Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons – An Interview with Keith Rosson

With Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons, award-winning author Keith Rosson delves into notions of family, grief, identity, indebtedness, loss, and hope, with the surefooted merging of literary fiction and magical realism he’s explored in previous novels. In “Dunsmuir,” a newly sober husband buys a hearse to help his wife spread her sister’s ashes, while “The Lesser Horsemen” illustrates what happens when God instructs the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to go on a team-building cruise as a way of boosting their frayed morale. In “Brad Benske and the Hand of Light,” an estranged husband seeks his wife’s whereabouts through a fortuneteller after she absconds with a cult, and in “High Tide,” a grieving man ruminates on his brother’s life as a monster terrorizes their coastal town. With grace, imagination, and a brazen gallows humor, Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons merges the fantastic and the everyday, and includes a number of Rosson’s unpublished stories, as well as award-winning favorites.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a guest writer for Meerkat Press’ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature this remarkable literary endeavor of a fantastic writer on its worldwide blog tour.

AN EXCERPT FROM ‘THE LESSER HORSEMEN’

“We stepped outside as knives of sunlight winked off every glassed thing on the street. The stink of exhaust enveloped us. Sewage warming in the gutters brought out the scents of the human soufflé: piss, heated blacktop, burnt plastic.

Famine hiked his jeans up—we had our trappings, each of us, our strange cosmic shortcomings that kept us tethered here, not nearly human but certainly more than ideas, and Famine’s was, obviously, his constant hunger. Not so obvious was that he could never find a fucking belt that fit him. He took off down the avenue muttering something about an all-you-can-eat bouillabaisse shop on Mississippi, the cuffs of his pants scraping the ground, arms wrinkled and red at the elbows, striding along with one hand bunching the acid-washed fabric at his waist.

War folded his cruise handout and sighed, squinting at the empty street. “We leave in three hours? Man, He’s not dicking around.”

“He’s not known for that, is He?”

“True. Guess I better go grab my gear,” he said, and then paused. He seemed poised for some comradely dig, but we were long past it. Centuries, at least. “See you on the boat,” he managed.

The Good Lord certainly had a point. I could admit that. We’d long since become fractious, four different arrows arcing toward four different targets at four different times. No harmony, no shared intention. There had been a time when that was not the case, but now? Only Death was constant.

The Good Lord was staring at me through the window, his hands cinched over his little stovepot of a belly. He raised a hand and shooed me along, the look in his eyes absolutely flat, dead as deep space.

I went home to pack.”

INTERVIEW WITH KEITH ROSSON

I interviewed author Keith Rosson as part of the release and promotional tour of his latest book. Here’s a peek into our conversation:

1) After reading The Mercy of the Tide last year, I was looking forward to your latest book. How do you strike a balance between literary fiction and experimental fiction?

I wish I knew the answer to that. As it stands now, my work is considered “genre-blurring,” i.e. “we don’t know where to file this guy’s stuff, so while we recognize he’s a decent writer, this stuff is a bit harder to sell.” I think that balance just comes from writing for so long. I greatly admire genre writers, as well as those who write literary fiction, and balancing that tightrope between the two really just comes from diligence and writing a lot.

2) Your writing spans across magical realism, fantasy, contemporary horror, and mystery. Is there a specific reader audience you target?

Oh man, if there was, I’d probably sell more books. But I’m that weird amalgam of a writer – one who’d like to be considered a “serious literary author” but also simply cannot stop writing about reincarnated medieval executioners or monsters or guys getting beaten up by, like, sentient, malevolent forests. I have no idea who my audience is, but I know some people like my books, and I’m profoundly grateful for them.

3) When your genres and themes are so vast, what are the challenges in writing a short story collection in comparison to a novel?

I’m not a prolific short story writer. For every story that I finish, there’s probably a half dozen of them where I’ve lost the thread or the idea peters out and they languish half-finished. So honestly, the challenges here were just picking the best stories and arranging them in a way that made the most sense. I have no idea if other writers experience this problem, but with a novel I can get a general idea of the thing as a whole. It starts here, ends here, and in the middle, all of this shit happens. I get that process. With a story collection, it’s like holding a bunch of different puzzle pieces and trying to fit them into something manageable and just hoping it works. It feels way more fractured, way less linear, and you’re not sure if the pieces fit or not until the thing comes out in a book.

4) Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons – What’s the story behind the title, and the book cover as well?

I grew up on punk rock and I love it. I consider punk songs to essentially be folk songs. Protest songs or homage songs, electrified. Three chords, simple structure, a clear intent. So a folk song is like this simple homage to something, right? And a trauma surgeon is someone who fixes our injuries, staunches our blood, sets our bones straight, closes our wounds so that we don’t die. A folk song for a trauma surgeon is a simple, shouted thank you to those that fix our ailments, that stitch our wounds for us. As far as the cover goes, there’s a wolf and there’s a rabbit. Their relationship seems pretty clear. There’s a lot of that kind of relationship in the book, whether its internalized or not.

5) Your narratives merge the everyday with fantastical elements. What drives you as a writer? How much of your observations and experiences make it into your stories, and where does imagination take over?

That’s an awesome question, and I wish I knew how to answer it. It’s all organic. Knowing when to insert some feeling or observation or humanity into a scene that’s otherwise fantastical or fabulist is just one of those things that I’ve gotten more comfortable with due to endless practice. But the goal – one of the goals – is to make people care about these folks. You want readers to care about these people, become invested in them. And as far as what drives me, I actually love the publishing, submitting, and editing process. The whole thing is a blast. Even the endless (and I do mean endless) rejection has had much of its sting taken out after all these years. I love books, I love libraries, I love reading. None of it has lost its allure over the years.

6) Stories like “The Lesser Horsemen” and “Homecoming” are thought-provoking and seeped in reality through fantasy. Any thoughts on writing satire, considering the very relevant topics you cover?

Honestly, I don’t really know what satire is as a genre, or how to write it. Gotta plead ignorance on this question, as I don’t know enough about the genre to offer much of a take on it.

7) Which story in the collection would you say you had the best time writing?

You know, I wrote “The Lesser Horsemen” in a notebook over a period of maybe three days, and when I sat down to type it out, it was almost a word-for-word transcription of what you’re reading in the book, with very few changes. It was maybe the purest version of “automatic writing” I’ve ever experienced as an author. Compare that with “Their Souls Climb the Room” – I worked on multiple versions of that story for six or seven years, and writing the version that you see in the collection was like pulling teeth. Speaking of pulling teeth, I also think “Baby Jill,” the story about the tooth fairy who’s beginning to question her own existence, as well as humanity’s frailty of spirit, is one of the coolest, creepiest things I’ve written. One of my favorite stories.

8) Any upcoming books for readers to look forward to?

We haven’t even officially announced it yet, but my novel All the Wound-Down World will be released by Meerkat Press in 2023. It’s set in present day and features the same setting/world and some of the same characters as The Mercy of the Tide, forty years after the events in that book took place. It’s, uh, pretty wild.

9) Any literary influences, favorite books or authors you would recommend?

Here are a bunch of books that I’veread over the past few years that have stuck with me. They’re all great:

Mad Boy by Nick Arvin

Wounds: Six Stories from the Borders of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud (stories)

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs (stories)

Broken River by J. Robert Lennon

Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai (stories)

Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons (stories)

And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks (stories)

Not So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick (stories)

Growing Things by Paul Tremblay (stories)

We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

FOLK SONGS FOR TRAUMA SURGEONS by Keith Rosson

RELEASE DATE: FEB 23, 2021

GENRE: Collection / Speculative Fiction / Magical Realism / Literary

BOOK PAGE: https://meerkatpress.com/books/folksongs/

BUY LINKS: Meerkat Press |Amazon Barnes & Noble

AUTHOR LINKS: Website Twitter

GIVEAWAY LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd826/?

Speculate – An Interview with Dominique Hecq

From what began as a dialog between two adventurous writers curious about the shape-shifter called a prose poem comes a stunning collection that is a disruption of language—a provocation. Speculate is a hybrid of speculative poetry and flash fiction, thrumming in a pulse of jouissance and intensity that chases the impossible.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

As a guest writer for Meerkat Press’ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature this remarkable literary endeavor of two writers on its worldwide blog tour. My review of the book can be found here.

EXCERPTS:

1) Evridiki

Friends are not important—like plagues, they come and go, even blood is not thicker. But fate is another matter. Some fool in autumn had a drink in the dark, sought a taste of heaven in a street named Bagh Nakh. Found it in the hands of a runaway who raised a hand and plunged a dagger that clung to the idiot’s heart.

***

You were born in autumn and so, naturally, hate spring. The scent of blackwood showering pollen. The air licked with gold where the buzzing of the bees deepens. The sudden opacity of it all. You run. Run away. Away from the visible and from the invisible. With the pollen clinging to your skin, the sun striking and the darkness beneath your feet settling, you are a living phobia. A fear of no consequence. Yet as eons pass in one beat of the heart, you hear the rustle under the trees. Taste the bite of death.

2) Neither a kitchen nor a sky

Her heart is a room full of photographs and pillows wafting around rehearsing melancholy and reinstating torment. But there is still no word, just somber silence in the floating photographs and neglected pillows cartwheeling like burnt toast past the IKEA blender and microwave in a fairy tale of space that does not involve breathing.

***

His heart smells of burnt toast. If you look closely, you will see a paisley design—the sort found as all-over design for an IKEA bedspread. The main motif and the background of ferns are done with pure (that is unmixed) colors: just red (turkey) and black (jet) to conjure up the marriage of blood and vegemite, the staples of his diet, as well as his sign in the Chinese horoscope. Yes: he is a tiger. Enter the chambers of his heart at your peril. Don’t say you were not warned. He grinds his teeth.

INTERVIEW WITH DOMINIQUE HECQ

I interviewed author Dominique Hecq as part of the release and promotional tour of her latest book, co-authored with Eugen Bacon. Here’s a peek into our conversation:

1) While co-authored books are not uncommon, how did the idea for a conversational narrative come about?

Eugen and I are part of a prose poetry group and at one point we noticed that we were constantly responding to each other’s posts through fiction and feedback. So, it seemed natural to pursue the conversation outside that forum.

Eugen has also co-authored short fiction with other writers, recently with Andrew Hook (slipstream fiction) and Seb Doubinsky (an afro-francophone collaboration), which may be testament to her ability to work with others, and understand synergy.  

On the other hand, I have collaborated with performers, sound-artists, musicians and dancers. I’ve also written a bilingual work with Chantal Danjou, a French novelist, and worked closely with authors whose work I’ve translated (most recently Claudia La Rocca, from San Francisco).

2) Dominique, you and Eugen are so similar, in the sense of being completely different in your respective writing styles. What goes into selecting a co-writer? How did you get together for this project?

It started in master/apprentice relationship—I supervised Eugen’s PhD in creative writing. I was working as an associate professor at the time. The relation evolved to one of mutual respect. We’ve known each other for over ten years and have learned from each other’s stylistic differences. You could say it is precisely these differences that cement our relationship. It also energises our writing. In this project, we bounce off each other’s words and take the narratives to extremes.

3) Speculate is presented as a dialogue through essays. How did the two of you decide on your parts? Did a verbal conversation flow into writing, or as writers did you read each other and then take the conversation ahead?

The latter: As writers we read each other and took the conversation ahead. This is why Speculate has two parts—one in which I respond to triggers in Eugen’s text, and one in which Eugen reacts to mine.

4) Prose poetry as a genre has a very specific following from readers who enjoy both forms. Any literary influences, books or writers you would recommend for further reading?

The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem: from Baudelaire to Anne Carson (2018), edited by Jeremy Noel Tod, is a good place to start as it looks at the form’s rich heritage in the literary mainstream. Without wanting to be parochial, I would also recommend The Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (2020), edited by Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington. More focused towards critical commentary are Jane Monson’s British Prose Poetry: The Poems Without Lines and Peter Johnson’s A Cast-Iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on Their Prose Poetry (2019).

I couldn’t close this question without mentioning Russell Edson, the “grandfather of the American prose poem,” who has published thirteen collections of prose poems, and Mexican writer Gaspar Orozco’s whose book-length prose poem Book of the Peony (2017) is just stunning in Mark Weiss’s translation.

As for the question of influence, it’s hard to tell, but I’m likely to have absorbed the lessons of Charles Baudelaire during my youth and, later, those of Anne Carson. Truth be told, both Eugen and I greatly admire Margaret Atwood’s work and Oz Hardwick’s skills at defamiliarizing the reader—his prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet(2020) certainly deserves a look. And I know Eugen is madly in love with Toni Morrison, celebrated for her beauty in language in personal text that shouts its meaning.

5) Speculative fiction, flash fiction, essays, stories – Was the hybrid genre a conscious decision, or did you follow the conversation to wherever the writing took you?

That was a conscious decision. Currently short forms are flourishing and, perhaps as a consequence, the boundaries of the prose poem are increasingly porous.And yet, a century and a half after the publication of Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen, the question remains: What is a prose poem?

While many different kinds of prose poems have been identified over recent decades, a range of innovations and hybridisations challenge and subvert the boundaries of the prose poem form. In fact, what excites us about prose poetry is that it uses poetic techniques to set up and subvert readers’ expectations. And since we delight in crossing boundaries, it’s a perfect form.

6) Dividing the book into two sections was again a very innovative and interesting part of the narrative. The idea of one leading and the other following. How did that come about?

Apart from our concern to be fair to each other, we wanted to give the book a kind of speculative mirror image in terms of style of writing. It was also a natural evolution of our responding to each other’s lead.

7) Did you expect differences in interpretation of the book, considering two writers with a strong hold on readers with their respective styles?

Yes, and it will be interesting to see how reviewers address this conundrum. Literary theorist Gérard Genette in his book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (1997) explores the liminal devices and conventions, within and without a book, that form part of the complex mediation between the book, its author, its publisher and reader. Eugen and I were pleasantly astonished by our publisher’s reception of Speculate. Let’s see what readers think.

8) What’s the story behind that gorgeous cover?

The cover is the genius of our publisher Tricia Reek of Meerkat Press. It’s her creative response to the work (paratext of interpretation?). I think sheperceived the nexus between the speculative and lyrical modes of the manuscript and worked with that. She then presented us with stunning variants of her design, and we chose the one that appealed most to us. We love the vibrant colours and blurring of tangoing shadows.

SPECULATE: A COLLECTION OF MICROLIT

by Eugen Bacon & Dominique Hecq

RELEASE DATE: JAN 19, 2021

GENRE: Collection / Prose-Poetry / Speculative Fiction

BOOK PAGE:  https://meerkatpress.com/books/speculate/

BUY LINKS: Amazon Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

AUTHOR LINKS: Website Twitter

GIVEAWAY LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd825/

July 2020 in Books

A delayed summary of the books I read in July 2020. The titles last month covered a range of genres from historical fiction, memoir, horror, true crime, fantasy fiction, political thrillers and translated literature. I was lucky to have picked some stunning works and I’d recommend them all to anyone who likes these genres.

~The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun – A Korean-English translation of a psychological thriller described as a cross between Stephen King’s “Misery” and Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”. The protagonist finds himself paralyzed following a car accident that kills his wife. His mother-in-law is the only living family member, who takes it upon herself to be his caretaker, nurse, guardian, physiotherapist, by removing all experts from the scene, only to neglect him thereafter. An atmospheric novel depicting the horrors of isolation, loneliness, depression, helplessness, claustrophobia, the terrors of not knowing versus the brutality of knowing and being unable to do anything. The horror is subtle rather than in-your-face, unraveling as the novel does.  And a gorgeous cover, too, with its own significance in the story. 4/5

~Only in Spain by Nellie Bennett – A memoir of dance, food, travel, journeys and experiences. The author works as a saleswoman at a store in Sydney. A chance encounter with a Flamenco class at a local dance studio kicks off an obsession of sorts with the dance form, taking her to the place of its origin, Seville in Spain. This leads to a newfound love for the country, its culture and people, because the Flamenco is not just a dance but a way of life. An endearing narrative of the writer’s tryst with the dance form. A book sure to trigger fernweh and make you want to travel, dance, eat, learn new languages, and meet people. 4/5

~Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba – A Spanish-English translation based on the true story of an orphan who was killed by other children at an orphanage in Brazil, who ended up playing with her body parts for a week before the murder came to light. As horrifying as the event is, the prose is beautiful, hypnotic, lyrical. This book is not just about the story, but a lesson in writing itself. Disconcerting and heartbreaking but morbidly beautiful, a masterpiece of a work by translator Lisa Dillman who requires her own applause for this one. 5/5

~Ring by Koji Suzuki – A Japanese-English translation of the horror classic known by its many movie adaptations in both Japanese and English. A mysterious videotape that kills the viewer within one week of watching it. If the movies scared you, the book ups the ante by several notches, with a detailed narrative on the origins of the tape and how it works, along with the significance of the title. Eerie, disturbing, and chilling to the bone even without the iconic scene from the movies, a must-read in horror fiction. 5/5

~The Invisible by Seb Doubinsky – A political crime drama set around a mysterious hallucinogenic drug, with people getting killed on the way for knowing too much. Politics, crime, poetry, fantasy, an alternate universe of noir. A place where the culprit is not a person, but a system. A strange book that I came across on Meerkat Press, a publishing house that comes out with some very different, but very good books. 4/5

~The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski – A Polish-English translation of the Witcher’s origin story.  Written as a series of short stories, the reader is taken along Geralt of Rivia’s many adventures, interspersed with the present timeline as a prelude to later books in the series. Are monsters identified by their looks or behavior? A world of djinns, elves, wizards, sorceresses, spells and elixirs – brilliantly translated into English, retaining the wit and humor of the original. Fantasy fiction at its best with a wonderful character of the White Wolf, his choices and actions. 5/5

~The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali – Historical fiction delving into the political upheavals of Iran, a world of coups, poetry, letters, books, food, culture, immigration and more. A story about a tiny neighborhood stationery shop, and a story about everything else. A mix of epistolary and framing, past and present and parallel stories, Marjan Kamali is a powerful voice in Iranian literature, with a subtle yet effective narrative. 5/5

~Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke – Set around the death of an infant caused by suffocating on her blanket, Kealan Patrick Burke brilliantly handles a dark theme in describing the horrors of losing a child and the associated sadness, loss, grief. A haunted blanket can be scary, but the ghosts outside are no match for the ones within. A book that deserves a read just for the writer’s take on the subject. 5/5

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