Monday, May 20, 2024

TBR: The Body Is A Temporary Gathering Place by Andrew Bertaina

TBR [to be read], a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books. 

  


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

 

It’s a bit of a roundabout memoir in essays. The essays take place over about eight years of my life when I went through a lot of upheaval. Elevator pitch, it’s a mid-life crisis novel about parenting, divorce, identity and faith or lack thereof.

 

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

 

I had the most fun writing my essay “On Trains.” [See below for link.]  I think it was the first essay where I hit on the idea of just riffing on a subject matter. Thus, it’s about wedding trains, how Einstein used trains to prove his special theory of relativity, a guide to trying to make love on a train etc, all mixed with intersections with trains from my own life. It felt very freeing. At the same time, it was a kind of challenge to scour my memories for train related content. 

 

As for the hardest, I’d probably say the essay “On Baths.” I was closing in on the nadir of my mid-life crisis, deeply floundering, and I think that essay deals directly with the beginning of that fallout. I honestly don’t like to say any essay is too hard to write. It feels disingenuous when I’ve written the damn thing. Technically then, I’d say the essay “A Field of White,” because I had to find an internal structure to make it work. Otherwise, it was just too scattered. I like digressions; they mirror thought. However, internal structure is still useful, and I borrowed my structural device from John McPhee’s essay, “The Search for Marvin Gardens.”  In my essay, the mooring point is a tea party I’m having with my three-year-old and her stuffed bear.

 

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

 

Risking honesty, I wound up as notable in Best American Essays three out of the last four years. I know notable isn’t in the book, but I thought it might mean people would be clamoring for a collection. As always, my inbox was empty, so I had to figure out how I wanted to proceed.

 

My editor at Autofocus, Michael Wheaton, is an absolute gem, and he worked with me on finding a cohesive collection of essays. He was generous with his time and editing, and I’m deeply thankful to have worked with him. It ended up all right, but, as always in writing, I discovered the appetite for reading just isn’t that wide. But I have a beautiful book and a great set of essays that I’m proud of. They hold up.

 

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

I don’t own a single craft book volitionally. However, I think consistent writing is useful. Once you have a basic set of skills, it’s getting your butt in the chair. I often don’t, but I tend to feel better when I do. I tell my students who are struggling with it to just set a timer and do thirty minutes a day. That’s it. You can up it to four hours or whatever, but you should start small and build up. My paraphrase is, editing is writing, but you can’t edit nothing.

 

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

 

I think I was surprised, mostly on a reread, with how much I was mentally suffering during the writing of these essays. In a way, it’s almost painful to go back and see so much wild energy and confusion without much purpose. I think it certainly captures something, and it’s not as though I have things figured it out now, but I was surprised at the kind of desperation I was giving off during those years, this mad desire to figure out life.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

The title of my book came to me in a dream. Okay. That’s a lie. But I like that lie. The title just seemed right. I meditate a bit. I don’t think the self is particularly real, and I think it’s even less solid for some of us, myself included. I have a hard time projecting myself into the future or feeling connected to my past. I have an essay that talks about it. Also, I think about death a bit. That life is temporary can be terrifying or beautiful. Choose wisely.

 

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

 

I have an essay called “Eating Animals” in the book, but it includes several things that no reader would actually want to cook, including one’s spouse.

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://andrewbertaina.com/

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:  https://www.autofocuslit.com/store/p/the-body-is-a?fbclid=IwAR0xmIb08R6M7sXuZAAeNVv8P9rOpO5nR4sLpVtUpSZcyUy3v2QyF_KiZQ0_aem_Afb-FrxmnqNxojEQPW9ZOlCiA2xorxK8ktsNmdS3FV4yg7FMRBCbueRuRTeTxq-6oCTAJHaNvutOLKDJk0TjjZYr

 

LINK TO AN ESSAY FROM THIS BOOK, “On Trains”:  https://greenmountainsreview.com/on-trains/

 

 

 

Monday, May 13, 2024

TBR: Rebel Falls by Tim Wendel

TBR [to be read], a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books. 

 

 


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

 In 1864, during the last months of the Civil War, a troubled, young woman is sent to the border with Canada. Rory Chase’s assignment? To stop Confederate spies from seizing the lone Union warship left on the Great Lakes. (Much of this novel is based upon true events.)

 

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

 

Rory Chase enthralled and confounded me. Early on, she disguised herself and tried to join a Yankee infantry regiment. After her identity was discovered, Rory became a Union spy. By late 1864, Confederate spies had targeted the U.S.S. Michigan and planned to bombard Cleveland, Buffalo and other cities on the eve of the presidential election. To stop them, Rory must find the courage to not only follow orders but know when to break the rule, too.

 

Also, I enjoyed writing about the rebel spies – John Yates Beall and Bennet Burley They are based on real-life people. Beall crossed paths with John Wilkes Booth, while Burley was a soldier of fortune from Scotland. When the war ended, he got away and became a foreign correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in London.

 

To stop the rebels, Rory needs the help of the wait staff at the Cataract House hotel, once a key stop on the Underground Railroad. That this sinister plot takes place in the shadow of Niagara Falls, one of the most captivating places in the world, was good fun to write.

       

 

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

 

On the road to publication, the novel was “orphaned” twice, meaning that my editors left for positions at other publishing houses. In the end, though, it worked out. Each of the three editors – Dean Smith, Michael McGandy and Mahinder Kingra  – brought distinctive reactions and insightful comments. It was up to me to incorporate their suggestions into the novel.

 

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Remember that rejection and failure are not the same. To me, rejection is a temporary setback. It may really, really sting, but how you react to it is up to you. In comparison, failure means that you’ve moved on. Turned the page. And that may be what’s needed at the time. Still, the final choice is yours, and there’s something empowering about that. At least to me.

 

My first novel, CASTRO’S CURVEBALL, was rejected 33 times before it found a home with the Ballantine imprint at Random House. During that process, time and again, I saw ways to improve the story. Even when editors or agents ultimately turned it down, I believed I was making progress and was game to try again.

 

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

 

 By ingratiating herself to the rebel spies, trying to win them over, Rory risked losing her purpose, even herself as well. In the end, Rory was faced with a difficult decision – Join ‘Em, Leave ‘Em, or Take ‘Em Down. I didn’t start with that template, but eventually I realized that some of my favorite stories follow a similar organization, including THE GREAT GATSBY, THE HANDMAID’S TALE and THE OUTSIDERS.

 

 

How did you find the title of your book?

    

Gregg Wilhelm, a longtime friend, and director of the George Mason writing program, suggested it. A play off Niagara Falls. Then I took it a step further. Late in the novel, Beall and Burley, the rebel spies, discuss how the world will be different if they capture the Union warship. How the Confederacy could become a separate nation, with statues to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson throughout the land, even perhaps erected in the shadow of Niagara Falls.

 

I wrote much of this book after moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, where era statues and views of our nation’s past can be contentious issues. Walking through town, you’re reminded of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy and how it still casts a long shadow.

 

 

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

 

 The Cataract House hotel was known for its fine food. Served family style in an expansive dining room with crystal chandeliers, the fare included roast beef, baked white fish, salad, roasted potatoes, succotash, along with a dessert trolly wheeled to your table. A new restaurant recently opened on the American side of the Falls based on an 1859 menu from the Cataract House.

 

Also, the Bourbon Old Fashioned was all the rage during the 1860s. That allowed me to have Rory Chase partake of the cocktail during a pivotal scene.

 

Bourbon Old Fashioned (Several of my characters love the cocktail. I do, too.)

From Liquor.com (https://www.liquor.com/recipes/bourbon-old-fashioned/)

1 teaspoon sugar

3 dashes Angostura bitters

1 teaspoon water

2 ounces bourbon

Add the sugar and bitters into a mixing glass, then add the water, and stir until the sugar is nearly dissolved. Fill the mixing glass with ice, add the bourbon, and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube.

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.timwendel.com

 

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:

https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/9781501774881/rebel-falls/#bookTabs=1

 

 

READ AN EXCERPT FROM THIS BOOK:

https://www.timwendel.com/works.htm

 

Monday, May 6, 2024

TBR: Splice of Life: A Memoir in 13 Film Genres by Charles Jensen

TBR [to be read], a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books. 

 


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

 

Movies and memory intertwine in Splice of Life. Each chapter hybridizes traditional memoir storytelling with discussion of a single film whose plot, symbols, or themes resonate with my lived experiences.

 

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

 

This is a nontraditional memoir, first because it is episodic and thematic, and second because I braided traditional memoir conventions with film analysis. Movies have always been so important to my life. If I weren’t a writer, I’d be a filmmaker. I wasn’t sure this was a book people would want to read, but the book as “product” is not something I think a lot about until it’s all done. Writing is always an exploration for me. Can I do this? Can I extend it and keep it interesting? Can I surprise myself along the way? I majored in film studies as an undergrad and film theory and form have inspired how I write poetry. For this book, I wondered what would happen if I leaned all the way in that. If I put movies into my book. If, by doing so, I could create a web of connections between them and me, between them and the reader, and between the reader and me.

 

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

 

This was the fastest I’ve ever published a book. I started writing it in 2018 and dove into the first draft of the last essay in late 2020. I took classes at UCLA Extension with Shawna Kenney and Gordon Grice to help me revise a few chapters. A literary agent who visited Shawna’s class suggested I look to an indie or university press for this, so while I queried agents for a traditional publishing route, I also queried academic presses and submitted to indie presses, mostly through competitions. The queries weren’t successful, but then I got an email from Andrew Gifford at Santa Fe Writers’ Project telling me my manuscript was a finalist for their annual prize and that they wanted to publish it. That was October 2022. I had convinced myself somehow that this book was unpublishable and unreadable, so it was really surprising to me. I’m still trying to get comfortable with the idea people might enjoy reading this—a good reminder that publication doesn’t cure your insecurities! The way my mind works, I just don’t let positivity in for more than a few seconds. The high in the publishing process were those few seconds after I got Andrew’s email, and the lows were almost every other moment, when I was certain the book would never come together.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

It’s not really advice, but it’s Louise Glück’s introduction to her collection The First Four Books of Poems. It’s a brief meditation on the books gathered there, but what she wrote fundamentally changed how I write. She catalogs how, after publishing each collection, she looked back at what she seemed focused on, and what she had avoided. Her first book used a lot of sentence fragments, so in the second she challenged herself to write complete sentences. She noticed she resisted using question marks in another, so pushed herself to let questions occupy poems in the next book. If I could distill it down into actual advice, I’d say something like be sure you know where you’ve been so next time you can set out for somewhere new.

 

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

 

My editor Adam al-Sirgany actually pointed this out to me. There’s a weird mirroring of the chapters in the book, with the seventh chapter serving as a hinge. The first chapter and last chapter concern competitions (prom court and Jeopardy, respectively). The second and twelfth are deeply internal meditations on gender and sexuality. The third and eleventh are about dangerous seductions and how we are broken by them. And so on. I didn’t plan that, but it’s present, and I’m obsessed with it!

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

Titles are really important to me, and they usually make themselves known to me early on. Since I didn’t know I was working on a book until I had several chapters written, though, it wasn’t until I was done that I reached for a title. The idea of the cutting room floor was on my mind from the jump—the idea that in the process of putting together a story, there’s a lot we leave behind—and when I published the earliest essays, I titled them “Spliced: [essay title] / [film title].” That naturally evolved into the book title, which plays on the vignette nature of the chapters—slices of life—but spliced to include these other narratives. The subtitle changed several times and I owe the final version to Shawna’s class, where I realized genre was one of the unifying elements of my lived experience and the films I selected to pair with them.

 

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://charles-jensen.com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://www.amazon.com/Splice-Life-Memoir-Film-Genres/dp/1951631331

 

READ A SELECTION FROM THIS BOOK, “Psychological Thriller”:

https://expositionreview.com/issues/vol-vii-flux/psychological-thriller/


 

Monday, April 29, 2024

TBR: Popular Song by Harry Man

TBR [to be read], a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books.  

 


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

 

Pound, Hope Mirrlees and Eliot and later modernists were writing in response to mass-production and the rise in literacy and psychoanalysis. From the 60s until now, the big subjects have been advertising and the environment. Now that great subject is ourselves. Congruent with that is the question of popularity. Online attention as popularity (particularly divisive attention) and thus the favouring by algorithms of the popular, the separation of self between the online persona whom we perhaps believe is more popular than our unvarnished selves, and also poems that reflect on what that popularity means. These are all hiding in the wings. The collection itself is concerned with discovery, humour and invention that takes its cues from the Invisible Man, assorted British wildlife, Kubla Kahn and David Bowie among others. In other words, nerdy, but fun nerdy.

 

 

What boundaries did you break in the writing of this book?

 

I was already working on poems after Ed Sheeran, Tones and I and The Weeknd, to challenge myself. All three have penned some of the most streamed songs of all time. I did also write poems in response to some of the UK’s favourite poems including Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ (aka ‘Daffodils’). A working title for my first pamphlet was Pilots and I think that tradition in my work of every poem being a test shot into the unknown continues. With that comes the risk of spectacular failure. In order to send work out, I have to be okay with that. This of course is alongside any chance of success. If I can inspire poems by people who had previously felt intimidated or alienated by poetry, then that is greatest reward and that for me is where the poems take off into new lives.

 

I also like poems that offer a valuable journey to a reader who wants to spend more time casting around and isn’t afraid to get out their own answer to literary sonar in search of ancient ruins, revealing treasures and uncovering histories for themselves. (You can see a little bit of this in poems like ‘Alphabets of the Human Heart in Languages of the World’)

 

 

Where does that sort of courage come from?

 

I read a news story the other day about a local guy so high he took a kid’s little yellow bicycle and tried to outrun the police on it. Courage comes from all sorts of different places. To be more serious about it, post-pandemic, I think like a lot of people, I needed to talk myself back into a hard-truth, yet highly empathetic reality.

 

There’s more to it, and I tend not to wear it on my sleeve, but I am dyslexic and I am on the spectrum, what people used to call Asperger’s. I think dyslexia gives me the most courage. You not only think, see, and hear the world differently, but you also learn the true weight of a blow. This can help you to understand how to inspire other people to fight for what they want to write and what they want to say and that’s exciting. For yourself that opens a space to write and create without limitation, but of course there are some cold light of day dangers to that too(!). Days and nights at the keys are all very well and good but you should also absolutely take a break and listen to the birds. Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient said he had the affliction of being uxorious. That’s an affliction I also share that gives me the most courage (pukeworthy, but also true!).

 

 

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

 

The book spans twelve years of writing. In that time my poems have blasted off to Mars, others have been printed on cakes, cast in ice, put onto train station platforms and one was turned into a turning steel monument another performed with a jazz orchestra in Rotterdam. They’re young, they need to get out there and do their own thing. It’s hard to have a favourite. I think one of the best was when I heard Kathleen Jamie say she liked my work. I think my pulse has not quite been the same since. I read poems on stage with Pete Brown (who wrote the lyrics to Cream’s ‘White Room’ among other songs – probably the one song in the world that for me that most epitomises pre-internet London) before he passed and that was really very special. I also got to shake hands and share a glass with Jan Erik Vold – a privilege I will never forget. I walked with Nikola Madžirov and had one of those life-changing conversations about writing and the imagination and I got to watch the tempestuous Norwegian Sea rise and fall around black cliffs at midnight with Endre Ruset – and see how deservedly adored he is. I banged my head against a desk in frustration at my own poems while talking to Alice Oswald. The world turned. I worked nights at the supermarket during the pandemic. I wrote. I lived in a caravan, then in a shepherd’s hut and wrote a meditation for the birds and I translated secret codewords from the Russian military into English (for a poem). A close friend died of cancer. I wrote poems with Julia Lewis. At night I walked across the fields by moonlight to my house. I held my bed for six months while waiting for a doctor’s appointment because I thought my heart was going to explode. I conducted interviews with the trees and my niece wrote a story where everyone on Earth left got in a rocket and set off, leaving me behind with a bunch of dinosaurs, a canoe and a chocolate cookie. Poems about some of this ended up in the book. There is so much to explain, but I am grateful for all of it.

  

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Don’t finish that day’s writing when you’ve finished the thought, but rather when you know what the next sentence will be.

 

It’s more for prose writers than for poets, but building that rhythm and swinging across the gap from one sentence to the next to keep that pace going… Invaluable.

 

 

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

 

I was working on a piece about ‘The Empire Strikes Back in Reverse’. For a reader, it’s all over in a few minutes, but for me it’s been a quarter of my life. I always knew the poem had its own secrets. I took the two main characters outside of the cramped conditions of the car where most of the poem is set and it broadened and suddenly all this light came into the room and the relationship between them opened up in its scale and conversely it focussed their intimacy and that was revelatory. I started that poem in 2013 and finished it eleven years later… the amount of times I’ve seen a Tauntaun regain its innards and come miraculously back to life… It was all that time to find that one secret.

 

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

An earlier version was called Spooky Action at a Distance. It has that feeling. People travel to Mars and lose contact with Earth, others the reader steps into a cassette tape and becomes the song on the album. Gradually, working like a selected poems, it became more of a mixtape and more about song and sound.

  

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

 

Gremolata Linguine. A perfect spring or summer afternoon recipe. It is zesty, tangy, a little bit spicy and feels warming and indulgent. It does not strictly feature in the book, but this is a big recipe from my childhood (minus the wine) and my childhood does feature – as does time travel, so if I travel back in time from the future, maybe it will go into the book somewhere!

 

Here’s how to make it:

 

Ingredients:

 

3 garlic cloves

1 lemon (zested, then juiced)

60g wild rocket [known as arugula in the US]

100g parsley

1 red chilli

300g cooked and peeled prawns (will also work with breadcrumbs, olives and rosemary)

300g linguine

250ml dry white wine

 

Pepper, salt, olive oil

 

You will need:  A boiling pan, a food processor, two large bowls.

 

 

Method:

 

Add two tablespoons of salt to a large pan of water and bring to the boil. Cook the linguine to one minute less than it says on the packet instructions, so it still has a little “al dente” bite to it. Pour a little of the cooking water out of the pan before you strain it. I usually drain the pasta and then, while it is still dripping, toss it back into the pan with a drizzle of olive oil. Stir. Empty this into a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 60 minutes. If time is of the essence you can re-fill the pan with ice and water to cool it quickly. Meanwhile zest and juice the lemon. Wash the rocket and parsley. Peel the garlic. Add the lemon juice and zest, the rocket and parsley, the garlic and that 250ml (or just a glass of wine) to a food processor and blitz. Taste to check. Because the pasta is slightly sweet, you need good acidity, good salt and a little spiciness to the sauce. Add as much chilli as feels comfortable and a generous amount of salt and plenty of black pepper. Give it another blitz. Once the pasta is perfectly chilled, toss it together with the sauce and add in the prawns. The prawns like to holiday at the bottom of the pan, so keep an eye out so everyone gets their fair share. Serve immediately. Watch out for your time-travelling self coming back for seconds… or is it firsts?

 

It’s a good travelling dish, and meeting poets, I have made this with variations using butter instead of olive oil, local giant sourdough loaves, sliced tomatoes and I have made my own fresh pasta with local eggs too. A real crowdpleaser.

 

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.manmadebooks.co.uk

 

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://ninearchespress.com/publications/poetry-collections/popular-song

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 22, 2024

TBR: The Requirement of Grief by Danielle Ariano

TBR [to be read], a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books.  


 


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

 

The Requirement of Grief recounts the unique bond between two sisters and offers an unflinching perspective on what remains in the wake of one sibling’s tragic suicide.

 

 

What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir?

 

The first chapter is written from my sister Alexis’ imagined perspective and it takes place on the last day of her life. There are several other chapters like this throughout the memoir. While I did my best to adhere to the factual circumstances of my sister’s suicide/life, these chapters are fiction.

 

Some would say that they have no place in a memoir. I might even agree with these people, and yet I felt that Alexis’s perspective needed to be considered. Since this was impossible, I did my best to recreate it in these chapters. Alexis kept journals throughout her life and I drew on these as a way to understand how she saw the world, especially in the deepest throes of her addiction and mental illness. When I gave myself permission to write these chapters, I felt as though the manuscript finally came to life.

 

I had only seen this done once before in one chapter of Marion Winik’s memoir, First Comes Love, and it had a huge impact on me as a reader. She shifted into the imagined point of view of her husband Tony, who died of AIDS. Even 15 years after reading this book, I still remember the emotional impact that chapter of the book had on me. Seeing this technique used effectively in another memoir, gave me the courage to try it.

 

 

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

 

When my son was a baby, there was an entire year when he preferred my wife Lindsay to me. I would walk into his room in the morning and he would squeal that he wanted her, not me. Logically, I understood that this was normal and that it would not last forever, but emotionally it was devastating to be rejected by him. There were days that I questioned myself as a mother.

 

Getting rejected over and over as I sent my manuscript out felt eerily similar. Even though I believed in the quality of my writing and believed that there was value in the subject matter, I found myself going into tailspins of self-doubt as the no’s piled up. Logically, I knew this was all part of the process and I had to press on, but unfortunately my emotion didn’t care about logic.

 

Thankfully my writing partner, Judith Krummeck, had an unwavering belief in the manuscript. I have so much respect for Judith and her writing that her words buoyed me at the lowest points.

 

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

You want to be a writer? Write.

 

 

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

 

One night I went out to dinner with a writing mentor to talk to her about my manuscript. When I told her about the chapters written from my sister’s perspective, she asked me if I had written one about the day that Alexis ended her life. The moment she asked, I knew that I needed to write this. Even though it wasn’t something I’d planned or wanted to do, I could see that it was essential to the story. Eventually this became the first chapter of the book.

 

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

Titles are usually so difficult for me. Typically, my essay/chapters/books are untitled until the very end, but this one came to me as I was revising a chapter that contained the following text:

 

As time passes, I learn that grief’s only requirement is that it must be carried. It does not care if you are ready for it or if its weight is too much to bear or if you are in the throes of the deepest joy.

"It cannot be set aside even for the briefest moment while you sit on a park bench and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Even then, it must be carried. Carried even as you watch in wonder on the day your son comes into the world. Carried when you bear witness to your parents holding their only grandchild for the very first time. Carried always.”


I was struck with the realization that The Requirement of Grief was my title.

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR:

www.danielleariano.com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: www.bookshop.org

 

 

Monday, April 15, 2024

TBR: Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow: A DIY Kit for the Construction of Stories by Steve Almond

TBR [to be read], a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books.  

 


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

 

Truth is a book of essays about the whole creative process: the elements of craft, where stories come from, and (most important of all) all the evil voices that haunt us, and hold us back, at the keyboard. I’ve been writing it—in my head, in the classroom, and at various writing conferences—for three decades.

 

Which essay did you most enjoy writing? Why?

 

There’s an essay called “Writer’s Block: A Love Story,” which I loved writing, because I think our ideas about writer’s block is really misguided. We treat it like the black plague, something to be endured in shameful isolation. But the truth is, writer’s block is an inevitable part of the writing process. It describes moments when our doubts and inhibitions overtake our capacities to create. That happens all the time. I’ve re-written sentences and paragraphs a hundred times because I’m blocked. I’ve also been so blocked that I can’t even get myself to the keyboard. It’s very upsetting. But it can also be really clarifying. Because we stop asking the question, “What should I write?” and start asking a much more useful question: “What do I really want to write? What will get me to the keyboard again?”

 

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

 

The title essay was a bruiser, because I was trying to write into the heart of the anxieties we face when we know we have to write a story, but we’re scared to death about breaking a long held silence. To write that essay, I had to break a few silences myself, so I was going through the kind of anxiety I was writing about.

 

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

 

The publishing experience itself has been terrific. My editor, Emily Bell, is a genius, and the folks at Zando have been great. The lows came more in my attempts, over the years, to confront the darker truths in the book. I experience a lot of doubt when I write, so it was hard for me to write a book that purports to guide others. I dealt with this by writing mostly about my struggles, and failures, which are sadly abundant but also almost always instructive.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Write about what you can’t get rid of by other means.

 

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

 

I had a lot of fun. That was a huge surprise. I’m mostly miserable when I write. My family and friends can confirm that. But with this one, I really enjoyed gathering all my thoughts and experiences into one place. I enjoy teaching far more than writing, and this book was endowed, I guess, with some of that joy.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

I know it’s mouthful, but I’m so happy Zando let me use “Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow” as a title. Because it’s really a distillation of what I have to say about writing. You’re only going to travel into the truth as far as mercy gets you. You have to be driven by a desire to understand and forgive. That’s what allows you to go back into all those painful rooms and see clearly what was happening.

 

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

 

Steve’s Smoked Maple Crunch Chicken Salad

 

Two cups of smoked chicken (diced straight from the grill)

1.5 cups diced McIntosh apples

1 cup thinly sliced celery

1 cup roasted cashew halves

¾ cup of golden raisins

½ cup mayo (more or less to taste)

1 teaspoon curry powder

 

Directions:

1. Dump ingredients in a large bowl

2. Mix

 

Suggested serving:

Straight out of the bowl, with a large wooden spoon.

It also tastes good on a nice, puffy Portuguese roll.

 

*****


READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.stevealmondjoy.org

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://www.amazon.com/Truth-Arrow-Mercy-Bow-Construction/dp/1638931305

 

 

WATCH STEVE ALMOND TALK ABOUT WRITING & ABOUT THE NOVEL “STONER”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkUa68CUpTU&t=4411s

 

 

Monday, April 8, 2024

TBR: Pop Culture Poetry: The Definitive Collection by Michael B. Tager

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?

 

The poems within Pop Culture Poetry: The Definitive Collection explore our relationship with celebrity. They're about David Attenborough and 90s Hip Hop, Bjork, toxic masculinity, Patrick Swayze, The Golden Girls, nostalgia and vulnerability, Whoopi Goldberg, Justin Bieber, video games and Queen. But they're also about the author, and also about you, and you (and yes, you in the back).

 

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

 

I don’t know if I’d call it a boundary as such, but I started writing these poems specifically because I didn’t see much of the everyday in a lot of the writing I was encountering, in poetry especially, but also in fiction. I didn’t really “get” that, because I figured that anything we spend as much time with as we do tv, or sports, or music, or whatever, should be featured in the poems that we write.

 

Maybe the “boundary” is that writing poems about tv shows or celebrity crushes isn’t very serious. Or maybe there is no boundary at all and I just haven’t read those poems and am unfamiliar with those poets.

 

A couple poets in my circle–Tracy Dimond and Steven Leyva–would occasionally drop some references to their own tastes (I remember poems about OkCupid and Star Trek, respectively), and it got me to thinking about my own writing and the risks I wasn’t taking, the life I wasn’t representing. So I wrote some poems about Patrick Swayze movies after rewatching Point Break and I was off to the races.

 

They’re also funny, which also isn’t a boundary, but does seem to be absent in a lot of serious poetry. And they are serious poems, in that I mean what I say, even if they don’t seem that way upon first read. Do I literally mean that David Attenborough was turned into a vampire via a trip into caverns and quotes Missy Elliott whilst eating people? Well probably not, but it’s a funny image, and I do have thoughts about caves, the mysteries of the planet, and that. 

  

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

 I came across a series of poems about trees and kind of rolled my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I like trees and I like tree poems, but I’ve also read a lot of them, just like I’ve read of bird/moon poetry, and they sometimes run together. I wondered how, if I were to write nature poetry, I’d access that.

 I’m a big fan of nature documentaries and was super into Planet Earth at the time which immediately brought David Attenborough to mind. I started writing a poem and for whatever reason I inserted a Lil Bow Wow lyric into the first one. Normally I’d have deleted that, but because I wanted these to be fun, I left it in. That turned the series of poems into a David Attenborough–90s hip hop mashup, because in this alternate universe, Attenborough loves 2pac.

 Those poems were immediately accepted for publication and have been my most reliable hits when I’m giving a reading. I think they’re the reason I believed in this manuscript enough to call it a manuscript and show it to people. I don’t think it would exist otherwise!

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 Erin Fitzgerald from Barrelhouse told me once that my writing was too controlled and that I needed to let it be messy, because that was where the surprises happened. She was right! Letting it be weird, letting questions be asked that aren’t answered, doing what seems bad at the time is what often leads to the good stuff!

  

How did you find the title of your book?

 The title is the title because subtlety is for chumps and while it’s a totally reasonable practice, I’m not a fan of naming a book after a single poem within a manuscript. It’s just not my bag. I thought about naming it after a central theme and couldn’t come up with anything so just called it what it is and didn’t hate it. Now I love it.


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

The only meal that comes to mind is what I affectionately call “veggie mess,” which might be an apt metaphor for these poems! They’re kind of a mess, but there’s a plan, and a mission, and a flow. And they also taste delightful!

 

Veggie Mess Receipt:

 

Ingredients:

 

Anything leftover in the fridge/pantry

      onions are helpful

      beans and/or potatoes are also important

      If you have it, cheese works well

Garlic, salt, pepper, basil, cayenne

Olive oil

 

Step 1: pull out all the leftover veggies you have

Step 2: cut them up and start sauteing them: cook until al dente

Step 3: throw in any sauce and/or cheese, whatever you have

Step 4: throw in your beans and/or potatoes

Step 5: throw in your seasoning

Step 6: cool and eat

 

 

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.michaelbtager.com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://akinogapress.com/books/popculturepoetry

 

READ 3 POEMS FROM THIS BOOK:  https://www.havehashad.com/web_features/three-poems--68

 

 

Work-in-Progress

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