Monday, March 30, 2020

TBR: The Memory Eaters by Elizabeth Kadetsky

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?

Through Jewish and French Canadian family stories, meditations on my family’s glamorous past in 1970s and 80s New York City, and the tale of caretaking my vibrant and charming mother with Alzheimer’s while confronting my sister’s drug addiction, I explore memory: tyrannical in trauma, compulsive in nostalgia, and tragic when lost. Through this lens, my memoir unravels dazzling ancestral myths and damaging family secrets, and in the process explores the possibility of rewriting one’s own story to reconcile traumas both personal and generational.


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

My favorite to write was the first, “A Taxonomy of the Unknown,” which uses French Canadian genealogical research and my Franco American family’s personal mythology to get at the ethos that my mother created for me growing up, an ethos that in many ways preferenced the unreal, the romantic, and the wished-for to the real. Discovering that many hundred-year old family stories as well as archetypal French Canadian origin stories were suspect helped me piece together the larger themes of the book—that the stories that you make up for yourself can be as integral a part of your identity as what’s fact. Another thing I loved about this essay was that it took me about 20 years to understand the significance of genealogical records that I’d dug up in Quebec on a grant in 1997. Many people told me to look up those records—in Quebec this is a very popular thing to do, because the French Canadian genealogical record is nearly unparalleled in its endogamy and comprehensiveness. Ultimately, I was able to use the data to show the evanescence of genealogical “truths” and a practically complete family tree. I had over a thousand ancestral stories to choose from, but none of those stories was complete. In some ways, the data only allowed me to imagine my own story more richly, but in a way that I could see was more imagination than fact.  

The one that gave me the most trouble also had its seed in the research trip that took me to Quebec in 1997, “Ghosts.” This grant also brought me to Maine and Boston to research my family history, but, subsequently, I had to research and write the essay several times. This was because, first, I lost the manuscript—a short story that I submitted for my graduate creative writing workshop. After the workshop, the carton containing the original manuscript and the copies with my peers’ and professor’s comments was mistakenly discarded during a move. Luckily, I still had my research notes and transcripts of interviews with family members, so I used them to piece together another essay which, seeming to lack something, led me on a subsequent research trip to re-interview several of the subjects on the mid 2000s. By that time my mother had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t answer new questions that the research unearthed, but by going through the research carefully and revisiting some pieces of it, I was able to unearth the family secret. Thank goodness I didn’t publish the earlier version of the essay, because unlocking the family secret also unlocked the significance of the story of the essay and its theme—transgenerational trauma. That, in turn, gave me the key to unlock the book itself. This was the last essay that I wrote before the book was selected for publication (I wrote one other after the fact). It was the Rosetta stone, really. Until then, I had a book manuscript that didn’t quite know what it was about. I’d written an adventure story, but its center was missing.

What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from? Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


In a sense, my story was too good a story—single mother, fashion model and 1970s New York City doyenne gets Alzheimer’s while living with dysfunctional grown daughter in a walkup in Queens and becomes charming and broke wander risk. Narrator must manage. It was Grey Gardens meets An Unmarried Woman—too easy. This narrative was seductive to both me and literary agents, and led me on the wrong path entirely. I wrote several versions of this book manuscript, and it was never very good. It wasn’t until I took a workshop with the editor Karen Braziller and read Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story that I understood the central missing piece, that this had to be my story, not a story about other dramatic, interesting, and tragic characters. However, I was still tied to the advice that my writing, when not subjected to the utmost rigor, moved around in time and space too much. It moved in ellipses and spirals, and it kept repetitively going over the same material. What broke ground was perhaps that I finally gave in to my instincts to tell a story that mimicked the experience of traumatic and nostalgic memory, revisiting images and incidents, and shifting from different points in the past to different points in the present repeatedly. The latter—a shifting and non-chronological present moment—owed to the fact that I was writing the book while my mother’s condition was progressing, and then through her death and into the aftermath of grief—for me—and homelessness—for my sister. Over this present moment, episodes from the past would assert themselves in no particular order. In organizing the book, I struggled between ordering it according to the progression of events in the past or the progression of events in the present. Finally, I realized that the overlay of many pasts onto many presents revealed just the right the mind state for the book, and so I chose themes, instead, as an organizing principle. This in part came from advice by the writer Mira Bartok, who worked with me on a manuscript consultation. Mira’s book The Memory Palace also works in this way, so my structure is perhaps not exactly groundbreaking, but it does feel to be an essential and unusual element for so dramatic a plot. The courage of going with this non-traditional structure definitely came from failure. At a certain point of having worked on the book for so long and having had several agents but no book contract, there seemed nothing to lose in writing exactly the book that I wanted to write.

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

My favorite advice for writing memoir is an amalgam of Vivian Gornick’s “find the inner story” and John Gardner’s insight that all stories are about the transformation of a central character through an escalating sequence of challenges and tests. So, I ask memoir writers, how are you and not your subjects the central protagonist in your story? How are the stories that you are telling your story, and what do you—the protagonist—have to discover in order to change. What surprised me was how hard this actually was for me to do, and how, when I finally did, how obvious the answers were. My story was that I had internalized my mother’s central trauma, without even knowing what it was. Once I got to the root of it and discovered our family secret, I was able to see how that secret—and my mother’s shame and evasiveness surrounding it—had contributed to my own traumas and shame, and to dysfunctional systems in my family growing up. Discovering her secret give me the distance to see clearly not only her story, but mine.

Who is your ideal reader?

My story felt very dramatic to me when I was experiencing it, but in connecting with readers and friends I’ve realized that most aspects of it are universal, and not just in a general sense. My ideal reader sees her or himself in my story. With the aging of the baby boomers, many grown daughters and sons who have led unconventional lives so far find themselves in the surprising position of having to take care of someone when they can still barely take care of themselves. Also, many people find themselves at the intersection of the opioid epidemic and the Alzheimer’s epidemic. The scheme that seemed so unworkable in my family—dysfunctional child is living with ailing parent and becomes that parent’s caretaker but is completely unequipped to do so, and other, functional sibling who has a full-time job must step in—is in fact, systemically speaking, inevitable. Another thread that will feel familiar to many readers is that when one or especially two family members are in crisis, the bottom falls out quickly and surprisingly, because in the U.S. there is no safety net. That my mother could not qualify for insurance-covered home care felt wrong to me in so many ways. That my sister lived with her only lessened my mother’s eligibility, whether or not my sister was functional. In fact, I was called by adult protective services to be told that my mother was in danger on the same day that another government agency rejected her for services. This inspires a kind of rage that others can surely relate to. I am not the only person who has been let down by social services, and, on top of that, to have an experience of extreme panic and distress along the way. The book, in its way, suggests a political agenda that I hope will connect with readers who see the grand scale of the problems posed by the Alzheimer’s epidemic (and opioid epidemic) and what they reveal about the shortcomings of our medical and social services.

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

My mother loved traditions, but they had to be made up, and this possibly explains the fact that our family celebrations invariably involved a cake that has no known origin in any of the traditions we actually hail from. This is Paschka, a delicious Russian Orthodox Easter cake that in our family was always made with a ricotta cheese base, and was set to mold in the refrigerator overnight in a flower pot—though we never had a garden, houseplants, or any other use for ceramic flower pots. We had to go out to the store to buy the flower pot each time (why we didn’t save one, I am not sure). Traditionally, this cake is decorated with the Eastern Orthodox cross, but my mother always decorated ours with pale purple-colored candied lavender from the nearby Hungarian shop on upper Second Avenue, Paprikash, and edible flowers such as nasturtiums—or inedible ones, because, why not? Like most things in the model’s diet, this one is extremely high in fat but not high in sugar—my mother used to eat buttered toast with a pat of butter on each slice and still stay thin.

INGREDIENTS
2 egg yolks
1 c whipping cream
Dash of salt
1/2 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
6 c ricotta cheese
1⁄2 c room-temperature butter
1⁄4 c roasted almond slices
candied lavender
fresh flowers
Cheesecloth

Place egg yolks, cream, salt, and sugar in a saucepan and cook on low heat until they form a custard, about 10 minutes

Remove from heat, stir in vanilla

In a glass bowl, using a wooden spoon, combine ricotta and butter, and then add egg yolk mixture

Stir in almonds

Line a medium sized clay flowerpot with damp cheesecloth

Pour cheese mixture into pot; fold ends of cheesecloth over top. Place pot face up on a plate and place weights over the cheesecloth the help drain excess moisture through the hole in the bottom of the flowerpot

Refrigerate overnight, removing any water from the plate

Remove cake from flowerpot by upending it, and carefully remove cheesecloth. Decorate outside with flowers and candied lavender


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


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE:


READ AN EXCERPT OF THIS BOOK, “The Memory Pavilion”:


Monday, March 23, 2020

TBR: EDGE by Barbara Ungar

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?

EDGE is named for the EDGE list, which stands for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered. Most of the poems in it describe a singled endangered species, although there are some more general poems about living through and attempting to cope with The Sixth Extinction.

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

These are the most impersonal and highly researched poems I’ve ever written. I wasn’t even sure they were poems at first, but I was driven by my obsession with The Sixth Extinction, so didn’t really care. I thought about Marianne Moore’s animal poems as an ideal model. In educating myself, I hope to also pass on information that might be valuable to someone else, or just make them care more about all the transfixing creatures we are destroying in our carelessness and greed.

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

This was the easiest road to publication ever. Once I put the poems together into a chapbook, I sent it out to a few contests, but in the meantime, a friend told me to try Ethel. I did, and in under 24 hours, I heard back, We would love to publish this.

The low was purely physical: I think because I was on sabbatical sitting at my computer (in a highly unergonomic set-up at my dining room table) doing research and writing all day, then jumping up to do Zumba or Pilates, I slipped a disc and spent five months in PT and recovery.

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

Every detail I included in these poems surprised me: I fell in love with each species while working on it. I was also surprised by the speed of acceptance of the manuscript (I have barely had time to get any individual poems published) and also by the excitement of my poet-pals at these poems, which are nothing like my usual (more personal, not to say confessional, and often humorous) work. I hope I managed to get some humor in there, despite the tragic subject.

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

Some estimates say that four species are disappearing an hour, others say up to two hundred per day. We know only a very small portion of the natural world, which is melting away all around us. Each of these exquisite forms evolved over millennia and is irreplaceable, but so many are vanishing before we even have the chance to name them or know anything about them. The great writer and biologist E. O. Wilson warns that we have no idea at what point, as a result, our entire ecosystem might crash.

How did you find the title of your book?

As soon as I discovered the EDGE list, I knew I could use it.

Who is your ideal reader?

People who think they don’t like poetry but are surprised to find that they can read, comprehend, and enjoy my work.

How do you approach revision?

Obsessively. Discovering the poem is the hard part for me: my favorite metaphor is fishing. Once I’ve got one on the line, I’m completely happy and in the zone, and I can edit for hours. I generally start longhand, usually free writing, until the poem takes shape: then I type it up and print it, read it out loud, and revise in pencil, mostly trimming and trimming away, till it’s as spare as it can be. Sometimes I move parts around. When I can’t make it any better, I give it to one of my poet pals for criticism, and then repeat the process. I researched these poems online, gathering pages of information, which I printed out; I highlighted whatever caught my imagination, strung those parts together, and then started trimming and shaping. I like Michelangelo’s metaphor of seeing the sculpture in the stone and chiseling away until it’s revealed; I hope I accomplished something like that with my blocks of research.

What was your experience ordering these poems?

The first poems I wrote were the Madagascar poems, which come early in the book. Then I tried to vary them in length and tone, and the size of the subject species (some very tiny, others huge). I tried to begin and end with more general poems, and intersperse those throughout. I tried to end with a bit of hope, not to be too despairing.)

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

I am the opposite of a foodie, perhaps because I have anosmia (no sense of smell). But I would beg people to please avoid eating red meat: while humans are only 1/3 of the mammals on the planet by weight, another 60% are our livestock, mostly cows and pigs; this leaves only 4% left for ALL wild creatures, from mice to elephants. You don’t have to go vegan, or even vegetarian, but if we all simply ate less meat, there would be that much more room on the planet for everything else. And no farmed fish! It’s terrible for the ocean, and for wild fish.


READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.barbaraungar.net

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE:

READ A POEM FROM THIS BOOK, “El Zunzuncito (Cuban Bee Hummingbird)”:



Saturday, March 14, 2020

TBR: Don’t You Know I Love You by Laura Bogart

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?

Don’t You Know I Love You is about a young woman, Angelina, who comes from a chaotic home learning to extricate herself from the influence of her violent, yet charismatic father – without turning into her mother, who forfeited her own hopes and ambitions years before. Angelina learns more about who she is – and more importantly, who she wants to be – through developing as an artist and falling in love for the first time, but the patterns she’s grown up with threaten her happiness.

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

The character I most enjoyed creating is definitely Angelina, because she undergoes the most personal growth and change throughout the course of the novel – she starts off very armored and angry (and understandably so!), but with a tender, protective side she’s not always sure how to show. She becomes an artist, and in doing so, she becomes more of who she’s meant to be, and more importantly, who she wants to be. I feel like we so rarely see a woman artist’s coming of age, on the page; it seems so often like it’s still the providence of broody young men. So, it was exciting and powerful to be able to reimagine that story for a young woman, my own version of Rebel Without a Cause.

The character who gave me the most trouble was Jack, in part because I wanted to write about, and from the perspective of, a deeply troubled and toxic man – without seeming like I glamorized or validated his toxicity. I think a lot of the rise of the anti-hero we had across media a few years ago was really instructive because it showed how seductive it can to be render a person who does bad things in a rose-colored light, to be “edgy,” so I was very careful to portray how Jack’s violence and destructiveness truly haunted his daughter and his wife. Still, if I was going to put readers inside Jack’s head, I knew I had to make it a worthy, if uncomfortable, place to sit and stay a while – I saw my task as making him complex without exonerating him. 

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

I’m always very candid about the fact that it took nearly three years for this book to find its best home in the world because I feel like so much of the writing world, and writing lives, that we see on social media are so carefully curated – just the highest highs and insta-success stories. We had a lot of so-close but not quite because many publishers were really skittish about the intensity of the material. I was very lucky that I have an agent who was supportive and kept sending the book out – I tell all authors who are talking to agents to please, please, please, ask them what they’ll do if the book doesn’t sell to the first, or second, or third, or even fourth round of submissions – and we ended up with the perfect publisher in Dzanc, a publisher that isn’t afraid of the hard and thorny stories, and a real collaborator with their authors.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

If something just isn’t gelling – whether that something is a character or subplot, or even as tiny as a particular sentence structure – don’t hesitate to let it go. Our intuition is the architect of marvelous surprises, so trust it.

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

My initial concept for Angelina’s art was much more literal and, in hindsight, sort of blunt. The bone drawings literally just came to me as I was writing one day and as soon as I described the first one, I had a lightning strike moment, like, oh yes, this is exactly what her art is supposed to be like.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title of the book comes from the way Elliott Smith sings the lyric “don’t you know that I love you” in his song “Angel in the Snow”: His voice is beautiful and haunted, knowing and raw – and that’s exactly the feeling I wanted for the book.

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

 I have no recipes, but anything they’d eat on The Sopranos is definitely applicable here!

[Editor’s note: May I recommend Carmela’s Baked Ziti?]

*****

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOU TBR PILE:  https://www.dzancbooks.org/our-books/dont-you-know



Monday, March 9, 2020

TBR: Permanent Marker by Sarah Cooper

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?

Permanent Marker follows a speaker as she remembers her dead brother, imagines a life with him and attempts to speak to his son.  Set against a southern backdrop, this is a story of addiction, of family and queer identity.  These poems do attempt to reconcile the loss of a sibling and yet resist asking “why.”

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

The first poem, “We Thought About It,” was not one I enjoyed writing, but it did give me the least trouble.  This poem oozes honesty and hesitation.  I chose to place it first because the story of this chapbook is not “addiction is sad” or “this poor speaker lost a sibling.”  The story is complicated because the emotions of loving someone who is an addict are vexing.  This poem strives to encapsulate one experience with the brother where feelings of anger, love, fear and protection intersect. [link to this poem below]

Always, my mother said,” went through numerous renditions.  My mother, father and I shared the experience the poem addresses and I wanted to tell the story through a perspective that was not mine.  My brother was an addict.  And yet, the reality of watching your parents make decisions about his body is one that I can’t explain.  So, opted not to with me as the speaker.  I think this poem works best from my mother’s perspective especially the part of watching my father and recounting his words to the funeral director.  Invoking persona here, and a few other spaces in the book, makes the collection feel collective and collaborative because that’s what life has been for me. [link to this poem below]

“The Lump” is a poem I wrote in a day while ruminating on bodies and embodiment.  These visceral connections to a person who is gone are ones I carry most intimately.  This poem attempts to take a childish act (though potentially quite harmful) and spin it into a story about gratitude. 

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

This manuscript was rejected five times from various chapbook competitions. (Yes, I kept track.)  But, to be honest: it needed to be rejected. The more distance I gained from the experience of loss the more I became able to craft poems about the experience instead of just narrating the experience.  Looking back at previous drafts of poems I find myself thinking: I’m so glad this went through twenty revisions or The rhythm now fits the pacing of thought of the speaker.

One of the great highs to this process was getting to work with Eli Warren (@eliwarrenphoto).  He did the cover art and head shot for this book.  Eli is a local photographer whose work is stunning. 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“You own everything that happened to you.  Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” (Anne Lamont, Bird by Bird).

How did you find the title of your book?

When I was working on my MFA, Rick Mulkey, during workshop, suggested I title my thesis Permanent Marker.  I had a series of poems about my brother in the thesis and “Permanent Marker” was the title of a poem in the thesis (the same one that’s in the chapbook).  At the time that phrase felt strong and intriguing.

A few years later, as I began putting a chapbook together, I kept finding artifacts with my brother’s name written on them.  Each time I was startled to not only see his name but his handwriting.  I kept thinking, How did I not see this before?  Or, was this even here before?  Then, one day, I went to visit my parents, got out of the car and saw the ax (that’s the cover art) nestled in a tree stump near a pile of chopped wood. I took some photos of it and knew I had to go back to Permanent Marker as the title.  Those two words hold the weight of perceived permanence and the ways we are marked by living.

*****

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.sarahcooperpoet.com/

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://readpapernautilus.wordpress.com

READ AN EXCERPT, “We Thought About It” & “Always, my mother said”:
https://thedrowninggull.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/2-poems-sarah-cooper/


Monday, March 2, 2020

TBR: Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden


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?

Drowning in the Floating World centers around the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, as well as the Fukushima power plant disaster, exploring diverse manifestations and interpretations of water in Japanese culture and mythology. These poems not only bear testimony to the disaster, but also serve as a warning to our future selves—on not only the dangers of nature, but also the power governments and businesses hold over their people and environment. 

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

I really enjoyed writing with surrealism. I was really inspired by Shuntaro Tanikawa’s aesthetic, and Patricia Smith’s personified POVs in “Blood Dazzler.” I wanted to find new ways to approach disaster, to reinvent it into mythology as a way to cope with it.
  

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

I always seem to start submitting prematurely. I started sending this collection around in 2015. It wasn’t ready. But of course, I always think it’s ready. And I guess the good thing about this is that it motivates me to keep working on a project and making it the best it can be. The highs were that I got some good encouragement, even early on—it was a semi-finalist, finalist here and there. Toward the end, I knew I needed to keep pushing but was tired. Why hadn’t it found a home yet? By then it had been on submission for almost 4 years. I had a friend encourage me, saying, “I’ve never not seen a book get published that’s gotten that far. It’ll find a home,” and that really kept me going. The poetry business is highly competitive. It takes a lot of rejections to lead to that final acceptance. 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice? 

I don’t know if this is official writing advice, but I always tell my students to keep digging deeper. I keep telling myself to dig deeper. Sort of connected to your advice [below] of “write until something surprises you”—but we’ve got to keep digging past the obvious, past the telling to the real gem, the real thing driving our writing. The real thing we want to say. I have to work in so many drafts, and often think early on I’ve “hit” what I want to say. But then I come back a month later and it doesn’t resonate. Once I’ve dug deep enough, it resonates every time I come back. We’ve got to do the work to really find that.

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

Surprise is what drove this book. I was really inspired by Shuntaro Tanikawa’s beautiful surrealism and humor even in brokenness. This aesthetic really drove how I approached disaster, and made me strive to see disaster from a new angle. The magical realism, the surrealism created something beautiful out of disaster. I was always looking for a new angle, a new image to surprise me and provide that “aha” moment in these poems. 

But I think perhaps to answer your question, what surprised me, is how deeply I connected with this disaster and how it continues to haunt me. I set out to write about it because Japan is close and important to me, and it broke me when 3/11 hit. But through the research and the time spent with this disaster, there’s a whole new intimate level I have with it now. That’s what poetry does. Now, when I see footage in movies of rapid flooding—I particularly remember the moment we were in a theater, and the preview for San Andreas Fault came on the screen. There was a scene of the earthquake, and water rushing, and I almost began sobbing there in my seat. Something like lightning ripped through my chest and I panicked. All I could think of was Tohoku, and I was so shaken. For a moment, I felt like I was there, in Rikuzentakata, in the middle of disaster. Just for that moment, I broke. That’s what poetry does, we carry these moments with us and can never fully let them go. But I didn’t really know that before this collection.

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

It’s probably clear that I want my readers to know about is 3/11. It’s amazing how quickly the news can move on. How quickly we can forget. How long recovery can take. But as tsunami stones remind us, disaster is cyclical. We must remember and pass down this knowledge to the next generation. We cannot continue to live as we did before. Disaster should change us and move us to action. 

But another idea I’d like readers to consider is the transient nature of earthly life, and recovery. As I thought about disaster and water I began thinking of a result of disaster, all that floating debris. All these once useful things now rendered useless. This made me think about the Edo period’s “floating world,” its pleasure district that was created from a rising middle class. That epicurean mindset of joy derived from pleasure. I thought about the ways we try to fill ourselves with pleasure, to forget our traumas or to find meaning. But how brief these things are if they’re rooted in an earthly context. How quickly those things we value become floating debris, useless. Or, as the remains of 80s Japan’s economic boom display, they become haikyo (literally “obsolete hill”): abandoned ruins. This was my thought process for the last section, some of which might come off as jarring. I couldn’t help but explore: now what? what do we do after disaster? How do we cope? Is there permanence to these solutions, or are they only temporary in nature? Where do we root our security, our hope, in an uncertain and disaster-prone world? Do we seek hope in objects and the physical, or something larger? My desire is that readers would also engage with these questions. 
  
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

Yes! I love Japanese food and it’s such an important part of Japanese life. Some specific Japanese dishes come up in the poems, like natto and unagi don, and obviously Japanese-style rice (rice is so fundamental it’s in the name of every meal—morning rice, afternoon rice, evening rice). Whenever my husband and I make Japanese food, the whole house smells like Japan and then I really feel at home. I recently started making miso soup at home and was surprised how easy (and nutritious!) it is to make. Here’s the recipe I use: https://www.justonecookbook.com/homemade-miso-soup/ 

 *****
  
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: megedenbooks.com/

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://www.press53.com/meg-eden
  
READ A POEM, “Tohoku Ghost Stories”: http://www.rattle.com/poetry/tohoku-ghost-stories-by-meg-eden/


Monday, February 24, 2020

TBR: The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense by Art Taylor

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



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

This collection gathers 16 of my stories from the 25 years (25 years?!) since my first mystery appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—though really you’d have to cut that quarter-century nearly in half to calculate my output, since it took about 12 years from my first appearance in EQMM (“Murder on the Orient Express” in 1995) to my second (“An Internal Complaint” in 2007). The title story is my most recent publication—in the January/February 2020 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine—and the rest of the collection includes short stories that have won honors including the Edgar Award, the Anthony Award, and several Agatha, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. I’ve been very fortunate with the attention readers have given my short fiction.

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

The opening story in the collection, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” is possibly the quickest I’ve ever written a story—and oddly, possibly the one that people talk most about. Roxane Gay championed the story, which is structured as a recipe, and I’ve heard it’s been taught in creative writing workshops. I came up with the idea while my mind wandered during a Chicago concert my wife, Tara Laskowski, dragged me to. The next morning, I woke up, wrote the first draft quickly, showed it to Tara, revised it, submitted it before noon, and had an acceptance from PANK early afternoon.

That’s an anomaly for me—to say the least.

More like my pace: I wrote the first draft of “The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74” in the early 1990s, and it finally appeared in print more than 25 years later—in the most recent issue of AHMM, as I said above. The first draft was 3,500 words, the final nearly 12,000, and in between it became one strand of a failed novel, reemerged as a novella of about 18,000 words, and… well, there were a lot of years spent putting that one aside, coming back to it, expanding, condensing, tinkering, tinkering, tinkering.

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

I’ve been very fortunate in this regard too. My publisher, Crippen & Landru, specializes in high quality volumes of short mystery fiction—both by classic authors and by contemporary voices. I’ve long admired the publishers, long dreamed of having my own work in their series; and I was honored when I heard that they’d been following my own career and thinking the same thing. Everything just came together.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It may be clich├ęd at this point, but Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” continues to resonate. I’m an extremely slow writer, but somehow, if you keep at it, you can get where you’re going.

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

Maybe because I’m a slow writer, partial drafts have sometimes languished for a long stretches before I’ve figured out where a story is going. I submitted the first half of “A Voice from the Past” to some workshop readers—it’s a story which revisits the legacy of hazing at a boys boarding school—and they responded with, “This is great!” and “What’s going to happen next?” And I had to tell them that I really didn’t know—didn’t know to the point that I finally put the draft aside. For nearly five years. When I came back and reread it, suddenly I saw the possibilities lurking in the small details I wasn’t entirely aware I’d folded in—what one character might have been doing, the extremes another character might go to, and how those extremes were rooted in the past. I often tell my writing students that they have to listen to their own work—to what their unconscious might be doing—to figure out what a story is really about, what to do with it. Often I think the best stories come out that way.

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

I want to give a shout-out to Luke Buchanan, a North Carolina artist who created an original work in response to the title story—the painting now on the cover of the collection. Luke incorporated several specific elements of “The Boy Detective” into his collage here, and the whole image captures so much that mix of nostalgia and melancholy and uneasiness that I associate with the story myself—and with much of my own work generally.

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

I didn’t realize it until I read through the collection at proof stage, but many of my stories feature cocktails! …and they’re occasionally pertinent to the plot, as with the gimlet in “The Odds Are Against Us.” Here’s that recipe:

Gimlet (borrowed from The PDT Cocktail Book)

2 oz. Plymouth gin (Art’s note: Plymouth makes a considerable difference here)
.75 oz. lime cordial (see below)
.75 oz. lime juice

Shake vigorously with ice.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Lime Cordial  (downsized proportionally from the PDT recipe to avoid straining your zesting hand)

4 limes
8 oz. simple syrup

Zest limes, and combine zest with simple syrup. 

After 10 minutes, fine strain into a container and chill. 

Bonus recipe: You can actually make the recipe for coq au vin in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (linked below), but please take care to leave out the arsenic. 

[Editor’s note: I love The PDT Cocktail Book and we’ve made these gimlets many, many times!]

*****


READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.arttaylorwriter.com

READ MORE ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER: www.crippenlandru.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: www.crippenlandru.com

READ A STORY, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”:  https://pankmagazine.com/piece/mastering-the-art-of-french-cooking/



Tuesday, February 18, 2020

TBR: The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers


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?

Both lyric and speculative, this poetry book imagines a human mission to Mars, the consequence of climate change and environmental ruin. The landscape of Mars is a canvas on which the trespasses of the American Frontier are rehearsed and remade. The collection is mostly concerned with the danger of the colonial mindset, as well as how environmental destruction and gendered violence are linked.

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

Poems that I found especially pleasurable to write include the sonnet crowns: “Deep Space Crown,” and “Backflash: Seven Catastrophes,” and “Fugue for Wind and Pipes.” I love the incantatory quality of a sonnet crown, how the last line of the previous sonnet becomes the first of the next, the calculation and geometry involved of making complete thoughts legible inside the form. 

I also had so much fun with the less “traditional” forms in the collection, such as the poems that use question-and-answer templates: “Red Planet Application,” and “Lost Exit Interview.”  Mixing registers of language—bureaucratic jargon and the diction from standardized tests with the elusive moves of lyric poetry—that was a great pleasure to me, very playful and freeing.

I don’t remember any poems being more troublesome than others, but putting together a book structure that made sense was maddening.  The original manuscript had three sections with the “Backflash” poems—those poems that give glimpses of the ruined earth, the consequences of climate change—all in their own section, midway through the book. In the end, I scattered those poems throughout the book instead, thinking of them as brief associative flashbacks, glimpses that occur fleetingly and with warning, more the way memory actually works. With the new structure, I had to shorten the book to make the temporal balance work, cutting a couple of poems I still kind of miss.

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

The process for this book was difficult, sadly.  The manuscript started finalizing or placing in contests as soon as I begin to send it out—a good sign!—but took forever to land.  There was so much interest from many presses, but it took a very long time to get a commitment: this is a big problem with the poetry contest model.

Then, I finally got the book under contract, but I had a bad experience with that publisher; I ended up pulling the book from them after some unethical behavior on their part. Finally, my manuscript ended up in the hands of Lisa Ampleman and Shara Lessley, who went wild for it. I’m so glad I ended up in their hands; working with Acre Books (the micropress at The Cincinnati Review) has been terrific so far.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“Don’t write what you know; Write towards what you don’t know.” Even when you are using content or forms that you’re familiar with, I think pushing your focus towards what is mysterious or strange—about language, about people, about an event or experience—is the most important thing you can do. In this book, I really exaggerated this approach by creating a whole world and set of circumstances that were wholly imaginary.

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

Honestly, I can’t believe I got away with a lyric poetry collection that’s mostly set on Mars, and that some people are taking it seriously. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

How did you find the title of your book?

The title of the book comes from a fairly unremarkable two lines in the last sonnet sequence, “Wind for Fugue and Pipes.”  I like it for its lyric strangeness—how can you tear the tilt from the seasons, exactly?—but also for the ways in which it hints at climate change, the possibility of a planet thrown off-kilter, violently and irrevocably.

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

I wish! Food is very difficult and rationed on Mars.  Any recipes are probably vegetarian, too, since animals can’t really survive there.

I think the only drink mentioned in the book would be whiskey in the first poem: alluding to the genre of the Western, those frontier cowboys are always getting drunk. And one of the poem sequences, “Flashback: Seven Catastrophes,” taking place in Indonesia, mentions eating fried rice and coffee, as well as American pizza topped with hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Sorry, I don’t have a recipe for that! Too bad.

*****

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Work-in-Progress

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