Monday, August 19, 2019

TBR: The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott


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?

The World Doesn't Require You is a fairly fractured pass through the fictional town of Cross River, MD, which was founded in in 1807 after the nation's sole successful slave revolt. It's eleven stories and novella that features the musical son of a God, “doorbell ditchers,”, mobsters in love, human sacrifices, warring academics, a cow who chews human faces, underground railroad reenactors, and a few other things. 


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

The answer to this question is the same story: “Rolling in my Six-Fo’—Daa Daa Daa—With all my Niggas Saying: Swing Down Sweet Chariot Stop And Let Me Ride. Hell Yeah.” I couldn’t stop laughing when I wrote that story. I had a lot of fun with absurdity and taboo imagery. It gave me trouble precisely because I was playing with taboo racial imagery. I had to keep making sure that, though the imagery was often shocking, that I didn’t tip into writing a story that was nothing more than shock value. I kept cutting until that was the case, but I had to keep asking myself if I was reinforcing bad ideas. If I had enough depth to redeem the story. I think I pulled it off, but in a thousand different ways—ethically, morally, craft-wise—it wasn’t easy.

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

Some of these stories were difficult to get right and many were dead in the water many times over. I had to grow in my skills, but also emotionally and in maturity to bring many of these stories to life.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It’s worth it to try to live by Zadie Smith’s wonderful advice: “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” I use the word “try” because it is a damn hard thing to do.  

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

I always thought that one of my characters, Kin Samson, would be the focal point of my writing, but every time he takes the stage, he minimizes himself. He is in this book and he was in my debut, Insurrections, but his role in both books is much smaller than imagined. I finally figured out that my focal point, my recurring character, is Cross River itself. What returns most often is the locations and the culture of the town. This understanding has changed how I approach my fictional homeland in everything I am writing now.

How do you approach revision?

Many of these stories are very old and were sitting just because I couldn’t get them over the hump. Even if I wasn’t actively working on them, they were turning in my mind. For some pieces it might be a matter of letting them go for five, ten years, checking in on them every so often until it’s time for them to come alive.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?) [Editor’s note: This one’s a doozy!]


Just wolf. It’s a delicacy in Cross River, MD.

MAN’S BEST FRIEND

4 whole onions, husks and all.

7 ½ cloves garlic, again, husks and all.

3 green peppers, please do not substitute.

½ lb. shrimp with their shells intact.

1 cup lemon juice.

3 tablespoons sea salt.

3 tablespoons freshly ground cracked pepper.

2 tablespoons nutmeg.

A dollop, just a dollop, of ketchup.

3 ½ tablespoons cinnamon.

½ tablespoon Italian seasoning.

8 ½ dashes bitters, Mad Chef Jimmy Capstone brand. (This is important. A fool, a family member of some closeness, once attempted to substitute Angostura or another brand and it was obvious to me. I never ate from or spoke with this person again. Perhaps I may bring her this dish, prepared correctly, to her deathbed when the time comes. But without Capstone brand, you have not really prepared, Man’s Best Friend, properly.)

18 pineapple rings.

Cherries, makes no difference how many.

1 bottle low-end fortified wine, preferably Ripple, Cisco or Crazy Neegs (please do not confuse this with Crazy Ninja, which is a malt liquor and not a wine. While other wolf dishes call for Crazy Ninja, this one would be ruined by the thick, bitter drag of malt liquor.)

1 wild dog—go ahead and call it a wolf if you must do so to assuage your guilty heart—hair and eyes properly removed. (Some prefer to remove the head altogether. The West Indians often save the face as well as the paws and use them to prepare a tasty Wolf Souse—see recipe on page ____.)

The essence of seasoning is found in touch. It is not enough to spread spices onto meat—that is the way of the amateur. One must massage the dead animal as if it is being loved. As if it is being soothed. Think about this poor beast’s last moments: grazing perhaps. Perhaps sipping from the Cross River. Perhaps running about. Maybe hunting. Whatever it was doing, it did not expect to be killed by gunshot. Or perhaps by a knife slitting the throat. If it caught wind of you, wolfer, then fear, anxiety and adrenaline shot through that animal in beams like lightning. It probably tried to desperately avoid its final moments. You’ve felt that fear, right? Passing through you in a sort of wave. We often induce it in ourselves because our civilized lives are so tame and staid. We go to scary movies, ride roller coasters. Some of us seek adventure on the streets or go off to wars and revolutions. Some live in warzones and have no need to re-create that feeling, as it is ever present. They seek to escape it, but can’t. Ask an Iraqi who lived in Baghdad in 2002. Or go to the Southside of Cross River on a night when minor kingpins feel the need to defend the fiefdom of their tiny half blocks. Every living thing has felt the tingle of that pang shooting from the pit of the gut to every point in the body. It turns out that feeling has a taste and that taste in the dog you are about to consume is so, so delicious.

            But to properly taste it in the dead beast, one needs to take the seasonings: the spices, the powders, the vegetables, the liquids—everything—and knead it into the dead wolf’s flesh. It matters not what order you do things or if you do it at high altitude or low altitude or while standing on your head, just do it. Pretend as if you are easing this beast’s suffering. Do whatever you need to do to get through this task. There is nothing more important. Leave it. Let it marinate. I don’t care. Sing to it. Pray over it. Hold it up on an altar next to the Buddha. Shit, smoke buddha, blow marijuana smoke rings into the dead wolf’s unmoving face if you like. I do not care what you do. I only care that you give this deceased animal the proper love. That it’s thoroughly cleaned and skinned and massaged. Or don’t skin it. The fatty wolf skin can be quite tasty when properly prepared.

            Bake at 375 for several hours or until, when pierced with a fork, the juices run clear as the Cross River at noon on a summer day. Or eat this dog cold and raw in the manner of our ex-slave ancestors, faces painted with skulls, sitting on tree branches in the Wildlands holding guns, waiting for enemies to attempt to re-enslave them long after the danger had passed.

            Why didn’t anyone tell them to relax? To live their lives. To go fall in love. Have sex. Produce children. Raise them with the proper love and care. Instead they shot dogs and ate them bloody and raw, sharing their favorite pieces with each other—the livers for sober thought, the hearts for courage, the brains for wisdom. And this is fine as long as one never forgets the purpose and essence of touch.

****

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.rionamilcarscott.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631495380

READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, "David Sherman, the Last Son of God": https://midnightbreakfast.com/david-sherman-the-last-son-of-god




Monday, August 5, 2019

TBR: First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers

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?

First Cosmic Velocity creates an alternate history of the Soviet space program in which the first cosmonauts are successfully launched into space but are unable to return to Earth. To hide the fact that the cosmonauts die in orbit, the Chief Designer recruits twins, keeping one on Earth to pretend to be their deceased sibling. The novel follows two of the earth-bound twins, Leonid and Nadya, as they grapple with their doubts and regrets over what this ruse has cost them.

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

I love writing characters who are least affected by emotion. I know this is contrary to what you’re supposed to do, but my taste in fiction has always been off-kilter. So in the novel, I loved writing the enigmatic government agent Ignatius. She’s always in control of the situation and always possesses knowledge greater than everyone around her. When she has a moment of empathy, however, I think it’s that much more striking. Ignatius is a major but not a main character, and in general I like to write side characters. I love when someone outside the main arcs of the story offers wisdom or revelation. They’re observers, able to view the happenings from an interesting critical distance.

None of the characters gave me too much trouble, but Nadya was the one I revisited most often. She’s been made detached and strange by the circumstances of her life, but I didn’t want to fall into any of the tropes associated with her archetype. Despite her detachment, she drives the most important action toward the end of the novel. I wanted to make sure that from very early on she had the agency and the strength of personality to do that.

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

It took me two novel manuscripts and four years to find my wondrous agent Annie Bomke, and then about another year for her to find my equally wondrous editor Sara Minnich. By the time the novel is published in August, it will have been “in progress” for over five years. I know that’s not necessarily long in terms of book publication, but it’s evidence that patience is perhaps the most important virtue a writer can have. I worry how many outstanding writers just didn’t stick with it because they couldn’t push through the slog of years. Be resilient, y’all!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

All writing advice is suggestion. Every rule can and should be broken, on occasion. I want to read writing that strives to discover what words are capable of doing. There will be no discoveries and no surprises in writing that strictly sticks to the so-called rules. Yes, writing advice is great! But advice never applies to all people in all situations. The rules are simply what’s worked for previous writers. Writers in the future will draw from tricks and techniques that haven’t even been articulated yet.

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

I’m usually pretty clueless when I start a writing project, so surprise is my natural state. But some surprises are better than others. In First Cosmic Velocity, several parallel structures emerged that I’d not planned. There’s the main storyline, which accounts for probably 90% of the novel. That storyline alone could have been the book. But it’s the other elements that I think pushed the narrative into more interesting territory. There’s a series of flashbacks to a main character’s childhood. Within that flashback, there’s a folktale told by the character’s grandmother. There’s a recurring communication with one of the cosmonauts in orbit. All these elements interact with each other and reflect off each other and create an aggregate meaning greater than any single storyline.

How do you approach revision?

George Saunders had a great observation that revision allows his writing to be better, smarter, and wiser than he is. I love that. My brain has a limit to the depth of work it can produce on a first pass. Through revision, though, it has a chance to reprocess information, make new connections, and explore fresh ideas it can only consider in relation to the ideas already on the page. This is the act of discovery again. So early rounds of revision aren’t just polishing language and tweaking structure. I want to return to the material and allow myself to discover the implications I’d missed, the seeds of ideas I didn’t allow to sprout. I’ll always be a doofus to some degree, but my work can be better than that. Revision is where your own writing can teach you things you didn’t already know.

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

There’s a fair amount of vodka drunk in my novel, and I think that’s a good addition to any book club. As far as food, I did include one meal, based on a menu my ex-girlfriend got from a Russian acquaintance. I’ve never eaten anything from the menu and am intimidated by Russian food in general, so I don’t know if I can endorse it. My research indicated that the Russianness of a meal is directly proportionate to the amount of dill used in its preparation.

*****


READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR AND BOOK: www.zachpowers.com





Monday, July 29, 2019

TBR: We Love Anderson Cooper: Short Stories by R.L. Maizes


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?

IWe Love Anderson Cooper, characters are treated as outsiders because of their sexual orientation, racial or religious identity, or simply because they look different. A young man courts the publicity that comes from outing himself at his bar mitzvah. When a painter is shunned because of his appearance, he inks tattoos that come to life. A Jewish actuary suspects his cat of cheating on him with his Protestant girlfriend.

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

I had a lot of fun writing “A Cat Called Grievous.” The humor is so dark and it bumps up against magical realism, though a blogger recently included it in a list of realist stories about animals. It’s a feminist story, but never lectures the reader.

“Ghost Dogs” is about a woman who has lost hope and was very hard to write. A colleague who read an early draft told me it lacked contrast. She compared the story to a painting that is so dark you can’t make out the images. Following her advice, I found ways to lighten up the story. In some cases that meant flashing back to times in the main character’s life when she was surrounded by love.    

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

A particularly low day was one on which I got rejections from three agents who had read the full manuscript. I had high hopes for each of those agents, and the rejections body-slammed me, especially coming together. One of the agents said I’d never find representation because there was no market for short story collections. That made me determined to press on, but only after eating most of a vegan chocolate cake. I saved one slice in the freezer, telling myself I would eat it when I signed with an agent.

A high point was when my agent sent the manuscript out on a Friday and three publishers expressed interest in acquiring the collection on Monday.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

A teacher of mine once said he couldn’t think of any student who stuck with writing over the years, working at it and honing her craft, who didn’t find success. I love this because it shows that writing is not an inborn talent that either you have or you don’t. Instead, writing is a skill that you develop over time with great effort.  

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

Putting the collection together, I chose from stories I wrote over a ten-year period. I was surprised by some of the older ones. They possess a rawness that I like and perhaps have moved away from as revision has become the focus of my writing. I was careful not to over-revise the older ones I included, not wanting the original impetus for them to get lost, or for them to present with perfect manners.

How did you find the title of your book?

In the title story, “We Love Anderson Cooper,” a boy comes out as gay at his bar mitzvah service. Later that day, his mother says to him: “Why didn’t you talk to us first? We would have understood. We love Anderson Cooper.”
                                                                                                                     
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?

In “The Infidelity of Judah Maccabee” food is an important character in the story, which takes place during Christmas and Hanukkah. Fragrant latkes (potato pancakes) remind the main character, Barry, of his childhood. When his girlfriend, Anette, bakes Christmas cookies, Barry feels as if her holiday is taking over the house. Barry’s cat falls for Anette when she prepares fish stew.

~~

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.RLMaizes.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR SHELF: https://www.rlmaizes.com/book-we-love-anderson-cooper

READ AN EXCERPT, “A Cat Called Grievous”: https://electricliterature.com/how-to-become-a-cat-lady-4f81290d7bd9



Monday, July 15, 2019

TBR: A Girl Goes into the Forest by Peg Alford Pursell

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?

A Girl Goes into the Forest is a collection of hybrid stories and fables that examine the mythos of the American girl. Immersing readers in forests both literal and metaphorical, this book illuminates love and loss by exploring the complex desires, contradictions, and sorrows of daughters, wives, mothers, and those who love them.

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

“Goodbye, Roller Coaster” was one of those rare stories that wrote itself, the first draft, that is. The experience of transcribing what comes out of nowhere and then later reading and taking it in, is one of those fundamental pleasures: to see a momentary texture of one’s mind. In contrast, “You Can Do Anything” was a story that I grappled with for ages. I wanted to get across the emotional pain and suffering underlying the fussy, cautious, and controlling nature of the male protagonist, to make him if not lovable at least relatable, and I found this challenging to the degree that I wanted to give up on him—but I couldn’t.

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

There’s been a straightforward path to publication that’s been singular and wonderful. I wanted to publish A Girl Goes into the Forest with Dzanc, and showed the manuscript only to that publisher, who quickly read and accepted it, to my profound pleasure. My publisher has been beautifully supportive and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a realization of a dream, and I know how lucky I am.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

One of my mentors, Kevin McIlvoy, once spoke of how necessary it is to have more than one writing project going at any given time, and while he might not think of that as advice, I took that idea in and it’s served me well. With all of the activities and work that go into supporting a book as it makes its way out in the world, I need to have the making of art to return to, to keep me grounded in what’s most important. Having projects underway to turn to is a lot like picking up the partially knit sweater to work on without having to plan—what should I make: scarf, hat, other? What kind of yarn, what color, what gauge needle, and so on. The story is there, begun, waiting for me to pick it up.

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

Initially, once I understood that I was writing about the mythos of the American girl in our patriarchal system, I was surprised to find seeping into the book stories about the damage done to boys in this destructive system. That’s what led, I believe, albeit unconsciously, to my incorporation of lines from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” to structure the book.

How did you find the title of your book?

I wish I had a good story to tell about how I came to the title, but I don’t recollect that part of the process, and perhaps it was a deeply submerged process. I can say only that when it came to me, I couldn’t let it go. I liked that it shared a similarity to jokes that begin like so: “A dog walks into a bar . . .” This was pleasurable because of that implicit lightness and the playfulness since, of course, there is also the shadow of that playfulness implicit in the act of a girl going into any forest. We’ve all internalized the dangers of “Little Red Riding Hood,” for example: According to an article published in the Smithsonian Magazine that discusses how scientists used phylogenic methods normally reserved for studying the origins of species to analyze the tale, there exist at least 58 versions of similarly themed stories around the world, from Japan to Africa to Korea.

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

It turns out that even when I think I’m not thinking much about food in this book, I’m thinking of food! There’s fudge with marshmallow and nuts, there’s roast beef, a cake with pink frosting, gingerbread man cookies, tomatoes, apples, hazelnuts, margaritas, key lime pie, smoothies, white Russians, vegetable soup. The story “Confection” centers on lemon sherbet, so here’s a recipe: https://www.joyofbaking.com/LemonSherbet.html

****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR & BOOK:




READ A STORY, “A Girl Goes into a Forest”:



Tuesday, July 9, 2019

TBR: The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis

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?

My debut novel follows a seventy-five-year-old Southern woman as she writes an inventory of her family’s heirlooms. Those possessions end up telling a different story than the one she intended, about her family’s troubled history in rural South Carolina. My book explores the way we often engineer family narratives to suit our personal needs, and it examines how the objects around us that we imbue with meaning have stories to tell about us, too.

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

The voice of my first-person narrator, Judith Kratt, was a pleasure to create. She’s a sharp-tongued, compellingly flawed older woman. Frankly, she’s difficult. And I consider that a compliment. Early on in my life, growing up in South Carolina, I had decided that if you were a Southern woman, it was in your best interests to be difficult!

Judith’s father, Brayburn Kratt, was an uncomfortable character for me to write because he does some pretty awful deeds. I tried to approach him with empathy, to understand why he moves through the world in the way he does and why Judith still admires him.

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

My novel is based on a piece of my family’s history—a murder that happened in my family two generations before me. In early drafts, I attempted to write a faithful retelling of that story. But the problem was that I knew how that story ended. There was no sense of discovery, and it showed in the manuscript. Once I freed myself from the details of the real-life event, my revised manuscript took off. I had sent one of the early drafts to agents and ... crickets. But once I overhauled the manuscript, I signed with my (wonderful) agent almost immediately.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

To follow your intuition when writing as if you’re composing a piece of music. Kazuo Ishiguro offered this advice when he gave a craft talk at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a literary arts nonprofit in Denver.

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

I was surprised by how much my first-person narrator’s voice evolves over the course of the novel and how she comes to see that, even if her voice is the predominant one, she’s not necessarily the center of the story.

Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is one who isn’t afraid to slow down and savor a book. I hope that my novel’s plot will keep readers wanting to turn the pages, but I also hope that readers will feel compelled to slow down and enjoy the measured Southern pace of the prose.

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

There’s a family dinner table scene in the middle of the book that is fraught with tension. (Aren’t all family dinner tables fraught with tension?) That meal has a citrus-inspired Southern menu, including pork tenderloin glazed with orange marmalade; asparagus with flecks of orange zest; and a dessert called Orange Supreme or Orange Fluff, which is a concoction of mandarin oranges, crushed pineapple, and cottage cheese. I’ll include the recipe for the dessert, but I’ll admit that it might be an acquired taste! [See below…]

****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR AND THIS BOOK: www.andreabobotis.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:  https://www.tatteredcover.com/book/9781492678861


*****

Orange Supreme, or Orange Fluff
A Southern citrus dessert, perfect for summertime
Featured in the novel The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 package orange-flavored gelatin (like Jell-O)
  • 8 ounces frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 8-12 ounces cottage cheese, small curd (may want to drain)

Instructions

Pour all ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine.
Refrigerate for several hours before serving.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

TBR: Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin

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?

Dual Citizens is a love story about the complicated, lifelong bond between two half-sisters, Lark and Robin.  It’s about art, ambition, sisterhood, and redefining what a family can be.

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

Lark and Robin are vastly different characters: Lark, the narrator, is shy and studious, deeply observant, and most comfortable when she feels invisible.  She becomes a film editor because she’s happiest working alone, stitching together footage to make sense of a story.  Robin, on the other hand, is wild and unconventional, determined to forge her own path through the world, and she walks away from a promising career as a classical pianist because it feels too confining for her.  I’m closer in temperament in Lark, so I could channel her with ease.  Writing Robin was harder, but also fun because she’s a character who isn’t afraid of anything, and who disregards all the rules.

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

Most of my writing process involves wrong turns that seem comical after the fact.  Did I really have a subplot involving a 1970s Quebecois terrorist organization?  Did I really spend months researching artificial intelligence only to disregard the material entirely?  Yes I did.  Looking back it seems absurd that I ever thought these things were going to be part of the book.  But all those detours were necessary for the book to become itself in the final version.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

When I was in graduate school I kept going around to my various teachers asking them for tips on how to write a novel.  I think what I really wanted was permission, a green light, someone to tell me I was capable of it.  None of what I heard was particularly helpful in that regard, except for the Scottish writer James Kelman, who told me “Be bold, make art.  Don’t wait another second.” It’s the best advice I can think of.

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

Both the sisters in my book wind up choosing unconventional paths towards artistic fulfillment.  Robin ditches her musical career to work as a waitress and start a wolf preserve in the Laurentian mountains in Quebec.  Lark becomes an editor for reality TV shows and discovers that she finds great satisfaction and artistic fulfillment there.  I didn’t plan for either of them to make these choices but they both seemed right to me, and interesting to write about too.

How did you find the title of your book?

I’m a dual citizen of the US and Canada, and so are Robin and Lark, who have a (shared) Canadian mother and (different) American fathers.   As soon as I hit on Dual Citizens as the title, I thought it had so much resonance, political and personal; ideas about citizenship, belonging, and the complexities of home thread through the book.

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

My narrator Lark is a terrible cook and self-declared “food agnostic.”  Literally everything she makes in the book is awful.  In lieu of a recipe I will therefore provide a list of my favorite Canadian snack foods:

1.     Coffee Crisp chocolate bars
2.     Miss Vickie’s Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar potato chips
3.     Kraft Dinner (Americans would call this Mac & Cheese, but it’s KD in Canada, always and forever)
4.     Dare Maple Leaf cookies
5.     Mackintosh’s Toffee

All classics, strongly recommended.

****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR & BOOK: www.alixohlinauthor.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR SHELF:
  
READ AN EXCERPT:





Tuesday, June 18, 2019

TBR: Claiming a Body by Amanda Marbais

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?

Claiming a Body is a collection of short stories, many of them in the literary crime genre. It’s set in the Midwest and focuses on characters dealing with relationship issues, climate change, and economic uncertainty. It also contains stories of those living life after trauma. Their worldview has permanently shifted, and they’ve come out with a certain amount of levity and dark humor. Yet, these characters don’t want your pity. They are down but not out.


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

One character I really enjoy is Liz from “The Calumet”. Yet she often makes choices I wouldn’t. I suppose she’s not as careful as I am. Maybe I’m drawn to Liz’s motivation to be judicious about who she loves or who she befriends.  Yet, it’s her soft spot, her sympathy for Rich, that ultimately gets her into trouble. She’s certainly not heroic, but she is human as well as strong in some unrealized ways.

I struggled most with the narrator in “Buried”. The genesis of this story was grounded in some personal experience in the construction industry. So, I had some firsthand experience with the logistics of housing during the start of the fracking boom in North Dakota. But I wouldn’t have made the choices the narrator makes. Certainly, her love and loyalty to her brother is more understandable. At the same time, I like the gritty action scenes that came out in that piece.

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

Certainly the high point was the phone call from the editor Mike Czyzniejewski to say I’d won the fiction prize. Then it was telling friends and family. I also enjoyed revisiting characters while making small edits to the galley.

The lows for this book were the amount of times I was a finalist for fiction prizes at a number of contests. I won’t give you the number here, but it’s pretty substantial.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

I think it’s “Write what you’d like to read.” This always seems like the most straightforward advice. I think I’ve reached the other incarnation of this which is “Why am I writing this?” I feel like in the face of our contemporary political system and culture, this is something I constantly say to myself now. It usually forces me to drop any pretense and write something that really means something to me.

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

All these stories went through several iterations where I was trying to uncover what they were actually about.Faker” is the story that surprised me the most. I went into it thinking it was about a high school student, Brett, who does not want to work on his dad’s chicken farm because it’s brutal, and his dad isn’t taking care of the waste properly. A lot of these stories have this environmental concern that gets wrapped up in the landscape.

So, he is thinking about how he might make an anonymous tip and trigger an unscheduled inspection of the farm. But as the characters took on a life of their own, it began to be about this young guy who has cheated on his girlfriend. The girlfriend has a  fantasy of taking revenge, which she begins to act on as the story progresses. And the boyfriend tries to figure out how likely it is that she’ll enact these plans.

What surprised me about this story is how scary it is. A lot of characters in this book struggle to make the right decision. But Zoe is having some strong emotions absent any impulse control. And, I think many of us remember what it’s like to be an impulsive teenager. But this story deals in extremes.

Most of these stories also have this subtext of how identity is formed by film and TV. So, because characters spend so much time watching visual media, their only point of reference is this shared experience with TV / film. But, it’s double-edged because they don’t form their own identity in a more meaningful way. And so that’s why the main character at the end of “Faker” asks Amy about their shared experience in the state parks.

The subtext of identity being formed by TV and film leads to moments of absurdity. And one challenge for me, when dealing with dark subject matter, is to balance the gallows humor with respect for the character’s circumstances.


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

I would like to talk a little more about the theme of “life after trauma” in this book. There are a lot of people walking around with some level of trauma. Many deal with it differently. Some have buried it, put it in the past, or have sought professional help. I’m interested in highlighting the perspectives that come after trauma, however messy they may be. I feel that there’s hope and optimism in those voices.


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

In “Werewolf DNA” there’s a lot of cataloguing of Chicago cuisine as characters have tension-filled business lunches. I was picturing Fulton Market as the setting. So, in association with this book, I would recommend upscale comfort food, which Chicago is great for -- the inspired street taco or the booze-infused donut. Any of the Stephanie Izard restaurants are amazing.

But when I’m making food for friends, I return to this recipe below. So, let’s imagine we’re meeting for book club. Here’s my toffee. 

This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Coffee Toffee Recipe

Peanut Butter Toffee
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon salt (Reserve some salt to sprinkle over the peanut butter layer.)
Dash of cinnamon (This is optional. I have a thing about cinnamon.)
1 cup peanut butter chips
2 cup dark chocolate chips, of chop up whatever dark chocolate bars you have stashed in your cupboard
1/2 cup toasted and chopped walnuts


Toast the walnuts. Chop finely and set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan add the butter, brown sugar, white sugar, molasses, and ½ the salt. Use a candy thermometer. Ideally, clip it to the pan. Do not have small children around. Watch out for your pet. Use a seriously protective hot pad of the mitten persuasion to hold the handle of the pan. This brew has to get up to 300 F. And, you can’t skip that, otherwise it won’t crack or have the right consistency.

As it heats up, it gets a little frothy, so whisk it. I whisk continually, and that works well.

Pour it immediately onto a parchment covered baking sheet and spread evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle peanut butter chips and let them melt. Spread the melted chips evenly and lightly salt. You know the drill. Add that dark chocolate. I pop the whole thing in the oven at 200 for five minutes. Spread the dark chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with walnuts.

I let it sit overnight. Need to be someplace ASAP? Put it in the refrigerator. Just be aware that chocolate can get weird if it doesn’t have a chance to rest comfortably--just like us.

Break it into pieces and share.

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READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: Amanda Marbais

READ MORE ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER AND THIS BOOK: Moon City Press

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR SHELF: University of Arkansas Press

READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK: Horribilis - Electric Literature; May 2019



Work-in-Progress

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