Go Forth is a series curated by Nicolle Elizabeth and Brandon Hobson that offers a look into the publishing industry and contemporary small-press literature. See more of the series.
Vi Khi Nao is the author of Swans in Half Mourning, The Vanishing Point of Desire, and Oh, God, Your Babies are So Delicious. Her fiction has appeared in such journals as NOON, Ploughshares, and Glimmer Train. She received an MFA in literary arts from Brown University.
BRANDON HOBSON: In terms of style, some of the stories in Oh, God, Your Babies are So Delicious are very different from others. More specifically, some are much more experimental. “Colon” and “The Lesbian of Dry Cement,” for example, are numbered, terse, much different than “Cucumber” or “The Divorce”. Then there are the stories that balance between poetry and prose: the one sentence "The Problem with Literature Today" or “The Kiss.” Were these stories written over a period of time when you were experimenting with different styles, or is this change specific to this book?
VI KHI NAO: These stories, exactly thirty-four stories (to match the age of my existence), were written over the course of nine years. The story “Cucumber” was written a year ago. What do you mean by traditional?
BH: I guess in terms of storytelling, less experimental.
VKN: I think the only story that comes close to being traditional is “Tom is Handsome.” The rest float up like a distant cloud of pleasure and latexed-humor (you can only laugh if you are wearing sanitary gloves). “Colon” is numbered because the narrative is defined through the architecture of dictionary and the rhetoric of its etymology. “The Lesbian of Dry Cement” rests its spine on the sexuality of arithmetic, which controls the education of the children in the story. For some reason, I have always linked numbers to documentation and numbers to children because in the past, you had to line the children up like stairs to count them. This is a non sequitur: in Vietnamese, if you are the third child in the family, you are named Child Three. Sometimes children have to behave like calendars to mark the years for their aging parents.
BH: One of the things I love about this collection is your titles. Can you talk a little about how you came up with such fantastic titles?
VKN: The titles are born out of the voices of the writing. Sometimes a sentence would appear in my head at the beginning of writing a piece and that sentence wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. As soon as I write it down, the words march out. Everything after that becomes an oblivion. After that I feel detritus. And sentences. Then abyss. And then sentences. And sometimes the abyss and oblivion create more titles for other stories. The title Oh God, Your Babies Are So Delicious is a result, I think, of my conversation with my extraordinary friend, Anthony Luebbert, who was showing me beautiful pictures of cute babies and I kept on exclaiming how delicious they are and how I want to eat them for breakfast and lunch and dinner. Then I told him about the book I was working on, with the original title: Oh God You Have A Great Sense of Humor. But Anthony Luebbert whispered to me a more playful, cannibalized title and I asked him immediately if I could use it.
BH: Who are some of your biggest writer influences?
VKN: I think Rafael Nadal is an important writer for me. His left forehand is amazing. He can create winning points on the run. He plays intensely, aggressively, and he is just a great defender.
BH: Nadal, the tennis player?
VKN: Yes. Rafael Nadal, the tennis player. Speaking of artistry, John McEnroe depicts Rafael Nadal as the “Leonardo da Vinci of Tennis.” I don’t know if I would go that far, but he is dynamic. I think if one could convert a lasso-whip into a narrative structure and use a heavy topspin as a rhetorical device, one could create provocative, extraordinary writing that marries the past with the technological future. I like his full western grip, which is important to writing when you sit down at the table and you think about the right word on the corner of the court. Part of your writing reminds me of this too, Brandon. With your adept placement of scenes, you don’t need fancy words or long convoluted sentences. I see you tossing the ball in the corner of the court, your speed is slower than most, but somehow when your scene bounces off the page, the scene goes right to the waist or the lower waist of the player. Like the scene with poor old Puig exposing himself. And Gideon, your protagonist, heading to the door. Sometimes one needs a humorous or poetic punch, one that rocks the silent stadium of the mind.
BH: That’s really nice of you to say, Vi.
VKN: I also think writing requires a lot of physical and emotional strength. Sometimes, my wrists and fingers just want to fall off. But you can’t let that happen to you when you write. Just as a tennis writer like Rafael Nadal can’t let his knees fall of. He just got a time violation in Monte Carlo, lost the game, but he is doing really well, but he is doing really well.
BH: Right now I’m listening to The Brian Jonestown Massacre and I can’t help but find them inspiring. What inspires you artistically?
VKN: I think discipline. I start caring for things when I get involved. Consistently. From time to time, I do things creatively from the outer circle of things—meaning they are robotic energy that call me to make things, but they do not come from the inside, and they build a remote passion and rapport for the temporary and enduring nuptial agreement between my eyes and my art. But discipline has taught me another formal arch of detachment, which has the power to peel away (and leave behind, below the surface of desire) another robust creature, one that resembles stamina or endurance or belief, and it’s this single-minded beast of the quotidian gesture of making things out of nothing, that inventive force of watering the plant of discipline, everyday, that inculcates artistic excitement and faithfulness in me. Also, bun rieu inspires me artistically. I think about it everyday now. I haven’t had it for three months and I think about its fish flavor and its tight salty pockets of broth and how all of it could easily kill me. Not having bun rieu for a while now is my body’s intelligent way of blackmailing my cravings. I think when God invented me he made my tongue lopsided.
Brandon Hobson’s novel, Deep Ellum, is available from Calamari Press. His other work has appeared in NOON, The Paris Review Daily, The Believer, New York Tyrant, and elsewhere.