Awkward Press

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Meet the Awkward Two Writers: Mike Cipra

August 06, 2010 By: Category: Meet the Writers

Awkward Two, a collection of 33 micro-short stories by 25 incredible writers, will be released to the public on September 27, 2010. (You can pre-order it right here.) Who are these incredible writers? Let’s meet ‘em! We sent the same 9 questions to all the writers. Here are their answers.

Mike Cipra

Mike Cipra is one of my favorite writers. I say that only having read four of his stories. But as far as I can tell, everything he has ever produced has been brilliant, and I firmly believe that he will one day be recognized as one of the great American writers. And Awkward Press is committed to doing whatever we can to help him get there. It’s in our business plan. (Just kidding. We don’t have a business plan.)

I first encountered Cipra back when I helped run another publishing company called Contemporary Press. (Don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore … it was bulldozed in the early 2000s and turned into a parking structure.) We put out an open call for submissions for our short story collection Danger City, and Cipra somehow found us. His “Loving the Monster” was weird, hilarious, and impossible to put down. All of the CP editors knew we had found a kindred spirit, so we invited him back for Danger City II … once again, he pretty much blew the rest of the authors, including yours truly, off the page. When I moved on to Awkward, Cipra was at the top of my short list of people I had to reach out to.

On top of being an amazing writer, he’s also a really great guy. I have yet to meet him in person or even talk to him on the phone … hopefully we can connect for some release parties next month. But just for the record, Mike, wherever I land, I’ll always do my damnedest to make sure there’s a spot reserved for you. And one of these days, maybe I’ll actually be able to pay you.

The Interview Portion

1) Who are you and why are you here?
When I asked a friend of mine from Santa Clara Pueblo who he was, he replied with thebest answer I’ve ever heard to that question.

“My identity? For that kind of shit, you’ve got to stick your head in a rushing river, as deep as it will go. When you can force it deeper, that’s identity.”

I wish I’d thought of that. But since I can’t use that line and claim it as my own, I’ll settle for the poor man’s version—listing what other people have paid me to do. I’ve worked as a park ranger at Joshua Tree National Park and Mesa Verde National Park, an environmental activist in the California desert, a radio DJ in Indonesia, a college professor at Humboldt State University, and a factory drone who makes toe tags—the small metal discs undertakers wire to the feet of corpses to identify each stiff as someone who formerly lived. Right now I live in Death Valley and watch the world turn to fire every afternoon. I have no idea why I’m here or what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I suspect we’re all wasting our lives, and maybe one way to go is to do it as
beautifully as possible.

2) Why do you write?
When I was younger, I’d always answer this question with a one-liner: “Because I have to.”

That’s not really true, though. I could choose to grow hallucinogenic mushrooms and go wading in the Pacific every day. Or dedicate my days to piling up enough money to keep me and future generations of me in steak and butter. Or, if I were a standup guy, I’d spend my time sticking it to corporations that are poisoning people and pouring oil into tributaries of the world’s greatest river… maybe try to stop that kind of suffering and awfulness. There are lots of viable options for keeping a body at ninety-eight point six, is all I’m saying.

I write because for me it’s the most consistent way to get out of time, to feel grateful, to create, to connect with the great mystery. Some people might call that prayer. But if there’s no one to pray to, then what do you call it?

3) What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
Still working on it.

4) What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I spend a fair amount of time hiking, reading, playing basketball, petting my cat, and drinking. Probably too much time drinking, if I’m honest.

“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”
- Charles Bukowski, in Women

5) Name two books that have blown your mind.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. Not a word out of place in either of these books.

Jesus’ Son is so painfully honest and transformative that it often feels like the narrator is standing inside you.

The Road just ruins you. There’s no other book like it. It should be required reading for our species. Maybe I’ll start a campaign to put it in every hotel room instead of the Bible.

6) What do you like to write about?
You know those moments when you’re raw, or stretched, or kicked in the ribs, or drunk, or attacked in a park by monkeys, or left by a lover, and suddenly there’s a window of clarity that opens, all the senses open up and you can see the world stripped absolutely naked of the clothes we’ve made it wear, and you realize that there’s no map to or from this kind of lost, no grand plan by some being in the clouds, there’s just clouds and the electricity that’s building in them? I like to write about the moment that comes after that moment.

7) Complete this sentence: If the world could know one thing about me, it’s that I …
…was hugged by a wild orangutan.

8) Are we doomed?
Oh definitely.

9) Anything else?
I’m extremely grateful to Awkward Press for publishing my stories in Awkward #1 and Awkward #2, and I’m honored to be part of such a great project.

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