Fiction Points: Kristi Coulter

KristiKristi Coulter is the author of Nothing Good Can Come from This (MCD Books x FSG Originals 2018), a memoir in essays centered on her struggle to quit drinking alcohol. Coulter has published in New York Magazine/The CutParis ReviewLongreads, and elsewhere, including a forthcoming Amazon Original, “Yes, And,” on love, monogamy, and secrets. She is a former Ragdale Foundation fellow, National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts grant recipient, and Hugo House guest lecturer. Coulter holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan and resides in Seattle. Nothing Good Can Come from This is her first book.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

“Do you guys realize your outfits all sort of match? No, it’s cute! It’s totally working for you.” 

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

Alcohol as a marker of liberation and equality has loomed large in feminist popular history/culture, from the flappers to Sex and the City to the more recent trend of booze-soaked play dates and wines with names like Mommyjuice. Which is all well and good if you aren’t an addict. I am *totally* an addict, and once I dug my way out of my own drunk-woman subculture (hard-driving urban professional), I started to realize the same white wine that had seemed like a feminist pleasure trophy had also kept me complacent about double standards and inequities in my career and daily life. I’d been fooled by marketing and pop culture and my own damn brain into believing I was ‘having it all,’ when really I was self-medicating in part to tolerate a life I hated. I’m not remotely suggesting that every woman who enjoys a drink is a tool of the patriarchy, or un-feminist. But I do think alcohol and drugs–like cigarettes before them–are often marketed as proof of liberation, when in reality there’s nothing *less* threatening to the status quo as a bunch of muddle-headed, hungover women who just want to make it through their daily chores to that next glass of mommy juice.

What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

I had expected to find sobriety boring, but it turned out to be fascinating, and even more unexpectedly, funny. I mean, suddenly I was navigating familiar situations without the one coping tool I’d relied on for a decade. It may not *sound* like comedy gold, but I tend to find absurdist humor in a lot of unlikely places, and I realized it was a classic fish-out-of-water (or wine) setup. I started keeping a blog to capture some of those comic details–and the less-comic ones, too–and the blog led to essays, which led to me accidentally coming out as sober to the *entire globe* when one self-published essay, “Enjoli,” went mega-viral, which led to a book deal for Nothing Good Can Come from This, my memoir-in-essays about drinking and not drinking.

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How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

It took me a while to realize that I even wanted to write a book about my addiction and sobriety. There are so many addiction memoirs out there already, and often even the great ones follow a classic template where ever-escalating thrills and risks lead to a very hard, dramatic crash, which leads to rehab/AA…and then that’s kind of the end. But my own drinking and sobriety didn’t fit that narrative arc. I didn’t lose my job or my family to drinking. I didn’t get arrested. I quit because I was just (“just,” she says!) tired of thinking and worrying about drinking 24/7, tired that my life had narrowed to that one pinhole-sized focus. And when I stopped, it wasn’t through rehab or AA, just therapy and a lot of introspection and writing and the stubbornness to wait out the hard parts so the better days could come. And, as I mentioned above, I found sobriety to be not only comedy gold, but *much* more interesting than my drinking days–but I assumed readers would only want the gory drinking details, since most of the addiction classics focus on those.

Finally I thought “Hey dummeh [imagine I am saying this in the voice of Fred Sanford from Sanford and Son], maybe all these reasons not to write a book are why you *should* write a book.” I realized there was space in the canon or whatever for an irreverent, non-traditional, very specifically *female* addiction story–or sobriety story, really, since that’s what I chose to focus on. And I decided to be playful with the structure, because neither my addiction or sobriety has felt like an A-to-Z classic narrative journey. So I wrote NGCCFT with a prism in mind, or that Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”–examining exactly what the hell happened from a bunch of different angles and through different forms. Some essays in the collection are straightforward narrative but there’s also a quiz, a letter to a college friend, some instructions, etc. I could only tell my story prismatically because that’s how I lived it.

As far as having drugs in my writing arsenal, I can only say I might not be writing at all, or certainly not as consistently, without my longtime companion Effexor. It’s not a “fun” drug, but it’s a drug that makes fun a possibility for me.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

I realized halfway through writing NCGGFT that I was actually writing about my drunk and sober attempts to satisfy the eternal human craving for *something*–completeness, God, ecstasy–that for most of us will never be quite filled. I’m infinitely happier in sobriety than I was as a drinker, but I still crave completeness, ecstasy, etc. I still have deep wants. And I don’t feel a need to pathologize those cravings and wants. Often, they’re just the human condition. Since completing NGCCFT, I’ve published essays on sex and marriage and music, and I’m currently working on something about ambition, and the problem-slash-joy of want is at the heart of all of it. I find it both fascinating and feminist–women aren’t really supposed to want things for themselves, only for other people–so I imagine it can take me pretty far as a writer.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that Nothing Good Can Come from This gets made into a major motion picture. What song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

In a nod to the eternal craving described above, the epigraph to the book comes from the Replacements song “Unsatisfied”: “Look me in the eye and tell me that I’m satisfied.” It’s my way of telling the reader up front that this is not going to be a story of a wayward woman who ends up in a state of 24-7 gratitude and contentment just because she moved past addiction. So I’d have to end the film the same way. Plus, you know how some credits start out slowly, with one major name per screen, and then the roll starts for everyone else? Well, “Unsatisfied” has a long, spare guitar intro and then opens up into a full, driving melody, so it would work *perfectly* for that credit format. Can you tell I’ve given this some thought, down to who should dress me for the premiere? (Balenciaga.)

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Fiction Points: Red Dirt Marijuana by Terry Southern

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.

As the globetrotting mass of drug historians have been preparing to make their way to Shanghai for the bi-annual conference over the last few days, I (who am, unfortunately, not attending) had a chance to sit down and read some fiction. I don’t often get a chance to read much fiction. I have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five on a shelf on my desk, and the bookmark has been on page 50 since the day I purchased the book for the trip to Dwight, IL, for the ADHS conference there in 2016.

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The original hardcover edition

But this latest literary indulgence was more directly research-related. Terry Southern’s collection of short stories entitled Red Dirt Marijuana and other Tastes has been on my list following a very productive archive trip to New York City two summers ago. I spent a few days (not nearly enough) in the Henry W and Albert A Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library, checking out the collected papers of a number of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs and others.

My dissertation research is formulating an argument about a marijuana culture in the United States beyond the Beats, with which it is commonly associated in the period prior to the 1960s. My initial reasoning was simply because this cultural movement has received plenty of coverage by literary figures and historians of the period. But I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to look at the Beat archives during my time at the New York Public Library. Southern’s papers contained drafts of a couple of the stories (including the title work) as well as some correspondence between Southern and other literary and showbiz figures from the fifties through the nineties. (Southern died in 1995.)

Continue reading →

Fiction Points: Sarah Gerard

SarahbyDavidSarah Gerard is the author of a novel, Binary Star (2015); two chapbooks, BFF (2015)  and Things I Told My Mother (2013); and a forthcoming collection of essays, Sunshine State, centered on her childhood in Florida, the home state she shares with PointsShe also writes a monthly column on artists’ notebooks, “Paper Trail” for Hazlitt. Gerard’s chapbooks garnered praise from tastemakers such as Hobart and The Rumpus, and Binary Star received glowing reviews from, among other publications, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, NPR, Vanity Fair, and The Los Angeles Times, which chose the book as a finalist for its Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.  Buzzfeed, Flavorwire, Largehearted Boy, NPR, and Vanity Fair put Gerard’s debut novel on their 2015 year-end lists. Her short stories, essays, and criticism have appeared in venues including BOMB Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, New York Magazine’s “The Cut,” The Paris Review Daily, and Vice, as well as in anthologies for Joyland and The Saturday Evening Post. She teaches writing in New York City and has been a visiting writer at the University of Maine, The New School, Pratt, and other institutions.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I write about the intersection of arctic birds and religion. Can I interview you?

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

Well, the protagonist of Binary Star is anorexic and addicted to diet pills. Her boyfriend is an alcoholic and takes his psychiatric medication not exactly as prescribed. So, they may find that interesting. I write about drugs and alcohol in a rather different way in my essay collection, which I’m finishing now. I kind of toy with the boundaries of what is a drug: alcohol is a drug, ecstasy is a drug, but is religion also a drug? Is capitalism? Is success? Also, I don’t like to categorically vilify drugs and alcohol. Sometimes recreational drugs are a lot of fun, and sometimes they’re used as medication when another isn’t available. Continue reading →

Fiction Points: Eileen Cronin

CRONINEileen Cronin is a writer and clinical psychologist. Her book Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience (2014) centers on her search for the truth about her body and the role that the drug thalidomide played in its shape, her childhood in a large Catholic family, her mother’s mental illness, her marriage, and her own struggles with alcohol. In addition to nonfiction, Cronin writes poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Bellevue Literary Review, Los Angeles Times, Third Coast,  and Best American Essays, among other venues. She also writes for The Huffington Post. Mermaid appeared on O, The Oprah Magazine‘s Best Memoirs of 2014 list and Pop Sugar‘s “Must Reads of 2014.” In 2008, Cronin won the Washington Writing Prize for Short Fiction. Her nonfiction has earned her a Pushcart Prize nomination, and her two novels were finalists for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Award for Novels-in-Progress. Cronin serves as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine and lives in Los Angeles. 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I can’t help but to notice the resemblance between these folks at the bar. But I don’t ask about that, nor do I tell them that I have written about a nun who looked like a penguin when she ran. Instead I tell them what I have in common with them. I write about Catholics, sort of like Alice McDermott but with a bit more of an edge. Continue reading →

Fiction Points: Chloe Caldwell

Chloe Caldwell in Kingston, NY for Grazia 5/31/14Chloe Caldwell is the author of the novella WOMEN (2014) and the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray (2012). Her work has appeared in VICE, Salon, The Rumpus, The Sun, Men’s Health, several anthologies (including Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York)and elsewhere. Lena Dunham named WOMEN among her 10 Favorite Books in the New York Times, and Caldwell’s work has earned her praise from Bitch Magazine, Buzzfeed Books, The Master’s Review, and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. Coffee House Press/Emily Books will publish her next essay collection, I’ll Tell You in Person, in October 2016.

 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

This is my worst nightmare. I change what I write about depending on who I’m talking to and what I think they can ingest. I meet them where they are. So female! When I’m talking to a parent’s friend or something, I say, travel essays. I really dislike talking about my work with strangers. It takes away the magic of the work. I suck at talking about my work. I’d rather have it speak for itself. So I’d probably get guarded and weird and tell them I wrote a novella. Then I’d text my friends saying OMFG there’s a penguin and a nun in this bar.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

I’m stumped!

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What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

Because I was using drugs and alcohol and writing about my life. So….was inevitable.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

The essay I wrote “Heroin and Acne” for Salon is a good example of this. I like exploring gray areas and middle grounds of themes. Our culture always wants people to be black or white: you’re either a drug addict or you’re not. You’re either a lesbian or your straight. I’ve struggled with identity issues throughout my twenties (like everyone) because often I fell in between, and there weren’t many narratives for me to read that were coming from that place, so I wanted to write them.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

WOMENI like how drugs and alcohol inform the narrator’s choices in WOMEN. One event in the book is the narrator moves to a new town to get away from the drugs she’s doing, but she finds Finn and begins an addictive relationship with her. I’m interested in any addictive behaviors. in my own life, in books and films, in my friends’ lives, and I don’t mean with drugs and alcohol specifically—with the internet, chocolate, fruit, exercise, coffee.

I’m not sure where it will lead me in future projects. I don’t do drugs anymore, but I still reflect on them a ton and am always fascinated with them as much as I am with recovery and health. It’s important to me to un-cliche the way addiction and recovery stories are told. The ways people stay physically and mentally healthy are just as if not more fascinating than addiction stories.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that your novella Women gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

Better Off” by Haim or “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” by Natalie Prass or “Daydreaming” by Dark Dark Dark.

Fiction Points: Scott McClanahan

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Scott McClanahan (credit: HTMLGiant)

Scott McClanahan is the author of the novel Hill William (2013), the nonfiction work Crapalachia: A Biography of Place (2013), and the short story collections Stories (2008), Stories II (2009), Stories V! (2011), and The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Vol. 1 (2012), which includes the out-of-print Stories and Stories II. He cofounded the production company and press Holler Presents with Chris Oxley, who plays beside McClanahan in the band Holler Boys. McClanahan also makes films, available online via Holler Presents. Crapalachia received positive reviews from the New York TimesThe Paris Review, Paste, and The Washington Post, among others; The Huffington Post gave Stories V! a heartfelt rave, and The Fader has called McClanahan “one of [its] favorite writers.”  He appeared on Dzanc Books’ “20 Writers to Watch: An Alternate List” list in 2010 and won Philadelphia’s third Literary Death Match in 2012. He lives in West Virginia with his wife, the writer Juliet Escoria, who has also been featured on Points.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

First, I’d never introduce myself as a writer, but I’d probably ask them about being a nun or a penguin. That seems a hell of a lot more interesting. I think if you found a penguin talking you should probably ask the talking penguin about how it learned to talk rather than babbling about your stupid writing. “Well, it’s called flash fiction Mr. Penguin because it’s really short and flashy.” Nah. Continue reading →

Fiction Points: Elissa Washuta

elissawashutapicElissa Washuta is the author of Starvation Mode: A Memoir of Food, Consumption, and Control (2015) and My Body is a Book of Rules (2014), the latter of which was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Washuta has received fellowships and awards from Artist Trust, 4Culture, Potlatch Fund, and Hugo House. Her essays have appeared in Buzzfeed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Literary HubSalon, Third Coast, and elsewhere. Washuta is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and teaches nonfiction in the Institute for American Indian Arts’ MFA program, where she is also the faculty advisor for Mud City Journal. Additionally, she serves as the undergraduate advisor for the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, from which she earned her MFA. She lives outside Seattle.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

Differently than I would answer almost anyone else, probably, because my first book, My Body Is a Book of Rules, is about sex, (psych) drugs, violence, alcohol, Indigenous identity, and the nuns who tried to teach me how to live. I might whisper to the penguin that I still have all the issues of Cosmopolitan from December 2007 to May 2011 that I used to create a quote-comparison of the magazine’s sex tips and text from The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

Prescribing Information,” one of the chapters in My Body Is a Book of Rules, takes the form of a list of the prescription drugs for bipolar disorder I used and, occasionally, abused between 2006 and 2009. The voice is inspired by that of the information pharmacies dispense alongside prescription drugs. Throughout the book, I write about the effects—helpful and harmful—of those drugs, including Seroquel, Abilify, Xanax, Ativan, and lithium. Continue reading →