Smile Politely

An interview with 9L Reader Ted Sanders

9L Presents Wordharvest | Saturday | 4 p.m. | Cowboy Monkey | Free

Ramping up to this Saturday’s reading, Illinois MFAer, Mike Don interviewed local Author Ted Sanders who opens up about his inspirations, Googling habits, and his struggle to inscribe copies of his newly released book No Animals We Could Name. Of course, you can find out even more about Ted on Saturday when he reads alongside Chad Simpson, Roxane Gay, Amy Sayre, and the incomperable Jensen Beach. All are welcome to attend. Unless you’re not old enough to be in a bar. Then you’re not welcome. Sorry. (CDC)


What’s inspiring you these days?

I guess this young adult novel I’ve been working on. I’m always pretty stoked about that; it’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing. And I’m inspired by having the collection behind me and feeling like maybe it doesn’t have to be my last book. And also the world in general is pretty neat. How do you procrastinate?

Depends on what from. But I have many forms of procrastination, most of which involve variations of sitting. From writing, though, I don’t get into big procrastinations. I indulge in little ones, like Googling dirty things or playing video games or watching TV or touching on my wife. I’m pretty flitty, in a lot of ways, and busy, so I kind of flit from thing to thing and don’t think of it as procrastination so much as just palette-cleansing. Maybe that’s optimistic, I don’t know. Probably I should not include my wife in a list of things to and from which I flit, but I hope you get me.

What makes you cringe?

Well, I cringed about twenty times today as I kept flipping masochistically back to a TV show called “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” which is a reality show about an American James Herriot-type veterinarian. It’s unapologetically graphic. I don’t know why I kept coming back to it. A sample of what the show featured: an IV jabbed casually into a cow which immediately began spurting blood, some sort of distended rectum thing on a dog (plus a couple of other untelegraphed anal moments), an extended groping into the open neck hole of a recently-decapitated deer head, and then a moment in preparation for horse breeding in which the good Dr. Pol stood beside a filly and donned a glove that went all the way up to his armpit. I changed the channel then and didn’t come back. So that’s what made me cringe today. Also, perennially: mushrooms.

If you could steal a famous short story and pass it off as your own, what would you pick?

Wow, tough one. I would maybe pick “The Mourning Door,” by Elizabeth Graver. That thing is just lovely and womanly, so lush and private and honest, like this sumptuous wound just starting to heal. I’d wreck it trying to describe it. Read it if you haven’t. I’d steal this because I long to write more from the uterus. One that’s in me, I mean, not one I’m in. 

Hypothetical situation: A stranger comes up to you after your reading and would like you to sign their copy of “No Animals We Could Name.” They say to you, “I absolutely love your book and I’m so stoked to meet you in person! I can’t wait to read your inscription! No pressure.” What will you write inside this enthusiastic super-fan’s book? (Let’s say this person’s name is Jamie)

Okay, so I don’t know what you’ve been told, but I’m just shit at this. I was at a conference recently and found myself having to sign copies of my book for the first time. I had given some consideration to my signature — the name I sign my checks with isn’t the same name I use in regular life, so I actually had to practice that a little bit. But I had never once in life given any thought to the actual inscriptions I might write. So I’m at this conference and I’ve given a reading of a story of mine which references the fact that an octopus has arms rather than legs. And there is an octopus in the story which gets horribly mistreated by some humans. I had already signed one book and bungled it — different story I won’t append here — but a few days later at this same conference there was this sort of group signing event scheduled, and in preparation I mentally devised some inscriptions deriving from the reading I’d given about the octopus. So I’m at this signing, and this achingly beautiful and enthusiastic girl comes up to me with a copy of my book. I recognize her as this girl who’d talked to me briefly and drunkenly after the reading itself, and she’d been just gorgeous and gushy about it at the time — and sure enough now she’s bought the damn book, sober, and she’s coming up to me at this signing, and I’m ready. I’ve got my story-themed inscription prepared. It helps if you picture A) me, and B) this stunning barely-twenty girl all sunlit and earnest in this field where all this is going down. So I take her book and I write: “You have arms and legs. Use them well.” This is what I write. Which is meant, of course, to be a reference to the reading I’d given like five days before, but I’m midway through writing it when it occurs to me how it might sound if one does not remember the thing about the octopus’s appendages. I’m shooting for something in the neighborhood of: “Be kind to octopi,” which is a line a friend rattled off on the fly during a later retelling of this event. But instead I’ve managed something more along the lines of “I would really like to do you in an imaginatively limber way. Call me maybe.” And it’s too late to bail. I try to salvage it by underlining the word “and” (arms AND legs, remember? the octopus? we humans should act wisely?) but it’s too late. She takes the book without reading what I’ve written, thankfully, but I pass her on a path the next day and she gives me the same kind of cold disregard fat old guys usually get from hot young chicks who either do not know or are not impressed that you have written a book. So hypothetically, what I will write in any complete stranger’s book, under pressure, is something that’ll mortify us both.


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