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A Chat with Local Author Julian Mihdi

One of the coolest things about our upcoming Garden Fair is the sheer variety of artists and creatives who come out to share their work. You never know who you might encounter! This year we have the pleasure of featuring local American author Julian Mihdi as one of our vendors. In spring of 2017, Mihdi released his fiction debut Chimera: Four Stories and a Novelette in Salt Lake City, Utah. A native of Virginia, Mihdi is a former resident of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Here at City Life we all knew Julian as a weekly host of hip-hop open mics at Sangdee Gallery. We were excited to catch up with him to learn what his new book was all about…

Can you explain the title of your book? What does Chimera mean to you?
JM: Well, in classical mythology the chimera was a creature made up of a lion, a snake, and a goat. It was an absurd creature, and after a while it became synonymous with anything that was nonsensical or unreal. My book isn’t mythological, but it uses the chimera as a symbol for social criticism. Chimera is made up of five stories, and each one highlights a different aspect of how chimerical or absurd our world has become. Or seen another way, our present-day world is a chimera, a monster that man himself is responsible for creating.

What sort of social criticism does Chimera offer?
JM: You know, just the garden variety (laughs). Each story is making its own particular statement, provoking a certain train of thought relevant to our situation today. For example, the novelette in the collection is called “The Scorekeeper”, and it’s about a biracial young man in Washington D.C. who feels like the racial tensions around him are polarizing his very identity. He tries to resolve this inner conflict by learning about the life of his dead father, who was the star of a famed street basketball league in the 1980s. The focus is on race, identity, economic inequality and the paradoxes that emerge from these things in the psyche of a living person.

You lived in Chiang Mai for several years. How has your time in Thailand influenced your writing?
JM: I don’t think Chimera would exist without Thailand, at least not in its current form. I started writing the story “A Search In Siam” while I was still living in Chiang Rai as an English teacher. I think my readers can sense how biographically-oriented that one is, aside from all the magic-realism. This story is attempting to articulate how tarnished our understanding of spiritual teachings has become, insofar as we’ve received them through traditional religious systems. It offers a critique of lay Buddhism as it’s practiced today in Southeast Asia, but also critiques the expectations of Westerners when they journey East to ‘find themselves’. Of all the stories in Chimera, this one might be closest to my heart. I feel like northern Thailand lives in those pages.

On your blog (www.julianmihdi.com) you refer to yourself as a ‘Prose-Minded Millennial’. How is Chimera unique to your generation?
JM: I was born in ’87, so I’m sort of at the fringes of that generation. Still, I think my experience has been consistent with the millennial experience. To some degree, we feel like we’re ‘post-everything’, you know? We occupy this weird, ambiguous era where genres are collapsing into one another before our eyes. Our experience is an exaggerated one. As our access to information increases, the less sense our world seems to make from a purely human perspective. We know it all, but we’re losing the proper context for knowing ourselves. I think this is the space that Chimera is coming from.

Who are some of your biggest influences as a writer?
JM: I love the writers who revel in the richness of language, the writers who can recast a commonplace detail as a miracle of perception. Their style seems to channel experience as it unfolds before the eye. Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce have been among my biggest influences. I also treasure anything written by Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Italo Calvino. Their mastery lies in a triumph of imagination mixed with a perfect economy of style. Aside from them, I revere the works of Jack Kerouac, even though he’s an entirely different kind of writer. The exuberance of his prose always draws me in.

Julian Mihdi will be selling signed copies of Chimera at City Life’s Garden Fair on November 25th.