Monday, October 19, 2020

A Brevity Conversation: on the publication of the Best of Brevity anthology from Rose Metal Press

For the past two years I’ve been an editor of Sonora Review. Ander Monson’s been our journal’s faculty advisor for over a decade. We think Sonora is the second oldest graduate-run literary magazine in the nation, a fact we’ve never quite been able to prove. Second oldest—or third, or seventh—we’ve been around for 40 consecutive years, and we’re pretty proud of that. So Ander and I decided a little over a year ago to collect our favorite pieces from the past four decades into a single volume. But while Ander’s a seasoned anthologist, I’m a rookie. I had almost no idea, when I started the work, how I’d ever reduce to one book the contents of 77 issues—about 2100 pieces of writing by nearly as many authors.
     So, out of both practical necessity and interest, I recently spoke with Zoë Bossiere and Dinty Moore, Managing Editor and founder/E-i-C of Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction, about the process of creating their upcoming anthology: The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction. I’ve been reading and admiring Brevity for over a decade. For at least half of those years “Brevity” has been the tab on my computer’s Nav Bar nestled between “Gmail” and “Maps.” It’s so central because I really do like to read their consistently excellent output more often than I need to know how to get somewhere, and only slightly less than I need to check my inbox. As we point out in the interview, Brevity has been so influential to writers and readers that they’ve single-handedly created a new genre, the “Brevity essay,” which my Brevity-loving friend defines as “real life reflected in a tiny shard of glass.”
     Zoë and Dinty’s collection collects 85 of these glass shards. Some are sharp and some are sheeny. Some are warm and some are cool. Collectively they form something like a stained glass window. One I’ll surely look through and at for years to come.
     I see that, despite my best efforts, this introduction has not been as brief as Ander suggested it be. In fact it’s over 500 words (perhaps an ideal length for a Brevity piece). So I’ll close by saying that from the interview I learned, above all, that the role of the anthologist is as creative as it is editorial. Anthologizing is an art, and a humbling one at that. Our lengthy interview, which you can read in full below, taught me much about the process, the challenges, the great rewards of creating a collection of other people’s work. I grew confident, finally, that I could in fact choose the pieces of the 2100 that best complement each other and reflect our progress, for the better. I thank Zoë and Dinty not only for their generous and practical advice, but their hard work creating such an illuminating collection of groundbreaking work, which I encourage you to preorder now here. —Kevin Mosby

Kevin Mosby: As a longtime reader of Brevity, I’ve been wondering for at least a few years when a print collection of Brevity essays might appear. Why now? I understand that, as stated in Dinty’s intro, the 20-year anniversary was the major impetus, but what other factors made you two realize that now was the time to go forward with the project?

Zoë Bossiere: I proposed the idea of a Brevity anthology to Dinty as a special project the semester before my official start as managing editor. The pitch was simple: a “Best of” anthology was long overdue for such an influential and longstanding magazine like Brevity. Plus, flash nonfiction is fast becoming one of the most popular forms to teach, and I thought a Brevity-specific anthology might work to complement the existing Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Flash Nonfiction. Luckily, Dinty agreed and was on board with the project pretty much right away. We got to work on rereading past issues that same month!

Dinty W. Moore: The honest answer is that I was hesitant because I didn’t know where I would find the time. Then Zoë made a compelling case and offered to divide the work. She is amazingly efficient.

Ander Monson: I’m also wondering what assembling the first Brevity anthology in print means for the magazine. I remember that when Brevity began (just before DIAGRAM did), one of the things that we had to deal with was a lot of (older, mostly) writers not wanting to submit to online venues because online publication wasn’t viewed as “real” publication by many of them. If it wasn’t in a print book, it didn’t matter. It didn’t last. It didn’t count. (NEA applications didn’t count online pubs as acceptable publications, for instance, and many universities were suspicious of counting online publications.) Compare to this year, when one of my grad students mentioned in class that she would never submit to a print-only publication, because nobody (that she cares about) reads them!

Dinty: I’m tending lately to agree with your grad student. My relationship to online journals has been interesting. Despite having started Brevity way back when online literary journals were a rarity, I was hesitant for some time to send my own work to internet-based venues. It probably had mostly to do with the era in which I came up, and did my MFA, when journals like The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review—big paper volumes coming out of prestigious state university writing programs—were, as you note, the favored prize. But over the years, my preferences slowly shifted, until about five years or so back when I found myself sending only to online journals. I like the fact that readers can click on a link and respond, or send an e-mail, and that I can send friends to see my work via links and social media. The old paper journals tended to die alone in the back of a library somewhere, whereas the better online journals seem to have infinite life.

Ander: I feel that too. It’s one of the things I like best about online publishing: how social and immediate it is. It seems to shorten the loop between writer and reader, and it  also encourages more interactivity between reader and writer (and, I suppose, between writer and reader). That may not always be desirable, but it’s happening more and more often, and more quickly. 

Kevin: I saw that Ander mentioned in an email to you that he was impressed with the speed of the project. What was the timeline like from idea to publishing contract to having to turn in the final copy to Rose Metal Press to the expected publication date (Fall 2020)?

Zoë: Pretty quick, actually. I pitched the initial seed of an idea to Dinty back in spring of 2018, the semester before my official start as managing editor. We then got to work over the summer on reading past issues of Brevity and compiling a list of potential contributors. By fall we had drafted a proposal to Rose Metal Press. We supplemented the proposal with research in the form of a competitive market analysis and a parity analysis toward the end of 2018. A parity analysis is similar to a VIDA count, but in addition to VIDA-style gender parity we also considered the parity of other traditionally underrepresented voices in publishing, such as writers of color, LQBTQIA+ writers, writers with disabilities, and other important groups to ensure a diverse range of perspectives in the anthology.

December of 2018 was also around the time we finalized our list of potential contributors.

Rose Metal approved the proposal in early 2019 and we signed a contract to make it official in January. Then came the work of collecting contracts from contributors. We began the process of contacting all 84 writers to inquire about the availability of their work and their willingness to see it appear in the anthology. It took a couple of months to track everyone down and secure the rights to reprint all the essays, but everyone was on board. This was somewhat complicated, actually, because we had to speak not only to the writers but often also to various presses who had since gone on to publish the essay in question in a memoir or collection. But even those permissions folks were surprisingly amenable, especially at the university presses! It was a much easier process than I imagined it would be when we first set out to send those emails. There was only one writer we could not get in touch with, despite our best efforts. This writer had been a high school student when the essay was published in Brevity, and their email address had expired. Our searches to find where the author had gone (other literary publications, social media presence, college directories) all turned up nothing. I was pretty bummed about that—it’s a great piece!

So once the contracts were in order—around the beginning of April 2019—Dinty and I submitted a copyedited draft of the submissions, then set out to decide on the order essays would appear in the anthology, and begin working on extras, such as a thematic table of contents, an essay on teaching with Brevity, an index connecting the anthology to Rose Metal Press’s existing Field Guide, and so forth. All of these things were due to Rose Metal mid-summer 2019, a little over a year away from the book’s scheduled release. It was a lot of work, though for me it was also a real joy not only to have the opportunity to learn more about what goes into editing an anthology, but also to be involved in the creation of the first anthology for a beloved literary magazine like Brevity. I’m still a little star struck when I think about it, to be honest.

Dinty: What Zoë said.

Kevin: As Ander mentioned, I’m currently working on a Sonora Review anthology, and choosing the “best” pieces from the past 40 years wasn’t an easy process. What was the selection process like for Best of Brevity?

Dinty: There were a few pieces that jumped out, mainly because I had been teaching them over the years, or I knew that many other folks had been teaching them over the years. But after that a good number of hard decisions had to be made. We—meaning Zoë, Abby and Kathleen at Rose Metal, and I—agreed to limit it to 80 essays, but later upped it to 84. We easily might have chosen 100 pieces, and probably could have gone higher. “Best of” is a relative term, of course, and as founder and editor, I am fond of almost every essay we have published. (I say almost because I have made a few mistakes over the years, and no, I won’t tell you which essays I mean.)

Ander: Were there any pieces that one or both of you would have liked to have included but weren’t able to for whatever reason?

Zoë: The selection process basically involved both of us independently reading every issue of Brevity from its inaugural through the (then forthcoming) 60th. We compiled separate lists on a shared Google Doc with essays we each thought best represented the breadth of Brevity’s more than twenty years of publishing flash nonfiction. This included not only some of our most frequent contributors, but also essays often taught in creative writing classes, or that were written from a traditionally underrepresented perspective, or that embodied a unique form.

In the end, we decided to feature work by each contributor only once in the anthology. There were some writers who contributed more than once to Brevity over the years, and it was sometimes difficult to choose between those essays, especially those of Ira Sukrungruang, Lori Jakiela, Brenda Miller, Roxane Gay, Rebecca McClanahan and several others. Another tough decision was when we had more than one essay by different writers on a similar experience or theme, and in those cases we often selected just one of the essays to include. Then, when the 61st and 62nd issues of Brevity came out, I found myself wishing we could have included some of the work from those as well! So I echo Dinty in saying that, truly, I would like to have included even more of Brevity in the anthology, but it just wasn’t possible—84 unique contributors in one collection is a lot, especially with so many beautiful and well-written essays to choose from.

Kevin: Follow-up question re selection process: It occurs to me that, since most Brevity pieces ever published (post-new format, at least) have a highly visible numeric tag associated with it (the number of comments), you’re perhaps at a rare advantage in that you as editors can see exactly which essays seemed to make most of an impact on people. Did that have an effect on the selection process?

Ander: That’s a really interesting question to think about, Kevin. Or did you rely on the metrics you have access to behind the scenes, like the number of hits that these pieces have each gotten? I have to imagine that data mattered. That seems like a major advantage of an online publication, in that it’s more easily measurable which pieces connect best with readers or inspire that kind of feedback loop (or I suppose this could be a risk, too: should the “Best Of” just be the most popular ones)?

Dinty: You two flatter me. I am simply awful at harvesting data from the website, falling somewhere between clueless and lazy. I could, now that you mention it, go in and determine readership numbers (unique visitors, I think they call it) for each essay, but I haven’t and probably won’t. The metrics? You’ve mistaken me for an engineer, good fellow. Our choices were based on anecdotal evidence—people over the years have been mentioning how much they like this essay or that essay by a particular author—and gut-feeling.

Zoë: I’d like to chime in here as well, with a story. I’ve been interested in how nonfiction anthologies are compiled for a long time, and I actually ran into Michael Martone in an AWP convention center hallway a couple of years back. I asked him a few questions about how he and Lex Williford went about selecting the essays for the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction (2007), which I was, at that point, using with students in my nonfiction workshop. According to him (and in Williford’s foreword), they’d sent out an online survey asking writers which essays they taught most often in the classroom. They received hundreds of responses, but apparently there were only a few essays that most everyone listed (think heavy hitters like Jo Ann Beard’s “Fourth State of Matter” or Annie Dillard’s “Living Like Weasels”) and many, many others that only one or maybe two writers mentioned. Because essays by certain favorite writers (Didion, Baldwin, etc.) were prohibitively expensive, and because there was little consensus about enough essays to fill the book, much of the work in that anthology was chosen from the remaining essays writers had nominated through the survey. In the end, Martone and Williford included the essays that had the most votes first, then sorted through the rest (most of which received only one nomination). While it’s a great collection for a lot of reasons, I do think this focus on crowd-sourcing essay selection by popularity is why the Touchstone anthology can (in my own experience) be frustratingly limited to teach with—there’s just not much diversity, both in terms of parity and in the range of forms/styles.

All this to say, we didn’t want the Best of Brevity anthology to include only the biggest names in nonfiction, or to feature only the most popular pieces in the magazine—especially since it seems everyone, when asked to list their favorite Brevity essays, has a different answer. Instead, Dinty and I put much of our consideration into which pieces we felt best represented the wide range of essays that have been published with us over the years.

Ander: Maybe y’all should ask a few writers or readers to share their own Best of Brevity top 5s or most-taughts or something around when the book comes out as a kind of fun promo. As an aside, I taught a grad seminar on the art and work of the literary anthology this last spring, and one of the things we were doing was reading online journals with an eye toward nominating essays for Best American Essays, since online pubs don’t always make it to Bob Atwan. We nominated three from Brevity (“The Invention of Familiars” by Kathryn Nuernberger, “Meanness” by Beverly Donofrio, and “Solving for X” by Pam Durban) though I don’t know yet whether any made it in or made the notables. 

By my count you’ve only got 12 essays included from the first half of the journal’s run, versus 72 from the second half. I imagine that’s in part because the work has gotten consistently better (I’ve also noticed this). The way people read and share things online has changed a lot and grown exponentially. There’s a much quicker response to publishing things these days that has accelerated the feedback loop between writers and events and other writers and other events. Maybe the quick nature of the flash essay is even more in tune with the way folks read and share online. As Edward Hoagland puts it, publishing an essay is taking part in a public conversation, so that it’s easy to feel like the work of publishing essays has become more urgent. Is that something you feel too? Or I wonder about how much you agree with that Hoagland quote?

Zoë: I didn’t begin reading Brevity until midway through my undergraduate career (circa 2011, around issue 35 or so), and at that point, of course, I started with its most recent issues. Because of this, those later essays stand out in my mind the most (though there is a lot to love in those earlier issues as well). So I’m probably personally biased in this way.

But to speak to your idea about how the internet has changed the way we read, Ander, I think Brevity, in addition to featuring short essays, also had an appeal and an advantage over other publications that were slowly switching from print to online, which is a faster turnaround from submission to publication. We strive to respond to all submissions within a 3-month period (and often sooner), and accepted work is often published in the next issue. Blog submissions have an even shorter turnaround. So I think it’s probably true that Brevity is more likely than other literary magazines to publish nonfiction in response to current events while it’s still relevant, whether in the blog or in the journal proper.

I would also venture to say Brevity is one of, if not the, oldest online-only literary publications still in operation, and this is certainly true if we’re thinking specifically about nonfiction. This means that as writers were beginning to embrace the idea of submitting to online publications (especially over the last decade or so), Brevity stood out as one with experience and credibility. There was less anxiety about the ephemerality of digital texts when a writer submitted to Brevity because we had already existed for 10, and then 15, and now 20+ years. Brevity has also cultivated a loyal following of readers, which remains appealing to writers looking to submit. An essay will certainly be widely read, and likely even taught, based on its appearance in Brevity.

Dinty: Hoagland’s remark about the “public conversation” is exactly right, and becomes more and more true every year. Anyone who is active on literary Twitter can see how an essay, for good or bad, can open up active, often heated, discussion within hours of being posted online, and it the unfolding can be both dizzying and exciting to watch. The rhythm was very different in the old dead tree and toxic ink journal era. 

With Brevity, the lag time from acceptance to posting in a new issue is often eight months to a year, so we aren’t publishing essays that respond immediately to the news of the day, but the Brevity Blog does sometimes do so. And of course, there are issues that sadly seem to never go away

Ander: Dinty, I’m also curious about how you feel about the genre-defining nature of Brevity. After 60 issues, the “Brevity essay” feels like it’s become an identifiable thing. I know teachers who require their students to write a Brevity Essay, for instance. It seems from the anthology proposal and your introduction that you’re uncomfortable with being prescriptive about what that Brevity Essay is. This book definitely showcases variation. This is a question for both Dinty and Zoë, since I imagine your perspectives on this might differ a bit: how comfortable are you with the genre (if you believe it’s a genre, exactly) of the Brevity Essay? Or is this something you resist?

Dinty: I prefer the term flash essay, but I hear people say Brevity essay” all of the time as a defining term and it is flattering. I feel good about the impact we have made.

Zoë: I’d say I’m very comfortable with the idea of the “Brevity essay,” in large part because it has become a distinct subgenre within the flash essay (itself a subgenre of nonfiction, I guess rendering the Brevity essay a sub-subgenre?), just as other magazines’ forms have. For instance, Creative Nonfiction’s #CNFTweets. Like #CNFTweets, I see the “Brevity essay” as existing under the umbrella of flash nonfiction. Of course, one can choose to write briefly under any variation of word constraints, but Brevity’s is and has always been “750 words or fewer.” I would be curious as to how Brevity settled on 750 as the magic number, but this might be a question as lost to time as the true identity of our bearded mascot:

Dinty: Actually, I chose that ‘mascot’ picture back in the early days, expecting the magazine might last three or four issues and then fade away, and, yes, my occasional sloppiness led me to lose track of who was in the picture. (To my best recollection, the idea of an ‘old beard’ fellow representing a snazzy new internet journal appealed back then to my weird sense of humor.) 

I have, however, recently recovered my memory (via Google image search) and, ta da, the old fellow pictured is none other than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

As for the 750 or fewer limit: I was fond of a number of flash fiction anthologies that came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and they ranged from a 500-word limit to a 1,000-word or more limit, so I simply split the difference. If you haven’t yet noticed, the recurring theme here is that when I started Brevity I was winging it, with a minimum of theoretical underpinning and little to no plan for the future.

Kevin: As both an undergraduate at UCLA and graduate student at U of Arizona, I was exposed to Brevity in more than a handful of creative writing classes. And now I use it regularly in creative writing classes with my students. Best of Brevity will surely be adopted by many CW teachers. How do you hope instructors utilize it as a resource?

Zoë: I’m glad you asked that! One of our great hopes for the anthology is that it will increase access to Brevity in the classroom. Though all of our essays are and will remain freely available online, not all teachers and students have access to resources like computers, or enough printing to consistently bring hard copies of the essays to class. The anthology, by comparison, is low cost—cheaper than many other nonfiction anthologies currently on the market. With 84 distinct essays, it also features an unparalleled diversity of styles.

It can also be difficult, as a teacher, to find essays by specific theme or form on Brevity’s website, since they are organized into issues and by order of appearance. We’re hoping the inclusion of a thematic table of contents and a special essay on teaching with Brevity (including craft essay suggestions) in the anthology will help teachers access the available resources more easily.

There’s also something really special, I think, about seeing these essays in print. Despite the prevalence of online-only publications and the preference of the younger generation of writers to publish their essays online, the desire to own and use print media still reigns supreme. Some essays have been anthologized or reprinted since their appearances in Brevity, but this is the first time there’s been a Brevity-specific anthology on the market, and I’m excited for folks to be able to add Brevity’s essays to their bookshelves.

Dinty: Again, what Zoë said. I couldn’t put it better.

Kevin: How did/do you two divide the editorial work?

Zoë: As I’m sure you can relate to, Kevin, going through sixty back issues of a literary magazine is a labor-intensive project. Dinty and I each compiled lists of potential contributors and then narrowed them down together based on style, voice, popularity, parity, and several other factors. Dinty wrote the proposal to Rose Metal Press, while I put together much of the competitive title and parity analyses. When it came time to reach out to contributors, we worked together on an email template and I set about sending those emails and keeping track of responses in a series of spreadsheets. I compiled the basic manuscript and Dinty did the first round of copyediting. We each wrote a separate introduction for the anthology. We collaborated on the creation of extra content, such as the thematic ToC, an “On Teaching Brevity” essay, an index linking essays in Best of Brevity to Rose Metal’s Field Guide, and etc. We communicated mostly over email but also had lots and lots of in-person meetings to brainstorm ideas and hash out various details over the months. Dinty is a great co-editor. It’s been a lot of fun to work on this project with him as well as the amazing Kathleen Rooney and Abigail Beckel at Rose Metal Press.

Kevin: I like the idea presented in the proposal to include an alternate Table of Contents that aligns the “Best of” essays with craft discussions and prompts in the RMP Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. Will that happen? What was RMP’s response to the idea?

Zoë: Rose Metal Press was on board! There will be both an alternate (“thematic”) table of contents as well as an index linking The Best of Brevity to the Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. As mentioned previously, we also wrote an “On Teaching Brevity” essay which links the works in the anthology to the resources on Brevity’s website, such as craft essays and the Brevity blog.

Kevin: And speaking of craft discussions: Since there are so many great craft essays on the Brevity site, were you reluctant not to include any in the anthology? Or was the desire not to compete with the Field Guide, as you state in the proposal, too big of a concern to consider including the craft essays?

Zoë: At the beginning, we considered including a few “reflection-style” pieces to accompany some of the essays in the anthology, which would consist of the writer discussing their craft choices. While some of these essays already exist on the Brevity blog, such as Amy Butcher on “Women These Days” or Jill Talbot on “All or Nothing, Self Portrait at Twenty-Seven,” in the end we decided it would be too much (in terms of work, time, space) to ask so many writers to go back and write a reflection piece about their original essay.

But yes, to answer your second question, we also wanted the anthology to be used in tandem with the Field Guide, which is already full of many wonderful craft essays and exercises. Rose Metal liked this idea, since leaving the craft essays out also makes The Best of Brevity desirable as a collection one might enjoy reading in contexts outside of the classroom.

Kevin: How did you go about contacting authors that you’d like to include their work in the anthology? Did any not want their piece included? What did RMP require in terms of permissions? Had the authors already signed a document giving Brevity reprint rights?

Dinty: We e-mailed and asked permission. Though our standard acceptance e-mail over the years mentioned the possibility of reprinting work in an anthology, it also returned all rights to the authors, (did someone say sloppy and poorly thought through?), so we thought it best to get fresh permissions from everyone. There were a few cases where a Brevity essay had been subsequently reprinted in a book, so we had to go to the presses and ask permission, which was more complicated, but in the end everyone said yes. We feel lucky it ended that way.


Preorder The Best of Brevity here!

Monday, October 5, 2020

Talking Back to Books: Kim Adrian and Stephanie Reents in conversation from our first Essay Daily Salon Series

Feeling a sense of general disconnection and a need to get myself more connected to people over the last many quarantine months, over here at Essay Daily we started up a Salon Series, hoping to double down on our goal to talk more with each other about the essay and creative nonfiction and writing and so on. We hosted our first Essay Daily Salon at the end of August with two writers who have recent books I’ve been spending a lot of time with: Kim Adrian, the author of Dear Knausgaard, and Stephanie Reents, the author of I Meant to Kill Ye, both books writing back to (more famous [so far]) books, both published in Fiction Advocate’s excellent new Afterwords series. I thought our conversation was worth transcribing and extending beyond the boundaries of the hour and change we had together. Revisit the Salon here, or for more about our Salon series and its future iterations, click here. We’ll be doing the next one, The Polymorphous Essay, with Sarah Minor and Bethany Maile at 7pm on October 30. RSVP here for the Zoom link. Stop on in and talk about their weirdo and spectacular essays. And keep joining us. We had a blast. Our plan is to do one of these every couple months. —Ander Monson


Ander Monson: So hello and welcome to the first ever Essay Daily Salon, which I'm really excited about. It's so great to see so many of us who want to come together and talk about essays and about reading and writing in these weird times that we find ourselves in. My name is Ander Monson, the founding editor of Essay Daily, the website that is obviously sponsoring today's event. We're starting up this salon series in part because we wanted to celebrate a couple books that we're really excited about by Kim and Stephanie, but also because we want to double down on our mission of trying to make space for more conversations about essays and creative nonfiction, and because we’ve been jonesing to actually talk with other people, (mostly) shut in as we have been. So we're going to do one of these about every month or two is our plan as long as people are interested in getting together to talk and listen to good work. 

First, a quick note: we have a second event coming up on scheduled for October 30 right before Halloween maybe will suggest that our participants show up masked or at least have something to trick or treat for us. The treat—or maybe the trick—is The Polymorphous Essay, which will be a salon featuring essayist Bethany Maile who's got a book just coming out this month called Anything Will Be Easy After This and Sarah Minor, whose new book coming out from Rescue Press is Bright Archive. Both of them are really interesting, exciting essayists, both formerly inventive. So if you're interested in formal invention in the essay that would be a good event for you to come to. 

But today’s conversation is Talking Back to Books with Kim Adrian and Stephanie Reents. I'll ask our readers each to read for maybe five or six minutes from their new books, and then we'll go into conversation from there. Kim, let’s start with you, if that's okay. Kim Adrian is the author of the memoir The 27th Letter of the Alphabet, the Object Lessons book Sock, and Dear Knausgaard which I'm pretty sure I'm mispronouncing from my understanding of how it's pronounced in the Norwegian, which maybe you can give to us at some point. 

[note: the automatic Zoom transcription rendered Knausgaard in many exciting ways, including the following variants: 

  • Nos card


  • Canal scored

  • Now scored


This is the book that we're here to talk about today. It came out this week. We’re really excited about that. She's also the editor of The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms which is a really fun anthology featuring folks using received forms to write essays. It’s super teachable, so if you don’t know it, get ye to University of Nebraska Press!

Kim Adrian: [reads for a while].

Ander Monson: Thank you. This is the thing that I missed the most in virtual events: the inability to successfully applaud. And that was fantastic. And we'll get back to talking with Kim in a little bit, but first let me briefly introduce Stephanie Reents. 

Reents is the author of The Kissing List, a sharp book of stories, as well as I Meant to Kill Ye, also from Fiction Advocate, which is the book we're talking about today. Her stories have appeared in the O Henry Prize Stories, Best of the West, and beyond. She's also an alum of Arizona's MFA program where I teach, although before I joined the faculty here. Stephanie, it was really a pleasure to discover your work right around when we met a couple years ago when I came to give a reading. It's been very pleasurable to read the stories and then see them open up in different ways in this particular book. So, Stephanie, take it away:

Stephanie Reents: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me and Kim. It was great to hear you read from your book. So I'm going to just just read a little bit from my first chapter. By way of context, I first read Blood Meridian when I was 21 or 22 right when it came out in 1992 and I've sort of been reading it continually for 25 years or so since then. And so this was my attempt to figure out why I was obsessed with a book that I would never have expected to be obsessed with, I don't like violence at all, but something about this book really got under my skin.

[Stephanie reads.]

Ander Monson: I've got a bunch of questions I'm interested in talking about with both of your books. If folks have questions that you'd like to pose, put them in the chat. And we'll see if we can get to some of those a little bit later on. But, for starters, I would like to talk a little bit about collaboration. I think I mentioned to both of you that this was something I’ve been thinking about with each of your books. I mean, it's partially what we're up to what I say daily in the Essay Daily. But there's a lot of collaboration that happens in both books, both like a collaboration that happens with you and the books, right? I mean you talking back to the book, talking back to the writer. I've never read My Struggle and I haven't read Blood Meridian. Both of your books didn't really make me want to read them, which is a bonus, because I also felt, after readings yours, that I had read them. And now I didn't need to, which saves me a lot of time. So I appreciate that. But in both books, we see the presence of your families, and in Stephanie’s book, your students’ observations about the book as you teach it sort of change the way that you read the book. And of course, you know, you go on this quest to try to understand some things about the book. And in Kim's book we see a lot of conversations with other readers around this book, with Lisa especially, who is like the main character in that regard. So I'm wondering if you would both talk a little bit about how collaboration features in either in these books or in how you approach [collaboration] in your reading experience in general.

Kim Adrian: I think collaboration is an interesting word in this context because reading itself is a collaborative act. And I think both of these books really foreground that. As active readers, you're laboring—you’re co-laboring—with the author to make sense of this, in both cases, huge crazy novels. And I think extending that to the people in your life, like Lisa...or other friends that I talk about books with my husband…. I talked the ears of all my closest friends off for a solid year just obsessing about My Struggle even though they hadn't read it—nobody but Lisa had read it. And Lisa and I would often have little tiffs about it. So she wasn't that much help sometimes. But I think when you read a book that really puzzles you and that really is engaging you and you're not sure why, it's just another part of the reading process to try to talk about it and reach out with your mind and other directions to make sense of it.

Stephanie Reents: It's such an interesting question. One immediate reaction I have is that I'm a creative writer in an English department, and that's always a little bit of a thorny relationship. I had a lot of anxiety about writing this book because I'm very much not a literary critic and that's how I position the book—that this isn't a work of literary criticism. So on one hand I made a very conscious choice that I wasn't going to read any hardcore McCarthy criticism in order to write this book because oftentimes when I read criticism I feel like it's like a foreign language to me. So there's that. A deliberate choice not to collaborate in that way, not to enter that critical conversation about Blood Meridian, but then to enter into a conversation with other books in other ways. For instance, it was important to me to look at E.M. Forster to see what he has to say about how plots often work in novels. Or to think about Franzen, who has a great essay on reading difficult literature and why he read a really difficult book at a particular time in his life, which helped me understand why this book had gotten under my skin. I think I was also in conversation with earlier versions of myself because, as I said, I had read this book so many times over so many years. I think that my quest in this book was in some sense to understand how I’d evolved as a person and as a reader. I had really wanted [at one time] to think that the kid evolved morally in this book, that was really important to me, and that was how I taught the novel for many years. But by the time I embarked upon this project I was ready to let go of my insistence on seeing the kid evolve morally. And so part of that conversation certainly came through conversations with students and seeing how they related to the book and what they had to say about that question. Every time you teach something again, you're really coming to it anew. That focus and attention asks you to perform a new reading of it. And the final thing that I'll say is that I did go out into the deserts of California and retrace part of the route of the Glanton gang. Being out there and knowing that my family was back on the east coast made me realize the weird choice that McCarthy makes not to really consider at all the physical circumstances of people being out in a really difficult landscape. Because I was certainly aware of that, and I had my cell phone and water and sunscreen and every object that I could possibly need. And still I was afraid. What would happen if I got lost? You think about those characters, the Glanton gang, moving through that landscape, and you think of McCarthy's choice not to attend to the physical reality of that journey—that gave me insight into what I thought McCarthy was up to in the novel. 

Ander Monson: Yeah, physical reality seems really important to both of your books and I suppose that's, I guess, to some degree, inevitable as a way to ground a book that's essentially about reading, which doesn't have the most dramatic plot to it inherently. Although both of your books have the same plot implied, which is why did this book get under my skin? What do I want out of it? But in both books there's a lot of movement between the physical location—like, Stephanie, in your case, it’s more. You literally use the word quest, and you are on a quest to try to find something out by moving there to see if you can understand something different. But then there's also a lot of movement back and forth in Kim's book. I mean, I haven't read My Struggle—and now I don't have to because you've done it for me, so thank you—but this seems like that's something Knausgaard is doing a lot of too—moving back and forth between the internal and external. There's all these descriptions of what you're eating in that book, having some tea, having some snacks, getting interrupted by your kid or by your family or by whatever else. And I wonder, is that something that was intentional in terms of creating a back and forth movement between book and life.

Kim Adrian: I don't know if it was for me intentional. I think part of why My Struggle was such an intense reading experience is because it's so long and it took me so long to read it. And so it became a part of my life. I think I just wanted to reflect that thinking about it was just part of my everyday life at that point, and now writing about it was part of my everyday life. And it's almost more or less coincidental that that's also what Knausgaard does. I had to write it that way because it really was a part of my life. But it also happens to mirror what he does in My Struggle, like you were saying.

Ander Monson: I definitely felt like it gave me the effect of reading My Struggle in a bonus way which I like a lot. And also, there's something really appealing in reading you reading, but being interrupted. Like you are our avatar in reading the book, in being interrupted by the things that you're interrupted by. And there's something very pleasing to that experience, the intimacy that that creates as a reading experience, which is pretty rare.

Stephanie Reents: I agree. I love the point that Kim makes that Knausgaard is writing about perceptions of reality and yet there’s a lot of artfulness in this. When your life comes in, Kim, when you’re drinking tea or eating cookies or listening to the sounds from the school that your son attends, it seems naturalistic, on the one hand, but on the other, highly constructed because we’re only getting glimpses of your life. I haven’t read Knausgaard either, but you seemed to be doing a wonderful job of mirroring what he’s doing, though perhaps we get less of your life than we get of his life, but I was still very interested in your birthday celebration with your friends and what you ate.

I think both of our books have this narrative drive. Kim’s choice to construct her book as a series of letters creates a sense of chronology and also a narrative arc. As a fiction writer, I knew I also needed to figure out a story to tell. That's just in my DNA. And so that was why it was important to go on this quest. Or to discover a mystery. When I was reading earlier drafts of the novel in the McCarthy archives, I came across a note that had been cut from the final version that I felt like was the key to understanding the novel. Later on, I realized that I had misread it, and the mystery wasn’t as mysterious as I thought, but I needed that sense of mystery to allow me write something that I knew how to write, to narrativize this quest to understand this novel. 

Kim Adrian: Yeah, I wonder if you felt like… Putting in pieces of my life just felt like opening the door and letting some air into the analysis. I mean, there's the narrative aspect, wanting to keep some storylike elements alive so that there's different textures happening and the reader can stay interested in that way, but I think the letter format really made it very natural to reference my own life. And every time I did that, I just felt like I had a burst of fresh air and oxygen. And then I could go further with the analysis without hopefully exhausting anybody. And I wonder if the narrative of your trip helped you do something similar? It seemed like it.

Stephanie Reents: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's probably not even just like letting the air in, but like giving myself—well, as you said—like giving myself oxygen to breathe. Writing narrative was definitely a more comfortable mode than writing straight criticism. I got a little bit of oxygen and I could continue on in the analysis. 

Ander Monson: I want to talk a little bit more about mystery. Like, I mean the quest automatically has a mystery. We don’t know. We're going to go find out. Kim's book doesn’t exactly have a quest, but it does have an antagonist—well, Knausgaard is also a protagonist, like in a weird way like you've got a complicated relationship with him, which you often amusingly deploy. You seem to deeply loved the book and yet you know you're happy to just like discount big chunks of it. And the volume that you just pan. And there's something really pleasing about that. If you haven’t read Kim’s book, at one point she decides to refer to Knausgaard because what are you going to call him Mr. Knausgaard, no; so it becomes KOK, which I guess you tell us you pronounce Coke, but it was really, really hard for me not to pronounce it cock. There’s also a leveling that happens by doing this. When we see you describing, in often very beautiful intricate detail, the things that are happening in your life, you’re asserting the edges of your life and experiences of that against—but not in opposition to—the edges and details of Knausgaard’s, which have been so celebrated (and occasionally lamented). I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about maybe about like I don't know your complicated relationship with him.

Kim Adrian: Well, I think the leveling was super important for me to get to that point where I could feel not intimidated by him so that I could actually write the book. And doing it in letters is what allowed me to get there. I mean, I do admire his work so much that for a long time I was just paralyzed and—like Stephanie said—I was avoiding reading other people's [critical work]. I read a few reviews but I tried to stay away from listening to what other people were saying about it because the whole point was to have a close reading [as] what Knausgaard calls “the unfamiliar reader.” I wanted to fulfill that role. His work is so intimately pitched to the unfamiliar reader, and I wanted to respond in kind, showing my response within the intimacy of my own life. And so getting to the point where I could feel not intimidated by him and doing those little things like "KOK"… (And I think it's hysterical that every man who reads that section or that I tell that to, is like, ‘But you would say that cock,’ but women don't seem to have the same impression. It never occurred to me to say cock. It's always been Coke. That was super important for me— to level it enough to just get the book written.

Ander Monson: That leveling seems really important because these are both Big Books, capital B Big capital B Books. My Struggle is like a million pages or whatever. I mean, you know, so we don’t have to. It's not a million, but it's a lot! The big literary man with this big literary book which is also the case with Blood Meridian. I mean there’s someone who has a legendary status in letters. Stephanie, would you talk a little bit about the tactics you deployed to feel like you could approach Blood Meridian? I mean, I felt like you were very much on the same level as McCarthy here, and I admired that.

Stephanie Reents: Yeah, I don't think I ever felt like I was on that level. I'm certainly not on Cormac McCarthy's level, and there's definitely a degree of hero worship involved in my obsession with Cormac McCarthy and with this novel. When McCarthy published All the Pretty Horses in 1992, he did an interview with the New York Times and my memory of the interview is completely different from what is the substance of the interview. I remember him saying something along the lines of “You know, looking at my boots is just one of the things I do.” He didn't say that. But that was my memory. I'm from Idaho and I was attending an East Coast college. And I felt so out of place and I so longed to be this very rebellious Westerner who McCarthy seemed to be in that interview, even though I was the polar opposite of him: a total goody two shoes who did everything I was supposed to do. 

I think once I decided to let go of reading all the criticism of the novel and engaged with the novel as it was, and did these crazy expeditions out west as well as reading the earlier drafts of the novel, then I felt, or sort of felt, equal to the work. It was especially interesting as a writer to read the earlier drafts and look for instances of McCarthy cutting out character psychology or interiority. I knew the novel well enough that I could read through the drafts and I could see tiny, tiny changes McCarthy had made, and I could put my finger on how cutting all of psychology or instances of foreshadowing made the novel more chilling. The thing about the violence is that you never see it coming, that’s what makes it so disturbing. To see him working as a writer and to see the choices he made as a writer, maybe that was one of the ways I felt like I was on his level because I could appreciate the work and craft that had gone into the final version.

Ander Monson: I'm also struck by the degree to your books feel like they're such intimate books—as I suppose books always are. I was reminded of when Alison Deming, my colleague down here, lent me her copy of this Albert Goldbarth book which is really hard to find. I was reading her book, and that but you know she's got her annotations in it. So like this feeling of reading her reading him was very pleasurable and intimate in an odd way. I don't know. I mean, I don't know if there's something about the time that we're in, where this intimacy felt especially pleasurable, because you know most of us are not able to see each other together in a room to have this conversation, for instance, like we have to rely on the screens. For those of you who have been following A Public Space doing these ead along projects where they have everyone reading along to War and Peace, for instance, this feels like a time where reading—and reading together—can be a radical act. So reading your reading Knausgaard and McCarthy like that may at first sound boring, but it's really not. It's definitely very thrilling and intimate and exciting in a way that I would just not expecting. And I don't know if I would have read it the same way, like, a year ago, um, or if that's just a function of like the time

Kim Adrian: I think that the close reading that both Stephanie and I have done in these books—it is about connection and it is about intimacy, this weird intimacy that you can have with a text. It's a very unique thing. And when we're all so isolated—even more than we normally are—by Covid, maybe that just feels more enriching than it might otherwise. I think there are just too many screens in our lives right now, and so even reading a book about someone reading a book, you know, maybe that's also a special pleasure right now. Especially if you don't want to give up books. If you have that mindset, that anachronistic mindset that believes in the power of books.

Ander Monson: I mean, it's a physical pleasure too—I mean like the size of these which you can see on the screen: they're small, they're palm sized right, made for the hand. And physically I find them very easy to read, whatever else you may be doing in your life, and I really appreciated that, and I think it emphasized that physical experience of reading the book.

Stephanie Reents: I think that's true, and maybe it's particularly true of this moment, that it's really nice to get to know the human behind the project. One of the things that makes these books so unique is that there's this melding between coming to understand someone else's book and also the act of revealing yourself to the reader. That's the whole project—it’s up to each writer to decide on the balance between memoir and criticism. As a reader, I really want to know something about the writer who I'm reading and I’m especially interested in personal details that inform their reading of particular things. 

Ander Monson: That ties into a question that showed up in the chat, which is wondering if y'all feel like your books fulfill a function that traditional criticism can't or won't.

Stephanie Reents: It was very important to me to write a book that my mother could read and appreciate, even though she’s not a literary critic and hasn’t read Blood Meridian. I think the purpose of this series is to allow writers to say a few insightful things about some really great books in such a way that anyone can follow your argument and the points you’re making.

Kim Adrian: I think my book was as much about reading as it was about My Struggle, so I wasn't trying to analyze My Struggle for the whole book. I was trying to do something else as well, which is to explore what it means to really read a book, what it means when you really love a book or you're troubled by a book and all those questions that come up with deep engagement. I think that that's a big departure from traditional criticism.

Ander Monson: Another question from the chat that I think sort of may take us an interesting direction is: how long did it take these books to get written, or how long did you work on these books? I mean, aside from your whole life or whatever. And I mean, since you were in your twenties, Stephanie.

Stephanie Reents: I think it took me four months to do the research and write the book. I turned it in a few days after my July 1 deadline and then I revised it over six weeks six months later.

Kim Adrian: Does that question count the time I was paralyzed, before I could start writing? I spent, I think it was the better part of a year when I wasn't really writing it. I just didn't know how to really write it. So I was just sitting on it and occasionally pecking away at it and feeling like, oh my god, that doesn't work, and rejecting each start until I landed on the letter format and then it flowed pretty quickly—I want to say nine months, but I'm not sure. I started on February 20 and I ended it September 3rd. So whatever that is. Seven months.

Ander Monson: That's pretty fast. It feels like, at least with Kim's book that once you found the form, then it sort of came quickly after that was that the case for you. Stephanie?

Stephanie Reents: Yeah, once I went on my quest that helped a lot because then I could organize the book around different particular things that I'd done. 

Ander Monson: So related, someone asked on like I guess how long was your relationship to reading the author before you wrote the book. Stephanie, you mentioned first reading McCarthy in your 20s.

Stephanie Reents: Yeah. I’m 50 now. So a long time ago: 28 years at this point.

Kim Adrian: Mine was much shorter. Two years, I'm thinking. I think I started reading My Struggle in 2017 and I wrote the letters in 2019. I mean Book 6 wasn't even—... That was a big stumbling block, actually. I'd agreed to write my book before Book 6 had been translated into English and that book just blew open the whole project—his whole project—for me, and I had to grapple with what I thought it meant in a way I hadn't expected.

Ander Monson: Another question from the chat is, were there any rules or boundaries or limits that you set for yourselves. During the writing of the books, I guess, aside from the timeline that you were stuck with in Stephanie's case.

Kim Adrian: I don't really know what that means. 

Ander Monson: I think this is from one of my thesis students who I think is looking for some guidance on possibly how to write her thesis. I'm like, how to keep your eye on the target, perhaps, I don't know if that's a fair gloss of the question.

Kim Adrian: I don't know if this is helpful or not, but for me, the only rule was: does this feel alive if I read it back to myself? Does this sound dead or alive? And if it sounds dead, just get rid of it and go back until it feels alive.

Stephanie Reents: I don't think I had any explicit rules for myself. I'm a very slow writer. So it was a miracle that I did this project in the amount of time that I did. So perhaps my one rule was like to just get the words on the page and not be so critical of myself as I was writing the draft. I rarely follow my own advice, but in this instance, I had to in order to meet my deadline.

Ander Monson: Someone else had asked—these are a couple of questions for Kim—I'm thinking about Knausgaard and thinking about how anger works. Like, were you at any point like angry at Knausgaard when reading him. I mean, I'm angry at Knausgaard even contemplating the idea of reading these fucking giant books. Did that come into play at all with you like tackling the book?

Kim Adrian: I talk about being angry, especially about the way he relates to the feminine and describes the feminine and the way he's so oblivious to his position in society and in the smaller circle of the literary world. I definitely write about feeling angry. I mean there's one part where I talk about, my god, I've read you for two solid years, I've been talking everybody's ears off about you, I think about this work all the time… And then there's this one scene in the seasonal books (that he wrote after My Struggle), where he describes the difference between old buses and modern buses, and he describes the buses of his childhood as being these funky, rusty, rambunctious environments and objects, and the new buses are just streamlined and impotent and feminine. This is the word that he chooses, and it was just one too many times, because there are hundreds of times when he uses the word feminine in a really derogatory way, and there are interesting and complex reasons for why he does that, but that was just it for me. I just literally threw the book across the room and left it there for a while.

Ander Monson: I mean, that's nice, though. Like, that's part of the pleasure, it's like you just liked it. Right. I mean, if you just like the book, that’s not very interesting from a plot perspective. But when you have a occasionally antagonistic relationship, and then you're happy just to tell us how you feel in a very candid way, it’s pleasurable, especially in the context of people having like big literary feelings about Knausgaard. And then you come in and tell us, yeah, Book Five sucked. And someone else had asked in the chat. Was there a point at which you felt like you had to do justice to the project that you were writing toward? Or how did you feel like you've done enough with writing back to My Struggle or writing back to Blood Meridian?

Kim Adrian: My intention was to do justice to my reading experience. I felt like if I could do that, then I would cover my bases with My Struggle because I had been so invested in it and I had read it so carefully, and I felt like I did have—do have—a really deep appreciation for it. But it really cowed me when I had my focus more on My Struggle and the critical act of ‘doing justice’ to it. That was not working for me. When I focused more on my own personal reading experience, then it just became a lot clearer what my job actually was.

Stephanie Reents: I don't know if I thought so much about doing justice to Blood Meridian as trying to convey something about the complexity of the novel. Maybe that was my way of doing justice to it. There are things about it that just slip out of your grasp. There are ways that McCarthy breaks rules and yet still writes a successful novel. And that’s part of the novel’s brilliance. At the same time, I’m aware of not wanting to be a cheerleader for the novel because it’s very dark and bleak and it’s not for everyone. 

Ander Monson: How did your books come to find a home at Fiction Advocate? I know a lot of our readers may be working on books like this in one way or another, and imagine that they’d love to know your stories.

Kim Adrian: I learned about Fiction Advocate’s Afterwords series from Alden Jones when we ran into each other on the train one day. She told me she was working on a book that was a mash-up of memoir and literary criticism and I was excited to hear about it because that kind of thing is right up my alley. Alden was writing about Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. (Her book just came out, too, it’s called The Wanting was a Wilderness, and it’s terrific—about Strayed’s book and Alden’s own adventures hiking, and also about how to write a memoir.) Anyway, I emailed her a couple of days later to get the publisher’s name, and then I approached Fiction Advocate to see if they’d be up for me writing something for the series. My first thought was to write about Lydia Davis’ work, which is pretty funny, because nothing could be further from Knausgaard, really, than Lydia Davis. But Brian (the publisher) told me they already had a list of about thirty or forty books, and he’d like me to take a look at it to see if any of those titles held any interest for me. I did, and while I liked some of the books, I didn’t love any of them enough to write a whole book. So I emailed him back to say, thanks, but I guess this isn’t going to work, and then, I think as a PS, I mentioned that I was reading My Struggle, and that I could see writing about that. He was excited about the idea and we moved forward from there.

Stephanie Reents: I got to know Brian when he was the book review editor at The Rumpus, and I was trying my hand at writing reviews. When he moved on to Fiction Advocate, I got a message from him asking whether I’d be interested in contributing to the Afterwords Series. I jumped at the chance, and even though I’d just finished teaching Blood Meridian to a group of first-year students and swore I’d never teach the book again, when I looked at the list of books and saw Blood Meridian among them, I knew I had to choose it. It was like fate, like when Blood Meridian’s narrator says on the very first page about the child: “He can neither read nor write and in him brood already a taste for mindless violence.” Or something like that.

Ander Monson: I guess I've got one more question. We're almost out of time here, we're running a little bit over on, so when I was talking about this. I'm teaching chunks of this to some of my students that semester, and one thing that came up when someone was responding was like they had a very different relationship with the two books because one of my students had read Blood Meridian and hadn't read My Struggle, so they came to your books very differently situated. I wonder if you’ve thought about how whether or not your reader has read the books you’re reading might affect the way they read your books? Since I haven’t read them, I'm just like, inevitably in your corner. And I wonder, I mean have you maybe have you run into folks who've read the book that you're writing to and feel rather differently? Or is that a problem that you anticipate?

Kim Adrian: I would expect people to disagree with me. Some people would disagree with some of my assertions. But the question is more about what would you get out of it if you haven't read [My Struggle] at all…?

Ander Monson: I just, I'm just wondering about how the experience and this is not a question that you too can answer because you've spent a sizable chunk of your time having read and thought about the book. Or maybe it's a better question for people that haven't read the book, or people that have read the books and then read both of your books to ask them how that affects their reading experience of Dear Knausgaard and I Meant to Kill Ye.

Kim Adrian: I definitely had in mind two different kinds of readers. Like, will this satisfy somebody who's read the books and will it satisfy somebody who hasn't? What am I providing for somebody who hasn't read My Struggle? And, you know, hopefully there's enough there that gives you enough to chew on if you haven't read My Struggle.

Stephanie Reents: I think that the nature of reading is that every time you read something you’re reading it anew: you're paying attention to a few new things as you make your way through the book. And so I feel like in my book, I'm paying attention to narration and to some extent to plot but there are many, many other things to pay attention to in Blood Meridian. These Afterwords books sort of direct our focus in a particular direction. But you know there are hundreds of different directions you can be pursuing or a 100 different things that you can focus on when you read something. I don't think reading my book would limit someone's enjoyment of the novel, if they're just coming to Blood Meridian for the first time. In fact, it might actually free them up to pay attention to some other things—like if I’m obsessing over narration, then they can obsess over illusions or some other interesting pattern of things in the novel. 

Ander Monson: That actually may tie well into a point from the chat, a comment by Adele, that we can maybe end on for the moment.It's not more of a comment than a question. But I think it's an apt one, which is: “listening to you all reminds me of how I and my friends are reading during the pandemic, having trouble concentrating. So I'm dipping in and out of the texts forgetting what just happened and having to go back again. Sometimes I wonder if pandemic reading isn't just a screenshot of how we read in more normal times, which I think we see a little bit like in the attentions that you're talking about when we come to these both those books that you're reading and the way that you're reading in and out of them, not only an act of reading and an act of attention but a process of moving back and forth between the books in our lives, even as we're in the process of reading.”

That feels quite apt to me, and maybe that's why one of the reasons why I connected so strongly to both books is that I mean both that feeling of watching you two move back and forth between books and your lives and also sitting down with that physical thing in my lap, you know, a glass of crappy peanut butter whiskey that I bought at Target—which I definitely do recommend. The Skrewball at least, a dumb name, but don't buy the cheaper ones, like you're an adult now, and you 100% want to drink it on ice is my only advice.

But I felt very good to, like, you know, have this glass of very un-Knausgaardian liquor and sit down for maybe an hour, where I could actually just read something uninterrupted, theoretically, to the degree that that's possible. Let’s use that as an ending point and say thank you both very much for spending time with us today and to everyone who was here to be part of the conversation. 


Kim Adrian is the author of the memoir The 27th Letter of the Alphabet, the Object Lessons book Sock, and Dear Knausgaard. She's also the editor of The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms. [website]

Stephanie Reents is the author of The Kissing List, a sharp book of stories, as well as I Meant to Kill Ye, also from Fiction Advocate, which is the book we're talking about today. Her stories have appeared in the O Henry Prize Stories, Best of the West, and beyond. [faculty page at Holy Cross]

Ander Monson is the founder and editor of Essay Daily.