Tuesday, November 12, 2019

TBR: Melanie’s Song by Joanna Biggar

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

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

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

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

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

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

                                              INFAMOUS STUFFING MIX

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

****






  







Monday, November 4, 2019

TBR: Jesus in the Trailer by Andrew K. Clark

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice? 

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

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

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

How did you find the title of your book?

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

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

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

***

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


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



Monday, October 28, 2019

TBR: Holding On to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

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

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

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

How did you find the title of your book?

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


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

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

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.ecshelburne.com


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


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


Monday, October 21, 2019

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Keep moving the thematic furniture around. Revision is possibility!


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

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

How did you find the title of your book?

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

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

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

*****


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

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







Monday, October 14, 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite piece of writing advice?

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

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

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

How do you approach revision?

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

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

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


Rhonda’s Sweet & Corny Cornbread

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

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


****

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

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

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





Monday, October 7, 2019

TBR: Pigs by Johanna Stoberock

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lows? I’ll be selective.

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

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

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

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

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

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

How did you find the title of your book?

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

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

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


*****

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.johannastoberock.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK:


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

TBR: One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski

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?

Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach, a wealthy beach town, during the off-season, which seems like the perfect chance to regroup and start fresh after a messy divorce. But when she becomes drawn into the story of a girl who disappeared from town thirty years before, she begins to realize that Opal Beach isn’t as idyllic as it seems.

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

I have two points of view in my book--Maureen and Allison. Maureen, who is a teenager in the 1980s, was definitely the most fun to write. I enjoyed getting in her head, and I also enjoyed writing about the nostalgia of the 1980s. (Hello, lace and Madonna and legwarmers and Lee Press-On nails!) Allison was harder because she wasn’t as brazen of a person, so her personality was harder for me to tease out. Once I started to understand her fascination with the weather, though, and where that interest stemmed from, I started to “get” her more, which made her easier to write.

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

The book’s path to publication was pretty straightforward, actually. I had no real pitfalls in writing the draft, finding an agent, and selling the book. That’s still kind of a shocking surprise to me. But the worst thing that’s ever happened to me happened right in the middle of this process--my mother died. She died three weeks before I got an offer on my book, actually, and so I never got to tell her that news. I’m saddened every day that she’s not here to share in the news and wild ride of this book because she would’ve loved every minute of it.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Keep pushing through the draft, even if it’s thin. You can fix thin, but you can’t fix nothing.

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

About halfway through the draft, I realized that who I thought was the killer was not actually the killer.

How did you find the title of your book?

I’ve had two story collections published before this book, and I’ve never been challenged before about the title. The working title for this book was The Off Season, and I really really loved that title. But the sales team at Graydon House didn’t think it really fit with the style and mood of other domestic suspense titles out there, so we had to change it.

I came up with literally like 70 other possible titles for this book. Some were TERRIBLE, and some I also really liked. We whittled it down to about seven that I didn’t hate, and my editor presented those to her team. They chose One Night Gone as their favorite, and so here we are.

After stomping around crankily for a few weeks and mourning the loss of my original title, I recognize that they were right. But it taught me not to become too wedded to, well, really anything in your manuscript. For my next book, my working title is simply “magic,” and I’m not going to get too excited about any title possibility that goes running through my head until I see it on a cover design, should I be so fortunate!

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

A coffee shop features pretty prominently in the book, and Allison drinks her mochas with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top. I have yet to try this, so I have no idea if it’s any good or not, but she seems to really like it.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR:  www.taralaskowski.com

READ MORE ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER: https://www.graydonhousebooks.com/



Tuesday, September 24, 2019

TBR: I’m From Nowhere by Lindsay Lerman

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?

A woman comes to terms with the conditions of her existence. Her husband has just died--everything has started to come apart in her--human extinction is imminent, the world is burning down, etc. She tries to figure out if she can carry on, how she can carry on. It’s a small book, gentle but also sharp. I think of it as a pocketknife.

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

I think I refused certain conventions. In some ways it’s a stark, sparse book. There is little backstory, little dialogue or description. It has an honesty and intensity that might ask a lot of readers. I think it gives voice to complicated, sometimes conflicting desires. And I think it represents the collapse of the natural world in an unsettling way. The climate is not dramatized in the book--I was careful to make sure it doesn’t feel like a major crisis at every moment in the book. I wanted it to feel the way it does now, and for that fact itself to be unsettling. The collapse of the world is accepted, sometimes with a shrug (because what else can we really do?), and people struggle to keep living their lives, adjusting and adapting as the food runs out, as the summers become unbearable.

The courage to write this book came from feeling like I had no other option. I wasn’t able to articulate it at first, but at some point it become clear that my choices were: write this book (over the course of 8 years) and work through the issues the book takes on, or let your soul wither and die.

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

I knew this book was not exactly bestseller material, and I had a sense that it might be a good fit for the indie world, but I knew nothing about publishing in general. My only previous publications were academic ones, and I didn’t know many published (non-academic) writers, so I didn’t have any points of entry or anyone I could ask for advice. I started looking for an agent because most information I could find said that getting an agent is step one. I tried for a couple years, and I got some genuinely helpful feedback from some commercially successful agents who said (often in coded language): Look, you just aren’t the writer we’re willing to take a chance on right now. Some were direct enough to say that most publishing houses will only take on a couple “intellectual women” each year, so my chances of being picked up by them were too slim, especially because I’m totally unknown.

Once I started looking carefully at as much of the indie world as I could, my mind was blown. It’s just packed with daring, creative writers who break all the rules in interesting ways and for good reason. I knew I would eventually find my place with an indie publisher. Once I found CLASH, everything changed.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

My former adviser once said to me, when I was really struggling to finish my dissertation: You’re a good steady driver, Lindsay, you just need to not let go of the wheel. It was life advice masquerading as writing advice, though I’m sure she wasn’t trying to give me life advice. Some version of that is what I typically need to hear (or tell myself) to keep going. Keep steering this thing, accept that steering it is your responsibility--that there is no one else to take the wheel, that if you let go of the wheel, this thing you want to happen simply will not happen.

The other piece of writing advice I tend to keep in mind a lot is to be wild and ferocious in imagination but quiet and disciplined in practice.

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

What surprised me most is how much the writing of it would inform my life and allow me to re-shape my life. I don’t mean that I became the characters or anything like that. I mean that I saw that when you start writing in forms you don’t recognize, you can also start living in forms you don’t recognize. Creating a world on the page allowed me to see the extent to which we are all creations that can be made and re-made.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title and a couple scenes were the first things I thought of when I began the book, back in 2010. I was living in Istanbul, Turkey at the time, and I was thinking a lot about what it means to have a home, a place. When we examine what has made us--customs, traditions, habits, dreams, compulsions--it’s very difficult to say where any of us is from. It just felt right. I assumed it would be the working title and that I’d eventually change it, but it stuck.

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

Haha, I am food-obsessed--this is the kind of question I dream of. The book is very much about hunger, having a bigger hunger than one is supposed to. But there’s very little food in the book. One scene features a hamburger and fries. I had so much fun writing that scene, writing the burger as this thing that represents so much--so many resources in one obscenely decadent but really commonplace meal. When I want a burger, though, I don’t try to make it at home. I can’t get it right, so I leave it to the pros.

*****

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








Monday, September 16, 2019

TBR: Once Removed by Colette Sartor

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 women in the linked short story collection Once Removed carry the burdens imposed in the name of intimacy—the secrets kept, the lies told, the disputes initiated—as well as the joy that can still manage to triumph. Some of these women possess the fierce natures and long, vengeful memories of expert grudge holders. Others avoid conflict at every turn, or so they tell themselves. For all of them, grief lies at the core of love.

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

The story I most enjoyed writing was “Malocchio.” My work usually includes bits and pieces of family lore, but this one contains the most. “Malocchio” is about my favorite recurring character, Rose, who’s based on my paternal grandmother. In it, Rose tells a story about starting kindergarten in the 1940s from a reflective first person POV, an unusual narrative perspective for me. I set the story in the city triplex where my great grandmother ran a dairy farm and raised my grandmother and where my grandmother later ran a sweatshop and raised my father and uncle. It was pure joy to imagine my brilliant, vengeful, loyal grandmother as a child. In fact, I loved writing Rose so much that she’s a main character in my novel-in-progress, Piecework, which is based on a murder my grandmother helped cover up in the ‘70s.

The story that gave me the most trouble was “Jump.” “Jump” involves estranged adult siblings, but the inspirational seed was a story my mom used to tell about how she and her brothers made a game out of jumping off the garage roof. I knew that scene would be more powerful told in the present rather than as a flashback or in backstory. I also knew that writing that scene in present day meant it would need to open the story, which in turn would require a decades-long jump in time from that first scene to the next one. Given how risky such a jump might be to pull off, I decided to really take some risks and play around with structure, which somehow led me to intersperse the scenes with text messages, which led to a draft so overly complicated that the story took me years to complete.

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

Publication was an extremely long road for this collection. I started writing short stories after I finished my MFA to give myself a break from writing a novel that will forevermore live only on my hard drive. I knew I needed to learn how to tell a better story, and short stories were faster to finish and easier to analyze than novels. So I started writing my own short stories and storymapped published ones, by which I mean I highlighted the different structural elements of my favorite short stories (e.g., all the dialogue in pink, all the present-day actions/gestures in blue, all the expositional backstory in green, etc.) to figure out how the stories were put together and why their structures worked.

Before I knew it, I was obsessed with short stories. That’s all I worked on for years. The problem was, I wrote about whatever came to mind without thinking about how my stories might fit together in a book. So when I started trying to pull together a collection, I realized that my stories weren’t sufficiently linked to feel compelling as a whole. Instead of finding a way to make them more cohesive, I just put my strongest stories first and last, buried the weaker ones in the middle, slapped on a title, and submitted the “collection” to contests. That approach resulted in a few nibbles but mostly generic rejections.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I forced myself to do the hard work of figuring out the connective tissue between my stories—not just themes, but also characters, settings, histories, timelines. I kept refining those connections, finished a few more stories, and worked with editor Matthew Limpede to ensure the collection felt whole. Then I forced myself to submit it to the Flannery O’Connor Award contest—one of the ones that had nibbled but rejected my previous efforts. A few months later, I got a text/ phone call from Lee K. Abbott to say my collection had won.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Show don’t tell is bullshit.

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

That I finished it. I’m only partially joking. I almost abandoned this book many, many times. I’m forever grateful to Matthew Limpede for encouraging me to finish it and to Lee K. Abbott for choosing it for publication.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title came from one of the collection’s stories, about a woman trying to find her place—if any—in her new boyfriend’s fractured family. That story and its title best embodied all my characters’ struggles to shoulder the responsibilities of family and intimacy without abandoning their own identities and desires.

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

Italian food, most definitely. Your question inspired this post about my obsession with food, which includes my mom’s sauce recipe: https://colettesartor.com/once-removed-my-food-obsession/

****

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

READ MORE ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER: https://ugapress.org/

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780820355696

READ A SHORT STORY, “Bandit” (in a slightly different form): http://www.reduxlitjournal.com/2014/12/150-bandit-by-colette-sartor.html



Work-in-Progress

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