Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vanessa Veselka Reads Tonight!

We invite you to join us tonight at 7 pm to hear Portland writer Vanessa Veselka read from her debut novel, Zazen, recently published by Red Lemonade.The novel grew out of a short story the author wrote in 2006 that was published in Tin House.

Zazen is narrated by twenty-seven-year-old Della, who has recently completed her doctorate in paleontology and is living with her brother and his pregnant wife. She spends her time slinging hash at Rise Up Singing, a vegan-friendly diner in the midst of a gentrifying neighborhood. She lives in an unnamed city in a country that one reviewer described as "a slightly twisted mirror reflection of today's United States of America." In a recent interview, Veselka said she chose not to name the city because "it was very, very important to me that it be a certain kind of archetypal city and not a solid location, but rather a location that emerged out of a constellation of certain ideas, more like a set of chemical reactions whose compound always contains the same properties."

Some of the things Veselka wrote about in her book came true after she wrote about them, such as the stampede in WalMart on Black Friday, which the author takes to mean "I am getting close to a cultural pulse." She goes on to say: "It wasn't the future I was describing. It was now in figurative terms....As to what the world of Zazen says about us, I don't know. I'm part of us and sometimes I don't want to be."

In the Acknowledgements of her book, Veselka thanks Beulahland and Staccato Gelato "for letting me sit for hours and hours while I wrote."  She adds, "If you're in Portland, give them lots of business. They deserve it for putting up with people like me." In an interview she said that what she really likes about writing in public is the feeling of decadence: "I love to be hanging out in a cafe when other people are at work. It's the shameless libertine in me. But I also need the human interaction when I'm deep in the writing."

Music is also very important to Veselka; in fact, she says it affects everything she does: "I am a musician and I think in rhythms when I write. Almost all of my writing at the paragraph level is about beats and counter beats. It's my primary editing tool." She says she mutters incessantly when she writes, checking out the rhythms against "some sonic template I inherited from god knows where."

In writing, she thinks symbols and metaphors are "a bit of a shell game, " adding "I like them best when they contradict each other." She says the trick is to avoid simplifying something when we're trying to appreciate its complexities.

Northwest author Jonathan Evison (All About Lulu, West of Here) calls Zazen "hilarious, unsettling, and improbably sweet," saying that reading this debut novel is "a highly engaging, and totally unique experience, which will have you re-reading passages and dog-earing pages." Most of all -- and best of all -- the book is, in Evison's eyes, "that rare novel which dares to be hopeful in the face of despair, and succeeds."

Veselka has been at various times a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a union organizer, a student of paleontology, an expatriate, an independent record label owner, a train hopper, a waitress, and a mother. Her work has appeared in Bust, Bitch, Maximumrocknroll, YETI magazine, and Tin House.

We hope you can join us tonight at 7!

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