Monday, May 11, 2020

TBR: House of the Ancients and Other Stories by Clifford Garstang

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?

Nobody’s perfect, but some of us—mostly men, it seems—are blinded by hubris and baser urges. Judgment is impeded. Mistakes are made. The stories in this collection, many of them set outside the U.S., explore some of the consequences of these common failings.

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

I had a lot of fun writing “The Scottish Play,” which is probably why I put it last in the collection. It’s based—very loosely—on a bizarre incident I witnessed during a performance of Macbeth, and I loved imagining what was going on the minds of the actors and the audience during the show. As for difficult stories, the whole first section of the book, including the title story, is about this guy, Nick, who is a controlling jerk. It’s hard to write about a character like that and still retain some amount of sympathy for him.

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

I hate to admit it, because I’ve also experienced publishing lows in other situations, but it was all a high for this book. I have a great relationship with Kevin Watson at Press 53, who published my first two collections as well as the anthology series I edited. When I finished putting this manuscript together, I contacted Kevin right away and he agreed to publish it.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

My usual answer to that question is “stick with it”—because the key to success in publishing is perseverance. But lately I’ve come to appreciate a nugget of wisdom about the writing itself: If you can figure out what you need to say, the writing will follow.

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

Looking over the stories in the collection, I seem to be drawn to misfits. Not sure what that says about me, but there it is. What did NOT surprise me is that I’m also drawn to stories set in exotic locales.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title of the book is from the collection’s opening story, which I felt introduces the themes I’m exploring in the book: realistic people, mostly men, who are blind to their own shortcomings.

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

There’s plenty of food (and drink) in the stories, but there’s really only one item that has a meaningful place in the book, and that’s the nut loaf (with gravy) centerpiece of the Christmas Dinner in “Pluck.” Here’s what that might look like:




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