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Speaking Human with Lucy Corin

Speaking Human With Lucy Corin

This originally ran on McSweeney’s, as you may have deduced. Please read all the way to the bottom. It’s a whopper, but whoppers are tasty.


‘In the days leading up to the paperback release of Lucy Corin’s One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypsesporn star Kayden Kross rang up our office phone. After publishing a stirring interview with McSweeney’s author Adam Levine four years ago, she was checking back in to see what we were up to. We connected her with Lucy via email and spools of insight ensued. What follows is an intimate and generous conversation about — amongst much else — window shade drawstring warning labels, the values of reading precociously as children, and how Lucy Corin’s stories operate more like porn than the current porn industry does.’

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KAYDEN KROSS: Greetings, Lucy. Where do I begin? Maybe with the obvious, the obvious being that I’ve recently finished reading 100 Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses (what do you refer to it as shorthand? I have a two-syllable limit on all things referenced regularly in my life.). You should know that there is now an image in my head much like the spinning top at the end of Inception Point that just won’t quit. It’s an image of the wall building up from the dirt kicked up by the scantily clad girl on the motorcycle, post apocalypse of course. Though it competes too with the image of the boy’s eyelashes blowing out into the universe, and the girl’s fingernails. There is a way about your writing that seems to freeze frame a motion for all of time, minus the freezing. The moments that you paint your characters into are so strong that it feels almost as if you begin there with your process and work your way backwards through the story. Is that a thing that you do? Where do you begin with your pictures and how do you whittle them? Do you whittle? How much of a picture is already in front of you before you write your first word and how much unfolds from there? And are you human in the sense that you come back to a piece countless times before you’re happy with it, or do you just sort of birth perfection in a sitting and then disappear to eat a sandwich?

I definitely was interested in freezing things in my mind to write about them in this book, at least for a lot of the pieces. Did you ever see a movie or read the (pulpy) book called The Girl, the Watch and Everything? It was something that I saw or read as a kid — I don’t even remember which — and all I remember about it was that this guy got the power to freeze time and walk around in it and of course the first thing he used it for was to untie the tops of girls’ bikinis. That is something like the impulse to write about apocalypse — the apocalypse stops time except for the person telling the story — and I got an endless kick out of playing with that paradoxical idea while I was writing. Making something and freezing it — making it static — as the sentences move over a tableau — the way that creates tension with the forward motion of storytelling. I’ve always gotten a private little kick out of the way when you make something up as a fiction writer and you say something directional (like to the right or to the left) it’s so hilariously meaningless. You have to position what you made up in space and walk around it as if it is frozen in order to write about it. That’s apocalyptic, and one of the things I obsessed over in writing the book, thinking about how writing fiction itself is an apocalyptic urge to stop time so you can do stuff with it. Writing is an imaginary stopping of time. I don’t know if I’m making sense — please tell me if not — it’s really hot here and I get a little dumb in the heat.

[With regards to whittling] Sometimes I whittle and sometimes I construct. I am a note-maker, I collect scraps of sentences or jot down ideas and use them as material to play with when I’m in my study. Sometimes they lead to “writing forward” which is I think how most people write prose or imagine writing prose — blank page and then one sentence follows another — and then maybe you trim back and tighten. But another way I often write is to bring into proximity some notes or lines that feel like they belong in the same story and then write to find the connection between them.

Yeah — so — I write forward or piece/collage/write between bits of text and then revise like hell. Different pieces take different kinds of revision, some take lots of little sessions working on a piece over a long time, and some take a few longer sessions to shape and articulate a move or a logic or a shape — to bring out whatever makes it a story. I really try to work on every piece I write as if it is a new creature in the world — it’ll probably have some limbs and a brain, but who knows how many and what kind — that way of working.

KROSS: The heat makes us all dumb, so much so that I’ve read Disneyland begins to cap its ride lines in weather above 100 Fahrenheit to curb the sport of soccer mom street fights. I’ve always assumed that if Disneyland is operating on the info, the info must be good. I’m assuming you’re writing from some place in or around Davis, which is where I’m told you teach. Is that good info also? Are you originally from Northern California? I am, for what it’s worth. The heat up there can sometimes get worse than it does from where I’m writing down here in Los Angeles. I’m told it’s because Sacramento sits in a bowl capped by its own gases on top of everything else blown down off of San Francisco. All this to say, you’re hot, I’m hot too. Let’s rig it so that anyone who reads this is forced to read in the heat. We’ll all be equally handicapped, which is the same as not at all. For some time I’ve been obsessed with Gordon Lish. I’ll never forget a line I once heard in one of his lectures. He said, “You’re bleeding? I’m bleeding too.” Then he shrugged. He was making a writerly point about how it’s not enough just to write that you’re bleeding. You have to go further than that. “Write the wound,” was how he put it. Write it in a way that no one who has come before you ever has. Arguably one might say you’re succeeding in this regard, as evidenced by the sheer volume of apocalyptic scenarios you’ve managed to squeeze between two covers, and as better evidenced by critical quotes like “Lucy Corin sounds like no one” (I’m pulling this off the back cover of your book — I’m no research artist). Do you believe in writing as a transportive craft? As a teacher yourself, what do you hope to push on your students as you shape what writing is and is supposed to be within them? What is the reading material that you push on them first? I’ve not read The Girl, The Watch, and Everything. I think all writers and readers of writers can trace their appreciation of the craft back to a single book. For me, all books were as good and artful as something from a Nancy Drew series until I stumbled across Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It should not have been in a 7th grade library — not by a long shot — and I likely didn’t understand a word of it, but the way the words were put together was so beautiful that I stopped using punctuation too that year and achieved my first C in English class. Don’t run before you can walk, as they say. Was there a book like that for you? What was it?

CORIN: Well, I’m not actually in Davis. I lived there for several years when I first got my job, but then I moved to the Bay. It was too hot. And the Bay so nearby was just too exciting. I was really lonely living in Davis. But I’m not writing to you from the Bay, either. I’ve just become bi-coastal, and am writing to you from Asheville, NC. I’m more or less from NC. I went to high school and college here, and lived here as a young adult, too. I thought if I was in Asheville it wouldn’t be too hot, but it’s still pretty hot. The goal is to end up with a place high on a mountain. That seems possible here, unlike in California — to be in a dramatic landscape not to far from a place where people love art and books. In America. Without a giant income. (Are you in Sacramento now? I did read that you grew up there…)

I do think writing the wound is different from writing that you are bleeding in the hope that someone will bleed with you (or be hot with you?). But, while writing is a way for me to think and feel intensely in a protected space, I don’t think the goal can be to get people to think, feel, or understand what you do. I mean there is overlap, and at best there is a deeply intimate dance. But I think that thinking of writing as transference is problematic. I mean, for one thing, it suggests that if you read something, or read it “well” (whatever that means) you will know or experience what another person has (maybe the writer, maybe another reader, is the idea.) But anyone who has ever talked to a writer or talked with another person about something they both read knows that isn’t the truth — and it’s not a failure of art. If I try to teach any particular thing, it might actually be that — I think trying to make art in order to capture or transfer experience is a hopeless or delusional game, and really not what it’s about. It’s more about learning to use writing to think and feel things intensely in a way that makes something beautiful — in a way that is inseparable from the act of making — that you can then give away. When you give something away, you don’t get to control what people do with it or think about it and that’s a really hard thing to do — and being able to put it in the world and let it have its own effects (or none) is, to me, more about the reality of living than it is about why making art is important. Of course, there’s also this incredible, terrifying process of deciding what you want to give away (or sell 😉 ) and that’s the more readerly, person-in-culture part of the act. It’s not the writing act, it’s the social act, which blurs with the writing act but I think is useful to think of as distinct. And then you have to be smart about reading what you wrote and make decisions about it — hiding or changing it — in relation to bets you make about what work it has the power or potential to do out there in the hands and minds of others. You said “transport” though, not “transfer” — and that may be closer — to create a fictional space that others can “go to” — but I think that’s really slippery, too, b/c once that fictional thing is in another person’s brain, it changes. Good writing allows for all that, embraces it, even, lives in that flux and uncertainty. In a lot of ways, I’m not much of a teacher. I have a really pragmatic relationship to teaching and do not feel high-minded about it at all. I think I can be and have been a really good teacher for a handful of particular human beings that I have connected with. But mostly I view teaching as a job I hope to do with integrity. It’s not a calling or anything, and it’s not a way of living, the way that writing is for me. I try really hard not to conflate my sense of what I can offer in this life with the way I make my living. One thing I do with writing students is that I do try to operate in a way that is not about dictating a curriculum that I believe will make them better whatevers. I do try to expose them to ways of living, things to /do/, that I believe will be good for them if they choose to do them. For example, I will show them a series of pieces of fiction that blew or continue to blow my mind. I will try to lead them to experience what is mind-blowing about them, or at least to understand how such a thing could blow a mind. But then I want them to develop a practice — or at least play at one for a few weeks— of moving through the world in a way that is about trying to find those things for themselves. It takes Flannery O’Connor’s foundational idea of the habit of art to a more general application that I do believe in as a way of life that is not just for people who want to make art — it’s a habit of looking at the world in terms of what it can bring you and show you and teach you — collecting the things from it that blow or continue to blow your mind. So, for me, these transformative books and stories were several/many and with some, the import was contained in a particular time in my life, and with some I come back to them and back to them and they keep changing for me and changing me. The one for me that sounds most like your (amazing, so great) Sound and the Fury experience was probably Flannery O’Connor’s collected stories, and that was later — I was 16 when I first read her — and part of the importance of it was that I was at that time a very adamant atheist and could not fathom how I could be obsessed with those stories as I was and “disagree” with the writer in the way that my teacher kept insisting I did. I think that the best books compel in a way that is nothing like what people say these days that they are looking for — this word “relatability” — which I think is so destructive and reductive. But different books did different things for young me, and one thing I’ll say is that I think reading things you are too young for is REALLY IMPORTANT. I think that kids want to read things and see things that they don’t quite understand, that have some danger in them — and that is what adults ought to retain in their imaginative lives — otherwise you learn nothing and you challenge nothing in yourself and you get a simplistically divided hateful doubled-down stupid cruel culture. Things I read “too young”: Anne Frank, Malcolm X, Jim Carroll, James Dickey, Dylan Thomas, Ionesco, Edward Albee, Gunter Grass, Ray Bradbury, Anne Sexton… I also read a lot of crap — lots of books I ordered from Scholastic Book Orders so that you could get posters of kittens. My parents just had a lot of books in the house and reading whatever I wanted to read was celebrated, including the upsetting parts. It might not have helped me have an easy road socially (we didn’t have a TV and I didn’t know the rules for baseball, that kind of thing that can isolate you on the playground), but is that always the goal? There are all kinds of ways to have a worthwhile childhood.

BTW, I did not study with Gordon Lish, but I’m sure you know how many great writers did. Many of my favorites. When I was in college me and my two best writer-friends used to send stuff to The Quarterly just to collect the hilariously insulting rejection-messages (I have some saved in a file that I show students now and then). They guaranteed a response within a week and that was the fun thing. It was so much better than waiting six or eight months for a boring rejection — you could get a hilariously mean one in a week! Anyhow, my 15-year-old sister wrote a little story that I thought was really wonderful so I said “you should send this to Gordon Lish — he’ll reject it in a week!” So she sent it and he took it and sent her stamps to send him another one. Then the magazine folded before her issue went to print.

KROSS: I guess we share similar geographic goals. A friend is staying with me now as he finishes his first novel, and he also is in on the mountaintop goal, as are no fewer than five other people I can think of off the top of my head who are either obsessed with books or the art of making them. That brings us to a grand total of six people, and I probably don’t know more than ten. That’s something worth looking at.

It’s funny you mention Flannery O’Connor. Her collected shorts were one of the first things recommended to me when someone decided that I needed to fill in my reading gaps, and I still return to her work first when I’m looking for an example of something that hits from all sides. Her writing is a prime example of “relatability” not being tied in any way to what makes writing great. Cormac McCarthy is another, and then, yeah, probably every great writing success Lish has ever turned out. That sort of writing tends towards the savage. The characters are often savagely driven, savagely hungry, savagely flawed, savagely mundane (my other go-to is Gary Lutz for the way that he likes to scuff up the language). Your story about Lish’s rejection letters is wonderful. I’d always heard they were legendary, and then one day he wrote asking me just to send him some of my friend’s porn.

It’s also funny you mention her because I was reminded of that very sort of thoughtless savagery that Flannery O’Connor always nails so well in your apocalypse “The Cycle of Life” (I feel like I should refer to them as apocalypses instead of short stories? Does everybody refer to your writing as apocalypses? Like, you call your editor and you say, “I have a new apocalypse for review.” Tell me that happens.). Of course your voice is still yours and hers is still hers and all of those unique identifying characteristics apply, but there was something about the woman in that apocalypse that I felt could have been a woman O’Connor would have wanted to talk about too, had she occurred to her. The thing I love most though in that story was the trick you pulled when you talk about the baby early on. As a reader it was so unthinkable that this would happen to the baby, or could happen to a baby, that it twisted my stomach up, and then you immediately reassured with the line “(hold on, hold on…)” and I felt safe again and kept on reading. On the one hand, that was a nasty and commendable trick, and on the other hand, every time I look back at it I start laughing. I realize that this feeling applies to most of your apocalypses, though the why is most easy to identify, for me, in that particular apocalypse. Maybe that’s the place I’m trying to say your writing transports or transfers me to — this nagging feeling that the things we experience daily are things we know to be terrifying, but then someone smiles reassuringly and says hold on, hold on, and we think to ourselves, oh, it must be fine then, and we keep going. I had that feeling too with “Miracles,” knowing all the while that it could only end one way but holding out hope because new life is precious and sacred and all of the characters were mesmerized by it for those moments, so maybe there would be some exception. When I step back from most of these stories they often feel like something I shouldn’t see through because it might hurt and then some invisible hand waves that off and then I hear Hold on, Hold on, and I turn the page. Then I realize I’ve been tricked again.

I agree that children should have free access to the books that have been written well above their heads. I first switched to those books when I realized they didn’t have the telling covers. My mother had taken some kid’s book away from me because it had a cartoon wizard on the cover (she was highly religious and didn’t want the occult in the home), so I started reading books with nondescript covers. The old paperback Animal Farm just had a pig on it. Lolita was just a girl. The titles were boring. She stopped looking. It’s always interesting now to read those titles as an adult. I try to think back to how much I understood of them as a kid, but of course I don’t remember. I only remember the feeling of liking the way the words came together, or not. Now that my daughter is two, I’m also rewatching all of the Disney movies that I grew up with. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Aladdin. There is so much in these stories that I didn’t catch as a kid, though I didn’t enjoy them any less at the time. The layers that make up a good story so that a young or inexperienced mind can enjoy them and then that same mind on the other side of something can enjoy them in a different way down the line are easy proof of the enduring complexity of a lot of archetypal stories (Lion King, anyone?). How much of that do you think is due to the skill of the storyteller, and how much do you think is created in the lens that the audience puts over the story?

CORIN: “I have another apocalypse for you” is actually EXACTLY what happens.

LOVE that you read Animal Farm with a pig on the cover and Lolita with a little girl. Book designers and marketers need to keep this in mind! Do not forget the market of the covert reader! I remember once finding my first novel in the horror section of one bookstore (it has the word “psychokillers” in the title) and in the children’s section of another (it has the phrase “a history for girls” in the title.)

I’m also thrilled to hear your reading experience with “The Cycle of Life” and “Miracles” because you are right — in a few of my favorite words of Raymond Carver it’s nice and it’s nasty. It’s a kind of moment I have returned to exploring rather obsessively — particularly the thing about babies and children and the idea of safety. It is territory that I am not sure about, ethically— like in terms of what kind of relationship it feels okay to have with a reader, what kinds of positions to put a reader in, what you do and don’t have control over (control is a form of what some people talk about re “responsibility” here) and so that is exactly the kind of territory I can’t stop going to. And, speaking of ethics, I think it’s only ethical to keep returning to. Because if you can’t go there in your imagination where in the world are you ever going to have this stuff out with yourself? I can’t help wondering if porn is like that, too, or if it can be, b/c that is a universe I have never explored. But that’s probably not the point of porn at all. I have a friend who describes the two of us as “punk adjacent.” I think I’m “porn adjacent” too. I am also not surprised at all that Mr. Lish asked you for porn.

I actually just remembered that I used to have a file where I collected all the awful/hilarious tags and diagrams warning of the hazards of domestic items. Like I remember one I found hanging from the cord you use to draw a window shade depicting a child hanging himself from the cord you use to draw a window shade… infinite regress.

And I’ll tell you another thing about returning to the stories and art-experiences of childhood — a few years ago I reread two books I had strong feelings about as a kid — one that other kids thought was great and I secretly thought was stupid (The Phantom Tollbooth), and one that I thought was great and other kids didn’t get why I loved it (Julie of the Wolves). It was very satisfying to discover that I absolutely agree with child-me, and I do think it has to do with being the kind of reader who is drawn to sensibility before content. I don’t know if that is beaten out of little American kids, or if it’s just not the most common way of being, but I suspect the former, I really do.

You know, I don’t really know how to address your final question, here, about where experience comes from — writer or reader. As I mentioned earlier, it is a kind of dance — if you can have a dance take place in some kind of abstract conceptual space that no one agrees on how to conceive or describe. And if the dance can take place between people that are only imaginary versions of each other. The dance is a metaphor Susan Sontag uses briefly in an essay that’s been important to me— but even that is limited as a metaphor (something she’s totally aware of, and that the essay is also a lot about…)

KROSS: Thank you so much for not making my worldview shift too much this week. I’m more relieved than I reasonably should be to find that “apocalypse” is used in place of “story” with regards to your work across the board. These sorts of wins convince me to keep going.

Warning tags have always fascinated me from a chicken/egg point of view. Do the tags arise as a result of litigation — because someone actually managed to off themselves in this way — or do the tags arise in the minds of some team of legal men sitting at a desk somewhere dreaming up all of the ways in which a given product might be used to off the most ill-prepared and unsupervised among us? Why don’t knives have warning diagrams? Is there any indication that these things help, aside from in the courtroom? Do fewer people have accidental coffee spills when the cup of coffee warns that it is hot? Do more mothers give their undivided attention to a tiresome toddler when there are window shades drawn by a pull? My experience with toddlers is that before any sort of anchored string gets in her hands we must first navigate the deadly pitfalls of electrical outlets, all pieces of eye-level furniture, unidentified crumbs, all strangers in public spaces and known friends in private ones, and, most importantly, grapes. My other and more numerous experiences with coffee will show that the countless times I’ve spilled my coffee (I’m a more-frequent-than-average coffee spiller) have never once taken into account the temperature at a given time. Never have I delayed a coffee spill for a more bathwater-range experience.

Warning labels are just one more example, maybe, of this dance that is taking place every time a single voice is trying to convey something personally urgent to a great number of people. A more concrete picture might be something like a Venn diagram, where the speaker and the individuals within an audience each represents a circle, and the overlap is the meaningfulness of the experience conveyed. Warning labels seems to have very little overlap, that overlap often only existing as something like your drawer of collected tags. But a well conveyed apocalypse might overlap entirely with a reader’s circle — not because I’ve experienced the exact same apocalypse that you’re describing, but because the truth of the experience of that apocalypse is something that I recognize as a truth in my experience as a living and breathing and deeply conflicted person (am I apocalypse-adjacent?). As a reader, I’m elated and horrified, maybe because you’ve finally put a finger on something I was struggling to name, or maybe because I’m not the only one who would marvel at life before I extinguished it, or maybe because I’m a more targeted audience for your work than the warning labels will find in the mothers of toddlers across America who just moved into a house dressed with shades.

Something like that might explain why our kid selves were so right about the books we loved back then. The overlap might not have been as great as it is to our adult selves, but there was enough of it back then and it was meaningful enough that we even thought to come back again to it later.

I very much enjoy the phrase “porn-adjacent.” Lately I often think porn as an industry is at best only coming up alongside what it thinks it’s achieving without ever jumping across to the right track. Maybe porn tries to deal with ethics and their questions, but because of the nature of how quickly the new and never before seen is expected to be turned out, it’s rare to find the project that is really turning over the recesses within some creator or having it out with a wild imagination. We are the industry of puns, spoofs, knock offs, rip offs, unauthorized accounts, and parodies as a dominant category of story. We don’t explore so much as take a great lot of dark guesses about what the remaining untapped audiences might want to explore while trying to couple it with known traffic-driving search terms. Then when we find one (as verified by sales), everyone else jumps on board for a year or two, and then the well runs dry and we start digging for new ones. That said, we are often as surprised as our audience is when we collectively discover a new thing to explore, and as tired as our audience is when we finally retire it. We don’t ask the big questions about any of it. Instead, we program the navigation of our websites under the assumption that the user is likely a right-handed person making do at the moment with only the use of his available left hand.

If the idea of “porn-adjacent” is in any way tied to the idea that we must come back to the territory that makes us uncomfortable (much like porn) and dissect it from the safety of our own imaginations, then you are probably more authentically adjacent to porn than porn is in its current state. That said, there’s no reason no to believe porn might try to jump on your train. Be on the lookout for titles like Not 100 Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses xxx, or 100 Asspocalypses and Other Asspocalypses.

I guess my next question is where you view the writer in today’s world. Hemingway bought a yacht with the proceeds earned off a few short stories back in his day. Today’s writers practically give their work away just to get it out in the world. Granted, there aren’t a lot of Hemingways, but there are a lot of damn fine writers and many of the ones I know personally are like yourself, writing for the sake of it but teaching to pay the bills. It bothers me personally that a lot of books sell based on how well their covers convey the idea of good beach reading. I mean, there are literally beaches on the covers. This wounds me in some way that I’m sure says a lot more about me than it does about the books, but all this to come back to the question of where you think a writer who is trying to put something real into the world actually fits into the world now?

CORIN: 1. I hope someone has turned you on to Diagram magazine, a literary journal that features a diagram section. I just wish it were searchable so I could try to find you a safety diagram for knives. There is one in the current issue of how to cut up a potato, so maybe that will help. And I wonder what the diagram of your description of the porn industry would be.

2. I hope someone who reads this will laugh as hard as I am laughing right now and maybe someone will write some pornalypses.

3. Your question is a heartbreaker. I don’t have the perspective to make any statements about how current writer’s lives map onto writers’ lives in the past, that is just beyond my knowledge. I can offer a few related thoughts — Elena Ferrante’s brilliant book has a much-maligned beach on the cover. Lots of people who hate the book got to read it anyway and maybe the cover made a lot of people who don’t think they are literary types feel included in/targeted by the marketing enough to pick up the book? I mean that is an ugly, stupid, cover — but maybe it did good work in a bad way… There is something very destructive about the exclusive reputation that literature has and actively cultivates, and you can see that being addressed in all kinds of ways, not the least of which is the vocal rage from artists who have been excluded/ignored by industry b/c of discriminatory power structures. And power is shifting. I don’t know if it’s shifting to something better than before, but stuff is shifting. It’s really, really messy out there, and there is no telling if we’re on the brink of positive change or if these are flailings before pure terror and silence. I’m among the white writers who often thinks ‘really, is it MY voice that really needs attention right now?” But I’m not that kind of writer anyway — I’m not the best example of a voice for voiceless people and I’m not a public intellectual, so just as I’ve done anything in my life, I make art because it’s the only way I can function — it’s the best possible life I’ve been able to lead. I don’t have that thing in me that says that I think that what I have to say is what “people” right now need to hear. I’m just documenting my thinking and imagining in as intense and cared-for way as I can and whatever helps me be able to make more is golden. What you’re asking about the role of contemporary literature in contemporary culture is a bit of a separate consideration for me, and yeah, we are in a time when the established institutions that generally told everyone what was good and important have been so thoroughly maligned from so many angles that what I miss is an authority I can trust. I mean, I don’t trust NPR for my news any more — not since 9/11. I haven’t trusted the New York Times Book Review since I was eighteen. But I’m not seeing any trusted source rise from the ashes of the failing authorities — just this mish-mash of the Internet, which is basically a giant rumor machine. This is the context in which Trump rises— someone who everyone knows is full of shit, who actually says /it doesn’t matter if I’m full of shit, I’ll tell people what to do and they’ll do it and that’s what matters/ — and for people who don’t have anything of power to believe in, that kind of authority (authoritarianism) can look like a relief. That’s how scary this apocalypse is. As a writer, I fit into this — I /think/— as witness, as meditator, as person making a record of paying attention.

KROSS: The reason it has taken three days for me to respond to you is I clicked on that link. I’d always suspected I had no business handling knives. Now I know. Tried thinking of how a porn industry diagram might look, but in perfect timing I was forwarded a very fantastic drawing the other day from a woman who works for an adult company that had recently contracted with some very serious Chinese businessmen who spoke very serious Chinese. They arrived with a translator. All of these big execs in suits sit down around a conference table to discuss Company A creating video content that might merge with some sort of adult novelty product made by Company B (serious Chinese guys). Company B had storyboarded, with a shaky hand on a mouse using some sort of Adobe Illustrator program, the stick figure renditions of each desired sex position from beginning to end. The largest problem I could find with the work mostly concerned the number of limbs vs. potential other body parts the stick details might represent, closely followed by the way the limbs were a little indistinguishable with regards to what belonged to whom. Also, the female in the drawing had unrealistic hair. They were looking for Rapunzel, and maybe a male costar with a small tail. I think the same way this knife diagram has rocked my confidence in the kitchen, a porn diagram might drive us all to confused and self-conscious celibacy.

With regards to the writer’s apocalypse, I’d say a good voice shouldn’t have to consider taking a backseat to allow another good voice to be heard above the noise. I think the noise is the result of a falling off of good voices. It’s true that there’s little to trust. This election feels to me like an accidental coup staged by the joined forces of two parties broken so badly that they failed to notice the point at which they were all standing on one side of a line while their constituents stared back at them from the other side. In this particular election cycle the only issue worth weighing seems to be the one of which candidate is the lesser risk with the nuke codes in hand. And like that, there’s another apocalypse. I can see now how you could easily count to well above 100 in your writing. Apocalypses are everywhere.

As a sort of final question, mostly because this exchange is approaching the word length of some rather famous and notably complete short stories, I was wondering if you experience, in finishing your books, what I’ve read other writers refer to as the “85% hurdle” — i.e. do you bring a book to 85 percent completion and then spend twice as much time as you’ve already spent on it just trying to wrap up that last fifteen percent? Or — and I ask because I’ve done this myself — have you ever brought a book to 85% and then just sort of said to yourself, “eh”? There is a folder on my desktop that I have to look at every morning when I open my computer because I’ve set it up that way. The folder is named, in all caps, FAILURES. I like to subject myself to that smack in the face on a daily basis. Do you subject yourself to bouts of self-flagellation with your work? Do you know when to walk away? Do you vacillate between being satisfied with your finished work and wanting to pull it back off the bookshelves and bury it, or are you a well-adjusted person?

CORIN: Each of my books has been really different to write with one exception— with every one, including the one I’ve been working on for years now (and trashed many hundreds of pages of along the way) I think I’m done a dozen times before I’m done. But if it were really a dozen I could just wait ’til I hit a dozen, but it’s not, a dozen is a different number every time. I have sent books off to presses, friends, and agents way, way too soon every time, and that is terrible because you very rarely get more than one shot per human per book. I also have not had the same people perform reality checks for my books — every book has been so different and the people in my writing life have been so different that I don’t have that special person some writers have who they totally trust to know “yep that’s a book” or “nope you’re not done.” I don’t like to purposefully flagellate — you can’t preempt pain. I try not to make my writing space an ugly place to be. I try not to feel pressure to finish anything except from the thing itself. I waste a lot of time going down rabbit holes and sometimes that is good play time and sometimes it takes years and years of working and reworking what I wrote for me to give up and just gut something — and all of it includes sometimes feeling full of shit or any number of kinds of insufferable. But I don’t think that’s maladjusted, I just think that’s caring a lot about what you do and knowing that it’s a privilege to get to do it and you don’t want to waste that privilege or screw up a chance at making something wonderful, because there’s just nothing better than the feeling that you might actually get to make something wonderful.

You’re a delight, Kayden. I hope our paths will cross in the desert or the storm someday.

KROSS: The delight has been all mine (is that antiquated?). Keeping in mind that it was a statistical eventuality, I think I’ll work that last line for this porn script I’m putting together — I’ll credit you, of course. With enough good and borrowed things to say my characters might just jump the tracks. Sometimes an apocalypse is an upgrade.

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Obviously, I recommend this book. You can buy it here, among other places.

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