Monday, November 16, 2020

TBR: Inherent by Lucía Orellana Damacela

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?

 Inherent is a collection that reimagines life in coastal Ecuador in light of present time transitions and challenges. These evocations, made with fragments of phrases, images, smells, transform the memory landscape of the speaker and address belonging and identity as they are recreated far away from home.   

 

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

The poem I enjoyed writing the most was “The Paramo Train.”  This poem is based on an actual trip I took with my father by train, going from Durán, a town near Guayaquil, to Quito. That was the first time I went through la Nariz del Diablo, a passage in the Andes with beautiful scenery but very steep and zigzaggy, in which the train has to go in reverse to change tracks. My father described it to me before we took the train and I was terrified but excited about it.

 The poem that gave me the most trouble was the last one, “Ink-Carved Rusty Path” which was originally an ekphrastic poem, inspired by a combination of photographs presented as a prompt for a contest in the web site of a literary magazine. The poem won the contest, but I had to rework it several times, for years, before I thought it was ready to stand on its own. 

 

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

I wrote most of these poems between 2015 and 2017. That was a high. Started submitting the manuscript in 2018. There were a few lows and a few highs along the way. Earlier versions of Inherent made it to the upper rounds in the selection process of a few presses; they also received a fair amount of outright rejections. One version was a finalist in a literary contest. I knew that Inherent would eventually have its chance, so I continued reviewing and submitting it. Finally, in late 2019, it found a wonderful home in Fly on the Wall Press. That was a mighty high.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

I don’t remember who said this, or where I read it, but I think it’s the most truthful thing about this endeavor: Just write. You can’t edit or improve a blank page.

 

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

How these poems, which started as a series of very rough and unrelated notes, soon were speaking to each other and came together as a collection. 

 

How did you find the title of your book?

I don’t remember exactly how the title came to me; I think it just emerged organically from what the collection was about. I went back and forth between Inherent and Inheritant. At some point I decided that Inherent better accomplished what I was looking for:  a short title that captured the idea of both a symbolic and blood lineage among women.

 

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

Foods and drinks are spread thorough the collection. Bread is made; sandwiches, crackers and chocolate are eaten. Cake is not (in real life, it is). Coffee and sun tea are served. Watermelons are sliced, mangoes are sucked, cherries are chocked on. I mention citric fruits –lemons, limes, oranges— a few times (hence the cover), and limoncello. Skewered meat, cheese.  Breast milk. Horchata, which my grandmother prepared often. She made the local version of horchata with rice, oatmeal, or barley. In her food blog in Spanish, my sister shares the recipe to make a popular oatmeal drink. http://comidasdeecuador.blogspot.com/2013/01/quaker.html

 

****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://notesfromlucia.wordpress.com/

  

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk/product-page/inherent-by-luc%C3%ADa-orellana-damacela

 

READ A POEM FROM THIS BOOK:  https://www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk/product-page/inherent-by-luc%C3%ADa-orellana-damacela [click on book cover and move through arrows]

 

Monday, October 26, 2020

TBR: The Rest of the World by Adam Schwartz

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?

 All of the stories in this collection are set in Baltimore, and they were all inspired by getting to know the teens in my classroom. As our country grapples with the ideals we claim to aspire to, this collection offers stories about resilient kids growing up in neighborhoods sabotaged by systemic inequities. These teen and young adult characters rescue loved ones, betray one another, seek redemption, plot hustles, reckon with moral ambiguities, and struggle to find meaning in a city that owes them better.

 

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

 “Pavane for a Dead Princess” was probably the hardest story for me to pull together. It’s the longest in the book; it covers a lot of ground temporally; it’s a story within a story. But most of all the protagonist undergoes a reluctant transformation that wasn’t easy to render. It’s about a young man who falls in love with the daughter of the owners of the neighborhood carry-out. Her family is Korean, and her parents don’t want her involved with a dude from the neighborhood. One night, just as things seem to be lining up for the protagonist, he becomes entangled in an altercation that he might’ve avoided. (Readers can decide.) Setbacks ensue and over time—almost without realizing it—he finds himself on a redemptive quest that takes him down the unlikeliest of paths.

 The story I most enjoyed writing was the title story, “The Rest of the World.” In this story, the teen narrator is called upon to protect a child. By doing so, he takes on a moral task larger than himself, and achieves, perhaps, a kind of nobility. [See link below.]

 

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

 The high point has been working with the wonderful people at Washington Writers’ Publishing House. Everyone there has been kind, helpful, professional, smart and experienced.

 Prior to winning the WWPH prize, I sent my book around to literary agents. A handful of agents read at least of some of the stories in the collection, offered praise, and then proceeded to ask for a novel. The publishing industry’s preference for novels over story collections is well-known. (For a reminder, stroll along the literary fiction aisles of Barnes and Noble; relatively few story collections adorn the shelves.) Still, it was disappointing to hear first-hand from some agents that they liked my work but didn’t think they could place my story collection with publishers.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 “If you keep working, inspiration comes.” Alexander Calder

 

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

One thing that surprised me is that I discovered the scope of my concerns. I’m drawn to writing stories about teens and young adults coming of age. Our initial encounters with the hard realities of adult life transform us. How do we negotiate these experiences? Who do we become in their aftermath? And in what ways do we hold on to, or reach back for, the parts of ourselves that got left behind?

That may sound like a narrow range for a book of stories, but I don’t think of it that way—in part because our teen years are such a crucial, formative period. It’s during this window that we’re trying to sort out our values, trying to figure out the kind of people we want to be in the world and trying to forge identities that are in harmony with who we hope to become.  

I spent much of my own adolescence adrift. Decades later, I still wonder who I was back then and what I was looking for. If the reckless, dreamy, short-fused, high school drop-out I was at seventeen could meet the schoolteacher I am today, would they recognize each other? I don’t know. 

Anyway, this border between childhood and adulthood interests me. It can be a fraught and volatile period. Throw into this mix the kinds of challenges many vulnerable kids in Baltimore have to deal with and, sometimes, the stakes become unimaginably high. Teens in Baltimore don’t get much of a margin for error. There aren’t a lot safety nets to catch them if they make a poor decision, as kids sometimes do.

 And if Baltimore asks children to navigate a minefield of complex choices—as I believe it does—than I hope my stories are affirmations of belief in kids who refuse to give into despair.

 

How do you approach revision?

 My approach to revision is I keep doing it until I can live with what’s on the page. I’m frequently surprised by the progress that comes from holding an inchoate or unresolved idea in my mind—sometimes for days or weeks or months—and continuing to check in on it. Sometimes I feel like writing fiction is really about tapping into this instrument that allows you to hold certain unresolved ideas in perspective over time so that you can work them out.

 

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

Eight years ago, Hostess Brands, the company that makes Twinkies, briefly went under. After several months, a buy-out company stepped in and saved the iconic snack cake. Twinkies—and the fear that they were about to disappear—became the device that propels the events in the story “Wizzur.”

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT  THIS AUTHOR:  https://adamschwartzwriter.org

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://bookshop.org OR https://www.politics-prose.com

 

READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, “The Rest of the World”:  https://philadelphiastories.org/article/rest-world-0/#respond

 

 

 

Monday, October 19, 2020

TBR: The Fear of Everything: Stories by John McNally

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



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

 In the tradition of Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, and T.C. Boyle, these nine tales feature shady magicians, dubious sleep study assistants, missing cats, demonic attorneys, and lonely latchkey kids.

 

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

 The story “The Creeping End” was a fun story to write because it began as three separate stories that weren’t working. But once I realized that they were three parts of the same story, I wondered if it was possible to write a story with three distinctly different tones. I subtitled it “a triptych,” and so the idea of writing a triptych unlocked the structural problems I’d been having trying to make it one linear and cohesive narrative.

As for the story that gave me the most trouble? Probably “The Phone Call,” but it gave me trouble in the most unusual way in that I wrote a draft of it in 1990 in one sitting, and then I lost the manuscript. I had printed it out and set it aside, but two days later I couldn’t find it. I was haunted by the story for twenty years, occasionally thinking that I would rewrite it, maybe turn it into a novella, possibly even a screenplay. But it wasn’t until around 2009 or so that I was asked to contribute to a Ray Bradbury tribute anthology, and the only idea of mine that was Bradbury-esque was “The Phone Call.” So I finally – twenty years later – revisited it. And that story set the tone for The Fear of Everything. (Side-note: When I was moving to Louisiana in 2013, I found the original version of “The Phone Call.” I was surprised at how many details from the original, which I had never read after writing it, made it into the version twenty years later.)

 

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

I submitted the book to two contests, and it was a finalist in the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award contest, but then I set it aside for another year. So, the low was my own lack of energy to do anything with the book during that time. I was going through a rough patch, and I didn’t have the energy to do anything with it.

A year later, I revised it again and decided to do something with it. Short story collections have limited opportunities to get published and limited audiences, but I wanted to take pride in the book itself, the product. I wanted it to look good. The University of Louisiana Press had a new publisher, so I approached him about the possibility of publishing it. Fortuitously, after the press accepted it, I was awarded a professorship, which comes with a stipend that can be put toward publication costs, so I asked UL Press if I could have a hand in making production decisions. For the first time, I was responsible for hiring a cover artist (Keith Rosson did the cover), hiring the printer (the printer I hired had done one of my previous books), and hiring a copywriter with whom I’d previously worked.  It was a stressful process, but it was also great fun to be that deeply involved in the book’s production, which wouldn’t have happened without the professorship. And I love how the book looks, so I’m happy with the final product, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Develop a writing habit. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s ten minutes or eight hours. Try to stay in contact with the work.

 

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

As a whole, the tone of the book surprised me. If anyone’s familiar with my previous books, they may be expecting humor, but this book, though not without humor, is much darker and stranger than my previous books. There are also fantastical elements here and there, which may surprise anyone who’s read my previous books.

 

How do you approach revision?

 My approach to revision is patience. The last story in this book – “Catch and Release” – took ten years. I wrote half of it in 2007, couldn’t figure out how to push it forward, set it aside for ten years, and came back to it in 2017 to finish it. When I was younger, I was in a hurry to get published, and I published some stories before they were ready. I’m 54 now. I’m not in much of a hurry for anything anymore. When I was younger, I placed the burdens of my life on the work I was doing. My logic went something like this: In order to get a job, I needed to publish, and the more I published, the better the job. These days, the publication of a story yields nothing for me except for the publication itself. If a story takes ten years, it takes ten years.

 

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THE BOOK HERE: https://ulpress.org/products/the-fear-of-everything

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://ulpress.org/products/the-fear-of-everything

 

READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, “The Magician”: https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/463/the-magician

 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

TBR: Make Them Cry by Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith

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

 


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

DEA agent goes to Mexico to bring in a cartel lieutenant and discovers a criminal conspiracy that stretches back to the US occupation of Afghanistan.


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

We had a really great time creating Tomás, the sicario who’s addicted to reading. He’s a killer and you’d be a fool to mess with him, but he’s also quiet and thoughtful and he spends all his spare time reading novels. He’s our fave, for sure.

The thing that gave us the most trouble was deciding where to begin. We actually began too late in the story and needed to delve into Diane’s story to properly lay out the world and this twisted tale.


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

We started this project over a decade ago, so it’s been quite a journey. It was first a screenplay that went through many iterations. After Smith sold FOURTH OF JULY CREEK, we decided to try to write it as a novel and, thanks to our awesome agent Nicole Aragi and ECCO, here we are.

As we mentioned above, we originally started the story in the wrong place. After all these years working on the thing, we had to start over again. That was a bummer. But that’s just how it goes. Writing can be incredibly inefficient and unpredictable. Story is the most important thing. It matters more than how tired or frustrated the writers are.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

If you can, write in the morning before you’ve had any media, but after the first few sips of coffee.


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

Harbaugh surprised us in that she went from being a secondary character in our first drafts to being the protagonist in this book.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

We found the title MAKE THEM CRY by thinking about the best way to get across what our protagonist does. Her expertise in the DEA is getting suspects to flip, to start cooperating. The way she does that is by burrowing into their soft-spots and getting them emotionally turn themselves over to her. She flips them by “making them cry.”


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

Tamales, tacos, frijoles, and beer.

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK HERE: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/make-them-cry-smith-hendersonjon-marc-smith?variant=32126227742754

 

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHORS HERE: http://www.smith-henderson.com

 

READ AN EXCERPT OF THIS BOOK: https://crimereads.com/excerpt-make-them-cry/

 

 

Monday, October 5, 2020

TBR: Abjectification: Stories & Truths by C. Kubasta

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 are about intimacy and isolation; desire haunts and animates the characters. In trying to find connection, but maintain safety, and a sense of self, they tread dangerous ground. Sometimes saucy, sometimes uncanny, occasionally horrific, the narratives lead to the Terrible Place: close quarters and intimate conflict in sites of past trauma that determine the future. 

 

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

 

There are two stories I find myself thinking about over and over, “Freak Show” and “Boundaries.” In “Freak Show,” the couple Meghan and Jeff are trying to make a relationship separate from their pasts and the people they were in their small town – but they can’t. Distrust keeps showing up, a third wheel: as Meghan remakes her body, and offers forgiveness, Jeff can’t accept love-without-strings, or put his father’s “wisdom” out of his head. He imagines his girlfriend as monstrous, trying to consume him. In Jeff, I see a man caught in a trap – made by his father, patriarchal religion, himself – and he resents the woman trying to help free him, because he can’t free himself. I don’t know if writing this story gave me trouble, but it troubles me.

 

In “Boundaries,” I drew on many people I loved – from college days, and then seeing them again recently. I wanted to capture the feeling of sisterhood, and togetherness, and then break that in the story with all kinds of intrusions: people who don’t understand those bonds, and a supernatural force. Writing that story, I got to imagine the power of those relationships, and the kinds of violence it would take to destroy them. That sounds like a strange kind of pleasure – but writing about that destruction I knew what those whole things (people, and relationships) really meant to me.

 

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

 

My previous books have been poetry, and short novels – so a collection of stories was a little different. I would have liked to get a few more stories published before the book came out, but there wasn’t much time. Also, because some of the stories have some rather sexy bits, I’m a little less sure how to promote and share – (should I block my mother?) – (what about co-workers?) . . .

 

But this is my second book with Apprentice House, a student-run publishing house at Loyola Maryland, and it’s been a wonderful experience. As a teacher myself, I care deeply about giving students this hands-on practice with books & publishing, and they are wonderfully responsive. In particular, I LOVE my book cover! We worked together on ideas, and they found this very cool photography studio out of Finland with a modern take on a vintage cabinet card. Working with Apprentice House has definitely been a high.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

I just read a tweet that had a Creative Non-Fiction prompt: Write about the day your childhood ended. Ouch. I’m not ready for that yet, but I do recommend writing what scares you, what you think you can’t write, about the thing you think you’d never be able to read aloud . . . and all that. We need to write about things that matter, and our writing should scare us.

 

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

 

When I went back to look at my stories, listing themes and images, trying to think about structure, I was surprised how many featured dead mothers/ghost mothers/absent mothers . . . my mother is very much alive, and we’re good. I’ve also had many mother-like figures who have loved me and mentored me –smart, strong women in my life. (Maybe this is something I should talk to a therapist about . . .) Perhaps what I fear is the missing mother, or the mother who is there but not there – or, like the mother in “Hand-Me-Down” the mother who is dead, but refuses to be erased. As a non-mother myself, it’s interesting to me how often this mother-imagery comes up, and one reason I was interested in the idea of the “abject” in the book.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

My friend Jennifer and I were going back and forth about the title for the first story (now called “Morning After”) and I mentioned the idea of “Abjectification” – combining the theory of the Abject (from horror) with objectification. In that story, the unnamed woman wakes up under a bed, unsure how she got there, and sees herself – or someone who looks identical – being dragged unconscious down the hall, as a victim. They are wearing the same clothes, but the victim-self is bruised, bloodied. Time splits. I wanted to capture that moment of dislocation – being the self who sees herself as victim, but also wants to survive and disown the body being dragged down the hall. I said “Abjectification” was probably “too wonky” and “too academic.” But she (and to be fair, she’s kinda picky) liked it. And now I love it – it’s weird and original, and suggests all the things I want.

 

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

 

At the beginning of the final story, “Boundaries,” the group is grilling out – they’ve been day-drinking, and it’s idyllic. Mid-summer in the Adirondacks. Before Sarah’s migraine begins to throb, before Kevin disappears, before the rest head into town to find cell service, and are told they shouldn’t be there – that those “are bad woods.” So if you want a delicious meal before things spin out of control . . .

 Center-cut salmon filet

Thinly-sliced red onion

Thinly-sliced citrus (whatever, but clementines, blood oranges, lemon are good)

Salt & Pepper

EVOO

 

~Arrange salmon on tin foil, sprinkle with S&P, layer with onion & citrus, douse with            EVOO

~Fold tin foil over top, tenting

~Place on grill and cook to desired doneness

~Serve with tossed green salad, and crusty bread + lots of wine

~Lock the door, and whatever you do, don’t separate from the group

*****

 READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK: https://www.ckubasta.com/

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK:

Publisher: https://aerbook.com/maker/productcard-5665230-4208.html?brand_id=215904

Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/abjectification-stories-truths/9781627202756

 READ A STORY (OR TWO):

“Bluebeard’s Wife” https://www.dreampoppress.net/c-kubasta/

“Treasure Hunt” http://www.midnightlit.com/archive/volume-2-winter-2019/treasure-hunt/

 

 

Monday, September 28, 2020

TBR: Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories by Donna Miscolta

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?

 

Against the backdrop of the Cold War and civil rights eras, Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories delivers the milestones of American girlhood—slumber parties, training bras, proms—through the eyes of “brown, skinny, and bespectacled” Angie, who learns early that pageant winners, cheerleaders, and the Juliets in school plays are always white, and that big vocabularies are useless in navigating cliques and clubs. Living Color traces Angie’s formation as a writer, from the diffident, earnest child who jots down new words in a notebook to the emboldened high school student publishing unpopular opinions in her new “loud-enough-to-be-heard” voice.

 

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

 

I loved creating Angie Rubio, endowing her with all of my insecurities but also giving her a sort of innocence – not a blamelessness or goodness – but an earnestness with which she pursues her goal of finding where she fits within her family, among her classmates, and in the larger world.

 

I had some trouble with Angie’s nemesis Judy Wiekamp. It was easy to paint her as Angie’s antithesis, but I had to remember that Judy had to have depth, had to be faceted, had to have humanity so that she wasn’t a caricature. I hope I succeeded. At any rate, I think the thorny relationship between Angie and Judy consists of complex, layered behaviors rather than breezy, one-note exchanges. While most of the revelatory moments belong to Angie, there are subtle insights into Judy as a full human being.

 

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

 

The lows were what many of us experience – rejections or unanswered queries that make you question yourself and your work. You’re about to give up or at least take a break from querying and submitting when you hear back from the small press you thought would be a good fit for your book. Relief, gratitude, and delight ensue. Jaded Ibis Press’s mission to publish “socially engaged literature with an emphasis on the voices of people of color, people with disabilities, and other historically silenced and culturally marginalized voices” corresponds precisely to who my protagonist is and what my book is about. That is definitely a high.

 

 What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

I like to remind myself often of these words attributed to Cynthia Ozick: Play what feeble notes you can and keep practicing. It acknowledges the self-doubt we all feel but implies reward through persistence.

 

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

 

Each story reflects a different year in Angie’s life, which means a slightly different way of looking at the world and Angie’s response to it. I was surprised at how comfortable it felt to write from Angie’s point of view as she progressed from year to year, grade to grade, each time confronting some new challenge or obstacle. What surprised me the most was that I wasn’t entirely aware that each story had at some level Angie’s inclinations as a writer, each story contributed to that not entirely visible aspect of Angie’s make-up. It wasn’t until the penultimate story that this was so plainly revealed.

 

 

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

 

Almost every story contains some little nugget from my life. It’s the most semi-autobiographical thing I’ve written. And yet, it was so easy to separate myself from Angie and to let her take on a life and personality of her own. At the same time, I could still identify with her awkwardness, her mortifications, and her deep desire to find herself and her way in life. Even if my readers don’t happen to have had the experience of growing up as a skinny, brown girl, my hope is that they will connect with her as she negotiates the obstacles of microaggressions and her own wobbly self-esteem to emerge determined to claim a path for herself.

 

 

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

 

Unfortunately, school lunches and cafeteria fare are the foods primarily featured in the book – bologna sandwiches, little side bowls of steamed-to-death peas, dust-crumbly cookies, that sort of thing. Also, there are the menu choices at Bob’s Big Boy mentioned in one story. There is a bit of haute cuisine at the French restaurant Angie and her prom date go to where they eat “garlicky, squishy things.”

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK AND AUTHOR: https://donnamiscolta.com/

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=donna+miscolta

 

READ AN EXCERPT, “First Confession”: https://crate.ucr.edu/first-confession/

 

Monday, September 21, 2020

TBR: Look at Him by Anna Starobinets. Translated from the Russian by Katherine E. Young

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


 


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

In this groundbreaking memoir, Russian writer Anna Starobinets chronicles the devastating loss of her unborn son to a fatal kidney defect. After her son’s death, Starobinets suffers from nightmares and panic attacks; the memoir describes her struggle to find sympathy, community, and psychological support for herself and her family. Look at Him ignited a firestorm in Russia, prompting both high praise and severe condemnation for the author’s frank discussion of long-taboo issues of women’s agency over their own bodies, including the aftereffects of abortion and miscarriage on marriage and family life.

 

What part of the translation process did you most enjoy? Why? And what part was most challenging, and why?

I loved working with Anna’s voice. For a memoir about the loss of a child, there’s a very great deal of wit and even humor in the book, most of it supplied by the authorial voice. In some chapters, Starobinets uses the device of “splitting in two.” Each of the two halves—the frantic, frightened one and the cool, detached woman observing her—will weigh in. Anna’s self-portrait is carefully crafted, but also apparently unvarnished. We watch a distinctly fallible, terrified mother face an impossible choice: kill her baby now, or watch him die in agony later?

 

The subject matter of pregnancy, not to mention pregnancy loss, was challenging. People who learn Russian as I did, in college, rarely learn terms for women’s bodily functions, childrearing, traditional women’s work, or basic domestic rituals—you have to pick that stuff up elsewhere. And how should one translate the cutesy names of children’s toys, diapers, and related items (by way of example, how would you translate something like “Linkimals Smooth Moves Sloth” into another language?)? But I think the hardest moment of this book for me to translate was the scene when Anna is in the hospital waiting for the hormones that will start her labor—and the termination of her pregnancy—to kick in. The nurse advises her to watch a movie, but the only thing she has stored on her laptop is an old Soviet musical version of The Three Musketeers: lots of prancing horses and plumed caps and singing cavaliers. The title of the chapter in Russian – the chapter in which Anna will lose her son forever—is taken from a line in one of the songs that literally means “It’s time, it’s time.” It took me forever to wrestle that short verse of the song into anything approaching song lyrics in English that could supply an appropriate title for the chapter—I finally came up with “Bye-bye.”

 

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

The book deals forthrightly with an impossible dilemma: what to do when your unborn child is diagnosed at 16 weeks with a fatal birth defect and, moreover, likely to die in excruciating pain no matter what you choose. One option: late-term abortion. I was pretty sure no major American publisher would touch such a book—there are only a handful of books on this topic in existence, in fact. In the end, I was lucky to find the small wing of a university press that specializes in Russian literature. However, going with a university press has meant a great deal of do-it-yourself work to publicize and market the book. Fortunately, the greater Russian-language community in the US has enthusiastically embraced this project; most have already read the book in the original. The virtual book launch will span continents and time zones—it includes author Anna Starobinets (Moscow), scholar Muireann Maguire (Exeter, UK), and the amazing Russian émigré literary bloggers Olga Zilberbourg and Yelena Furman of Punctured Lines (California)—and me in the Washington, DC, area. (NOTE: You may register for the 9/26/2020 book launch here.)

 

 

What's your goal when you start a new translation project?

I want to make something beautiful. I’m a poet myself, and a lot of my translation work is getting Russian-language poetry into English. There are many different schools of thought about what translation should be, but my goal is pretty simple: I want to make the work sound as if it had been written in English. In terms of larger prose projects, I choose books that I love myself, and authors I admire. My last book project before this one was the fiction of a political prisoner in Azerbaijan, a book called Farewell, Aylis. Its author, Akram Aylisli, is being persecuted today in his own country simply because of the fiction he chooses to write. I seem to gravitate towards controversial projects—as if by translating them I could write a wrong or negate an injustice. In the case of Look at Him, I’m hoping that both sides in the abortion debate will find a little bit of common ground in this beautiful and heartbreaking memoir. That’s a pretty quixotic notion of the power of translation—but it makes me very proud of what I do.

 

Some people think of translation as the mechanical transmission of words from one language to another. What makes this particular translation a work of art?

I suppose it’s possible to make even a sublime work in the original language tedious and unpleasant in English—that’s on the translator, of course. Any good translator takes into account things like tone, the sort of language used in the original—are the insults witty or vulgar, for example? If the narrator is a child, do they speak in a child’s voice (and if not, why did the writer make that choice, and how can it be conveyed in English)? A particular problem in translating from Russian is that Russian grammar lends itself to very long sentences, much too long for the tastes of most native English speakers. So, translators try to shorten those sentences. But in the last book I translated, every time I tried to shorten a sentence, I discovered that I was hacking apart one of the classical figures of speech—climax, antimetabole, chiasmus—so I had to find a way to keep those rhetorical units together. Translating is very much a kind of handicraft—the original author gives us the raw material, of course, but it’s up to the translator to shape and polish the work in English.

 

What kind of accommodations, if any, have you made for English-language readers? Did you change the book's title in translation?

There was obviously a bit of contextualization needed—the system through which medical care is accessed and delivered in Russia is very different than the systems familiar to American readers. Some of that context was delivered in the translation itself—inserting a clarifying adjective or phrase, for example, where none was needed in the original—but in the end I wrote a short translator’s introduction with a basic outline of how things work in Russia. The title is the same in both languages, but I had to adapt things like the song lyrics I mentioned before to make music in English.

 

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

There’s a terrifying episode in the book when Anna suffers a severe panic attack during the short walk to pick up pizza at her neighborhood café. And for months after the loss of her son she’s unable to swallow food—her throat just closes up. She finally starts to recover her health and her spirits when she follows a therapist’s advice to go to Greece and eat olives and feta cheese. “Olives and Feta Cheese” is the title of that chapter, in fact.

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHORhttps://starobinets.ru/eng/

 READ MORE ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR: https://katherine-young-poet.com/anna-starobinets/

 ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://slavica.indiana.edu/bookListings/Three_String_Books/Look_at_Him

 

 

 

 

Work-in-Progress

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