If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
This year, I started a substack newsletter about food called Anne’s American Kitchen, and it’s all about home cooking and the power of food to overcome differences. I am really taken by this question!
I tend to cook French food when I am home, so I think I would invite French medieval feminist Christine de Pisan over, and I would feed her potage crème de laitue (Lettuce cream soup), saumon braisé à la sancerroise (braised salmon in a rich white wine sauce) , and gâteau aux épices caramélisées (a caramelized spice cake). Needless to say, I would serve champagne, a wine that had not yet been invented yet, and I would watch her reaction to the bubbles.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
I fight the fear of what conclusions the reader might make about me personally based on what I have written. For instance, in The Bunker Book, I have some poems spoken in the voice of Nazis. For the record, I am not a Nazi, nor am I an apologist for fascism of any kind. However, this discussion of freedom’s battle against authoritarianism needed to include such voices in order to be intelligible.
Nothing in my book is autobiographical in any strict sense. The reader won’t know my life’s details, but she or he will know which ideas excite me or worry me.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
In The Bunker Book, I actually write about losing my virginity to Rhett Butler, and at the same time, in this same poem, I am Rhett Butler. Clearly, I have issues, but please don’t kink-shame me.
What books are on your nightstand?
Right now — I have Our Lady of Bewilderment by Alison Pelegrín, Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing, Millionaire Households and Their Domestic Economy, With Hints Upon Fine Living by Mary Elizabeth Carter (my first title with Unsolicited Press, Polite Occasions, is obsessed with and deconstructs etiquette, so this is an odd pet topic of mine), Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux, De Nugis Curialium by Sir Walter Map, a book that contains the shorter book that the Wife of Bath threw in the fire in The Canterbury Tales, and The Bible.
I read voraciously. Next month, I anticipating switching out the book by Walter Map for the farces of Georges Feydeaux and a new book by Margaret Atwood.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
I love the finality of a period but distrust its ability to end things.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
Moby Dick was required reading, but despite what all the lovers of that book say about it, I thought it was unpleasant and low-key misogynist. I refused to write the required paper and instead turned in a paper on how most of the female characters in Tennessee Williams’ plays resembled his descriptions of his mother in his memoir. The teacher gave me an A.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
I would like to thank the aluminum cup near my head right now filled with ice cubes and Diet Coke. I would like to thank the wedge pillow behind my back. I would like to thank every illuminated manuscript archived in The British Library and all the wine on the wine list of Galatoire’s Restaurant in the Vieux Carré in New Orleans, a veritable pirate’s trove of good drinking.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
I was fretting over the fact that I recently discovered that someone who was almost a mentor to me 20 years ago was indicted as a bag man for Russian Oligarchs funneling funds to the Trump 2016 campaign, wondering how to understand the shocking deterioration of character in this person I knew years ago.
My friend, an Emmy-winning writer, Jane Murphy Shimamoto, wrote me, saying, “Make art. Spare no one.”
To write at a time like this — “Make art. Spare no one” is a great motto. We need to tell the truth and do it without flinching.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
There are so many! The deadliest one is an overfondness for one’s own words. Write the first draft freely, but then be BRUTAL in your editing. Nobody was ever any good in his or her first draft. Stop stinking up the page. Engage in ruthless editing and re-editing.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I am vaporizing my Kryptonite right now. I am working on a memoir about my very dysfunctional and adventurous life. It’s absolutely terrifying, but I am doing it.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
There are books so tediously conventional, I can’t finish them. The antidote to reader’s block is reading something else.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
The object of the writer is to make the reader feel or think. I can’t imagine a dispassionate poet, but theoretically, he or she must exist. After all, Wallace Stevens worked as an insurance executive, and they are not as a group prone to wild fits of passion.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Because I am part of the editorial team for Peauxdunque Review and am president of The Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans, I hang out with writers frequently. I count among my friends and acquaintances authors and poets like Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Melinda Palacio, Julie Kane, Elizabeth Tran, Peter and Nicole Cooley, Constance Adler, Cornelius Eady, Anne Boyd Rioux, Marilyn Hacker (my mentor), Gerry LaFemina, whom I have known forever, Karisma Price, whom I only met last year, and so very many others — thank God!
In New Orleans, I think we are experiencing a time like the Harlem Renaissance, the Algonquin Roundtable, or the Beat scene at City Lights Books — the town is jumping with the very best writers in America today. We are creating a new way of talking about the South, what matters in Southern History and the future in the South. The magnificent New Orleans writers also know how to mix a cocktail and laugh at a joke, making our gatherings lots of fun. These writers I know make me a better writer the way that jamming with Louis Armstrong might make one a better drummer or clarinetist. We are all getting better together by sharing work with each other and talking to each other about grand ideas of who we might become as a nation. I dreamt as a high school student of finding my way to a group of writers that was teeming with ideas and new modes of expression. Here I am, hallelujah!
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I really do mean for people to read the books in a stand-alone fashion, but I have recurrent themes:
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I bought a plane ticket to Berlin to watch the Wall fall and to dance in its rubble.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I struggled to read Genesis as a bored five year-old in a King James Bible placed by the Gideons in a hotel room in London as my parents slept off their jet lag. I didn’t understand all of it, but I understood that God created the universe with words and that when Abel gets murdered, his blood speaks to God from the ground.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Lady Susan by Jane Austen is marvelous because a woman behaves very badly in Regency England and gets away with it.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Isn’t every author’s avatar that old-school Microsoft paperclip icon?
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Shhh! I told them I made up everything without inspiration from them!
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have two — a memoir I am writing about my adventurous but completely messed up life, and a half-finished novel about the divided state of America entitled Emma Jo’s Prayer Blog.
What does literary success look like to you?
This. Plus, I would like to win the Pulitzer, please.
What’s the best way to market your books?
I go to bookstores and leave them on consignment. I hold readings. I write for other kinds of publications.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I seem to have to pay them thirty percent more than the female characters. Is that a hard and fast rule?
What did you edit out of this book?
I’ll never tell.
We Support Indie Bookshops