“Everything is freedom and everything is loneliness. Make your choice and let the rest fall away.”
—Ariel Gore, Lung Cancer Noir
I have a very visceral memory of the weekend I discovered Ariel Gore‘s writing. It was my fortieth birthday and I was flying from Seattle to San Francisco. During the flight, I was devouring her book The Mother Trip, and I remember as the plane began to descend (San Francisco! My birthday!), I felt this twinge of disappointment. I didn’t want the flight to end. I wanted to keep reading. And, that’s how I felt once again today, reading the sneak peek of Lung Cancer Noir. I don’t want to land. Bring on Chapter Two! We don’t have Chapter Two, but we do have this fabulous interview below with Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat teacher Ariel Gore, and we have the promise to see her in March. Maybe she’ll read us some of Chapter Two at the Faculty Reading? Here’s to hoping.
Theo Pauline Nestor: Tell us a little about Lung Cancer Noir. What do you find most challenging and most compelling about this project?
Ariel Gore: I moved my family to New Mexico a few years ago to try and take care of my mom who’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. We understood she had anywhere from a couple of months to a year to live, so I didn’t worry about the fact that she’s always been fairly emotionally and physically violent and, you know, impossible. She lived for two and a half years after the diagnosis and trying to be her caretaker — it was like Terms of Endearment meets Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. When she died I knew I had to write the story. But I’ve never written a memoir about such a recent event. That’s the challenge, I think, the chronological proximity of it all. But I think the emotional proximity is making it a better book.
Gore: I’ve always been a writer and first started publishing as an intern at Sonoma County Women’s Voices in California–it’s one of the oldest woman’s newspapers in the country and it was the perfect place to get started as a creative journalist. I started Hip Mama a few years later, when I was 23, and edited and published that zine until just a few years ago. It’s run by a collective now. But honestly books have become my primary writing medium at this point. Memoirs, creative nonfiction. I did a novel a few years ago. I edit anthologies. I have my own press, too. Lit Star Press published Portland Queer, which won the LAMBDA Literary Award. And I recently published a new anthology The People’s Apocalypse. They’re distributed by Microcosm, which I love. I come from the independent publishing world and that doesn’t change just because I publish some of my books with bigger presses.
Gore: When we start working in memoir, it’s exhilarating. Here we are, maybe for the first time, imposing a narrative line on all the disparate image-memories that have made our lives. But then there comes the wow-this-is-awesome-let-me-read-it-over moment and we read it over and of course it is crap and we think, “How could this be interesting to anyone but me?” And we sort of crouch in the corner and bang our head against the wall about what a stupid idiot we are and how not only does this book suck but we thoroughly suck, too. Well, maybe that’s just me. But if you do it, too, you can go ahead and skip that second part. Keep working. As you work the writing gets better and as you work your story becomes more and more the private/universal story–about what it means to be human–and that’s a story that matters. It’s a story that breaks both writer and reader out of our isolation.