Lit Hub Asks: 5 Authors, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers
Featuring Eugene Lim, Tamara Shopsin, Vanessa Veselka and more
The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire is a monthly interview featuring seven questions for five authors with new books. This month we talk to:
Venita Blackburn (How to Wrestle a Girl)
Eugene Lim (Search History)
Bradley Sides (Those Fantastic Lives)
Tamara Shopsin (LaserWriter II)
Vanessa Veselka (Zazen)
Without summarizing it in any way, what would you say your book is about?
Tamara Shopsin: The art of repair.
Eugene Lim: Attention spans. What the dawn of artificial intelligence might mean for our understanding of consciousness. How we create narratives around death to understand that which we may not be equipped to understand. What does it mean to be an authentic Asian American comedian/writer/restaurateur? Car chases. Clowns.
Venita Blackburn: A delirious, ecstatic, and hilarious investigation into the language of girlhood that happens to be in Southern California with a queer urban lens.
Vanessa Veselka: Can you sit still on fire? When everything is burning can you think, can you care, can you witness and not run, can you be in the place of no answers with everything on fire all around you as well?
Bradley Sides: It’s a weird collection of stories that believes in loss and loneliness but also in magic, transformation, and love.
Without explaining why and without naming other authors or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book?
Vanessa Veselka: Capitalism, drugs, mental illness, childhood, analysis, and Transcendentalism.
Venita Blackburn: Public school in Compton, California: a whole ass mess. New Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church (enough said). Every voice, every body, every sound, scent, texture, color I’ve encountered in this life so far.
Tamara Shopsin: The cult of Mac, data recovery, vaudeville, books you read cover to cover, & fruit salad.
Bradley Sides: Frogs from my childhood home’s pond, memories of being outside on those cloudless nights in which the stars and moon are shining like they are so close I can reach out and touch them, the haunting sound of cows crying after they’ve been separated from their young, the strangeness of birds and my fascination with where they go, the relationships between fathers and sons, the relationships between mothers and sons, and our world’s growing loneliness…
Eugene Lim: Lunch dates with friends. The Karate Kid, which is a film from 1984 that I saw as a kid when it came out and not since. Walking and talking. Paul Greengrass’s Bourne series, its pacing and camerawork. The stink of Zen. Dead near-strangers and loved ones. The trailer for David OReilly’s video game Everything. GPT-2 and its ilk and offspring. Gratitude lists.
Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?
Eugene Lim: Grieving. Desperately looking for good jokes. Fumbling parenthood. Grant Green and Wes Montgomery on the stereo.
Tamara Shopsin: The steady replacement of strange interesting singular brick and mortar stores with bland profitable businesses.
Bradley Sides: Emerging adulthood. Finding love. Forming a family. Working and trying to figure out that part of my life. Stress. Stress some more. Death. Death again. Learning what cults are. First home. Then, a dead cat. Dealing with loneliness. Survival. Peace, I think.
Vanessa Veselka: Collapse, grief, meditation, obsession, parenting, seeing searing beauty everywhere.
Venita Blackburn: Pre-pandemic. Traumatic move to California. Desert to Bay to desert. Nostalgic and angry about youth. Break up. Dogs. Apocalyptic fires. Goose poop. Social isolation. Memory to dream confusion and revelation.
What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers and/or reviewers?
Venita Blackburn: Experimental. Exercises. There’s something a little haughty and dismissive about those words, something that clings to what we call “traditional” narrative as if that is the only thing that can exist without question as if that is the only form that can have lasting depth.
Vanessa Veselka: Dystopian.
Tamara Shopsin: “Quirky” is used a lot. Probably because it is true, and that is maybe why it bugs me.
Bradley Sides: Maybe “depressing,” but I’m honestly just glad to be a part of the conversation.
Eugene Lim: I don’t yet have any that I despise, but the night is young.
If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be?
Eugene Lim: Some kind of non-hypocritical clergy. And/or MMA featherweight champ. Dancer-choreographer.
Bradley Sides: Easy one. I’d be a goat farmer. After a long day in the field, I’d return home in time each evening to sit on the porch with my wife and dog as we watched the sun fall behind the trees. (I’d also still write. I’d have to. Maybe in the mornings before the animals began to stir…)
Tamara Shopsin: Illustrator, graphic designer, & griddle cook.
Venita Blackburn: Voice actor for cartoons. I’m available if anyone is interested. Experience is in the future.
Vanessa Veselka: Archaeologist.
What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?
Tamara Shopsin: Saying a lot with a little and finding humor in the everyday. I’d like to be better at EVERYTHING, but especially the beginning of a book. I feel like it takes a little for a reader to get used to me & vice versa.
Venita Blackburn: Voice. I love sentences and patterns that evoke the psychology of a character and the world in total.
Eugene Lim: I can pull off conceptual structures and jokes. I would love to be able to write a long, lyrical novel, and every time out I intend to write one.
Vanessa Veselka: Dialogue always feels easy. I’d like to understand what other people think plot is so that I can see structure through their eyes so that I can align where it makes sense.
Bradley Sides: I like to think I’m pretty good with tone, and although I guess this doesn’t really classify as a craft element, I’m also proud of my imagination. I surprise myself sometimes, and that’s a good thing. I’d like to be better at so much. Grounding my stories. Developing character without having to go through twenty drafts of a story. Mainly, in regards to writing, I’d like to learn the essential homophones. Is it affect? Or maybe effect? I don’t know.
How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?
Bradley Sides: The truth is that I’m a humble introvert. I do a lot of listening. That’s how I get to know people—how I understand what they think. I, however, reveal myself through my stories. I don’t know that people do or should have any interest in what I have to say, but if they do, my stories can do my talking.
Tamara Shopsin: I don’t think about it. If I did I wouldn’t make anything.
Venita Blackburn: I am deeply in love with humanity and always ready to listen to my people when they are most honest, most alarmed and most excited about something that happened, no degree or credentials needed other than a voice. I write for myself first and if I think I have something cool, I’m always ready to share. That’s living. That’s the gift we all have. Everyone loves a good story.
Eugene Lim: I alternate between megalomania and the mantra, It’s not in my control.
Vanessa Veselka: I don’t. My job is to write like I’m talking straight to the face of God in the remaining hours of my life.