Gays Reading

Upcoming/Up & Coming feat. Zoë Bossiere, Alan Murrin, and Essie Chambers

May 28, 2024 Jason Blitman, Brett Benner, Zoe Bosseire, Alan Murrin, Essie Chambers Season 2 Episode 53
Upcoming/Up & Coming feat. Zoë Bossiere, Alan Murrin, and Essie Chambers
Gays Reading
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Gays Reading
Upcoming/Up & Coming feat. Zoë Bossiere, Alan Murrin, and Essie Chambers
May 28, 2024 Season 2 Episode 53
Jason Blitman, Brett Benner, Zoe Bosseire, Alan Murrin, Essie Chambers

In the fourth installment of their debut novelists series UPCOMING / UP & COMING, Jason and Brett talk to three new writers about their recently and soon-to-be released books. Zoë Bossiere (Cactus Country, May 21) talks about navigating identity growing up in a trailer park; Alan Murrin (The Coast Road, June 4) shares how short stories transformed into a novel; and Essie Chambers (Swift River, June 4) talks about how ancestral inheritance shaped her book, and also learns about the cootie shot.  

Zoë Bossiere (they/she) is writer from Tucson, Arizona. They are the managing editor of Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction. as well as the coeditor of two anthologies: The Best of Brevity (Rose Metal Press, 2020) and The Lyric Essay as Resistance: Truth from the Margins (Wayne State UP, 2023). Bossiere's debut, Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir, chronicles their experiences growing up as a trans boy in a Tucson, Arizona trailer park.

Alan Murrin is an Irish writer based in Berlin. His short story, “The Wake,” won the 2021 Bournemouth Writing Prize and was shortlisted for short story of the year at the Irish Book Awards. The Coast Road was shortlisted for the PFD Queer Fiction prize. Murrin is also the recipient of an Irish Arts Council Agility Award and an Arts Council Literature Bursary. He is a graduate of the prose fiction masters at the University of East Anglia, and writes for the Irish Times and the Times Literary Supplement, as well as Art Review and e-flux.

Essie Chambers earned her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Vermont Studio Center, and Baldwin for the Arts. A former film and television executive, she was a producer on the documentary Descendant, which was released by the Obamas’ Higher Ground production company and Netflix in 2022. Swift River is her debut novel. 

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**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript

In the fourth installment of their debut novelists series UPCOMING / UP & COMING, Jason and Brett talk to three new writers about their recently and soon-to-be released books. Zoë Bossiere (Cactus Country, May 21) talks about navigating identity growing up in a trailer park; Alan Murrin (The Coast Road, June 4) shares how short stories transformed into a novel; and Essie Chambers (Swift River, June 4) talks about how ancestral inheritance shaped her book, and also learns about the cootie shot.  

Zoë Bossiere (they/she) is writer from Tucson, Arizona. They are the managing editor of Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction. as well as the coeditor of two anthologies: The Best of Brevity (Rose Metal Press, 2020) and The Lyric Essay as Resistance: Truth from the Margins (Wayne State UP, 2023). Bossiere's debut, Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir, chronicles their experiences growing up as a trans boy in a Tucson, Arizona trailer park.

Alan Murrin is an Irish writer based in Berlin. His short story, “The Wake,” won the 2021 Bournemouth Writing Prize and was shortlisted for short story of the year at the Irish Book Awards. The Coast Road was shortlisted for the PFD Queer Fiction prize. Murrin is also the recipient of an Irish Arts Council Agility Award and an Arts Council Literature Bursary. He is a graduate of the prose fiction masters at the University of East Anglia, and writes for the Irish Times and the Times Literary Supplement, as well as Art Review and e-flux.

Essie Chambers earned her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Vermont Studio Center, and Baldwin for the Arts. A former film and television executive, she was a producer on the documentary Descendant, which was released by the Obamas’ Higher Ground production company and Netflix in 2022. Swift River is her debut novel. 

Gays Reading is sponsored by Audible. Get a FREE 30-day trial by visiting audibletrial.com/gaysreading

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Jason Blitman:

We have so many exciting authors on today's episode, and I think it's a little, might run a little long, so I feel like we should be brief, because we also have so many great books coming out today. It's a very busy, busy book week happening.

Brett Benner:

it is. There's a lot of books coming out.

Jason Blitman:

We're announcing our June lineup in a couple of days because I can't believe it's almost freaking June. And some people who have, some people who will be joining us in June have books coming out today. So we need to shout them out.

Brett Benner:

Yes, like Emma Copley Eisenberg and her fantastic housemates. That comes out today. Also, um, had just recently been on the show, Yale Vanderwooden and the Safe Keep comes out today. Also, a few others. not on the show, but are coming out today. Pretty by K. B. Brookins, a memoir, garth Riz Kalberg's new book, best selling author of City on Fire, which I read years and years ago, so I have not read this yet, but I'm really excited to read it. The second coming, and one book that I'm really personally so excited about is, uh, my favorite thing is Monsters Vol. 2 by Emile Farris. This is actually a graphic novel, and it's, the first one was so incredible, and it's kind of autobiographical, and this is the second part, and it's been a long time coming for people who are waiting for it, so I'm very excited about this.

Jason Blitman:

As always, if you like what you're hearing, please share us with your friends. It has been such a joy watching, um, our followers and our listenership grow. We are almost a year old and we absolutely can not believe it. We are on Instagram at GaysReading. You could shoot us a note at gaysreading at gmail dot com. We have a Patreon where you can find lots of interesting bonus content that we don't have time to air, uh, and also every book that we talk about On, on the program, I almost said all the books that we talk about on the program can be found in our bookshop. org page, all of these links are in our show notes and also in our link tree on our Instagram,

Brett Benner:

got it all.

Jason Blitman:

On today's episode, we have three fantastic debut authors as we are obsessed with our debut authors. In order by appearance and release jade. We have Zoe Bossiere and their memoir cactus country. We have, Murrin, and his book, The Coast Road, and S. E. Chambers, and her debut, Swift River. here's a little bit about each of them. Zoe Bossier, is a writer from Tucson, Arizona. They are the managing editor of Brevity, a journal of concise literary nonfiction, as well as the co editor of two anthologies, The Best of Brevity and The Lyric Essay as Resistance, Truth from the Margins. Bossier's debut, Cactus Country, a boyhood memoir. Chronicles their experiences growing up as a trans boy in a Tucson, Arizona trailer park. And then next up we have Murrin, he is an Irish writer based in Berlin. His short story, The Wake, won the 2021 Bournemouth Writing Prize and was shortlisted for the Short Story of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. The Coast Road was shortlisted for the PFT Queer Fiction Prize. He's a graduate of the Prose Fiction Masters at the University of East Anglia, and writes for the Irish Times and the Times Literary Supplement as well as Art Review and E Flex. And then Essie Chambers, she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and has received fellowships from the McDowell Vermont School of Studio Center, and Baldwin for the Arts. A former film and television executive, she was a producer on the documentary Descendant, which was released by the Obama's Higher Ground production company and Netflix in 2022. Swift River is her debut novel.

Brett Benner:

And with that, And I'm Brett. Yaaaaaays reading.

Jason Blitman:

Reading. Um, so we typically will ask an author about their elevator pitch for the book and then we'll segue into talking about how their book came to be. Yours is like almost one in the same, I would imagine.

Zoë Bossiere:

Yeah, it is. Yeah. Do you want me to talk a little bit about it?

Jason Blitman:

Sure. Yes, please. Mm

Zoë Bossiere:

Okay. When I was 11, my family moved into an Airstream trailer in Tucson, Arizona from across the country. And before the move, my parents said that in Tucson, we could reinvent ourselves. So in cactus country, the trailer park that we called our new home in Tucson, I became the boy that I always known myself to be. But I still faced a lot of questions that I didn't know how to answer. Questions about which bathroom I should use or who it was okay for me to love or, about what might happen to my body, to me when I could no longer pass as a boy. So this was the early 2000s, a time before many people, myself included, really knew what transgender was, or had ever heard that word. As a child, I'd never met another person who felt like I did, and I couldn't picture who I might become as an adult, like what I might look like or where I might end up. But I never stopped looking for a book about a kid like me who's assigned gender or birth didn't match the person they saw when they looked in the mirror. And in many ways, Cactus Country is the story that I needed to read all those years ago. And what I hope now is that it might resonate with others who are searching for That kind of representation and having trouble finding it,

Jason Blitman:

As humans, why do you think we are so desperate to have an answer, to define something, to live in a binary? In your experience, what do you think that is?

Zoë Bossiere:

That's such a good question. for me, that journey of language, of trying to find words that described how I felt in my body and trying to find a community of people who felt the same way that was most of my childhood. And for me, Not having that language felt like there was something wrong with me. I,

Jason Blitman:

It's, I imagine when people are asking you questions like, what are you, or, the fact that the answer can't be as simple as, I'm me.

Zoë Bossiere:

Exactly. Yeah. And I did face those kinds of questions a lot, especially at school. I just knew that I felt the way that I did, I knew that I felt like a boy and that I was a boy. And I also knew that, I looked like a boy and was treated most of the time, like a boy by other people. I presented as a boy, I passed as a boy, but there was, this little piece of paper that existed somewhere that said that. I was not a boy and so I found it endlessly frustrating that when people, discovered that piece of information that suddenly, they had all these questions about why do you feel this way, and why do you dress like this? And why can't you just be a tomboy or why can't you just be your own kind of girl? And I didn't have the language to answer those questions. Yeah,

Brett Benner:

And no one to look up to or even know to speak about or to see that it was done already in some context.

Zoë Bossiere:

right. Yeah. At that time, there was virtually no visibility at all in any kind of media. And when there were representations of trans people, they were predominantly very negative villains and things like that.

Brett Benner:

sure.

Jason Blitman:

To what we were just talking about. There's a moment in the book where I think that, in my notes, I literally only wrote down your response, but I think the question was, are you a boy or a girl? And your response was, what do you think? And it brought me back to this very specific moment. I remember it very clearly. I remember where I was behind my high school auditorium. I remember who asked me. If I was gay and my response to them was what do you think and he said I think you are and to that I said you can go on thinking whatever you want to think and I'm going to just keep being who I am

Brett Benner:

Wow.

Jason Blitman:

like, I don't know how that came to me. I don't know why that came to me. It's like

Brett Benner:

But at that point, but at that point you had an awareness of yourself. Did you,

Jason Blitman:

Oh, I was out to plenty of people at that time. I just wasn't like, okay. Out, capital O, out and this rando, it's like none of your fucking business,

Zoë Bossiere:

Right.

Jason Blitman:

but it's this desperate need to for even a stranger or a, random side character in your story to, to have been, to be able to define you, and it's none of your business.

Brett Benner:

CoStar. You're only here for this episode.

Jason Blitman:

You are the co star, get away.

Brett Benner:

Right.

Zoë Bossiere:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

in reading the book, I have my own answer to this question, but I'm trying to think of how I want to ask this. What would you say to somebody who might read the book or might be familiar with the book or even just read the, you know what, let's say they don't read the book, they read a description of the book, they learn a little bit more about you and say something like, see, wasn't it just a

Zoë Bossiere:

Oh, yeah. I have encountered that actually while I was writing it, I encountered it. I think to some extent, like it was a question I asked myself. I was thinking to myself, why did I feel so strongly about being a boy when I was younger? Because now I feel differently. I don't feel quite as masculine anymore. And it was something that I needed to interrogate and I needed to understand. And I started to read about other experiences other trans people who had come of age in a time before language and what their journeys were like. And, what I learned is that, I wasn't wrong, right? And it wasn't a phase and that the time in cactus country that I spent as a boy has rippled through my entire life and informed the person that I am. Has informed the way that I think about my gender now. And it was only through remembering and writing this book and really reflecting on those experiences that I was able to come to the conclusion that I'm gender fluid now. And find that language for myself.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. That's, at the beginning when I said, after reading the book, I feel like I have an answer to that question on your behalf, because to me, it sort of defines Or reading your story defined for me, fluidity, and I think it's like hard to it's hard for people to wrap their minds around. And that was why my first question and my first instinct to talk about was like, why are we so obsessed with binary? We like need answers. We need tangible things. And I think reading your story, living in that discomfort on your behalf, Was a just nice reminder of it can, things can be fluid, they're, everything has a scale. We as humans don't need to feel the same way tomorrow as we feel about something today, and that could be as simple as, Brussels sprouts. Let alone how we express ourselves, how we identify, how we feel, and we can allow ourselves that, nuance.

Zoë Bossiere:

Yes, we can. And, in writing the book, I feel like that was one thing that I wanted to shed a little bit more light on is that this fluidity to it doesn't have to be day by day or week by week or month by month, it can occur over a long period of time, where different period of time. Parts of our lives, we transition into different ways of feeling about our genders, our sexualities, our identities, our ways of being because whenever I would read about gender fluidity or gender fluid people, I felt like the most, visible or prominent examples of that were, like Jonathan Van Ness Very gender fluid and episode by episode of Queer Eye, you can see examples of how they are presenting themselves. And by what they're choosing to wear, their affectation, things like that. And that is one example of gender fluidity. And then there's my example where I feel like I'm pretty consistent day by day, but things change for me year by year. And I feel like it's important to think about that as yes, this is my gender now, but it's not static. It's always moving.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. the book like talks about so many things that are traumatic for queer people, I think, in general, whether it's being asked about your sexuality or your gender identity, or frankly, even in the way that cis gay men talk to non cis gay men, who are people of the queer community, and try to define them, right? Like reading the story about gay men who might have turned to you and said, you're just a lesbian. You don't know it yet. Or you're going to either be trans or a lesbian or right. Needing to stick you in a box. And it just

Brett Benner:

Like bisexuality. Make a choice. You know what I mean? It's the same.

Jason Blitman:

exactly. And it was like, wait a minute. No, we're, it made me reflect on my own experience. as a cis gay man and how I have needed to better understand the L B T Q I A plus right? Because it's just we don't all feel the same things. We don't all experience the world in the same way. So it was a nice reflection for me too is really what I'm trying to say. Yeah.

Zoë Bossiere:

So I feel like even for me, often, and I find myself trying to, when I meet somebody new, think about how do they see their gender or trying to figure out someone's pronouns, even, for example, I feel like there's a lot of, maybe societal pressure to pick something, for somebody and to group them as quickly as possible. And I, I don't know why that is. So I try to question that when it occurs for me and to take a step back and to think about, does it really matter? Is it, will it change the way that I approach this interaction? Probably not, and in that way, allow whoever they are and however they are to be as it is without thinking about is this more masculine? Is this more feminine? Is it somewhere in between?

Brett Benner:

Sure. Even for me, because again, we always go into like I'm old, but I remember even just watching when men and it's so commonplace now and whether they were, like Gay, straight, whatever, the nails getting painted, right? I remember the first time I used to see men painting their nails, and I remember having that reaction initially of my first instinct would be, clearly they're gay, or something on that spectrum, but why? And yeah. It's such a weird thing now in hindsight, it doesn't mean anything necessarily except as an expression to say, I like to have my nails painted. It doesn't necessarily have to be related to anything else or anything, but I just have this antiquated. And that's been such a it's like a learning experience of finding out and, Accepting and saying, okay, this is just what this thing is. And it, some things don't necessarily mean anything or can mean a lot.

Zoë Bossiere:

Yeah, exactly. I imagine that some people paint their nails as a signal, hinting at the way that they perceive their gender. We all do that, right? We all dress in ways that we're hoping will send signals. to others about how we wish to be perceived how we want to be called. But yeah, sometimes we get it really wrong when we make those assumptions. So it's always good, I find, to to not be so attached to getting it right all the time.

Jason Blitman:

Cactus Country, both the book and the place, or the book really takes us to the place and is so atmospheric, and it's almost there's a tiny little hum almost of danger that runs throughout the whole book and There's some tragedy, it's a lot of coming of age as I said, queer trauma. So I'm excited for folks to check it out. But all of that said, can you talk a little bit about maybe the joyful things that came out of that or like what you, maybe things that bring you joy now that are just completely unrelated to the book so that we get to learn a little bit about you as a person today? Okay.

Zoë Bossiere:

Sure. Yeah. Yeah the book does touch on a lot of difficult things, but I tried really hard as a writer when I was recounting these experiences to balance that with a lot of the really like euphoric moments that I experienced as a boy. I mean, like, It was very joyful to be like traipsing around in the desert with the other boys. And, there was a lot of power that I felt, I felt empowered to be who I was and, I think that's an experience that's really unusual for trans people, at least of my generation. I think that many folks were not afforded the same kind of freedom, right? My parents really were not very concerned with what I was doing. And I think that they, even if they thought it was just a phase, they weren't bothered by that or concerned about what it might mean later, they certainly weren't trying to dissuade me of presenting the way I wanted to present, and So yeah, there was a lot of real positivity there, and I feel like that is the power of allowing trans kids to be who they are, right? So that's a great example of that joy. I think that we don't see enough of that in media at the moment, even when we're talking about trans kids in media. We're often talking about the potential for suffering, right? We're talking about these horrifying statistics about, suicidal ideation. And those are all important things to be thinking about and talking about. When we allow a child who needs to socially transition when we give them that kind of support, they shine, and I feel like that's really important for folks to see too.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Zoë Bossiere:

Yeah. But yeah, in my life, I feel like writing this book has really helped me find the language that I needed. It's helped me find, my way back into community and friendships that are queer and, I feel like I am able to talk about my experiences in ways that I could never before and relate to other folks in ways that I didn't previously because I never talked about my childhood or my life and I feel like my life is just richer for that.

Jason Blitman:

love that so much and I imagine people will read the book and be like, wait a minute, that's my childhood too. And I didn't even think about it in these terms or using this language. I'm so glad that you said what you said. About, about the running around with the boys, because it really did remind me of, stories like Stand By Me, or The Goonies, or The Outsiders, where there's, it's this like little brotherhood, but this As I was saying earlier, like hum of danger, like something, what's going on and whether that's as simple as it could be a scorpion because you're in the desert or, like bad things are happening in the community, right? Like it's whatever that means. There's this teeny tiny rumbling underneath and yet you see the joy from the young people.

Brett Benner:

You were probably, and you think about that, that it's because they're, you're I wanted to say insured and that's not the right word, but It's not about anything else other than just the sense of play and adventure and being together regardless of all of it. You're just children. You know what I mean? A ball is a ball, a dress is a dress. It's just costumes. It's play. And that's, it's unfortunate that we can't translate that and carry that later into our lives a bit.

Zoë Bossiere:

There were lots of examples throughout my childhood and in Cactus Country where, we see that adult mindset creeping into this world of boyhood, right? And we start to see, like, how some of these boys become the men of Cactus Country, and as a child, I was watching all of that, Making, taking notes, and making decisions about what kind of boy I wanted to be and consequently what kind of person I would grow into based on all of these kind of myriad examples, many of which were somewhat negative, right? Cactus country, a lot of folks who lived there Or they were rural rough around the edges, struggling with addiction, struggling with mental health, struggling with, all kinds of, institutional issues. I feel like the specters of that are very much present in Cactus Country, underlying all of the boyhood experiences that we had.

Jason Blitman:

Okay, so you are a debut memoirist. We're very excited for you. Are there other new books that are coming out this year that you are excited about, that you want to shout out about?

Zoë Bossiere:

Yes. Yes. So there's actually, book that's coming out a week after mine. It's called Pretty, a memoir by K. B. Brookins, and it's incredible. I have an advanced copy, and they also there are very many parallels, I feel, between our stories and also many ways that they diverge, but so they grew up in much the same way in that they're also trans. They also didn't have language to describe how they felt. They grew up in Texas, which is not super far from Arizona. And it's a fabulous book. I can't wait for everybody to get their hands on that one. And I can't wait to chat with KB a little bit more about their book. So definitely psyched about that. And then I have another one that's, it's far out. It's next year. But, Marissa they go by Mac cranes, a sharp endless need, which is a novel about basketball.

Brett Benner:

Oh

Zoë Bossiere:

their first book came out. Yeah. It was last year. It was I keep my exoskeletons to myself.

Brett Benner:

my God. That's an

Zoë Bossiere:

Very good novel. Yeah. Yeah, it's a great book. And I'm really looking forward to this new novel because Mac themselves is like a pretty accomplished basketball player and I know nothing about basketball really like I tried and failed to play it. When I was a child, but I've been learning a little bit more about it because my partner's really into it. And so I'm very excited read this book which is, trans non binary character meets basketball romance kind of thing. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, that's exciting. Thank you so much for talking to us today. We're so excited for you in the book.

Zoë Bossiere:

This has been such a great conversation. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your great questions. Yeah

Jason Blitman:

Our pleasure.

Zoë Bossiere:

has made my day.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, terrific. now, over to Murrin, and his new book, The Coast Road. Good afternoon for you.

Alan Murrin:

Yeah, almost evening. Thank you for doing this so early in the morning. I hope you're adequately caffeinated.

Jason Blitman:

You're in Berlin?

Alan Murrin:

I am, yes.

Jason Blitman:

So what do we say? Guten tag? What's

Alan Murrin:

Yeah, that works.

Jason Blitman:

I like want to hear you speak German in your Irish accent.

Alan Murrin:

My German is terrible. I would say Schöntag noch to you. Which is just continue to have a good day, which always blows my mind, because this word noch doesn't have a direct translation into English. It means, Still, but depending on what context you're using it in, and the phrase most commonly used is good day still, like as in continue and keep it, continue and keep having this good

Jason Blitman:

I would like for people to wish me good luck. I hope that my day keeps staying good.

Alan Murrin:

Yeah, they're assuming that you're already having a good one aren't they, which is

Brett Benner:

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

quite the

Alan Murrin:

hopeful. Yeah, quite.

Jason Blitman:

So Alan, you're here to talk to us about the coast road.

Alan Murrin:

Indeed.

Jason Blitman:

Have you worked in elevator pitch yet?

Alan Murrin:

I can do an, I can do an elevator pitch.

Jason Blitman:

It stresses everybody out.

Alan Murrin:

I I'm okay with it. I just, it's like when people are nervous about like reading in public or something like that. I always reassure myself with saying I have been reading since I'm four slash five. And so if the words are in front of me, I can do it. And I think I also reassure myself with these things being like, I wrote this book. It is set in Ireland in 1994 in County Donegal. The location and the time is important to the novel. It was a sort of, economically prosperous area at a time when Ireland wasn't economically prosperous. It is a time when divorce was still illegal, abortion was still illegal, people were very much still under the thumb of the Catholic Church. And it is a story that focuses on three marriages. is married to local politician, James. And I think the question surrounding their marriage is whether or not they will stay together, whether it's good enough. Colette Crowley is a poet, and she is married to a local businessman, but she has left him to pursue an affair with a married man in Dublin. Shocking. And she returns to try and reclaim her old life, and the question is whether she'll get it back. And then we have a third woman called Dolores Mullen, who is in Dublin. An abusive marriage. And the question is whether she will be able to leave.

Jason Blitman:

the thing that was so interesting to me was I needed to keep reminding myself that we were in the 90s.

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Alan Murrin:

Quite. Yeah. Yeah. People have referred to this historical novel.

Jason Blitman:

Unfortunately, it is

Alan Murrin:

yeah, I know. And

Jason Blitman:

it makes me feel really old.

Brett Benner:

think how I

Alan Murrin:

too. And it, yeah, 1994. when I was writing the book, it was so strange. It felt like temporarily so close. And I started it in 2018, and I think 1994, for whatever reason, felt a lot closer then. And it was only when I, it will be the 30 year anniversary of the divorce referendum next year, or, you The year after, perhaps, when it was actually ratified and put into law.

Jason Blitman:

Per the notes, it was November 1995 when it was voted on and then ratified in 1996.

Alan Murrin:

yeah, and I think yeah, I think in a lot of ways, and I don't think too many Irish people would be mad at me for saying this, it perhaps felt like Ireland was 10 years behind a lot of other countries. For example, in the 90s. That was the time when women started wearing big shoulder pads. Yes, like the 80s was,

Brett Benner:

The dynasty had just started to getch over there.

Alan Murrin:

just catching up. Yeah, we were just catching up with the trends. Now it feels, it does really feel like we have caught up now, but definitely for a while we were lagging a bit, but we got there.

Jason Blitman:

Even watching Drag Race UK and seeing some of the Northern Ireland queens talking about laws and things that, have, are still non inclusive and that haven't

Alan Murrin:

Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Benner:

So much is dictated by the church. I think, don't you think just so much of it, the beat of it is from the Catholic Church.

Alan Murrin:

Yeah. I guess that has changed. a lot, but the yeah, I mean it's still the bastion of right wing politics In most countries. The church,

Brett Benner:

of course.

Jason Blitman:

What also shocked me in your author's note mentions that the law passed by less than one percentage point. Stay.

Alan Murrin:

And they, see, they had a referendum in the 80s, I think, and that flat out failed. People voted against that by a huge majority. And then I think it was getting a little bit embarrassing for the government, to be honest, we joined the European Union, we were supposed to be this modern society, and yet we were still not, we weren't playing ball essentially with the rest of Europe, and it was the same with gay marriage, the government wanted that to pass because it was, it was an embarrassment otherwise. I sometimes feel the the divorce referendum, because it passed by such a small margin, I'm like, have they lost the numbers? Because they were just like, fuck this, we cannot. It's too embarrassing if this doesn't pass. And I had to do a bit of research on it. What was happening at that particular time, what did legal separation mean, for example, because that was the only option and it meant, for a long time, you could legally separate, but your spouse didn't have to financially support you in any way. And then I think it changed slightly where they did have to give some financial support, but it still meant you could never remarry. And I have a friend who is a lawyer and they were an expert in family law and they did a little research for me in the library and they would send like screenshots of books. And one of the most interesting things was that one of the big fears. About legalizing divorce was that the government or the powers that be thought that men would be divorcing their annoying wives in droves and the majority of the applications were from women.

Jason Blitman:

Wow. Oh, that's so interesting. So how did this book come to be for you?

Alan Murrin:

I was doing my master's at UEA and I was writing. Short stories about this community. And they ranged from maybe 1990 to 2018. I thought that I was. Going to write a collection of linked short stories because that's a format when it works that I really love. However, I did not know how to write a great short story or a great novel. I really, I had to how would you say cut my teeth and earn my training wheels. And, but I did write a short story called What Poets Do. And it was just about Izzy and Colette. And it was a, just an interaction between them. I, something was working about it. I'm always interested in reading narratives about complex, quote unquote, difficult women that you're rooting for, right? You're like, okay, perhaps this person is a nightmare, but I have never wanted anyone to succeed more. And. For that to work, Izzy needs a foil, and I guess Colette is, her greatest desires and her greatest fears writ large. She is what she would like to be, but she's also what she is scared of becoming. And that interaction, there is a moment in the book where Izzy sees Colette drunk in a bar. And that was really the starting point for me. for the narrative even though it happens, two thirds of the way through the book, Izzy's looking at this woman and her judgments are just rising up and she's thinking, a certain a certain kind of woman is allowed to go into a bar, drink by herself and get drunk, but it's not a woman who's rich and beautiful and educated. And she's thinking, if that can happen to her, What can happen to me? Yeah, so that was the, yeah, that was the jumping off point was that scene. These two women who think that they're incredibly different but actually have a great deal in common.

Jason Blitman:

And then you just poured out from there.

Alan Murrin:

I I, what I guess the thing then was, how do I raise the stake? Because in the short story it was really about, Just them encountering each other in Collette's Cottage when both of their marriages are in freefall. It goes back and forth between this moment in the bar and then I thought, yeah, how do I raise the stakes? And then all of these other characters came in and I, if a friend of mine had said to me, oh, I'm going to write, third person narrative, I'd be like, great. And then like from multiple perspectives, I've just said, don't. Do that because that is very difficult and writing is hard and I'm big into I do writing workshops all the time. I'm like. Someone says, Oh, I'm like going to play around with the format and the structures, but it happens and I'm like stop doing that. Don't just write the book, it's, it is difficult enough. However, when I sat down to think about the story, it felt like it had to be written in that way. So I gave myself certain parameters and I decided that if someone held the narrative, they. Couldn't hold it only once. It had to mean something, and it had to move the plot forward. They couldn't just be a casual observer. Whatever is happening when they hold the perspective has to mean something. With the exception of Anne, who is the very center of the book, and it's the moment that the book pivots on when she's in the shopping center, and I thought that was okay because what she sees and the decisions that she makes actually fundamentally change the narrative. Yeah.

Brett Benner:

It's an interesting, I for this whole town, that whole feeling of the town, This is like a a visual reference. For people who think that way, but it's so reminded me of these two series, which are British, actually, which is Broadchurch or Happy Valley. It's that

Alan Murrin:

love Happy Valley.

Brett Benner:

it was that same kind of feeling to me, and I had to look Happy Valley up last night because I was like, that was Irish, right? And no,

Alan Murrin:

Oh I love Sarah Lancashire.

Brett Benner:

Oh my God, she's amazing.

Alan Murrin:

She is one of my favorite actresses and she started off in a soap opera called Coronation Street where she played a barmaid called Raquel and I was obsessed with her when she was a small child and

Brett Benner:

are really early indicators.

Alan Murrin:

early indicators and she was Even, but also just to say that actually, at that particular moment in time in the 80s and 90s, and probably before that as well, Cronation Street, this soap opera, was so well written, it was this really good kitchen sink drama with this bawdy northern humour. And you know what, I think watching that as a child might have had some impact on how I became a writer and how I became interested in literature. narrative. It was so well written. Anyway, she's, she was, she shone in this particular soap opera. There are those moments like Julianne Moore started in a soap opera, right? Where you're watching somebody and she is so outshines everyone else in the cast. She's such a great actress and you could give her any part and she would have made something. special out of it. And yeah, I just loved Happy Valley.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. It just.

Jason Blitman:

funny that you say that because you look at the cast of Friends today, and you're like, oh, Jennifer Aniston was so good on that show, and you didn't even realize how good she was.

Alan Murrin:

No, and I also think like success like that doesn't happen by accident. There is a reason, there is a reason that everyone was obsessed with that. So she's a great comedy actress. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Brett Benner:

Also I have to say the first thing that drew me to the book, frankly, was your Gillian Anderson blurb, which I was like, that's amazing. And I have to read this book if she's speaking such high praise of it.

Alan Murrin:

Yeah, she likes it.

Jason Blitman:

she and I are alums of the same theater school.

Alan Murrin:

Are you? Oh, cool.

Brett Benner:

You went to DePaul. I didn't know you went to Goodman.

Jason Blitman:

Do you have other books that are coming out this year that you're excited about that you'd want to shout out?

Alan Murrin:

Yeah there is a book by a writer called Roz Deneen called Briefly Very Beautiful. It comes out this summer in the UK and in the US, I believe, and it's really great. It's climate crisis, odyssey and adventure about motherhood and relationships in collapse. And Roz is a friend of mine, but I think this is also it's a. Podcast for debuts, right? So we should get that out there and people should read it. She's a wonderful writer.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, it looks very exciting. July 2nd

Brett Benner:

Oh, awesome.

Jason Blitman:

A spellbinding dystopian novel about the lengths one will go to for their children in a world teetering on the edge of apocalypse. Eee!

Alan Murrin:

Yeah,

Brett Benner:

That sounds

Alan Murrin:

there's a lot going on.

Jason Blitman:

FANTASTIC! I know, we love, we are, every debut novel, or debut memoir, or debut authors that we've experienced and encountered have all been so terrific, yourself included, and we're so excited for

Alan Murrin:

you very much. No, I've enjoyed listening to your podcast and it has been great speaking to you.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, thank you so much! And now, let's hear from Essie Chambers, where we learn about her debut novel, Swift River, Hello.

Brett Benner:

or good afternoon almost for you.

Essie Chambers:

Yes.

Brett Benner:

How are you feeling?

Essie Chambers:

I'm so much better. A little fuzzy, not fuzzy, I was, I had gone to in a big event, like a bookseller thing. And every time I go to these things, I get hoodies. It's I can't escape getting something.

Jason Blitman:

You said you always get cooties when you go to these things. Girl, what are you doing that you're getting cooties every day?

Essie Chambers:

I don't know. I don't know if it's like my, I don't, I

Jason Blitman:

Now you have the cootie shot. There we go.

Brett Benner:

What is that? I've never been heard of that before.

Jason Blitman:

You've never heard of the cootie shot?

Brett Benner:

No, this must be a Florida thing.

Jason Blitman:

No, this is not a Florida thing. It's not even a new thing. In the musical Hairspray, they sing a song about cooties and they sing circle, circle dot, dot, dot. Hurry, get your cootie shot. When I was a kid, you would do circle, circle dot, dot, dot. Now you have the cootie shot. This, it's,

Essie Chambers:

have

Brett Benner:

I never, I, me too. You and I both.

Essie Chambers:

you're blowing my mind. I'm going to, I'm going to use it though. Cause cooties often.

Jason Blitman:

Do you really? Oh, that's so funny. Wait, I have to do a quick Google.

Brett Benner:

I did read

Jason Blitman:

Cootie's shot.

Brett Benner:

one of the wonderful positive things that pop up on my feed this morning was that they said like COVID and flu stuff is now on the rise, which is weird at this moment because we're into summer. But whatever,

Jason Blitman:

Okay, wait. Wikipedia says, It's on the cootie's Wikipedia page. Typically, one child administers the shot, using an index finger to trace circles and dots on another child's forearm, while reciting the rhyme circle, circle dot, dot. Now you have, now you've got the cootie's shot. In

Brett Benner:

As Child One transmits cooties by finger, making circle, circle dot, dot on second

Jason Blitman:

Oh and then it's circle, circle square, square, now you have it everywhere.

Essie Chambers:

I'm writing this down. I'm not even kidding you. I'm going to use this.

Brett Benner:

This is the opening line of your next book.

Jason Blitman:

funny.

Brett Benner:

The launch off point.

Jason Blitman:

my God. Okay. Anyway,

Essie Chambers:

love it. Oh,

Jason Blitman:

welcome to Gay's Reading.

Brett Benner:

Yes.

Essie Chambers:

so happy. I love this podcast. And I'm just, I'm really honored that

Jason Blitman:

Job.

Brett Benner:

you're

Jason Blitman:

No, we only have four listeners. It can't, one of them can't

Brett Benner:

know. You're

Essie Chambers:

how you start. I love all of it. I love your story. I, it's

Brett Benner:

very sweet. We really appreciate it. And now we can call you number five.

Jason Blitman:

I love the glasses. There's a whole vibe going on here. I'm

Essie Chambers:

oh, I appreciate that. I appreciate that.

Jason Blitman:

But enough about you. Let's talk about your book the star of the show today. I always hold it up, but I have a blurry background so you can't see it. Swift River. Lovely. For our listeners who have not read it yet. Because it hasn't come out yet. What is your logline, your elevator pitch, your one liner for the book? We

Essie Chambers:

Can I give you like my elevator stuck between floors pitch like a little Goodness,

Jason Blitman:

always go on long elevator rides. Sometimes they're short, but they're mostly long.

Brett Benner:

Yes. It's a very tall building

Essie Chambers:

so hard. Okay. So Swift River is a kind of family saga that is centered around this oddball teenage girl named Diamond Newberry. Diamond is struggling with what it means to be the only person of color in an all white New England mill town since her dad disappeared mysteriously seven years ago. Starts the summer of 1987, because I'm obsessed with the 80s. She's she's just turned 16. She's learning to drive in secret, and she wants to escape this town and a very difficult relationship with her mom. She gets a letter from a relative that she's never met on her dad's side, and it changes the course of her life. She discovers that her town has this hidden history, which is also like a dark part of American history, and that she has this very powerful ancestral Inheritance and legacy.

Jason Blitman:

not only powerful ancestral inheritance, but she has this like, ancestral memory living inside of her. And it spoke to me so much, because I feel like we all have this living inside of us. What was that like, not reconciling your own, but can you, was there a relationship between your own ancestral memory and diamonds?

Essie Chambers:

Oh yeah. It's such a beautiful question. Yes. It's it's two different parts there you know, my a complicated relationship with my ancestral heritage. I am biracial. My mom is white and my dad is black. And on my mom's side, I can go all the way back to a king of Scotland, a founding father. It's just, I have just all of these riches like actual artifacts. And then on my dad's side, it's, I can't go past a couple of generations part of the impetus for, for this book is like giving a girl who feels a little rootless roots and connecting her to this part of history that she doesn't, she didn't know about So I would say in terms of the story part that's where ancestors play a large role, but just in terms of my process, over the course of writing this, I lost a lot of people in my life and my writing practice became a lot more spiritual at the same time, I think, as I learned to trust my own instincts. I did feel very much like I, I was channeling ancestors in moments, particularly when I was writing parts of the book that were in the voice of someone who lived a long time ago. It felt like it was coming through me and your writers say that all the time, but it did really feel that way. And it I don't know. It felt like it was really the you show up to write and you write a lot of bad stuff before any, something good comes along and that feeling of when that that something good comes and it I don't know. I equate that with my ancestors being in the process with me. Thank you. Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

I love that. It's so funny, I, because I'm a cis man I look to the men in my lineage as a reference point, and that's been my whole life. It's like the men on both sides of my family have history of heart disease and. one was a very kind grandfather, one was a very short fused grandfather. And I have seen myself as this amalgamation of these men. When I've had deeper conversations with my grandmothers and like really reflect Their history, their challenges, the things that they've stood up for, the way that they've behaved. I've been like, Oh, wait a minute. I've never realized how much I am like my paternal grandmother, or I've never realized, and so really reflecting on how the many pieces of a puzzle. Make a person not just the ones that you quote unquote see reflected in you. Literally, I think comes up not comes up a lot in the book per se, but the it was very interesting and exciting to see the. multi dimensional heritage going on in the book.

Essie Chambers:

Yeah. And I honestly, I couldn't ask for more than what you just articulated. It made you think about. It's like that. I want people to think about where they come from and their own family history and what they carry that they may know about or they may not know about. What you have to let go in order to become the fullest expression of yourself, but also to your point, like the things that are beautiful and that that's happened to me many times. It's like I know something about myself and then I make a discovery about a grandparent or a great grandparent and that, and then you can see that direct line right to them. It's beautiful.

Jason Blitman:

Embarrassed because I just wasn't seeing her. I was, but I could not, I would not make that connection. The book also has, and Diamond has, and there are in general things, just complicated feelings about family. I'm a person who all the time will say there's a between family and relatives. And was that something else that you were intentionally bringing to the table?

Essie Chambers:

Absolutely. I think that this family is very isolated. They're really isolated by circumstance and the pressure that puts on a family I think shows up in how they relate to each other. Diamonds. Father has been missing for a number of years and she has a very imperfect mother. They are both still grieving in many ways. And so in their grief I think Diamond's mom is holding on a little bit too tightly. Diamond is right at that moment in life when she wants to to spread her wings. The mother is a complicated woman and I, I wanted to make her understandable in the sense that she, she's not a perfect mother. She's failed in many ways, but she, but her failures are very Relatable and understandable and you're going to get to see the journey of she and diamond. Throughout the course of the novel

Jason Blitman:

And your background is TV and film. How, where did the novel come to be in your world? I know that this book in particular, there was like a visual that came into your mind. But beyond that how did it go from working, on, on films to, okay, I'm going to write a book now.

Essie Chambers:

No, it's a, I, it is it's, it took me almost nine years to write this book. I always knew that I wanted to write about the experience of being the only person of color in an all white environment. And so in that sense, many years ago, the kernels of this started, but I had as you pointed out, I had a great career in both TV and film. And so I, for a very long time, I was writing around the edges of my life. And it wasn't until I just just couldn't give myself permission to write. And it wasn't until I was I was working in team television for this channel called the N which is where I, Fell in love with telling stories about teenagers, and I was adapting a book for the network by the writer Jacqueline Woodson and we, she, it was an incredible experience, and she and I became friends, and Jacqueline, At the time, had a lot of friends who, like me, helped other writers tell their story, but were neglecting their own stories. And she said, I'm getting you all together. I'm going to shut you up. You're going to, you're going to form a writing group. We're all going to have a writing community together. And And it's, it was such a critical moment for me because it was where I started a writing practice. It was like, that was her goal to have for us to have a community. And really that's when I started writing about Diamond as a character. Many more years would pass. And I ended up using, I went back to grad school. I was a documentary producers after I'd left my last television executive job. And And I just felt like I needed that kind of a structure of grad school. And so that's when I really started in earnest working on what would become Swift River was in grad

Brett Benner:

Wow. Wow.

Jason Blitman:

Someone else that I know, former documentary producer is now not in that industry at all and is an artist. Her artist persona is called Lemon Zesty. And it was her sort of

Essie Chambers:

I love that.

Jason Blitman:

For, opposite of the craziness that was documentary producing.

Essie Chambers:

I love that.

Brett Benner:

One of the things that I just wanted to ask you about, because I find this so fascinating, historically, that's a big part of your novel, are these ideas of sundown towns. The first time I'd ever heard about this, or seen it, was weirdly, was watching the HBO series Oh my God, now it just completely went out of my head. Hi, I can say I'm old. I'm gonna tell you right now, it's the one with Jonathan Majors and Lovecraft Country. And that was the pilot episode, as is all about being a sundown and at first I was like, okay, this is fantasy. This is fictional. And then learning that these actually exist. So for our listeners who don't know anything about this, can you just talk about this a little bit?

Essie Chambers:

Yeah, sure. So a sundown town is. essentially an all white town by design. And whether it keeps Black and other marginalized people out by, laws and ordinances or violence and terrorism, they they started like as far back as I think 1890 and it's The name itself comes from the practice of some of these towns where they would allow people of color to pass through during the day, but they had to be out by the time the sun set or they would risk being hurt or killed. And sometimes that this, the sign saying this would be right up right next to the welcome sign. So I, like you, I was familiar with sundown towns. I had always assumed that they were like more of a southern thing. And I was personally blown away I, to find out that they were primarily a Northern thing and I made this discovery. I was trying to isn't it crazy? I not just that they are also in the North, but they are primarily in the Midwest and the Northwest. And in fact, thousands of them were Created between 1960s, thousands and I just made this discovery. I was trying to find a history for Diamond's father and I was, looking up black communities in rural New England in the early 20th century and I came across what I believe is the only Book of a history of sundown towns. And that's when I, that's when I learned when I learned about them. And and in fact, there, there was a the thing that really cracked the book open for me was there was a passage in the book that talked about the fact that they would sometimes make an exception for one or two people to be able to stay if they were, domestics or serving some important function. And I just supposed to have a lightning bolt. Like I, I wanted to make diamond a descendant of a person who was allowed to say after the black community was chased out. So that was when I really knew that Swift River was going to be a sundown town, a former sundown town.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, that's

Brett Benner:

crazy,

Essie Chambers:

So you guys had known, you knew what they were, but you just didn't understand that.

Brett Benner:

certainly didn't understand, like you said, location wise, it seems of course, that's something that would be prevalent in the South, despite the fact that seeing it the first time in something that's supernatural based or, dealt in folklore or fantasy, I think part of me was under the naïve Assumption that oh, this is being told for dramatic effect. These don't actually exist.

Essie Chambers:

And still exist in many ways. And it's more recently. So I discovered in the course of researching that the town next to the one where I grew up is thought to have been a sundown town

Brett Benner:

God.

Essie Chambers:

I, which I, I felt the kind of, Echoes of that and I also discovered that that I grew up in, the town that I grew up in is primarily was primarily a white town similar to Swift River. And I discovered that there, I had been talking to a local historian, there used to be a black church and a black community in the town around the turn, around mid 1900s. And I essentially wrote a novel that mirrored my own life without knowing it Crazy.

Jason Blitman:

that goes back to the ancestral memory that we were

Essie Chambers:

That's right. That's right. That's right.

Jason Blitman:

It was just, it

Brett Benner:

part of your body. No, it's part of you.

Essie Chambers:

Absolutely wasn't an accident. I'm so glad you said that. No, it really was not an accident. I, there, yes they were speaking through me and I, Yeah, there's a part of me that knew and understood based on what I was feeling

Jason Blitman:

yeah.

Essie Chambers:

and was able to give that to Diamond.

Jason Blitman:

On a happier note, this is your debut novel. We're so excited for you. Do you have another, is there another book, another debut that you'd want to shout out while you're here?

Essie Chambers:

Oh, I would love to. There, there are a couple of books coming. This is a good book summer. There, there are a few books that are coming, emma Coley Eisenberg has a book Housemates coming out in

Jason Blitman:

her to her on Wednesday.

Brett Benner:

so good. Yeah

Essie Chambers:

love, I Emma's book R.O. Kwon has her new book exhibit.

Jason Blitman:

Hitting all the good

Essie Chambers:

Dany Sena Color Television. Danzi is Caucasian had a profound effect on me, so I just can't wait for the. I can't wait for the latest.

Jason Blitman:

this has been so lovely.

Essie Chambers:

Thank you so much.

Brett Benner:

and by the way, yes youth this guy This cover is so gorgeous too. It is just stunning. And everybody can go to our bookshop. org page and it will be there, but this, the, it's just, it looks like a piece of beautiful art. It's just gorgeous.

Essie Chambers:

is a piece of beautiful art, actually.

Brett Benner:

Is it really?

Essie Chambers:

It's a piece It's a part of the paint Yeah, The brilliant Simon Schuster Art Department found this painting by an artist named Wilson Emeny. And this is a piece of the bigger painting.

Brett Benner:

Oh, that's gorgeous. And by the way, you just have a few kind of minor authors giving you the incredible blurbs between an Politano and Roman Alan and Curtis Fel. I

Jason Blitman:

This is such a joy. You are lovely. I'm so excited for people to read Swift River. And yeah, is there anything else that you'd want to, that you want to share, that you want to shout out, that you want to say out loud on a platform? The answer can be no. I'm just like,

Essie Chambers:

Oh,

Jason Blitman:

you for another minute.

Essie Chambers:

I'm just trying to think of what it so I talked about. Yeah, I feel you. The thing that you said in the beginning, I'm just so glad that we talked about this idea of Oh, you know what I want to say? This is what I want to say. I worked really hard to make Diamond a kind of weirdo. And who saw the world through the a kind of comedic lens. And think, there's, there are a lot of heavy things in the book and Diamond is a translator. It really helps to be able to take this in. And I didn't do it to soften these heavy things, but I do really feel Joy and pain and dark and funny things, they just live next to each other. Um, I am a big dark, funny, tragic comic kind of, that's my taste. And I'm, that's, I really feel like I am most proud of Diamond as a voice. Being able to hold all of these things as a 16 year old girl.

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

And I look forward to everybody falling in love with her and being on her journey with her.

Essie Chambers:

Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. You guys are the best. I'm so honored to be here. My very first podcast.

Brett Benner:

Yay.

Jason Blitman:

Yay. It's only

Essie Chambers:

Yeah. I can't imagine that, that to

Brett Benner:

we will see you next week with an all new episode as we launch into what? Our

Jason Blitman:

Oh

Brett Benner:

June. Big June. coming.

Jason Blitman:

our, our, our, pride lineup is out of control. Instagram so that you can see it as soon as we do our little announcement. And ooh, sorry, I had a time. About your TBR everyone

Brett Benner:

It's gonna be packed. There's much good.

Jason Blitman:

so much good. Okay. Bye

Brett Benner:

See you next week