February 2006

Elizabeth Block


An Interview with Kate Braverman

Thirty years after her first book publication, Kate Braverman is in the middle of a retrospective renaissance. Perhaps best known for her groundbreaking novel Lithium For Medea, her latest book, Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir, won the 2006 Graywolf Prize. In addition to her newly published memoir, Braverman has published four novels, two short story anthologies, and five books of poetry. Somewhat of a literary outlaw, Kate has written poetically about some of the most taboo topics and extreme women protagonists, while still garnering multiple literary awards, gaining canonical status in literature curricula, and having her works translated into Turkish, French, Italian, and Spanish. Like Kathy Acker, Rikki Ducornet, Lynne Tillman, and Jeanette Winterson, Braverman has stunningly managed to beat the odds -- odds that many female literary daredevils fail to finagle, no matter how talented and deserving.

I meet Braverman in Peter Maravelis’s Tai Chi class in San Francisco. We are “pushing hands” partners. Kate pushes hands the way she pushes literary boundaries. Even when Kate is told to follow, be still, quiet her mind, move in turn, she never blinks. Braverman just keeps forging ahead. She has big plans for 2006: a Frantic Transmissions book launch at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC; an international book tour; a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Lithium For Medea, with book releases and parties in Los Angeles, San Francisco, NYC, Paris and Istanbul. Kate Braverman is tireless. While most people burn and fade, Kate incants the urgency of a teenager, and she has only really just begun.

Why do you think you are repeatedly drawn to dangerous subjects in your work?

The conventional does not amuse or sustain me. I must have thrill. I need it for my work. I have a scientific perspective and recognize in a way most artists don't that we are living in post-historical times. It's a historical singularity. We are the event horizon. The ordinary laws, expectations, rewards, admonishments, taboos, borders, all the fundamental assumptions are irrelevant. As a character says in my San Francisco Noir (new Akashic anthology, edited by the above mentioned and ever charming Peter Maravelis) story, "The Neutral Zone" -- my most recent and most truly, shockingly autobiographical story, it shocks me -- "Human perimeters are collective background razor wire. We're too hip for that shit. It's residual static from a Baptist radio broadcast in Mississippi. Irrelevant and obsolete."

Danger and criminality are the most taboo subjects for a woman. This is forbidden male-only land. In my relentless attack on the male dominion of literature, which consigns female characters to be teachers, wives and nurses, I am obsessed with gaining entry to their citadel. I am a guerilla fighter and I don't accept the Geneva Code.

On a personal level, it occurs to me that my parents were marginal criminals. My father was a bookmaker and gambler. He committed suicide in 1979, just before Lithium for Medea was published. My mother's career ended when her misappropriation of funds was discovered and she might have been subject to criminal prosecution, but she hired an arsonist to burn the court sealed documents. My parents were "hipsters," which is a unique category. They hung out with black people. My mother was working in a brothel in Harlem, at 16, when my 35-year old father married her. When my brother wanted to join the Boy Scouts in grade school, my parents beat him up. How dare you impose that Americana bullshit on us? My mother was a proto-feminist. They were high school drop out intellectuals. They read the New Yorker cover to cover. Harper's and the Atlantic every month.

My mother was like a street punk with a terrific vocabulary, a real gift for verbal improvisational assemblages, a profound literary appreciation and depth. But in retrospect, I understand her as a classic pseudo-intellectual. They were Marxist, anti-establishment, anti-social, anti-Jewish, anti-American and overwhelmingly pro-gay. But my mother was also a pathological liar. Everyone in my family was a criminal, actually. Taxes were for fools. She shoplifted, laundered money, and took lots of drugs. She was 40 when I was 18, and she didn't miss the '60s. Believe me.

I channeled my criminality into my writing. My latest course is called "Experimental Writing: Improvisation and Related Criminal Activities." Writing is like crime. The page is about what you can get away with. We break and enter, transgress, autopsy the living and dead, rob, exchange identities, lie, confess, steal. The arts of writing and successful crime are the same. Opportunity. Robbery. Seizure. Con. Misdirection. Theft. Fiction is a form of fraud, the most elegant, exquisite and complicated forms of creative fraud.

When I got sober, I was 35 and living in my car with my daughter. I moved in with my mother. That's what got me sober. My mother lived in Beverly Hills. I was so intimidated by Beverly Hills that I didn't know how to drive there, I avoided it completely, took streets way south and east. I didn't even know how to drive to my mother's house. The woman next door, my age, would visit. She wanted to see my clothes and jewelry. I opened my closet and she gasped, "It looks like a halfway house." Jewelry? She showed me rubies, diamonds, the trinkets of her socio-sexual normal existence. Her history was defined by Cartier. I took out my Berkeley hippy beads. It was awkward. My mother liked me to wear rags and have my teeth fall out. I was missing a front tooth. She said it gave me character. I looked like a mental case. The more dysfunctional I was, the stronger she felt, the more secure and happy. When I got sober, I saw her make a cost benefit analysis of what it would cost to get me on track. Like half a million, psychiatry, plastic surgery, dentists, clothes, and she told me it was better to stay on drugs. Grunge was cool, ride it kid, that dope thing is working for you. I saw her make a decision that told me my life wasn't worth the money it would take to salvage what was left of it. I was too damaged, I didn't have the self-esteem to even fight for my life, much less call the LA Times or an agent or someone for a lunch. I wasn't equipped to survive. I wasn't supposed to survive.

Did your mother read Lithium for Medea; what did she think of it?

My mother loved that book. From childhood, she'd imparted (instructed, demanded, forced) the idea on me that she was the Grand Topic of my life. She was my gift. Her grandeur, her tragedy, her beauty, her saga was all I ever needed to ever examine. Lithium for Medea is completely autobiographical except for the mother character that I had to fictionalize substantially or she would have been a one-dimensional caricature on the page. I had to make a person out of a monster; I had to make her human. Lithium for Medea she adored. Palm Latitudes, on the other hand, was too difficult, too literary for her. She didn't have sufficient real intellectual tools. She could only triangulate her point-of-view from exterior sources, largely the New Yorker. When she read Palm Latitudes, she didn't have a clue. She’d have to wait for the LA Times to tell her what to think. She loved celebrity. When we came to Los Angeles, when I was 7, her dormant narcissism found a perfect medium. Narcissism is like cancer and AIDS, a killer disease, and eventually it did kill her. She lived as if she were Marilyn Monroe, that's how she saw herself. Larger than life, and so beautiful, men falling at her feet. She had a pathological sexuality and I came to realize she had sex with everyone she met.

Speaking of celebrity, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, the fiction writer's “true” life story seems to have more of a long-lasting interest than the actual fiction writing. This can often pose challenges for the way the writer is perceived and the public's expectation of the writer. Witness the barrage of J.T. Leroy and James Frey press pontification. Can you talk about how you have treaded the path between your actual fiction and your audience's and the media's expectations of you as a writer?

I never wrote for celebrity. That's a new phenomenon. It didn't exist when I began and I've witnessed it rise, flourish, and contaminate all of publishing. When I began, it was the book world. Then it became the book biz, then the book industry. Originally, I wrote because I had a calling and an obsession to make my uniquely marginalized experience and geography legitimate. Literature is the Ellis Island of our squandered empire's consciousness.

I wrote on the original paradigm, which was that critical acclaim of a certain order assured a writer of a writing life -- one would earn a living by one's work, one would be invited to universities and engage in dialogues about writing and literature.
The concept of art by a Los Angeles writer was not an equation Los Angeles was interested in resolving. During my 25 years of writing in LA, from 1971 to 1995, UCLA never had a LA based writer read on their campus. It was unthinkable, as was reviewing a book by an LA based author as a "serious" book even considered. I was writing books that there was no infrastructure for. There was a holy trinity for decades. Didion, Braverman, and Bukowski, but my work was not discussed. I was "referenced" out of existence. Most people have never read Palm Latitudes (it's so literary) but it is my Big Book and product of a fusion of the Spanish winds blowing in from Neruda, Paz, Garcia Marquez and the revolutionary genre busting work of the '70s writers and the edgy power of Punk.

As to public perception, I believe I had a "bad reputation" from the beginning. In 1979, with the first novel in English with a heroine on heroin, the subject matter leaked into the general buzz about me. Like Vollmann's Shostovich construct in Europe Central, I kept thinking it was a matter of aptitude, of mastery of craft and scale.

On another level, public perception came when I was reading in the vibrant LA poetry/punk scene of the 70's. I created an entity on the page that had nothing to do with the real me. She was a "tropical princess of danger" and I was stunned that an audience thought this fictional character was me. Then I merged with the persona I had created and we lived as one. My body was just a vehicle to carry the persona in. The persona, like an evolving I took over my personality, and for at least a decade, the primary entity inhabiting my existence wasn't me, but this other I had created. It became necessary for me to enter into mortal combat with the fictional being and separate our destinies. I would have died without this surgery.

As to the perception the media has of me, my "bad reputation" is permanent. When men engage in bad behavior, they're enacting the mythic artist's life. When a woman writes about outlaw activities, she's considered a mentally ill whore. This double standard has not changed in the 30 years of my writing life. The buzz is I'm difficult to work with. If I were male, that would be normal. But good girls don't write about drugs, single motherhood, and rage. The big issues are exclusively for men. Women are de facto denied the epic, because they are consigned to be wives and mothers on the page as they are in life.

Describe is the first work you ever wrote, going as far back as your childhood?

It was fourth grade. I won the best Fire Week Prevention essay prize. It was in the school auditorium at a special assembly and when my name was announced (I was already a pariah in 4th grade), boos resounded. I was given a little bronze badge. I kept it for years.

Which writers’ works have taught you the most valuable writing lessons?

Plath was the first female voice I heard, the first language in which I was fluent. She gave me language, as Teacher did for Helen Keller. The Beats were inspirational: Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs, particularly Naked Lunch. The daring. The Spanish poets: Paz, Neruda. Garcia Marquez. As a California writer, the Spanish have a particular appeal and familiarity. They don't have Hawthorne's dark forest nine month black ice problem, either. The novels of Paul Bowles. Lowry's Under the Volcano, Salinger's entire Glass family oeuvre, the concept of inter-related stories and reappearing characters still dazzles me. The explosive revolutionary writers of the '70s already named. Early Bellow and Roth, who gave me the concept of an intellectual interior monologue, which was a natural turn for me, in and intellectual. I didn't realize women were not permitted to be intellectuals on the page, or that being an intellectual would disappear from the cultural agenda. Tennessee Williams. Bob Dylan. Leonard Cohen. Early and mid-Vonnegut. T.S. Eliot. The French poet/war correspondent, Blaise Cendrares. I keep his Prose on the Transsiberian on my night table. It's dedicated to the "musicans." These writers were all experimental and musical.

You seem to have a very non-canonical and idiosyncratic notion of experimental literature, which is rare. And it reminds me of Ben Marcus’s recent Harper’s essay “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It.” He cites you as one of the relevant literary experimentalists. Though his article recreates an antiquated and quaint American dichotomy between competently crafted literary realism and difficult language-oriented avant-gardism, I agree with his assessment of your work. On the one hand, the establishment realists may be admirable technical and craft masters (but with very safe plots and stories), whereas the “experimentalists” often think that mere dismissal of literary realism entitles them the luxury of innovation. Yet, literature is such an old form. We are in the middle of libertarian (or is it evangelical?) social/technological times, so I would guess the only functional avant-gardists are nanotechnology venture capitalists. What do you think of the state of American letters given these perimeters?

Literature is an evolving form. The traditional regents of the critical apparatus stayed on about 10, 15 years too long, with an apres moi, la deluge arrogant contempt. As a California writer and a woman, the traditional paradigms didn't apply to me, by geographic and socioeconomic exile in the gulag with palm trees, and I as a child of the '60s, I actually came of writing age in the '70s. The regents of the old order said no writing came out of the '60s, that was one of the methods the Establishment employed for dismissing the revolutionary aesthetic of the '60s. In point of fact, the writing of the '60s appeared as early as 71, in Hunter S. Thompson's two great genre-demolishing books, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, in Didion's White Album, in Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, in the early work of Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise and Tom McGuane’s 92 in the Shade. They caused a literary firestorm. Hunter S. Thompson demonstrated that journalism was not "objective,” that the genre distinctions were vestiges of an antiquated order. Garcia Marquez appeared in translation. Plath was still chanting from the grave. She didn't really reach America until the late '60s. Translation opened the global literary horizons. The '70s were an era of insurrectionary writing that corporate America is erasing from cultural history, as we have witnessed the fundamental basis of creative writing being razed. When I began publishing in the early '70s, writing as a woman, rather than with initials, as K.E. Braverman (my first stories offered in that way) to Kate was considered risky, and promised publication obstacles of enormous magnitude. It was a boys club and it still is. Literature is only what men have written and what other men have said about what these men have written, with the same token, already vetted women disproportionately and occasionally offered.

In LA, the '70s were the era of Punk. Poets and punk bands were working together. The founders of X were students of mine at the Venice Poetry Workshop. I liked the rawness of Punk and its political edge. But minimalism doesn't sustain me. One reason I moved out of "poetry" and into longer forms was that I would rather explore an issue, digress and discover what I didn't even imagine, rather than chip away and refine a small thing. Gore Vidal said, “There is no poetry in America, only carefully deformed prose.” I carefully deform my poetry to give the appearance of being short fictions, essays or novels, but cut into lines, they would be poems. I have listened to the poets of the highest reputation and with eyes closed, can not distinguish a "poem" from an experimental, lyrical, cadence driven piece of "prose" and if I didn't see it cut into stanzas, would assume it to be the latter.

The technology of our times is of profound concern to me. At National Academy of Sciences dinners in DC, I've sat with R & D Directors of major corporations who have never read, say, Gibson's Neuromancer. Or any literature of any kind. We are developing an intelligentsia that can't communicate with one another. Scientists believe the voices of imagination have no information of value. Artists fear science, sense it is going to make their art forms obsolete. They are fundamentally correct, but avoidance of science as a lethal contagion is not the strategy I recommend. You must know your enemy to fight him/her/it.

I won't take on a student who hasn't had more than a liberal arts education. They don't know enough to appreciate the historical singularity of this era and without that knowledge, they can't write a book significant enough to matter to the culture.

What advice would you give to an unpublished aspiring writer?

I advise channeling one's creative impulses into newly evolving entertainment technologies. The page is its own kingdom, vast, mysterious and eccentrically indigenous. The seasons and climates, droughts and monsoons of the page have nothing to do with film or TV or theater. The fundamental lure of the page no longer resonates in this era. I read little work that must exist on the page, that understands the page is not a flat surface but three dimensional, like sculpture, and has a sound track, interior monologues, scents, textures, rhythms, cadence. Every word in every sentence must be arranged like offerings to a deity, with grace and deliberation.

Almost all books are now are published by editors who come from the sales department and literary quality is the last thing they seek, in fact, it's a negative. I would ask the unpublished why they think they must publish. This planet needs far fewer utterly mediocre writers and many, many more real readers. Reading is a real skill, like playing a musical instrument or being fluent in other languages. Real writing is not written in Standard English, it requires time, concentration, stamina, relentless concentration, solitude and examination. I would ask why not love literature by being a lifetime reader? Publication cannot be the goal or measurement. The writing life is like entering a monastery where you are the sole inhabitant. With the breakdown of the critical apparatus in the '70s, with the corporate takeovers of virtually every publishing house, one doesn't have a literary readership anymore. It is just the monolith of corporate capitalism.

Everything in our culture is increasingly designed to lead one to the unexamined life -- from the degradation of the '60s aesthetic, the revisionism that is making the great genre demolitions of the '70s disappear, as if Hunter Thompson, Didion, Robert Stone, Tom McGuane, etc. never existed, to the automatic dispensing of antidepressants, while alcohol, cigarettes, eating to excess and home entertainment become more sophisticated. It's never been easier to get a first book published, it's almost de rigor to have a book now, but publishing a second, should your first be one of the 99 per cent that doesn't make money, is exceedingly difficult.

The global village is a corporate consensual apparatus already shaping the morphology of the future. It's the culmination of our acts of omission and commission, who gets in, who is deleted. Once, a book critically acclaimed guaranteed one a place in the writing life. Now it's like a lottery. They'll publish anything in the hopes that one of the new books will be an enormous monetary success. Critical acclaim is no protection. I find that every book I do is like another round in a boxing match. I'm on round 13 now.

Ask yourself, young writer, if you want to spend 30 years incarcerated with yourself, engaging in brutal self-examination, autopsying yourself on a daily basis with little chance of entering what used to be the writing life. Do you want to starve, work at other jobs to support your full time writing, deform your relationships, and erase most of the world around you because it doesn't serve the page? One must select out so much to keep connected to what Lorca called the dark sounds, it's like giving up citizenship and voluntarily entering incarceration. When I came back from pre-collapse Russia, I noted (in my Time interview) that in Russia, they put their poets in labor camps. In America, we put them in limbo, where they create their own labor camps. Do you wish to be a resident of a gulag?

What do you think of the San Francisco literary gulag, oops, scene?

San Francisco has the greatest literary scene in America, no doubt about it. I came here as a 15-year old runaway. I went to the Haight first but noticed no one there seemed to be reading. They said, reading, you need to cross that there bridge and go to Berkeley. I stayed 7 years, graduated from Berkeley High and the University of California. Then I made a wrong turn -- again -- and went back to LA where I was completely trapped. I've found there are more literary events here than in New York City and they tend to be terrific. Steve Dickison at the San Francisco State University Poetry Center is doing a fantastic job. The plethora of venues. Michelle Tea's Radar series at the San Francisco Public Library and the special events and tributes. Joyce Jenkins at Poetry Flash. Howard Junker at Zyzzyva.

As I discovered in my recent Hunter Thompson memorial piece, San Francisco is really a conceptual capital. Our revered writers, our legacy is built on writers who weren't originally from San Francisco and often didn't stay. We're a capital of a sensibility that is fluid and portable. Ken Kesey went out into America, out onto highways the cobalt of Watson and Crick on heroin, in a magic bus. San Francisco is a conceptual port. It has that port town grit, that trading route alchemy in the wind, that sense of mystery and contraband. I've already done the second life in remote rural America. I won't do that again. I need a city, even if I don't utilize it. I need to know it's possible to find music, theater, performance art, readings, and forums any time. The idea that I can walk down Polk Street, say, and chance to run into another writer is still astonishing to me. I think Oscar Villalon is doing a terrific job at the San Francisco Chronicle, in terms of space limitations and dealing with all the San Francisco writing appearing constantly. It's a city of neighborhoods and cliques. But I am new, without baggage, have no enemies yet. San Francisco has been welcoming. Of course, there's no critical apparatus here. I call it a city of 10,000 votives, each with their 12 devotees like a dozen long stemmed red roses and it's always Valentine's Day. The scene is electric, kinetic. What other city would surrender to a literary passion such as the 9-day extravaganza of Litquake?

What is your astrological sign?

Dangerous Black Ice. No, that's a road sign. I'm an Aquarius with Virgo rising and moon in Taurus. Year of the Ox. It's interesting the hold astrology has on the modern mind. But we don't have a modern mind, as a culture. We're still debating evolution. And that's America. Most Americans are religious and most believe in angels (72 per cent) I love the erotic nature of ritual and the aesthetics of it, the paraphernalia, sounds and smells of religious expression. But I'm an atheist and can experience aesthetic rapture without deifying it. What humans have created astonishes and sustains me. Of course, I have a scientific framework and recognize that since the Guttenberg printing press, books have had a 500-year run. In terms of the acceleration of the emerging global corporate enterprise, that's an extremely long time. Film will certainly not have another 400 years before being replaced by more interactive entertainments.

Books come from a period in our collective history that is no longer relevant. No one expects to write or read a book that will change her life. Bill Gates and David Geffen change lives. Writers with liberal arts educations aren't enabled sufficiently to engage the larger culture, to speak for it. 900. 1900. They just change numbers. It's still the Dark Ages. We are barbarians with M-18s, see-through underwear, charge cards, and microwaves. Why are you asking about horoscopes? Sort of like a mass consumer commercial break from a forbidden late-night cable TV drama. If astrology worked, Berkeley and Stanford would offer a Ph.D. in this field of inquiry. Do people still do that here? What's your sign?

Cancer, completely and hopelessly, oh well.

It is still of major significance in most of the world. In India, I would read the marriage ads in the newspaper: Doctor (with permanent US residence) coming to Bombay for weekend to find wife; Seeking woman doctor or engineer with Ph.D., 5'6-5'10, slender, bring bio data and complete horoscope to meeting.

What is one of your unfulfilled ambitions?

I just wanted the writing life. I wanted to dwell inside the writing, protected by excellence, recognized as seminal, have professionals do the interface with the big machine, support myself through my writing, be invited to universities to read/teach, read the work of my peers and serve as a reviewer and mentor. All my interests are creative. I do a bit of visual art with text and some sculpture for the sort of relaxation that a normal person must receive from television and sports, video games, Disney World.

I love travel, the ocean and sun, snorkeling, sailing, and seashells; I have transported seashells thousands of miles, from Africa and Tahiti. I must find them myself, though, or they have no meaning. Landscape has an erotic charge for me, a rush like a drug. I'd like to spend more time in Europe. I would live for a season in Prague, dazed by Gothic light in the old town, where lavender lingers on the cobblestones and it's never dark, just a lighter lavender, and Mozart is always playing and you walk through acres of Bohemian crystal and want to wear garnets on your fingers, wrist and neck. I have a sensibility that recognizes the truly exotic, rather than the guidebook version. Prague feels like an ancient north/south/east/west trade route city. It's a sense of contraband and fusion of ancient and post-historical. It feels criminal. I love that. We might just roam for a bit. I feel comfortable in certain terrains. Mexico is a place I could easily live in.

What are your plans after you return from your international book tour?

I'm going to Paris in April for the publication of my first born, Lithium For Medea [in French edition, April 2006, Lithium pour Médée, published by Quidam Editeur]. I always wanted to be avant-garde -- I didn't want this, actually, it was how the dance with the page choreographed itself -- but 25 years was more than I planned. Then I'm going to Istanbul for the Lithium For Medea and Palm Latitudes publication releases from the publisher Istiklal Kitabevi. The newspaper today is all about the jailing of Turkish writers. Jail them all. For much of my writing life, jail would have been a superior environment. I imagine the Turkish situation will resolve. I've been caught in innumerable local insurrections and acts of bad behavior. We had armed bodyguards in Egypt. We were taken out of Jakarta by alternative methods. Also Katmandu. I am not afraid.

Since moving to San Francisco, I believe Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein will protect me, no matter what. I'm looking for summer conferences to teach at. By September mice will have eaten my books, and I may start teaching privately in my home as I did for 9 years in LA. I always write poetry and essays, I'd have to amputate my fingers [cum William T. Vollman] to not do that -- I've considered this -- but I have five unpublished books, all my short stories are out of print, and I'm in getting the work out mode, rather than doing more. The personality that interfaces with the marketplace is completely different from the me that writes books. The transitions between these mutually exclusive and concurrent realities is an increasingly time consuming activity. If you're not on the A list with the 100 brand names and are just one of the hundred thousand, two hundred thousand other writers, no one will do the interface for you.

The 25th anniversary of the publication of Lithium for Medea is here. Bravo! How will you celebrate?

We've put the band back together and I'm working with my classic poems of the last 30 years with sound collages, percussion and guitar. I didn't think I could memorize that much, but it's come back, that ability. It's a rush, to be on stage without a book. I'll be performing for the Lithium For Medea birthday parties. I'll have a few in San Francisco, LA, Paris, Istanbul. My books are finding their way into the global marketplace. The first Lithium For Medea party will be in New York, February 12 at the Bowery Poetry Club. I am ordering silver stars and will personally stick them on the books.

Dan Simon, who reissued Lithium For Medea and Palm Latitudes, said something intriguing when he published Frida K a few years ago. Something about it being better that fame should come to me so late. I've considered this. Had I been given a ticket to the Big Time in 1979, as the work has proved to be of that lasting quality, I would have certainly died by drugs. At this point, although I feel and behave as if 14 years old much of the time, I do have the perspective to realize that this is extraordinary and I am thrilled by this first book, that it should live so long and so well. Then in 2008, it's 20 years of Palm Latitudes, the book that doesn't exist in any Chicano studies program, that novel no one could classify and the question of why I wrote it wasn't asked, though I believe writers, particularly female writers, don't have to answer such a question. For a writer to do their job, you not only get naked, you skin yourself and use the loose tissue for a sail.

I don't care about the details, politics, sex, hobbies, indiscretions or astrological signs of the artist. I only care about what exists on the page. Of course, in the new paradigm, what isn't on the page, what's on the cover or press release, the photos, the connections to celebrities and such are more exciting to the buyer than the text. I wish instead of graduating 10K a year certified by MFA professional writers, we were graduating 10K real readers. Don't writers consider the necessity of readers? We don't have a television. We read to one another out loud. The pleasure of it never diminishes. We have whole sections of books memorized. We ran into Robert Stone at a book festival in Reno and we began quoting pages of dialogue from Dog Soldiers and blew his mind, or what's left of it. I had coke and smack and asked him which he wanted. He said both. I was smoking my heroin then, "chasing the dragon,” and Bob puts the smoking tube in his nose. It was disappointing.

How long did you work on Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir?

It was not conceived of as being a book until I assembled it. When I won the Economist Prize (tied with my husband actually), I saw essays could be subverted, just as all other forms can be. I expanded the original essay and took essays I'd written for the LA Times and started moving the fragments around like sculpture or collage. I added to the essays long poems and short stories. After I won the Graywolf Prize, I rewrote the book completely. I wanted to soften the LA garish glare. It was brutally savage and it gave one melanoma and required sunglasses. I had just come back from Prague with all the Mozart and lavenders and rewrote it again. It's made of that plutonium material that fuels major long works that glow in the dark that lights novels and poisons the writer. My husband spent most of his life working with carcinogenic agents of the most virulent order in his molecular experiments and mutations. I work with toxic agents to write, the most dangerous and contagious avenues of my consciousness. There's an enormous risk in the writing life, to be in such intimate proximity to the most treacherous impulses within. Most people avoid even the thought of examining what is within. I seek it, identify it, mine it, bathe in it, sleep with it, eat it, and dream it.

Elizabeth Block is the author of the novel, A Gesture Through Time (Spuyten Duyvil). Her poetry, short fiction, art essays, and scripts appear or will appear in journals such as Fiction International, Chain, TDR, Chimera Review, Camerawork; her short films have been exhibited in venues such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Anthology Film Archives, and the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art.