Monday, September 13, 2021

TBR: Children of Dust by Marlin Barton

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?

 

In 1880s Alabama, Melinda Anderson gives birth to her tenth child who does not live a full day and dies under somewhat questionable circumstances. Melinda thinks her husband’s mixed-race mistress, Elizabeth, killed the child, and Rafe, the husband, thinks Melinda killed him. A century later, in short chapters interspersed throughout the novel, descendants, one white, one Black, who are also cousins, attempt to understand not only what happened but how to relate to one another.

 

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

 

The husband and wife in the novel are based loosely on my great-great grandparents. I know a good deal about my great-great grandfather but very little about my great-great grandmother. So I most enjoyed creating Melinda because as I wrote the chapters that are in her point of view, I felt as if I were getting to know my ancestor in a way I’d never been able to. It may sound odd, but I feel I know her now and know how she struggled and survived what had to have been a difficult life. She is so much more real to me, despite the fact that I was creating a fictional character.

 

The most difficult character to write was Rafe because he is such a hard man, and though I would not call him evil, he has a capacity for evil that manifests itself in some quite horrible ways. What made the writing so difficult was that he is also a point of view character. So I had to enter into his mind and develop him as a fully three-dimensional character and convey his rationale behind what are really some evil acts. Writing from his point of view was often unpleasant, but I did it for two reasons. First, I want the reader to feel in a complete and visceral way what Melinda is up against. And second, I think examining evil from the inside looking out instead of always from the outside looking in is a valid undertaking that can make for a more complex character. I do want to make clear here that Rafe is no psychopath. I’m not interested in writing about a psychopath because they are one-dimensional, by definition, it seems to me, incapable of empathy and what we think of as normal human emotions.

 

 

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

 

Ah, where to begin? I decided at the outset that I would query up to fifty literary agents, which I ended up doing without getting an offer of representation. Some of them, after reading my query and maybe a first chapter, let me know they weren’t interested. Others asked to read more of the novel or maybe all of it, and some of them responded and some didn’t. I also, through somewhat unusual circumstances, managed to have two editors at major publishing houses read the novel early on. One seemed to genuinely like the book but said he didn’t feel he had enough clout at his press to push the book through because of its difficult subject matter, which I took to mean race. The other editor wrote a detailed critique, and though I didn’t agree with much of what she wrote, there were points I took to heart when I wrote another draft. So she did help make it a stronger book. After I felt I’d exhausted possibilities in New York, I began querying and submitting to smaller, independent publishers. After about eight rejections, Regal House Publishing in Raleigh, NC accepted the novel in January of 2020. (I thought, Wow, 2020 is going to be a great year! Boy was I wrong about that.)

I’d found Regal House when I carefully scouted out the book fair at the AWP conference in Portland. And here’s something I didn’t notice about them even after looking at their website—my wife Rhonda had to point it out to me: the press is owned and staffed completely by women, which I thought was pretty cool.   

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

I sometimes have students tell me they’re stuck in the middle of a story and don’t know how to move the story forward. My advice, which I’ve used myself and found it works, is to think about the situation the character is in and to think about what the character wants, which is always a central question. I tell the student to then think about what a person (not their character so much but a real person) might do in that situation. In other words, what actions might a person perform in order to obtain what he or she wants. I tell the student to list all the possibilities and after looking at the list, choose the one that feels most unexpected but still right for the character. I did this with Melinda in my novel. After she loses her child, I wasn’t sure what she might do. One of the choices on my list for her was going to see a conjure woman. And that’s the one I picked. Without the list, I wouldn’t have made that unusual choice.

 

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

 

When I first began writing the novel, I thought I knew exactly how the child died and exactly who was guilty of the death, which I would reveal late in the novel. What surprised me most is that I slowly found I didn’t know exactly how the child died or if anyone was guilty of its death. What became much more interesting to me was who the other characters thought was guilty and what that revealed about them. Even the mother of Rafe’s mistress, whose name is Annie Mae (and who is the midwife who delivered the child), believes strongly that her daughter Elizabeth is guilty, which made for an interesting and conflict-filled dynamic between the two characters.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

I’d had the idea for the novel for some time and had been doing research on the period, but I hadn’t begun writing yet and hadn’t even thought about a title. Then one Sunday in church we were all singing (well, I was at least mouthing the words because I can’t quite bring myself to sing) the hymn “O Worship the King,” and I read the phrase “children of dust” in the lyric and knew immediately that was my title. Melinda, I’d already decided, had lost four earlier children in either infancy or at very young ages, which of course was common then. So the phrase from the hymn seemed right. I actually wrote an opening line for the novel right then and there on the church program, though it later went by the wayside.     

 

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

 

I’m not really a foodie, so I can’t say food plays any kind of central role in the book, but I do describe a few meals that Annie Mae prepares (in addition to being a midwife, she is also the cook and live-in maid for Melinda and Rafe’s family). One staple of their meals is cracklin’ bread, which is cornbread cooked with cracklings inside the cornmeal. Cracklings, for those who might not know, are fried pork rinds rubbed with salt, and they crackle when you bite into them. (And no, you won’t find cracklings at the health food store.) By the way, I have sometimes had “cornbread,” usually outside of the South, that has the texture and sweetness of poundcake. Cornbread should never look or taste like a piece of cake. My grandmother sure knew how to cook it. What I’d give to have some of her cracklin’ bread right now.

 

*****

 

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

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://www.regalhousepublishing.com/product/children-of-dust/

 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

TBR: How to Survive a Human Attack: A Guide for Werewolves, Mummies, Cyborgs, Ghosts, Nuclear Mutants, and Other Movie Monsters by K.E. Flann

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?

 

Did you know human attacks account for a staggering 100 percent of premature deaths for witches, swamp monsters, cyborgs, and other supernatural, mutant, and exceptionally large beings? How to Survive a Human Attack provides critical information at a critical time with chapters specifically tailored to their target audience.

 

 

 

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

 

The chapter that proved the most challenging was the survival guide for mummies, which, like mummies themselves, transformed many times, through epochs and incarnations. It began as a short story published in Monkeybicycle. Then it became a graphic novel script for a while when I thought that maybe a graphic novel was what this book wanted to be. Then, it became a prose survival guide that, frankly, didn’t quite work. It finally came to fruition when I thought, What is a mummy’s fundamental problem? And I thought, at its heart, it is one of security. Humans break into the tomb over and over again, all through time. What would put an end to this? The chapter finally came together when it became an instruction manual for the Third Eye Tomb Security System, which is like a Ring Doorbell powered by the Astral Portal.

 

 

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

 

This project began when my husband was watching "The Walking Dead" in the other room, and there was so much screaming. Those zombies were getting slaughtered! Someone should really help them, I thought. I wrote a short advice piece for zombies, and it got published quickly. Pretty soon, I started to suspect there were a lot of monsters that needed help. I wrote a few more and had those published. Then, it seemed natural to think about a book, and I drafted a proposal. The agent I had at the time wasn’t interested, and I sought out someone to represent it. The agent I found really loved it and worked hard place it. We took a break for a while and worked on other things, and then circled back to it a few years later. In that time, the world had changed. For better or worse, audiences now are perhaps ready to view humans through an “antagonist” lens. They say timing is everything.

 

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Keep going.

 

As simple as it sounds, I can manage my fears and questions about projects by devoting time and attention to the work. I need to repeat the advice to myself because it so often doesn’t seem true that doing the work is getting me anywhere.

 

 

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

 

I had never written a book that had been accepted on a proposal. I imagined the “bird in hand” commitment from a publisher would be reassuring, but it was scary. I didn’t want to let them down. What surprised me was that I took risks creatively, in spite of the anxieties, letting the project get just as weird as each monster in terms of voice and structure. Maybe terror was the right motivation for this particular project.

 

What’s something about your book that you want readers to know?

 

What readers won’t know until they crack it open, is that the book’s interior features many illustrations by the incredible Joseph McDermott. There’s a retro style to his depictions, as exemplified by the cover art. I had a clear visual interpretation of this book, and it was almost as if he could see into my head. He’s got supernatural powers. I can’t wait for people to see “Swamp Monster Makeovers.”

 

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

 

There’s a recipe in the chapter entitled “The 6(66) Habits of Highly Successful Witches.” An incantation does accompany the recipe. However, replicating it here would amount to pulling the pin on a grenade, so I probably shouldn’t share it. It’s only for witches.

 

 

Combine:

Lavender

Honey

Water buffalo tooth

Eyelashes

Ground turtle shell

Graveyard dirt

 

Directions:

Boil this potion, removing scum from the surface. Rub on your face.

 

Dosage: Dollop the size of a big toe

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: http://www.kathyflann.com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://www.runningpress.com/titles/k-e-flann/how-to-survive-a-human-attack/9780762472543/#


READ AN EXCERPT, "Appendix 1: A Compendium of Human Repellents":  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_zp_1rU0tS0cjMnvbtHTjmjKBqoDHh-s/preview


Monday, August 30, 2021

TBR: Jane of Battery Park by Jaye Viner

TBR [to be read] is an invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released, 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?

 

A Los Angeles nurse with a dark past tries to start life over with the man of her dreams only to discover he’s as much a part of her past as her present.

 

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

 

The character I most enjoyed creating was the blockbuster movie star Steve. I read several Hollywood bios and autobios (Rob Lowe, Tab Hunter), I watched Entourage, and then I built on those sources with my own imagination. I think readers will hate Steve, but he’s just as complex as the main characters. He wants to be loved in a genuine way, but being a beautiful person has conditioned him to certain behaviors and he feels pressure to perform.

 

Rhea, Steve’s mother, was the most challenging character I wrote for the book. She’s a secondary character, but she’s also really important to the texture of the story. Many early drafts her voice felt off, and then she felt stereotypical. I really struggled with giving her life without having it take over the book.

 

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

 

I started writing this book in 2012 and thought it was finished in 2014. I went through three rounds of sending queries to agents, then workshopping in an MFA, then more agents, and no one picked it up. I knew Kate Gale, the editor at Red Hen, and, when agents felt the big publishers couldn’t sell it, she picked it up.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

The difference between thinking you’re a writer and being a writer, is making space for writing. If you don’t make space for it, no amount of wanting is going to help you.

 

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

 

How much my idea of what the story was supposed to be changed over the drafts. I started out thinking I was writing to help coastal people understand the appeal of home-grown conservative religion in the Midwest. But the book ended up being much more about the process of deconstructing fundamentalist belief and how a person figures out who they are when they want to come from a different place.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

The title refers to the main character, Jane’s, desire to remake herself as a woman from place different than where she comes from. A foundational scene takes place in Battery Park in New York City. It changes the direction of her life. She thinks of herself as Jane from Battery Park because of that moment, claiming the park and the events there as her foundational homeplace.

 

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

 

Sadly no recipes, but there’s a lot of sushi in the book. One of the things Jane wants to learn is how to eat sushi correctly. Much of what happens in this article is in the book. https://www.insider.com/sushi-mistakes-americans-get-wrong-2018-6#while-were-at-it-please-also-stop-mixing-wasabi-into-your-soy-sauce-2

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.JayeViner.com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:  https://bookshop.org/a/177/9781597091176 

  

READ AN EXCERPT, Chapter 1 & Chapter 2: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1a6skntgleEQ_AH-75B_pwakG3IppJTj9dIH0G53tPj0/edit

 

Monday, August 16, 2021

TBR: Help Me, Information by David Kirby

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?

 

My poems have always been action-packed. They move the way the mind does on a good day, puddle-jumping from one topic to another and then coming in for a nice soft landing. That said, I wanted to try some new moves here, so you’ll also see poems that might recall the compactness of Jack Gilbert, the sweep of Allen Ginsberg, and the exuberance of Frank O’Hara. I’m hoping readers will like both the familiar sounds and the new ones as well.

 

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

 

A few years ago, I caught myself wondering why I wasn’t so crazy any more about some of my favorite living poets. One day, the light bulb came on: they were still writing good poems, but it was the same good poem over and over again. So I started trying for some new sounds the way you do when you’re singing in the shower and pitch your voice higher or lower.

 

I wrote so many Jack Gilbert poems one summer that I told my wife Barbara I was afraid I was turning into him. She told me to go ahead because sooner or later I’d incorporate what I was learning from Jack Gilbert into what she calls “Dave Kirby poems,” which is what happened. It didn’t take any special courage to make the change. All I had to do is remember what I tell my students all the time, which is to try new things.

 

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

 

I’m happy to say I went through my lows years ago. When I won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry in 1987, I figured I had it made. What happened was just the opposite: I couldn’t get anybody to even look at my next manuscript. Finally, tiny Orchises Press published it and the several books that followed. I hated to say good-bye to Orchises, but I switched to Louisiana State University Press because their distribution system made it possible to get my books out more widely, and I’ve been with LSU ever since.

 

James Long, my editor there, is very tolerant of me, I think because my poetry collections sell in the hundreds annually as opposed to the tens. That said, in the words of Bin Ramke, as a poet you’re in a state of either absolute or relative obscurity. I’m clinging to relative obscurity with all my might.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Funny you should ask. In addition to Help Me, Information, I’ve just written a textbook that will also be released this summer; it’s modestly entitled The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them. At its heart is the one thing I tell my students over and over, which is that art is the deliberate transformed by the accidental.

 

In other words, you make coffee, lay out your pages, lick the tip of your pencil, and go at it like a tax auditor until something – a phone call, a childhood memory, a cry in the street – derails you. You go back to your task, but what you’re writing looks different now. You’ve got to start deliberately, but you have to be open to the accidents that will change your work for the better.

 

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

 

Oh, heavens. Let me count the ways. This is poetry, remember, so the surprises come fast and furious. I’m not the Vin Diesel of American poetry, but when I said earlier that my poems tend to be action-packed, that means I welcome all the twists and turns that occur when you think you know what you’re doing, and pow! you get sent in a new direction by pure serendipity. Maybe I am the Vin Diesel of American poetry. Or the Samuel Taylor Coleridge whose “Kubla Khan” was famously knocked off the tracks by a visitor from Porlock. Some writers do everything they can to avoid interruptions, but I love them. They always jump-start a new line or stanza. 

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

I tried on a dozen titles. None fit. For a while I called it A Baby in the Piazza, which is one of those action-packed poems in the book (I’ll include the link to it below). That title’s wings didn’t quite cover the whole book, though. Then I remembered the first line of the second verse of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee,” which is “Help me, information,” and said aw, yeah. Everything’s information, from a Wikipedia article to a dog’s tongue on your face when you’re trying to sleep. Don’t we need all the help we can get? I sure do.

 

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

 

Well, I do have a poem about/recipe for pruno in Help Me, Information. If that’s not a beverage you drink regularly and serve to your guests, let me say that pruno is an alcoholic drink typically made from ingredients that might include apples, oranges, fruit cocktail, candy, ketchup, sugar, milk, and crumbled bread.  It’s made in prisons, where it can be concocted with such limited equipment— a plastic bag, hot water, a sock—as is available to the guests of the state who are its vintners. Fun! The name of the poem is “Pruno,” by the way.

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK:

https://lsupress.org/books/detail/help-me-information/

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=david+kirby+help+me+information&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

 

READ A POEM FROM THIS BOOK, “A Baby in the Piazza”:

https://kenyonreview.org/kr-online-issue/2020-janfeb/selections/david-kirby-763879/

 

Monday, July 26, 2021

TBR: The Good Poetic Mother: A Daughter’s Memoir by Irene Hoge Smith

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?

 

 After a bad marriage and worse divorce, my mother left me and my three sisters with our D.C. bureaucrat father and escaped to Los Angeles, Charles Bukowski (with whom she had a fifth daughter) and a re-invented life as the respected Southern California poet known as francEyE.  The book is about my life before and after she left, and the long and complicated quest to find out what happened and why, and who my mother really was.

 

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

 

I wrote the story that my mother could not bring herself to include even in her own late-life memoir—the two decades when she was married to my father and had her first four daughters. That required a kind of dogged determination to break a multigenerational cycle of forgetting and repeating in order to create a comprehensible narrative where none had existed before.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice? 

 

When someone tells you something’s not working, listen to them. When they tell you what to do about it, listen to yourself. 

 

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

 

Having spent too many years trying to convince myself I didn’t need or care about my mother, I was surprised to discover how much I had loved her.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

I got my title from my mother’s lover Charles Bukowski, when I was fifteen years old. His break-out book It Catches My Heart in Its Hands was released in 1963, and although I hadn’t seen my mother in almost two years I received a copy of the gorgeous book with this inscription by the author:  “To Irene Smith / Of the good poetic mother.” It took me another lifetime to be able to appreciate his book, and to write my own.

 

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

 

There is a “food” associated with the book, but I can’t recommend it.  In our final year together, my mother was trying to take care of me and my sisters (with not enough money from my father) when she discovered something called “MultiPurpose Food,” a cheap food supplement developed for overseas aid and domestic fallout shelters.  My sisters and I loathed the stuff, and thought we should someday write a book called Mama and the MPF

The Meals for Millions Foundation and Multi-Purpose Food: Work with Soyfoods

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: IreneHogeSmith.Com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: IPBooks 

 

READ AN EXCERPT, "Anxious Attachment”: https://www.amsterdamquarterly.org/aq_issues/aq12-writers-writerswriting/irene-hoge-smith-anxious-attachment/

 

 


Monday, July 19, 2021

TBR: RED RIVIERA: A Daria Vinci Investigation; Murder on the Italian Riviera by David Downie

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?

 

Dateline Portofino: a hot, clear April morning on the Italian Riviera, wildfires burning everywhere. An aging superrich former CIA operative of Italian origin disappears while swimming as the water-bombers circle overhead then dive to scoop up seawater to dump on the fires. Commissioner Daria Vinci of DIGOS—the Italian FBI—is called to the scene by another aging former spook and finds herself entangled in a uniquely Italian-American imbroglio.

 

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

 

This is the first Commissioner Daria Vinci Investigation. Daria looks set to have a long and adventurous life fighting crime, sometimes where she least expects to find it—within the police and military hierarchy, for instance. She’s a complicated, paradoxical character and I fell in love with her as she came to life on the screen of my laptop. Like certain real-life people I know and love, Daria is strong, determined, opinionated and seems armor-clad. Yet she is surprisingly idealistic, sensitive and romantic. Does the hard-soft contrapuntal nature of her character arise from her mixed-up background or maybe her long martial arts training?

 

She has a number of things in common with the author. He happens to be of the male gender though he likes to think he’s adept at insinuating himself into people of all types, all genders, all backgrounds. He practiced Goju Ryu Shorei-Kan karate for decades—the “hard and soft” style of karate. Daria has done other forms of martial arts but the outcome seems to be similar.

 

Daria is genetically half-Italian and half-American, also like her creator. It’s not that she’s got divided loyalties—she’s loyal to both her countries. She’s also plagued by the constant need to question received-wisdom and many rules and regulations. This often lands her in trouble, and damages her career. Again, in this way, she’s like the author.

 

In Red Riviera, Daria definitely asks a few too many questions and gets answers she doesn’t accept and, yes, she gets in trouble. That’s going to be a pattern with Daria Vinci, I’m afraid.

 

So, Daria was the most challenging character in the novel to create, the one I care most for, though I will add that I also really loved inventing the hundred-year-old marquise, and the nonagenarian former Dutch spy and fighter pilot, and Daria’s sidekick, Inspector Osvaldo Morbido… The book is fast-paced and several early readers tell me it’s unputdownable, but I’m very proud to think it’s also very much character-driven.

 

 

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

 

In a word, COVID. The book’s pub date (June 25, 2021) is a year (more, actually) later than expected.

 

The longer story is, I was underwhelmed by the way a number of the publishers with whom I have had relationships in recent years handled my latest books. Communications were often slow and intermittent, there was a lack of initiative or flexibility and feeling of unwieldy bigness. The bigger the publisher, the bigger the overhead, the bigger the pressure on editors to buy and promote big-selling books and let the midlist slide.

 

A pair of friends (who, like me, are veteran writers) had been working happily with Alan Squire Publishing (ASP) for years. They put me onto ASP. Happily, my editors fell in love with Daria and Red Riviera. So far it has been a huge pleasure to be on their list. As Napoleon’s mother famously said—“Pourvu que ├ža dure!” which means, essentially, “Let’s hope it lasts!”

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

“Don’t write it if it isn’t urgent.”

 

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

 

Wow, so many things surprised me that I wouldn’t know where to start. Daria and the other characters in Red Riviera took shape as if conjured and then they ran wild. I had a hell of a time keeping them under control. It’s as if they were really alive and simply refused to obey the will of their creator.

 

Also surprising, I discovered that some of the things I had dreamed up and considered pretty outlandish were not only feasible but had actually occurred. Water-bombers do sometimes scoop up things—I won’t go into detail—other than water. Ancient Roman shipwrecks have been found exactly where I said one would be—a year or more after I’d finished writing the novel. The character I based the marquise on did in fact turn a hundred years old after I’d written the book and before its pub date.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

The title Red Riviera found me. I was on the Italian Riviera—that’s where I spend part of each year and have done since the 1980s. The sand blowing over the Mediterranean from North Africa in the sirocco wind was red. The hillsides were red from blazing wildfires. The flame-retardant chemicals being dropped by the Canadair water-bombers were red and left a red powdery stain on the landscape. The bougainvillea vines growing everywhere had red (or purple) blooms.

 

Lastly, red used to be the color of communism everywhere, right? Reds, pinkos? (That’s one reason I never understood the GOP’s adoption of the color, though I admit, I understand nothing about the GOP, most of all its continued existence). Italy had one of the world’s biggest communist parties and one of the strongholds of communism in the country was Genoa. Genoa is the capital of Liguria, the official name of the Italian Riviera. There has always been this juxtaposition of Genova la rossa—Red Genoa—and the black, fascistic, rich, glitzy Riviera spreading on either side of the big old industrial city. Then the politics shifted in the 2010s and the colors got muddled and everything started to look black and mottled and stained blood-red. At least, it did to me.

 

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

 

Daria Vinci is lanky and thin and eats like a horse. One of her favorite foods is focaccia, particularly the kind from Genoa and the Eastern Riviera—Rapallo, Santa Margherita, Recco. She gobbles multiple slices daily and guess what? She never puts on weight. Now, it just so happens that her creator has authored several cookbooks and food/travel or food/history books. He also loves focaccia. It’s really hard to make well in a home oven. But here’s a recipe that works, taken from my book Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera (Rizzoli International).

 

Focaccia

Classic Ligurian olive oil focaccia

4 cups (500 gr) flour

2 tablespoons dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon malt syrup (optional)

Excellent Olive Oil

Coarse sea salt (Kosher salt)

The focaccia may be topped with fresh rosemary, sage or very thinly sliced onions just before baking.

Sift the flour into two mounds of about 1/3 and 2/3 the amount, each in separate bowls. Dissolve the yeast, sugar and malt in about ¾ cup (1 cup UK) tepid water, form a well in the smaller mound of flour and add the dissolved mixture. Mix slowly and knead for about 5 minutes; cover with a cloth and set aside to rise in a warm spot for about 3 hours to develop into a starter. When the starter has risen and become spongy and porous, place it in the larger mound of flour, add about 1 cup warm water. Incorporate the flour and knead for about 7 minutes, adding warm water as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic; cover with a clean towel and set aside to rise in a warm spot for 2 to 3 hours.

Generously oil a round or rectangular baking pan (the largest that will fit in your oven), preferably one with a thick bottom. Stretch the dough into the pan, pressing down firmly with your fingers to make indentations every ½ inch. Mix a pinch of salt with about 3 tablespoons water and 3 tablespoons oil. When the salt has partially dissolved, drizzle the mixture over the dough and work it into the indentations with your fingers.

Preheat the oven to 450° F./230° C. Allow the dough to sit for about ½ hour, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the focaccia is golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.

 

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

www.davidddownie.com

  

ORDER A COPY OF THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:  https://alansquirepublishing.com/bookstore/red-riviera/

 

Monday, July 12, 2021

TBR: Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch

TBR [to be read] is an invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released, 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?

 

Amanda Evans and her children leave everything to move to Namibia for her husband’s job, only to find out he’s come to Africa for other reasons.  Meanwhile, her new friend Persephone is convinced her State Department husband is a CIA agent. The two get involved in an international crisis. Hilarity ensues.

 

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?

 

Persephone Wilder. She’s long-time State Department wife, and one of those terrific ladies you meet who are NEVER WRONG. Anytime I get to write about a misguided character, I get excited, because there’s so much to play with between their perception and reality. She’s also very glamorous and drinks too much.

 

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

 

Amanda Evans. I needed her to be steady because Persephone’s so extravagant and all over the place. But she couldn’t be flat! My answer was to write fifty-ish pages of backstory, so I could really know her. I cut most of those out.

 

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

 

My original editor left my publishing house before anyone saw this. I’d recently published Abroad, which was very different. I was really worried about what would come next.

 

Then I had a baby at forty-three and moved to Namibia in real life with my own family. Any time I had to sit around being anxious about what an editor I’d never met might think of a book I hadn’t written…well, those hours evaporated.

 

Happily, living abroad gave me a lot of ideas, and I went full throttle on this for a year or so. My new editor really liked the book! So here we are.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Turn off the Internet.

 

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

 

I had no idea how I was going to figure out the plot threads I’d started. And there are kind of a lot. But then my characters just sort came up with answers.

 

I am endlessly surprised and delighted by the power of the subconscious.

 

 

What is something you would like readers to know about the book?

 

State Department life is not always elegant. The families of the diplomats I met had to sleep in bedrooms that were gated off and locked from the rest of the house, as to ward off night attackers. They called it the “Safe Haven”.

 

So, if you ever meet an American diplomat, thank them for their service! They’re out there helping to broker world peace. And it’s not all fancy dinners.

 

(Though it sometimes is. I went to some.)

 

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

 

In Namibia, tea shops are popular little places to get a coffee and a pastry. There’s just a lot more time there somehow to sit and chat. These shops all serve “meltert”, or milk tart. It’s basically a super creamy custard pie.

 

If life were fair, I would be able to crawl into a milk tart and take a long, sweet nap. 

 

Here’s a recipe for the filling. I never met anyone who bothered with the crust. Those we bought pre-made at a store called Woolworth’s¾not the American version.

 

  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp corn flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • large tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

 For the filling:

  1. Place milk and cinnamon stick into a pot 
  2. Bring to the boil then discard cinnamon stick
  3. Whisk together eggs, flour, sugar, corn flour and vanilla
  4. Pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously 
  5. Return milk mixture to the pot and cook on medium heat until thickened
  6. Stir through a spoonful of butter
  7. Pour milk mixture into baked pastry shell
  8. Sprinkle over ground cinnamon
  9. Leave tart to cool completely before serving

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THE PUBLISHER HERE: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374280345

 

BUY THIS BOOK (with a signed bookplate) FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:

http://bluebicyclebooks.bigcartel.com/product/katie-crouch-em-embassy-wife-em-signed 

 

Work-in-Progress

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