Tuesday, November 19, 2019

TBR: All My People Are Elegies by Sean Thomas Dougherty


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?

After a furious series of rejections from dozens of literary magazines, I spontaneously decided to write back to them.  I improvised in real time epistolary public responses on Facebook over a six-month period that began Dear Editor. But this book is less about the literary arts than it is about how we use language to separate or join us, it invites the reader in to participate in my life and my family, in my work as a caregiver, about alcoholism, working class bars, neighborhoods, gun violence, and the world of people struggling to live in the cities and towns along Lake Erie and then some. 


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

Honestly this was my favorite book I ever wrote because the writing itself was a kind of performance in real time witnessed by a live audience over months.  I drafted each of these in the little Facebook box.   Has anyone written a book that way?  I mean Patricia Lockwood wrote her poems on Twitter.  Someone must have written a book on Facebook.  As a former performance poet, I loved this sort of anticipatory live audience. Once I started the project, my friends on Facebook urged me on.  They were incredible.  People also started to participate by posting their own rejections and tagging me.  The project created a sort of community of failure where we all shared and by doing so kept writing and going forward.  Social media can be so negative and back-biting, but for someone like me who lives far from any big literary center, it is a way to participate and make positive communities.  The book crisscrosses various prose genres of the essay, letter, and prose poem, sometimes in the same piece. 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Cheryl Strayed: “Write like a motherfucker.”

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

Honestly, that anybody thought these pieces were anything at first.  I was just performing.  I was clowning.  But often in writing, when we are wearing masks or engaging in a kind of maquillage, it gives us the distance and temperament and then permission to open and dive into our deepest wounds.  For me the Dear Editor, the epistolary letter quality of responding to editors real and imagined, created in me a tone part priestly confessional, part therapy, part Al-Anon group meeting.  To speak to and for and back to this authority figure took me places I never thought I would write or imagine, particularly the pieces about my own family or about the murder of my friend young Jose Rosario.

How did you find the title of your book?

It may have been Al Maginnes, it was someone on Facebook—more evidence of the collaborative nature of this project, who pointed out the line to me in one of the pieces one night as a good title .  The title I think speaks to so many of us who are working folks, who deal with issues of health and aging.  Eventually you reach a point later in life where the elegies outnumber the odes.   Where your dead friends outnumber your living ones.

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

I want them to know they aren’t alone as writers, as people.  We are all out there struggling everyday to live decent lives of hope and honor, we fail everyday together.  And that is something, something to hold on to, and lean on each other, as citizens, as artists, as people.  My readers are my people. 

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

Pierogi are the preferred food.  This book deals a lot with alcoholism.  Ironically a good bourbon or Vodka is probably best to appreciate it.  Pour a little out for our brothers and sisters gone before you read it.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.seanthomasdoughertypoet.com


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://books.nyq.org/title/all-my-people-are-elegies

READ AN EXCERPT:






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



Work-in-Progress

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