Tuesday, November 19, 2019

TBR: All My People Are Elegies by Sean Thomas Dougherty


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?

After a furious series of rejections from dozens of literary magazines, I spontaneously decided to write back to them.  I improvised in real time epistolary public responses on Facebook over a six-month period that began Dear Editor. But this book is less about the literary arts than it is about how we use language to separate or join us, it invites the reader in to participate in my life and my family, in my work as a caregiver, about alcoholism, working class bars, neighborhoods, gun violence, and the world of people struggling to live in the cities and towns along Lake Erie and then some. 


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

Honestly this was my favorite book I ever wrote because the writing itself was a kind of performance in real time witnessed by a live audience over months.  I drafted each of these in the little Facebook box.   Has anyone written a book that way?  I mean Patricia Lockwood wrote her poems on Twitter.  Someone must have written a book on Facebook.  As a former performance poet, I loved this sort of anticipatory live audience. Once I started the project, my friends on Facebook urged me on.  They were incredible.  People also started to participate by posting their own rejections and tagging me.  The project created a sort of community of failure where we all shared and by doing so kept writing and going forward.  Social media can be so negative and back-biting, but for someone like me who lives far from any big literary center, it is a way to participate and make positive communities.  The book crisscrosses various prose genres of the essay, letter, and prose poem, sometimes in the same piece. 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Cheryl Strayed: “Write like a motherfucker.”

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

Honestly, that anybody thought these pieces were anything at first.  I was just performing.  I was clowning.  But often in writing, when we are wearing masks or engaging in a kind of maquillage, it gives us the distance and temperament and then permission to open and dive into our deepest wounds.  For me the Dear Editor, the epistolary letter quality of responding to editors real and imagined, created in me a tone part priestly confessional, part therapy, part Al-Anon group meeting.  To speak to and for and back to this authority figure took me places I never thought I would write or imagine, particularly the pieces about my own family or about the murder of my friend young Jose Rosario.

How did you find the title of your book?

It may have been Al Maginnes, it was someone on Facebook—more evidence of the collaborative nature of this project, who pointed out the line to me in one of the pieces one night as a good title .  The title I think speaks to so many of us who are working folks, who deal with issues of health and aging.  Eventually you reach a point later in life where the elegies outnumber the odes.   Where your dead friends outnumber your living ones.

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

I want them to know they aren’t alone as writers, as people.  We are all out there struggling everyday to live decent lives of hope and honor, we fail everyday together.  And that is something, something to hold on to, and lean on each other, as citizens, as artists, as people.  My readers are my people. 

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

Pierogi are the preferred food.  This book deals a lot with alcoholism.  Ironically a good bourbon or Vodka is probably best to appreciate it.  Pour a little out for our brothers and sisters gone before you read it.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.seanthomasdoughertypoet.com


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://books.nyq.org/title/all-my-people-are-elegies

READ AN EXCERPT:






Tuesday, November 12, 2019

TBR: Melanie’s Song by Joanna Biggar

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 five women who traveled together to Paris in the 1960’s—whose story was told in That Paris Year—retain a close bond although they have gone their separate ways. Now it is 1974--the era of Watergate, Viet Nam, and post-Woodstock—and the narrator, J.J. who has become a journalist, realizes one among them is missing. The search for Melanie sweeps from hippie communes to high society, the California coast to Africa and the South of the Civil Rights Movement, always accompanied by the soundtrack of the times. The quest becomes not just to find where Melanie is, but who she is.

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

The most enjoyable character to create was the central character, Melanie. She was a creative challenge because she does not actually appear in the book, so exists through letters, journals, newspaper articles and the impressions of others. Also, she becomes increasingly complex and elusive, hence remains at the heart of this mystery. The most difficult character to create was the old-time hippie Moon. I did not want him to be a caricature but to still keep his blowhard attitude as he revealed himself to be very different from how he first appeared.

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

This is a seldom-told tale, but with Alan Squire as my publishers, it was actually a joy. They had published the first book in what will be a trilogy, and were committed to the project. Working with Rose Solari and James J. Patterson is a writer’s dream. Like iconic editors from the past (think Maxwell Perkins), they are dedicated to developing a writer over time, and from book design to editing to promotion, their team is first-rate.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

I’ll stick with the wisdom of my favorite book about writing, Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird in which she praises the completion of “the shitty first draft.” At the beginning of a project, it’s so important to get your aspirations down on paper and not freeze up by over-editing yourself and strangling your baby before it’s born.

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

The narrator, J.J., in the first book dedicated herself to finding out the truth about her friends. In Melanie’s Song, she continues on the quest for truth using the tools of a journalist. But she discovers that “the facts” never tell the whole story, that the truth is ever-changing, and only by accepting that can she—can anyone—really grow.

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

There are meals and wine throughout the book (this is California after all), but the most memorable meal is Thanksgiving dinner at Gran’s old house in Pasadena.

                                              INFAMOUS STUFFING MIX

Recipe for a 10 lb. bird
  1. Two packages of seasoned stuffing mix
  2. 1 ½ to 2 cups melted butter
  3. One cup milk (adjust according to how moist you want dressing)
  4. Four or more stalks of chopped celery
  5. One lb. sautéed mushrooms
  6. Two cups chopped walnuts
  7. Two cups chopped onions
  8. Two cups seeded raisins
  9. Two tbsp. sage (or more)
  10. Salt and pepper to taste
Add melted butter/milk to stuffing mix. Then add the other ingredients. Make a day ahead, adjust  seasoning and butter/milk for right degree of moisture.
Add butter to cleaned cavity of bird, then stuff, tress and bake according to instructions. If there is stuffing left out of the bird, put in covered casserole and bake for last hour or so of cooking time.

****






  







Monday, November 4, 2019

TBR: Jesus in the Trailer by Andrew K. Clark

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?

Above all else the poetry in Jesus in the Trailer evokes a cogent sense of place.  Whether addressing police violence on the cobblestone streets of Savannah, the loss of a loved one to dementia, or coming of age in a trailer park in Appalachia, my poems address matters of faith, death, love, lust, and the beauty of the natural world, while not masking the pain of Southern history.

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

I think the book breaks boundaries with regards to how modern society thinks about religion, particularly the notion of the “gospel of prosperity” in modern Christianity.  This is the idea that those who are God-like are blessed with wealth and success, and that if you are not blessed those with things then you must not be sufficiently pious or religious.  The title itself tries to decry this with the idea of Jesus appearing in a trailer park.  I think the best poetry from this collection emerged when I allowed myself to write about religion and hypocrisy without holding back.

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

I begin submitting the manuscript in late 2017, after workshopping most of the poems with multiple writer friends and mentors.  I had several cases where I was a semi-finalist in a contest, or notes from publishers suggesting that I was “close” to ready.  All the while I kept writing new poems, revising the manuscript, trying to focus on the order of the poems, and replacing weaker poems.  I received word at the end of 2018 that Mainstreet Rag was interested in publishing the book.  I had another publisher interested at the same time, which is often the case, and went with MSR based on their long-running reputation in the poetry world.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice? 

Of course we all know that to write well we need to read – a lot.  But one of my writing mentors suggested when I was in the midst of a fiction manuscript, to read tons of poetry; if writing poetry, read lots of fiction.  I don’t know why, but it really works well for me, seeming to fire something different in my brain when I need it.

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

I was surprised by how often religious themes came up in my writing, way back before I had a title. I was raised in a conservative religious tradition, a world of tent revivals and camp meetings, but it wasn’t what I wanted to write about necessarily.  Something opened up for me when I just allowed myself to go there.  I also was surprised that I could write love poems that were readable and popular at readings (the cynic in me didn’t think poems about love could be “good”).

How did you find the title of your book?

In deciding on a title, I asked my critique partners and mentors which titles they liked of maybe a half dozen. Over and over, folks preferred Jesus in the Trailer to the other options.  I felt some of the other poems actually represented the body of work better than the title poem, but it does capture several of the book’s themes well. 

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

Food doesn’t come up a lot in the book, but one poem talks about my ninny’s biscuits and cornbread.  I don’t have any recipes, but if you make gravy for your homemade biscuits it must be with white flour, bacon grease and whole milk (along with water, salt and pepper).  I know there are other gravies, but you really shouldn’t let them anywhere near a biscuit if you have any self-respect.

***

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


READ SOME POEMS FROM THIS COLLECTION: https://www.andrewkclark.com/writing



Monday, October 28, 2019

TBR: Holding On to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

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 and stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, share a recipe! 




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

In rural East Tennessee, Lucy Kilgore has her bags packed to leave, but a drunken mistake tethers her to her hometown and to the notorious Jeptha Taylor, who becomes the father of her child and the source of love and sorrow in an unsentimental tale of love, liquor, music, and redemption.

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

While Jeptha was always a character in the story (from the beginning, I knew his role in one central event in the book), in my first couple drafts he appeared only in Lucy’s backstory. He wasn’t in any scenes, much less as a protagonist. But thanks to my classmates in the Novel Incubator at Grub Street, I came to realize how much I cared about him, as awful as he can be, and how much he needed to be in this story. He is a very loveable loser, with a few redeeming traits, and it was fun to write a character who should be unlikeable, but ultimately isn’t.

Lucy was sometimes a challenge to work on. She is a bit of a cypher (her mom, who was cut from early drafts, was too) and it was sometimes hard to get her emotions on the page. She’s a strong character, but one who keeps her own counsel, and so I had to work hard to make sure she didn’t come across as lacking in agency.

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

How long do I have?! I’ve been working on this book for many, many years—in between jobs; the carrying, having, and rearing of four children; and those low moments as a writer when you wonder if it’s even worth continuing. So it’s been a long road. I’ve lost track of the number of drafts, but definitely more than twenty. I had the extreme honor of getting into Grub Street’s Novel Incubator back in 2013 and that really changed this book for the better, but I still had a lot of work to do (and three more kids to have) before I submitted to an agent. I got an agent through Muse and the Marketplace, and we went on submission in July 2017. She thought it would sell in the first round. We got the best rejections you could get, but we couldn’t find a publisher. It didn’t sell in the second round. Or the third. Finally, just when we were about to hang up the towel and stop submitting, it landed with Robin Miura at Blair in January of 2019. She snapped it up immediately, and it’s coming out 9 months after our first conversation!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“Don’t write, type.” This advice from Robert Gottlieb, editor to Toni Morrison, Joseph Heller and Robert Caro, among many others, has saved my writing more times than I can count.  I can get hung up both on needing the work to be perfect the first time and on finding the perfect time or circumstances to write. I love this advice because there is no need for perfection if I’m just moving my fingers. If something great comes out, then excellent. If not, no worries—all I did was exercise my hands for a while.

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

In the beginning, LouEllen was a purely good character, sort of a Fairy Godmother for Lucy. But as I started to get to know her, I was surprised to realize how complicated she is and how that would make Lucy’s life harder. She loves Lucy, but not purely, by which I mean, she has her own reasons for doing what she does. I loved discovering how the relationship that evolves from putting these two complex women together really helps drives the novel.  

How did you find the title of your book?

The original title of the book was Little Sparrow, after a Dolly Parton song. But my amazing editor and publisher, Robin Miura and Lynn York, felt that it didn’t quite capture both Jeptha and Lucy’s viewpoints. But they loved the idea of a hat tip to Dolly, who is from East Tennessee, and features in the book (because she is amazing!). We went out in search of other Dolly songs – there is basically one for every emotion that’s ever flickered through your brain – and found Holding On to Nothing, which perfectly describes Lucy and Jeptha’s journeys.


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

I love to eat, so this is such an embarrassing admission, but there is almost no food in my book. (People are drinking on almost every page, though, so I got you covered on beer recommendations!) One of my very favorite characters, Delnor Gilliam, turns up in Lucy’s Walmart checkout line one day buying a cantaloupe, Cheetos and Sunkist. But you’d be hard pressed to turn that into a recipe! Otherwise, and this is not a recipe, but after the worst of her morning sickness has passed, Lucy eats a big plate of scrambled eggs studded with huge chunks of cheese. That, and heavily buttered toast, is comfort food for me, and something I will always associate both with being pregnant and those voraciously hungry weeks right after giving birth.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.ecshelburne.com


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: http://ecshelburne.com/fiction/


READ A CHAPTER FROM THIS BOOK, "Some Things Lost; Nothing Gained": https://barrenmagazine.com/some-things-lost-nothing-gained/


Monday, October 21, 2019

TBR: Scattered Clouds: New and Selected Poems by Reuben Jackson


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



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

My poetic efforts attempt to honor the places and people who had, and still have, a deep impact on the way I view the world.  I often semi-jokingly borrow the title (tweaked, mind you) of an NPR program called This American Life. My version would be This African American Life. 


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

I am happiest about the continued emergence of my emotional honesty. We (and when I say we, I mean my peers, my boys, my posse) taught ourselves how to sublimate (if not suffocate) our “feels”, as the kids say these days.  I got really good at it.  This time around, there isn’t as much humor as emotional deflection.  I pray it continues.

The Amir and Khadijah section of the book is as close as I will ever come to playing
Ballads like Miles Davis.   (Dear Diary- I fell in love.. once. Got some poems out of
It… )  The hardest were the poems with references to cancer.  My body and my life
were too much in shock to delve as much as I should have.  But I wanted the poems to be “a graph of me”— as Amiri Baraka once said.  

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

I never expected to publish a book again….  When asked, I felt like someone being asked to dance at the prom. The lows?   The anxiety surrounding the book’s birth. Would people hate it? Laugh as if it were an item of clothing from, say, the late 1960s? I mean, it has been… ahem… 20 years…..


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Keep moving the thematic furniture around. Revision is possibility!


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

I would have to say the fact that my longing (which has always been a kind of screaming secret) made its way into a few of the poems.

How did you find the title of your book?

Scattered Clouds came to me after a walk in Central Park–early December 1989.  It was my initial choice for the book which became fingering the keys.  People (which includes editor-type people) thought the title was too somber.  In retrospect,  it is a better fit for the newer poems, which don’t shy away from themes of loss and longing.

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

Would this include the bourbon I consumed while assembling the manuscript?

*****


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://alansquirepublishing.com/bookstore/scattered-clouds/

LISTEN TO REUBEN JACKSON READ SOME POEMS FROM THIS BOOK: https://alansquirepublishing.com/book-authors/reuben-jackson/#1224







Monday, October 14, 2019

TBR: The Lightness of Water & Other Stories by Rhonda Browning White


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?

These stories allow us to peek in on the lives of a wide range of strong people, from West Virginia miners to Florida bikers, from Appalachian medicine-women to heavy equipment operators. These characters, like all of us, wrestle with the people, places, and memories they cling to, belong to, and run from, learning (sometimes too late), that these experiences remain with them forever. The nine stories in The Lightness of Water and Other Stories are bound by a strong sense of place—Appalachia and the South—and prove that no matter where we go, there’s no place far enough to leave home behind.

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

I loved writing “Things Long Dead.” I’d relocated to the Daytona Beach area, home of the nationally renowned “Bike Week” and “Biketoberfest,” in which bikers and MCs (motorcycle clubs) descend upon the town twice a year, and our local culture changes. I found this fascinating, especially the brotherhood—largely military veteran in nature—shared by these bikers. I knew there was a story there, and once I started interviewing some MC members, the story of this veteran biker facing his own morbidity poured out of my head. It’s one of the easiest first drafts I’ve ever written, though it still took me years to polish. I wanted to make sure I correctly represented the one-percenter biker culture, before sending this story into the world. 

“Heritage” was, conversely, more difficult. The story was always there, but it took more digging to unearth, and I changed the ending no less than a dozen times. In a near-final draft, my main character, Claire, was pregnant. My publisher found her pregnancy a bit too much, as it took the focus away from Claire’s internal conflicts. He was right about that. I was still revising the story right up until the last minute, but I believe I finally achieved the right balance, and I’m proud of how the story came together.

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

My high and low are one and the same: I received two contract offers for publication from reputable small presses on the very same day! I received a call at work that morning from Green Writers Press in Vermont, offering publication. I came home, planning to celebrate with champagne, and before my husband could pop the cork, I received a call from Press 53 in North Carolina, also offering me a contract. It was thrilling and surreal. Quite literally, I felt breathless. I was immediately elated (They like me! They really like me!), but before nightfall, I became anxious, realizing the choice of which contract to accept could make a world of difference in the path my writing career will take. It was a difficult decision based on many factors—which took away a bit of the fun—and while neither press would have been a wrong choice, I feel I made the right choice for me at this early time in my career.

What is your favorite piece of writing advice?

Oh! Tough question, Leslie! My favorite is, of course, the one that makes sense at the time; the one that gets me over the hump of whatever writing problem I’m facing. If I had to choose one that fits all the time, it might be Barry Lopez’s admonition that the story must be about us, not about me or you. It’s sometimes too easy to fall back on what’s affecting, or has affected, me, and how I feel about that, when instead, I should be telling a story about “ourselves,” not about “myself.” I want my stories to help every reader, in some small way, to better empathize with other people and the environment in which we live.

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

Without doubt, I’m most surprised by how my characters Romie and Jasper Grodin got under my skin and stayed there. They appear in my collection’s bookend stories, “Bondservant” and “Big Empty,” and they are now the main characters in my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Filling the Big Empty. They face some ugly hardships, both individually and as a young married couple, but even when they fail, their determinedness and hopefulness overpower their fatalistic tendencies. They embody the human condition in all of us, and I’m learning a lot from them.

How do you approach revision?

In her excellent writing-craft book, Wired for Story, Lisa Cron says, “There’s no writing; there’s only rewriting.” My mind is always spinning, always revising multiple stories at one time. I’m revising when I’m showering, or doing the dishes, or driving. I never read through one of my stories when I don’t think of a way in which I could tweak it to make it better; a word change here or there, a sensory detail I could add. I don’t believe my writing is ever “done,” but when I reach the point where I can read the last line and smile with satisfaction, I know the piece is finished. For the time being.

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

All of my characters love to eat and drink! (We have much in common.) In “Bondservant,” Romie makes cornbread for Jasper, and I imagine she makes it, using my very own recipe:


Rhonda’s Sweet & Corny Cornbread

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1¼ cups milk
1 cup unbleached flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cane sugar
2 tablespoons oil
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon of honey or molasses
1 cup (canned) creamed corn

Place your lightly greased iron skillet in the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees. (You may use a lightly greased round cake pan, but don’t preheat it.) Stir together the dry ingredients. In a separate, large bowl, combine the other five ingredients, blending well. Stir in the combined dry ingredients, just until moistened. Pour the batter into your now-hot iron skillet, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the center springs back when touched. (Preheating the iron skillet provides a nice, crisp crust for your cornbread.) Romie and I recommend dunking a hot, crusty piece of this cornbread in a cup of milk and eating it with a spoon, like cereal. Yum!


****

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

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:  https://www.press53.com/rhonda-browning-white 

READ A SHORT STORY, “Things Long Dead”http://hospitaldrive.org/2016/12/things-long-dead/





Monday, October 7, 2019

TBR: Pigs by Johanna Stoberock

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?

Four children live on an island that’s the receptacle for the entire world’s garbage. Garbage washes ashore, and the children feed it to a herd of giant, magical pigs. It’s a perfect system until one day a boy washes up in a barrel and the children have to decide whether he’s garbage, too, meant to be fed to the pigs, or whether he’s one of them. What follows is a fable for adults about social responsibility, environmental justice, and the things we throw away.


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

My favorite character to write was the only fully formed adult in the novel, a castaway named Otis. I loved how flawed he is, how he tries so hard to do the right thing (by his wife, by his son, by the children on the island, by, ultimately, the entire world), but how, even wanting badly to follow a moral compass, he just can’t help but be driven by his own desires.

The hardest character for me was actually the book’s central character, a twelve-year-old girl named Luisa. I think I just knew her too well—the kind of frustration she feels at her situation, and the way anger takes over and gets in the way of strength: those are all emotions that I know from the inside out. The thing that was hard about writing her was finding ways to show that emotional life from the outside in. I wanted to write her disappointment, but also her fortitude within disappointment. And I wanted to write the way she handles guilt. And through all that, I wanted her to remain a child, with all the immediacy of response that children can access. It was hard!

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

It’s been a long road to publication, so there have been lots of highs and lows. The biggest high was probably the first time I shared any of Pigs in public: I read from the first chapter in a local reading series, and for months and months afterwards people around my very small town kept coming up to me and telling me they couldn’t wait to read the whole thing. I’d never had that experience before.

The second high was when I sent it to my agent. I was worried that she would think it was too strange. But instead, she was excited by its strangeness, by the way it didn’t feel like something she’d read before.

And then there was hearing that it had been accepted by Red Hen, and the first conversation I had about it with Kate Gale, Red Hen’s Managing Editor. She so clearly saw a life for the manuscript out in the world, and she had so much faith in it, and her excitement was catching.

The lows? I’ll be selective.

Sometimes it’s lonely to write. And writing a novel takes a long time, so that’s a long stretch of loneliness. And then you get so used to living inside the world of your novel, that when you emerge, you kind of forget what life is like outside it, so that prolongs the loneliness even further.

On a more concrete level, one particular low was revisiting the same scene over and over, recognizing that it wasn’t working, but not having a solution to make it better. It took me years to fix that scene!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

I once attended a reading by Ramona Ausubel. Afterwards, someone in the audience asked if she had any writing advice, and this is what she said: “follow your weird.” When I heard that, it felt like something just clicked inside of me. My imagination can go to very unusual places, and it was wonderful to have someone frame that strangeness as a strength rather than a weakness.

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

The very first line surprised me: “The pigs ate everything.” It came to me before I had a plot or a setting or a central character, and so Pigs is really built around the growing lists of stuff that the pigs of the novel eat (“Kitchen scraps. Bitter lettuce from the garden. The stale and sticky contents of lunch boxes kids brought home from school. Toenail clippings. Hairballs pulled up from the drain. After the pigs were done, there weren’t even any teeth left over, not even any metal from cavities filled long ago”). Once I’d accepted that, it became a great source of freedom—a structural device, and a device for seeing the world of the novel in great detail. And the more I thought about what we throw away, the more the characters themselves came into focus. So I guess the biggest surprise of all was the way the world of the novel created the characters rather than the characters creating the world.

How did you find the title of your book?

There was never any question what the title would be: it’s like the book entered the world with a name. At times I’ve wondered if it’s too on-the-nose, too in-your-face. But I like that the real “pigs” of the novel are not the actual pigs, and I like that the title puts a focus on animals rather than humans, and I like it’s single-syllable-ness, and I like that somehow, in our collective imagination, pigs have such resonance.

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

Well (spoiler), there’s a pig roast three quarters of the way through the book. And whole roasted pig is unbelievably delicious. But somehow I don’t think that’s quite the right recipe to share. So I’ll go with this: before the pig-roast, but well into the novel, Luisa, the main character, tries a macaron for the first time. While I’ve never made them myself, I’ve eaten quite a few, and think this recipe for chocolate macarons looks fantastic: 


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READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.johannastoberock.com

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Work-in-Progress

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