Monday, October 26, 2020

TBR: The Rest of the World by Adam Schwartz

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?

 All of the stories in this collection are set in Baltimore, and they were all inspired by getting to know the teens in my classroom. As our country grapples with the ideals we claim to aspire to, this collection offers stories about resilient kids growing up in neighborhoods sabotaged by systemic inequities. These teen and young adult characters rescue loved ones, betray one another, seek redemption, plot hustles, reckon with moral ambiguities, and struggle to find meaning in a city that owes them better.

 

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

 “Pavane for a Dead Princess” was probably the hardest story for me to pull together. It’s the longest in the book; it covers a lot of ground temporally; it’s a story within a story. But most of all the protagonist undergoes a reluctant transformation that wasn’t easy to render. It’s about a young man who falls in love with the daughter of the owners of the neighborhood carry-out. Her family is Korean, and her parents don’t want her involved with a dude from the neighborhood. One night, just as things seem to be lining up for the protagonist, he becomes entangled in an altercation that he might’ve avoided. (Readers can decide.) Setbacks ensue and over time—almost without realizing it—he finds himself on a redemptive quest that takes him down the unlikeliest of paths.

 The story I most enjoyed writing was the title story, “The Rest of the World.” In this story, the teen narrator is called upon to protect a child. By doing so, he takes on a moral task larger than himself, and achieves, perhaps, a kind of nobility. [See link below.]

 

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

 The high point has been working with the wonderful people at Washington Writers’ Publishing House. Everyone there has been kind, helpful, professional, smart and experienced.

 Prior to winning the WWPH prize, I sent my book around to literary agents. A handful of agents read at least of some of the stories in the collection, offered praise, and then proceeded to ask for a novel. The publishing industry’s preference for novels over story collections is well-known. (For a reminder, stroll along the literary fiction aisles of Barnes and Noble; relatively few story collections adorn the shelves.) Still, it was disappointing to hear first-hand from some agents that they liked my work but didn’t think they could place my story collection with publishers.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 “If you keep working, inspiration comes.” Alexander Calder

 

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

One thing that surprised me is that I discovered the scope of my concerns. I’m drawn to writing stories about teens and young adults coming of age. Our initial encounters with the hard realities of adult life transform us. How do we negotiate these experiences? Who do we become in their aftermath? And in what ways do we hold on to, or reach back for, the parts of ourselves that got left behind?

That may sound like a narrow range for a book of stories, but I don’t think of it that way—in part because our teen years are such a crucial, formative period. It’s during this window that we’re trying to sort out our values, trying to figure out the kind of people we want to be in the world and trying to forge identities that are in harmony with who we hope to become.  

I spent much of my own adolescence adrift. Decades later, I still wonder who I was back then and what I was looking for. If the reckless, dreamy, short-fused, high school drop-out I was at seventeen could meet the schoolteacher I am today, would they recognize each other? I don’t know. 

Anyway, this border between childhood and adulthood interests me. It can be a fraught and volatile period. Throw into this mix the kinds of challenges many vulnerable kids in Baltimore have to deal with and, sometimes, the stakes become unimaginably high. Teens in Baltimore don’t get much of a margin for error. There aren’t a lot safety nets to catch them if they make a poor decision, as kids sometimes do.

 And if Baltimore asks children to navigate a minefield of complex choices—as I believe it does—than I hope my stories are affirmations of belief in kids who refuse to give into despair.

 

How do you approach revision?

 My approach to revision is I keep doing it until I can live with what’s on the page. I’m frequently surprised by the progress that comes from holding an inchoate or unresolved idea in my mind—sometimes for days or weeks or months—and continuing to check in on it. Sometimes I feel like writing fiction is really about tapping into this instrument that allows you to hold certain unresolved ideas in perspective over time so that you can work them out.

 

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

Eight years ago, Hostess Brands, the company that makes Twinkies, briefly went under. After several months, a buy-out company stepped in and saved the iconic snack cake. Twinkies—and the fear that they were about to disappear—became the device that propels the events in the story “Wizzur.”

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT  THIS AUTHOR:  https://adamschwartzwriter.org

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://bookshop.org OR https://www.politics-prose.com

 

READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, “The Rest of the World”:  https://philadelphiastories.org/article/rest-world-0/#respond

 

 

 

Monday, October 19, 2020

TBR: The Fear of Everything: Stories by John McNally

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?

 In the tradition of Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, and T.C. Boyle, these nine tales feature shady magicians, dubious sleep study assistants, missing cats, demonic attorneys, and lonely latchkey kids.

 

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

 The story “The Creeping End” was a fun story to write because it began as three separate stories that weren’t working. But once I realized that they were three parts of the same story, I wondered if it was possible to write a story with three distinctly different tones. I subtitled it “a triptych,” and so the idea of writing a triptych unlocked the structural problems I’d been having trying to make it one linear and cohesive narrative.

As for the story that gave me the most trouble? Probably “The Phone Call,” but it gave me trouble in the most unusual way in that I wrote a draft of it in 1990 in one sitting, and then I lost the manuscript. I had printed it out and set it aside, but two days later I couldn’t find it. I was haunted by the story for twenty years, occasionally thinking that I would rewrite it, maybe turn it into a novella, possibly even a screenplay. But it wasn’t until around 2009 or so that I was asked to contribute to a Ray Bradbury tribute anthology, and the only idea of mine that was Bradbury-esque was “The Phone Call.” So I finally – twenty years later – revisited it. And that story set the tone for The Fear of Everything. (Side-note: When I was moving to Louisiana in 2013, I found the original version of “The Phone Call.” I was surprised at how many details from the original, which I had never read after writing it, made it into the version twenty years later.)

 

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

I submitted the book to two contests, and it was a finalist in the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award contest, but then I set it aside for another year. So, the low was my own lack of energy to do anything with the book during that time. I was going through a rough patch, and I didn’t have the energy to do anything with it.

A year later, I revised it again and decided to do something with it. Short story collections have limited opportunities to get published and limited audiences, but I wanted to take pride in the book itself, the product. I wanted it to look good. The University of Louisiana Press had a new publisher, so I approached him about the possibility of publishing it. Fortuitously, after the press accepted it, I was awarded a professorship, which comes with a stipend that can be put toward publication costs, so I asked UL Press if I could have a hand in making production decisions. For the first time, I was responsible for hiring a cover artist (Keith Rosson did the cover), hiring the printer (the printer I hired had done one of my previous books), and hiring a copywriter with whom I’d previously worked.  It was a stressful process, but it was also great fun to be that deeply involved in the book’s production, which wouldn’t have happened without the professorship. And I love how the book looks, so I’m happy with the final product, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Develop a writing habit. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s ten minutes or eight hours. Try to stay in contact with the work.

 

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

As a whole, the tone of the book surprised me. If anyone’s familiar with my previous books, they may be expecting humor, but this book, though not without humor, is much darker and stranger than my previous books. There are also fantastical elements here and there, which may surprise anyone who’s read my previous books.

 

How do you approach revision?

 My approach to revision is patience. The last story in this book – “Catch and Release” – took ten years. I wrote half of it in 2007, couldn’t figure out how to push it forward, set it aside for ten years, and came back to it in 2017 to finish it. When I was younger, I was in a hurry to get published, and I published some stories before they were ready. I’m 54 now. I’m not in much of a hurry for anything anymore. When I was younger, I placed the burdens of my life on the work I was doing. My logic went something like this: In order to get a job, I needed to publish, and the more I published, the better the job. These days, the publication of a story yields nothing for me except for the publication itself. If a story takes ten years, it takes ten years.

 

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THE BOOK HERE: https://ulpress.org/products/the-fear-of-everything

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://ulpress.org/products/the-fear-of-everything

 

READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, “The Magician”: https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/463/the-magician

 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

TBR: Make Them Cry by Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith

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?

DEA agent goes to Mexico to bring in a cartel lieutenant and discovers a criminal conspiracy that stretches back to the US occupation of Afghanistan.


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

We had a really great time creating Tom├ís, the sicario who’s addicted to reading. He’s a killer and you’d be a fool to mess with him, but he’s also quiet and thoughtful and he spends all his spare time reading novels. He’s our fave, for sure.

The thing that gave us the most trouble was deciding where to begin. We actually began too late in the story and needed to delve into Diane’s story to properly lay out the world and this twisted tale.


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

We started this project over a decade ago, so it’s been quite a journey. It was first a screenplay that went through many iterations. After Smith sold FOURTH OF JULY CREEK, we decided to try to write it as a novel and, thanks to our awesome agent Nicole Aragi and ECCO, here we are.

As we mentioned above, we originally started the story in the wrong place. After all these years working on the thing, we had to start over again. That was a bummer. But that’s just how it goes. Writing can be incredibly inefficient and unpredictable. Story is the most important thing. It matters more than how tired or frustrated the writers are.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

If you can, write in the morning before you’ve had any media, but after the first few sips of coffee.


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

Harbaugh surprised us in that she went from being a secondary character in our first drafts to being the protagonist in this book.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

We found the title MAKE THEM CRY by thinking about the best way to get across what our protagonist does. Her expertise in the DEA is getting suspects to flip, to start cooperating. The way she does that is by burrowing into their soft-spots and getting them emotionally turn themselves over to her. She flips them by “making them cry.”


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

Tamales, tacos, frijoles, and beer.

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK HERE: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/make-them-cry-smith-hendersonjon-marc-smith?variant=32126227742754

 

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHORS HERE: http://www.smith-henderson.com

 

READ AN EXCERPT OF THIS BOOK: https://crimereads.com/excerpt-make-them-cry/

 

 

Monday, October 5, 2020

TBR: Abjectification: Stories & Truths by C. Kubasta

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 are about intimacy and isolation; desire haunts and animates the characters. In trying to find connection, but maintain safety, and a sense of self, they tread dangerous ground. Sometimes saucy, sometimes uncanny, occasionally horrific, the narratives lead to the Terrible Place: close quarters and intimate conflict in sites of past trauma that determine the future. 

 

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

 

There are two stories I find myself thinking about over and over, “Freak Show” and “Boundaries.” In “Freak Show,” the couple Meghan and Jeff are trying to make a relationship separate from their pasts and the people they were in their small town – but they can’t. Distrust keeps showing up, a third wheel: as Meghan remakes her body, and offers forgiveness, Jeff can’t accept love-without-strings, or put his father’s “wisdom” out of his head. He imagines his girlfriend as monstrous, trying to consume him. In Jeff, I see a man caught in a trap – made by his father, patriarchal religion, himself – and he resents the woman trying to help free him, because he can’t free himself. I don’t know if writing this story gave me trouble, but it troubles me.

 

In “Boundaries,” I drew on many people I loved – from college days, and then seeing them again recently. I wanted to capture the feeling of sisterhood, and togetherness, and then break that in the story with all kinds of intrusions: people who don’t understand those bonds, and a supernatural force. Writing that story, I got to imagine the power of those relationships, and the kinds of violence it would take to destroy them. That sounds like a strange kind of pleasure – but writing about that destruction I knew what those whole things (people, and relationships) really meant to me.

 

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

 

My previous books have been poetry, and short novels – so a collection of stories was a little different. I would have liked to get a few more stories published before the book came out, but there wasn’t much time. Also, because some of the stories have some rather sexy bits, I’m a little less sure how to promote and share – (should I block my mother?) – (what about co-workers?) . . .

 

But this is my second book with Apprentice House, a student-run publishing house at Loyola Maryland, and it’s been a wonderful experience. As a teacher myself, I care deeply about giving students this hands-on practice with books & publishing, and they are wonderfully responsive. In particular, I LOVE my book cover! We worked together on ideas, and they found this very cool photography studio out of Finland with a modern take on a vintage cabinet card. Working with Apprentice House has definitely been a high.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

I just read a tweet that had a Creative Non-Fiction prompt: Write about the day your childhood ended. Ouch. I’m not ready for that yet, but I do recommend writing what scares you, what you think you can’t write, about the thing you think you’d never be able to read aloud . . . and all that. We need to write about things that matter, and our writing should scare us.

 

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

 

When I went back to look at my stories, listing themes and images, trying to think about structure, I was surprised how many featured dead mothers/ghost mothers/absent mothers . . . my mother is very much alive, and we’re good. I’ve also had many mother-like figures who have loved me and mentored me –smart, strong women in my life. (Maybe this is something I should talk to a therapist about . . .) Perhaps what I fear is the missing mother, or the mother who is there but not there – or, like the mother in “Hand-Me-Down” the mother who is dead, but refuses to be erased. As a non-mother myself, it’s interesting to me how often this mother-imagery comes up, and one reason I was interested in the idea of the “abject” in the book.

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

My friend Jennifer and I were going back and forth about the title for the first story (now called “Morning After”) and I mentioned the idea of “Abjectification” – combining the theory of the Abject (from horror) with objectification. In that story, the unnamed woman wakes up under a bed, unsure how she got there, and sees herself – or someone who looks identical – being dragged unconscious down the hall, as a victim. They are wearing the same clothes, but the victim-self is bruised, bloodied. Time splits. I wanted to capture that moment of dislocation – being the self who sees herself as victim, but also wants to survive and disown the body being dragged down the hall. I said “Abjectification” was probably “too wonky” and “too academic.” But she (and to be fair, she’s kinda picky) liked it. And now I love it – it’s weird and original, and suggests all the things I want.

 

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

 

At the beginning of the final story, “Boundaries,” the group is grilling out – they’ve been day-drinking, and it’s idyllic. Mid-summer in the Adirondacks. Before Sarah’s migraine begins to throb, before Kevin disappears, before the rest head into town to find cell service, and are told they shouldn’t be there – that those “are bad woods.” So if you want a delicious meal before things spin out of control . . .

 Center-cut salmon filet

Thinly-sliced red onion

Thinly-sliced citrus (whatever, but clementines, blood oranges, lemon are good)

Salt & Pepper

EVOO

 

~Arrange salmon on tin foil, sprinkle with S&P, layer with onion & citrus, douse with            EVOO

~Fold tin foil over top, tenting

~Place on grill and cook to desired doneness

~Serve with tossed green salad, and crusty bread + lots of wine

~Lock the door, and whatever you do, don’t separate from the group

*****

 READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK: https://www.ckubasta.com/

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK:

Publisher: https://aerbook.com/maker/productcard-5665230-4208.html?brand_id=215904

Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/abjectification-stories-truths/9781627202756

 READ A STORY (OR TWO):

“Bluebeard’s Wife” https://www.dreampoppress.net/c-kubasta/

“Treasure Hunt” http://www.midnightlit.com/archive/volume-2-winter-2019/treasure-hunt/

 

 

Work-in-Progress

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