Monday, March 25, 2019

TBR: Flint & Fire by Lisa M. Hase-Jackson

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 



We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?

Flint and Fire is a collection of poems about life in America that explores such social conditions as single motherhood, poverty, addiction, divorce, racism, mental illness, incarceration, and relocation trauma.

Which poem/s did you most enjoy writing? Why?

Four of my favorite poems from this collection are “Prairie Rumors,” “Forty Acres South of Mayetta,” “Shard Studded Floor,” and “Junk Mail.” I had a fairly clear vision when I set out to write these poems but was also able to let go enough to allow them to become what they are. “Prairie Rumors” is a bit mystical while “Shard Studded Floor” and “Junk Mail” are pretty concrete and realistic. In all cases, I am happy with what these poems are doing in terms of imagery, sound, structure, and story. I also like where they are placed in the collection as a whole. 

Which poem/s gave you the most trouble, and why?

“January Respite” comes to mind. It has undergone considerable revision between the time it was accepted for publication and the date that it was published, meaning the version in the book, a more recent manifestation, is quite different than the one published by Literary Mama. “Osawatomie October” was also difficult to finish. The first few lines came to me relatively effortlessly, but finding the right conclusion was tough. I found the right ending by going back into the poem in search of an image that would help bring the poem full circle.  Both of these poems attempt to provide a different perspective on mental illness and addiction, two obviously broad and difficult subjects to approach poetically.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

Writing individual poems was generally a highlight of this experience, as was the day I learned that the collection had been selected by Jericho Brown for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection Series and would be published by The Word Works, but there were a lot of lows during the process as well. I mean, the challenges that come with revising poems is sometimes quite thrilling and sometimes downright disheartening, not to mention heartbreaking when a poem just isn’t working and is relegated to the failed poems folder. Though necessary in the pursuit of publication, I would count rejections as a low, too, and I personally also experienced a lot of anxiety figuring out which poems to include in the collection and into which order they should be arranged.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Give yourself permission to write crap and write past it.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

I was really surprised when someone described my collection as being about America, but it really is. I suppose this is a result of my moving around a lot my entire life, in and out of the country, and having been constantly exposed to a variety of perceptions. Seeing my “home” from the perspective of others is pretty-eye opening and sometimes quite amusing. It’s much more enlightening to consider these alternative perspectives through writing as opposed to becoming defensive or close-minded about them.


How did you find the title of your book?

It was lifted from one of the poems within the collection, which is inspired by images of the Kansas Flint Hills during prescribed burnings in the spring. My good friend and colleague, Izzy Wasserstein, suggested it after reading through an early version of the manuscript.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)  

Now that you mention it, I do refer to something called Midwestern spaghetti in the poem “January Respite,” which is just a made-up name for a common dish I used to make a lot because it is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive. All you have to do is prepare the desired amount of spaghetti noodles, though I suppose any kind of noodle will work, then heat your favorite kind of tomato sauce, premade or your own, and add a package of spaghetti seasoning (like McCormick). I served it with garlic toast, which I often made from leftover hotdog buns, butter, and garlic powder, or garlic salt if there is no garlic powder in the house. My spaghetti making is a little more sophisticated these days, but this recipe got me through a lot of lean times.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR & BOOK: https://zingarapoet.net/about-me/

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE: https://www.wordworksbooks.org/coming-soon/





Monday, March 18, 2019

TBR: Malawi’s Sisters by Melanie S. Hatter

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Malawi’s Sisters” was inspired by the 2013 shooting death of Renisha McBride and tells the story of a black family thrown into the national dialogue on race when the youngest daughter is killed by a white man.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?

I loved writing Ghana, but I was fascinated by Malcolm, Malawi’s father, whose voice became stronger as I moved forward with the book. (See note below about what surprised me.)

And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

Bet, Malawi’s mother, definitely gave me the most trouble. I struggled with her because she wasn’t who I had originally thought she was. I kept trying to push her into the spoiled rich wife, which she is in many ways, but as I continued to write her scenes, I realized there was this hidden past with her father and brother that slowly revealed itself.   

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

The high, of course, was winning the inaugural Kimbilio National Fiction prize. Until then, I had been submitting to agents—more than 30—and getting rejections. Many didn’t respond at all, but quite a few included positive comments about my writing and the story, but it still was a rejection. A few said they couldn’t connect with the characters and one said they didn’t like my writing style. I was close to thinking I should scrap the whole thing—that I’d just wasted two years of writing. I’m so glad I listened to the little voice inside that told me I did have something worth pushing.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Stephen King in his book On Writing said, to be a writer you must read a lot and write a lot. It seems a bit trite, but I think it’s spot on. Reading is such an integral part of writing.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Malcolm. I had originally thought this was a story about three women affected by Malawi’s death. When I started, I was more focused on the mother and two sisters, but Malcolm appeared and his voice became hard to ignore. So I ended up with several sections from his point of view and I realized he was as important to the story as the women.

How did you find the title of your book?

Titles are usually very hard for me, but this one came quite easily. The story was to be about Malawi’s sisters, Kenya and Ghana, though the book grew to include her parents’ voices, as well. As you read the story, the title develops a greater meaning, but I won’t give that away.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

There are many moments that involve food—food is such an important element to human relationships, but alas, I don’t have any particular recipes.


READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.melanieshatter.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://fourwaybooks.com/site/malawis-sisters/




Monday, March 11, 2019

TBR: Woman 99 by Greer Macallister


TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Woman 99 is a historical thriller about a young woman whose attempts to rescue her sister from a notorious insane asylum risk her sanity, her safety and her life. Once Charlotte is inside Goldengrove Asylum, she finds that many of the women there are more inconvenient than insane, and she discovers secrets that certain very powerful people will do anything to keep.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

I really love Martha McCabe, one of the other inmates Charlotte meets in the asylum, who sort of elbowed her way into the narrative. She wasn’t even in my original synopsis, but once she showed up, she reshaped the entire story. One of the ways institutions keep people in line is to threaten and enforce consequences. Martha spits in the face of consequences. That attitude changes everything.

Charlotte herself, the book’s protagonist and narrator, gave me the most trouble. She’s been pampered and sheltered most of her life, and though her heart is in the right place with her plan to rescue her sister, her plan is a painfully na├»ve one. We know it won’t work, but she doesn’t. She has to learn and grow at the same time as she’s solving the puzzle of how to save her sister. She has to redefine her place in the world.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

This is my third book with Sourcebooks (after The Magician’s Lie and Girl in Disguise) and I had both the luxury and pressure of writing Woman 99 under contract. Early on, there’s the blissful feeling of knowing that the book has a home, even while you’re writing it; but late in the game, when you’re not sure the book’s going to come together, there’s an extra level of worry about letting everyone down. But it all came together in this case. Phew!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Steer clear of any writing advice that contains the words “always” or “never.”

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

How many characters, how many stories within the story, demanded to be heard. Charlotte is our way in, but there were so many other stories I wanted to tell within that framework, it really turned out to be more of an ensemble piece. The book wouldn’t hold together in the same way without Nora, without Martha, without Jubilee. I really wanted to do justice to all of them. There was a line in the Publishers Weekly review that so perfectly captured what I was trying to do, it blew me away: “Though Charlotte narrates, Macallister also gives voice to a motley crew of women who, at the mercy of male whims, hide multitudes.”

Who is your ideal reader?

I’d love people who don’t think of themselves as historical fiction readers to pick this one up. Historical fiction is never really just about the past. Although Woman 99 is set in 1888, it’s basically about a group of angry women banding together against a rigged system put together by men who are afraid of them. I think many readers will find, let’s say, contemporary resonance.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?

I have been asking myself this same question! The food in the asylum, as you might imagine, is profoundly unappetizing. I would urge book clubs who want to “cook the book”, as mine enjoys doing, to focus on the delicious sweets for the Smith household San Francisco: rich egg bread braided with almond paste and currants, buttery financiers, madeleines, and brioche rolls stuffed with farmer’s cheese.

***

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.greermacallister.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781492665335







Monday, March 4, 2019

TBR: Be with Me Always: Essays by Randon Billings Noble

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

  
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!” Heathcliff begs this of his dead Cathy in Wuthering Heights. He wants to be haunted – he insists on it – and I do too. The essays in Be with Me Always explore hauntedness – not through conventional ghost stories but by considering the way certain people or places from our pasts cling to our imaginations. Some essays are traditional in form, others are lyric; together they reveal the unexpected value of being haunted.


Which essay did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which essay gave you the most trouble, and why?

I really enjoyed writing “The Heart as a Torn Muscle” [link below].  Well, I enjoyed the writing of it – but not the pain part. I was on a residency at the glorious Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and was thinking about writing about the timeline of a crush. But before I began, I tried to move my desk so it faced the window – and I pulled something deep in my lower back. Instead of writing, I started researching. I looked up “torn muscle” on WebMD and slowly saw that the treatment plan for a torn muscle was similar to the treatment plan for a bad crush. Then I realized that the heart is also a muscle – and the essay almost wrote itself. It became what’s known as a hermit crab essay, an essay that borrows its form from another kind of writing (the way the hermit crab borrows its shell from another kind of animal). In this case the essay’s form was a WebMD page, with sections on symptoms, treatments, “Exams and Tests,” etc.

The essay that gave me the most trouble was “Ambush.”  It started out as a more of lyric essay, divided into sections, and each section started off with a quote about ambushes from the Army Ranger's Handbook. I kept playing with the order, trying to make each section fit with each quote and each type of ambush. But one day – a Sunday – I decided to take out all the quotes and the sections of the essay fell into place, and it was exactly the way I wanted it to be. I remember that it was a Sunday because I had just read the Modern Love column in the Sunday New York Times and I thought, this essay feels like a Modern Love essay. So I sent it in. (And I was right!)


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

This book's road to publication felt like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Early on – too early, really – a fancy New York agent found me through the Modern Love piece I had published. She took me out to lunch at Nobu and asked me all the right questions. She read my whole manuscript and said all the right things. But after I had signed with her she wanted me to revise my collection into a memoir. I tried to arrange the essays chronologically, to have something of a thorough line, but for me, memoirs and essays are two very different organisms. It was heartbreaking to think of filleting all my essays of all their spines and then trying to mold them into some kind of book-length fish-cake story. And in the end I couldn’t do it. My agent and I parted ways. I thought I had missed my chance.

But I kept writing. I kept publishing individual essays. The theme of the collection shifted and I started sending it out again – this time to agents and presses that champion essay collections. It took a while, but then one of my dream presses – the University of Nebraska Press – said yes. Although the whole process took much longer than I might have liked, it worked out beautifully in the end. Be with Me Always is a much better book than its earlier versions. I couldn’t be happier.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It comes by way of Henry James: “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.”  


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

How much of it – the writing and the ordering of the essays – happened intuitively. Dinty Moore has described essay writing as following a “invisible magnetic river,” and that’s what much of the process felt like.


How did you find the title of your book?

I struggled with the title. The collection is loosely themed around hauntedness but the essays address so many different things (a near-death experience, Anne Boleyn's relationship with Henry VIII, the chemical composition of Tylenol, the mythical properties of different gemstones) it was hard to settle on a title. But then I reread Wuthering Heights for the essay "Striking," and that line from Heathcliff almost knocked me over: "Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”  I thought, That's it. That’s what all these essays are about – the things that haunt us, that stay with us always, that never want to be lost and not again found.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

In “Yet Another Day at the Jersey Shore” I write about the yellow cake my grandmother used to make. Hers was Duncan Hines, but mine is from the Magnolia Bakery in New York City. When I lived there I would end the week by buying two cupcakes; I’d walk down the block to the Bleecker Street Playground or Abington Square and eat one (sometimes both, although I always planned to save the second one for later). When I moved to DC I bought The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook and have made this lovely cake for birthdays, snow days, any day ever since.


**** 

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.randonbillingsnoble.com


READ AN ESSAY FROM THIS BOOK, “The Heart as a Torn Muscle”:  https://brevitymag.com/nonfiction/torn-muscle/







Monday, February 25, 2019

Survival Tips for #AWP19!


It’s baaaa-aaaack! AWP19 is about to descend upon Portland, Oregon…and since I started thinking about restaurants and where I’m going to eat, I guess it’s tip to post my AWP survival tips, honed after (yikes!) 20ish years of attending AWP conferences. I’ve never been to Portland (or even Oregon) and so know nothing worth passing along on that front…beyond the fact that:

1) Elastic waistbands may be in order on the way home since the Portland food scene is legendary, and

2) If it’s not too late for you, do NOT sign up for that cost-cutting redeye flight home. I wish I would have paid the extra $$ to leave at a normal time after my husband reminded me of the redeye hell we went through getting back from L.A. But why do I persist in thinking it sounds glamourous to say, “I’m taking the redeye in from the Coast”? Oh well…one more day to eat, I guess.

Twelve thousand writers is a lot of angst, need, and glory to be packed into one convention center…here are my tried & true & freshly updated tips for success, based on my experience at past conferences:

Wear comfortable shoes, at least most of the day. There’s lots of traipsing around long hallways and the long (sometimes uncarpeted) aisles of the book fair. It’s also inevitable that the one panel you really, really, really want to see will be in a teeny-tiny room and you’ll have to stand in the back…or sit on the floor; see the following tip:

Wear comfortable clothes, preferably taking a layer approach. Wherever you go, you will end up either in A) an incredibly stuffy room that will make you melt, or B) a room with an arctic blast directed at you. Bulk up and strip down as needed. Also, as noted above, despite their best efforts, the AWP conference staff has a knack for consistently misjudging the size of room required for a subject matter/speakers (i.e. Famous Writer in room with 30 chairs; grad student panel on Use of Dashes in Obscure Ancient Greek Poet in room with 300 chairs). I suppose it’s hard to determine who is “famous” and so on…in any event, you don’t want to find yourself scrunched into a 2’x2’ square on the carpet, and so see the following tip:

To avoid being stuck sitting on the floor, arrive early to panels you really, really want to attend. And, in fact, official AWP does not sanction sitting on the floor because it’s a fire hazard and you’ll be creating a barrier to those who have accessibility needs. Not sure how they feel about standing in a herd in the back? The point is, don’t sit on the floor—be mindful of others if there’s a herd of standees, and arrive early.

If a panel is bad, ditch it. Yes, it’s rude. Yes, everyone does it. (Be better than the rest by at least waiting for an appropriate break, but if you must go mid-word, GO.) I can’t tell you the high caliber of presenters that I have walked out on, but think Very High. Remember that there are a thousand other options, and you have choices. The only time you have to stick it out is if A) the dull panel participant is your personal friend or B) the dull panel participant is/was your teacher or C) the dull panel participant is your editor/publisher. Those people will notice (and remember) that you abandoned them mid-drone and punish you accordingly (i.e. your glowing letters of rec will flicker and fade). Undoubtedly this is why I have never been published in Unnamed Very High Caliber Magazine, having walked out on that editor’s panel.

There are zillions of panels: When you pick up your registration badge, you’ll get a massive tome with information about all of them, and also a shorter schedule that’s easy to carry around. Be dutiful and glance through the ads in the tome since these are the funders who subsidize our conference. Then ditch the tome and carry around the smaller master schedule….unless you are an app person (I’m not). Either way, do take time NOW to go to AWP’s website and scroll through the schedule and select EVERY panel that sounds even moderately interesting, and load those into the “my schedule” feature. Keep that stored on your favorite technology (mine is a sheaf of printed paper…which may be smart since I often forget how/where to re-access “my schedule,” which requires logging in and somehow finding “my account”; I assume app people are more adept than I am).  Anyway…no point waking up early on Friday if there’s nothing you want to attend. I checkmark panels I might go to if nothing better is going on and star those that I will make a supreme effort to attend. Give yourself a couple of options at each time slot so that if a room is too crowded, you have an interesting alternative.

I like to choose a variety of panels: people I know, people I’ve heard of, genres I don’t write but am curious about, topics I want to educate myself on. Stretch yourself. I also like to go to a reading in which I don’t know any of the readers, just to have a lovely sense of discovery! And don’t forget the ninety-trillion off-site events! (I suspect you’ll end up depressed if every single panel you attend is How To Get Published…remember, the way to get published, really, is to be an amazing writer. You’ll be better of going to some panels that will help you in that pursuit.)

Someone will always ask a 20-minute question that is not so much a question but a way of showing off their own (imagined) immense knowledge of the subject and an attempt to erase the (endlessly lingering) sting of bitterness about having their panel on the same topic rejected. Don’t be that person. Keep your question succinct and relevant. Also, everyone is groaning inwardly anytime someone says, “I have a question and a comment” or anytime someone starts out by saying, “Well, in my work-in-progress, the main character is….”

Don’t say anything gossipy on the elevator, unless you want the whole (literary) world to know it. Do listen up to the conversations of others on the elevator, and tell your friends absolutely everything you’ve overheard during your offsite dinner.

Same advice above exactly applies to the overpriced hotel bar.  Also, if you happen to get a chair at the bar, or, goodness, EVEN A REAL LIVE TABLE, hang on to it!!  People will join you if they see you’ve got a spot!  Famous people!  I mean it: the only reason to ever give up a table in the hotel bar is because the bar has shut down, you’ve consumed every bit of liquid in the clutter of glasses, and a beefy bouncer is headed your way. (Also, here’s a fun fact: AWP alcohol consumption often breaks sales records at hotels.)

Speaking of famous people or former teachers or friends…do not say something like this in one long breathless opening sentence right after hugging hello: “Great-to-see-you-can-you-write-a-blurb-letter-of-rec-piece-for-my-anthology?” Ask for favors AFTER the conference! I mean, unless you enjoy that uncomfortable moment and awkward triumph of trapping someone into saying yes.

Support the publications at the bookfair. Set a budget for yourself in advance, and spend some money on literary journals and books and subscriptions, being sure to break your budget. Do this, and then you won’t feel bad picking up the stuff that’s been heavily discounted or being given away free on the last day of the conference. But, please, definitely do spend some money! These journals and presses rely on OUR support.

Just because something is free, you don’t have to take it. Unless you drove, you’ll have to find a way to bring home all those heavy books/journals on an airplane. Or you’ll have to wait in line at the hotel’s business center or the UPS store at the convention center to ship them home. So, be as discerning as you can when you see that magic markered “free” sign on top of a pile of sad-looking journals, abandoned by the grad students with hangovers who didn’t feel like dealing with their university's bookfair table.

Try not to approach the table of each journal at the bookfair with this question: “How can I get published in your journal?” Also, I recommend avoiding this one: “How come you didn’t publish my poem/story/essay/screed?”  Try instead: “What a beautiful journal. Please tell me more about it.” Even better: “I’m thinking about subscribing.”

It may be too late for some of you, but it’s inevitable that you will see every writer you’ve ever met in the aisle of the bookfair at one AWP or another…so I hope you were nice to all of them and never screwed anyone over. Because, yes, they will remember, and it’s not fun reliving all that drama as the editors of The Georgia Review gaze on.

Pre-arrange some get-togethers with friends/teachers/grad student buddies, but don’t over-schedule. You’ll run into people, or meet people, or be invited to a party, or find an amazing off-the-beaten-track bar.  Save some time for spontaneity! (Yes, I realize that I’m saying “plan” for spontaneity.)

Don’t laugh at this, but bring along Purell and USE IT often.  For weeks after, post-AWP Facebook status updates are filled with writers bemoaning the deathly cold/sore throat/lingering and mysterious illness they picked up at AWP.  We’re a sniffly, sneezy, wheezy, germy bunch, and the thought of 12,000 of us packed together breathing on each other, shaking hands, and giving fake hugs of glee gives what’s left of the CDC nightmares.

Along the lines of healthcare, don’t forget to drink a lot of water and pop an Advil before going to sleep if (haha…if!) you’ve been drinking a little more than usual. (Also note that AWP offers a daily 12-step meeting open to all in recovery. Please take care of yourself.)

Escape! Whether it’s offsite dinners/drinks/museums/walks through park/mindless shopping or whatever, do leave at some point. You will implode if you don’t. Also, the food on the convention floor is consistently overpriced and icky…you will starve if this is your entire diet.

Bring your cellphone charger and maybe even a portable charger. Or maybe you like huddling around electrical outlets?

I can’t believe I’m writing this: the Dance Party is FUN! I mean it! You don’t even have to go with anyone or be a great dancer (call me Exhibit A). It’s how to work off stress and reenergize after a long, sometimes daunting day after too many snubs, imagined and real. I mean, I’m sure there are all kinds of interesting undercurrents and nuances out there in the depths of that packed dance floor…but also, on the surface, it can just be FUN.

This is a super-secret tip that I never share, but I’ll share it as a reward for those who have read this far:  there will be a bathroom that’s off the beaten track and therefore is never crowded. Scope out this bathroom early on. Don’t tell anyone except your closest friends the location of this bathroom.

Finally, take a deep breath.  You’re just as much of a writer as the other 11,999 people around you.  Don’t let them get to you.

*****

If you're interested, I will be reading from THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST at this off-site event:

Thursday, March 28
5:30  to 7:00
Hosted by University of Pittsburgh Press
Reading with Brad Felver
Mother Foucault’s Bookshop



Monday, February 11, 2019

TBR: How to Be Loved: A Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship by Eva Hagberg Fisher

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

  
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

This book is, at its heart, about intimacy. With our work, with our most beloved friends, our families, our chosen families, our doctors, our colleagues, ourselves. It is about how I was loved so much that I was transformed from being a very lonely person into a less lonely person.


What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from?

I wasn’t aware of boundaries while I was writing, though now that it’s coming out I wonder what kind of covenants of secrecy I’ve broken with my family, my friends, etc. I did break one formal boundary, which was about time and foreshadowing: I kept foreshadowing the character Allison’s death, in increasingly present ways, which I did in order to mirror my experiential sense of her dying - which is that I kept knowing that she was going to die, and was still absolutely floored with grief when she did.

I love that your question indicates the presence of courage, but I’m not aware of being particularly courageous. I mostly feel scared a lot. But I wrote this book because I felt driven to, and I wanted to try to solve certain structural and creative issues that I had thought about a lot in terms of memoir as a genre, and I wanted people to get to meet, in some sense, my friend who had died, and so I didn’t really have a lot of analytical self-reflection about how brave or not the writing was while I was doing it. 

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

Ahhhhh so many highs, which are never high enough. A starred Publisher’s Weekly review. Being on various lists - Entertainment Weekly and Nylon’s top 50 2019 books list. Tremendously beautiful blurbs. Knowing that I accomplished my lifelong dream. And then lows - the only lows that I’ve felt have been entirely self-inflicted, and all about envy and ego and self-confidence. For instance, yesterday I got the February issue of O Magazine, and wasn’t in it (I hadn’t expected to be, but hope lights the heart forever), and I felt an acute sense of rejection and loss. I had to reach out and ask a friend with experience to remind me that I don’t need to be in charge of my book. I did my job, which was writing it. The rest is out of my hands.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It really helps if you need to write to live - I became a working journalist fifteen years ago and knew that if I didn’t land a pitch or file a story, I couldn’t afford rent. It compressed any creative fear that I might have had, and gave me a really pragmatic approach to writing. So when I sold my book, I just very pragmatically did my job and met my deadlines. I like a very clear exchange of work and money, and I like to need to write in order to afford my life.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

How linear I was able to make extremely non-linear experiences. I have pages and pages of attempted structural outlines, and notes of conversations with my editor, and it felt like it was totally impossible to get a clear narrative out of the events that had occurred and the way that I felt about them, but here we are, with a story that goes from A to B to C, that has a beginning and an ending. 

How do you approach revision?

I wrote about 47 drafts - so I love revision. I approach it with a lot of enthusiasm - something I learned from working with editors for years. A good editor can feel like a miracle worker; my book editor is truly the best. With this, I went over and over and over the text until I felt like I had the basic map, and then I started doing chapter-level revisions, then got more and more granular. I would often email sections to myself and purposefully read them while I was distracted - on the BART or walking around - to see how it felt. For the last few months, I read it out loud to myself every night before I went to sleep to feel which sections dragged or felt boring/obvious. I wrote the book in many parts over a period of a few years, and I think that the last few months of reading it through / out loud smoothed out so many of the potentially rough edges.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes to share?)

The famous Milk Bar birthday cake cake makes two appearances!!!! When I was slipping into a coma, the last thing I thought to myself I wanted to do was - finally make that cake. Two years later, I did. It took three days but I did it! The recipe is here: https://milkbarstore.com/recipes/birthday-cake/

[EDITOR’S NOTE: You must click over and look at the picture of this cake!]

*****


READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.evahagbergfisher.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780544991156

READ AN EXCERPT FROM THIS BOOK: 





Monday, February 4, 2019

TBR: Learning To See by Elise Hooper

TBR [to be read] is a new feature on my blog, a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

LEARNING TO SEE is historical fiction based on the life of pioneering artist Dorothea Lange. This novel tells the story of her transformation from San Francisco’s most successful society portraitist in the 1920s to a documentary photographer determined to show the truth of what was happening to America’s poor and disenfranchised in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

Dorothea captivated me from the beginning because of the idealism that inspired her work, but she was a complicated woman who had to make difficult choices that placed many stresses on her personal life. I wanted to provide context for her work and life’s decisions so readers could draw their own conclusions.

I also enjoyed fleshing out painter Maynard Dixon, Dorothea’s first husband, because he cut a colorful figure, romantic and talented, but he was not necessarily what you would call a great husband.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

An important source for me when learning about Dorothea Lange was an oral history she had done for the University of California. I had downloaded the  more than 300-page transcript from the online library and used it often. When I visited Lange’s archives at the Museum of California in Oakland, I realized the interview that I had been relying upon was abridged and the original was spread out over nine binders. I experienced momentary panic that I’d missed important information, but once I started reading through the binders, I saw that the unabridged version contained every word that was said. Every word, all the ummms, the nonsequiters, everything. So, whew, I realized everything was okay!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Write what you would want to read.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

As I wrote this novel between 2015 – 2017, the political climate of our country shifted in a way that felt very relevant to Dorothea Lange. She was a figure who experienced a major awakening during the 1930s and her work reflected her activism.

As I took part in the Women’s March in 2016, I couldn’t help but think that Dorothea would have loved to have seen so many women taking to the streets and raising their voices to support marginalized Americans. I also found myself surprised (and disheartened) that so many of our current day issues are similar to what was happening in the 1930s and ‘40s, but Dorothea’s belief in the power of helping people through storytelling inspired me and kept me uplifted. Her storytelling took the form of creating images, but storytelling can come through many different creative forms and it’s more important now than ever to keep talking and learning from each other.

How did you find the title of your book?
The working title of this book was LANGE for a long time, but I came across an interview with one of Dorothea’s grandchildren in which the she described how Dorothea always told the kids that “seeing” was a learned skill and that it was important to “learn to see.” My editor and I thought this idea captured the book so we went with it.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
Ha, I think Depression-Era food is best left alone. 

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: http://www.elisehooper.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE:

READ CHAPTER ONE:

Work-in-Progress

DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.