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.

The Lambda Literary Awards

The Lambda Literary Awards Ceremony
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Kate Clinton killed it. Susie Bright presented, braless in a beige dress, her date in see-through plastic. Liz Smith killed it, presenting an award to John Waters, who killed it. I sat three seats down from Allison Bechdel but was too timid to introduce myself. I finally met Lucy Bledsoe, one of the key readers for University of Wisconsin Press responsible for seeing The Blind Masseuse into print. I slept over Michael Carroll and Ed White’s apartment. I left behind my gift bag, which was apparently stuffed with books by young trans authors. I ate a lot of chocolate. I experienced the familiar anxiety of New York literati parties. I missed New York. Unaccompanied Minors didn’t win a Lammy. But that was more than okay. It was an honor to be a finalist.
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NewPages Review of Unaccompanied Minors

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This reviewer at NewPages seemed to like all the stories in Unaccompanied Minors save “Shelter,” though she did say “Shelter” was “Reminiscent of Dorothy Allison’s project to represent the lives of young poor women from the South, [but] less angry.” I’ll take that! Also, my characters are “misfits and miscreants.” You can read it here.

Literary Pride

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Join us during Pride week at an event sponsored by the Boston Literary District:

Literary Pride: LGBT Writers Talk About Their Work
June 11, 2015 | 6:30 pm – 7:45 pm | Free

Five celebrated writers will participate in a Literary Pride Panel as part of Boston’s Pride Week Activities, courtesy of a collaboration between the Lit District and Hostelling International. These writers’ books have won awards ranging from the New American Fiction Prize to “one of the 10 best indie YA novels of 2015” and are also being turned into major motion feature films starring celebrated actors. The panel, moderated by Neil Miller (In Search of Gay America, Banned in Boston), will feature Boston Globe television critic Matthew Gilbert (Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park); Alden Jones (Unaccompanied Minors); Jennie Wood (Flutter and A Boy Like Me); Annie Weatherwax (All We Had); and Judah Leblang (Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond).

IPPY Silver Medal for Unaccompanied Minors

Unaccompanied Minors wins an IPPY
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Well I am just tickled that Unaccompanied Minors has won the silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the category of short fiction.

Stay tuned for the next edition of the paperback, with this pretty silver seal on it.

Publishing Triangle Awards

I Didn’t Win the Edmund White Award

But I got to sit next to Edmund White at the Publishing Triangle Awards Ceremony.
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And that was the best. What an honor to be a finalist for an award named after one of my most important teachers. Ed taught the Advanced Fiction class I took at Brown as a sophomore. He has since been a model for me, not just as a writer, but as a literary citizen, an activist through fiction.

The night before the ceremony, I read along with eight other Publishing Triangle Awards finalists read from their work at the Bureau of General Studies – Queer Division. IMG_4429Surrounded by photographs from a project about the Meatpacking District before gentrification. Surrounded by provocative books. And friends. IMG_4427Kate, 37 weeks pregnant, actually got to accompany me on one of my New York trips. It was an all around special two days.

See you again, New York, for the Lamdba Literary Awards on June 1!