Our very own Tad Bartlett and Maurice Carlos Ruffin will be reading their work, alongside Carin Chapman, at the Alvar Branch of the New Orleans Public Library, from 6 to 7:15 p.m. Should be a stellar literary experience, so come on out and hear the words.
Peauxdunque’s April meeting was hosted by Terri and myself at Krewe du Brew, a new coffee shop on St. Charles. The lovely owners were kind enough to stay open late for us and we enjoyed KdB’s mixed berry juice, peach tea and delicious scones, tea breads and pecan bars. The folks at Krewe du Brew are some of the nicest you’ll meet, so you should definitely check them out.
James Nolan graced us with his presence, not only reading from his novel Higher Ground, but sharing one of the craft lessons from the writing course that he teaches. The lesson synched particularly well with the work that was being critiqued and is sure to help many of us with our projects.
It was a very successful meeting all around and our thanks to the crew at Krewe du Brew and to James Nolan for enriching the experience! Check out a few pictures from the meeting below.
After Tad’s gorgeous summation of our lively event at Tipitina’s on Thursday, here is a gallery of images for you, courtesy of our Friend of Peauxdunque, Kiki Whang.
If you missed out of the FIRST EVER Yeah, You Write event, sure you missed the beginning of a legendary reading series. However, there will be other opportunities to participate in the EPIC LITERARY CONCERT SERIES that is Yeah, You Write.
Hal Clark of WYLD FM’s Sunday Journal interviewed Amanda Boyden and Peauxdunquian Emilie Staat about our upcoming literary concert Yeah, You Write at Tipitina’s on Thursday, October 13th (2 days from now!) at 7 p.m.
This interview aired on Sunday and Hal was kind enough to share it with us. Thanks to John of PureSYTYCD for enormous technical assistance.
Mat Johnson, winner of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature for his novel Pym, will be reading at the literary concert Yeah, You Write this Thursday at Tipitina’s. Recently, Peauxdunquian Maurice Carlos Ruffin asked Mat some questions.
A Conversation with Mat Johnson
MCR: Where does a story begin for you?
MJ: To me, it’s more about what it ends. I look at story as the ride towards epiphany. Something important is realized, either by the characters or the reader. What comes before that is the facts that lead up to that point.
MCR: What balance do you try to achieve between characterization and plot?
MJ: Characters have to be real enough that you care what happens to them, and there has to be enough plot that we don’t get bored just looking at them. The rest is defined by whatever story you have to tell. If the story demands more action, it will make less time for character development. If the story is an internal journey, that makes less time for demanding plot devices. The key is to figure out what kind of story you are trying to tell and then feed it what it needs.
MCR: Do your characters choose their actions or do you?
MJ: I sit there typing and try not to bore myself. So I write myself into moments even I didn’t expect. Enough of those, and the characters start looking like people I didn’t consciously intend for them to be. From there, I consciously try and build on those traits. So it’s a trade off. The art is knowing when to control the page and when to let it run wild.
MCR: What do you do when you’re having a difficult time with a story?
MJ: I walk away from the page. I talk it out with friends. Usually, it’s going rough on the page because there is something I missed, something I’m not understanding, because now I’m reading it and going, “Naw, something’s off.” When I can come up with a way to rethink what I’m working on, then I come back to it.
MCR: What is the best bit of writing advice you’ve gotten?
MJ: “This reads like I’m stuck next to some guy on a plane and forced to listen to his life story. But I’m not stuck. And I can just put it down and walk away.” Michael Cunningham told me that about a book I was writing. It was great advice, because it got through my thick head that my book was not interesting. It gave me the strength to walk away from it and try to write a book that was actually engaging. That ended up being Drop, my first published novel.
MCR: What has been the most surprising thing about the professional writing life?
MJ: That it doesn’t pay shit. I thought I’d be living on a boat by now.
The last two questions were offered by Evelyn Alfred, who is hosting a Pym discussion group on Twitter.
EA: Is there a specific reason why you didn’t discuss the experience on Tsalal?
MJ: Yes. I don’t like to go into breakdowns of my work, I like it to be digested by the reader without my extra-guide, but the ending mirrors Poe’s original ending. Much of Pym is referenced from moments in the original material, but I have my own meanings for them.
EA: What happened to “White Folks” the dog?
MJ: I refuse to talk about White Folks! That would be racist!
Mat Johnson will read at Yeah, You Write, Thursday at Tipitina’s.
Spoken word poet Gian “G Perspective” Smith will perform at Peauxdunque’s Yeah, You Write literary concert this coming Thursday at Tipitina’s and he took some time to talk to Peauxdunquian Emilie Staat.
*NOTE: This is a transcription,edited for readability, of a recorded conversation.
A Conversation with Gian Smith
Emilie Staat: What led you to poetry and spoken word in particular, in the first place?
Gian Smith: Well, pre-Katrina, I had visited a couple of open-mics just here and there. I was motivated to actually start doing performance poetry after I saw Nikki Giovanni give a talk at Xavier, I believe in 2004. The way the very petite Nikki Giovanni kinda’ captured a room with a thousand people in it, including me, was very impressive and something that I thought I’d have the skill set for, so I decided then that I would try my hand at performance poetry. I guess it was mostly experimental in the beginning, but then post-Katrina or, during Katrina, I decided in my displacement that I wanted to come back to the city and be part of its culture and be part of the artistic movement that would come out of our regeneration and I figured poetry, spoken word poetry, was the easiest and the quickest way to really make a name for myself. You know us long prose writers, we don’t always have an audience, because people don’t necessarily wanna’ sit and listen for hours; they want to hear something five minutes long, a nice quick dose. So even though I did and still aspire to do things creatively with longer works like novels, screenplays, stuff like that, I knew I had the capabilities to be a good spoken word poet, so I just kinda’ started there.
ES: Tell me more about the Pass It On spoken word open mic.
GS: Right now we host, by we, I mean it’s me and three friends of mine, we host an open mic. One of the guys who I co-emcee with, his name is Alphonse Smith, he aspires to work in the visual field with movies, and one of the guys, my friend Marc [Lundberg], he’s more business administration for us. The other guy who we started the open mic with, his name is Ayo Scott, he’s a local artist, also a visual artist, but more graphic design and paint. He and I conceived of the open mic in 2008, right around this time actually.
ES: So you’ve got music, you’ve got art and then you’ve got spoken word all coming together in this venue?
GS: Right. So the idea was we wanted to do something that appealed to a) a broad range of artists, but b) a broad range of people because, as a poet, as a begrudging poet, I realized that the reason why people want spoken word poetry in these small doses is because it’s not necessarily something that a lot of people can invest themselves into for a long period and in order to make a show that can be accommodating to people’s attention deficient disorder, we chose to include a lot of different genres of art and also elements of our own personalities that we feel will be able to engage people for an hour or two at a time once a week.
ES: It’s on Saturdays, right?
GS: Yeah. And the spirit of the show is that we wanted to include something for the community, something for anyone who’d like to participate. The name of the show, Pass It On, is an anecdote of Ayo Scott’s late father John Scott, who was a world-renowned artist and MacArthur Fellow and it was basically his mantra. He used to tell people “pass it on” whenever they would try to thank him for something he’d done for them, a pay it forward kind of thing, like, “yeah, I acknowledge that I did something that you like, but instead of giving me your thanks, why don’t you put that into the world and do something nice for the next person.” That’s what the spirit of Pass It On is about, it’s about sharing our gifts with the world instead of confining them to our own devices.
ES: So, how did the Treme trailer and your poem “O, Beautiful Storm,” how did that change your career?
GS: Well honestly, I would say the best thing it’s done for it is just to validate what it is I’m doing. Basically, the work hasn’t changed at all. I still write the same amount, I still write the same things, I still do the same things with the community, schools. The only difference is I get paid for it now. I’ve done a lot of work with Tulane University as a result and a lot of it is similar to what I’ve been doing, community stuff. Similar to what we’ve done on our own with our show Pass It On, similar to what I’ve done on my own workshops for a long time, but now there’s a contract that comes with it.
ES: What’s next for you? I saw a couple of your spoken word videos. I thought that was an innovative, interesting idea. But what else are you working on now?
GS: Right now, I’m in preparation for things I hadn’t necessarily anticipated. The Treme opportunity also opened up opportunities in acting. I have acted before, I have a background with it. But I didn’t really think to pursue it just because I didn’t see the opportunity being open as much as being on the other side of the camera, writing, possibly directing, that kind of thing. Now, I’m actually with an agent and I’ll be acting in a play in Fringe Festival, coming up. I also happen to be working on a piece right now for the Peauxdunque Festival, Yeah, You Write. I’m gonna’ be working on an original piece for that.
ES: Oh, an original piece for us?
GS: That’s what I’m doing right now.
ES: That’s really great. So what’s the name of the play you’re going to be in?
GS: It’s called Hip-Hop Is Alive. It’s written by a friend of mine, DaVida Chanel. You know DaVida?
ES: I do know DaVida.
GS: She’s really active in the arts, especially film and production. And so she’s directing this and she wrote it and it’s a play to show how hip-hop is infused in our life and our everyday and it uses popular lyrics from hip-hop to relay her message and to depict real life at the same time. It’s a pretty cool concept. We did the first read of it last night and it was pretty good.
ES: Who is your character in the play?
GS: I play two characters. One of them is a guy who’s basically in a rut, he’s one of these guys who blames his condition on what’s going on around him instead of taking accountability for what he could be doing to improve. He’s at his moment of catharsis with that. The other character I play is a preacher who’s giving this empowering sermon based on the lyrics of Kanye West.
ES: I can’t wait to see you as a preacher.
GS: I know, I know! I think I can do it.
ES: I think you can, too. So, what is the most surprising thing about the writing life?
GS: Honestly, I would say the most surprising this is how fulfilling it is. Before I really invested in it, I had never tackled a big project; like I never wrote a book or I never wrote a cd or a compilation of work. I had never done a major thing and I kinda’ dreaded what it would take to actually complete something, like a novel. What I found in actually doing it, while there are parts that are tedious, the whole time you’re doing it, just weighing it against other types of work, you get a lot of art in the process. I didn’t really anticipate how much it would mean to me to finish long projects or to be able to say, “I’m a writer” and actually have something to back that up, to validate me.
ES: What’s been the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
GS: See, I don’t know. All of the best tools for my writing have come from my dad and they definitely didn’t come in the form of advice. My dad is a professor at Tulane and so when he talks, it’s not in “come here and listen to what I have to say” terms. It’s “you need to be listening to me and I’m demanding your attention right now.” Any time that I was identifying too much with the character that I’m playing where I’d get in a rut or start feeling overwhelmed by a project or whatever, just basically, you have two choices: you can either do it or don’t do it. But if you don’t do it, don’t whine about it not getting done. If you have a project and you wanna’ see it come to fruition, then do the work. Period.
Catch Gian at Yeah, You Write this coming Thursday evening at Tipitina’s.
Gian’s poem “O, Beautiful Storm” in the Treme Season 2 trailer:
A Conversation with Amanda Boyden
Maurice Carlos Ruffin: Where does a story/novel begin for you?
Amanda Boyden: If I’m in the nascent stages of a novel, I’ve usually decided on my characters. I know who they are and how they’ll respond to most anything. The characters help me write the rest. Seriously. I tend to determine a handful of plot points, maybe a dozen or so, and let my characters lead the way from one to the next. I love how my peeps occasionally surprise me.
I don’t write stories that often any more, but when I do, they usually spring from something small, an observation or glimpse of a slice of life that’s odd or unusual. I watched a kid kick a dying pigeon down the length of a street gutter once, twenty years ago, and knew I had to write about it. A shirtless man falling off his bike. A neighbor running out of her bright blue house paint before she’s reached the roof. Those sorts of moments.
MCR: What balance do you try to achieve between characterization and plot?
AB: All readers have particular tastes. I know a number of current graduate students who are perfectly content to read a story where very little happens. I, on the other hand, have a pretty good-sized appetite for plot. I like stuff to actually happen in a story or novel. But that said, if I can’t inhabit the protagonist’s brain and body, I’m not at all interested in what’s happening, plot-wise. I need to know a character through-and-through. So, I suppose I try my damnedest to balance both elements, to weight them as equally as I’m able.
MCR: Do your characters choose their actions or do you?
AB: I usually attempt to set up the obstacle course for the characters, but invariably they jump through the hoops and leap over the walls in a different order or bypass some rope swing altogether. The characters themselves regularly change their paths.
MCR: What do you do when you’re having a difficult time with a patch of writing?
AB: When I hit a section that isn’t simply flowing with the usual genius ease that I’m so used to–I’m joking!–I’ll double-back and reread/edit. A little like clicking on the refresh icon, I suppose. It helps put me in the character’s headspace, if nothing else. I do write from beginning to end without skipping forward, so my process can resemble sewing by hand, not liking a line of stitches and pulling them out, trying them again with more care.
MCR: What’s the best bit of writing advice you’ve gotten?
AB: Hmm. I like to think we all have little people perched on our shoulders as we write, keeping us in line, in check. Fortunately a good number of excellent writers (my husband Joseph Boyden being one of them) have told me in ridiculous harmony–I have a full choir standing on my shoulders–to not let my writing get too precious. I’m utterly in love with the word, so I have to guard against my line writing usurping character or plot. I’m always cutting away sentences or full paragraphs that my little shoulder people would call “too Too.”
MCR: What has been the most surprising thing about the professional writing life?
AB: Really? That I can live it. How many people get to live out their deepest, most heartfelt dreams? I’m living the life I imagined as a kid. Life is so beautiful and rich, and I get to write about it for a living.
Amanda will be reading new work at Yeah, You Write, next week at Tipitina’s.
Bill Loehfelm is appearing at the first ever Yeah, You Write event, taking place at Tipitina’s on Thursday, October 13th. Peauxdunqian Emilie Staat asked Bill a few questions about his newest book, The Devil She Knows, and the best writing advice he’s ever gotten.
NOTE: This is a transcription, edited for readability, of a recorded conversation. If only Emilie’s camera had a better microphone! There was a lot of laughing and Bill is great in the video, which includes great unintentional advertisements for Funky Monkey (sign in the background), Rue de la Course (cup in Bill’s hand, where the conversation took place), and the New Orleans Saints (Bill’s t-shirt). With no further ado…
A Conversation with Bill Loehfelm
Emilie: So Bill, in your other books, you’ve written about Staten Island and I wonder what it’s been like writing about Staten Island while living in New Orleans, living in this rich city?
Bill: Well, it certainly provides contrast. Staten Island and New Orleans are not very alike. Also, being away from a place, it changes in your imagination. And so, I didn’t remember it exactly like it was. A lot of things got moved around and changed. It was a little easier, I think, to let my imagination run wild and to change things and make things different, than if I was walking out the door and seeing ‘Oh, this thing isn’t there.’ So, it’s a little easier, being away from a place.
E: That brings me to my next question, because you’re currently writing a book set in New Orleans, correct?
E: So now, you live in New Orleans and you’re writing about New Orleans, so we’ve lost that sort of time distance. So, what are the challenges, what are you enjoying about writing about New Orleans?
B: Writing about New Orleans is a challenge, any writer will tell you that. I think part of what you have to do is not get caught up in writing about New Orleans and just write about where you live ’cause there’s so much cliché and there’s almost a standard repertoire of images and attributes. You have to let go of it, of trying to be perfect, and just let it be the imaginative New Orleans, rather than trying to make it the real New Orleans. Cause you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to get every detail right.
E: That sounds right to me. So, in The Devil She Knows, you introduce us to Maureen Coughlin. Where did she come from? I know I’ve asked you this before, but I’m just really fascinated by where she originally popped up, how much she’s changed since then, how she introduced herself to you.
B: She started in a piece of flash fiction, about a woman at a bus stop in New York, standing there in a tuxedo in the middle of the day at a bus stop. You just start asking questions: “Why is she wearing a tuxedo, why is she wearing it in the middle of the day, why is she wearing it at a bus stop?” Yeah. She was going to work. She was either going to or coming from work, most likely at a diner. So that story was really the start and she kept coming back in different incarnations. Longer short stories, side character in other short stories. She had different names and she was a slightly different person. She finally coalesced into this full person in this book.
E: What do you think it is about Maureen that was begging you to write about her?
B: That’s a good question. I’m not sure, exactly.
E: That’s why you’re writing about her – to figure out what it is about her?
B: Yes. You don’t really know what she’s going to do or say next and you kinda’ get the feeling that she doesn’t. You have a character who’s really just making up a life as she goes along. She makes it fun to write about her.
E: I don’t want to give away too much, but she chooses a life path, ish, at the end of the book. Did you know, beginning to write the book, that she was going to go down that path, from the beginning of the process, or did you discover that in the process of writing this book?
B: No, I discovered that in the process. She makes a decision. This is the first book in a series, and she wasn’t supposed to be a series character. She was supposed to be the end.
E: She was supposed to be flash fiction, right?
B: Yes, yeah, exactly. She keeps demanding more and I keep giving it to her. Our relationship works that way. This was supposed to be a one-off, but she makes a decision in the book that led me to realize that she was a series character.
E: The way you just described her, now I have to wonder, is AC, your wife, ever jealous of Maureen, because Maureen’s demanding more and more and you just have to give it to Maureen?
B: Oh, no. No. Maureen provides well for both of us.
E: So she provides as well as demands?
E: That’s good. So, I was going to ask you two questions about being a writer. The first, because I know you’ve done a lot of other things, what was the most surprising thing to you about establishing a writing life, becoming a writer seriously? What surprised you the most?
B: Two things. The amount of insecurity, that each book is its own thing where you panic about having to fill all these pages. It helps a little bit when you’re like, “Okay, I’ve done it before,” but I don’t think you ever get to a point where you’re like, “Oh, this is how you do it,” where it’s all figured out. And the degree to which people think it’s easy. When I first got published, somebody told me I was gonna’ be shocked at how many people were writing a book too. And it turned out to be true. “Oh, if I just had the time.”
E: The classic.
E: And it does take a lot of time, but what else would you say it takes, besides time?
B: Discipline. Anybody can start a book, not everybody can finish a book.
E: Good point. And the last question, what’s the best bit of writing advice you’ve ever been told or given or stumbled upon?
B: Just to stick with it. Somebody described it as a craft-long apprenticeship. It’s your occupation. You have to be disciplined. And I guess the best piece of advice I got was you have to be the first person to take yourself seriously, ’cause if you don’t, no one else will. You can’t sit around waiting for someone else to decide that you’re a writer. You have to make that decision, that commitment, yourself and carry it forward from there. And not let anybody tell you differently.
E: That’s a very good piece of advice. Well, thank you. We look forward to seeing you October 13th at Tipitina’s.
B: I look forward to being there.