An Interview with Rebecca Makkai, by Evan Allgood

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Rebecca Makkai’s second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery, a comedy, a drama, and (rarest of genres) a well-written page-turner. It traces the history of a spooky literary estate named Laurelfield; as the reader moves forward through the book, he or she moves backward in time, from 1999 to 1955, then to 1929 and 1900. (The first three sections read like novellas; the last is a brief epilogue.) I spoke to Makkai about that counterintuitive structure, the differences between writing her first and second novels, and which book she’s reread the most.

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An Interview with Murray Farish, by Celia Johnson

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Murray Farish’s characters are familiar at first. One could be your neighbor, that person you pass on the street, maybe a relative. A few might even seem pretty close to you. Then each story grows darker. Some of his tales dip suddenly. Others sink gradually, so that you are unaware of the depths you’ve reached until the very end. Farish’s debut collection, Inappropriate Behavior, was recently released by Milkweed Editions and, as T.M. McNally observes, “These stories are the gift of a serious and electric talent.” I spoke with Farish about his dark and twisted subject matter, his creative process, and his literary heroes, who all became famous later in life. Read more

#54: An Interview with Editor Matthew Daddona

In seven weeks, the book industry’s brightest editors, agents, and authors will take over Brooklyn for the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference on September 6 and 7. We’re featuring early chats with some of our panelists for a glimpse into life in their corner of the industry. This week, Plume/Penguin Random House editor Matthew Daddona offers his perspective on the acquisitions and editorial process, particularly when considering work from a debut author. You can hear more from Matthew on our How We Decide: What Really Happens Behind the Editorial Meeting Door panel on September 8. The full panel line-up can be found here.

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An Interview with CJ Hauser, by Celia Johnson

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Small towns. Cool ocean breezes. It’s the perfect time to visit Maine. And if you can’t head north, I suggest picking up a copy of CJ Hauser’s The From-Aways. Menamon is a town of Hauser’s own invention, a place where lobster boats bob in the water and the locals date back generations. Two women, who are completely unalike, land in the town and find their lives irrevocably reversed. Hauser’s debut novel is not only poignant, but filled with incisive wit. I spoke with her about her fiery characters, her creative process, and what surprised her most about the publishing process. Read more

#53: The Readings Coordinator, by Paul Florez

I was recently hired as the Readings Coordinator for my graduate program at The New School in the fall. This amazing position will put me in charge of the student readings as well as allow me to have a hand in all the events sponsored by the writing program. For the student readings, I’ll be hosting them—making sure the food and wine arrive on time, introducing the readers, and making sure everything goes off without a hitch.

My friend Lou Pizzitola had the time of his life being the Community Relations Manager over at Barnes and Noble, which is a position like a readings coordinator except on steroids and more fabulous. While Lou was introducing authors like President Obama and Tim Gunn, I would sit in the audience, observing Lou dressed in his finest John Varvatos as he so eloquently introduced his authors. I thought, “Man, I want to be like this guy one day.”

And now at the tender age of thirty, being Lou Pizzitola is finally a possibility. This position is a small stepping-stone in what could possibly be my post-Graduate school trajectory. Oh, and did I mention I get to work with my friend Demetri? Someone who is not only a kickass writer, but one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met. He’s seriously so cool and confident that the only reasonable explanation is that he’s posthuman.

So to say I can’t wait for the first student reading in the fall would be an understatement. I am eagerly counting down the days on my iCal.

However, being an executive assistant at a major book publisher taught me event planning is an unpredictable sport (that’s right, I said sport. I’ll let Demitri correct me on that later) and anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

For this article, I’m going to explore the possibility of how the first student reading will go. Below is the best as well as the worst case scenario.

The Best Case Scenario

I arrive thirty minutes early, my bowtie perfectly knotted, and I caress the podium.

“This is it,” I say to myself, taking in a deep breath.

The pizza is delivered on time, the bartender is chilling the white wine and, oh my god, wouldn’t you know it? The bartender is Ricky Rodriguez, someone who endlessly tormented me in junior high.

“What have you been up to since 8th grade,” he asks me sheepishly.

I tell him about graduating with honors from Florida State, how I moved to New York after a job offer at Marvel Comics and then spent the last few years working in publishing but ultimately decided being a writer was my calling. I brag about all my bylines.

Dude, I love Slice Magazine,” Ricky says. “I’ve been trying to publish with them for years, but they said I just don’t have what it takes.”

I pat his shoulder sympathetically. “I’ll put in a good word with Maria and Celia.”

The new students begin pouring in and Demetri and I great them all at the door.

“Welcome to your student reading, we say in unison, unplanned but totally in sync. Demetri and I look at each other with approval. We were a bit unsure if we’d hit it off as coworkers but any anxiety is blown away in our very first fist pump.

“We should come up with a team name,” he suggests.

DnP” I quickly reply.

He smiles because he totally gets it’s a reference to the two comic book creators, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who regularly collaborate together and are called “DnA” by fans.

Everyone from my program is there. Kyle kisses me on the cheek, because after all I haven’t seen her all summer while John, Daniella, Liz, Robert, Loren and Kay all take their seats. Both Emilys are there as well, sipping a glasses of white, and are so impressed with the event they corner me to take a selfie with them.

“We need to Instagram this student reading in real-time,” the shorter Emily says.

This event is simply fabulous because you’re so fabulous,” the taller Emily proclaims. “Oh and your John Vavatos jacket is so fetch.”

Yes, in this universe Taller Emily was able to make fetch happen.

With the approval of the Emilys secured, I take the podium, and make a clever joke just as the President of the University walks in. He looks at me from the back of the room and smiles.

“This kid with the perfectly straight teeth has potential,” he thinks to himself.

In the end the audience gives our readers a standing ovation and I see Lou in the crowd, raising a glass and I raise mine back at him. It’s the perfect start to my final year as an MFA student.

The Worst Case Scenario

I try so hard to be early but realize one of my Pomeranians have peed on my John Varvatos jacket that I just got back from the dry cleaners.

Boys, which one of you did this,” I scream and both their ears fall back, thereby making me feel guilty and abusive.

I don’t have time to properly tie my bowtie so I use the clip on buried deep in my dresser. Unbeknownst to me, the bowtie is hanging lopsided off my collar as I enter the room ten minutes late because there was a bomb threat on my subway.

Ricky Rodriguez is the bartender, but it’s only a part-time gig as he preps for his Master of Sommelier Diploma exam, the world’s hardest wine exam.

“Got to pay the bills somehow,” he laughs. “The wife is expecting and I’m working hard to prove I’m a worthy husband and father. I want my kid to have everything I didn’t have.

Of course, much to my horror, Ricky Rodriguez has transitioned from playground bully to ingénue with the heart of gold.

I take the podium, make a joke and Ricky is the only one who laughs out of pity.

My Invisilign falls out of my mouth as my professors from the previous year walk in. Demetri, mortified I am his coworker, silently denounces DnP.

Barley audible (because the saliva from reinserting my invisiligh on stage is overwhelming my mouth), I introduce the first reader and exit the podium certain I just wet my pants.

In the end, Lou is only a figment of my drunken stupor and Kyle was held up at a New York Times event where she was offered a staff position overseas and I never see her again. To make matters worse, the wine was served lukewarm cause there was no ice to be found (it’s not even Ricky’s fault, who by the way is fist pumping with Demetri).

“This wine taste like cat piss,” the Emilys say in unison as they Instagram a photo of the suspiciously yellow tinted wine. “We expected better, Paul.”

So there we have it. My biggest hopes and fear for this upcoming year. How will the first student reading turn out this fall? Well, tune in for my September article to find out.

Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA in fiction at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in Slice MagazineQueerty, and The Advocate. You can follow his misadventures over on twitter @mrpaulflorez.

An Interview with Kimberly Elkins, by Celia Johnson

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In 2001, Kimberly Elkins picked up a copy of the New Yorker and became engrossed in an article about Laura Bridgman, a woman few people know, despite world-wide renown in the Nineteenth Century. Laura was deaf and blind and had no sense of taste or smell. As a young girl, she amazed others by learning to communicate. She was a true pioneer (before Helen Keller). Elkins first wrote a story about Laura and then, over many years, produced a novel. What Is Visible was recently released and it is a mesmerizing tale. In a review for the New York Times, Barbara Kingsolver observed, “A novel’s extraordinary power is to allow a reader to take possession of the inner life of another. This one provides entree to a nearly unthinkable life, and while no one would want to live there, it’s a fascinating place to visit.” I spoke with Elkins about her fierce protagonist, the challenges of writing historic fiction, and, as a debut novelist, what advice she’d give to her former self.

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#52: The Break-Up, by Liz Mathews

Dear Publishing,

Although it pains me, it’s time for us to come to an end. I would say it’s me, not you, but really it’s both of us. I’ve changed—grown—in the past seven years and you…you…you are still you. I mean, you’re a lot more focused on all things E now (ebooks and the like, that is), but otherwise you’re still meetings and computer screens and tip sheets and pub flashes and proofreaders’ marks. I know, you never promised to be anything else—and it’s respectable how closely you’ve stayed true to who you are (all the blogs-to-books aside).

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An Interview with Roxane Gay, by Heidi Sistare

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Roxane Gay’s novel, An Untamed State, was recently published by Black Cat / Grove Press. The story follows Mireille, an American lawyer and young mother, as she is kidnapped and held captive when visiting her parents in Haiti. Roxane Gay writes both fiction and cultural criticism; all of her writing is incisive. Her book of essays, Bad Feminist, comes out in August. We talked about An Untamed State, how she supports other writers, and how she produces such an impressive amount of great writing.

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#51: Goodbye Jordan, by Paul Florez

Have you seen 22 Jump Street? You know, the movie that stars the deliciously handsome Channing Tatum and his BFF Jonah Hill as a pair of undercover cops that go back to college to solve a crime only to realize they are completely out of touch with this generation of party animals. Well that, my dear reader, is exactly how it felt like being a 29-year-old former publishing manager going back to school to get his MFA.

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An Interview with Kseniya Melnik, by Celia Johnson

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In Kseniya Melnik’s Snow in May, you’ll meet a group of disparate characters who are all somehow inextricably bound to Magadan, Russia. This town, like its inhabitants, is full of stark contrasts: the Russian labor camps, the forbidding landscape, and still there is hope, courage, and even the arts flourish. I spoke with Melnik about her hometown, her unwavering dedication to writing, and her creative quirks.

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