Answers to The Even Questions Appear In the Back of the Book
2: Music is found throughout I WILL TAKE THE ANSWER, from the "Songs to Learn and Sing" playlist that opens the collection, to the March Sadness bracket you co-created with your wife (pages 80-81). How do you view the relationship between writing and music? What has running the March Xness series, now in its fifth year, taught you about music criticism
March Sadness (well, this year, March Badness) has taught me a couple things: one is that writing about music is a blast, and that anyone can do it. Writing about music is writing about yourself. The first year in the tournament, before we arrived at the model where we now assign one writer per song (and we had so much interest this year we had to do a lottery; only about half of the writers who wanted to got in), Megan and I wrote all the essays for the first couple rounds, which meant that there was no time to get too fancy or precious. It was intense, but that practice (and the listening to and thinking about each matchup individually) helped me clarify in what ways one song was sadder or more meaningful than another.
Competition also makes music criticism—and literature—quite a bit more exciting and enjoyable. People love to root for things. Rooting for something helps us feel things. That's what sports is for. March Xness is sports for people who don't like sports but like music and feelings and memory. Fill a bracket out and you're invested in ways you otherwise may not be in a song like the Beach Boys' (terrible) "Kokomo."
If you want to do a bracket for March Badness, you can download one at marchxness.com and fill it out (just concentrate on each game and choose the song you think should or will win, based on whatever criteria you like), and repeat until you have a winner. Send it our way before 3/1 to enter. Then tune in for games every day in March and read, listen, and vote for the song you think is worse (or the one you like better, or whatever).
Plus, like music, the tournament is social. Thinking hard about songs you may not have ever heard or thought about for years unlocks things in you and in your relationship with other people and with time. And it's best when shared with people you love.
4: Graywolf is publishing this essay collection on the same day as your new story collection, The Gnome Stories. How did writing an essay collection compare with writing fiction? What do you think makes a collection—of essays or stories—cohesive?
I am a believer that a collection (in whatever genre) should be no less of a cohesive book project than a novel or a book-length essay. I strongly dislike the kinds of collections that are just a catalog of things the writer wrote, unrevised and assembled without thought as to how the component parts speak to one another or come together to form a more interesting whole. These books infuriate me and don't deserve to be books, and they're often why "essays" and "stories," particularly when experienced as collections, have a little bit of a dodgy reputation among readers.
I've always preferred collections of stories and essays to novels or memoirs or other book-length phenomena. Not that a "novel" is often anyless of a collection: it just has less obvious seams between its many working parts.
Readers deserve books that are thoughtfully assembled. You have to be willing to cut or revise any individual essay (poem, story, etc) for the good of the book. Otherwise, it's not a book: it's a static archive of prewritten pieces. Maybe other writers feel differently, but that's not what I want a book to be. I teach a grad seminar on architectures of collections, so forgive me my strong feelings on the subject.
It's been a while since I last published a book of fiction, since a lot of my efforts have been directed toward other genres for the last 15 years. Fiction and nonfiction collections come together for me in different ways, but both are a result of a set of (sometimes intersecting) obsessions, and the direction of those obsessions provides the energy that the books try to work out. Both are narrative, though in a nonfiction collection the protagonist is some version of me, so you're tracking me and how I think about a set of questions and phenomena through time. In fiction I can't do that which means that I have to find other things to follow, like how the corridors of the the increasingly disturbed emotional spaces (where my stories tend to begin and end up) intersect and coterminate.
Sometimes an obsession follows me from one genre to the other, like how I got fascinated with the nonfictional Alcor cryogenic lab in Phoenix, AZ (which exists and exists here because of course it does), but I followed it into fiction, not nonfiction. Of course you could argue that cryogenics is already a kind of fiction, but don't tell that to Alcor.
6: What are you reading right now?
Livia Llewellyn's Furnace, Enrique Vila-Matas's Vampire in Love, Fritz Leiber's Selected Stories, Bragi Olafsson's The Pets, CW Leadbeater and Annie Besant's Occult Chemistry, Melissa Faliveno's Tomboyland, Max von Boehn's Dolls, and Annie Besant's Thought-Forms (the images from which constitute the homepage to this website).
8: What does Noam Chomsky think of The Gnome Stories?
He seemed confused by the project.
10: Are elves and gnomes related?
Allow me to direct you The Evolution of Life, a table in the 1930 book The Solar System by Lieut.-Colonel Arthur E. Powell.
It has already been mentioned that, besides the line of evolution which we are pursuing, there are also other lines which may be considered as running parallel with our own. For the divine life is pressing upwards through several streams, of which ours is but one, and numerically by no means the most important. We should bear in mind that physical humanity occupies only a small part of the surface of the earth, whilst entities at a corresponding level on other lines of evolution not only crowd the earth far more thickly than man, but at the same time populate the enormous plains of the sea and the fields of the air. The table of the evolution of life, appended here, shows the streams as flowing side by side as far as the mineral kingdom, but as soon as the upward arc is begun, they diverge. The streams re-unite at the Solar Spirits level.
I hope that covers it.