Pigeon Pages Interview with Rachel Lyon


Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?

When I was about ten my family got a cockatiel. I named him Columbus. I’m not sure why. All I can say in my defense is that at ten I was unaware of the explorer’s colonialist genocidal tendencies. The bird made an ill-fated pet anyway. We gave him away only a year or so later, because my mother was allergic to him.

What is your most memorable reading experience?

When I was a kid I used to wake up very early and read in the quiet morning before the sun came up. I could see the Manhattan Bridge out my window and the lights of the subway cars going by on it, which got fainter as the sun came up. I think I read Fat Men From Space that way—which, if you don’t know it, is a very silly novel about a boy who can tune into alien broadcasts through a filling in his tooth.

What makes you most excited about Self-Portrait with Boy?

The best part of this whole experience by far has been hearing from readers who enjoyed the book. About a week after the book came out I got an email from a man whose son had died. He said that the way the parents’ grief is represented in Self-Portrait with Boy really resonated with him. That deeply moved and humbled me. And just last week I heard from a girl I taught when she was in third grade. She’s a high school senior now and wrote to say she’d read my book and loved it. That really delighted me.

To tweet or not to tweet?

To tweet!—for some of us, not all. Fiction writers tweet beautifully. Poets, even better. But I wish Twitter would impose severe restrictions on the communication of politicians. Twitter is great for jokes, rants, flights of fancy, and simple observations, but it is simply not the proper platform for policy decisions.

What books do you have in your bag right now?

A galley of the amazing forthcoming novel The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon. (Speaking of Twitter…  #galleybrag.)

Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?

Oh boy. When I was in my very first year of grad school and had no idea about the way the literary world worked, I sent a very poorly written story in to the New Yorker. An acquaintance of mine from college was an intern there, so I thought maybe I had a shot. I addressed it to him, personally—“care of X.” Of course, I never heard anything back. He is now a very famous playwright. When I think about how horrendously bad that story was… I just… I can’t. I am still embarrassed about that.

What literary journals do you love?

I want to give a shout-out to a few smaller journals that have published some of my shorter work, because they are awesome and if you don’t know them you definitely should: Jellyfish Review, People Holding..., Flock, Bodega, Conium Review, Heavy Feather Review, and Flapperhouse.

What shakes your tail feathers?

Is that a positive thing or a negative thing? Like, when you are mad, do you say, “That just shakes my tail feathers!” Or is it, maybe, a euphemism for dancing? Like “Get off your butt and shake a tail feather!” I’m going to say it’s the latter. I’m going to say... Beyoncé.

What advice do you have for fledgling writers?

Write every day. Even if all you get down is a paragraph, or a few sentences. Writing is a lot of things—a struggle, a joy, a pain in the butt, a way to represent the world, a way to represent ourselves, a form of communication, a form of transcendence—but, first and foremost, it is a discipline.

What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?

I am teaching a lot. I’m working on a new novel, and a collection of short stories. I’m playing around with some woodblock printing. I’m teaching myself about tarot. I’m trying to be better about writing thank you cards, and about setting aside time to read—faraway from my laptop and cell phone. I’m exploring exciting new flavors of soda pop. There are so many exciting new flavors of soda pop! Last week I had a soda that tasted like chocolate fudge. In LA on my book tour I had a soda that tasted like rose petal perfume, and another that tasted like black liquorice. I’m telling you, we live in an incredible world.


Rachel Lyon is the author of the novel SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY (Scribner 2018). Her shorter work has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland, Iowa Review, Electric Literature, and other publications. She teaches for Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Catapult, Slice, and elsewhere, and sends out a weekly writing/thinking prompts newsletter at tinyletter.com/rachellyon. Rachel is a cofounder of the reading series Ditmas Lit, in her native Brooklyn NY. Visit her there, or online at www.rachellyon.work.