INTERVIEW WITH LORIA MENDOZA
RLL: Lidia Yuknavitch has coined the term “corporeal writing,” a way of writing about the body. Do you work from the body?
I think every character I’ve written and know well, whatever layer or extension of me they are, be it real or imagined, was written from the body. I often close my eyes and try to feel what a particular character is sensing in a critical moment, what they smell, what the night air feels like on their skin, how comfortable they are getting up out of their chair—all that stuff they teach you in the MFA program. But more so than anything, I try to feel how what they dream about affects their relationships, what ghosts they carry around with them each morning and how that shades what they see in the mirror, how well they can distinguish dreams from reality, how they break those patterns and escape the prisons of their character, or as Lidia Yuknavitch might say, their metaphors. It’s weird to think about, but that’s exactly how my first collection of stories, Life’s Too Short, and my new collection of poetry came about. After I wrote about fifty stories or poems, I’d realize that what I wrote about, I always wrote about. I’d think, “Oh, great, another story about a bird, another poem about ghosts,” but then I also realized I had a cohesive collection. I hadn’t ever taken the time to say, “I am going to write an X collection about Y that will have the running theme of Z.” I wrote haunting stories because I felt haunted. I wrote about recurring dreams to try to get mine to stop, about my dead grandmother and the immense loneliness I felt living physically in San Francisco off a huge student loan but mentally in the haunted houses of my failed or struggling relationships. I felt crowded and wrote about a hope chest that suffocates a young girl. I was compelled, you know? I think when you write from the body instead of from the mindset that you have to write something of a certain caliber for a particular spot on a particular shelf, you generate a body of work that’s incredibly individual. Every book you’ve ever read, every person who’s broken your heart, you carry with you, juggling them around hoping to get everything placed just so. And sometimes you do, and you let them go, pick something else up. That came out in my writing. My body of work illuminated a desire I had to find new ways of telling stories, and it’s taken me awhile to admit it. Because of course that’s also exactly what I didn’t want to do! I just wanted to be able to write a story that looked like Grace Paley could have written it, to have it published in a best-of fiction anthology. But I don’t write like Grace Paley, or anybody else, as much as I’ve often wished I could have. I write like me, and I’m still learning what that means, and that’s exciting. My writing is labeled all kinds of things: prose, poetry, prose-poetry, flash fiction, etcetera. I nod and smile, but I never write anything creative knowing what genre or length it will be. For me, that’s a mind prison. It’s exhausting surfacing material if I put those narrowing restrictions on myself.
RLL: What writer first made you sit up, thinking, “That’s what love is like"?
Well, first I should say, I loved to read as a kid. I read more books than my mom could buy. All the Goosebumps, all of Nancy Drew, and everything Stephen King had written (I grew up on horror; my mom owned every book he’d ever written.) Then the Sherlock series, everything in the library at my school. And I do mean everything, because it was just a tiny little room of books. Damn, I wish I still could read like that. Anyway, when I was about nine (I remember because my sister still had a speech impediment and called me “Wawe” when my mother would put her on the phone, so she would have been four) I spent two weeks at my great-grandmother and granny’s house, in Menard, Texas. We’re talking small town—nothing to do but try to not catch rabies from the feral animals stalking your porch for scraps. There was a small library full of classics in the house, the kind you could order from Reader’s Digest on credit: Kipling, Charles Dickinson, the Nobel Prize collection. Great stuff, but I felt kind of left out. These weren’t my stories. I didn’t see myself in them. When kids feel left out, they just leave. Go kick dirt with their shoes. My granny was my favorite person in the world, and she would let me kick dirt in her room. Even better, she’d let me read her books. She had trashbags full of romance novels she’d brought from Austin, and I read them. Not all of them, but maybe two, three a day for those two weeks. I fell in love with romance novels and erotica right away, and as I got older and studied literature, I think I missed their frankness about the body and sex and love in academic literature. A family friend gave me some Tom Robbins novels, and the first one I read was Still Life with Woodpecker. There’s this scene where the Princess and Woodpecker have just made love for the first time and there’s this focus on the cum that’s running down her leg, and there’s such tenderness and it somehow seems critical to the balance of life as we know it. That was the first time I really thought, “That’s love and that’s good sex.” That’s the power of good writing: it can literally shape our definition of love and sexuality. That was such a critical moment for me as a reader and writer, because I realized you could write about sex and love without it having to be a romance novel that ends up in a trash bag, that the only reason more people don’t write about it is because they are afraid to. I knew I wanted to be a writer after that. Low art, high art, an instant classic or smut, I didn’t care, so long as I could write something that made me go, “Wow, that’s love.” I’ve had moments where I’ve cared deeply about my writing’s perception and reception, but those weren’t the moments where I was producing anything good. People who run in certain circles scoff at Tom Robbins, Stephen King, David Foster Wallace, John Steinbeck, but those people are stuck running in the same endless circle. That’s not interesting to me.
RLL: What is most challenging about writing about sex and relationships?
In general: everything I write about sex and love terrifies me. Either I tell myself it’s too corny or cliché or it isn’t new or exciting enough. It’s extremely vulnerable. People still slut-shame literature. It’s weird. When did people decide that you can win the big lit prizes on travel writing, you know X, Y, Z, but not erotica? Despite all of this, I advise you still write about love and sex as much as you can. That’s the only way we are going to get better at writing about love and sex. If nothing else, I promise you will learn something about your writing process along the way. And it can definitely be fun. You have to lose a little bit of your inhibitions, and when that wall is down you can amaze yourself with how richly sensual an experience writing can be.
RLL: How and when do you write?
I write a lot at home these days, in the morning and late at night because I like to write alone and often, even if it’s just for half an hour with my coffee or before bed. I have a ritual. That’s the only way I can get myself to do anything regularly: by ritualizing it. I set up everything beforehand. Everything within reach I’m allowed to access while I write; otherwise it’s like it doesn’t exist. Music, cigarettes, water, socks in case my feet get cold, a candle, a little sustenance. It feels like I’m making a shrine sometimes. A friend gave me a tarot card reading last October for my birthday, but instead of focusing on my personal life, it was focused on my novel and creative process. It sounds so weird, but during the reading I felt the energy of my writing as if it were a person. It had a spirit, you know? I got goosebumps up and down my spine like when someone’s watching you, even. Well, I think we all have a creative spirit that follows us, haunts us. Mine is pacified by lighting a candle and taking the time to truly dedicate myself to my writing.
RLL: Where can we read your work or see you read your work?
Thanks so much for asking, Jennifer! Honestly, I try to read for Red Light Lit as often as I can because there are always seasoned as well as emerging writers who don’t just read, but perform from the soul, who really come from a place of love, and everything is curated so beautifully with art and song. It’s truly the only reading series of its kind, and I’m so grateful that it exists and that it’s thriving with the publication of its new anthology! But otherwise, you can keep up with my reading schedule, publications, and their availability at loriamendoza.com or subscribe to get a piece of monthly erotic writing and content by me at patreon.com/loquiero.
INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINA NO
Red Light Lit recently sat down with poet Christine No and asked her a few questions just after she got a speeding ticket going 37mph on Geary Avenue from Oakland to San Francisco. Then we followed-up via email.
RLL: Lidia Yuknavitch has coined the term “corporeal writing," a way of writing about the body. Do you work from the body?
I actually have a really hard time staying present in my body. I’m a very heady and emotional person and my body is often a conduit of reaction rather than foundation—
I’ve also maneuvered a lot of body focused trauma, growing up and as an adult. So, my body has borne the brunt of many an emotional blow. Even now, it is incredibly physically uncomfortable to hold negative feelings. And, with my depression and anxiety, taking care of my body is always a conscious effort. (One I’ve not been the best at lately)
I used to think that our bodies were here to be utilized; that our skin was supposed to be stretched and pulled and snorted and sliced and bruised and nicked. I think I believed that was what experiencing life meant; that we were supposed to “get dirty”. But, getting dirty neighbors a thin line against self-harm and bad coping mechanisms. At least, it did, for me. I look back now and see that this was all an attempt at getting out of my head and heart, this intangible pain circuit, and channeling that pain elsewhere.
Unfortunately, some people destroy others. I destroyed myself; or tried.
Maybe my body is why I write. Maybe my body, my Radical Body (deep down, orig: of the root) was sick and tired of being beat up. Maybe my hands are to blame for the words. Maybe my hands are to thank for the words, the prayer. Yes, my hands are my new conduit: they are our call to arms, a call to prayer, a call to channel my insides, out.
RLL: What writer first made you sit up, thinking, “That’s what love is like?"
Oh! Love is so terrible, isn’t it? These poets know it and I turn to them frequently …
Jeanann Verlee taught me that yes, Love hurts. and Love doesn’t always heal. and that Love is never ever fair. But She teaches me that Love is not lost; and, that if we press on with Love, it means Hope is not lost. And Hope is everything, always—
I go to Bluets and The Argonauts when Love is confusing and heavy and real. I go to Maggie Nelson when self-love and the love of/for another get mucky; because her writing shows me a path through that tangle. I go to Maggie Nelson when the bouganvilleas make me ache for a person, place and thing all at once and in shards, sparkling.
Jason Bayani writes, "Maybe when we say love we mean a safe place to fall apart." fr. Amulet
CD Wright: “Lead me, guide me to the light of your paper. Keep me in your arc of acuity. And when the ream is spent. Write a poem on my back. I’ll never wash it off” fr. Deepstep, Come Shining
Sandra Cisneros: “Okay, we didn’t work, and all / memories to tell you the truth aren’t good. / But sometimes there were good times. / Love was good. I loved your crooked sleep / beside me and never dreamed afraid. // There should be stars for great wars / like ours.” fr. The Simple Us
Warsan Shire: “And if he wants to leave, then let him leave. You are terrifying, and strange, and beautiful. Something not everyone knows how to love.” fr. For Women Who Are Difficult To Love
Dana Levin: “You, future person: star of one of my / complicated dooms”
“She’s a dowser of spine-broken books and loose paper / the rest of your famishing band thinks mad.” fr. Banana Palace
Louise Gluck: “The great thing/ is not having / a mind. Feelings: / oh, I have those; they / govern me…” fr. The Wild Iris
RLL: What is most challenging about writing about sex and relationships?
When a love(r) not so much wants to know if something has been written about them; but, when they turn to me and say: You know, you should really write about *this* (whatever “this” of the moment, is.) Like, uhm, whats up, killer of sexytime!— ::laughing::
RLL How and when do you write?
In a notebook, on scraps, napkins, my hand...
Usually in my bed, at some odd hour of the night, which gives me really bad neck pain.
Sometimes I write in my phone. Its a great way to avoid eye contact in crowded places.
I fight writing and structure, a lot. Although I crave it. (I hate admitting that.) Like, I do my best work in the mornings. I know this and yet I don’t get up in time. Y'know?
RLL: Where can we see you read or read your work?
You can find my publications and videos of some of my readings on my website: www.christineno.com
Here are a coupla from the internets!:
Corners (Lyric Essay) http://boinkzine.com/2017/09/08/corners/
NORTH (Poetry) http://brooklynquarterly.org/north/
ReWriting Mother (Essay) https://therumpus.net/author/christine-no/
Mattress Man (Fiction) http://columbiajournal.org/mattress-man-by-christine-no/
I’ll be performing with Red Light Lit on July 19th at the Lost Church, and in Palm Springs, Joshua Tree and Los Angeles.