Pigeon Pages Interview with Bonnie Chau
Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?
Did you know 2018 is the Year of the Bird?? I can't think of any really spectacular bird stories, but I do like that birds have been a part of my life, different ones in different times and places. Growing up in Orange County, California, it was still a bit wild back then, and we'd see roadrunners and quail and hawks. Lots of mourning doves. Swallows in the spring. The creaky cork-rubbing squeak of swallows, that's kind of permanently etched into my memory. Here, I go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden a lot right by my house. I like seeing cardinals there, especially in the winter. And catbirds. Those make funny sounds too. When I first moved to NYC I was living in Bushwick, and one of my favorite things was that walking around the neighborhood and especially when I was up on the roof of my building, there were the pigeon fliers who kept coops on their rooftops nearby, and I could watch these beautiful flocks of pigeons swooping around and around.
What is your most memorable reading experience?
I think the most memorable reading experiences are ones that I associate with physical responses. Several years ago I was reading George Saunders's Tenth of December at a coffee shop in Midtown and reading the ending of the story "Escape from Spiderhead" made me cry, I remember being very shocked at myself, crying over a book in public in the middle of the day. I read The Sheltering Sky while I was living in France, and I remember being alone in the apartment bedridden with some horrible flu and feeling that my feverish delirium was feeding into and off of the feverishness of the novel.
What makes you most excited about All Roads Lead to Blood?
It's been really exciting the people I've met because of the book and the events I've done for it. I got to read with Cristina Rivera Garza in DC and May-Lan Tan in Philly, and met a whole bunch of awesome publishers and editors and writers at the lit mag/small press Barrelhouse's writing conference in Pittsburgh. I was doing a reading at Wolfman Books in Oakland, and almost all the people there were friends or friends of friends, but this one person I didn't know asked if I could sign her book and make it out to "the girls" because she was going to pass it around to her group of friends whom she had grown up with in Cerritos, which is on the Orange County border, and she told me she never thought someone would be writing about this experience of being an Asian American growing up in the OC suburbs. So that was super cool!
To tweet or not to tweet?
I'm not so good at that. I'm on it a bit for book stuff, and sometimes I'll tweet what book(s) I'm currently reading. But I don't have a smart phone. So it doesn't make that much sense.
What books do you have in your bag right now?
I'm usually reading a couple of books at a time, and they rotate in and out of my bag. I have A Writer of Our Time, a biography of John Berger by my high school friend Josh Sperling, and This Little Art by Kate Briggs, and I'm rereading Rebecca by du Maurier. Also Leanne Shapton's forthcoming Guestbook: Ghost Stories. I usually also have one or two very small, thin books that I'm reading on and off in case for some reason I can't have a full-sized heavier book in my bag—currently these are The Agony of Eros, Byung-Chul Han, translated by Erik Butler, and Renee Gladman's The Ravickians.
Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?
Oh wow, I'm a bit bummed to say I don't have a favorite rejection story! I have hundreds of rejections of course. But nothing that makes a good story. I guess maybe this means that looming in the future, just waiting for me somewhere on down the line, is some really really awful rejection. Or maybe you're not just talking about writing-related rejections though? If that's true, then probably I'll just point to my book as basically a collection of favorite rejection stories haha.
What literary journals do you love?
There are so many fantastic journals out there! Music & Literature, The Scofield, Fairy Tale Review, AAWW's The Margins, The White Review, 3:AM. BOMB, FENCE, NOON. Some great translation-focused ones: Two Lines, Asymptote, EuropeNow, Words Without Borders...
What shakes your tail feathers?
What does this mean?? What gets me excited? Or what really irritates me? I love eating those marinaded artichoke hearts out of a jar, I eat them like potato chips, like just a dozen of them at a time. I love books and working in a bookstore. I love asking and talking to people about what they're reading. I love it when I can make a successful book recommendation. I walk to work every morning, and I love walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. Umm. Plants, trees, gardening, botanic gardens. Fall and winter really irritate me. I love summer! I cannot wait until summer!
What advice do you have for fledgling writers?
I think it can be very helpful to keep a journal or notebook or diary. I don't really care about writing everyday but writing as a frequent practice, no matter what the writing is like or is about, can be valuable. For writers who are very young and/or who are just starting out, it can be daunting to jump into writing some full-fledged story. What if you feel like you haven't experienced enough? What if you're not sure you have an urgent enough story to tell? It's still important to practice the act of articulation and rendering what you imagine or see or feel into words on a page. Also, reading a lot and reading widely. Reading fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, poetry, textbooks, guidebooks, books in translation, old books, new books, popular books, obscure books, books by people like you, books by people not like you.
What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?
I have some eggs that are plants. Some eggs that I'm trying to get back into my basket are drawing and painting and ceramics, photography. There's a very big egg that's a novel. Another few eggs are translation. Translated eggs.
BONNIE CHAU is from Southern California and received her MFA in fiction and translation from Columbia University. She has received fellowships from Kundiman, the Fine Arts Work Center, the American Literary Translators Association, and Vermont Studio Center, and her writing has appeared in Flaunt, The Offing, Joyland, Nat. Brut, The Felt, and other journals. She works at an independent bookstore in Brooklyn and is assistant web editor at Poets & Writers. She is the author of the short story collection All Roads Lead to Blood (SFWP/2040 Books, 2018). bonniechau.com