A headshot of Tara Ison.

Tara Ison’s At The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: An Interview

Congratulations to Tara Ison on her new novel At the Hour Between Dog and Wolf, published by Ig Publishing. Set during World War II France, the story follows Danielle, a young Jewish girl. After her father is killed, she’s forced into hiding as Marie-Jeanne, a Catholic orphan, in a small farming village. Although she only pretends to be Marie-Jeanne at first, the line between Danielle and her false identity begin to blur, even to herself: “But now the Marie-Jeanne me and the Danielle me have to be crossed over and doubled together all the time… I’d hate to get stuck this way forever, just because I blinked.”

While At the Hour Between Dog and Wolf carries considerable commentary about fascism on the global scale, the story truly shines as a slow, personal descent into what fear—and the promise of safety—can do to someone. With dazzling prose and deeply nuanced characters, Tara Ison’s novel offers both horrific tragedy and the possibility of redemption.

Told from the perspective of a young Jewish girl grappling with identity, Ison’s timely book considers that moment between dusk and night, the almost imperceptible shift into darkness, both political and personal, as it exposes the high cost of accommodation of evil and bigotry. Provocative, vivid, and affecting, this novel will inspire important conversations that we all need to be having now.

EJ Levy, author of The Cape doctor

Tara Ison is the author of The List (Scribner), A Child out of Alcatraz (Faber & Faber, Inc.), a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Rockaway (Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press), featured as one of the “Best Books of Summer” in O, The Oprah Magazine, July 2013. Her essay collection, Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love, and Die at the Movies, was the Winner of the PEN Southwest Book Award for Best Creative Nonfiction. She earned her MFA in Fiction & Literature from Bennington College and has taught creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Goddard College, Antioch University Los Angeles, and UC Riverside Palm Desert. She is currently Professor of Fiction at Arizona State University. To learn more, visit her website.

At the Hour Between Dog and Wolf is a thrilling novel, not just as a splendid read but as a deeply resonant work of art driven by the central yearning in the greatest literary narratives: the yearning for a self, for an identity, for a place in the world. Tara Ison has always been a writer I’ve ardently admired. Here she is at the height of her estimable powers.

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain and Paris in the Dark

To purchase At the Hour Between Dog and Wolf, go here.

We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Tara Ison’s book. This interview was conducted by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup. Please note that the transcript has been edited for clarity.

Brennie Shoup: Hello, everyone! I’m Brennie, one of the blog editors for Superstition Review this semester. And today, I’m going to be interviewing Tara Ison about her new book At the Hour Between Dog and Wolf, which details the life of a young Jewish girl—Danielle—during the German occupation of France. Tara is the award-winning author of a variety of books, short stories, poetry, and essays. We’re really happy that you agreed to do this interview. I’m personally very excited to see what you have to say. And is there anything you’d like to add, Tara?

Tara Ison: I just want to add—thank you, Brennie. I really appreciate you doing this, and I love Superstition Review, and we’ve been working together all semester. And you’re just an absolute joy, and you’re a gorgeous writer. This is really lovely—to be able to discuss with you. Thank you.

BS: Awesome! Thank you—I really love the book. I’m really happy that I get to know more about it, so… let’s get in. Our first question is—what was your inspiration for the central idea of the book? Specifically, the psychological transformation of Danielle from a young Jewish girl—basically telling lies to keep herself safe—to, as the cover says (or the back of the book says), a “strict Catholic, an anti-Semite, and a fervent disciple of fascism”?

TI: That’s a big arc to take a character, and that’s exactly what I was interested in—in trying to explore this story. I didn’t set out to write a political novel, although, in recent years, the theme of the rise of global anti-Semitism and fascism has become disturbingly timely. But at the time, that’s exactly what I was interested in: how do you take a vulnerable mind and… I think we’re all vulnerable—to some degree. But here is my character: she’s twelve years old. It’s World War II, and she is put in a position of… She was raised a rather privileged, sheltered little girl in Paris with her parents, and the war starts. Her father is killed. And her mother takes her down to live on a farm with a Catholic family and take on the persona—in hiding—as a Catholic orphan. And that’s an enormous amount of pressure to put on someone, especially an adolescent, I think.

Because, at that point, the sense of self and sense of one’s own identity… It’s still forming; it’s still fragile. And she’s told, explicitly, “If you make a mistake, the police are going to come kill all of us.” So we’ve got an adolescent mind—which I think is already in a state of vulnerability—but you pile on top of that the idea of what is at stake here if you make a mistake. And she does need to survive, and I think this is how it happened. I think, if you take a vulnerable mind and you manipulate them and indoctrinate them the right way—the leaning toward an idealogy that makes you feel safe, that tells you you’re going to be safe. That tells you, ultimately, that you are one of the better people in the world, better than a lot of those “other kinds” of people. I think, [that] can be extremely seductive. And Danielle, primarily out of fear, buys into that ideology—initially it’s just a game of pretend. But she does buy into that ideology and gets lost in the new identity and lost in that ideology. So, yeah, by the end of the novel, she has been transformed into a completely different person.

BS: Yeah, yeah. For sure, and I think—I don’t know—it was so tragic to read. In a really good way, in a really beautiful way. It’s tragic. I think it’s important.

And so, for our next question: What kinds of research did you do to get the details of the book accurate? Was there any research you did that you wanted to include but couldn’t figure out how?

TI: I love this question because Brennie and I are in a class together right now—that I’m teaching—called “Research-based Fiction.” And it’s a topic that I absolutely love from a craft perspective. I love research—I always joke—partly because it’s a great excuse not to be writing. But [I love research] because of what you can discover in the process. Even if you think you have a vague idea of something, as you start doing the research, if you’re open to it… If you go into research thinking, “Okay, I need to learn this one fact that I don’t know,” I think that’s a mistake. I think if you go into research being very open-minded about “I don’t know where this is going to lead me or what I’m going to discover,” you can really discover treasures that can help shape the narrative, that can help develop character. I think it gives your character a frame of reference. It gives you information on the life they live outside the limited parameters of the story that you’re telling. And I think all of that goes toward shaping and developing three-dimensional characters.

It also gives you a language—a lexicon. Because the world we live in, or the job we have, or the society, or the religion, or the hobbies, or whatever it is… Brings us into a world with a very specific sort of metaphorical lens through which to view the world. And a vocabulary. And that kind of attention to language, I think, can create a lot of texture in the prose. Because it is the character’s frame of reference and it’s the way the character thinks. But I think, very critically, it can help you avoid cliché because a character can be expressing thoughts, emotions, philosophy, feelings, whatever… in a way that’s really, really specific to the details of their own personal experience. So it keeps you away from the more generic, “war is bad” and “love conquers all.” It can really be more grounded in characters’ experience that way.

BS: Yeah, yeah, and if it’s okay, I have a quick follow-up question. So, earlier, you mentioned you were interested in the sort of psychological aspect of the book. Did you do any research into psychology, into that sort of field?

TI: Yeah, you know, I didn’t do specific reference into, you know, what we would colloquially call “brainwashing” or the sort of Stockholm syndrome of people who are basically isolated with their oppressor, and, ultimately, as a survival mechanism, begin to identify and bond with that person. I didn’t do a lot of research into that.

I did do an enormous amount of research into the experience of hidden children during World War II. And no two stories are the same. Some children were put into hiding as infants, and never knew any other family, any other life. And at the end of the war, if they were fortunate enough to have living relatives, who, at that point, wanted to take them back, that’s a certain kind of trauma for that child. A lot of it had to do with the specific circumstances: the age of the child when they went into hiding, the circumstances… Some people were put into hiding into a relatively safe, comfortable existence. Some were put into hiding where they spent four years living in a closet, and I mean that very literally. So there’s so many different stories. And it is a fictional story—I’m not telling the story of one actual person—but I really wanted to honor the experience by understanding the range of experiences and the trauma that so many children went through. And the lingering trauma that they have had to grapple with after the war.

And, of course, this is still going on: displaced people, displaced children, refugees. This is not a phenomenon that only existed in World War II; it still exists.

BS: Well, thank you for that—that’s very interesting. So for our third question: Danielle—or Marie-Jeanne (or, as I always said in my head “Mary Jean,” very Americanized), as she thinks of herself then—does something, at the end (I don’t want to spoil it) many would consider unforgivable. What made you decide to create such devastating consequences for her transformation?

TI: I love that you said that because one of my concerns when writing this novel was that it wasn’t devastating enough. That the choices she makes, and the decisions that Marie-Jeanne makes, lead to some bad things happening, but I was worried the novel wasn’t big enough. We’re mostly limited to the village where she lives. I was worried there wasn’t enough drama or enough big war stuff happening in the novel. But my instinct, again, was to make this a very internal, psychological novel. So I hope—it sounds like I hit the right balance.

Yeah, some of the decisions she makes, and the choices she makes… I think she has to face a reckoning, and I’m a believer in story pushing a character to a point of reckoning. What has happened in the story, what has befallen this character, that changes them irrevocably. And I wanted, first to Danielle, and then Marie-Jeanne, to be confronted with the consequences of some of her actions and some of her decisions in a way that would really force a reckoning, where she has to really take a look at what she has become and who she has become at the end of the novel.

BS: Well, for me as a reader, I was devastated by the end.

TI: [Laughs] It’s like again, good! I’m glad, great.

BS: Well, I think, as you mention, I could tell that it was an intentional devastation, like a good catharsis, when you see someone fall and try to get back up from that. I was very sad, but it was really good.

So, for the fourth question: The title of your novel is especially striking. As it’s explained in the book, it refers a specific time of dusk when you can’t easily distinguish dog from wolf. I love that you used it as a metaphor for basically the entire novel, but what mad you decide that it was something to focus on or include?

TI: I think… I love the title, too, I have to say. It’s long; it’s unwieldy. No one will ever be able to remember correctly. Someone searching for the book will end up, you know, “Dog books?” I stuck to my guns on the title because, as you said, I think it works on multiple levels. I came across the phrase—it’s entre chien et loup—between dog and wolf—is a French, idiomatic expression. And it means dusk or twilight. And I don’t know where—I wish I could remember what I was reading or when it happened, where I came upon that phrase, but it sort of clicked in my head.

You and I have talked about this a lot in class—metaphor can’t function as metaphor unless it first works at the literal level. It has to be organic; it has to make sense. Otherwise, you’re trying to impose poetry onto something. And it absolutely works. There’s a very literal, realistic moment early in the novel, where she and her father are walking through the streets of Paris at twilight, and he points to the sky. And [he] says, “Okay, we’re between dog and wolf at this hour, so look at the sky. And I want you to tell me the exact moment when day changes to night.” When, as you said, the dog becomes the wolf. And she’s not able to do it. There’s no exact moment you can pinpoint. And yes, I wanted that to be psychological structure of the novel—is that those tiny, tiny, tiny gradations of shading that lead my character from light to dark. I love that title, yeah, thank you.

BS: Yeah, I do, too. Once it was in the book, and knowing the premise, I was like, “Wow, this is doing so much work for the book on multiple levels.” I love it.

So, for our fifth question: Danielle’s transformation from a spoiled—or, as you said, privileged—lifestyle to a “peasant’s,” as she calls it, lifestyle is very difficult for her at first. What considerations went into depicting the different classes, or these two different class specifically, in the book?

TI: It was certainly easier, for me, to identify with Danielle’s world in the earlier days while she’s still living with her parents in Paris. Only child—I’m not an only child—but she’s an only child, rather pampered and over-privileged. She’s Jewish, but leading a secular life, as do I. Her father’s an academic. So there’s books everywhere in the house, and she develops a love of reading. So I can really relate to that twelve-year-old Danielle.

And then when she goes to live in the countryside, with, as you say, people she considers “peasants…” They’re farmers; they live in a tiny little village. They’re Catholic. She’s so disdainful of them. She thinks they’re ignorant and dirty, and their house, to her, is a hovel. She doesn’t understand how people could possibly live this way. But now she has to. And an aspect of the arc I wanted Danielle to experience was a growing appreciation for the hardness of this life. These are people who live off the land. If they don’t grow it or make it, they can’t eat, they can’t have clothes, they don’t have a house… And it’s incredibly hard work. And initially, she’s never worked a day in her life. She doesn’t know how to wash a dish.

But over the course of the story, as she bonds with this family, who have taken her in, and also as the scarcity of life in France during WWII increases… You know, very difficult to get food, very difficult to get clothing. The French had quotas of everything that had to be sent to Germans. Their milk, their vegetables, their animals, their meat… France was slowly being starved to death by the Nazi government. And Danielle has to really start working hard if she wants to eat. And she really, I think, grows to appreciate the life these people are living, and how hard they work—but also what they’ve done for her.

You know, initially, she’s so disdainful of them, but as she bonds with them, as she gets older, she wants to help take care of them the way she feels they took care of her when she was little. She doesn’t see it that way at first, but a few years down the road, she wants to take care of them. And that means taking on a lot of the responsibility of the household because these people are getting older. So, the paradox is, in a way… yes, I know she’s becoming an anti-Semitic fascist, but, in a way, she’s also becoming a better person because the values of the simple life, of hard work, of family, really start to mean something to her. Does that address the question?

BS: Yeah, I thought, even as I was reading, that it was an interesting dichotomy between how loving she was to these people. And, to be clear, I liked the family; I felt it was a very honest depiction of, of like a Catholic family, although I’m not Catholic… But I thought it was interesting that love was growing, even as her fear fueled how much she hated “the other,” as you said.

TI: It’s a complicated position for her to be in.

BS: And then… The book is from Danielle’s point of view, but you also include excerpts from her school assignments. This, to me, felt like a clever way to show readers how much she has to lie to keep herself safe, especially in the beginning. I think one of the excerpts is the beginning pages. So what gave you the idea to do this, and are these assignments based on real ones you found in your research?

TI: Um, no, no. They’re entirely invented, but they also feel perfectly normal and natural to me—that [at] the beginning of every school year, the kids are required to write a little essay. The novel is told in five sections, and a school assignment begins each section. How you’re describing it is exactly what I was hoping that they would do. Which is to act as markers for Danielle’s transformation because, in the first one, there’s the school assignment where she’s, as Marie-Jeanne, having to pretend, is talking about her wonderful life, with her uncle and aunt, who took her in, and she loves life on the farm with them. Everything is just wonderful. The assignment ends, and it immediately goes to Danielle’s voice basically saying, “This is all such a joke. This is some stupid assignment that I have to write for my new school here.” Again, she’s so disdainful of it.

So the distance between what she’s presenting in the assignment and the contrast between the real Danielle when we move into her narrative… It’s mean to be black and white in the first section. But as the sections go on, that dichotomy, that juxtaposition, becomes smaller. And in the beginnings of sections four and five, there’s no distance at all between the voice of the young woman—the teenager—writing the school assignment and who she has become. They become absolutely sincere and authentic. And I wanted to calibrate the novel, so each one of those five school assignments made really clear to the read—because they all jump forward in time a little bit—where we’re at with her transformation.

BS: Yeah, I agree. I thought that the assignments, you know, they must have been authentic. I was very much like, this feels like an assignment that a teacher would’ve given. And I think, at least for me, they do exactly that: marking her transition. And then, so this is our final question: Do you have anything you’re working on now? What’s new?

TI: [Laughs] I’m tired! I’ve been working on this novel for so long. You know, granted, I’ve done other projects, other books… I’d put Dog and Wolf down for a couple of months, maybe a couple years, but always go back to it. At this point, I’m really working on some new short stories. You know, a novel is so massive and overhwhelming, and as Henry James said (although I think I’m misquoting): “A huge, shaggy beast.” That there is something really lovely about returning to the form of the short story and being able to get my arms around it. A little bit, you know, in a different way than trying to manage the scale of the novel.

So, yeah—I’m working on some short stories, and I’ll see. I’ve got a couple of ideas for another novel, but I think it might be a little while before I’m up for it.

BS: That’s fair. I mean, I’ve never written a novel, certainly. And I struggle enough with short stories. Thank you so much, again, for agreeing to do the interview! I loved your answers.

TI: I love your questions, Brennie! This was fantastic. Thank you.

BS: Thank you. Well, it’ll go up on our blog and our YouTube page, so thank you so much!

TI: Awesome. Bye!

A black and white photo of Richard Shelton

Celebration for Richard Shelton

On Saturday, March 4th, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, the University of Arizona Poetry Center will be celebrating the life of Richard Shelton, renowned poet, memoirist, and activist. He wrote 11 books of poetry and established a writers workshop in the Arizona State Prison at Florence. He was also an emeritus Regents Professor of Creative Writing and a founding faculty member of the University of Arizona MFA Program in Creative Writing.

This event is free, open to the public, and available online. To learn more, go here.

An interview with Richard Shelton appeared in Issue 10 of Superstition Review.

Intern Update: Alyssa Lindsey

Intern Update: Alyssa Lindsey

Alyssa Lindsey

We’re excited to share Alyssa Lindsey, a former SR Poetry Editor, has become Project Manager of the Person-Centered Reproductive Health Program (PCRHP) at University of California, San Francisco. She started the position in February.

Trained in health communications, mixed-methods research methods and policy analysis, I am skilled in conducting research, managing high-impact projects, and communicating with stakeholders.

Alyssa Lindsey, Linkedin

Congratulations, Alyssa! We are so proud of you!

Connect with Alyssa to follow her journey on her LinkedIn profile. Alyssa was our Poetry Editor for issue 22 and issue 23.

A headshot of Andrew Greer.

Distinguished Visiting Writers series: Andrew Sean Greer and Amanda Eyre Ward

On Friday, March 3rd, at 6:30 pm, join best-selling authors Andrew Greer and Amanda Ward at the Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix. There, they will be discussing their creative journeys, their writing, and their friendship. This event is free and open to the public. To learn more and register, go here.

Amanda Eyre Ward lives in Austin, TX. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Sleep Toward Heaven, How to Be Lost, Love Stories in This Town, Forgive Me, Close Your Eyes, The Same Sky, The Nearness of You, The Jetsetters, and The Lifeguards. An interview with Amanda Eyre Ward was published in Issue 7 of Superstition Review.

Andrew Sean Greer is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of seven works of fiction, including The Confessions of Max Tivoli and Less is Lost. He lives in San Fransisco and Milan. An interview with Andrew Sean Greer was published in Issue 15 of Superstition Review.

A cartoon by Alan Parker. A strange and colorful puppet hangs from some kind of metal stem (possibly a plant hanger). It says, "How Mark the Marionette imagines Heaven."

Ampydoo’s Art: An Interview with Alan Michael Parker

Ampydoo the cartoonist is otherwise known as Alan Michael Parker, the author of four novels, nine collections of poetry, and coeditor of five scholarly volumes. Parker’s awards include three Pushcart Prizes, two selections in Best American Poetry, the Balch Award, the Fineline Prize, the Lucille Medwick Award, the Randall Jarrell Prize (three times), and the North Carolina Book Award. In 2021, he judged the National Book Award in fiction. He holds the Houchens Chair in English at Davidson College, where he teaches courses on experimental fiction, creativity studies, and inhumanities; his cartoons appear each Friday online in Identity Theory. To view more cartoons, visit Ampydoo’s website.

We are please to present an interview with Alan Michael Parker below, conducted by Addie Ascherl—one of Superstition Review’s art editors for Issue 31. Please note that the transcript has been edited for clarity.

Addie Ascherl: Hello, my name is Addie Ascherl, and I’m Superstition Review’s Art section Editor. Today I’m interviewing Alan Michael Parker to discuss his art. He is extremely multifaceted, being a poet, novelist, professor, and cartoonist. He creates his comics under the pseudonym “ampydoo.” Am I pronouncing that right?

Alan Michael Parker: You are.

AA: His works are published weekly in the online literary magazine Identity Theory. Thank you for talking with me today and I’ll give you the chance to introduce yourself, if you’d like. 

AMP: Well, I’m still ampydoo, Alan Michael Parker, and this is Addie, with whom I’m speaking. I’m talking to you from the historical property of the Catawba Nation—a little land acknowledgment, just getting that in there. This is my studio, so I’m in my house in North Carolina—upstairs in my house. There used to be books—there still are books—but they’re kind of hidden over there, because I went and did something different during the pandemic, which is I started drawing. And now I can’t stop. That’s my intro.

AA: What about the cartoon medium speaks to you, and do you have any inspirations or similar artists that you look up to? 

AMP: Oh, wow, yeah. The inspirations and artists, it’s a really long list. And in fact, I have one of my commitments when I started doing this was to put together exactly that kind of list and to keep it current. And so I’ve got on the Ampydoo Cartoons website, I have a page called “People Are Great,” and I’ve got about 100 people that I’ve linked to their Instagram or their website or just work of theirs that I like. And I would say probably three quarters of them are doing cartooning in some way, but then there are a bunch like I haven’t gotten to. I need to update it. In fact, talking to you, I was like, “Oh, dang, I should update my ‘People Are Great’ page.” But of particular importance, I have to think about that.

So certainly some of the great, most familiar names would be Maira Kalman, Gary Larson, Bill Watterston—I mean, some of the comic artists through the years, definitely Art Spiegelman, very important people. And I’ve taught these artists often, but just hadn’t made my own work before. And then people I’ve discovered along the way would be the total weirdo who was Abner Dean; an artist on the West Coast who I admire very much named Johnny Damm, doing a lot of political work. A person I’ve come to know a little bit and really like is the co-editor of the Comics Journal named Austin English. He just sent me this zine from an artist from Julliete Collete called Blah Blah Blah… Tara Booth, Liana Finck, GB Tran—these are all living, wonderful, amazing, working artists. Kate Beaton has a new great graphic memoir about growing up in Western Canada. On the whole, I’m not choosing graphic novelists or sequential art. On the whole, the folks who are moving me most are people doing what I’m interested in, which are these single-panel cartoons that are sometimes called “gag cartoons.” That’s the genre because it has a gag punchline, but I don’t know what else to call them…

What draws me to the medium, to flip-flop my answers to your questions… I’m fascinated by the combo of image and text that have to work independently, that unto themselves are already, between a caption and an image, a kind of hybrid genre, because it’s writing and it’s art. And that fascinates me. The sense that both the image and the text have to be independent, and have to further the ambitions of the other, in these one-panel pieces, fascinates me. That really draws me to the form. 

AA: Yeah, and I feel like, the fact that it’s a single page often can be an interesting way of, not constraining you, but you almost have to think outside the box.

AMP: Yeah. Oh, no, that’s a constraint. It’s a formal constraint. It’s not so far from, in that sense, the kind of constraint you have when you have to write a sonnet, or when you say, “I’m going to do a drawing of someone’s eye, and I’m not going to let myself change.” It’s just going to be the eye and then keep going and getting granular with the detailed, microcosmic, just getting in there as much as possible. I mean, there are formal constraints. 

I have all sorts of wack theories about the way cartoons work now that I’ve started making them. One of them is that I have roughly seven seconds to get you to want to read past the joke, into something else. I have seven seconds to deliver a joke that you get, and then that has to push you further. It’s a wack theory.

AA: No, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that makes sense. You have a singular focus that you want people to understand and want that to translate.

Another question that I have is… A vast majority of your comics have a humorous tone. One in particular I noticed is titled “The Mona Lisa from behind,” in which the back of a woman’s head appears to be much more simple than the complex Da Vinci painting we are all familiar with. Could you describe your process for making these comics? And coming up with such ideas? 

AMP: Sure. I can describe the process. I’m coming at this medium as someone who has a long history writing poems, as well as flash fiction. The sense of the encapsulated, narrative moment, the ability of a poem to create offstage, subtextual, and psychological meanings that are resonant beyond the denotative. They imply or intimate or make meanings off the page, in your head, that stuff really interests me. That’s very much part of my process and part of my goal.

The literal process is that I’m drawing in ways that are sometimes doodling, sometimes inspired by everything from infographics to pictures of animals to something that I saw on the web.  When I first started, I would put a piece of paper on top of you and trace your head, and then I’d have the rough outline. And now I’m learning—I’ve got like this much more skill [pinches thumb and index finger together] as someone who draws. But I’m trying to trust my freehand drawing, and then very much early on in the drawing process, I begin to work with what I think might be the narrative that’s implied or the caption I might deploy.

After the drawings are made, and they’re made in alcohol-based markers—they are my markers—as well as pencil and sometimes, as you can see from behind me, charcoal. Then, I scan them, and I have a pretty high-end, nifty scanner, and then I work in Photoshop. So what you’re seeing is digital work, and it’s meant to be digital. There are high-end print-outs, and that’s what this stuff is [points to the left]. My printer’s good, color mixing is good… And my monitor is good. I have good studio equipment, good tech. This is digital work, fundamentally digital work.

Having said that, I’m also interested in what it looks like if you put it in a book. I like the notion that the work is not as precious as poetry. I like the fact that it’s on Instagram, I like the medium being disseminated. It suits my Neo-marxist, semi-capitalist, full-disclosure, freeware aesthetics, shareware, cultural commons, kind of like, “Get the work in the hands of people who are gonna giggle.”

AA: Like fully accessible, kind of, I guess.

AMP: Mm-hmm.

AA: I thought they were completely digital. I didn’t realize that you actually physically draw on paper. I thought you used maybe a tablet—because, I don’t know… I just assumed, I guess.

AMP: I tried a tablet, and I found I didn’t have enough command. And I really like this mix of—and it sort of suits me—like, for the Mona Lisa one… This mix of the hand-drawn and then the Photoshop, the lettering being Photoshop. And I’m willing to make them, to sort of give into their DIY, self-trained art tendencies. I’m not looking to be Edward Hopper, here. I like the imprecision of the artist’s hand, the brush work being visible. I think it, to me, it’s expressive, it communicates the brain of the maker. And that, in this art form that’s relatively new to me—as someone who makes these things—I find it kind of fascinating.

But I didn’t answer your question! There was another question about sneaky, dark meanings. Was that your question?

AA: That’s my next question.

AMP: What was the question about the Mona Lisa then? Oh, about the concepts—where the concepts come from. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, drawings first. Captions second. There. I think because I’ve been a writer for a billion years—because I’m old—that the captions feel much more fungible. Like I could throw them out and try another one. I’ll write thirty captions in my head or take ten in my sketchbook, with each drawing. And I’ll run them by my partner, and she’ll say, “No, no, no, no, no.” Well, she likes saying “yes” to the captions, but they all stink so she’s right.

At some point, that helps me get there. I am interested in the least number of words. That is a goal. Sometimes that’s fifty words. Sometimes it’s four. Or two.

AA: Okay. Interesting. Yeah, going on to the next…

AMP: Sorry, I read ahead in the lecture! Sorry.

AA: No, it’s all good! A vast majority of them are humorous, with one-liners that accompany the images. But some do have a seemingly darker nature, I noticed. I couldn’t help but feel as if… The comic in particular, “How Mark the Marionette imagines Heaven”—it’s almost cynical, with the perspective, in my eyes, of the puppet being controlled. What are your intentions with these more cynical perspectives?

AMP: Well, if you let me share the screen, I’ll show Mark and talk to you about it. Can you make me co-host for a second? Know how to do that?

AA: I believe so. Did that work?

AMP: Yeah! I think that worked. Okay, so… You have Mark now?

AA: Yes.

AMP: Great! So, first of all… It’s just a really scary, shitty moment in history. And it’s pretty hard for me to simply make humorous work, despite my deep interest in comedy, and not think harder about the scariness. Not want some element of that… Or inevitably, just simply have some element of that out me. Sometimes I do think that kind of content outs the artist, rather than the artist names the content.

I had to wrestle a lot with this. It’s one of those things that, if I were 20 years old, I’d be up till four in the morning with the candle burning. And I’d be staring at it and saying, “What does this mean? How can I make jokes? People are really, really not happy. There’s a pandemic! What does this mean? What does this mean?” And one of the things I’ve come to understand is that there’s an honored tradition in literature, certainly, of the fool—as well as the court jester—and the way in which those people speak truth to sadness and truth to power. While being funny. And without full-on satirical novels—which I have written in the past—this form lets me speak truth to sadness, speak truth to power.

“Mark the Marionette…” So, he gets to hang there without any strings. That might be heavenly for a marionette; that’s possible. But also, he doesn’t get to walk around, and, in fact, being free of the strings, he still needs something to hold him up. So the ambiguity of that, which I think is in his physical gestures and also the fact that this is what he’s imagining to be Heaven… As in, he’s not imagining anything where… He can’t imagine walking around. He can imagine being without strings. So maybe it’s a failure of Mark the Marionette’s imagination. Maybe it’s a comment on that, in some ways. It’s also kind of just… creepy-sad for our Marky-Mark.

AA: Yeah, no, I like this because it’s not obvious, I guess. I really had to think about it, so… Which is interesting because it’s so—such a short line.

AMP: Yeah! It’s one sentence. It’s a very apparently simple drawing of a puppet, colors, hanging on a—I don’t know—a plant stand? I don’t even know what that is. But he’s hanging. And I’m glad that the simplicity of it is what’s drawing you in. Because that’s very much my goal.

AA: Yeah, it very much does. You think it’s supposed to be easy to come up with the idea.

AMP: I don’t really do easy. I love the notion that things look easy, and as a result you get sucked into them. And when you get into them, the ideas are hard. That tends to be my jam.

AA: It definitely reflects, so that’s good.

AMP: Good! Shall we stop sharing? We stop shared. We’re back.

AA: Oh yeah. I did have a follow-up question. So what are some broader issues that are most important to you—that you try to portray in your cartoons?

AMP: I’m very much interested in gender. I don’t handle body dysmorphia and gender, but I think a lot about gender. I’ve done some gender studies scholarship. I think a lot about misogyny and sexism. I’m playing hard with identity issues that I usually give to animals, or I give to humans looking at animals or animals looking at humans. Most of the political stuff that happens in my work happens between cross-species. Some of that has to do with my own feelings about appropriation and being a cishet white guy and not believing that I could represent experiences that are so distinct from my own that I’m bullshitting to try to make my neoliberal cause somehow.

But some of it, too, is that I just love funky animals. I’m turning funny, funky animals into… I’m not differentiating people or animals by physical signifiers. There aren’t white animals or Black animals or Latinx animals. It’s not George Orwell… But I really think that animals give me a good way into sociology and into social practice. And also into questions about how screwy people are. Which is probably my subject. I think it’s just, ultimately, just like, “People are screwy.” So my job is to show that.

AA: Yeah. Well, that kind of did go into my next question. A lot of your drawings, the subjects are often animals. There’s one I noticed, “Have we met?” It’s the name of a cartoon picturing a giraffe face-to-face with a lamppost—with similar height and stature. And then, I guess, you did go into your inspiration for this anthropomorphism idea and theme. Yeah. Is there anything more you’d like to say about the animals interacting with human-made objects?

AMP: Yeah, so… Pretty clearly the giraffe, here, is looking kind of surprised, I think. I hope. By the “cousin” that the giraffe has just met. One of my goals in this is actually make you believe that the giraffe is asking the question when it could also be the lamppost asking the question. And that’s part of the wackiness, of my humor—is that I don’t want to say. It’s not, “Have we met?” said the giraffe to the lamppost—or vice versa. And the anthropomorphism lets me do that and lets me think hard about the physical world, that very often objects in my cartoons are sentient. There’s a kind of animism to them, if you want to think about them in religious terms, which is that they have souls. They have thoughts. And again it’s an excuse for me to talk about how screwy people are.

So I think that, for example, in this the affinity between them—which is clearly physical, the color rhyme that happens, the relationship between their bodies—is all there. And then maybe you go a little further and you say, “Wait a minute, what is the giraffe doing there? Why do we have this? What is this scenario, that gets a giraffe—not in a zoo or in its natural…” You know, and there’s sort of this creeping eco-thing that might be underneath there about animals and technology. Any number of things that I’m also not going to explain. Just let ’em be screwy. I love the absurd, just deeply… My students will tell you—so much so, that I am completely irritating.

AA: It’s another example of the simplicity being… I’m not sure the word, but, you know—you think it’s simple, and then you get confused it’s not as simple as it may seem.

AMP: Yeah. And then may you have a take. So do you think the giraffe is asking it? Do you think the lamp is asking it? Which one?

AA: Right.

AMP: No, I’m really asking you.

AA: I don’t know. When I first saw it, it’s very much, with the text being in the middle, with the two on both sides… It comes across like it could be either. So I agree. But it’s confusing.

AMP: Yeah, who’s saying it? And why? It’s often very much—that’s very much a response to my cartoons. People go, “Why?”

AA: Yeah. Going into the idea—as you said—of the absurd that you like to incorporate into your work… You have a section on your website called “Weirder Earth,” and it deals with ideas like that—that throw all logic out the window, dealing with the absurd. What is your creative process for generating your work in that area? Or just your more absurd ideas?

AMP: Well, I teach a class in experimental fiction writing. And one of the first times I taught the class, I tried to come up with a motto for the class. I just taught it this last semester, but the time before, the motto for that semester was, “Throw a pineapple at it.” Wait, you don’t know what to do? Throw a pineapple at it. My ambition for the weirder-er work is an ambition that persists, and I think, in fact, is getting even more central to the cartoons that I’ve been making. Which is… Go as weird as you can, Parker. Like, what are you doing? Trust it.

And trust the fact that no one really wants my autobiography. I’ve said this before, in other contexts. I go to work; I teach my class; I go to the grocery store (I love to cook, so I’ll buy fresh stuff); I’ll cook dinner; I’ll go home; I’ll read; I’ll watch a hockey game; I do my homework. I do it again. And what I trust is my imagination as a distinctive—as one of the most distinctive qualities that I own—that I have, my characteristic. That’s my bling. And weirder-er is even more so. So I’m trying to get weirder-er. I’m not actually naming it and saying, “Okay, these are weird. I admit it.” I’m actually trying to go beyond those and just trust it. And I think that the artist’s obligation—for me—it’s the inner freak. That’s who I want to be on my cartoons. I want to share the inner freak.

AA: I think it’s very much an exercise because of… Kids are also drawing in art—creative ideas and imagination. And as you grow up, you have a disconnect with it. It’s very interesting… It’s hard, but it definitely shines through in your work.

AMP: Cool! What kind of work do you do? You’re the Art Editor for this super-duper review.

AA: I have an art minor, so I do… I’m in a figure-drawing class right now. That’s really hard.

AMP: Yeah, I’m doing that, too! I’ve never done it in my life. I’ve done it now five or six times. Once a week. It’s hard!

AA: It’s so hard. I just always strayed away from drawing entire bodies because it’s scary. Because if you’re not good at it—if you don’t have practice with it, you’re not good at it. I was just used to drawing, you know, the face. That’s the easiest. Everybody draws that first. So definitely that’s an exercise in and of itself. I need to look at a person and understand, like, how to translate that into methods where you view it.

AMP: Yeah.

AA: It feels like a mental workout. But you can definitely see the results. As I keep working on it, yeah.

AMP: As I say, I’m getting better like this [pinches thumb and index finger together]. I don’t know if you feel that way. It’s like, “Look at that little square on the leg!” That’s like, I did something! And the rest of it sucks. It’s so hard. It’s really gratifying how hard it is, I find. In a weird, kind of perverse way for me. Because… I know how to type. I teach typing. Okay, writing. But I know how to fix—like, I can fix your cover letter. I can fix a poem, within limits. I’m not promising greatness, but I can fix problems. I can’t do that in figure drawing. I can’t fix drawing! It’s remarkably frustrating. And then I’m like, “That was totally fun!” And it’s a complete fail.

AA: Yeah. You can know that something’s wrong, but it’s hard to know why. Like I’ve been struggling with the proportion of legs, but I don’t know why they’re wrong. I just know that they look wrong. Those were all the questions I had for you! Thank you so much.

The cover of "Nothing Follows," by Lan P. Duong.

Lan P. Duong’s Nothing Follows

In Nothing Follows, published by Texas Tech University Press, Lan P. Duong explores the girlhood of Vietnamese refugees through government documents, memoir, and poetry. Their sanctuary in the US, however, is questionable in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and they face racism, objectification, and violence.

Lan P. Duong is Associate Professor in Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Her research areas include Feminist Film Theory, Postcolonial Literature, Asian American Cinema, and Genre Studies. She is the author of Treacherous Subjects: Gender, Culture, and Trans-Vietnamese Feminism (Temple University Press, 2012). Duong’s creative works have appeared in Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and ProseBold Words: Asian American Writing to Span the CenturiesTilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American WritingFrontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, and Crab Orchard Review. She lives in Pasadena, California. To learn more, visit her website.

Lan P. Duong’s debut collection is forthcoming April, 2023, but you can pre-order it here.

Nothing Follows is part of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network Series, an on-going project to “foster dialogue and understanding by supporting contemporary Vietnamese and Southeast Asian authors whose rich and complex stories need to be championed and heard. It supports a range of works including novels, memoirs, poetry, anthologies, and graphic novels.” DVAN‘s first book in the series is Abbigail Rosewood’s Constellations of Eve.

DVAN is also open to manuscript submissions until March 31st.

Jenny Wu’s Solo Exhibition at Morton Fine Art

Jenny Wu’s Solo Exhibition at Morton Fine Art

We are ecstatic about Jenny Wu’s solo exhibition Ai Yo! at Morton Fine Art in Washington, D.C. featuring her sculptural paintings. Wu’s work combines latex paint and resin on wood panels to explore “tactility, in-betweenness, embodiedness, and construction,” an approach she has been refining for nearly a decade.

To view more pieces from Ai Yo! and read about Wu’s process for creating her artwork, visit the exhibition page. The exhibition opened on February 8th and is viewable until March 8th. Gallery hours are appointment only. Information about pricing and appointments for in-person viewing is available by contacting info@mortonfineart.com

Jenny Wu’s art and upcoming exhibitions can be found on her website. Her sculptural paintings were featured in issue 30.

Terese Svoboda’s Dog On Fire: An Interview

At turns hilariously absurd and gut-wrenchingly heartfelt, Terese Svoboda’s Dog on Fire, published by the University of Nebraska Press, defies genre. Svoboda juggles comedy, mystery, tragedy, horror—and masters them all. The book follows a recently-divorced woman grieving the mysterious and early death of her estranged brother. Her unusual circumstances lead her to move back to her small Midwestern home town, where everything and anything she does creates ripples of rumor. There, she confronts perilous Halloween parties, Jell-O inventions, guns, grave-diggers, and, of course, dogs on fire.

With rich prose more reminiscent of poetry, Svoboda’s characters burst from the page. One “harbors streaks of shyness the way bacon is streaked, between boldnesses,” while another drags “nothing out of this primordial water and [tries] to turn it inside out, into a something.” They’re as compelling and unforgettable as they are human.

At its heart, though, Dog on Fire is about two women struggling to find themselves—and overcome their mistrust of each other—when someone they love has died and their worlds seem to be falling apart.

Tense, poignant, urgent, and at times scathing, with Dog on Fire Svoboda has performed the astonishing dual feat of writing what could be called a contemporary Dust Bowl Gothic novel and creating a pitch-perfect work depicting the feelings of rage, grief, and isolation that come with losing a loved one. Without a doubt, Dog on Fire is Svoboda at her finest.

Rone Shavers, author of Silverfish

Terese Svoboda has written 20 books—including Cannibal, which won the Bobst Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association First Fiction Prize, and Tin God, which was a John Gardner Fiction book Award Finalist. She has won the Iowa Prize for poetry, an NEH grant for translation, the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, a Jerome Foundation prize for video, the O. Henry award for the short story, and a Pushcart Prize for the essay. She is a three time winner of the New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, and has been awarded Headlands, James Merrill, Hawthornden, Hermitage, Yaddo, McDowell, and Bellagio residencies. To learn more, visit her website.

Dog on Fire is a blisteringly perceptive novel about grief, secrets, and the intractability of love. The mysteries surrounding one man’s death, narrated alternately by his sister and his lover, yield no easy answers in this haunting and darkly witty reckoning.

Dawn Raffel, author of Boundless as the Sky

Dog on Fire will be released March, 2023, by the University of Nebraska Press. Pre-order it here.

We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Terese Svoboda’s book. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.

Brennie Shoup: In your novel, only one character—Aphra—is named. The rest are given titles or referred to by
their familial role. Could you discuss why you chose to do this?

Terese Svoboda: I like to think by not naming the characters, the reader identifies more quickly with them, has no Jane
or Edward that he despises that might stand in the way of relating to the character’s predicament. Besides, naming suggests a familiarity that isn’t there, especially at the beginning of a book. You’ve just been introduced and you’re plunged into a narrative-of-no-return? There’s resistance. Aphra is named so as not to confuse the two female voices but I could have done without hers too—my fifth book of fiction, Pirate Talk or Mermalade, uses only unnamed voices in the 18th century—but to police that is a lot of work, and too arch for Dog on Fire.

BS: What were your inspirations for this work? Do you have any other authors or creators you look to when you write?

TS: A dead brother was the main inspiration, and how his epilepsy and death affected the (much camouflaged but emotionally true-in-the-book) family. I’m originally (and still) a poet and that’s where most of my influences lie, where words and emotion drive the narrative as much as plot—with poetry’s emphasis on accuracy and conciseness thrown in. I’ve always loved Russell Edson’s surreal prose poems. In prose, I would’ve liked to have written Self-Portrait in Green by the French writer Marie Ndiaye.

BS: Many of the themes in this book revolve around family, gender, love, hate, and abuse. Could you talk about what drew you to these themes? Did you have a hard time interweaving these themes, or did they seem naturally drawn to each other when you wrote?

TS: The world of family, gender, love, hate, and abuse—that’s the stuff of most novels! And you really can’t have one without the other. But I never think about themes. That’s for you, the critic. The sentence is my guiding principle, and seldom do I imagine much beyond it. If a theme coalesces around a group of sentences, that’s great. Words pack so much connotation that it’s enough to get out a sentence, let alone a theme.

BS: In this novel, you don’t use quotation marks for dialogue. You also go between Aphra’s point of view and our main narrator’s point of view. How did you decide to write the book in this way?

TS: I never use quotations marks for dialogue in my fiction. I don’t like to clutter up the page with a lot of symbols—they’re like cymbals to me, clanging away to remind the reader, This is speech, when sometimes speech is half-imagined. A writer should be deft enough to manipulate the syntax to show who’s speaking.

Aphra’s point of view came late in the book’s revisions, in response to an excellent reader’s review. I’m hoping Aphra offers additional information and complexity to the plot, and another point of view makes the narrator’s perceptions more credible. I feared that a new reader might not be able to shake off pre-conceived notions about someone of a certain size without listening to her side of the story.

BS: Do you have any novels or other projects you’re working on? 

TS: My eighth book of fiction, Roxy and Coco, about two harpies-turned-social-workers who now and then off abusive parents, will be published by West Virginia University Press next spring—and I’ve just won a prize (I’m not supposed to say which for another month!) for a collection of stories called The Long Swim that will also come out next spring. My second memoir, Hitler and My Mother-in-Law is, at the moment, longlisted for possible publication. When it rains, as in NZ, it pours. I am particularly grateful to university presses, especially the University of Nebraska Press that has published two of my novels and reprinted another two.

But stand back! My drawers are deep—I have two more collections and three more novels needing homes, and I’m very excited about a new novel manuscript I’m working on called Goose Girl.

Spring 2023 Writing Retreat with the Young Authors’ Studio

Spring 2023 Writing Retreat with the Young Authors’ Studio

Join the Young Authors’ Studio’s Writing Retreat this Saturday, February 18, at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus! This event is free and open to everyone of all ages. Beginning at 9:30am, Dr. Wendy Williams will lead attendees through nine YA books to spark their creativity. Then, attendees will have the option of choosing three breakout writing sessions from 10:30am to 12:00pm. After, there’s lunch and spoken-word poetry.

This event has free parking, free pizza, and b00k giveaways! To learn more and register, go here.


Unintended Consequences: Artistic Collaboration between Three Past Contributors

Artists Carolyn Lavender, Monica Aissa Martinez, and Mary Shindell, known for their previous exhibit Creature-Man-Nature at Mesa Art Center, have come together for a project titled Unintended Consequences to be showcased at Center Space at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. The project tells the story of life in Arizona through a combination of biology, botany, and zoology, all expressed in paintings done by the three artists.

Registration and directions can be found by visiting the Center Space’s website here. Their project’s opening ceremony is on Friday, February 17th from 7:00PM to 8:00PM Arizona time. Tickets are free. Beyond the opening ceremony, the group’s paintings can be viewed at the Center Space from February 17th through May 28th.

Carolyn Lavender and Monica Aissa Martinez’s drawings were featured in issue 9. Mary Shindell’s artwork appeared in issue 11. Learn more about them and their works: Carolyn Lavender’s website, Monica Aissa Martinez’s website, and Mary Shindell’s website.