Tuesday, June 25, 2019

TBR: Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

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

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

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

How did you find the title of your book?

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

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

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

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

All classics, strongly recommended.

****

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

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





Tuesday, June 18, 2019

TBR: Claiming a Body by Amanda Marbais

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Toast the walnuts. Chop finely and set aside.

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

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

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

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

Break it into pieces and share.

****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: Amanda Marbais

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

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

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



Monday, June 10, 2019

TBR: Nirvana Is Here: A Novel by Aaron Hamburger


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?

When his ex-husband is accused of sexual harassment in the #metoo era, history professor Ari Silverman is forced to confront long-buried trauma from his childhood, where he and his high school crush bonded over the raw emotion of Kurt Cobain’s lyrics in the segregated suburbs of 1990s Detroit. Nirvana Is Here explores issues of identity, race, sex, and family with both poignancy and unexpected humor. Imagine Call Me By Your Name with a grunge-era soundtrack.

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

I loved all these characters. I think you have to be a little in love with your characters when you write, even the ones who behave badly, in order to see them as they see themselves, and write about them with what the writer Breena Clarke calls “radical empathy.” There is one supporting character in the book, an English teacher named Mr. Wentworth, with whom I initially had the most trouble, but then in the end I particularly enjoyed developing. At first I saw Mr. Wentworth as a bit of a villain. The main character of Ari, who’s in high school during the 1990s, resents Mr. W. for being a rather pedantic and not very competent teacher. In my early drafts, Wentworth was just as Ari saw him: a bit of a caricature. But then as I revised his character and looked for ways to open him up, I remembered teachers from high school who were in the closet for fear of losing their jobs. I began to think, what if Mr. Wentworth were a closeted gay man who wants to reach out to Ari, to help him, and yet feels constrained by his own life decisions. He wants to be Ari’s friend and feels hurt by Ari’s rejection, yet at the same time because of his position of authority, he has to discipline Ari as well. In the final version of the book, Mr. Wentworth engendered so much sympathy in me because of his vulnerability. Working on him reinforced such a great lesson about how to make characters memorable, how to round them out by trying to see the world as they see it.

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

After I published my first two books of fiction, I worked on another novel that no one wanted to read or publish. It was really hard to accept that after all the work I’d done,  the research trips, the countless revisions, the time and effort, that this book wasn’t going to make it.

A non-writer friend of mine suggested that I turn next to short stories for a while. That way, he said, if they don’t work out, you’ve only written a failed story rather than a failed novel.

At the same time, a criticism I had heard about my writing was that it wasn’t emotionally engaging enough. It didn’t feel personal enough. So I thought I might work on a few stories inspired by things I’d seen, heard about, or experienced, and by doing so I might learn to capture some of that emotional quality that had been lacking.

After a while, I accumulated several stories that seemed related, so I toyed with the idea of a linked story collection, which then became a novel-in-stories, until finally my wise friend and colleague, the writer Cait Johnson, said, “Oh, just call it a novel. It’s a novel!”

Finally it came time to seek publication. Working with “big” publishers and “big” agents in the past has been immensely helpful in a lot of ways. And yet I also found that in terms of marketing and getting my work out there in the world, I’d done a lot of the work on my own. I also noticed that the big publishers can have difficulty seeing your book in a variety of ways. For example, I wrote a novel called Faith for Beginners with two main characters: a straight woman with a gay son, both of whom were Jewish. I imagined the book might appeal to both Jewish and gay audiences, and I was surprised that my publisher thought it couldn’t be marketed both ways, that it had to be only one thing, which meant in this case that it had to be mainly a gay book.

As I started speaking to agents about this book, I heard two things over and over: A) It’s a wonderful book and B) I don’t know how to sell it. (To which, I kept thinking, uh, isn’t that your job?) Their main issue seemed to be that much of the book describes the main character while he’s in his teens, and yet it isn’t a young adult novel, so they couldn’t figure out how to pigeonhole it for marketing purposes.

Finally, I decided, you know what, let me find a great indie press that gets this book, loves it as much as I do, and let’s work on it together, and that’s exactly what happened. A friend recommended Three Rooms Press to me, and they responded immediately to my query, and more importantly, they understood immediately what I was trying to do artistically, that this was a book for anyone of any age who’s revisiting his or her past to try to understand the present.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Do I have to pick just one? Here are a few of my top pieces of advice, all from other writers:

There are two of you -- one who wants to write and one who doesn't. The one who wants to write better keep tricking the one who doesn't."
- Maria Irene Fornes

The most important skill for a writer is how to notice the right things.
--paraphrased from Tina Brown

Write from what you know into what you don't know.
Grace Paley

I’d also say—and this is more publishing than writing advice—is that as a writer, my job is to get 100 rejections a year. Why? Because when I get rejected 100 times, I publish 10 times. But when I don’t get rejected at all because I’m afraid of sending my work out and getting a negative response, I don’t get published at all. Another possibility: if I’m not getting rejected and I’m still publishing, that means I’m aiming too low.

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

Great question. I was surprised that a story with so much potential for pain or anger could also have so much love in it. Familial love, romantic love, the love of art, history, and culture, and the love of friends for each other. I feel like the topic of friendship, particularly male friendship, is so under-explored in literature. I’m glad I had the chance to take it on here.

Another surprise, on a more mundane level. For a very minor character in the book, I had to research bathroom attendants, the people who stand in the bathroom of fancy restaurants and give you a hand towel. I learned a couple of things. First, those attendants have to pay for their own candy that people take on their way out. Second, one attendant said in an interview that he can understand if people don’t tip if they come into pee, but that if they poop, he expects at least a couple of bucks.

These are the kinds of things you find out that you never expect to when you’re writing a novel.

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

Something I want readers to know is that this book has a lot of humor in it. We as humans find humor in the most unexpected of places, and that it’s one of the things that reminds us we’re alive and surviving, often in the darkest of times. I love using humor in my writing, particularly in dramatic moments. It’s important to keep in mind here, there’s such a great variety of shadings with humor, ranging from the slapstick ha-ha funny of the Marx Brothers to the bitter, biting dark humor of something like Tadeusz Borowski’s collection of stories about the Holocaust titled This Way to the Gas Chambers, Ladies and Gentlemen.

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

Yes, as a young man, the main character of Ari becomes obsessed with food and one of his great moments of awakening occurs while dining at a gourmet establishment based on a real restaurant, The Golden Mushroom, which was a well-known, top-rated restaurant in the Detroit area when I was young.

I’m also a foodie, an avid baker of desserts, and have done some food writing in the past. Actually, a memoir essay I wrote about a piece of candy called Smarties for a special candy-themed issue of Tin House was very helpful to me in the writing of this book:  https://tinhouse.com/sweetness-mattered/

And here’s an original recipe of mine for a seven-layer cake, a traditional dessert served at functions in the Jewish community of Detroit, where part of the book is set:

*****

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.aaronhamburger.com;

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE:








Monday, May 20, 2019

TBR: The Book of Jeremiah by Julie Zuckerman


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 BOOK OF JEREMIAH tells the story of awkward but endearing Jeremiah Gerstler—son, father, husband, academic, Jew—who tries over the course of his life to be the best person he can, and who will inspire his readers to do the same. Jumping backwards and forwards in time to hone in on various periods in Gerstler's life, this novel-in-stories offers a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of some of life's most painful and private moments.


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

The story that appears last in the book — “MixMaster” — when Jeremiah is 82, is actually the first one I wrote. He’s crusty but loveable, exasperating and charming. I was immediately taken with Jeremiah’s character, and as soon as I finished this story, I knew wanted to write an entire book unraveling is life. Ironically, his daughter, Hannah, who is closest in age and generation to me, was the hardest to write, perhaps because of that closeness.

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

I thought I was done writing all the stories after about three years. I’d submit and submit and submit, occasionally getting published, occasionally getting nice feedback (a handwritten note on my rejection from The Atlantic! A “we found much to admire in your story” rejection from The New Yorker!!), but I ultimately realized that some of the stories needed more work. In some cases, I threw out the original story completely, keeping only the year and the setting from the original. From the first story until the last major revision took about five years. I didn’t try to get an agent; I went directly to small/independent presses. Thus began a new cycle of rejections, though many were complimentary. And then, in April 2018, I received an email from Press 53 that began, “Congratulations….” I had to read the email four or five times to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

I’m now writing these words two days after my local book launch. What a thrill and honor it was to celebrate with my close friends and family. I’m still floating.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Always keep honing your craft. Around the time I thought I was done with the writing, I met a writer and teacher whose first book was just coming out. I asked her what else I should be doing, and she gave me that advice. It didn’t matter that I don’t have an MFA and that I live abroad, I could seek out online classes, she said. Not only has my writing improved as a result of taking classes through One Story, Gotham, Catapult, Grub Street, and Kathy Fish, but I’ve met wonderful writer friends from all over the world.

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

Since I was writing backwards in time, it was some of the actions of the characters when they were younger that surprised me. When you first encounter Molly, Jeremiah’s wife, she’s 72, the rock of her family, a stable and supportive mother and wife. But as the book goes on, we see some new sides of her. In the first few stories I wrote, I hadn’t imagined Molly’s younger, wilder self.

How do you approach revision?

I’m in a few writing groups, and this feedback is invaluable in the revision process. On occasion I don’t agree with the comments, so I’ve had to learn to ignore it. But most of the time, my writing group friends are very good at distilling the weakest points in the story. Often these are things that I knew, deep down, are not quite right yet. Whenever there’s a confluence of their feedback and my gut feeling, I know I’ve got work to do.

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

The book is full of food references, as Molly, Jeremiah’s wife, is quite adept in the kitchen, both with cooking and baking. I have a recipe section on my website: https://www.juliezuckerman.com/fun-stuff

Here’s one for k’neidelach (matzah balls), featured in the first story. My family eats k’neidelach with chicken soup all year round, not only on Passover.

1 c. matzah meal
3 eggs
1 tsp chopped parsley
1/4 c. cold water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients, chill for a couple of hours, mold into balls and drop into boiling water/soup. Cover pot and cook on low for 30-45 minutes.

~~

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

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR SHELF: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/194120998X/

READ AN EXCERPT, “The Book of Jeremiah”: https://www.sixfold.org/FicSummer15/Zuckerman.html




Monday, May 13, 2019

TBR: Stay by Tanya Olson

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?

Stay is a book that considers what it costs to remain in an identity, belief, or geographic area, as well as what it costs to leave those things. The poems use American songs and stories to think about these costs on a national and personal level.

Which which poem/s gave you the most trouble, and why?

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong was the poem I probably put the most hours into; it’s different in structure and tone for me. I usually don’t do “assignment” poems or try to write a particular kind of poem, but for this poem I wanted to try to write a Someday I’ll Love. . . poem. I had heard both Ocean and Roger Reeves read their versions of this (in response to a Frank O’Hara line) and wanted to see what it would be like for someone other than a man to write one. I was really pleased that it ended up both reflecting that kind of poem while not adhering to previous versions. Then it had all those couplets, which seemed correct for the poem, but drove me crazy. Every time I changed 1 line, it would often mean I had to work on everything after. While I might make some reading adjustments to it, thank god it’s finally in a stable version in print.

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

When I was writing my first book, I had no idea I was writing a book. I was just writing a bunch of poems and then had to, years later, look back and try to figure out what they all had in common and how they held together. Stay was a million times easier. I knew I wanted to end up with a book and I knew it was all about staying or leaving in some way. While I still had to put together an order, the whole process felt much simpler.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Your poem should please you. Your poem doesn’t have to please other poets or your writing group or your teacher or your audience. It has to feel right/done/accurate to you and no one else.

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

After hearing Timothy Donnelly and Tim Seibles each (at different readings) read 1 long poem as a whole reading, I knew I wanted to try making a poem that sweeping and ambitious. While it didn’t quite end up to their works, I loved the way txt me im board ended up as the center poem, the poem you work your way to and away from. It became a poem I could organize the book around.

Who is your ideal reader?

I think a lot about who is going to hear/read these poems and what they will get from them. My ideal reader is unaffiliated with a university; they feel left out of or adjacent to power. They are surprised to hear/see themselves reflected in art but find the experience meaningful. They like to make things and clap at the end of poems because they know it is hard to make anything that works well. 

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

The Horseshoe makes an appearance in Bobby Bare. It’s one of those great American sandwiches you get at a local joint, and if you ever find yourself in the flat corn and soybean fields of central Illinois, I highly recommend one. The cheese sauce in this one looks a little high-faluting, but I like that someone in the comments recommends the best places to get one. It’s probably more of an eaten-out than a made-at-home thing.

~~

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR/BOOK: https://www.tanyaolson.com/

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR  SHELF: https://www.yesyesbooks.com/product-page/stay-by-tanya-olson

READ A POEM, “54 Prince”:







Monday, May 6, 2019

TBR: Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression by Teresa Wong

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?

Dear Scarlet is an intimate and honest look at my struggle with postpartum depression after the birth of my first child. Written as a letter to my daughter, my graphic memoir is equal parts heartbreaking and funny, capturing the ups and downs of life as a new mother.


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

I wrote this book as an honest telling of what I went through and didn’t think I was breaking any boundaries until other mothers told me that my book is much needed. There is extreme pressure on new moms to be perfect and to embrace motherhood as a wonderful, joyful experience—and if you don’t find it all that great, you feel ashamed and alone. I’m not sure if Dear Scarlet is courageous, but I tell the ugly truth about my postpartum experience, and I hope others who are struggling will feel encouraged by it.


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

So many lows, so many highs! I began the book in 2015, writing and illustrating it over nine months. I finished my second draft and began querying in the summer of 2016, eventually landing a U.S. agent a few months later. We went out on submission in mid-2017 and, by the fall, had been rejected by 20+ “Big Five” imprints. Most editors loved the material but didn’t see it breaking out in the market, either because of the topic or because of the genre. We got really close in one case, but in the end it all came down to the profit-and-loss statement.

At the beginning of 2018, my agent dropped me, so I made a list of indie publishers and began sending my manuscript out in batches. By the summer, one small press had expressed interest, but they were waiting for their editorial board to reconvene in the fall before making an offer. That same week I received an email from Brian Lam, the publisher at Arsenal Pulp Press, who asked if I had gotten his earlier email containing an offer (I hadn’t!!) and restating his interest in publishing Dear Scarlet. They wanted to fast-track the book because they had an opening for their Spring 2019 lineup. I took Arsenal Pulp’s offer to a Canadian literary agent, who agreed to represent me and took over negotiations.

What has struck me most about the past year was the number of people (total strangers) who gave me advice and offered help. I’m part of a large online writers group for women, and when I lost my agent, so many of them encouraged me to keep going. One woman even sent an email on my behalf to her ex-boyfriend, a well-established graphic novelist. He, in turn, introduced me to his own agent. Even though nothing came of it, I will never forget how kind and generous people were to me.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.” Anne Lamott wrote this in Bird by Bird, which is a book full of the best writing advice I’ve ever read.

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

I was surprised that I ended up illustrating it myself. I am a writer, not an artist, and I felt for sure that I’d need to collaborate with an illustrator to make the book. However, when I showed the first draft to friends and colleagues, they said that the simple drawings amplify the vulnerability of the story. They told me it would be a better story if I drew the thing myself. I’m not entirely happy with all of the drawings in the book (especially now that I’ve been practicing for a few years), but there are certain panels that I really do love.


Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal readers are people who know or want to know what it’s really like to be a new mother, how big of a change it is and how difficult it can be, even when you have a baby under ideal conditions (e.g., with access to health care and a supportive partner).


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

I write about traditional Chinese postpartum foods, but I’m sure nobody here wants my mother’s recipe for pork liver soup.

***

READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK: www.byteresawong.com/arsenalpulp.com
  





Monday, April 29, 2019

TBR: Midnight at the Organporium by Tara Campbell

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?

What do a homicidal houseplant, an enchanted office picnic, sentient fog, and the perfect piece of toast have in common? They’re all part of, a short story collection covering everything from white flight to marriage in the afterlife with a dose of twisted obsession, covert complicity, and peculiar empowerment. 

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

It’s hard to say which character or story I most enjoyed writing, because they all had their own challenges, and thus their own sort of gratification. But one character who always makes me smile is Harlan from “Death Sure Changes a Person,” the first story in the collection (link below). He’s just so honest and sweet, and always tries to think the best of his wife Lucille, even when she keeps coming back to visit him from the dead with problematic advice about the new woman he’s interested in.

“You, Commuter” was a bit of a challenge, because it has this disembodied communal narrator that I don’t usually write; a shifting, lurking “we” that envelops the protagonist and projects her anxieties back to her. It was a tricky balance between a narrator with enough physicality to be present in her surroundings, yet flexible enough to inhabit different perspectives—kind of like an existential Cheshire Cat.

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

This process was almost like a fable about the importance of patience in the publication process.

I sent the collection out to my first round of presses and then settled in to wait. Months went by, and I decided to start casting the net wider with another round of submissions. More months went by, and just as I was starting to despair, I got some interest from one of my second set of submissions. Once I looked at all the specifics, however, it just didn’t feel like the best fit for the collection, so I had to take the unexpected and surreal step of declining an offer. That’s when I really started to wonder what the heck I was doing with this book.

Then, in an e-mail from the heavens, one of my first-round publishers said yes! Now I’m with Aqueduct Press, on the same author page as Ursula K. Le Guin, N.K. Jemisin, Karen Joy Fowler, Nisi Shawl and so many other award-winning authors my head is spinning!

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

There’s a quote I particularly like from Carrie Fisher that isn’t about writing per se, but still makes a lot of sense for my practice: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

This basically applies to every aspect of my writing life, from teaching to submitting to networking to embarking on a new story when I have no idea where the hell it’s going. Whenever I start to freak out about something because I haven’t done it before, I just keep telling myself I’ll know how to do it by the time I’m done.

Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is someone who, like me, inhabits the liminal space between science fiction and standard—or “literary”—fiction. I usually call my work speculative fiction, because it does involve alternate versions of reality, but it’s not all about rockets and robots.

I’ve always read between genres, from Asimov to Nabokov, and enjoyed stories that spring from a sense of “what if.” I’m interested in how people would interact if we weren’t constrained by all of the physical and societal norms of the day—how would we really treat each other if we had the power to do X or Y? Sure, the science should be as solid as possible, but it’s secondary to the real human impact of whatever phenomenon the story is about. The kind of literary synthesis Margaret Atwood attains is my dream.

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

Breakfast a la “Aftermilk”:

·       Toast: set out the butter before you hit the plunger, and butter that sucker as soon as it pops up.

·       Cereal: stick with your granolas and your clusters.

·       Orange juice with pulp is an abomination.

That’s all I got.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.taracampbell.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE: www.organporium.com

READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, “Death Sure Changes a Person”:  http://litbreak.com/death-sure-changes-a-person/




Work-in-Progress

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