by Jeff Von Ward
The Wolves, Jason R Jimenez’s debut novel, is the story of two men’s obsession and possession of two women, separated by 600 years of history. I recently had the opportunity to talk about the book with the author. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our discussion.
Q: Congratulations on your debut publication! How would you describe your novel, The Wolves, to the uninitiated?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: The Wolves is an erotic historical novel. It’s broken up into two sections. The first, Wolf, is about two people who do a lot of drugs, have a lot of sex, but then also starve themselves. All sort of set to the tune of early 1980s New Wave. They are trying to transcend their reality. The second section is historical. It’s based on a real book called The Life of Catherine of Siena by Raymond of Capua. For my retelling I’ve made it much more about Raymond and his relationship to Catherine. Instead of doing drugs Catherine and Raymond recite from the Bible. They don’t have sex but the erotic is still present in their relationship, in Catherine’s relationship to Jesus, etc. The songs of monks would be heard here. Both sections have to do with bodies, obsession, the imagination’s limits. It’s also political, because Catherine of Siena is/was a political figure. The same could be said about the character Wolf. It’s also about love and the unbearable nature of it. Loving someone or something so much you want to become them or devour them as in the book. I like the idea of people initiating themselves into a wolf cult. All are welcome.
Q: When did you know your novel would consist of a story told in two parts, one set in contemporary San Francisco, the other in 1370 Siena?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: To start it was just the story of the two nameless characters in San Francisco/Oakland (before I even lived here). I set it in the Bay Area because, when I began, I wanted the Wolf story to appear as if it were about me and my friends. That idea generally went away, except for the location. Now I think the modern and urban environment of San Francisco/Oakland contrasts well with the medieval town of Siena. Catherine’s story came to me via John Waters’ late night special. He tells this story about these crazy Catholic saints and they starve themselves. At the time anything about anorexia piqued my interest because I was already writing the first drafts of the Wolf story. At some point I decided to bring the stories together in one volume. I knew I didn’t want to mix them together. I wanted to keep them separate. I didn’t realize writing a novel split between two different stories would present so many difficulties when it came time to publish, but obviously, explaining what The Wolves is about takes almost twice as long as a more traditional novel would. But I don’t think I could separate the two parts. They wouldn’t function as well without the other.
Q: How do the two parts relate to one another?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: I knew the historical Catherine of Siena’s story and used it as I wrote the first part, Wolf. So Wolf is roughly based on Catherine’s story and then as the writing developed Catherine began to transform into a retelling of Wolf. They share each other’s DNA. The historical Catherine was a high point in terms of women’s access to the spiritual for Catholics. After her there was less reverence for female mystics. That her story and life were then appropriated by her confessor, Raymond of Capua, is saddening and typical. I think what is true then is true now—so you have the story of Wolf and her narrator who tries to consume her.
Q: Are Wolf and Shark based in whole or part on people you know?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: When the story was first being sketched out, it was much more autobiographical and so Wolf and Shark were based on real people. There are people in my life who go by the names Wolf and Shark but mostly as a joke. Now the two characters bear no resemblance to the real life people who share their name.
Q: What were your sources for the story of Raymond and Catherine and what have you hoped to accomplish by retelling or recasting their story?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: As I mentioned, Catherine of Siena and Raymond of Capua were real people and how I’ve portrayed their story is roughly equivalent to their actual lives. Naturally, I’ve falsified and altered their interactions to my own ends, but essentially, this was their life. Or rather it was Catherine’s life and Raymond played a small part in it. However, she likely wouldn’t have become a saint without Raymond’s help. Their story is fascinating and I hope people are prompted to seek out the history of it after reading the novel. I started out with a lot of fictional accounts of Catherine’s life written by women. I think she was in vogue in the 1930-50s. Then I read Raymond’s actual Life of Catherine of Siena—which, though exciting for me, would probably bore most people to death. What I hoped to accomplish by recasting their story was to illustrate Raymond’s own pride in being associated with Catherine. His status was elevated by his proximity to Catherine and he rose high in the hierarchy of the church because of it. That’s what I saw him doing in his hagiography of Catherine and so I just distilled that into the wildness of The Wolves. At some point though they became their own characters and so like Wolf and Shark, Catherine and Raymond don’t always bear a perfect resemblance to the real life people they are based upon.
Q: What is the trick to writing something sexually explicit in a way that is new and not pornographic?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: This question has come up frequently. It was at its height when I was in grad school and Wolf was called pornography often. If pornographic means explicit sex or just sex for sex sake then I would say The Wolves is not pornographic. People could see the explicit language I’ve used, most often in the Wolf section, and say that it is pornographic, but then I would think they’re missing something. The characters use sex and their bodies to achieve something they cannot achieve on their own. It’s not symbolic of anything else but it isn’t just getting off. No one’s just getting off. Definitely I am not. How is it new? I would say I’m continuing a way of writing about sex which has been around for at least 25 years with the New Narrative writers. So I don’t know if it’s new. It might be surprising to some because of the specific ways I’ve written about the body and sex. On the other hand, I’m intrigued by titillation and arousal. And I don’t want there to be any sense of shame in displaying and openly discussing sex and the body. In the end, I don’t really want to bother with anyone who would call writing or any other type of art “pornography”—whether it was or wasn’t, whether that meant good or bad. There are clearly more productive ways to talk about sex.
Q: What if any influences did you turn to as examples of models to potentially emulate?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: Cunt Ups and The Letters of Mina Harker by Dodie Bellamy. I modeled almost all the hyper sexual and disembodied scenes in Wolf on how Bellamy mixed up the bodies of Cunt Ups. Margery Kempe by Robert Glück. This was the first novel I read where Jesus became a character of flesh and blood. I can’t really think of anything as intriguing. The story “Trolley’s Kind” by Rob Halpern. There’s this part in Rob’s story where he’s describing a mole or something inside his lovers armpit. That moment has meant everything to my own writing. I want to recreate that moment in every story I write. I actually borrowed a lot from Rob’s story. For the Catherine section I modeled a lot of the scenes on David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I love Mitchell’s storytelling. In Thousand Autumns he has a particular way of narrating a scene which I tried to follow for Catherine. Like I said before, I was also reading fictional accounts about Catherine’s life from the early-mid 20th century. I borrowed heavily from them. Outside of writing, I feel like Todd Solondz’s film Storytelling gave me permission to split a narrative into two completely different parts. Other influences worked on me in various ways (sometimes specified in the book), like the artists Kiki Smith, Adrian Piper, Robert Mapplethorpe, Vito Acconci. I have to thank my partner for introducing me to all those artists.
Q: You have one of the best book trailers I’ve ever seen. How did this come about?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: The trailers were made by my friend Jessica Yatrofsky. She began this project called I Heart Boy, where she takes photographs of attractive young men. I was drawn to her art first because her photographs are beautiful but then second because she was sexualizing the male body—a needed reversal. I think we are doing different things in our creative projects but we are more alike than dissimilar. So I wanted to promote the book and I like collaborating so I reached out to Jessica. We emailed back and forth about ideas but it wasn’t some long drawn out discussion about what she would shoot. We had similar ideas about what the book was about and what should happen. It was really easy, and it was exhilarating to see Jessica bring the characters to life, even for that brief moment. I am still hoping she emails me back sometime to tell me she wants to make a full film out of the story. Oh I would also like to acknowledge the actors/models Jessica used in the trailer because I think they did awesome: Rhyan Hamilton and Rachel Rossin.
Q: What are Publication Studio and The Fellow Travelers Series?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: Publication Studio is a small press and printer based in Portland Oregon, though they have them all over the US, Canada, and some in Europe. I first heard about Publication Studio when they published Dodie Bellamy’s book the buddhist. Later they published Kevin Killian’s book Spreadeagle in the Fellow Travelers Series. The Fellow Travelers Series is based on Olympia Press’s Traveller’s Companion series of the 1950s and 60s, and is meant for books which have been effectively censored by the market.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the book came into print and what the response has been so far?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: I did receive my fair share of rejections from other agents and presses. When I was sending it out to agents and publishers the response was always something like, “We like your writing but this is just experimental for us.” That was frustrating. Both Dodie and Kevin championed The Wolves. Kevin sent Publication Studio the manuscript and asked them to consider it for the Fellow Travelers Series. A few months later Publication Studio emailed me and said they wanted to publish the book. It ended up being a really easy process. The response has been great so far, though the book hasn’t been out that long. I think people appreciate the sex and wildness of the book. Like anyone else who publishes I appreciate hearing what people think about my work.
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: To other writers who are attempting to publish I would just say keep hope alive. Trying to publish a book is a humbling experience. It’s often frustrating and nonsensical too. As for the actual writing part, obviously this is the most important thing, I can offer what I think has helped me the most and that is the revision process. I might as well have thrown away my first drafts, that’s how terrible they were. I rewrote almost everything, multiple times. This took a lot of time sitting alone in my house and just working. I guess that’s it. If a writer finds herself talking about what they’re going to write more often than they do actually writing then she needs to stop that.
Q: What are you working on now?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: I started writing another novel about a year ago and I’m still working on it now. The book is tentatively titled The Infinite Revolution of Axel Fersen. It’s going to be an epic. I’m modeling it after books like Les Miserables and The Idiot. The main character is Axel Fersen, the real life Swedish count who was supposedly Marie Antoinette’s lover. So Axel and Marie escape from the French Revolution and time travel to the modern day US where they meet and befriend a struggling family. This family’s ancestors are all tied together in a series of historical narratives having to do with different revolutions. I’m still planning it all out. I am responding, though, to our current political and spiritual situations. I won’t be disguising in this new book my hope for a revolution. If I can’t have a revolution here in the real world then I will make my own through Axel’s story.
by Ali Znaidi
upon the ground:
Piles over piles.
See! Even autumn
has its red tape.
Nothing remains in the memory
but the image of pomegranate
—A bribe to the swallows
not to migrate .
Ali Znaidi (b.1977) lives in Redeyef, Tunisia where he teaches English. His work has appeared in The Rusty Nail, The Tower Journal, Mad Swirl, Stride Magazine, Red Fez, BlazeVox, Otoliths, streetcake, Ink Sweat and Tears, & elsewhere. His debut poetry chapbook Experimental Ruminations was published in September 2012 by Fowlpox Press (Canada). From time to time he blogs at – aliznaidi.blogspot.com
photo by Muffet
by Nick D’Annuzio Jones
Pre-crack, circa freebase, back when Richard Pryor a la flambe was the news, a professor asked me, told me, to be honest, to leave Boulder–the university, not the town, the big university, not the Buddhist joint where Corso and Ginsburg chilled nude and hairy in round redwood hot tubs rented by the hour, a past-time very much in vogue apres-sixties, pre-Reagan. I guess lack of attendance, low grades, late papers, a lackadaisical attitude and lots cocaine, lots of cocaine, continents of cocaine–along with the aforementioned hot tubs, long hours zoned out in early-model sensory deprivation tanks and a soft wet parade of young women, including a six-foot-three volleyball player whose name I forget; a 16-year-old cute-as-a-peyote-button sales girl who often wore her Kmart blue smock (and sometimes nothing underneath) in public and whose name I also forget; an undergraduate from Canada (how exotic, how hip, how Margaret Trudeau, that seemed then) named Heather who liked to sit on my roof in Wonderland (a townhouse development in the foothills), get high and watch the hang gliders; a ski bunny from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, also named Heather, who was miffed when I warned her that I probably gave her the clap because of a dalliance a couple weeks earlier in Barton Springs, in Austin, Texas (I was being responsible, no?)–all played a role in my expulsion after one semester; the executioner-professor, a former scribe from ciudad de los fallen angels, an authority on the Black Spring, the Prague thing not Henry Miller, strongly, compassionately, perhaps, suggested that I find another career path, as writing, at least the kind that required consistent adherence to facts and religious faith in professional ethical codes, didn’t seem to be my métier. Yet another professor, one who had slammed her condo door in my face when I visited her one night to deliver a tardy plea for an extension, seconded the motion–tiempo grande. She was particularly disturbed by my final paper in which I wrote about taking part in a line up at the local police station. Hey, a little first-person, Plimptonesque participatory journalism, no? Granted there was a long prologue-preamble, perhaps not quite appropriate, about perambulating around a porn shop across the street. But, otherwise, the paper was well within the research parameters for a course on Journalism and Public Affairs, I thought. Anyway, I took the plague professor’s advice, left and switched gears for awhile; I spent the next semester slicing warm plastic off the lips of Hanson ski boots, while dating a skinny chick with a chipped front tooth who dug dirt bikers but settled for me. I still did some stringing for the local rags that paid by the inch. Funny, no one thought that paying by “the inch” sounded funny back then. Incidentally, I usually received a less-than-studly buck an inch; in later years, before the end of high-paying print media, I would get about $2 a word or maybe $100 to $200 an inch, I guess, depending on the font and kerning. Coincidentally, if I deigned to do such work today, a buck an inch might be reasonable again. Or, more likely, I’d just get a slug for my slug and a nostalgic laugh. As they say, we’re all poets now.
 Every writer from my era (and the preceding one, in particular) has a Plimpton story. Here’s mine: The only time I ever met George was in 1997, when I was attending the Adult Video Convention in Las Vegas. Plimpton, well-aged and taller than I expected bounded into the ballroom, smiling, happy, eager for something. I introduced myself. “Well, don’t write that I’m here, he said, in his familiar nasally patrician voice, the tone a half-octave higher and somewhat to the left of William F. Buckley’s. He then mumbled something, chased with a charming laugh, about doing a piece for Harper’s. I understood. Often on these sex stories, one spends hours, days observing, sometimes taking part (“Calling Mr. Gay Talese! Calling Mr. Gay Talese!”), but never puts the experience down on paper. Hell, it’s all research, right? I didn’t have that problem that week; I banged out 1,500 words and my expense account in a day. The Living section, however, killed my “Lunch with Ron Jeremy” piece – a crustacean hack named Marty Arnold went apoplectic over the art, I heard. Plimpton’s piece? I never saw it. I don’t even know if he wrote it. I do, however, keep waiting for an adult video featuring George to appear on a celebrity porn web sites one day.
Nick D’Annunzio Jones, a nom de plume, is a poet and conceptual writer in Seattle and a former reporter for The New York Times. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals in the United States and abroad. He is at work on a memoir in prose poems, from which this piece is taken.
photo by istolethetv
by Akhil Katyal
It was late evening,
near the I.T.O,
I saw him running behind the 541,
and as it happens whenever you see
someone running behind a bus
your heart shadows the man
and runs with him,
and hopes he catches
what he is after
and if he scores,
you brighten up,
for his pursuit had always been yours,
and if he falls back in his trail,
you, even sitting in that bus,
Akhil Katyal is based in Delhi. He writes poetry and non-fiction both in Hindi and English.
photo by eli.brown
by Tim Kahl
They blackened the head of the standing Buddha
with smoke from a pile of burning tires.
They hid their weapons in caves at the Buddha’s feet,
this Buddha in a toga. And this is the year
they hold statues hostage because the world
has not sanctioned any relief for their haggard lives.
So their soldiers are purging the supreme being’s image,
purging it with their Kalashnikovs, their rocket
launchers and their dynamite planted in
the brain of the Buddha. The head of the Buddha
explodes here in the valley, where an ancient
Silk Road traveler once said the mind was strong.
The Buddha falls on its knees and crumbles.
It was a stranger in a land it could not flee.
The monks in yellow robes who carved it out of
the cliff are gone. The wind made their pennants
and silk canopies flutter, but now it is obligated
to carry condemnations and solemn edicts. This is
the year the past became a luxury that could
no longer be afforded. Sanctuary could no longer be given.
The Buddha has become another weary traveler,
famous for his knowing smile. He knows that
knowledge passes. But traces of it are found all around
in the blossoms and the drooping willows. The willows
only wish to be acknowledged. The Buddha
knows this and listens. He hears the men coming
for him, armed with their laws, shouting
all we are breaking is stones.
Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books 2009) and The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. He is also editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center.
photo by philborg