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/




Monday, April 22, 2019

TBR: A Constellation of Half-Lives by Seema Reza


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?

This project began as a series of second-person poems addressing an imagined (though not quite fictional) woman named Khadija, a mother living directly in the path of the Global War on Terror. There are letters to other American civilians, to my sons, to veterans, to my sisters and mother, to people I have hurt and to people who have hurt me. It’s about looking closely and searching what I’ve called “other” for my own reflection.

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

The poem I most enjoyed writing (which incidentally might also be the one that gave me the most trouble) was “Reckoning with Impermanence,” a not-quite-crown of sonnets. In 2016 I took a road trip up the coast of California with my then sixteen-year-old son, and was confronted with how tremendous experiences of beauty are also terribly sad. You want to enjoy them, but the whole time you know they are going to end and that gets in the way. But if you didn’t know they were going to end, you wouldn’t appreciate them. I’d been turning this over in my head, but when I took a Split This Rock poetry master class facilitated by poet Danez Smith, I found the space to grapple with this big question, to just ask and ask and ask it. It was terribly difficult to write, but it also helped me understand some things, to make a little more accepting of impermanence.

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

The collection was one of the winners of the Write Bloody Publishing 2017 manuscript competition, which went in stages—submit 5 poems, wait. Make it to the second round and submit 20 poems. I toiled on that twenty, turned off as much of my life as possible to just write and rewrite, then submitted the set and waited again. The Friday they were supposed to announce the winners I didn’t receive an email so I assumed I’d lost. I went to bed and woke several times with my heart literally hurting—I’d wanted it so badly, I’d worked so hard, I’d felt like the work was so strong. The next morning I dusted myself off and wrote a long reflective piece in my journal about how I got some good poems out of the process and that was the purpose of the entire exercise. I genuinely made peace with it. Then I got an email saying something to the effect of, “We’re sure you know by now that your manuscript was selected…” They’d announced through a video posted to social media, which I hadn’t watched because it was too sad that I hadn’t received an email. What an idiot! So that was the low and the high. Because by the time I realized the book was selected, I had genuinely come to terms with the idea that all that writing and revising I’d done had been for the sake of my own craft, so publication became this gift untethered from the effort.

How did you find the title of this book?

The title of the book is from a poem called “Quartering” and in that poem, the image is a reference to depleted uranium particles in a soldier’s body, the full line is “try not to see the glowing particles of depleted uranium/turning his body into a constellation of half-lives.” As the title it comes to refer to the constellation of lives the poems in the collection attempt to inhabit.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

I once heard Brendan Constantine, who is one of the most scholarly, gifted poetry teachers I’ve ever witnessed, say “A poem is best viewed through the lens of its last line.” My drafts are always a few lines past that point, and I return to that bit of advice in editing and cut back to the image I want the reader to look back at the piece through. It’s been such helpful, practical advice, and I pass it along every chance I get.

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

To seek surprise is good advice—I’ve found that if I’m traversing familiar ground in my writing, I’m probably not taking any risks or writing anything interesting. In this collection, which I thought was about the role of the civilian in war, and about my experience of motherhood. But I also discovered how much I needed to write about being a daughter, and about the taboo and dangerous experience of female solitude.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
Here’s a recipe! it’s actually from When the World Breaks Open, which is my first book. But I swear it’s so delicious. “Chicken Soup”: https://pitheadchapel.com/chicken-soup/

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR & BOOK: www.seemareza.com


READ TWO POEMS, “I Can’t Sleep” & “Muslim Community Center”: http://anmly.org/ap26/seema-reza/



Tuesday, April 16, 2019

TBR: Radiation King by Jason Gray

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?

Radiation King takes us to the beginning and the possible futures of the atomic world we created at the start of the twentieth century. In a time when the Cold War has heated back up, these poems engage a past filled with Civil Defense and radioactive quack cures and a future that could bring a radioactive wasteland or limitless energy. The poems explore the world from the smallest atom of hydrogen to the giant Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula and find that the only thing that will save us is love for one another.

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

The “Atoms” poems—I’d say I enjoyed those the most. I wrote them in in February 2014, one a day, as a part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project. I had not written much in the two years before, so the group as a whole brought me out of a slump, but writing each one, looking at the properties of individual atoms and then trying to shape a tiny poem that both called to those properties but then also went somewhere else—yes that was fun.

The “Color Is an Event” sequence was perhaps the hardest—it certainly took the longest to complete. I had the idea maybe a decade ago, and started working. Some came easy, but others took some hammering. I wanted them all to have different shapes, forms, etc. I tried to work into each poem where the pigments came from—I was working from a wonderful book, Color, by Victoria Finlay—but in some cases that was jettisoned as a quasi-narrative began to form, about a husband and wife and their children.

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

The high is that it is being published; there was a lot of rejection before that, and a long period between this book and my first book. I wondered if I’d ever publish another. My first book came and went with little attention; I didn’t write much after it, but then I began to write the poems for this book and another manuscript concurrently (All Hail Our Lord and Savior, Grizzly Bear is the other, as yet unpublished ms.). It was difficult to watch my cohort of poets publish their second and third and maybe even fourth books in the time it took for my second to get picked up. Of course, many others aren’t even as lucky as I have been. I am very excited to share the book with the world now that it’s published. I’ve been dreaming up and working on companion pieces to go along with the book for a couple years, including two short films I made (viewable here: http://www.radiation-king.com). I feel like I made a little world, one I’ve been living in a long time.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Write. Whatever you like, however you like, write.
Also: from John Berryman via W.S. Merwin: “if you have to be sure don’t write.”

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

I was surprised by what made the cut. I began several poems about various concepts in nuclear/quantum physics, things that seemed ready-made for poems, but many of them had to be abandoned. I’m fascinated by quantum entanglement, for instance, but my attempts to write about it were not good enough.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title Radiation King has a couple of roots: this is the name of the brand of TV Homer Simpson watches when he is growing up (seen in Season 6, Episode 10, “Grandpa vs. Sexual Inadequacy”). It was also used as a TV brand in the video game Fallout 3—whether or not the creators of the game knew of its previous use I don’t know. Neither of those things or TVs in general are referenced in the book—the phrase just took on a new life for me as I was writing the poems. I originally conceived of a narrative poem about the Radiation King, who was this imaginary figure in my head, a mythical figure that people in a distant future would say caused the nuclear war that had devastated the planet. Part-tyrannical leader, part-mad scientist, I imagined a future us telling stories about this person, conflating several factors into one person who could be blamed for the situation we found ourselves in. And though, in the end, no poem ever was written about the figure, I was always taken with the idea of writing poems from the future—warnings to the present about potential disasters.

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


There is also the Atomic Cocktail. I’m sorry to say that I have yet to try it.
Esquire’s recipe:
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 1/2 ounces brandy
1 teaspoon sherry
1 1/2 ounces Brut champagne
cocktail glass
“Stir the vodka, brandy, and sherry well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add 1 1/2 to 2 ounces cold brut champagne. Garnish with plastic three-eyed fish from Simpsons playset….”

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK & AUTHOR:

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE:

READ TWO POEMS, “Able Archers” and “U.S. Radium’s Finest Personnel Man to the New Recruits”: http://www.theamericanjournalofpoetry.com/v5-gray.html



Monday, April 8, 2019

TBR: Grievous by H. S. Cross

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?

Set in 1931 at St. Stephen’s Academy, a boys’ boarding school in Yorkshire, it’s about teacher John Grieves (nicknamed Grievous) and his student Gray Riding. Gray begins a secret correspondence with John’s 13-year-old goddaughter, Cordelia, while John is in love with her mother. The action—at the Academy and across England and the Continent—includes love, betrayal, illness, grief, Quakers, morphine, theater, and second chances.

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

I probably had the most fun with Guilford Audsley, a young actor who enters in the second half. He’s not one of the point-of-view characters, so I didn’t get direct access to his mind, but I enjoyed the effect that he had—with his infectious energy and ideas, his generous sense of play—on my rather knotted-up main characters. It was also fun to think up the four theater productions he helps create.

I think Gray Riding may have given me the most trouble when all is said and done, which is odd because he’s the character that I’ve known the longest and the one that in some ways is closest to me. He first slouched across the page when I was seventeen, and he was, then, that author-surrogate which exists in everyone’s early creations. By the time I got around to writing Grievous, Gray’s no-perspective emotional intensity had become grating and too often sounded melodramatic, sentimental, or simply tedious. He had to grow up—not age-wise, but he had to become independent from the adolescent feelings (mine) that had sparked him and find his own edge, all without losing the sensitivity and rawness that make him a bright, bookish, and difficult fourteen-year-old boy.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Get your protagonist into trouble and keep him there. To that I’d add, Let the writing get out of control and keep it that way.


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

The discovery for me was in how the events would unfold and be experienced, and in how the various points-of-view would mold the prose itself. There are eleven points-of-view in Grievous, and each character exerted his or her own control over the style. It was a constant surprise to watch these characters come to life, be independent from me and from my plans, and for them to think, speak, and behave stubbornly as themselves, refusing to fulfill the stereotypes from which they’d sprung.

How did you find the title of your book?

My original idea with these books about St. Stephen’s was that the titles would be the names of the main characters. So, the first book was called Wilberforce because its protagonist was Morgan Wilberforce. Grievous was harder to title because it was difficult to settle on a single main character (there are arguably two or three). John Grieves was the frontrunner, but everyone felt that Grieves was a real downer as a title. I had a working title, Age of Grace, which had the advantage of sounding attractive and hinting at the narrative sweep of the book. I was never comfortable with that title, though, and deep down I wanted the title to be a name. At the traditional editorial lunch, my editor said he had a title idea, but he was reluctant to tell me what it was because it seemed too eccentric. I made him say it and then laughed because calling the book after John’s ironic, semi-mocking nickname seemed so cheeky and, from a sales perspective, so perverse. We mulled it over for almost two months: the sales team preferred Age of Grace because it was more appealing and because they had already started populating catalogs with it and didn’t want to muddy the marketing; as the editing process came to a close, however, I lost my tolerance for that title. It was lofty, classic, pretty, and just so appropriate that I couldn’t take it; meantime, I was falling in love with how weird, unwise, funny, and right Grievous sounded. In the end, I kicked the good-girl title to the curb, and thanks to the support of my editor and of the President of FSG, Grievous it was, wisdom be damned.


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

Most of the food at the Academy is disgusting, but when they go out to the Cross Keys pub, they all order the steak and kidney pie. I don’t have a recipe—it’s probably a secret—but all the characters agree it’s great. They like the spotted dick for dessert.

*****

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.hscross.com

TO ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE:

Work-in-Progress

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