Come to Harvard Book Store, March 2

Come to Harvard Book Store, March 2

I’ll be in conversation with Garth Greenwell and Idra Novey tonight at the Harvard Book Store. We’ll be talking about their two brilliant novels, What Belongs to You and Ways to Disappear. We promise to entertain.
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Unaccompanied Minors on Story366

Unaccompanied Minors on Story366
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Heartfelt thanks to Michael Czyzniejewski for posting these thoughts on “Shelter” and Unaccompanied Minors on Story366:

Today’s story, “Shelter,” comes from Jones’ debut collection, Unaccompanied Minors, from New American Press and the incredible duo of Okla Elliott and Dave Bowen…Alden Jones is one of the talented authors published by New American Press, her stories fast-paced, human, and a reminder of why minors are designated as such, in the eyes of the law, but emotionally, too. Jones is able to depict not only the mistakes that result from youth and inexperience, but how these characters arrive at these mistakes. It’s not as easy of an answer as we’d like to imagine. If we all think back to being that age, weren’t we just a bad break, or a bad choice or two, or one time getting caught, away from some serious shit?

Complete review at Story366

Noir at the Bar

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I suppose you could call elements of Unaccompanied Minors “noir.” In any case, the best thing about reading at a noir-themed event was that the audience was prepared for a night of murder, mayhem, and seedy darkness. So I got to read from “Sin Alley,” the Costa Rica house of prostitution story. “Sin Alley” even seemed sweet in the context of the event! I mean, there is crime and bad behavior…but there is also love.

While listening to the other readers, I got to share a table with this fab posse of Emerson creative writing students.IMG_1566
(Did I mention I love my job?)

Farsickness

Four Questions on Farsickness
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Four Questions on Farsickness is an interview series with creative writers for whom place is essential to their work. Each writer answers the same four questions—and featured this week is award-winning travel memoirist and short story author, Alden Jones.

1. Share a little about where you’re from. When you were growing up, what place—real or imagined—most fascinated you, and why?

I grew up in New Jersey, so of course the most fascinating place in the world was Manhattan. But, like most voracious young readers, I traveled via books. I was as fascinated by the Dollangangers’ attic as I was by the plains of Siberia. I was drawn to any setting that wasn’t safe, predictable suburban America. Any place a book could transport me so fully that I would look up from the book and forget, for a second, that it wasn’t my life I was reading about.
Later, because I started studying Spanish at age ten and found it incredibly fun, I wanted to go where I could speak Spanish. I studied abroad in Spain as a high school student, but was always drawn to Central America. So after college and more Spain and more Europe, I found my way to Costa Rica as a WorldTeach volunteer English teacher.

2. What travel has been a particular inspiration to your work?

My first book, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia, is an exploration of the ethics of travel and covers fifteen years of my life as a traveler. I didn’t include every trip I took during those fifteen years, but all of the travel I did inspired the book. The Blind Masseuse begins during my year in Costa Rica, follows my travels as a backpacker and then a teacher in Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba, and as a professor on Semester at Sea, mostly in Asia. But I was also much affected by a summer I spent in Paris, my first experience teaching travel writing in Italy, a research trip I took to Brazil, and I had quite a few (mis)adventures as a trip leader in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Why didn’t those experiences make it into The Blind Masseuse? I had to kill my darlings and do what made sense for the narrative, but as for the question of inspiration, every moment I spent as an American abroad contributed to the study of ethical travel. Especially the worst moments!
My second book, Unaccompanied Minors, is a collection of stories, two of which are set in Costa Rica. I was very motivated to write stories set in Costa Rica, because during and after my year there I could find so little literature that explored Costa Rican culture. Plenty on birds and beaches, of course, but almost nothing about what life was like for the people who lived in Costa Rica. I felt there was a real gap and I wanted to help fill that gap.

3. Where do you “escape to” to recharge creativity?

Provincetown, any artists’ colony, tropical tourist hotels in the off season. Now that I have three kids under five, nothing says “escape” like three uninterrupted hours in my home office.

4. Where would you most like to travel to next?

The novel I’m writing now is partially set in Cambodia, where I spent two days during my Semester at Sea travels. For some reason Cambodia really hit a chord for me and I’ve been obsessively plotting to return there once my kids are a bit older.
In the more immediate future, I’m excited to return to Cuba, where I spent three summers from 2001-2003. My friend and fellow writer Tim Weed and I are launching the Cuba Writers Program in spring 2016. I haven’t been there in over a decade. Almost every Cuban friend I had has moved to Canada or Spain or the US, so it will be strange and a little sad. But Cuba, as everyone knows, has a tendency towards preservation, so I’m curious to see how it’s changed and how it’s stayed the same, especially with the recent lifting of restrictions on the US side. I’m someone who loves nostalgia. There’s a lot of that in Cuba, for me personally, and in general. Some people travel to see new places and get focused on the next place, and the next, but I love revisiting places that hold memories.

Unaccompanied Minors at Grab the Lapels

Unaccompanied Minors at Grab the Lapels
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Deep appreciation to Melanie Page at Grab the Lapels, who wrote a thorough and thoughtful review of Unaccompanied Minors that posted today. Some of her kind words:

“Jones waves her wand and does some of the best world building I’ve ever encountered in short fiction. No piece was noticeably weaker than another, no piece failed to pull its weight. These stories often touch on themes of sexual orientation and the fairly simplistic exteriors of adolescents who have dark interiors. A few of the stories are set in Costa Rica. Frequently, there is a lot going on inside of a narrator that the reader is privy to, but the other characters never see…

The way Jones flips simple ideas on their heads and makes them new was sheer pleasure for me. I was reminded of the artist David Hockney who draws one chair from every angle, which results in an odd final picture; you can tell the image is a chair, but you’re forced to look at it in new ways.

Alden Jones’s collection was incredibly immersive. Some moments were so visceral, such as a character heaving deep breaths while climbing a mountain, but pretending that she isn’t out of breath so she doesn’t seem weak, which only makes her breathe harder. Each story builds a new and unforgettable world that I could see and experience, and each character had an emotional depth that made me worry about each and every one of them. I also felt helpless, scared, and ignorant. For an author to make me feel like I’m supposed to do something for fake people…that’s a skill for sure.”

(Read the complete review.)

Grab the Lapels is a place where Melanie reviews books by women as a service, without getting paid for her work, because she sees that it needs doing.

Righteous.

Interview with Lidia Yuknavitch

One of my Favorite Living Writers

Amercian writer Lidia Yuknavitch in Paris, France on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. Photo: Andrew Kovalev (ckovalev.com) for Les Editions Denoёl

Amercian writer Lidia Yuknavitch in Paris, France on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. Photo: Andrew Kovalev (ckovalev.com) for Les Editions Denoёl


I had the great pleasure of interviewing Lidia Yuknavitch about her new book, The Small Backs of Children, for The Rumpus. Lidia’s memoir, The Chronology of Water, was my favorite book of the decade. What an honor to converse with its visionary author. Read the interview here.

I Love My Job
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For the past three summers I have taught Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emerson College. I have been extremely lucky, during my fifteen years at Emerson, to teach courses I love – creative writing, Exoticism in Literature and Art, The Literature of Photography – and to talk shop with some very fine minds. (A sampling of fine minds in the photo above.) Somehow this class always feels like the easiest to teach. Because it’s basically about our world and learning how to articulate what is happening in it. The official demise of DOMA…the UVa/Rolling Stone debacle…the new Mad Max movie…a feminist reading of what is playing on the radio. A large part of the course is reacting to what appears in our newsfeeds, and giving it language.

For three years now I have been formulating a character who becomes more and more vivid when I am teaching this class. At a certain point I realized it was inescapable that my next book, a novel, will have a male protagonist. As someone deeply committed to the female and non-dominant perspective, this has been an interesting challenge. But spending six intense weeks a year talking about the gender binary, the fine points and varieties of privilege, and the different ways we move through the world based on what the world thinks of us has given some real flesh to this character.

Best case scenario, teaching college is walking into a room of smart people and talking about things that matter. Am I lucky.