Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nosy Interview: Valerie Laken

Valerie assembles a manuscript in the Peculiar Galaxies of Arp 273,  © NASA

I met Valerie at the University of Michigan, where she finished the MFA program a few years ahead of me. I distinctly remember her visiting workshop and giving me and my classmates some very sound advice, though I have no recollection of what, exactly, the advice was. Perhaps this explains why I am still slogging away on a novel while Valerie is celebrating the recent publication of her second book, Separate Kingdoms. Learn more about Valerie and her work by visiting her website.

What do you smell like?
I have no idea what I smell like. Does anyone really know? I get headaches and watery eyes in the presence of perfumes, so when it comes to products that will end up on my body, I tend to shoot for those that smell as little as possible. But because I have a super old, perpetually sick dog, I'm paranoid that both my house and I reek of dying dog. Sometimes I ask my friends if this is the case, but they just shrug noncommittally. I take this as a bad sign. My mother sends me plumeria-scented hand lotion from Hawaii when they're on vacation, and it's the only perfumed thing I like. It's a slightly fake, grandmotherly scent, but the lotion is dreamy and I'm hooked. So I suppose I smell like a 15-year-old coughing dog wearing a plumeria lei. 

What do you like to smell? 
Although it's an artificial scent, sunscreen transports me to sunny vacation days. Good red wine shocks my eyes open and transmits something of all the people and plants who worked to get it in the bottle. The smell of melting pavement and poorly filtered bus exhaust sends me straight to Moscow in the 1990s, where in the mornings, on the metro, you'd get serious blasts of half-digested vodka and BO. I was shocked when people said I'd get used to it, but they were right. I did. It came to feel like home. And now, when I smell BO, I'm right back on the Moscow metro, swaying on my feet between stations. I guess what I mean is, sometimes it's the nasty smells that move and define us.


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