“Well I’m not a scientist. But I know all things begin and end in eternity.”
Curiouser and Curiouser: Cake or pie? Why?
Sarah Read: Cake! Because people look at you weird when you slather frosting on pie. I’m much better at making pie, though. When I was still dating my husband, his grandfather recommended we marry on account of my pear cranberry pie.
C&C: Pie is better, I think you got the right skill set if two different ones are required to make cake or pie. And yet you didn’t hesitate! What’s the worst thing you’ve ever cooked?
SR: I think this works out well. I can woo others with pie, and have all the cake for myself. Everybody wins.
I actually don’t cook very much. My husband does most of the cooking. If you ask my eldest, the worst thing I’ve ever made is when I put peas in the macaroni and cheese. And I bet my husband would say it’s the stew I made with red cabbage that turned the broth purple. It still tasted fine, I thought. It was just extremely purple. I may have overdone the cabbage a bit.
C&C: Is there anything you can’t leave the house without?
SR: I have nine fountain pens that go with me everywhere. Well, I have a few more than nine pens, but only nine of them go with me. I’m forever trying to narrow it down to five, but it’s a losing battle. They all have a different color of ink in them. And I have enough notebooks to feed a small country. I hand write everything–usually several drafts on paper before I ever type a word. I just think better on paper. The soft friction of the nib, watching the ink soak in–it fires my brain up. The only down side is that I’m at an elevated risk of dying and having my terrible drafts discovered. Every now and then, when I’m cleaning, I destroy an old, full journal.
C&C: Oh PLEASE don’t destroy any more drafts! The trunk of old bad writings, thats our Jacob Marley rattling, heavy chain. It’s also proof that we’ve put a ridiculous amount of time into things, in a good way. What was the first thing you ever wrote that you *didn’t* think completely sucked, and thought “I could make this better and do something with this”?
SR: Well, I have to destroy some of the drafts, or my family will someday end up the subject of a tragic documentary. If the draft is awful, but the idea is good, I’ll jot the idea down in yet a different notebook, before destroying the notebook of awful words. I’m not doing anything that other authors don’t do–they just use the delete key where I use a box cutter.
I’m not sure I can pinpoint a single piece where I decided I could fix it up and make something of it. I kind of have to hit that point from scratch every time. But I did write a story in college–the first new story I’d written in years–that gave me that “oh yeah, this is what I should be doing” feeling. And then I had a baby and didn’t write again for more years. But I came back to it. And I’m still working on that damn story. I love it, though. It won’t get the box cutter.
C&C: What’s the most favorite thing you ever knitted?
SR: I play with yarn a lot. I knit, crochet, weave, and spin yarn on a giant old-fashioned spinning wheel. Like the one in Sleeping Beauty. One of my favorite things to do is to find antique textiles, reverse-engineer them, write the pattern, then make a new one from that pattern. I’ve got a few of those published out in the world, as well as a few of my own original designs. I’m a professional pattern editor, for a living. I’m the designated family clothier in the event of a zombie apocalypse, and I probably have enough yarn to save us all.
C&C: The stuff about the spinning wheel makes me think about the Three Fates. How did you get started with spinning and weaving and writing patterns?
SR: I always feel tied into a collective myth when I’m spinning or weaving or yarning. So much of the way we talk about our history revolves around textiles. And then of course stories are threads woven into webs, and spinners, weavers, and storytellers all share the spider as our symbol. It just all feels right. And I get my best story ideas when I’m at the wheel.
I first started making cloth because I was bored. But that first time I took string and made cloth, I felt like a wizard. It was so expressive and so practical at the same time–it could be art and craft in equal measure. And once I learned one way, I had to start learning all the others, because I’m like that. There are still a few I need to learn.
C&C: How old are your babies?
SR: My eldest son is seven–he just started 2nd grade. My youngest is just about six months, though he’s closer to four months, adjusted. He was rather early, though not as early as he tried to be. He tried to make a break for it at 19 weeks, but they sewed the exit shut and I spent the rest of the pregnancy on bed rest–the last month of that in the hospital. You’d think I’d get a lot of writing done in that time, but I was too anxious. I needed very much to be outside of my head. I think I’ve seen all of Netflix. Little dude was in the NICU for awhile, and I was in bed for another 6 weeks recovering from the birth. I’ve basically been in bed since last Halloween. I feel like I’ve melted. But we’d been trying to have a second child since our eldest was weaned, so after six years of treatments and losses and all kinds of science, we feel pretty lucky to have him at all. I’m terrible at making babies, I guess, but I’ve made good ones. No more, though.
C&C: What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently, and why?
SR: The Babadook. I think it is a beautiful, raw image of families dealing with trauma and emotional distress. The exhaustion, the loneliness, the building anxiety, the sense of losing control. And most of all, the way they care for each other, even through the ugliness. They find their strength in each other. They can’t defeat the monster, but they can stare it down–face it, and learn how to deal with it. Even though it’s always right there, in the house. As long as they take care of each other, they can beat it. Over and over. It’s a really lovely metaphor. But it’s also, at face value, just a damn fine monster movie. I saw a lot of people complaining about not being able to see the monster, or the kid being annoying, and I feel bad that they missed the whole damn movie. I just wanted to give that kid a hug. And then build monster traps with him.
C&C: Who was your first best friend?
SR: My very first kindred spirit friend was (and still is because BFF) Alicia. We met in seventh grade. She also read “weird stuff” like horror and fantasy and sci fi, and we spent the next three years in a world of our own making, until adulthood started to sneak into our heads. Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent with her. We went on magical journeys, which were meandering hikes with random rules like “every time you come to a rock bigger than a baseball, turn left, every time you come to a patch of snow, turn right”. Sometimes that meant wading across a half-frozen pond while carrying a cat. You had to wear every feather you found, somehow. We convinced our junior high we were witches. We took the silver medal in the Earth Sciences exam in Science Olympics. We won for best performance one year at the Denver MileHiCon costume contest (it involved a lot of blood capsules). We were a good team. She lives far away, now, but we still see each other a few times a year. She has two boys as well, so instead of going on magical journeys, we mostly give lots of baths. It’s still all pretty magical, though. I miss our wildness very much.
C&C: If you could go back and do/finish one more adventure with your best friend, as a kid and not an adult, what would you do?
SR: You know, we did leave one of our adventures unfinished. It was when I lived in Switzerland, and she came to visit me. My mom took us, and my little brother, to see the Matterhorn. Only we didn’t make it there, because my mom fell and broke both of her ankles. Mom had to be rushed down the mountain in an ambulance and was sent straight into surgery. So there were we three kids stranded in this tiny Swiss mountain town. We went door to door looking for a free room for the night, and finally we were taken in by a Catholic monastery. The next few nights we shared a cot in the hospital, while we waited for my dad to get to us from England, where he was on business. And then Alicia had to go home. I’ve still never seen the Matterhorn. I’d love to finish that adventure. I think we were off to a pretty good start.
Curiouser and Curiouser: What’s your favorite part in the movie Frank? It might be easier to ask if you have a favorite line…
Rob Hart: My absolute favorite is this exchange:
Jon: The torment he went through to make the great music.
Frank’s Mom: The torment didn’t make the music. He was always musical. If anything it slowed him down.
It’s a very romantic notion that art needs to come from a place of pain or can only exist when it’s filling something that’s broken. And good art can come from places like that. But people under estimate how much is ass-in-seat work (most of it) versus how much is divine angelic inspiration birthed by drugs or depression (not a whole lot).
That’s the moment when the movie went from very very funny to really profound and important.
C&C: It is exhausting to deal with the whole “tortured, mentally ill alcoholic” persona as the only legitimate path to true artistry. I loved that about Frank, too. There was joy in his Head, and that there was a hindrance to it coming out. But if you were told you had to have a “gritty” or “checkered” past as a backstory for your book jackets, what would your fake past be? Don’t say circus roustie. I call that backstory.
RH: I recently read an article in the New York Times about a group of environmentalists who chase down and stop illegal fishing trawlers. It’s totally a vigilante thing, because the laws governing the sea are sort of piecemeal and confusing. And at one point they were chasing this notorious vessel through a part of the ocean so dangerous and remote it’s called the Shadowlands. And I don’t even like the ocean but it made me want to be a vigilante boat captain.
C&C: How did you meet your wife?
RH: We worked at the same newspaper–I was a reporter and she was an intern. And I had a bit of a crush on her but she was involved with someone.
We stayed friends, even after I took a gig working in the paper’s Albany bureau, and then one weekend I came home and she was single and we got together and it went from there.
C&C: Do you have a hair maintenance routine? Products and a schedule and all that?
RH: None. I dodged a genetic bullet. My dad is losing his hair. Both of my younger brothers are losing their hair. I have pretty good hair and I don’t have to put junk in it. Life is good. I’m going gray and I am so totally fine with that. I can live with gray hair. It makes me feel fancy and distinguished.
C&C: What do you have in your pockets?
RH: Right now: A Swiss Army knife.
When my daughter was in the hospital recovering from surgery, my wife and I would order take-out so we didn’t have to be away from the room for too long. And one day we got Chinese Mexican, along with Jarritos, which is a Mexican fruit-flavored soft drink. The bottles aren’t twist-off and the nurses’ station didn’t have a bottle opener. Surprise surprise. I can open a bottle with a lighter but no one had a lighter. I was going to MacGuyver it when a doctor turned around and was like “Use this,” and he handed me a Swiss Army knife.
At that moment I realized how insane it was that I didn’t carry one. It’s great for opening bottles and cutting things and slicing my finger open accidentally.
C&C: Speaking of slicing fingers, have you ever had stitches or broken any bones? What was your most serious injury?
RH: I have never broken a bone, and apparently there’s a reason for that: So my jaw is misaligned. At one point a long time ago my dentist thought he would need to break it and reset it, so that my teeth didn’t wear away or the joints wouldn’t go all wonky or something. The good news is we’ve since abandoned that insane, terrifying course.
But at the time, he said that my bone structure was so dense he wasn’t sure if he could break it conventionally.
I don’t know what he was basing that on, or what the science was there, but I have to assume that means maybe I am a superhero?
Most of my injuries are kitchen related lately. I burnt myself real good taking a lamb roast out of the oven this past Easter. Last year I cut off a tiny bit of the tip of my finger dicing garlic for curry. But yeah, then sometimes I’m absentmindedly playing with my knife and then I’m like hey what’s that oh I’m bleeding again!
No major major injuries. I guess technically the blown disk in my lower back (a neurosurgeon referred to it as “shredded” and asked me if I fell of a roof or something [which, no, I did not]), but you can’t even see that by looking at me, and what’s the point of bragging about an injury no one can see?
C&C: Has being a dad made you less of a douchebag, in a general sense?
RH: I hope so. It’s made me more mindful of parents whose kids are having a meltdown in public. I used to think it was the worst noise ever and those parents needed to get their shit together. Now I understand how utterly irrational and unreasonable babies are.
But it’s also made me more mindful of wanting to have a positive influence on the world and make sure I’m building something good for her. It made me want to write stuff that’s more hopeful. I’m even getting into a YA fantasy series right now, because I want her to have something to read when she’s a kid.
I always liked kids but was also happy to not have one and was on the fence for a while about this whole thing, and it’s amazing how having one just re-wires your brain. Sometimes when I’m at work I get sad because I can’t play with her right at that moment, and then I flip through goofy pictures of her on my phone and that helps a little.
C&C: What’s the coolest thing about your baby girl?
RH: Anything and everything.
I was having this conversation with my wife just this morning. Ninety-five percent of what she does is incredible and adorable. Pretty much everything but the pooping and the screeching and when she tries to rip my beard off my face. Everything else is great.
I’m so excited to have a girl. When we found out a few people were like, “Oh, are you disappointed?” Like just because I’m a dude I should want to have a son.
Fuck that. Having a daughter is great. She’s going to be the world’s first superhero. I have proof: My sister’s friend does cosplay and made her a Wonder Woman outfit. This is literally the cutest thing that has ever existed. Tell me I’m wrong. I’m not.
Shoulders: A dragon that morphs into a Celtic knot (I was 19), a tribal phoenix (to mark the completion of my first terrible unpublished book).
Upper arm: A skull and crossbones with ‘trust me’ written underneath (a play on a Vonnegut sketch).
Left forearm: A hydrogen atom. That’s the most recent. It’s the symbol on Dr. Manhattan’s forehead in Watchmen, but it’s also the most basic element in the universe, and I like that. It was also a celebration of getting a job where I could have a tattoo on my forearm and that was okay.
I’m in the market for a few more. Something to mark my first published novel. Someone for my daughter, now that she’s had her second–and probably final–heart surgery. I’m meeting with a tattoo artist this weekend!
C&C: Since I sent the first question, you’ve probably met with your tattoo artist. What’s the plan, Stan?
RH: It’s an old-school anatomical illustration of a heart, for my daughter.
I’m also planning to get a tattoo for New Yorked. And I’m on the verge of thinking I should get a tattoo for every book I get published? I’m still not sure about that. It sounds romantic right now but it might get tiresome down the line. I do want to get one for the book, because it’s my first published novel.
The heart comes first. That’s the one that feels more immediate.
Curiouser and Curiouser: Where are you on your Buffy the Vampire Slayer journey, and what’s been your favorite season/storyline so far?
Usman Malik: I’m almost done. Last few episodes of season 7 left.
Season 5 with Gloria the Bipolar goddess was my favorite. It was (mostly) smart, intelligent, and layered. I think the big finale with Buffy jumping into the interdimensional portal was really where the series came to an end. After that, it was just extra stuffing, although I did like Buffy and Spike’s romantic tension in season 6 and 7.
C&C: How did the twists and turns of life take you from Pakistan to FLORIDA? I’m not making fun of Florida, it’s just that most “I didn’t think it was a bad idea” news stories from the last five years has come out of there...
UM: Day job mostly, and the weather. I was in Minnesota for 3 yrs before I moved here. Florida is pretty cool actually. There’s weird stuff here, but also a wild beauty that I appreciate especially when I (sometimes) go hiking and trail running.
C&C: What was your favorite childhood toy, and why?
UM: Storybooks in a bag that I slung over my shoulders and carried everywhere.
C&C: Do you remember your first crush?
UM: The Last Unicorn when she becomes a woman in the cartoon. I remember my face turning hot, and feeling surreal and out of breath. I crawled under my bed, so no one could see me in that state.
C&C: What’s your biggest fear? And I don’t mean failure or something intangible, I mean like the dark, or spiders.
UM: Illness, I think. Also, the dark. I can’t sleep without a nightlight if I’m alone in the house.
C&C: What kind of nightlight do you have?
UM: I just use a regular lamp placed at the far corner of the room. Only to be used in case of total aloneness.
C&C: Do you collect anything?
UM: Definitely books. At one point, I found myself collecting bookends, but I’m mostly over that now.
C&C: What do you have in your pockets?
UM: Cellphone. Peanuts.
C&C: If you have an hour of free time, time to kill, what are you most likely to do with it?
UM: Read a book. Take a long walk. Browse Facebook (an unfortunate hobby )
C&C: Who was your least favorite character on Buffy, and why? I’m not going to ask who your favorite is – though you’re more than welcome to tell me – because the correct answer to that is Spike or Anya.
UM: I think I didn’t like Angel at all. No idea why. He was too goody-two-shoes for me. Spike was obviously my favorite.
Curiouser and Curiouser: Tell me about your fascination with the painting “Flaming June” by Leighton.
Damien Angelica Walters: I saw her for the first time on a greeting card when I was in my mid-twenties. The card itself was one of those any-occasion blank cards, and the colors, the imagery, captured me and haven’t let go since. I bought the card and kept it on my desk, and then a few months later, I found a larger image on a calendar. I bought it, carefully cut out the page, and framed it. I found a larger print a few months after that, which replaced the smaller calendar image, and later, found one even larger. I paid a stupid amount of money to have her professionally framed and she’s been on my living room wall ever since. Something in her speaks to my heart and soul, that’s all I know.
C&C: Those are the best kinds of connection to art, I think: the visceral, pure and unexplainable kind. Are there any other particular pieces/artists that you’ve been drawn to this way?
DW: John Reinhard Weguelin’s Lesbia is another one. While I don’t have quite the same visceral reaction as I do with Flaming June, I am still drawn to it in an inexplicable way and I’ve a print hanging in my office. With respect to more modern work, I have a print of Galen Dara’s Medusa in my office as well, but that has an emotional resonance for me because she created it to accompany my story “Always, They Whisper” in Lightspeed Magazine.
C&C: What do you have in your pockets? A lucky charm? Do you have a lucky charm?
DW: Alas, my yoga pants have no pockets, and I don’t have a lucky charm, per se, but I do have several xenomorph figures on my desk and a plush facehugger hanging in the doorway to my office.
C&C: How do you feel about musicals?
DW: Pauses to sing. “Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I can smile at the old days. I was beautiful then. I remember a time I knew what happiness was. Let the memory live again.” I’m sorry, what was the question?
C&C: Wow!! That was a quick and definitive answer. Are you a fan of theatre at large?
DW: I’m a fan, but not necessarily a huge fan. I was very fortunate to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore in the 90s. Ted Neeley, who originally played the role of Jesus on Broadway in 1971, reprised his role, and it was an amazing show.
My daughter was in the theater program at school and played Cinderella in Into the Woods, and I was able to witness not only the performance, but all the hard work beforehand. It gave me a different sort of appreciation for theater.
C&C: Do you sleep in socks?
DW: Nope, nope, nope. Just the thought makes me uncomfortable. I prefer to sleep unencumbered by fabric.
C&C: Do you have pets?
DW: I have two pit bulls, Kane and Ripley, both rescues. They’re seventy-five and fifty pounds, respectively, and while Ripley is a lap dog, Kane waits until you get up from the sofa, and then he steals your spot.
C&C: Do you like to color?
DW: Not really, but I like to doodle in my notebook when I’m brainstorming a story.
C&C: What do you doodle when brainstorming?
DW: Typically I doodle geometric shapes. Not very exciting, I know.
C&C: Have you broken any bones or ever had stitches?
DW: I’ve never broken a bone, but I’ve had stitches. The first time, I was two and had a tumor removed from the side of my neck. The story goes it took 200 stitches and given the size of the scar, I believe it. The second time, I was sixteen and put my hand/arm through a window (not on purpose!). The largest cut, on my forearm, took seventeen stitches to close, I can’t remember how many stitches the cut on my index finger required, but I had another on my forearm that only took one, notable only because it was done without anesthetic. Why bother with one needle stick when it will only take two to sew it up? And lastly, I had surgery on two toes (I had bits of bone removed) about fifteen years ago and had stitches then, but honestly, that’s a boring story, unless I mention that I was able to watch the surgery, which was neat.
Curiouser and Curiouser: You posted online recently about “tiny masterpieces.” Tell me what you were thinking of. Have you thought much of Victorian eye portraits? That’s immediately what I assumed you meant.
Gabino Iglesias: Victorian eye portraits are wonderfully creepy. I wasn’t thinking about them then, but I’m definitely thinking about them now. Anyway, I was thinking about really small things that are masterpieces and we tend to more or less ignore because of their size/duration/apparent insignificance in some contexts: a superb guitar solo, a 55-word story that leaves you breathless, a piece of quartz, a really good brownie, tiny plastic dinosaurs, etc. The Big Picture is important, but if we forget to stop and be marveled by the colors and strange appendages on a bug once in a while, then we lose context and balance. Yeah, tiny masterpieces are cool.
C&C: Do you keep and collect tiny things? Do you have tiny boxes filled with tiny stones or hands from watches or human hair?
GI: The only thing I really collect is books, but I’ve also been known to pick up and bring home weird small things. Shiny rocks, dry insect carcasses, marbles, old keys, etc. I used to have a lot of random stuff and parting ways with my treasures was hard, but then I moved to the US with an old laptop, my guitar, and a few shirts and leaving stuff behind became easier. Now I pick things up and bring them home, but then get rid of it when I need space for more books.
C&C: Do you take photographs as much as you write?
GI: For a few years, I photographed much more than I wrote. I’ve worked as a photojournalist a few times and my photographic work received a prize by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena many years ago and was represented by Art Connectors in Austin for a while. Now I do it for fun once in a while and write more than I shoot. I’ve been riding the bus for 7 years now, and one day it just clicked: I can share some of the stuff I see with the world using just my phone. Since then, I give folks things like awesome piles of garbage, broken things, and nature.
C&C: How do you feel about graffiti?
GI: A few years ago I thought of graffiti as either artistic expression or ugly attempts at it (depending on the quality of the work). Then I worked at a tattoo shop and the main artist was also a painter and graffiti artists. He brought books to the shop and I ended up reading about the history of graffiti in New York and things like he evolution of lettering and tagging wars. Now I always try to read graffiti as well as enjoy it. I also somewhat dislike cities or parts of cities where there is no street art.
C&C: Who was your first crush?
GI: She had no name. It was a brunette gymnast (model?) in a sportsy folder I got for school. She was perfect.
C&C: Are you afraid of any animals? Why or why not?
GI: I have a healthy respect for some animals. I’ve been too close to a shark and have seen what some snake bites can do, so I respect and don’t mess with the space between us. Every time I see a video of some idiot getting thrown into the air by a buffalo because he got too close or losing a limb to a crocodile because he or she thought they could be faster and put up a show, I giggle because stupidity should always be painful.
C&C: What exactly does that mean – “too close to a shark”?
GI: I was spearfishing near some rocks in a place called Icacos. There was a very tall reef wall. I was going around it and suddenly spotted what I’m almost sure was a blue shark. It was probably somewhere between 8 and 9 feet, but it looked more like a 20 feet monster to me. Not gonna try to guess how close we came to touch, but it was way too close for comfort. He turned right and moved away. I remember staying put as it swam away and hearing my heart pounding in my ears. I wasn’t really in the mood for more fishing that day.
C&C: Can you play any musical instruments?
GI: Literature and music are the only two constants in my life. That’s good because they’re also two of the things I care most about. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 15 or so. I love to play bongos and can do a decent job on congas. I’d love to play the piano, but that requires the kind of time I don’t have.
C&C: What do you have in your pockets?
GI: A pen, random pieces of paper, and my eye drops. Oh, and secrets.
C&C: Cake or pie? And why?
GI: Cake. Cake and a glass of milk. Folks are too damn fond of putting fruits and other assorted crap in pies. Give me fresh fruit and then cake. Keep your pie, especially your pumpkin pie. I have a thing about pumpkin-everything culture. I won’t get into that because then angry sorority girls who love their PSLs will come for my head, but yeah, cake all the way. Cake is soft and moist and you can put stuff inside and top of it. You can also cut it without crap falling out and then having to chase your dessert all over the plate. Plus, frosting. Cake wins.
Thanks for letting me talk about cake!