WIPs Conversation: Lenore Weiss on Her Work in Progress

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Lenore WeissLenore Weiss grew up in New York City, raised a family in the Bay Area, and currently resides in Louisiana. Lenore’s collections include “Tap Dancing on the Silverado Trail” (Finishing Line Press, 2011), “Sh’ma Yis’rael” (Pudding House Publications, 2007), and “Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island” (West End Press, 2012). Her most recent poetry collection is “Two Places” (Kelsay Books, 2014). She currently teaches a memoir class at Ouachita Parish Library in Monroe, Louisiana and serves as the copy editor of Blue Lyra Review. Her blog resides at www.lenoreweiss.com

Lenore, in “Hazardous Turnips” excerpted from Pulp into Paper, the characters at the mill are caught in what has become a common dilemma: rural workers in essentially company towns thankful for their jobs despite growing hardships—including their own health and that of everything around them. How did you decide to concentrate on the subject?

I moved to northeastern Louisiana several years ago and set about familiarizing myself with the area. Two events coincided that led me to write this book. My mate worked for a contractor at the Georgia-Pacific mill in Crossett Arkansas, one of the oldest mills in the Koch Brother’s arsenal. He was assigned to “detention pond” duty with the supposed goal of filtering harmful effluents from the paper making process. I watched him become slowly poisoned by H2S (hydrogen sulfide) and other noxious gases that have been established by the EPA as carcinogens. Every night I heard his terrible cough and stories of company noncompliance with standard industry operating procedures. Around the same time, I met the northeastern Louisiana representative to LEAP (Louisiana Environmental Action Project) who was involved with the Crossett Citizens for Environmental Justice. I began to attend their meetings and researched the history of the mill in Crossett. The book grew out of that experience.

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Lenore Weiss– “Hazardous Turnips,” an Excerpt from Pulp into Paper

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In the middle of July, the turnips were lush. They grew alongside the entrance to the plant, bright green fronds waving in the afternoon heat like feathers of a peacock’s tail. Bryan Thurmond had seen dozens of peacocks in the parking lot of the zoo where he drove Jenny, his daughter—peacocks strutting like they were collecting fees. Nothing scared them except for the sound of a car’s ignition. The turnips survived in the dirt like that. They didn’t care if the groundwater or the soil were polluted. Turnips hugged entrances and exits and tempted employees to pick them for the dinner table—plants that grew in spite of everything. And who knows, maybe he should’ve joined the crowd. Why not? He’d never seen such tall, beautiful plants. They thrived in muck. He pulled his Toyota Tundra into the parking lot. A lot of guys laughed at him, didn’t understand why he chose to ignore nature’s free bounty. They were like teenage boys who believed nothing could ever happen. They didn’t see the green fronds as a warning.

Management got it. They knew he was a single dad and couldn’t afford to step away from a full-time job with benefits. Six months ago Rand-Atlantic had promoted Bryan to Lead Environmental Officer. But he was getting pressured to overlook certain safety readings. Not directly pressured, of course. The company wouldn’t be that stupid. Encouragements to step over the line came in the form of free passes to the Rodeo Club, and murmurs of a scholarship for his daughter to attend junior college. They had him by the balls.

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WIPS Conversation: Claude Clayton Smith on His Work in Progress

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Claude Clayton SmithProfessor Emeritus of English at Ohio Northern University, Claude Clayton Smith is the author of a historical novel, two children’s books, four books of creative nonfiction, and co-editor/translator of the world’s first anthology of Native Siberian literature. He has published more than fifty poems and a variety of short fiction, essays, and reviews. Four of his plays have been selected for production in competition. His work has been translated into five languages, including Russian and Chinese. He holds a BA from Wesleyan, an MAT from Yale, an MFA in fiction from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, and a DA from Carnegie-Mellon. His latest book is Ohio Outback: Learning to Love the Great Black Swamp (Kent State University Press, 2010).

Claude, this opening chapter from Anatomy of Sadness explores Leo Green’s inner turmoil as he sits in a lecture hall classroom and reminisces about events in his life, trying to discover the sigh key to his psyche, the tipping point of his present despair. All the while, halfway across the country, President Kennedy’s motorcade is passing through downtown Dallas. News of his assassination will soon spread to the lecture hall before class is even over. How did you decide to tackle the subject and the premise? Did your own experience and reaction to the news at the time play into the narrative?

I began this novel in the fall of 2013, after viewing a variety of television programs on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It’s an event still vivid in my mind, one that lends a familiar dramatic context to any piece of fiction set in that era. While I was an undergraduate, several classmates (whom I scarcely knew) committed suicide, and I began to wonder what it would have been like to “miss” the upheaval of the assassination due to one’s own personal upheaval. Rather than invent a life for Leo Green, it was easier to draw on my own experiences. Like Leo, I first learned of the assassination while sitting in a college literature class.

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Claude Clayton Smith: Chapter One (excerpt) from Anatomy of Sadness

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WHERE WERE YOU when Kennedy was killed?

It is destined to become the most famous question of the last decades of the twentieth century, but Leo Green can’t answer it to anyone’s satisfaction, let alone his own. He is already dead to himself by the time the President’s open limousine makes its way from Love Field into Dallas . . .

He is nineteen years old, a sophomore at Colonial College, one of those small elite New England men’s schools that would go co-ed at the end of the sixties, and he has no idea what is happening to him. The truth is, he’s in the depths of a severe depression—a term he’s always associated with United States history, economics, and the stock market crash of 1929. Yet no one applies that term to his case, nor does he ever think of applying it to himself. A “nervous breakdown” is what one had in those days, but he’s never known anyone who’s had one, except for an old friend of the family who owns a local garage and had so many cars to work on that he became unable to pump gas or even check a customer’s oil. Leo can pump gas, if he has to, or check the oil on his father’s old Chevy. The problem is his mind. It is hamstrung, stuck in the past, even as he functions in the present like an automaton. His past has become his present, his present his past. He can no longer concentrate or put two thoughts together or remember anything he’s read or said. He spends his days watching himself watch himself. And now it’s November and he is paralyzed by an all-consuming, hyper self-consciousness that overcomes him the instant he wakes in the morning and leaves him only when he manages to escape into sleep.

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WIPS Conversation: Harold Jaffe on His Work in Progress

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Hal Jaffe-ICHarold Jaffe is the author of 22 volumes of fiction, novels, docufiction, and essays, most recently Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories, OD, Paris 60, Revolutionary Brain, Othello Blues, and Induced Coma: 50 & 100 Word Stories. His books have been translated in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, Cuba, Turkey, Romania and elsewhere. Jaffe is editor-in-chief of Fiction International.

 

 

Hal, this collection covers a broad range of subjects, what with around 150 stories. Still, Induced Coma, the “degraded version of Nirvana,” is an intriguing opening piece and an apropos appellation for the entire collection. Can you discuss how the title “Induced Coma” speaks to the book as a whole?

The world is perishing and we’re being fed bromides. Long before global warming the British socalist thinker Raymond Williams wrote that if there were a great and vast peril, world leaders would do one of two things: lie about it to service their constituency and maintain status; or simply, stupidly, not comprehend the peril. Williams was right. We are compelled to witness the consequences of global warming in banally capitalized ways: pop movies featuring post-apocalyptic zombies; biological humans miming cyborgs for an inorganic protection; undisguised economic cruelties toward the disadvantaged.

There was formerly an invisible line which demarked a relative civility; in our collective but largely unacknowledged panic, that line has been oficially eroded. Many humans sense the horrific dangers and act them out without, as it were, inhabiting them. Induced coma.

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Harold Jaffe: An Excerpt from Induced Coma

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Tarantula

The owner of a spider had no idea his pet was the problem when
he came to an eye clinic for treatment.
When the doctor told him she saw tiny hairs sticking out of his
eyeball he remembered cleaning the terrarium of his Chilean
Rose tarantula.
While his attention was briefly focused elsewhere, he sensed movement
in the terrarium.
The tarantula had released a mist of hairs which brushed his eyes
and face.
The hairs have multiple barbs encouraging them to migrate through
the eye tissue to various depths.

Doctors advise anyone working with tarantulas to wear eye protection.

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