Monday, April 13, 2015

Shanna Mahin

Shanna Mahin is a middle-aged, high school dropout with a fierce desire to overcome what her 9th-grade English teacher predicted would be a lifetime of wasted potential. She mourns his passing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the missed opportunity to point out that she has finally transcended a lifetime of shitty jobs—including dog walker (which was actually kind of great), cook, telemarketer, celebrity personal assistant, theme restaurant waitress, and failed drug dealer, all of which she feels comfortable saying, because the statute of limitations has got to be up by now—to become a bona fide writer. Yep. For money and everything.

Recent fellowships and residencies include the MacDowell Colony, the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, PEN Center USA Emerging Voices, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Writers at Work, and the Eda Kriseova Creative Nonfiction Fellowship at the Prague Summer Program, among others.

Mahin's new novel is Oh! You Pretty Things.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This. I picked it up because I loved his book on writing (Naming the World), and also because I bought a skateboard that has the book cover screened on it as part of a fundraiser for PEN Center USA. I don’t think you’re allowed to own a skateboard with an image of a book you’ve never read. And Oh My God. It’s so, so good. It’s such a magical blend of beautiful, literary writing (which makes sense, since he teaches at Bennington) and page-turning plot twists. It’s a brutal, violent, heart-wrenching story, but there’s virtually no violence on the page. I’m looking forward to reading it again (and again) to break down how he did that. It’s really something.

I always think I don’t like dystopian work (why do I think that?), so I probably wouldn’t have chosen Find Me if it hadn’t been written by Laura van den Berg, and that would have been a shame because it’s fantastic. Wait, am I using that word wrong? Do I mean post-apocalyptic? It’s kind of both. Like Bret Anthony Johnston’s book, it’s a perfect blend of fast-paced story and exquisite writing. When did all these literary writers get so damn good at high concept storytelling? I’ve been a fan of hers since her first book of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, but I went into this book squinting, partly because of the dystopian angle and partly because I sometimes find people who are great short story writers are often, well, less great novelists. Not so here.

Right now I’m reading Christopher Noxon’s Plus One, which is shaping up to be a scathingly funny send up of Hollywood celebrity culture, a subject close to my heart because it’s the same territory my book explores. I found him because we’re speaking on a panel together at the L.A. Times Festival of Books in late April. I’m trying to figure out a way to make him my new best friend. I’m going to start with alcohol. If that doesn’t work, maybe cupcakes.
Visit Shanna Mahin's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Shanna Mahin & Riley.

--Marshal Zeringue