Monday, February 24, 2020

TBR: The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense by Art Taylor

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?

This collection gathers 16 of my stories from the 25 years (25 years?!) since my first mystery appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—though really you’d have to cut that quarter-century nearly in half to calculate my output, since it took about 12 years from my first appearance in EQMM (“Murder on the Orient Express” in 1995) to my second (“An Internal Complaint” in 2007). The title story is my most recent publication—in the January/February 2020 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine—and the rest of the collection includes short stories that have won honors including the Edgar Award, the Anthony Award, and several Agatha, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. I’ve been very fortunate with the attention readers have given my short fiction.

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

The opening story in the collection, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” is possibly the quickest I’ve ever written a story—and oddly, possibly the one that people talk most about. Roxane Gay championed the story, which is structured as a recipe, and I’ve heard it’s been taught in creative writing workshops. I came up with the idea while my mind wandered during a Chicago concert my wife, Tara Laskowski, dragged me to. The next morning, I woke up, wrote the first draft quickly, showed it to Tara, revised it, submitted it before noon, and had an acceptance from PANK early afternoon.

That’s an anomaly for me—to say the least.

More like my pace: I wrote the first draft of “The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74” in the early 1990s, and it finally appeared in print more than 25 years later—in the most recent issue of AHMM, as I said above. The first draft was 3,500 words, the final nearly 12,000, and in between it became one strand of a failed novel, reemerged as a novella of about 18,000 words, and… well, there were a lot of years spent putting that one aside, coming back to it, expanding, condensing, tinkering, tinkering, tinkering.

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

I’ve been very fortunate in this regard too. My publisher, Crippen & Landru, specializes in high quality volumes of short mystery fiction—both by classic authors and by contemporary voices. I’ve long admired the publishers, long dreamed of having my own work in their series; and I was honored when I heard that they’d been following my own career and thinking the same thing. Everything just came together.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It may be clich├ęd at this point, but Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” continues to resonate. I’m an extremely slow writer, but somehow, if you keep at it, you can get where you’re going.

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

Maybe because I’m a slow writer, partial drafts have sometimes languished for a long stretches before I’ve figured out where a story is going. I submitted the first half of “A Voice from the Past” to some workshop readers—it’s a story which revisits the legacy of hazing at a boys boarding school—and they responded with, “This is great!” and “What’s going to happen next?” And I had to tell them that I really didn’t know—didn’t know to the point that I finally put the draft aside. For nearly five years. When I came back and reread it, suddenly I saw the possibilities lurking in the small details I wasn’t entirely aware I’d folded in—what one character might have been doing, the extremes another character might go to, and how those extremes were rooted in the past. I often tell my writing students that they have to listen to their own work—to what their unconscious might be doing—to figure out what a story is really about, what to do with it. Often I think the best stories come out that way.

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

I want to give a shout-out to Luke Buchanan, a North Carolina artist who created an original work in response to the title story—the painting now on the cover of the collection. Luke incorporated several specific elements of “The Boy Detective” into his collage here, and the whole image captures so much that mix of nostalgia and melancholy and uneasiness that I associate with the story myself—and with much of my own work generally.

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

I didn’t realize it until I read through the collection at proof stage, but many of my stories feature cocktails! …and they’re occasionally pertinent to the plot, as with the gimlet in “The Odds Are Against Us.” Here’s that recipe:

Gimlet (borrowed from The PDT Cocktail Book)

2 oz. Plymouth gin (Art’s note: Plymouth makes a considerable difference here)
.75 oz. lime cordial (see below)
.75 oz. lime juice

Shake vigorously with ice.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Lime Cordial  (downsized proportionally from the PDT recipe to avoid straining your zesting hand)

4 limes
8 oz. simple syrup

Zest limes, and combine zest with simple syrup. 

After 10 minutes, fine strain into a container and chill. 

Bonus recipe: You can actually make the recipe for coq au vin in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (linked below), but please take care to leave out the arsenic. 

[Editor’s note: I love The PDT Cocktail Book and we’ve made these gimlets many, many times!]

*****


READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.arttaylorwriter.com

READ MORE ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER: www.crippenlandru.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: www.crippenlandru.com

READ A STORY, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”:  https://pankmagazine.com/piece/mastering-the-art-of-french-cooking/



Tuesday, February 18, 2020

TBR: The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers


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?

Both lyric and speculative, this poetry book imagines a human mission to Mars, the consequence of climate change and environmental ruin. The landscape of Mars is a canvas on which the trespasses of the American Frontier are rehearsed and remade. The collection is mostly concerned with the danger of the colonial mindset, as well as how environmental destruction and gendered violence are linked.

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

Poems that I found especially pleasurable to write include the sonnet crowns: “Deep Space Crown,” and “Backflash: Seven Catastrophes,” and “Fugue for Wind and Pipes.” I love the incantatory quality of a sonnet crown, how the last line of the previous sonnet becomes the first of the next, the calculation and geometry involved of making complete thoughts legible inside the form. 

I also had so much fun with the less “traditional” forms in the collection, such as the poems that use question-and-answer templates: “Red Planet Application,” and “Lost Exit Interview.”  Mixing registers of language—bureaucratic jargon and the diction from standardized tests with the elusive moves of lyric poetry—that was a great pleasure to me, very playful and freeing.

I don’t remember any poems being more troublesome than others, but putting together a book structure that made sense was maddening.  The original manuscript had three sections with the “Backflash” poems—those poems that give glimpses of the ruined earth, the consequences of climate change—all in their own section, midway through the book. In the end, I scattered those poems throughout the book instead, thinking of them as brief associative flashbacks, glimpses that occur fleetingly and with warning, more the way memory actually works. With the new structure, I had to shorten the book to make the temporal balance work, cutting a couple of poems I still kind of miss.

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

The process for this book was difficult, sadly.  The manuscript started finalizing or placing in contests as soon as I begin to send it out—a good sign!—but took forever to land.  There was so much interest from many presses, but it took a very long time to get a commitment: this is a big problem with the poetry contest model.

Then, I finally got the book under contract, but I had a bad experience with that publisher; I ended up pulling the book from them after some unethical behavior on their part. Finally, my manuscript ended up in the hands of Lisa Ampleman and Shara Lessley, who went wild for it. I’m so glad I ended up in their hands; working with Acre Books (the micropress at The Cincinnati Review) has been terrific so far.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“Don’t write what you know; Write towards what you don’t know.” Even when you are using content or forms that you’re familiar with, I think pushing your focus towards what is mysterious or strange—about language, about people, about an event or experience—is the most important thing you can do. In this book, I really exaggerated this approach by creating a whole world and set of circumstances that were wholly imaginary.

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

Honestly, I can’t believe I got away with a lyric poetry collection that’s mostly set on Mars, and that some people are taking it seriously. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

How did you find the title of your book?

The title of the book comes from a fairly unremarkable two lines in the last sonnet sequence, “Wind for Fugue and Pipes.”  I like it for its lyric strangeness—how can you tear the tilt from the seasons, exactly?—but also for the ways in which it hints at climate change, the possibility of a planet thrown off-kilter, violently and irrevocably.

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

I wish! Food is very difficult and rationed on Mars.  Any recipes are probably vegetarian, too, since animals can’t really survive there.

I think the only drink mentioned in the book would be whiskey in the first poem: alluding to the genre of the Western, those frontier cowboys are always getting drunk. And one of the poem sequences, “Flashback: Seven Catastrophes,” taking place in Indonesia, mentions eating fried rice and coffee, as well as American pizza topped with hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Sorry, I don’t have a recipe for that! Too bad.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK:

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE:

READ SOME POEMS FROM THIS BOOK:







Monday, February 3, 2020

TBR: The Cactus League by Emily Nemens

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?

Jason Goodyear, star outfielder of the Los Angeles Lions, shows up in Arizona for baseball spring training and his life go sideways. The book follows his descent through the season but also follows the ripples and ramifications of his misdeeds across the entire team and its fanbase. It’s baseball book that’s really about community, vulnerability, and the possibility of starting over each spring.

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

I had a huge cast of characters—a whole expanded roster, all their friends and girlfriends and coaches. That scale and scope came pretty easily—I guess I have a slightly encyclopedic tendency. Cutting that list down was painful! There’s a whole b-string of Lions infielders resting in a drawer.

When I realized that Jason was going to be the backbone—he was already in every story, but his momentum and pull grew with each revision—I had to laser in on this very shy guy. He’s supremely private, an incredibly regimented athlete and reticent colleague. I wanted to preserve that opacity, but I also wanted to figure out where he’d show his cracks and what they would look like.

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

Being on submission is the pits. I was nervous and cranky and just certain no one wanted to publish me. But I remember talking on the phone to Emily Bell, my editor at FSG, about the book and she absolutely understood what I was doing—understood it and loved it and had ideas for how it could be better. I hung up with her and thought, “That went well?” It felt like an impossibly good first date. A week later she offered a preempt on the book.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
Revise. Drafting and the intuition of new ideas is so important, but so much of the work of writing comes when you take that idea, pick it apart, polish it, discard it, revisit it, rewrite it, reorient it: I could keep going with the verbs that describe how important revision is to my process, but you get the idea.

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

George Saunders, in his TPR [The Paris Review] Art of Fiction interview, talks about intuition steering the writing process. “The biggest thing I’ve learned about writing is that we tend to underestimate and marginalize the irrational, intuitive aspects of it.” I was working hard on this book—breaking rocks, revising line by line, structuring and restructuring for years—but I was surprised that some of my best, some of the biggest, decisions were intuitive ones. Like my Greek chorus began as a traditional one: a group of nameless observers, recounting the events of the past and foreshadowing the future. But then I realized the contemporary equivalent—a disembodied voice, speaking for a community, recounting the past, predicting next steps--that’s the marginalized journalist. That knocked the wind out of me.


How did you find the title of your book?

The Cactus League is the name of the major league baseball spring training league out in Arizona (the Florida league is the Grapefruit League). For people who know from baseball, the Cactus League is a quick-and-easy marker that this book is about spring training baseball. For the rest of us, I like the idea of a group of cactus, in cahoots. Cactus are prickly and desiccated and probably used to being on their own in the desert, but this notion of the “league” suggests some kind of fellowship. On some level, that describes my book. 

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

There is a famous steakhouse in the book, Don and Charlie’s. It’s absolutely plastered with sports memorabilia, and they do a good prime rib, but the recipe isn’t so too complicated: don’t overcook it and add some drawn butter. Another character, Sara, is acting as something of a glorified a home health aide, and she’s learning how to cook for her person while on the job. She’s miserable at it—everything is either served raw or burnt to a crisp--but she’s trying!

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: http://emilynemens.com/

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374117948



Work-in-Progress

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