Talking with J.A. Jance about the literature of Seattle

J.A. Jance is the author of more than fifty mystery novels and novellas, parceled out into four distinct series. Arguably her most popular series revolves around Seattle investigator J.P. Beaumont, who has headlined 24 books since his introduction in 1985. Jance has been publishing at least one book a year for three decades, and she’s a bestselling author many times over. Her latest mystery, Dance of the Bones, pairs Beaumont with another of her series protagonists, Sheriff Brandon Walker, for the first time. Next Tuesday, Jance begins a four-day, 12-reading (!!!) tour of Washington state. She’ll be at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Redmond Regional Library, and the Mill Creek University Book Store at 11 am, 2 pm, and 7 pm, respectively on the 8th. Other appearances include a pair of retirement communities, the Costco in Silverdale, the Bing Crosby Theatre in Spokane at 7 pm on the 10th, and more. Find her full readings schedule on her website.

You write mystery series set in both Seattle and in Arizona. Do you consider yourself a Seattle author?

When I came to Seattle in 1981, I was a divorced single mother with two children, a full time job in the life insurance business, and the long-deferred dream of becoming a writer. I began writing my first mystery in March, 1982, and my first book was published in June, 1985. Yes, my books are set in both Arizona and Seattle. Arizona may be my home — it’s where I came from — but Seattle is my CREATIVE home. It’s where I was first able to set my hand to the serious task of writing.

Do you believe there is such a thing as a Seattle literary tradition?

Of course. Think about Ivan Doig. If he wasn’t literary, I don’t know what is. Or what about Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain? Or David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars?

But there is also a long tradition of just plain fiction — think Betty McDonald’s The Egg and I. We’re the people who write the kinds of books that people buy in better bus depots everywhere. Or airports. Or drugstores. Or hospital gift shops. We write to entertain or to help people pass the time and turn away from their own difficulties.

Who are my fellow Seattle-based writers? Robert Dugoni? Check. Jayne Ann Krentz? Check. Stella Cameron? Check. Mary Daheim? Check. The late Ann Rule? Check. Yasmine Galenorn? Check.

Our books seldom merit more than a paragraph in local or national book review pages, but our readers buy them and love them.

That’s literary enough for me.

Our September Bookstore of the Month is Seattle Mystery Bookshop

On an uncharacteristically blustery Saturday, Seattle Mystery Bookshop employees Fran and Adele are getting the store ready for an author visit, but they’re happy to stop for anyone who wanders in out of the windstorm. They sometimes greet visitors with the words of the bookshop’s owner, JB Dickey: “you’re welcome to stay as long as you like, but we won’t feed you and we won’t do your laundry.”

Fran has worked at Seattle Mystery Bookshop for over 12 years. Adele can’t recall if she’s been there for five or six years, but she knows she’s been shopping at the store for 17 years. The transition from one side of the counter to the other seems effortless, in retrospect. “I ran into Fran on the street one day and she told me one of their employees was going to be leaving. She asked if I wanted to apply.” She did. Adele laughs, “I was the one employee JB hired who he didn’t ask ‘...and who do you read?’” After all, he’d been talking books with her for over a decade by that point.

A mystery-only bookstore is a unique pleasure. In a general-interest bookshop, the mystery section tends to look trivial, slammed up against the sci-fi section and overrun by cheap-looking mass-market paperbacks. But in Seattle Mystery Bookshop, a browser can see the nuance of the genre. One display features comedy mysteries. Another contains the first books in recommended series. Many shelves, nearly a full wall, are given over to Northwest authors. A walk around the shop will reveal sections full of rare pulp paperbacks, noir stories, young adult mysteries, a Sherlockiana section, and a true crime section full to bursting with books by local author Ann Rule, who passed away earlier this month. (Seattle Mystery Bookshop employees have a ton of stories about Rule’s many appearances at the store through the years, most of which revolve around the way she treated everyone at her signings with kindness, even the people with glassy stares who demanded she uncover the truth about Kurt Cobain’s death.)

As you may expect for a shop specializing in a genre that leans toward series, Seattle Mystery Bookshop has its share of obsessive-compulsive customers who seek out the latest edition of their favorite detective series on the first day of publication. Fran explains that some of their most frequent customers are “people who are insanely loyal to an author. We love those people.”

And the Bookshop loves authors, too. Novelists will return time and again to the store’s lunchtime signing series. For instance, Fran says, “Jackie Winspear will fly up on her own dime to support us [with a signing] if necessary. Author support has been a big deal” for the store. You’d think staff would get a little blasé about all the novelists floating through, but Fran says “we still fall apart on meeting some authors, make no mistake.” She names a few names — Michael Chabon, Michael Connelly, Jasper Fforde — who freaked even the most veteran booksellers out. Adele proudly says Carol O’Connell “threatened to bitch-slap me” because she was so nervous during an event.

After the signings, every visiting author is asked to sign the store author book. They’re assured that the only other people who will ever see its contents, besides Seattle Mystery Bookshop staff, are other authors. Fran encourages the authors to lean to the naughty side of things: “you can draw pictures, you can be risquee and obscene.” She said for a long time, authors would communicate to each other through cartoons. If you haven’t published a mystery she won’t let you flip through the book, but you might be able to convince her to tell you about some of its contents: Mary Daheim sketched a piece of toast, Anthony Bourdain drew a beautiful picture, Jim Butcher composed a haiku.

As you might expect when booksellers and authors get together, gossip flies. Hang around the shop long enough in one of its comfy chairs and you’ll learn about the nitty-gritty of the mystery industry. On book covers, “cats sell,” and so even if there are no cats in the stories, publishers will frequently try to sneak one onto the front. One author successfully argued with her publisher because the solution to her latest mystery was revealed on the cover. A local author originally set his novel in Seattle, but the editor and publisher insisted that he move the series to New York. Another author claims that her contract is so ironclad that there’s even a clause indicating that her work belongs to the publisher even if humanity discovers alien life and sends the book into outer space.

Pioneer Square used to be the closest thing Seattle had to a publishing district, but now Seattle Mystery Bookshop is one of the last bookstores left in the neighborhood. The shop has a defiant feel to it. The staff saw Pioneer Square decline into seediness — everyone remembers the Mardi Gras riots of 2001 — but now they’re watching it sway back to a trendier part of town, with fancy restaurants opening a few blocks away and new tenants moving in seemingly every day. Some customers still stop by looking for Elliott Bay Book Company, which moved to Capitol Hill in 2010, but more and more, people seek Seattle Mystery Bookshop out as a destination in and of itself.

“I told my friends about you,” a young woman with a gaggle of tourists in tow explains to Adele as she walks into the shop, “and they had to come in and see it for themselves.” Adele welcomes them with a huge smile, tells them to grab a book and sit down and make themselves at home. That’s just what they do.

Swapna Krishna at Panels has collected some tweets by local novelist/comics writer G. Willow Wilson about motherhood and the business of art. Wilson, who's responding to a popular essay by Amanda Palmer, explains that editors and publishers levy "a mommy tax" on writers and other artists.

As contractors, Wilson says, women artists have "zero legal protection," and the story of her own experiences is a real eye-opener: "I wrote ALIF THE UNSEEN while pregnant and edited it with a newborn sleeping on my chest. Toured while pregnant with kid #2....MS MARVEL? First arc outline handed in 48 hours after the birth of Kid #2. First arc written largely while nursing an infant." Go read the whole thread. We desperately need child care and family leave acts in this country.

You have two months to apply for Jack Straw's 2016 Writers Program. Don't know what that is? I'll let them explain:

Twelve writers, selected by an invited curator, create new work during the residency to be presented through live readings, recorded interviews, a published anthology, and as podcasts on our web site. Participants also receive professional training in voice and microphone technique, performance and delivery, and interviews.

Previous Jack Straw writers include Rebecca Hoogs and David Schmader. And this year's program curator is local poet Karen Finneyfrock, who is both an excellent writer and a brilliant reader of her own work, which means that if she selects you for the program, you know you've got something special going on with your bad self. You literally have nothing to lose. Go apply today, and then spend the next two months thinking about all the ways you'll be able to share your work with a solid year of Jack Straw's training.

Lunch Date: Bringing the worst novel in the world out for a salad

(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)

Who’s your date today? Atlanta Nights, a novel that was crowdsourced by nearly three dozen science fiction writers.

Where’d you go? Sprout on the ground floor of the Smith Tower.

What’d you eat? I had the South by Northwest salad, which has all the ingredients you'd expect (steak, romaine, salsa, a cilantro-lime dressing) and some you wouldn't (chili-roasted sweet potatoes).

How was the food? It was great. Sprout is my favorite downtown stop for salads; they're not too heavy and not too light — even the Cobb — and the ingredients are always super-fresh. For about ten bucks, you can get a salad that feels like a meal, but which doesn't feel too weighted down with cheese or goopy dressings.

What does your date say about itself? Adam Rowe at Barnes & Noble's Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog explains that the book was written as a way "to expose 'traditional publisher' PublishAmerica as a vanity press." Rowe says:

The sting operation, organized by author and vanity press-buster James D. Macdonald, aimed to create a book designed to be disturbingly bad. He rounded up a host of co-conspirators, among them some of the most popular (and even award-winning) writers in the genre; Sherwood Smith, Adam Troy-Castro, Allen Steele, and Megan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb) were among those who contributed chapters under intentionally vague guidelines. No one knew any details about the plot, character backgrounds, or even where their chapter would fall in the book.

In the final draft, chapter 21 was missing, replaced by a second chapter 12. Chapter 4 was identical to chapter 17. Chapter 34 was entirely generated by a software program. Reading Atlanta Nights is like experiencing an art project: the text might be justified to the center or to the right at a whim, and page 119 is entirely blank for no discernible reason.

You can read the whole book online for free.

Is there a representative quote? Try this on for size:

The Atlanta sun slanted low in the west, rain showers predicted for later that afternoon, then clearing. Bruce Lucent looked from the side window of his friend's shiny Maserati sports car as they wheeled their way westward against the afternoon traffic.

"I'm glad you could give me a ride," Bruce Lucent muttered, his pain-worn face reddened by the yellow sunlight. "What with my new car all smashed and all."

His old friend, Isadore, shook his massive head at him. "We know how it must be to have a lot of money but no working car," he said, the harsh Macon County drawl of his voice softened by his years in Atlanta high society. "It's my pleasure to bring you back to your fancy apartment, and we're all so happy that y'all is still alive. Y'all could have been killed in that dreadful wreck." Isadore paused to put on the turn signal before making a safe turn across rush-hour traffic into the parking lot of Bruce Lucent's luxury apartment building. "Y'all'll gets a new car on Monday."

"I don't know how I'll be able to drive it with my arm in a cast," Bruce Lucent shoots back. "It's lucky I wasn't killed outright like so many people are when they have horrid automobile wrecks."

"Fortunately, fast and efficient Emergency Medical Services, based on a program founded by Lyndon Baines Johnson the 36th President of the United States helped y'all survive an otherwise, deadly crash," Isadore chuckled.

Will you two end up in bed together? I think so, yes. I've never read something more equivalent to the kind of cheesy thrill you get from a so-bad-it's-good movie like The Room or Showgirls. Half the fun of reading Atlanta Nights is imagining the writers making themselves laugh as they type it out. Some of the lines are so incredibly dumb that they demonstrate real sharpness, like the one about "Andrea who never came on time unless she happened to be laying on someone’s watch during sex." It takes a lot of work to craft a line that terrible. I can't read Atlanta Nights all in one sitting, but as a work of comedy it's a unique thrill.

Robert Montgomery's "The Stars Pulled Down for Real" is excellent public poetry

Every Tuesday morning, we present a poem for you to enjoy, but this week we're going to do something a little different. I want to call a piece of public art to your attention. Robert Montgomery's poem "The Stars Pulled Down for Real" is the latest site-specific artwork at All Rise, the public art space located between Denny and John, down in the Denny Triangle. All Rise's website explains Montgomery's work as "confront[ing] a post-utopian current while echoing a full, at times romantic, chronology of a land divided, shaped, and built ever-upward."

I think "post-utopian" is maybe a bit too hopeful; I'd call it downright dystopian in places, with our love affair with the road described as "the beginning of a contagion" and people chastised as "ignoring the time of the ice cap melts" and wondering "how will they remember the oil age."

This site, remember, is on an incredibly busy road, a major exchange leading to I-5, and so in many ways it's science fiction colliding with the present-day city around it. This is a vision of a future generation struggling to remember the crisis that brought ruination upon them, right in front of a round-the-clock display of the technology that brought the ruination in the first place. In some ways, it's like Montgomery is putting up yellow crime-scene tape around a murder in progress.

But there's hope in there, too! Or at least an appreciation of "the city" as "a magical sculpture we live inside," even if Montgomery is envisioning the skyscrapers (which are at your back if you're reading the billboard) as a post-human landcape with eagles living ("not as symbols/just as eagles") on them as repurposed clifftops. The city will survive us. The city will always be put to good use, even if we're not around to be the ones who use it.

I know that last one is hard to read, but it's a reprisal of the text on the first billboard, only in lights: "Squares and squares of flame with memory inside them remembering the map under the flood water twist up the heartsongs of the dead into empty stadiums and all the stars pulled down now for real." After you read your way around the billboards, you arrive at the end, which is the beginning. Montgomery seems to be lamenting our loss, not damning us for losing everything. He's not quite Ozymandias, urging us to look and despair. Instead, he's demanding that we find the beauty in the world we're in the process of discarding.

"The Stars Pulled Down for Real" will be pulled down (for real) on September 5th, so you have less than a week to go enjoy it in real life. I'd encourage you to do so.

Even though Seattle is happily back to its normal grey drizzle, we can't forget that the eastern half of Washington is currently battling the worst wildfires in state history. We've already looked at how booksellers are surviving the fires, but here's a project that's worthy of your attention: every other day, Washington state Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen will publish a poem relating to the wildfires. Yesterday, she published a beautiful poem by William Stafford about the Tillamook Burn. Last week, she ran a poem called "Endless Summer" by SRoB contributor Kelli Russell Agodon.

Some of you may be wondering what poems have to do with wildfires. The answer is that poetry has to do with everything; Austen is raising awareness of a life-or-death issue in her capacity as our Poet Laureate. She is doing, in short, exactly what she should be doing: applying her mind to the problem and helping the public interpret the news, to give an unthinkable disaster a more human scale.

Some asshole at the Guardian who has never read one of Terry Pratchett's novels thinks Terry Pratchett is overrated. Yep, it's the same old boring "serious literature" conversation, with an added smear on a recently deceased author for good measure.

This is an obvious plea for attention, and you should ignore it. Go read a Terry Pratchett novel instead; if you're unfamiliar with his work, we recommend Mort or The Colour of Magic to get you started. If you think you really must read this asshole's incendiary comments, follow this Do Not Link link to the story to find out exactly how dumb it really is. But really, the correct response to dumb pieces like this is to ignore them. That's the only way that sites will stop running dumb clickbait. They're literally profiting off your outrage.

J.G. Perkins' The Announcers

This week's sponsor is Chatwin Books, and we're featuring the introduction and a full chapter from The Announcers, by J.G Perkins.

This is the first volume in Perkins' 19-volume Darkness Before Mourning, one of the largest series of serious fiction ever created by a single author. We're featuring the Introduction, and chapter 15, for you to read in their entirety.

For those who shared it, the American Dream was wonderful. I awakened from part of that dream early and watched, in one way or another, much of the rest of the country follow over several decades. Some are still asleep. Like many of the awakened, I found that my dream had elements of a nightmare. And while I treasure truth above all else, I envy those who are still dreaming.

Read both selections, and help us in our fight to make internet advertising something worth looking forward to.

Pronouns in space

Published August 31, 2015, at 12:01pm

Kate Macdonald review Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, and Nicola Griffith's Ammonite.

In the tradition of sci-fi novels reimagining the male/female dyad, Ann Leckie's "Ancillary Justice" delivers something new, suggesting that gender isn't necessary.

Read this review now

Over at the Theatrical Mustang podcast, I talked about the Seattle Review of Books with host Katie Woodzick. We also discussed diversity, why Seattle is such an amazing city for books, and the pleasure of not discussing Jonathan Franzen. I hope you'll give it a listen and then subscribe to Theatrical Mustang, which interviews all sorts of literary, theater, and musical types. Start with this interview with the wonderful Kathy Hsieh.

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from the week of August 31 - September 6

MONDAY Our week begins at Elliott Bay Book Company, where the wonderful independent publisher Red Hen Press presents a group reading with Tom Janikowski,Amaranth Borsuk, and Patrick Milan. They’ll all read from their most recent titles. But this reading also features local author Elissa Washuta, author of My Body is a Book of Rules and, most recently, Starvation Mode. (You can read my review of the latter right here.) A reading from Washuta alone is reason to show up, but tonight you’ll get to see three other writers and support a fantastic small press.

TUESDAY It’s back to Elliott Bay Book Company for a 7 pm reading co-presented with Hedgebrook. Naomi Jackson presents her debut novel The Star Side of Bird Hill, about young sisters who move from Brooklyn to the Caribbean, where their grandmother lives. Jackson will appear with local poet Anastacia Tolbert, who graced the Seattle Review of Books with a wonderful poem last Tuesday.

WEDNESDAY Up at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Jamie Bianchini reads from A Bicycle Built for Two Billion, his account of riding around the world on a tandem bike. On his trip, Bianchini visited 81 countries in 7 years. He’s got a lot of stories from that experience and, presumably, he’s got a nice pair of legs to show for it, too.

THURSDAY At Third Place Books Ravenna, local artist Frida Clements reads from her book Have a Little Pun, which is a collection of illustrated puns, leaning heavily on the animal side of the pun spectrum. The promo copy for this event reads: “Having a bad hare day? Feeling a little antsy? What the hail, just dill with it, and for fox sake, have a little pun.” Just reading that will probably help you determine if this event is for you or not.

FRIDAY Ada’s Technical Books presents a different kind of writing event: the software company Cycling ’74 presents a reception and demonstration celebrating an updated version of their programming language, Max 7. There will also, reportedly be “swag.”

SATURDAY University Book Store presents Portland author Michael McGregor, author of Pure Act, which is a biography of minimalist poet Robert Lax. How minimalist? I’ll let Wikipedia spell it out: “Over the years the poems became more and more minimalist, sometimes consisting of single words, even single syllables, running down page after page, often in varying colors.”

SUNDAY Hugo House hosts the very first party for the gorgeous local online literary magazine Moss. Co-founders Connor Guy and Alex Davis-Lawrence will host, present four awesome readers (Rebecca Brown, Matt Briggs, Janie Miller, and Miriam Cook,) and talk about the future of Moss, which will involve a physical manifestation. This is the book party of the week, without question.

The big-hearted neurologist and author has died at age 82. If you'd like to try one of his books, the obvious place to start is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, although if you're in the mood for a novel, Richard Powers's The Echo Maker features a Sacks-like writer. (Some have complained about the way Powers treated Sacks, but I respectfully disagree; in fact, my way into Sacks's prose came through The Echo Maker.)

The Sunday Post, for August 30, 2015

No Country for Young women

Erin Kissane on why she stopped reading fiction written by men, and movies with male protagonists: "I just got tired."

It’s not even that my politics quail at something I otherwise enjoy. I’m just stung and sad, and ashamed that I keep falling for the same trick. If a piece of fiction is made by and emotionally centered on men, chances are, it defaults to the belief that women are nothing but fuel. Doesn’t matter if I’m catching every reference and gleefully staying ahead of every jump. It will eventually declare that it’s not meant for me. Sometimes the women are missing, or just vacant; sometimes there’s a string of bloody bodies that look like mine. The point comes across.
The Price of Diversity

Colleen Muir wonders, over at the Rumpus, if expensive writing conferences can really lay claim to promoting diversity?

On the Bread Loaf website, the director of the conference claims to “foster stimulating communities of diverse voices….” Yet I wonder if Bread Loaf, or any other fee-charging literary institution that waves the “we value diversity” flag, can genuinely make this claim. By charging writers such high fees, these literary institutions seal themselves off from what they claim to seek: diversity of talent, diversity of experience, diversity of voice.
Literary Magazines for Socialists Funded by the CIA, Ranked

The story of the journals that helped the CIA in their fight against communism.

“[I]n much of Europe in the 1950’s,” wrote Braden, “socialists, people who called themselves ‘left’—the very people whom many Americans thought no better than Communists—were about the only people who gave a damn about fighting Communism.”
Why there are no taboos in Scandinavian children's books

The Guardian published this piece by Norwegian writer Norwegian Ingelin Røssland on the openness in writing for kids in Scandinavia.

In Scandinavia there are no taboos when it comes to writing, even for children and young people. Books for teens exploring sexuality with explicit language are not censored. It’s so normal for us. There is nothing I can’t cover as a teen writer and I know my publisher would stand by me no matter what.

Here are a couple of examples to explain what I mean. The book Fittekvote by Axel Hellstenius and Morten Skårdal, about young girls in the military, won a literature prize in 2011. It would be called “Cunt Quota” if translated into English.

One day left to read a chapter from Robert James Russell's Mesilla

Through Sunday, our sponsor Robert James Russell is allowing us run a chapter from his upcoming western Mesilla, being released by Seattle's own Dock Street Press. It's a real treat, and one you won't want to miss.

He unwound a piece of stained red cloth from around the upper part of his left thigh and he dropped the saturated tourniquet into a soaked pile beside him. He took two fingers and tore open his trousers and beneath the breach lay a bullet wound that fizzled deep, the skin encircling the wound lipped out as if it had been disturbed by some plated tremor deep below. He thumbed at it curiously as if he had familiarities with human anatomy then recoiled from the shocks of pain that shot back. He coughed and cleared his throat and squinted his eyes at the hole, imagining he could see the top of the stunted round glistening, and he wished he had dug the thing out in San Agustin when he’d had the chance.

Read the whole chapter. With your help, we can take Annie Oakley aim at internet advertising and make it something good.

Rahawa Haile’s short stories of the day, of the previous week, for August 29, 2015

Every day, friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile tweets a short story. She gave us permission to collect them every week. This week includes a special appearnce by Rahawa's cat, FutureCat.

"Nearly every woman I know has either had an abortion or helped another woman get one," begins the latest post on local author Lesley Hazleton's blog. Hazleton is a brilliant writer, a fearless thinker, and a deeply compassionate human being, and in this post she puts all those qualities to the service of one important cause. Hazleton wants to "break the weird veil of shame and secrecy that still hangs over the decision" to have an abortion, "even when abortion is legal." She thinks it's important to "stand up and say 'Yes, sure, I had one.'" She continues: "So here’s the story of mine."

Go read the whole post. In the comments, Hazleton says she's organizing a January event at Town Hall "with thirty women speaking two minutes each, telling their own stories." As soon as she announces the date for that, we'll let you know.

The Seattle of your nightmares

Published August 28, 2015, at 12:00pm

Paul Constant review Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me.

If you raise your hackles when someone tells you that Seattle is a racist city, you need to read Ta-Nehisi Coates's new book. It won't make you feel any better, but it will absolutely open your eyes.

Read this review now

Shelf Awareness published an account of two Washington state booksellers who recently had to close due to rampant wildfires. One of the bookstores, Winthrop's delightful Trail's End, is open again and "plans to donate proceeds from coffee sales at its espresso bar to vetted fire relief funds." If you're ever in the Methow Valley, you should go out of your way to visit Trail's End; it's a delightful and well-stocked little shop. We're glad to hear they're all okay and back to serving the community.

The Help Desk: Advice on adopting the perfect muse

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to advice@seattlereviewofbooks.com.

Dear Cienna,

I am a novelist. Some have called me the novelist, but their approval means nothing to me. Likewise their approbation. But I age, as we all do, and, as we all do, I crave the succor of youth. I have decided to adopt a child, that I may learn the ways of the youth from him and instill that vigor into my life’s work, my novels. Obviously, I should not acquire an American child because America has become a rogue nation, a palsied old nag that barely resembles its former mustang-self. From what nation should I adopt this child, that I may use him as a lens to acquire a global perspective on the uselessness of youth?

Jonathan, America

Dear Jonathan,

Why settle for an orphan from Asia or Afghanistan when you could harvest child parts from a healthy spread of broken countries and stuff them into the resentful muse of your choice for a truly tortured look at adolescence? Fifteen of the 20 poorest countries in the world are found in Africa and — happy coincidence! — you can’t be ignorant of America’s awkward relationship with its black citizens. Wouldn’t it be a triumph if you, a white man (educated guess), could write with earned authority on the plight of black men in America for a primarily white audience?

Begin by acquiring a sickly child from a country like Mozambique. It’s important that you don’t purchase the child outright, given our country’s historical use of the continent as a fire sale for cheap labor. Instead, try sensitively trading the child’s guardians a signed copy of your latest masterpiece in exchange for parental rights. If they seem to have emotions for the child, throw in a handful of cigarettes or a bottle of multivitamins.

From there, it’s a simple dance to purchase a few extra parts — a pancreas from Iraq, kidneys from China, a liver from somewhere truly exotic, like the corpse of a sober Bostonian.

There. Now you have crafted your perfect resentful muse. Add him to your family’s cell phone plan, create him a Twitter account and pose him by your writing desk. Ask him probing questions about his feelings for you, the world. The sound of his testicles dropping will provide the backdrop to your next best masterpiece.

xoxo,

Cienna