Prize. Love among the greats garnered the Spokane Prize, and Vaquita received the Drew Hinz Prize. In addition to the Pen Malamud award, her latest binocular vision won the National Book Critics Circles Award in 2012 and was a finalist for the National Book Award, Edith Perlman. So Edith, my first question stems from a personal devotion to math and science. Can you talk about the crossover for you between computer programming and writing

Speaker 5 (00:09:59):

For 10 years after college? I was a computer programmer. I went to college a couple hundred years ago and computers then were about the size of this room. They were nothing like the little thing that sits on your desk and you had to become intimate with the computer in order to make it work and you had to follow a syntax and a grammar and if you got the sentence wrong so to speak, these were not sentences, but they were numbers in a syntactical order. If you got them wrong, you made a mistake and the computer didn't work. But mistakes were not forever. You could always turn to your desk and get things right. I think that is the similarity between programming as it was then and writing as it always has been, that you try to get things right with order and with reorder and with throwing out, but your purpose is to get things right in an orderly fashion and solve a problem. So that is what I see as the connection.

Speaker 4 (00:11:26):

That's wonderful. I want to have a long talk with you about syntax sometimes, Andre, it was a pleasure to read the nonfiction behind some of your fiction and for example, your Persian girlfriend that you talked about in townies or your work as a carpenter and your boxing. So I was wondering if you could talk about your life as material.

Speaker 6 (00:11:45):

Oh Lord. First I want to say it's an honor to share the stage with either Perlman. I really think if Alice Monroe and Anton Checkoff had a child, am I right? The truth is I really don't know the answer. What was your question?

Speaker 4 (00:12:06):

My question was how does your life, how do the jobs you've had and the people you've known that you talked about in your memoir, how do you use that in your fiction?

Speaker 6 (00:12:15):

Totally unconsciously. The way I think probably a lot of writers do. I love this line from Richard Baus. He said, if you think that you're thinking, think again. He says, if you think that you're thinking when you're writing, think again that you're much closer to dreaming side of your mind. And so I find that this descent into the dream world always surprises me. If it's going well, it surprises me. And writing townie kind of educated me to some of the things that haunt me, and I think that a lot of my life experience showed up in, I discovered writing townie that a lot of what was in the novels made sense. There was a lot of physical violence, a lot of drinking, a lot of breaking of boundaries. And I remember I was surprised, the first reviews of my first book that came out in 1989 said, his characters are vulnerable to drink violence and sexual desire. And I thought, oh, well, there's me.

Speaker 4 (00:13:17):

But you were surprised that there was

Speaker 6 (00:13:19):

You. I was surprised. I did not know then that there's no way you can write honestly and openly and fall into your dream world and not get completely naked on the page. And it takes nerve.

Speaker 4 (00:13:31):

It obviously takes a lot of talent to be able to do that. And I was telling him earlier, I so enjoyed townies. My next question is about these intergenerational relationships that both of you have written about Edith. The first line of your story, girl in blue with brown bag is they had many things in common, the man of 67 and the girl of 17. And in fact, those juxtapositions, those friendships and alliances are a theme that you return to. And Andrea, especially in your memoir, you write about you and your friends hanging out with your father and his friends. And I wondered if you guys could talk about the appeal of these relationships.

Speaker 5 (00:14:15):

Thank you. I think that all relationships are interesting and everybody brings to a relationship something different from the other person when they are different ages. There is just that much more richness. The older person, whatever sex brings a history that is longer than the younger person. The younger person brings a kind of winsomeness or hope that the older person may have lost. But I think the other thing that is probably attractive about intergenerational relationships is that they recapitulate the primal relationship of a mother and a child.

Speaker 6 (00:15:08):

What she said, no, I have to say too that Mary Kay, I'm not aware of consciously putting one generation with another. Although strangely, the story I'm going to read from today is actually told from the point of view of an 18 year old young woman and the 81 year old great uncle with whom she lives. Imagine

Speaker 4 (00:15:27):


Speaker 6 (00:15:27):

Yeah. So maybe you're onto something there, honey. But I do find, especially with the novel form that I really like reaching for ingredients which feel disparate, that feel as if they might not go together. And I'm thinking about my novel House Sand and Fog. I had this Iranian kernel in this working class woman from sagas mass, and it felt like sperm and egg and sometimes an old man and a young woman feel like sperm and egg. I don't mean that literally one cultural and one culture and another, again, feels like sperm and egg. I really like taking these ingredients that feel like they may not ever match and see if they actually come together. And when they do, it really feels like something might be happening.

Speaker 4 (00:16:12):

Well, this would be a good time for me to give my introduction of Andre. Andre grew up within an hour from here. He is the son of an accomplished writer who lived on a college campus publishing prized fiction and teaching talented students. And yet as he masterfully describes in his memoir Townie this, Andre lived in a rough part of a mill town on the Merrimack River. He and his three siblings essentially raised themselves their single mom commuting and working to put not enough food in the refrigerator. The tree house they nailed together was built of stolen lumber and became a haven for afterschool drinking and drugs. His father was a loving part of his life, but not a witness to their daily scrapes and struggles. One afternoon his dad invites him over for burgers and throws a baseball to him, which is a completely novel activity for the 14 year old Andre.

Speaker 4 (00:17:01):

And the description in his book is Soft arcing tosses that were fun to catch fun. What I remember most is being surprised that my father was surprised. What did he think kids did In my neighborhood? The young Andre grows fit in order to fight. He is determined to defend himself, his family, and the defenseless writers are often the observers on the edge. However, when Andre describes sitting in a bar with his back to the wall, he's studying the crowd and watching the door for danger. Will this be the night someone comes in to settle an old score or will he have to take on a bully? Fortunately for us, Andre Deus began writing not to settle scores, but to represent, to fight the good fight. He discovered maybe there were other ways to express a wound, and that rather than fight, I had to become these other people.

Speaker 4 (00:17:55):

That writing required me to suffer with someone else. The work he'd done and continued to do as a carpenter, bartender, and in halfway houses showed up in his compassionate collection, the cage keeper and other stories and the novels, bluesman the Garden of Last Days and House of Sand and Fog, which was a bestseller, an Oprah book club selection, a national book award finalist and was made into an Oscar nominated film. His memoir Townie was a New York Times bestseller, and on many top 10 lists of 2011, he has been awarded a Pushkar prize, the National Magazine Award for fiction and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has taught at Harvard and Tufts, and he is currently at the University of Massachusetts. Lowell, his new book, dirty Love will be out this fall. Andre Debo.

Speaker 7 (00:18:44):

Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 4 (00:18:49):

So I'll aim a question your way, Andre, your characters tend to reveal something they're not proud of. And Edith, you have the restraint of William Trevor, but a little more warmth, I would say, in my opinion. How do you two balance that revealing from withholding information?

Speaker 6 (00:19:11):

Oh, all right.

Speaker 6 (00:19:14):

These are such smart questions. They're scaring the shit out of me. No, the reason I'm being sincere, they're challenging really great questions. And so your question is how do you balance the revealing and the restraint? And my honest answer is only in the revision that in the first drafts, I try not to restrain one molecule. I try to get as naked with these people as possible and have them get as naked with me and have an orgy of discovery for as long as it takes, and then I put the clothes back on and start to shut the doors and restrain. That's my answer.

Speaker 5 (00:19:53):

Well, my answer is quite similar. I write a probably three times as much as you will ever see. Michelangelo said that the way to make a statue is to get a slab of marble and take away everything that isn't the statue. And that is kind of the way I write a story. There is a slab on my desk of words, words, words, words, words. And writing as Andre says, is revision really, and revision and revision. And slowly I take away the things that are not absolutely necessary until what's left is not taken away, not take away. And I think that is what seems restrained, although as I describe it, it sounds really quite wild.

Speaker 6 (00:20:46):

Yeah, yeah. And do you find too Edith that you need that period of giving yourself permission to go as far down those channels of discovery as possible in order to then find out what's necessary? I was talking about this today with my new friend Joe here, and I have this theory that when you hear these writers always say, oh, you have to give yourself permission to write shitty drafts. Oh yeah, bull. Or you have to give yourself permission to write badly. I don't think it means go ahead, write 15 cliches in a row in a really forced a wooden scene of dialogue. We can't bear to look at that. I don't think it means that. I think it means you have to give yourself permission to write drafts that have no dramatic tension that you know are sloppy and not tight, but you need to bear that not loving that draft so you can find what then is necessary and essential, which you'll shave down and leave for the reader.

Speaker 5 (00:21:44):

It's how you get to know your characters by writing much too much about them.

Speaker 6 (00:21:50):

Yeah. Yeah, I agree.

Speaker 5 (00:21:54):

This would be a wonderful time for you to read to us. Okay. I forgot my water. Would you bring your water with me? I'm going to read a story from the book, binocular Vision. The story is called Lineage. The chief character in lineage is a very old woman lying in a hospital bed, being interviewed by three doctors. Her English is perfect, but her cradle language was Russian, which she slips into more and more frequently as the story goes on in print. Russian is conveyed by italicized English in the reading. I'll let you know when she starts to speak Russian by mentioning it and maybe with a slight change in my voice lineage. Good morning, Mrs. Lubin. Silence. Professor Lubin, the doctor corrected consulting his clipboard silence. How are you feeling? Contemptuous silence. Do you know why you were here? Strenuous. Silence.

Speaker 5 (00:23:35):

You have suffered a neurological event, a transient ischemic attack, stroke. She said at last she was lying on a hospital bed whose aluminum sidebars were half raised. An unused IV pole stood in a corner of the room. The second bed was unoccupied. A fuzzy cison print hung on the mustard wall tro. Well, not yet. We hope not at all. I'm pleased that your voice is so strong. I am Mortimer Lili Beck. And this is Dr. Natalie White, and this is Dr. Eric Hauser. Dr. Hauser will ask you a few questions. Silence. Dr. Hauser cleared his throat. What month are we in? Her eyes strayed to the window, to the snowy Chicago sky. They returned to Dr. Hauser with a glare. Who is the president? The glare intensified. What is your age? Where were you? 92. She said it should be on your records. I was born in 1914 in Brooklyn Young. Dr. Hauser produced a grimace, probably meant to be heartening. It might've earned him the firing squad years ago, far away.

Speaker 5 (00:25:11):

My father was born in Russia. She said more slowly he was the and the voice suddenly aged. Quavering slipped into a different language. Russian. Now there it regained its strength and oddly its youth. He was the czar little father. She continued now to speak in this other tongue. He dressed simply and bathed it in cold water. He carried a metal pocket case containing a portrait of his wife, the empress Alexandra. He loved the forceful empress. My mother was not forceful. He did not love my mother. You don't wish to hear this history you indifferent Americans. But there will soon be another ischemic attack. Ischemic attack. Dr. Hauser with a second ghastly smile sees the familiar English words. Her words, though return to Russian. And so I wish to tell I am not the last of the ramen offs. There are collateral descendants here and there.

Speaker 5 (00:26:32):

One operates a cleaning establishment. And I am not even a legitimate Raman off, and I'm not even legitimate, but I am the sole surviving offspring of Nicholas II and Vera Deko. I could if I were so inclined, claim the treasure supposedly residing in a French bank. I could claim the crown now under glass in Moscow. I could claim all those eggs Berger made for my family. My mother, Vera Deko was the daughter of a doctor in the royal household. She had trained as a nurse. She and Nicholas coated in the woods surrounding Nicholas's favorite residence. Sarro in June, 1913 when the world was at peace. And then Vera went back to her St. Petersburg Hospital and discovered she was pregnant. She fled to America. There I was born. My father knew nothing of me. He was the czar professor. Lubin. It would help if you spoke English, said Dr. Lili Beck. Whom would it help? She said in English us.

Speaker 5 (00:28:05):

She made a weary gesture back to Russian, the empress, Alexandra and the children. My half siblings destined to die in a basement. Were away at the time on holiday in the Crimea. The doctors and tutors too. Rasputin was drinking and fornicating in another province. Nicholas Head of state remained in Tarsco shale to examine documents and sign them to read letters and answer them. Ministers visited him continually. The Duma was a joke. My mother too had stayed behind to arrange some matters for her father. The doctor, the czar walked alone every day in the woods. She also, theirs was not an resignation but an accident. I happened. By chance, have you seen our land in the spring? I myself have not nor in any other season, but my mother described it to me during her final illness 50 years ago. Mud? Well, the mud is famous. A sweet confusion in the woods.

Speaker 5 (00:29:24):

Young leaves, furring. The birches. It meant red pines. Willows. You can hear the new blackbirds. They will be shocked. She aimed two fingers at Dr. White who did not flinch. Did not even lower her eyes. They will be shot in autumn. There was a ravine where crystal water bubbled on a branch hug, a funnel shaped ladle made of birch. They drank the cold, fresh water. They walked along a winding path to an unused hunting lodge. They spoke of Dickens of Durer favorite topics of well-bred Russians in the late afternoon sun. The air was full of amber droplets and everything was as if bathed in warm tea. The trees, the wet lane, even the faces of the two people who had not yet touched each other. This is the Russian spring. Dr. Liva touched his balding head. There is a translator. She's not in the hospital today. My mother's eyes were hazel and her teeth were widely spaced. Her skin was freckled, her curly hair, light brown. As a member of the household, she had seen that Nicholas was prodded and worried by the adored empress and the detested monk. She pitied the little father. She was not raped that afternoon.

Speaker 5 (00:31:07):

Sial Wright was not exercised. She collaborated in her own de flowering. His hands were gentle. His eyes were the brown of a thrush and his beard too. There was only a little pain. There was extreme sweetness. And then came an extraordinary moment. She looked up into his brown gaze and she saw his murder, the murder that would take place. Five years later, she saw eight corpses, man, wife, five children serving, made and a crushed spaniel dying. The corpses first chop were then chopped, drenched in acid, burned and buried. These meager remains were identified later by the metal photograph case and the skeleton of the spaniel whose body had been tossed into the grave. My mother saw other future things, disconnected. Images. She saw an open-eyed little girl dead of typhus. Or was it starvation or was it the bayonet? One of the millions of the little father's children to die during the coming civil war.

Speaker 5 (00:32:35):

She saw Trotsky in his great coat. She saw Enovia of the apparat getting out of a limousine whose seats were covered with bare skin. She saw members of the cheka blood dripping from their fangs. She saw Lenin dead from stroke or perhaps poison when news of these happenings reached her ears in far off Brooklyn. She merely nodded good doctors. There is a figure in Russian legend, a domesticated bear. I cannot remember the name given him. Call him transient ischemic. Transient ischemic. Yes, said Dr. Hauser, but she returned to Russian. The bear has the power to foresee the future, but not the language to reveal it. He can only gaze at his masters from the hearth. Sorrowfully for the future is always grievous. So it was with my mother. She spoke little. She spoke less. She spoke hardly at all. She might've been an animal in Brooklyn.

Speaker 5 (00:33:54):

Despite her nurse's training, she worked as a lowly attendant in an institution for the feeble-minded. We lived with an impoverished female cousin. The few sentences my mother did say, she said in Russian, the translator will come tomorrow. Afterwards, they stood and straightened their clothing. He picked up the frame photograph of his wife, which had fallen out of his pocket. He raised my mother's fingers to his lips. Separately, they returned to the palace. She never saw him again. She would hear many times that he had been autocratic, weak, extravagant, indifferent to his subjects, deserving of the epithet bloody. She did not contradict all this. She told me in a spate of verbosity, the night she died, Mrs. Lubin repeated the last two words in English. She died. Dr. Lili Beck said, you need not think of death. She closed her eyes, banishing him, banishing his two subordinates.

Speaker 5 (00:35:18):

She recalled and then chose not to recall her pinched girl, her department on Avenue J and the two gloomy women who had raised her her long and indifferent marriage, her unimportant contributions to topology her only son, victim of cancer at 35. Another dead ramen off. And she propped up in a bed under three watchful pairs of eyes. Might she at this late hour be invested with that old bear's power to envision the future plagues civil disruptions, babies born monstrous. Any wag could foretell those catastrophes. No, her gift was to witness not what was to come. But what had been she thought of the little father Nicholas abandoned before his death and disregarded afterwards. Remembered now only by a stroked out mathematician who had not known him but could nevertheless ceased khaki garments, beard, kindly eyes mouth smiling at the freckled nurse who on a warm afternoon had soothed his troubled spirit.

Speaker 5 (00:36:42):

A solitary incident, one moment of singular ease its issue. One life of singular, unremarkable hers and with her passing would die. Not the memory of the incident. That memory had perished with Nicholas, with Vera. But the memory of its deathbed telling, but the reputation of the tragic czar, no further stain. She opened her eyes. The doctors were still there writing on their clipboards, exchanging glances as thorough as the zeca. My mother was mad, she said hurriedly in English. Her story was merely an invention. She recanted to console me from my shameful birth. The season is winter. Dr. Hauser, the president is a boob. Dr. White touched her hand, little mother, she said in the old woman's tongue, if a lie, a generous one. And if the truth safe with you and me rest now, a few minutes later in the hall, Natalie snapped. Dr. Lili Beck, your command of Russian and unexpected talent that patient's prattle. What was it? Mortimer. Dr. White said Sweetly a folktale. More or less. Thank you.

Speaker 7 (00:38:27):


Speaker 4 (00:38:37):

And if this were Yankee Stadium, the fireworks would go on just now. That was beautiful with a story like that. That brings me to the question of, I mean the layering of that. How much do you have to go on when you begin? Does the writing take you there as sort of divining rod or are you aiming toward the Well

Speaker 5 (00:39:06):

In that story, I did imagine it somewhat first and then I made an outline and then I followed the outline, and then I tore up the outline and then I wrote some more. Andre does it too. That's the way we work.

Speaker 6 (00:39:31):

Can I ask you a story about the short story? There's that famous Faulkner line. He said, when the writer begins, he tries his hand at poetry. When he fails at that, he tries the short story. And when he can't do that either ends up writing novels, which I write.

Speaker 6 (00:39:48):

I do think he's onto something. You write stories too though. No. Yeah, I do. But I do think that a great poem, every word, every letter of every word has to be just right. A great story. Every word has to be just right. But the novels are much more forgiving form. We've all read great novels that could lose 200 pages, but they're still great. The Grapes of Wrath could really use, could lose 200 pages, but it's still a great novel. So it's a more forgiving form. So you like my master short story, father Andrew de Abuse. You work in a less forgiving form. Anyway, I'm just so moved by this story. I think in this story you captured what many novels would spend 400 pages trying to capture seriously. 400 pages. And anyway, I'm just taking my hat off to you and I'm asking you, was it a conscious choice? I know in my father's case, it was a conscious choice that he was not going to write novels. He read Chekhov and he said, that's it. From now on, I just want to try to write as well as Anton checkoff. How about for you?

Speaker 5 (00:40:46):

I have never had a wish to write a novel, so I have no conflict.

Speaker 6 (00:40:53):

And that's that. Can I ask a follow up? What about when the publishers say, oh, not anymore for you, but way back. Oh, Ms. Pearlman, we liked your collection of stories, but do you have a novel? And if you have a novel, we might be able to give you a two book contract.

Speaker 5 (00:41:13):

But I don't have a novel, sir. That's

Speaker 6 (00:41:16):

What I say. And so that was just the constant. Yeah. Bravo, bravo.

Speaker 4 (00:41:22):

Masterful writer and question. Well, let me ask you the same question. How much do you have to go on when you start?

Speaker 6 (00:41:31):

I really find it, the less, the better. I found in my own writing struggles, the more I've known, the more I've killed it. And I've never actually outlined a novel. But if I see too far down the road, it's usually because, and I was talking about this with Joe today. I think it is usually because I'm making it up more than I'm imagining it. And I think the best writing I've done and I'm haunted by everything I've done, I'm not satisfied with anything. I think most writers really go for that Beckett line. Ever tried, ever failed? Nevermind. Try again. Fail better. It's so frigging Irish because it's encouraging and discouraging all at once. But so for me, the less I have, the better. If I just have the sliver of a situation and the sliver of a character doing an action and I step into a genuine curiosity, not just a little curiosity, but total curiosity, then something happens.

Speaker 6 (00:42:28):

But I found that whenever I've been gripped with a story to tell, I've reduced it and made it a stale dead thing. But when I've stepped into the writing, really gripped more with the story to find something always comes. And it's usually not what you even want to frigging write about. No, it isn't. Right. Right. And I think that's what blaze Pascal meant when he said anything written to please the author is worthless. Just because we want to write about this doesn't mean it wants to be written about by us. You find that too? Yes. I think that's

Speaker 4 (00:42:56):

True. But that paradox between making it up and imagining that you just beautifully described and how we're always trying to get out of our own way to get to ourselves is very tricky. When you feel that current take you, I mean that's a beautiful distinction. Making it up versus imagining. It

Speaker 6 (00:43:14):

Took me about 15 years of teaching writing classes before I finally said it that way. I would find myself saying, don't make it up. So it's a novel. What do you mean? I don't know. That feels made up. I don't know what I mean. But then I finally figured it out. I said, what are you really seeing in that scene? Well, she's sitting there. Then why don't you just write that she's sitting there? I don't know. It's not interesting. I said, that's the problem. You're trying to entertain me. Don't entertain me. I want to be that woman. So let's sit with her.

Speaker 4 (00:43:44):

This would be a good time for us to sit with you. Would you read to

Speaker 6 (00:43:46):

Us? Oh, for goodness sakes,

Speaker 6 (00:43:56):

I'm going to read from something brand new because I'm afraid to do just that, so I'm going to do it. So there's a weird echo up here, but is it echoing out there for you guys? No, it's just, it's okay. Alright, good. This is the first 13 minutes from the title novella of the book coming out in the fall. It's the longest one at about 150 pages and it's told from two points of view. One is an 18 year old young woman named Devin, and she's living with her widowed 81 year old great Uncle Francis. This is in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. It's called Dirty Love.

Speaker 6 (00:44:42):

In her head, it's angry. Most of the wrapping voices just a few years older than she is, mostly black. One white. All of them boys though, she knows, they think they're men because they're known and can talk like animals. And everybody loves them for it. She loves them for it though she doesn't, not really. But there's respect there. Respect for their rage. She can feel it like a small fist inside her, just barely touching another. Then they're gone. All the motherfuckers and nines and dead boys and caskets. A woman singing now a guitar and piano. And the woman is a face and a name on the covers of magazines. Devin never reads but sees in the seven 11 on her walks home from work. All the store magazines have three quarter naked women on them, all of them. Even the ones about cigars or antique trucks or guns. Always a woman's cleavage and long, naked legs. Her arched back and ass, her fake smile and too much gloss and eyeliner that some nights makes Devin want to kick them all in the face. Sometimes she buys a Coke. It used to be a pack of merits, but no more, not for 63 days anyway. And not to save her lungs or skin, teeth and hair. It's so she isn't like him in any way. Her piece of shit, father Charlie Brant.

Speaker 6 (00:46:11):

But anyway, she's still working, running the duster over the cooling unit under the windows. The British woman singing about running after her boyfriend, chasing him and chasing him. But he never stops or even seems to notice. The window has a gray mark on it. Like whoever used this room last through the remote or something else. Hard in plastic, his cell phone maybe, or his blackberry or eye, everything, a screen with his entire life on it, he can't stand anymore. Or maybe there was a fly and it was the heel of a shoe. This grayish smudge Devin has to reach up and deal with now scratching it off with her fingernail. They're still long, but she doesn't paint them anymore. Two nights ago, her laptop on her knees in bed in the near dark, a man in Albania asked her to paint them for him and she next to him like pulling a trigger, but then ended up with two drunk girls in France somewhere.

Speaker 6 (00:47:09):

They just looked at her the way girls do. Like she's their competition and they already know they don't like her and never will. Devin scrapes away. Most of the smudge outside the sky is a bright gray, the August kind that can give you a sunburn when you think you're safe. And she has to squint and she's pissed that she has to even deal with this window. And she presses shuffle on her eye everything until she gets mad music again. A dead boy rapping about slinging in his niggas, in his nine. Now everything is lined up, her mood and the music in her head, and this always makes her feel like she's moving forward, gliding down a moving sidewalk at the airport. That time she was on one back when she was little and her mother and father seemed happy or at least laughed a lot together.

Speaker 6 (00:48:00):

Her mother still pretty, or at least looking like she cared big, but still sexy. Big though Devin never thought about these things, just felt them like she was lying in a soft bed surrounded by cool deep pillows and the smell of something sweet was in the air. And that day the three of them were getting on an airplane to Disney World where everything was more real than real, could ever be a gunshot ratchets through her head. Then three more fast and one after the other. Boys are yelling and running. Car wheels squealing. Then it's the low wrapping voice of a man sitting in a prison cell. All his homies are dead and he's got nothing to do, but sit in his cell and miss his little girl, her mother, a cheating bitch. He's going to cap soon as he's out. And after a while, Devin doesn't listen anymore. Just hears it. This song from a world she'll never be a part of, though she's never really felt part of her own either.

Speaker 6 (00:49:02):

This isn't a window day, but she gets glass plus from her cart in the hall and shoots where the mark has left a white shadow and she pulls the rag from her back pocket and wipes it clean. Paula wouldn't even see that smudge. And if she did, she wouldn't fucking do anything about it. She's still on the second floor and Devin has already done the third. And now she's in the second to last room on the fourth outside and down in the gravel lot. The waitress shacks look like those tool sheds you buy at Home Depot. But each has a little porch with railings. And Devin can see Jackie in a bikini lying on her back, on her chaise lounge, her Shay's lounge, her red hair fanned out around her face and shoulders. Devin wonders if she feels guilty about what happened, and she can see why the bartender wanted to fuck her.

Speaker 6 (00:49:49):

But how could Jackie have fucked him? Not just because his quiet pregnant wife live with him. Two Shaqs down. But because Robert Doucette was a creep Friday and Saturday nights, Devin busing tables with three boys. Doucette would call one of them over to get 'em some ice that we had a bar back to do that his bar would be full tanned men and women sitting and standing, drinking, eating, talking, and laughing. The restaurant even busier every table taken by family, staying at the hotel or tourists staying at other hotels, sometimes couples never anyone sitting alone. The fake jazz the manager liked blaring the tinking of silverware on plates, low voices and high voices and obnoxious laughter. And Devin just wanted to put on her headphones and make the whole place the background of her world, just a crowded, carpeted, bad dream she had to move through.

Speaker 6 (00:50:47):

That smelled like perfume and shrimp, scion, sweat. But Danny Sullivan didn't allow headphones or eye. Everythings on the floor or her nose stud or more than one in each ear. And Devin had to work those nights with her insides never matching her outsides. So there was never a sliding forward on a current you made yourself. Instead, she had to load her busing trade to bad jokes from sunburn fathers dead stares from suen kids tired smiles from half drunk mothers who just knew her and her life because they had been young and pretty once before too. When Devin knew they never had. And Danny only allowed trays, never the rubber tubs from the kitchen, which would've been much easier for loading the dirty dishes and glasses. And Devin hated the polyester black pants she had to wear. The white blouse buttoned up past her bra, sometimes clearing a table.

Speaker 6 (00:51:43):

She glanced over the heads and tables out to the street where cars and pickup trucks cruise slowly passed their headlights, lighting up whatever car or van was in front of them. And on the other side of the boulevard was the dark beach and the black ocean. And she almost pictured herself on a ship to France or Portugal or Italy only. She didn't. Maybe she used to, but why go there now. She went places every night, France, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Algeria, once Moldova, wherever that was. Portugal, Luxembourg, Italy. And she was seen only rooms behind the head and shoulders of whatever man or woman or boy or girl she'd found was the room they sat in. Sometimes it'd be morning or afternoon and the light would be coming in, but usually it was rooms with shades pulled today or night, very little on the walls, a shelf with a tv, a few magazines or a book in Ireland.

Speaker 6 (00:52:46):

One time behind a drunk boy with a beard, a sword hung on the wall over a PSS three station, somebody else playing a soccer game on it. Behind them there were couches with blankets thrown over them. Empty wooden chairs turned facing nowhere. There were lamps on small tables cluttered with ashtrays or empty glasses or a sweatshirt balled up and hanging off one corner in Morocco, a man stroking his penis lay sideways on a mattress. His whiskered cheek propped against his hand and on the wall behind him hung an oriental carpet. The colors of plums and blood, usually Devin nested right through the assholes masturbating. But this one was pulling lazily back and forth on his erection like someone would pet a cat. His shirt was off and his skinny torso was black curly hair. And now she knew he could see her, but nothing changed.

Speaker 6 (00:53:43):

He kept pulling on himself like he was just passing the time, waiting for her to do something or say something or write or draw on his screen, anything that would get him to stop or take more of an interest. But he just stared at his screen in Africa and she stared at hers in her great uncle's guest room in Hampton, New Hampshire. And they stared and stared while he did what he did. And then the chat wheel began to spin again and she was sitting in front of a man in England, her father's age, behind him, a brightly lit room and framed photos on a wall that looked like family. He had high thinning hair like her father in fleshy cheeks, and he was wearing reading glasses and a loosened red tie and white button down shirt. Immediately his typed words appeared on her screen. Hello, are you alone?

Speaker 6 (00:54:34):

Normally she would next him like a slap in his face, but she typed, fuck you we're all alone. Then she next it and kept going. But she never really knew what she was looking for, if she was looking for anything. Only she knew now that other parts of the world no longer interested her what was there to find there. But houses and buildings with rooms in them that held people like her, she'd seen enough and no longer needed to see more. So the money she was saving was for a car and a room of her own somewhere, a quiet zone of her own away from everyone, even her kind, lonely, great uncle Francis. And she'd be rounding the corner of the bar for the kitchen, carrying a full tray of used plates and glasses and silverware. When Robert looking over his shoulder while pouring a drink and shooting a mixer into it from the soda gun, would shout over all the human noise.

Speaker 6 (00:55:30):

Aye, Devin, thank you honey. And even then, working away like he was, his eyes were dropped to a side view of her ass and she'd want to kill him. She'd push through the swinging doors into the bright kitchen and she'd see one of the young homies in her head doing it, just walking up to set with a nine and pressing it to his sweaty neck and squeezing the trigger. Devin pushes the cotton rag into her back pocket and blows once on the glass. The smudge is gone. No sign of it, no sign of dosette anymore either. The song in her head is a happy one. Dance music, a Puerto Rican girl from New York singing high over thumping bass. And because Devin's done with this room, it's a good song to keep. She runs her hand over the spread of the perfectly made mattress. She checks the bathroom one last time, the sink toilet bath and mirror the toilet roll full again.

Speaker 6 (00:56:27):

It's first square folded into an inviting V, so the next customer thinks no dirty fingers have ever been here before. That's what doucette made her feel. Dirty, his eyes taken her in like it already fucked her and wanted just one more cheap go at it again. She was 18, didn't that stop 'em even a little. But she knew better than that. There were all those men around the world who perked up as soon as they saw her. There were the fathers and husbands in the bar and restaurant, their eyes taking her in like a nasty memo to themselves. There were the boys and men behind steering wheels as she walked down the street, their hungry eyes on her in the side view mirror and there was her own father. And Amanda salve his 23 year old girlfriend with her tits and flat stomach and big mouth.

Speaker 6 (00:57:18):

She showed off on her fuck book page. Devin places a going green card on the pillow, a wrapped chocolate beneath that, she steps into the hallway and locks the door behind her. Just one more room to go. Then she's off till she has to come back to bus at five. She pulls her eye, everything from her shorts pocket and checks the time, three hours to do whatever she wants, except shit. It's Friday and she has a tutoring session with Francis for her g e d. Not that she wants it, but Francis wants her to get it and he's letting her live with him for free. So she kind of has to, Devin checks her messages, three texts from her mother, one from sick, none from her unquote friends, which is how it is now. And that's fine with her mom. Are you working tonight? Thought we'd have dinner together.

Speaker 6 (00:58:13):

Mom, did you get my text? I miss you honey. Mom, text me please. Sick was upbeat, like they're just friends and that's all they ever were. Fucking asshole. The happy dance song is all wrong now she runs her finger over the screen. So once again there are gunshots echoing through her head. The base beating between her ears, the man's voice is her own rapping about all the motherfuckers out there. She's going to cap her body and cleaning cart gliding down the hallway. Nothing and nobody holding her back, especially sick and her weak father and even weaker mother who still lies to herself and hasn't kicked him out of the house. He took a shit in like it was a toilet and never once had been their home. Thank you.

Speaker 4 (00:59:17):

That w

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