JILLIAN MANNARINO: Do you guys like being parents?

[Palacio and Vaye Watkins laugh.]

 

CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS: That’s a complex question. Can we start somewhere softer?

 

DEREK PALACIO: I do, yes. Yeah, the beginning’s very intense and, you know, there was a period of sort of figuring out the person you are before you have a kid is gone and is not coming back and so there’s a weird period of figuring out where you are after that and what your new self is supposed to look like, how you need to be different to make space for a kid in your life and all the other things you hoped to have in your life. CVW: Yeah, I agree with that. It’s a pretty profound transformation so it has taken me a long time to figure out who I am now that I’m a parent and what kind of a writer I am and what I’m really interested in and what I have to say, if anything, about the world.

 

[Esme babbles. Palacio and Vaye Watkins laugh.]

JM: Would you say that writing is more like parenthood or more like childhood?

 

DP: Oh man. Probably used to be like childhood and now it feels more like—well, I don’t know. Do you mean like—I guess, can you explain that question further? What’s the divide you’re seeing in it? 

 

JM: I feel like writing is a very adult act. It’s not really something that—it requires a type of decision-making skill.

CVW: Yeah, I could see that. Now, also, at least when I was a kid, I was like the center of the universe and I didn’t really realize other people are as alive as I am. I think that takes us a long time to come to terms with the fact that like, our parents are human beings and that they have a whole history that may have nothing to do with us, and they’ve made mistakes and they’re shameful, or elated, or they have secrets, right? And then at some point you realize everyone is as alive as you are, but yeah. When you’re a kid, it’s more about—I don’t know— yourself, like everything is oriented around you and parenting is oriented around someone else. So writing can be, I think, both. It’s about you and your voice and you’re there alone in the room and what do you have to say and how are you going to say it? But, at some point, if you want your writing to be read, you have to think about someone else, like the reader. And you have to think about your characters and that they’re whole and complex people. So, I suppose it resembles parenthood in that way, that you want to expand your consciousness to include and be oriented towards other people. It’s pretty personal—the process.

 

DP: Yeah, it’s weird, though. And also, I feel like now that we have a kid, for it to work, I have to enjoy it more because the amount of time I have for writing is very condensed and so I have to find some joy when I do it.

 

CVW: Yeah, and that’s childlike.

 

DP: And that’s more childlike. You know, before—and maybe it’s an issue of my priorities as a human being shifting and having a kid and realizing how important my role as a father is versus what I used to think my role as a writer was. And having just been like, “Oh, I’m just a writer.”

 

CVW: What did you used to think your role as a writer was?

 

DP: Um, you know, like I took it very seriously and I always spoke about it in terms of work and getting work done.

CVW: It’s a job.

 

DP: It’s a job. It’s like a responsibility, but not like a real responsibility, you know?

 

[Palacio laughs.]

 

CVW: Like, actually, no one dies if you don’t write.

 

DP: No one will ever die if you don’t write.

 

CVW: No one ever starves if you don’t write.

 

DP: Yeah, nothing will ever happen if I accomplish nothing for the rest of my life. Yeah, and so that was more like scary because it’s like, “Oh, I’m touching again the meaninglessness of all this.” But, I’m also free to enjoy it again and not put all these other pressures on it because I feel all those pressures elsewhere in very real ways, you know? So, it’s more the responsibility of that you feel but also wanting it to feel more playful and childlike is good too. Or has been good.

 

CVW: It’s kind of like a question about how you write or why you parent. You know like, if you’re writing for external purposes and you know, to be like famous or to win some prize or to be adored by people outside yourself. That’s impossible to be fulfilled. It’s like a moving target. Whatever achievements you get, if you’re seeking outside validation for your work, whatever achievements you do get, the target constantly moves. You know, so like, I have friends who won the Pulitzer Prize and they just think, “Well, it’s not the Nobel Prize.”

 

[Palacio and Vaye Watkins laugh.]

CVW: So, there’s not really, if you have this hole in your soul and you’re trying to fill it with stuff from without, it’s bottomless. But if you’re just like, actually I’m okay and I’m doing this for me, or just because for me it has something to do with, this is how I understand the world and writing helps me pay better attention and be more conscientious about other people. It gives me a place where I can try on other consciousnesses, other experiences, use language in an interesting way and that’s fun and rewarding to me. So, I kind of learned that your reason for writing has to come from within you and there’s an outline to that for parenting too. If you’re worried about what other people think about how you’re parenting or you’re wanting—like our three-year-old does not give us much validation for the work that we do. We have to do it for us because we think that it’s worthwhile.

JM: I have a more basic question. Hopefully it won’t be easy. [To Palacio] I just really love the lack of quotation marks in your publications and I would love it if you could just talk about that. And Claire, if you want to jump in, I’ve read some of your short stories and, gosh, it reads like poetry. So, if you have anything to talk about that, in terms of the way that you harness that lovely lyricism in that it’s concrete images, but also concrete sounds, and how you blend both of those?

CVW: Yeah, sure.

 

DP: Well, you know, I grew up Catholic and in many ways, I think my first experience with language was pretty structured, very specific—you know, formal language that is put together with a purpose and shaped and edited over thousands of—I mean, it’s the Bible, you know. So when I think of the shape of a text, I think I always have that in the back of my head on some level as sort of religious writing and how religious writing is sort of put together. The thing I love about the Bible is that it’s sort of—and I was thinking about that when I was writing this book because it kind of deals with some of those Catholic themes—just the way everything is reported, the language, the dialogue in the Bible sometimes doesn’t feel like dialogue and you always feel that intermediary there. And there was something about these characters and writing them that I liked that distance and the quotation marks, for me, signify you know these are exactly what they said and this is exactly how they said it. And because of some of the questions of the book about identity and faith and the mysteries that they’re engaging with, I liked the fact that maybe even their dialogue would feel a little bit reported, like it had gone through a translation. I think especially with the immigrant experience in that book and the way it gets depicted as this constant process of translation and everything being filtered through some experience and so I wasn’t fully aware of it. But after getting through at a first draft and knowing that’s where it comes from having that sense of the lack of quotations is to always remind the reader, sort of, this is what they’re saying but there’s some distance there and none of this—what’s happening in that distance and maybe something is lost or something gets shaped differently in that distance and that sense of libel and the way that people talk in the Bible and the way the Bible doesn’t have quotation marks sometimes in certain versions.

JM: Fascinating.

 

CVW: I think of quotation marks as a question of psychic distance—like how close or far you feel. It may be actually the inverse of how you feel. I think of them as a distancing effect, like they’re basically like a quote in a newspaper article, like a quote means this is exactly what they said, as you say. And so, if you have a narrative style that has the objectivity to say, “Here, I present you with the quotes,” that’s staying a little bit farther away, whereas if I’m writing and I’m thinking of the narration as much closer into the character’s mind, then there are not quotation marks because there is a blurriness between their thoughts and what they said or what they might have said. But it is, in the same way, still highlighting the fact that this is recounted, or that we’re deeply launched in a specific consciousness so it’s not like a just-the-facts man with quotation. For me, it pulls you deeper into someone’s psyche and the quotation marks are more the stuff of journalism or plays, lines of dialogue that are real, whereas some fiction maybe is closer to poetry and that’s to go back to your question about using language. For me, every character should have their own register—the way that they use language will be different. So, you know, we see this a lot with multiple points of view, where you move from one character’s head to another character’s. I think they should have a different music when you move around, you know, or you hope the music and the language will convey the unsayable things like the parts of a character’s experience that they’re not saying, but you can feel it via the sounds or the images or whatever is evoked by the way you use language. So it’s a question for me of how deep into this person’s head are we? And that’s not to say that we’re 2.5 on the psychic distance scale, but it’s more intuitive. You know, I know it when I see it. A lot of times, most of my margin notes for my students are not that helpful because they’re like, “this is off,” or, “this is awkward,” or, “this is not it, because it just isn’t—it strikes an off-note into my ear,” but it’s mostly just feeling my way through that and reading aloud a lot.

JM: Yeah, no, I’m more of a nonfiction writer so the quotations are always strange to write.

 

CVW: Didn’t Dave Eggers say about A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius that he would have only used quotation marks if there was verifiable speech or if you could definitely say that’s what we said? Which, of course, we can’t really say unless there’s a recording of it, right?

 

DP: Yeah, I think there’s also with the reporting of speech—the novel was very obviously playing with mythic tropes, you know, and without the quotes there’s sort of a blurriness between the myths and what’s being said and that always struck me as something I found in the way that myths are told and the way they’re constructed and the role of the narrator in a myth and one of the few structural signals that this story is, you know, realist but is also supposed to be read hovering a little bit above that ground. This is not a novel that wants to be read as straight realist fiction, and that was one way of doing that for me.

 

JM: Fascinating. Well, more basic questions—who were your earliest inspirations for writing? Or maybe, who did you read and think, “I don’t want to write like this at all?” Which is always a more fun question.

CVW: You know, I wasn’t a voracious reader as a kid, but we had a lot of books in my house. We had one big bookshelf where all the books, whether they were fiction or nonfiction or research books or reference guides or novels, whatever, they were all in the same place. So I didn’t really read kids’ books. Well, when I was kid kid, I did. I read My Side of the Mountain or Blue Dolphins or The Boxcar Children books. I loved all of the books where kids were on their own and they had no adults and they were sort of just like urchins or abandoned in some way or orphaned and they were making their own way, which is probably because, you know, my household was a little bit chaotic and it felt like we needed to do that ourselves. And then when I got older, I just went to this bookshelf and read like Our Bodies, Our Selves or I would read a minerology book about rocks and minerals of the Mojave Desert or I would read 1984 or Animal Farm. I remember reading Animal Farm when I was young enough to think that it was about an animal farm. I think that I can see that in my sensibility now. For me, there’s really not useful distinction between fiction and nonfiction or books for children or not or highbrow and lowbrow stuff. You know, like I’d read Orwell and I’d read Tony Hillerman. I didn’t have the labels for a lot of stuff I was reading. I read John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick when I was really young and just sort of thought I didn’t know you could be so filthy in books. Wow, you know, there’s a lot of raunchy sex in here. And then, I would also read like Sweet Valley High. I think the first attempt at a book I ever wrote was basically Sweet Valley High, which is about these two twin blonde beautiful girls and they’re popular in high school and my book was like that but they had brown hair. And that was me reinventing the tradition of these kind of slight teenage books.

DP: Who did you read that you love but you don’t want to write like? I’d love to hear that.

 

CW: I didn’t like the feeling as a reader of feeling like not invited into something. So when I think of The Witches of Eastwick, I remember feeling like—I mean, obviously, I was probably too young and not really equipped to read that— but I also felt a little bit like, this person doesn’t care whether or not I know what’s happening or whether or not I know what’s going on. I like to be invited into a book so I try to write for maybe my best reader: the person who’s gonna look up everything, hear your references, and they’re willing to work a little bit more whether it’s with ambiguity or language that’s offbeat or defamiliarized or interesting in some way. But also for the worst reader: who’s tired and wants to do something else and just wants to know what happens. I think if you can attend to those, that’s the sweet spot. What about you?

DP: You know, I really got started writing the stuff that would become my book and the things I’ve been writing for the last few years in grad school after I started reading The Latin Bumachers and then also Reinaldo Arenas, who’s this wonderful Cuban post-modern fiction-writer but who also wrote this best memoir I’ve ever read, which is called Before Night Falls. Those books had a tone and then also a kind of relationship with the Catholic faith that was really interesting to me and that I had not read elsewhere before. And then that led me to writing about Cuba and being Cuban and what does that mean, having a weird relationship with a homeland that you might never have seen before. But I feel like lately, especially with Marquez and One Hundred Years of Solitude and he’s got that big broad allknowing voice, I liked reading that stuff but now I’m wanting to write less of it and wanting to write more of first-person. I wrote in third-person for such a long time and now I’m finally understanding the pleasure of first-person and the narrowness of that. I think it has something to do with that idea of being brought in. And similarly, omniscient narrators—I think it’s very hard to do that without at some pointing feeling like you’re hurting, you know, your reader a little bit and putting up these fences and you’re guiding them and sometimes it can be like a real light touch but other times it’s impossible not to feel it—and I’m finding, and I think maybe this is also a post-baby thing, but feeling like a total breakdown to any sense of wholeness to your identity and the impossibility of that and finding that in first-person voices, a first-person voice can just talk and confess and then disassociate and go over here and do this and do that, which is more revealing to a reader, but also in nice ways, doesn’t care and is not concerned with this idea of story, this progressive multiplying force that has greater highs and lows to more interesting effect at points. And so, that’s interesting. And then I’ve been reading a load of spy novels lately, you know, because they’re super fun. And I’m trying to remember how much fun making stuff happen is.

CVW: Yeah, I think when you’re younger it’s useful to think of writing as work and as about cultivating discipline and putting your butt in the chair and getting exact words in exact right order and reading just like, you know, voraciously, promiscuously, and all kinds of forms and, you know, reading the stuff that you’re writing I never understood why people are like, “Oh, I don’t want to read this because I’m writing in that similar thing.” It’s like, well, yeah? Like, you should maybe know a little bit about the tradition you’re working in, unless you wanna—

 

DP: Just steal.

CVW: Or write against it, you know? But I don’t see the artistic benefit of the ostrich and the head thing. Maybe in particular situations, at a particularly delicate junction where you’re hoping to let your own vision come through without comparing it so closely to somebody else. But when you’re younger it’s kind of a work-like thing, especially in academic programs, right? You’ve got your deadlines, you’ve gotta be serious, you’ve gotta take critiques seriously. And then for me as I’ve gotten older, it’s more about remembering the joy, and the play, and that there should be a sense of wonder, mystery, and that it’s actually really important to not know everything that you’re doing when you write. Robert Boswell calls it the half-known world. Like writing a story, and this happens and this, but you don’t really know what exactly it’s About with a capital A, or where it comes from. And if you’re lucky, good readers will say, “You’re interested in this and this.” Like, oh yeah, sure. Revise to make it look like you were always interested in that and that you’re so smart. But it’s really more about being surprised, or moved, or frightened by what you write. For me at this stage of my career, not so much about the more disciplinarian approach to the work. It’s more about remembering this is an intimate, idiosyncratic, mysterious art that we’re trying to do.

DP: Yeah, you know, that makes me think about the thing I’m reading that I enjoy but don’t want to write. I can think of a hundred wonderful examples of novels like this, right? Where the narrator – whether it’s in first, whether they’re telling the story from a distant point of view, and it’s sort of looking back on it and knows everything that happens. Something about that form – and again, this might be post-baby, this phase where it’s literally like I had to give up any idea of knowing what’s going to happen, you know? I’m not enjoying – or not enjoying on the writing side – the feeling of that, and the constraint of that, and a voice that is aware of the events and is sort of structuring the text in a way that reflects that knowledge. I’m trying to write towards more like, the experience of it and have it feel more immediate and not having that sort of knowledge and perspective fade away a little bit more and be less present in the story as it moves forward. I don’t know, I think that’s trying to get closer to something that I would maybe not add in the first book, so yeah. But those are all spy novels, those spy novels are written by writers who know everything that happens, so I don’t know. Yeah.

JM: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the – Mojave school, is that how you pronounce it?

 

DP: Yeah, sure.

 

JM: Literally anything you want to talk about.

 

CVW: Sure.

 

JM: Do you have any fun stories to share, kind of being educators for that, some things you’ve done?

CVW: Yeah, sure. I mean, the Mojave School is a free creative writing workshop in the Mojave Desert. So, ostensibly it’s a program to encourage and facilitate and give an occasion for a literary community for young people, for teenagers who might not otherwise find it. But it’s also for us, you know. I wanted to do it so that I could go back to the Mojave Desert a lot and that I would still be part of the community and like, that’s the place my stories come from. And I’ve traveled far away from there, you know. We live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I’m a professor at a fancy university and a lot of my day-to-day life doesn’t look much like the place that my stories come from. So I wanted to be there more, and also just to – I don’t have that many skills, and they’re not that useful, but I do feel really passionate about reading and I think it, I think everybody has stories to tell, and I think people in places like Pahrump, which is very ‘underserved’ as the euphemism goes – not a lot of money, not a lot of jobs, not a lot of cultural institutions or opportunities – and I think we sometimes treat things like writing as a luxury that only you know, the educated and affluent can do. But, it’s in fact an elemental and essential part of being alive, and being a human being is telling stories and telling your stories, and I think that the kids out in the Mojave Desert need to hear that someone cares about their stories and it matters to them. And that’s what I think we try to do with the program is just give them an occasion to do what they’re already – what many of them are already doing, I mean lots of our students have written novels and they’re really dedicated writers, some of them are trying it for the first time. But it’s just to invite them all together and see that there are other, you know, oddballs like them who wanna spend their time reading and writing and making up stories. So, it’s also just super fun.

DP: Yeah, we started it. I mean, we both had taught at a couple different young writers’ camps and um, but they may cost a lot of money, or if they are…

 

CVW: The universities.

 

DP: Universities, and they tend to be wonderful experiences, but also like, you know, recruiting efforts for the university as well, which makes sense. Or otherwise, if they are not – they don’t cost a lot of money, they are in like, really dead-serving areas because they’re nonprofit models like, “maximum return on the little investment we can make,” you know? And that automatically excludes as a result, you know, folks in really rural settings, which this place is. So part of it was, you know, you getting – going back to the desert, but also knowing that we did know some people there and that this is probably a community that could’ve, you know, might not, you know, would be a nice fit for that in terms of how they are, uh, not having access to those things. And so I think that was a, you know, that was also the big part of it, you know, we thought about oh… I mean just that idea, just that very idea like I mean, how do you – what – if we could do some good what would it look like, and where would it, where are the parts that are not getting, not, people aren’t reaching out to, you know. I mean that Claire literally said, “I wish I had something like this growing up in my place,” and so like, “oh!”

CVW: Yeah. Maybe we were sitting around, or like, teaching high schoolers at the University of the South during the summer, and I was thinking about my own experience of going to Southern Utah University to go to Shakespeare camp, and studying plays with other people, and that was pretty transformative for me. Like, I didn’t really know that that world existed, and it’s probably a large part of why I even went to college. And a little bit of exposure to higher education or just, you know, we’re professors and we go to this community for free because we care about it. It could, I think it could have a big, a big impact and it definitely – I don’t think it does any harm.

DP: Yeah.

 

CVW: And it’s fun for us, I mean, it’s such a–

 

DP: Yeah, it’s a great teaching environment, cause it’s so–

 

CVW: It’s such a breath of fresh air in terms of teaching, you know, because so many of the conventions of the academy aren’t, are not there, so it’s not so much about like, the power and the prestige, and making your professors happy, and getting a letter of recommendation. I don’t – that’s not the parent I am at all. It’s more like, it’s much more about the work there, actually, it’s like “Will you read my stuff? What do you think of it?” And they’re also, you know, just really feeling things extremely intensely, you know. And we know that now, you know, in terms of our neurobiology that teenagers are feeling things much more intensely than they ever will again. And it seems like writing is a totally healthy outlet for that stuff. DP: Yeah. Yeah, so we just did our fourth – our fourth session last year, and it was great. We had dinner first, a greeting in Las Vegas. We took them from Pahrump to Vegas, a little independent bookstore they have there now.

JM: That’s fantastic.

 

DP: They had a–

 

CVW: Yeah.

 

DP: Really, it was good, it was wonderful.

 

CVW: They got to go shopping, they bought – we told them they could pick any book they wanted, it was sort of, we always give them a gift at the end, and the bookstore gave us a good deal, so we said that everybody could pick out a book. And I mean, there was stuff from like, you know, someone got like Don Quixote, and then someone’s like “Yes, I’m gonna get the next, you know, novel in the series that I’m reading right now that I really want to get,” and, and everywhere in between.

 

DP: Yeah, yeah.

 

CVW: It’s fun. This was probably my favorite, favorite teaching that I do.

 

JM: That’s very nice. Well, I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about kind of the way that setting sort of influences your writing? I know you’ve touched upon it but if you have anything else to say and sort of, how setting informs identity or how setting rejects the identity, identity rejects setting…

CVW: Uh huh. Yeah, yeah.

 

JM: Cause I do see that in both of your writing.

 

CVW: Mm hmm. DP: Yeah. CVW: Mm hmm. I think that’s something we both agree on, that where you are has a large part in who you are, or vice versa. For me, setting is the – I have to know where we are before I can start to get into a character. You know, if I don’t know what they see when they look out the window, how do I know what they’re thinking about, or what they think at all? You know, so like balancing, I think you get to interiority by balancing back and forth between the exterior and the interior, and if you don’t develop the exterior then I don’t know what this person thinks. And then the plot comes from that, you know, who are they, what do they think about what they’re seeing. I think if you take setting seriously it can be a way to get at the other stuff that it seems many are very reluctant to address in their fictional worlds. Like race, and class, and inequality, and like structural barriers, you know, like we are where we are because of who we are. And we are who we are because of where we are. You know, so whatever zip code you’re born into, or whatever education level your parents have, that determines a great deal about how your life is going to go and what you’re able to do. We don’t like to think about it because it’s not exactly the American Dream, but that’s the reality. And whenever – there are good reasons to have a placeless piece of writing that I can think of. Surrealists, or I mean, where is Waiting For Godot set? Not exactly, there’s other modes, but in realism, to me, to not be seriously engaged with place is avoiding a whole other, other component of who people are, and you know – what kind of language do they use? What are their cultural reference? What languages are they speaking? What are the, you know, when are we? So, I wrote this story in Battleborn that’s set in the 1840s during the Gold Rush. And I kept having to edit. I would write like, cinematically, basically, like I would write a narration that uses ideas like panning or, you know, moving around in like, in a like, “Oh no, this is a culture that doesn’t have cinema! So how can I find another visual metaphor? Like what was the material culture of the time, and you know, that is kind of how people kind of understand themselves. So like alright, like a little, you know, agro-types, thinking about mining manuals, thinking about the Bible or the Odyssey or elocution lessons or newsletters. You know, like getting a handle on place starts to give you all the other parts of a character’s experience, and then eventually plot comes out. Just basically like, what does this character want and how can we keep it from them? What about you, how’s place work for you?

DP: Yeah, maybe the rejection of place, or place as an antagonist is very true, I think, in the novel, sort of especially when those characters get to New England, which is so different from Cuba for them. And in a lot of ways, because it’s so opposite, it sort of makes it harder to remember Cuba. But you know, the more I think about place – you know I’ve always had a weird – it’s not as natural for me, and I don’t know if that I was, I’ve always wondered why that’s the case, and I have to work really hard to make sure like, a place or a setting feels real and that it is, you know, integrated into the story, not just like the background on a stage, you know, like a cutout. I think some of that has to do with my understanding of Catholicism and Catholic culture, the way, some of the big ideas of Catholicism have a – what’s the word? – a displacing kind of effect on character and character psyche, at least for me. You know, I think about, the Catholic rejection of the body and the persecution of the body in Catholic mythology, and so there’s sort of distancing between a person and their senses, you know? And their sensory experience being in a lot of ways, especially also being sort of downplayed or denigrated, you know, not trusting the senses. And then I think any faith has an idea of heaven and hell, you know, orients people towards – away from the world in which they live, and sometimes I find in probably not so helpful ways, and so you know this, it does in some sense become a backdrop. Which is maybe why the book – the novel sort of deals with, had so much Catholicism in it in ways I didn’t think it would at the beginning.

CVW: That’s always how it works.

 

DP: Right? Totally. Yeah, and it just came very up, and I think my idea of Catholicism in that way, and it just played this displacing effect, I think is a perfect mirror to the immigrant experience in that once you leave a place, and especially the manner in which they leave the island abruptly, you forever feel displaced, even if you get back, you know? The second you go, it’s the second that place in your mind starts to become a myth, so you take a set shape in your head and going back is, I think, less often – it’s always revelatory, but it’s never confirming, you know. It’s never reassuring, ‘cause things have gone back. Things have changed, and the change reminds you of the things that went away. And I actually never thought of it that way, setting as sort of like, an antagonist. I’m so bad at teaching setting in class, ‘cause I usually think of it like, setting should help the story. But then it can also help by being its own tension and own something, that a character might reject or have trouble with.

 

CVW: Yeah, it’s tricky to let your characters have their own ideas about the place. I mean, for me, I’m writing about places that I usually love and almost worship, honestly. You know, I don’t have a heaven or a hell in my personal cosmology. Like, this is it for us, just dirt and rocks and the body and moving around in space. One of the things I realize when I was writing Battleborn is that everybody in the book felt the way about the natural world that I do, and that maybe I should play around with someone for whom – you know, “The Diggings” was the last story I wrote, and that one brother, Joshua, he comes from Ohio, and he goes out west, and he and the Sierra Nevada are like the last barrier between him and his brother and the gold fields. And they become this like, awful, scary symbol, you know. And the Donner party perishes in there, and it’s like the haunted place, and there are bears and he’s scared of it. He hates it, basically, and that was kind of fun to write, to realize that not everyone had to be like, a country kumbaya hippie out in the nature like I strive to be, you know?

DP: Yeah. Yeah.

 

JM: So, maybe one last question?

 

DP: Absolutely, yeah.

 

JM: I always like to end with like a silly question.

 

DP: Sure. JM: Do you guys read many bedtime stories?

 

DP: We do, yeah, very much so.

 

CVW: That’s right.

JM: What are your favorites?

 

DP: Right now, I’m enjoying the Olivia books – the pig – cause she’s, um…

 

CVW: She’s naughty.

 

DP: She’s naughty. And she’s also very curious and will do things, you know, which reminds me of Es.

 

CVW: She’s bold.

 

DP: She’s bold. So, I realize, cause we’re staying at some friends right now with a couple of books too, at their house, and the way it’s portrayed, it this really weird, postmodern… it feels like a minimalist postmodern, like, castle somewhere? Did you ever see the movie Beetlejuice?

 

JM: No.

 

DP: One of the characters, they move into the house where Beetlejuice lives. She’s like, this terrible interior decorator that like, is taking postmodernism to a terrible place.

 

JM: Oh god.

DP: So, all the rooms are really bare and empty and spare and all giant windows that look onto nothingness. That’s what Olivia’s house is like. I love imagining the weird world that she lives in. It’s like, this is a cool house to grow up in.

 

CVW: We went on a ten-week road trip this summer with Es, and we all listened to a lot of audiobooks. And one thing that we listened to a lot was Charlotte’s Web, read by E.B White, and I loved that so much, partly because he starts it by saying, “This is a story called Charlotte’s Web. I wrote it for children and to amuse myself. And I will read it to you.” And I think that idea – like writing to amuse yourself – is really important. Really important, and tapping into that joy, and playing around, you can feel that. I mean, the first line of Charlotte’s Web is “Where’s Papa going with that axe? Fern asked her mother, who was cooking breakfast.” And it’s like, not even breakfast time and Papa already has an axe? And where’s he going with it? Great question, Fern, so you’re off to the races. And I love all the characters. There’s some sort of budding ecofeminist goose in the barn and we say, “The woods, the woods! They’ll never, never catch you in the woods!” So, we’ve taken a lot of life lessons from Charlotte’s Web recently. And we’ve let her watch the movie after, you know, probably a hundred listens to the book. When she watched the movie for the first time, I said “Kiddo, look” – she calls it Wilbur the Pig, not Charlotte’s Web, but you know – “You wanna listen to Wilbur the Pig?” and when she watched the movie for the first time, she was like, “What’s this?” And I said, “This is Wilbur the Pig,” and she was like, “That’s not Wilbur.” And I think what she was responding to was that he’s in her head. I mean, we’ve all felt that. You go watch Lord of the Rings like, alright, I guess that’s Gandalf. Wilbur exists in her and her mind, and that’s the magic of the book. That even film can’t really capture the fact that…

DP: She’s already imagined Wilbur.

 

CVW: All of it.

 

DP: It already exists in her head.

 

CVW: Yeah, it’s a whole world.

 

JM: Thank you so much. It’s great to have a chance to talk with you. Thank you so much for making time for this, this is going to be a great addition to the magazine. I think people will really enjoy reading this conversation.