Monday, August 19, 2019

TBR: The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott

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 World Doesn't Require You is a fairly fractured pass through the fictional town of Cross River, MD, which was founded in in 1807 after the nation's sole successful slave revolt. It's eleven stories and novella that features the musical son of a God, “doorbell ditchers,”, mobsters in love, human sacrifices, warring academics, a cow who chews human faces, underground railroad reenactors, and a few other things. 

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

The answer to this question is the same story: “Rolling in my Six-Fo’—Daa Daa Daa—With all my Niggas Saying: Swing Down Sweet Chariot Stop And Let Me Ride. Hell Yeah.” I couldn’t stop laughing when I wrote that story. I had a lot of fun with absurdity and taboo imagery. It gave me trouble precisely because I was playing with taboo racial imagery. I had to keep making sure that, though the imagery was often shocking, that I didn’t tip into writing a story that was nothing more than shock value. I kept cutting until that was the case, but I had to keep asking myself if I was reinforcing bad ideas. If I had enough depth to redeem the story. I think I pulled it off, but in a thousand different ways—ethically, morally, craft-wise—it wasn’t easy.

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

Some of these stories were difficult to get right and many were dead in the water many times over. I had to grow in my skills, but also emotionally and in maturity to bring many of these stories to life.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It’s worth it to try to live by Zadie Smith’s wonderful advice: “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” I use the word “try” because it is a damn hard thing to do.  

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

I always thought that one of my characters, Kin Samson, would be the focal point of my writing, but every time he takes the stage, he minimizes himself. He is in this book and he was in my debut, Insurrections, but his role in both books is much smaller than imagined. I finally figured out that my focal point, my recurring character, is Cross River itself. What returns most often is the locations and the culture of the town. This understanding has changed how I approach my fictional homeland in everything I am writing now.

How do you approach revision?

Many of these stories are very old and were sitting just because I couldn’t get them over the hump. Even if I wasn’t actively working on them, they were turning in my mind. For some pieces it might be a matter of letting them go for five, ten years, checking in on them every so often until it’s time for them to come alive.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?) [Editor’s note: This one’s a doozy!]

Just wolf. It’s a delicacy in Cross River, MD.


4 whole onions, husks and all.

7 ½ cloves garlic, again, husks and all.

3 green peppers, please do not substitute.

½ lb. shrimp with their shells intact.

1 cup lemon juice.

3 tablespoons sea salt.

3 tablespoons freshly ground cracked pepper.

2 tablespoons nutmeg.

A dollop, just a dollop, of ketchup.

3 ½ tablespoons cinnamon.

½ tablespoon Italian seasoning.

8 ½ dashes bitters, Mad Chef Jimmy Capstone brand. (This is important. A fool, a family member of some closeness, once attempted to substitute Angostura or another brand and it was obvious to me. I never ate from or spoke with this person again. Perhaps I may bring her this dish, prepared correctly, to her deathbed when the time comes. But without Capstone brand, you have not really prepared, Man’s Best Friend, properly.)

18 pineapple rings.

Cherries, makes no difference how many.

1 bottle low-end fortified wine, preferably Ripple, Cisco or Crazy Neegs (please do not confuse this with Crazy Ninja, which is a malt liquor and not a wine. While other wolf dishes call for Crazy Ninja, this one would be ruined by the thick, bitter drag of malt liquor.)

1 wild dog—go ahead and call it a wolf if you must do so to assuage your guilty heart—hair and eyes properly removed. (Some prefer to remove the head altogether. The West Indians often save the face as well as the paws and use them to prepare a tasty Wolf Souse—see recipe on page ____.)

The essence of seasoning is found in touch. It is not enough to spread spices onto meat—that is the way of the amateur. One must massage the dead animal as if it is being loved. As if it is being soothed. Think about this poor beast’s last moments: grazing perhaps. Perhaps sipping from the Cross River. Perhaps running about. Maybe hunting. Whatever it was doing, it did not expect to be killed by gunshot. Or perhaps by a knife slitting the throat. If it caught wind of you, wolfer, then fear, anxiety and adrenaline shot through that animal in beams like lightning. It probably tried to desperately avoid its final moments. You’ve felt that fear, right? Passing through you in a sort of wave. We often induce it in ourselves because our civilized lives are so tame and staid. We go to scary movies, ride roller coasters. Some of us seek adventure on the streets or go off to wars and revolutions. Some live in warzones and have no need to re-create that feeling, as it is ever present. They seek to escape it, but can’t. Ask an Iraqi who lived in Baghdad in 2002. Or go to the Southside of Cross River on a night when minor kingpins feel the need to defend the fiefdom of their tiny half blocks. Every living thing has felt the tingle of that pang shooting from the pit of the gut to every point in the body. It turns out that feeling has a taste and that taste in the dog you are about to consume is so, so delicious.

            But to properly taste it in the dead beast, one needs to take the seasonings: the spices, the powders, the vegetables, the liquids—everything—and knead it into the dead wolf’s flesh. It matters not what order you do things or if you do it at high altitude or low altitude or while standing on your head, just do it. Pretend as if you are easing this beast’s suffering. Do whatever you need to do to get through this task. There is nothing more important. Leave it. Let it marinate. I don’t care. Sing to it. Pray over it. Hold it up on an altar next to the Buddha. Shit, smoke buddha, blow marijuana smoke rings into the dead wolf’s unmoving face if you like. I do not care what you do. I only care that you give this deceased animal the proper love. That it’s thoroughly cleaned and skinned and massaged. Or don’t skin it. The fatty wolf skin can be quite tasty when properly prepared.

            Bake at 375 for several hours or until, when pierced with a fork, the juices run clear as the Cross River at noon on a summer day. Or eat this dog cold and raw in the manner of our ex-slave ancestors, faces painted with skulls, sitting on tree branches in the Wildlands holding guns, waiting for enemies to attempt to re-enslave them long after the danger had passed.

            Why didn’t anyone tell them to relax? To live their lives. To go fall in love. Have sex. Produce children. Raise them with the proper love and care. Instead they shot dogs and ate them bloody and raw, sharing their favorite pieces with each other—the livers for sober thought, the hearts for courage, the brains for wisdom. And this is fine as long as one never forgets the purpose and essence of touch.




READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, "David Sherman, the Last Son of God":

Monday, August 5, 2019

TBR: First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers

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?

First Cosmic Velocity creates an alternate history of the Soviet space program in which the first cosmonauts are successfully launched into space but are unable to return to Earth. To hide the fact that the cosmonauts die in orbit, the Chief Designer recruits twins, keeping one on Earth to pretend to be their deceased sibling. The novel follows two of the earth-bound twins, Leonid and Nadya, as they grapple with their doubts and regrets over what this ruse has cost them.

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

I love writing characters who are least affected by emotion. I know this is contrary to what you’re supposed to do, but my taste in fiction has always been off-kilter. So in the novel, I loved writing the enigmatic government agent Ignatius. She’s always in control of the situation and always possesses knowledge greater than everyone around her. When she has a moment of empathy, however, I think it’s that much more striking. Ignatius is a major but not a main character, and in general I like to write side characters. I love when someone outside the main arcs of the story offers wisdom or revelation. They’re observers, able to view the happenings from an interesting critical distance.

None of the characters gave me too much trouble, but Nadya was the one I revisited most often. She’s been made detached and strange by the circumstances of her life, but I didn’t want to fall into any of the tropes associated with her archetype. Despite her detachment, she drives the most important action toward the end of the novel. I wanted to make sure that from very early on she had the agency and the strength of personality to do that.

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

It took me two novel manuscripts and four years to find my wondrous agent Annie Bomke, and then about another year for her to find my equally wondrous editor Sara Minnich. By the time the novel is published in August, it will have been “in progress” for over five years. I know that’s not necessarily long in terms of book publication, but it’s evidence that patience is perhaps the most important virtue a writer can have. I worry how many outstanding writers just didn’t stick with it because they couldn’t push through the slog of years. Be resilient, y’all!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

All writing advice is suggestion. Every rule can and should be broken, on occasion. I want to read writing that strives to discover what words are capable of doing. There will be no discoveries and no surprises in writing that strictly sticks to the so-called rules. Yes, writing advice is great! But advice never applies to all people in all situations. The rules are simply what’s worked for previous writers. Writers in the future will draw from tricks and techniques that haven’t even been articulated yet.

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

I’m usually pretty clueless when I start a writing project, so surprise is my natural state. But some surprises are better than others. In First Cosmic Velocity, several parallel structures emerged that I’d not planned. There’s the main storyline, which accounts for probably 90% of the novel. That storyline alone could have been the book. But it’s the other elements that I think pushed the narrative into more interesting territory. There’s a series of flashbacks to a main character’s childhood. Within that flashback, there’s a folktale told by the character’s grandmother. There’s a recurring communication with one of the cosmonauts in orbit. All these elements interact with each other and reflect off each other and create an aggregate meaning greater than any single storyline.

How do you approach revision?

George Saunders had a great observation that revision allows his writing to be better, smarter, and wiser than he is. I love that. My brain has a limit to the depth of work it can produce on a first pass. Through revision, though, it has a chance to reprocess information, make new connections, and explore fresh ideas it can only consider in relation to the ideas already on the page. This is the act of discovery again. So early rounds of revision aren’t just polishing language and tweaking structure. I want to return to the material and allow myself to discover the implications I’d missed, the seeds of ideas I didn’t allow to sprout. I’ll always be a doofus to some degree, but my work can be better than that. Revision is where your own writing can teach you things you didn’t already know.

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

There’s a fair amount of vodka drunk in my novel, and I think that’s a good addition to any book club. As far as food, I did include one meal, based on a menu my ex-girlfriend got from a Russian acquaintance. I’ve never eaten anything from the menu and am intimidated by Russian food in general, so I don’t know if I can endorse it. My research indicated that the Russianness of a meal is directly proportionate to the amount of dill used in its preparation.




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