Tag Archives: Essays

Better Know an Author: Kristen Arnett

Today on the site I’m so excited to have Kristen Arnett, author of the flamingo-covered book everyone is talking about. (And if you think you haven’t heard about it, consider whether you’ve seen the words “lesbian taxidermy” cross your timeline at some point.) Believe the hype, because Arnett is a master of nailing that rare combination of brutal but funny, open and honest but dry and self-protective. It’s one of the most memorable books I’ve read in a long time, with an opening that knocked me flat on my ass. If you don’t believe me, you can go ahead and check out The New York Times or Autostraddle or any of Kristen’s brilliant essays, but you can also just go ahead and check out this interview, as long as you’re here!

First, though, let’s check out this debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, releasing tomorrow, June 4, by Tin House Books!

One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Books & Books

And now, come meet the author, Kristen Arnett!

Let’s begin with the stuffed elephant in the room – your first novel! Mostly Dead Things has one of the most viscerally memorable openings I’ve read in a long time. How did this story of a lesbian taxidermist taking over the family business following her father’s suicide become The One after all your years in essays and short fiction? And please God can you share a little about your taxidermy research?

I was busy working on a short story about a brother and sister who attempt, and fail, to properly taxidermy one of their neighbors goats. At the time, I was doing a lot of weird internet deep dives into fucked up terrible taxidermy. It was funny to me, and I also loved the idea of writing about two siblings fighting over something as bizarre as a dead goat, so I sat inside that story for a while. When I was done, I realized I wanted to keep thinking about them: the characters, the setting, their relationship dynamics, all of it. So I decided to toss out that story and see what I could do with these characters in a broader sense. And that eventually became the novel!

With regard to taxidermy, I am a librarian, so research is a natural path my brain loves to take. When it came to looking up taxidermy, I spent a ton of time online: videos, chat rooms, web forums, etc. I also bought a lot of old school taxidermy manuals and read through them constantly. I wanted all the work I was having the characters do on any animal to not only feel authentic, but to seem hyper realistic. I wanted to make absolutely sure everything felt just right!

Speaking of short fiction, your fiction came a couple of years ago with felt in the jaw. For those who’ll be discovering you through Mostly Dead Things, what are some themes you see rising up in both works? Is there a particular story in that collection that’s closest to your heart, and if so, is it the same one you felt closest to when it first released?

I definitely want to write about the queer lives of women. By that I mean I am interested in something that I’ve called “the lesbian domestic.” I wanna see the day-to-day interactions of queer women in households. I know that theme filters into all of my work because it is something I also want to see as a reader. I am also deeply interested in bodies – tactile sensations, physical forms. That crops up over and over again in my work. Also Florida! I’d say all of these themes coalesce in much of my writing, but particularly in the title story from that first collection. I felt it exemplified all of the things I was trying so desperately to write about when it comes to queerness in a household: relationships between queer women, household dynamics and their breakdown, and the actual landscape of a Florida backyard.

Of course, you’re also well-known for your personal essays; I don’t think anyone could make the Olive Garden and 7-11 sound quite as poignant as you do. What’ve been your favorite and most unexpected reactions to your non-fiction work?

I would say the thing that has been the most surprising and what I have absolutely enjoyed the most in hearing from readers is that they have identified with Florida in my work. Specifically, I have loved hearing that from other Floridians. It is always so dicey, trying to write lovingly (or maybe not-so lovingly, maybe writing something in a raw, painful way) about home and the places where we live and live in us. So whenever I am putting my version of Florida out there, I always get that little worry that people won’t understand it, or maybe it won’t sit right with them like how I envisioned it in my own head. I have been so lucky in that, because the people who have read my work for place have all been so thoroughly encouraging about it. Not only that, but they share with me their own stories of Florida and home. That is very precious to me, so special. I feel like it’s just an even bigger kind of community, but through writing, and it makes me feel so glad.

Fellowships! Residencies! I’ve always wondered what it’s like to truly surround yourself with an environment dedicated to honing your craft and to experts in it. Do you have a favorite experience or anything that’s particularly notably emerged from those times? 

I’ve been truly lucky to have experienced several residencies over the course of my writing career. I would say one that really stuck with me as a place that allowed me to get a tremendous amount of work done was my residency at the Millay Colony. It’s located in upstate New York and is pretty secluded. I decided to drive myself up there all the way from Florida, stopping midway in Virginia. I had never driven alone that far by myself before and took it as an opportunity to sit with myself and really try and think about things – my writing, my work, my relationships to those things. And when I got there I was able to still spend so much time in solitude. It truly gave me the time I needed to kind of fix my mind in the new directions I was trying to take it. I got so much from that residency. I know that I am lucky that I was able to do it – not everyone can afford to take time off from work like that, so I especially tried to appreciate every single moment of it.

What’s the first queer rep you saw that really resonated with you? Is there anything you’d still really like to see?

My first experience in queer reading was sitting down with Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina. It was the first book I’d ever read where I just sat and thought, “wow, here I am – I see myself in here.” The writing was so raw and bare. It was a revelation for me. It’s the book I read that made me know I wanted to be a writer. I love all of Dorothy’s work for sure, but I can think about that book any time and still have that feeling in my chest, that huge heart glow that made me feel just a tiny bit less alone.

I would say I am always reading looking for other queer writing that makes me feel like I am experiencing the day-to-day dynamics of queer relationships. I am much less interested in reading coming out stories and would just love to see more narratives that focus on how dynamics sit between queer people in a family, in a household, in a region, in a place. Those little moments of time, smaller pockets. I am forever searching for that as a reader. Also I would love to see more queer horror narratives!

There’s a lot of talk about how adult fiction, particularly literary fiction, is harder to find online, and as a blogger for a site that tries to cover it all, I certainly can’t argue with that. How do you stay on top of queer lit coming out, and is there any you’d particularly like to recommend, or are especially excited to read?

I would say that I try and search for it, for sure, but there are places I definitely go to hear about new queer lit. One of those places is Lambda Literary. I also have a large community of queer writers who I trust and value their opinions, so I am forever picking everyone’s brains when it comes to new work. There is also a ton of queer poetry out there now that I am obsessed with and I don’t think gets talked about as much as it should. Tommy Pico’s entire body of work is a revelation. I wish everyone could read every single book of his! I love T Kira Madden’s memoir that dropped in March, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. Also Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Patsy that drops very soon! Jaquira Diaz has an essay collection dropping as well called Ordinary Girls. That’s very queer and also VERY Florida.

And finally, perhaps most important question: what is, technically, the best ravioli?

Human beings are the finest raviolis on the planet.

***

Kristen Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer. She was awarded Ninth Letter‘s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction, was runner-up for the 2016 Robert Watson Literary Prize at The Greensboro Review, and was a finalist for Indiana Review’s 2016 Fiction Prize. She’s a columnist for Literary Hub and her work has appeared or is upcoming at North American Review, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Guernica, Electric Literature, McSweeneys, PBS Newshour, Literary Hub, Volume 1 Brooklyn, OSU’s The Journal, Catapult, Bennington Review, Portland Review, Tin House Flash Fridays/The Guardian, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her debut story collection, Felt in the Jaw, was published by Split Lip Press and was awarded the 2017 Coil Book Award. Her novel, Mostly Dead Things, will be published by Tin House Books in June 2019.

Good News Roundup of LGBTQ Reads, 2018 Edition

After so many years of LGBTQIAP+ lit struggling for recognition, it’s been pretty killer to watch literary news this year, and to watch it get more mainstream multimedia recognition than ever. And since I think at any given time, we could all use some good news about the progress of LGBTQIAP+ books in publishing, here’s to highlighting some (but not even all!) of this year’s biggest successes in mainstream media:

Picture Books

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love was named one of Amazon’s best Children’s Books of the year for ages 3-5 and one of the Best Children’s Books of 2018 by New York Public Library, Time, and School Library Journal, as well as a Notable Children’s Book by The New York Times

Middle Grade

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender was named one of Booklist‘s Top 10 First Novels for Youth: 2018, a Malka Penn Award Honor Book,  and a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake was a recommended title for the 2019 NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children and was named one of the Best Children’s Books of 2018 by New York Public Library and Chicago  Public Library, and a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal and NPR

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell was named one of the Best Children’s Books of 2018 by New York Public Library and a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal

Young Adult

*Graphic novels listed separately below

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour was awarded the Printz

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller won The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert won the Stonewall Award

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee received a Stonewall Honor and made the 2018 Top Ten Best Fiction list by YALSA

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera was a finalist for the Carnegie Medal

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James was a finalist for the Carnegie Medal

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron was a finalist for the Carnegie Medal and was named among the Best YA of 2018 for Feeding Imaginations by Kirkus

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp hit the New York Times bestseller list and was named a Best YA of 2018 by Seventeen

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli hit the New York Times bestseller list, was named Best Young Adult Fiction by Goodreads voters, and was named among the Best YA Romances of 2018 by Kirkus

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee hit the New York Times bestseller list and was named among the Best Historical YA of 2018 by Kirkus

What If It’s Us? by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera was optioned for film, hit the New York Times bestseller list, and was named a Best YA of 2018 by Seventeen, Amazon, Bustle, Paste, B&N Teen Blog, and New York Public Library, and a Best Audiobook of 2018 by Audible

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan hit the New York Times bestseller list and was named to the Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten for Winter 2018-19

Sadie by Courtney Summers hit the New York Times bestseller list and was named a Publishers Weekly Best YA of 2018, one of Booklist’s 10 Best YAs of 2018 for Adults, a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal and NPR, a Best Teen Fiction of 2018 by Chicago Public Library, a Best YA Mystery and Thriller of 2018 by Kirkus, a Best Audiobook of 2018 by Google Play, and a Best YA of 2018 by B&N Teen BlogPaste, Amazon, and The Boston Globe

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland hit the New York Times bestseller list and was named a Best YA of 2018 by SeventeenAmazonSchool Library Journal, New York Public Library, B&N Teen Blog, and one of Booklist‘s 10 Best YAs of 2018 for Adults, as well as the Best YA of the Year by Paste

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram was a finalist for the Morris Award and named a Publishers Weekly Best YA of 2018, a Best YA of 2018 by The Boston Globe, New York Public Library, Time, Amazon, and B&N Teen Blog, and among the Best YA Books of 2018 that Explore on Family and Self by Kirkus

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli released as a feature film called Love, Simon

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth released as a feature film

Black Wings Beating by Alex London was named a Best YA of 2018 by Seventeen and Paste and a Best YA Fantasy of 2018 by Kirkus

People Like Us by Dana Mele was named a Best YA of 2018 by Seventeen

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk was named a Best YA of 2018 by Seventeen and Bustle, and the Best YA Debut of 2018 by Paste

Ship It by Britta Lundin was named a Best YA of 2018 by Seventeen

Camryn Garrett, author of 2019’s Full Disclosure, was named one of Teen Vogue‘s 21 Under 21 Class of 2018

Pulp by Robin Talley was named to the Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten for Winter 2018-19 and included among the Best Teen Fiction of 2018 by Chicago Public Library and the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste

The Disasters by MK England was named to the Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten for Winter 2018-19

Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon was named to the Kids’ Indie Next List for Winter 2018-19

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan was named to the Kids’ Indie Next List for Winter 2018-19

This is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow was named to the Kids’ Indie Next List for Winter 2018-19

Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore was named one of Tor.com Reviewers’ Best Books of 2018, a Best YA Fantasy of 2018 by Kirkus, a Best YA of 2018 by The Boston Globe, and a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman was named one of Booklist’s 10 Best YAs of 2018 for Adults, among the Best YA Books of 2018 About Speaking Your Truth by Kirkus, and a Best YA of 2018 by New York Public Library, B&N Teen Blog, and Paste

Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner was named a Best YA of 2018 by New York Public Library

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert was named a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal and among the Best Teen Fiction of 2018 by Chicago Public Library, Best YA Books of 2018 that Explore Family and Self by Kirkus, and Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog

A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma was named a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal and NPR and a Best YA of 2018 by Bustle and Paste 

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake was named among the Best Teen Fiction of 2018 by Chicago Public Library and Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson was named among the Best Teen Fiction of 2018 by Chicago Public Library and a Best YA of 2018 by The Boston Globe

Odd One Out by Nic Stone was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR and among the Best YAs of 2018 by The Boston Globe and Paste

The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in LA) by Amy Spalding was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, a Best YA Romance of 2018 by Kirkus, and among the Best YAs of 2018 by The Boston Globe and Paste

The Spy With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste and B&N Teen Blog and among the Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2018 by Tablet

A Blade so Black by L.L. McKinney was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste

Home and Away by Candice Montgomery was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog and Paste and among the Best YA Mysteries and Thrillers of 2018 by Kirkus

Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog and Paste and among the Best YA Books of 2018 About Speaking Your Truth by Kirkus

Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by The Boston Globe and Paste

This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Bustle and B&N Teen Blog and a Best YA Romance of 2018 by Kirkus

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Bustle

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog

Final Draft by Riley Redgate was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog and the Best YA Romances of 2018 by Kirkus

Running With Lions by Julian Winters was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog and a Best YA Romance of 2018 by Kirkus

Jack of Hearts (and other parts) was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog

Unbroken ed. by Marieke Nijkamp was named among the Best YAs of 2018 that Feed Imaginations by Kirkus

Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones was named among the Best YA Books of 2018 that Explore on Family and Self by Kirkus

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia is a Junior Library Guild selection

Romance

Rend by Roan Parrish was named a Best Romance of the Year by Amazon

Time Was by Ian McDonald was named a Best Book of 2018 by New York Public Library

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR

Contemporary and Historical Adult Fiction

Less by Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

John Rechy received the 2017 Robert Kirsch Award

White Houses by Amy Bloom was named a Best Book of 2018 by New York Public Library

Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara was named one of the Best Debuts of 2018 by Entertainment Weekly

Sugar Run by Mesha Maren was named to the January 2019 Indie Next List

SFF

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly was nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Novel

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang was nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Novella

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey was nominated for a a Nebula Award for Best Novella

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado was a finalist for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado is being developed into an FX series

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez is being developed into a TV series

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller was named a Publishers Weekly Best SF/Fantasy/Horror of 2018 and a Kirkus Best Sci Fi and Fantasy of 2018

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg was named a Best Historical Fiction of 2018 , a Best Debut Fiction of 2018 by Kirkus, and among “10 More Great Debuts” by Entertainment Weekly, a supplement to their list of the 10 Best Debuts of the 2018

The Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard was named one of Tor.com Reviewers’ Best Books of 2018

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson was named one of Tor.com Reviewers’ Best Books of 2018

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab was named Best Science Fiction by Goodreads voters

Nonfiction

Garrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased, was released as a feature film and hit the New York Times bestseller list

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya was named among the Best YA Books of 2018 About Speaking Your Truth by Kirkus

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee was named a Best Book by TIME, Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Wired, Esquire, Buzzfeed, New York Public Library, The A.V. Club, Book Riot, PopSugar, The Rumpus, My Republica, Paste, Bitch,Library Journal,Bustle, Christian Science Monitor,Shelf Awareness, Tor.com, Chicago Public Library, Entropy Magazine,The Chicago Review of Books, The Coil, iBooks, and Washington Independent Review of Books, and was longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

Poetry

Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by New York Public Library

Graphic Novels

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR

My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame, translated by Anne Ishii, was named among the Best YA Books of 2018 that Explore on Family and Self by Kirkus

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu was a finalist for the Morris Award and named one of Booklist’s 10 Best YAs of 2018 for Adults, a Best YA of 2018 by New York Public Library and The Boston Globe, and among the Best YA Books of 2018 that Explore on Family and Self by Kirkus

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang was named a Best YA of 2018 by Publishers Weekly, Amazon, New York Public Library, School Library Journal, NPR, and The Boston Globe

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden was named a Publishers Weekly Best YA of 2018 and a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal

For lists of the best queer books of 2018, check out these on BookRiot and Autostraddle!