Monday, May 9, 2022

TBR: Dear Selection Committee by Melissa Studdard

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?

 

Dear Selection Committee wrestles with issues like climate change, addiction, modern distractions, gender presentation, religious questioning, and the nature of pain. It’s framed as a job application and is “a subversive, sexy love song to an endlessly messy self and the burning world it inhabits,”—and I’m terrified of it, so that must mean it’s hot.



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

 

I basically ran down the street with all my decorum and every sensible thing anyone has ever tried to teach me burning like a Molotov cocktail in my hand. Then I hurled it into the world and tried not to run away. That courage comes from the modeling of other poets. Seeing poets like Diane Seuss, Rita Dove, Suzanne Frischkorn, Kelli Russell Agodon, Audre Lorde, Natalie Diaz, and Rosebud Ben-Oni meet the page as their authentic, unapologetic selves gave me the courage to do so as well. Also, having a great support group of accepting, loving people has given the courage to write what I need to write, and so much more.

 

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

 

I entered and placed in several contests. Always the bridesmaid. But as I did this I kept shaping and shaping the collection—removing, adding, and revising poems, changing orderings and subheadings, and so forth. Then, one afternoon, I gave a reading at AWP, and Jackleg Press’ new poetry editor, Simone Muench was one of the other readers. A few months later, she wrote to ask if I had a book. It was perfect timing. I’d just gotten Dear Selection Committee into a form I was truly happy with (why do we send our babies out before they’re ready? Lol), and I was about to start sending it around again. I also love Simone’s work and was incredibly impressed with Jackleg’s model, which offers generous royalties, has an all-star editorial board and an environmentally sustainable publishing practice, and focuses on work that is “bold, vibrant, and authentic.” The fact that Simone asked for my book after hearing me read at AWP has reinforced my belief in how important it is to get out there and share your work. You never know how it will touch someone or what good fortune it may bring you later.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment” –Rumi

 

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

 

Everything surprised me. Every single thing. But the thing that surprises me the most is that I’m actually publishing it. (tries to hide behind plant)

 

How do you approach revision?

 

Of course, it’s different every time. But, the most important aspect of revision for me is that I stay loose and engage it as an integral part of the creative process. If I become overly analytical, I cramp up. For instance, I can’t just stare at a poem and try to figure out which word to cut or what the title should be. I keep “scratch paper” beside me as I’m writing and revising (whether that means a second word document or a piece of printer paper), and I free write and come back to the main document, free write and come back to the main document, again and again, all the way through revision. If I’m trying to think of a title, I’ll free write for the title. That scratch paper—informal, unseen by others, and totally accepting of my worst crap—keeps me relaxed and unbridled.  

 

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

 

Until you asked, I didn’t actually realize how often food appears in Dear Selection Committee. Most of the food mentions are little surreal, though--a torte made by trees; little cups of pain, shots of pain with pain backs on the rocks, and pain crudités on leafy green beds of pain; a café that serves only whipped cream on the tips of penises, a skewered earth. But there is crème brûlée, plain and simple, served in little white ramekins! Who doesn’t love crème brûlée? And Jacques Pépin? And Julia Child?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3soo-grpMqc

 

*****

 READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.melissastuddard.com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK HERE: https://bookshop.org/books/dear-selection-committee/9781737513414

  

READ A POEM:

~“The Pain Is So Resplendent It Has Babies,” HERE:

https://www.pennreview.org/the-pain-is-so-resplendent-it-has-babies

~”Everyone in Me Is a Bird,” HERE:

https://poets.org/poem/everyone-me-bird

 

 

Monday, April 18, 2022

TBR: Wrecks and Ruins by Eric D. Goodman

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?

 

Wrecks and Ruins has been described as a novel about how relationships are built and how they evolve or dissolve over time. It’s an anti-love story that corrects itself. The main character, Stu, believes that romantic love is like the cycle of a cicada: a few months of excited buzz—romance, lust, excitement—followed by monotonous silence that can’t live up to the noisy promise at the start. Stu is drawn to wrecks and ruins, which he photographs, and in time he comes to connect his collection of broken things to his collection of broken relationships.

 

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

 

The most interesting character to get to know was probably Tiffany. The other characters were loosely based on characters from a short story I wrote long ago, so it was like a reunion getting to know them again. But Tiffany, Stu’s love interest, was a new character, and I knew I had to make her special. She had to be Stu’s equal or superior in every way, had to keep his habitually diminishing interest, and deserved her own story arc.

 

The most challenging character wasn’t necessarily a person, but a thing: COVID-19.  I wrote the first draft in 2018, with no idea that we would be in a worldwide pandemic. I couldn’t just shift the story because they were tied to the cycles of the 17-year cicadas. To make it more complicated, a number of scenes take place at or reference actual concerts that the characters attend, and those all needed to stay in the accurate years and seasons. Even in my first round of rewrites, in 2020, I was writing as though the pandemic had ended by 2021. Although I wrote in additional scenes and references to COVID, it was a challenge to weave it all together.

 

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

 

Emotionally, this book started at a high point because the first draft was written in a flurry during a crazy three-day novel contest. Of course, there were a few rewrites with expanded scenes and development in the years after those initial three days. That burst of activity at the start seems fitting, given the protagonist’s view of romantic love. The publisher of my former novel, Loyola’s Apprentice House Press, got first dibs at the manuscript and accepted it, so there wasn’t the same convoluted journey to publication that I’ve experienced with other novels. The low point of writing this was probably when I dusted if off during Covid and realized the puzzle I needed to take apart and reassemble because of all the previous scenes that took place in a “business as usual” world instead of during a pandemic.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Read more. I think of all the tips and advice I’ve received over the years, that was probably the most helpful. When you read other fiction—similar to your own and unlike it—you soak up the styles and stories and it helps as you continue your own writing. Books on writing are great, but I’ve probably become a better writer more from reading other fiction and creative nonfiction than from any courses or writing guides.

 

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

 

How quickly time passes by a person. The majority of this novel is in the present, but it falls back to other times, in 1987 and 2004 and 2009, and even forward into 2023. But most of the characters, although evolving, are the same at the core—and so are their bonds to one another. I think that reflects real life. There are friends I’ve known since middle school who have grown in so many ways, and yet, they seem to be much the same at the core. It surprised me a bit that I could write from the same character’s perspective as a teenager and a 50-something and, at the core, the character was very much the same despite his journey, his development, and his evolution.

 

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

 

I like to set my scenes in real places, to ground them in reality but also to provide additional “aha” moments for readers who may recognize those places. There are scenes in this novel in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Annapolis, Virginia, Bryce Canyon, and even Vilnius. Taking it a level beyond that, I set some scenes in specific moments, such as concerts when they really happened, election cycles, and cicada cycles. The 17-year cicadas serve as a metaphor and a marker of the passage of time.

 

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

 

No recipes, exactly, but some exotic drinks. In the scenes taking place in Lithuania, Stu and Tiffany drink Krupnikas, the Lithuanian version of Krupnik, or honey liquor. They also drink Riga Balsam and Tallinn Vanna, other popular liquors from the Baltics. I’ve thought about serving those up at a book event, if we’re back to having in-person book events with shared refreshments when the book is released.

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.EricDGoodman.com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://bookshop.org/books/wrecks-and-ruins/9781627203845

 

LISTEN TO THE AUTHRO READ AN ABRIDGED VERSION OF “CICADAS” ON BALTIMORE’S NPR STATION, WYPR (Author’s note: “Cicadas” is the story that I wrote in the early 2000s and the inspiration for Wrecks and Ruins.): https://yourlisten.com/edgewriter/cicadas

Monday, April 11, 2022

TBR: crossing over by Kim Shegog

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 stories in this collection give voice to the history and soul of a rural collective.

These people want to belong—to themselves, their families, their communities, and their God. From the dizzying Thanksgiving table to the sobering graveside service, these stories exist in their acts of agency and grace.

 

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

 

“Breath to Bones,” the novella in the collection, was my favorite to write but also the toughest. There were only a few characters, but I wanted to get them right—their voices, motivations, and interactions. They’re confronting a tragedy, individually and collectively, and bringing all of their history on the page was exciting and terrible at the same time. These are generations of people born in the same place and roughly the same economic circumstances, so while they’re alike in many ways, their personalities and lived experiences vary a great deal. It was a high-wire act, of sorts, to maintain a distinct yet similar voice in each character.

 

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

 

Many of the stories began in some form during my time in the Converse University MFA program. All of this stories experienced rejection on some level. Finally, one story was published, “Goodbye Alice” in Appalachian Review, then another, then I won a writing prize, and so on. This process took years. Years of “Thank you, but…” and “You have not been selected” (all the while continuing to write because that’s what we do, right?) until one day much better news was delivered to the inbox. I was thrilled beyond measure when this collection was selected as a co-winner to the Converse MFA Alumni Book Award.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

In light of my comments about the book’s road to publication, Marianne Moore’s words come to mind: “Humility, Concentration, and Gusto”

 

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

The sheer amount of will power writing takes amazes me every time. Also, I did a great deal of research for several of these stories (I listened to many radio ads from the 1940s and made many visits to cemeteries, which I find fascinating and always surprising).

 

Who is your ideal reader?

 

My ideal reader is one who knows how much I appreciate and respect their time. I have faith in my characters and believe their stories need to be told, and I have done my best to abide by Raymond Carver’s motto: “Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.”

 

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

 

Yes! The first story in the collection is set during a southern Thanksgiving—so biscuits, dressing (similar to stuffing), fried apples, and more. In fact, I think every story mentions some type of food or candy.

 

Buttermilk Coconut Pie

 

1 stick oleo (I use unsalted butter)

5 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

¾ c. buttermilk

2 cups white sugar

2 cups coconut flakes

 

Melt oleo and add buttermilk. Beat eggs and add sugar. Pour together and then add vanilla and coconut and mix well. Place mixture in two unbaked pie shells. Bake in preheated oven at 350° F for 45 minutes.

~~Courtesy of Great Aunt Nancy

 

 

*****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.kimshegog.com/

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://libraries.clemson.edu/press/

 

 

 

 

Monday, March 21, 2022

TBR: JERKS by Sara Lippmann

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?

 

JERKS rides the proverbial clutch between wanting and having. Ambivalent mothers, aging suburbanites, restless teens, survivalist parents, and disaffected wives—desire is a live wire, however frayed, a reminder that life, for all its sputtering stall outs, is still worth living.

 


 

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

 

“Let All the Restless Creatures Go” was probably the most enjoyable and the most challenging: enjoyable because I drafted it during a 4-day DIY writing retreat on the Jersey Shore in a raw, windy spring a bunch of years ago. Quiet and concentration are often hard to come by, but they were my sole companions during that skinny stretch of time. There is little I love more than a beach town in the off season. Granted, I went down there to work on my novel, but I wound up exploring the dunes and the bay, riding around on my sand bike, and writing this Jersey turtle story instead. I like to keep things short, but it kept growing and growing, so the challenge arose in wrangling. And in getting it right. (There was a lot to get wrong.) I think it was around 7K when it appeared in Midnight Breakfast, but with the help of Ashley Miller, my wonderful editor at Mason Jar, I shaved off some of that length for the version included here.

 

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

 

My agent – who I adore, and for whom I have not made things easy! – had been waiting with infinite patience and grace for my novel which seemed to be taking half of my adult life, and didn’t feel it was prudent to start shopping an intermediary collection, especially as my voice tends to connect better with small presses, so I sent it to MJP because I love their books so much, and was absolutely thrilled when they wrote me with the good news. Ian, Ashley, Heather and Michael are incredible. The whole experience of working with them has surpassed every dream.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Get a copy of This Won’t Take But A Minute Honey by Steve Almond. It’s this tiny craft booklet that fits in your pocket. I love how he talks about – everything! read the book! -- our inner “bullshit detector.” If all of “writing is decision making,” then how do we get better at making those calls without becoming derailed by doubt? It’s a paradox. Trust your gut. Then, be merciless in your challenges. Precision, emotional honesty, all of that, calls upon the strength of that intrinsic sensor. It takes time to sharpen one’s instincts through critical perspective. Maybe it’s the one craft element we’re always working on. Fire it up. Take a good whiff around. Do you smell phony baloney? You know when you know.

 

 

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

 

That it turned out to be a book! I was procrastinating on my novel by writing stories because my brain thinks in stories. The longer it took me to write the novel the more stories I wrote until I realized that they were in dialogue with one another, and what, I had a collection.


How did you find the title of your book?

 

The title is the title of one of the stories I wrote during this procrastination period. As soon as I began to think of it as a book title, JERKS became my guiding light.

 

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

 

Jerky, of course. (Which I’ve never made -- yet.)

https://diyprojects.com/make-beef-jerky-recipe/

 

 

 

****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.saralippmann.com/

  

READ MORE ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER: https://masonjarpress.com/

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:  https://bookshop.org/books/jerks/9781951853105

  

READ A STORY, “If You're Lucky, This Could Be You”: https://epiphanyzine.com/features/2020/11/26/if-youre-lucky-this-could-be-you-new-fiction-by-sara-lippmann

 

 

 

Monday, March 14, 2022

TBR: The Lost Son by Stephanie Vanderslice

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? (If this is too many sentences, you can cut the first one)

 

How does a mother survive the unsurvivable? After her husband and the baby’s nurse kidnap her infant son, Nicholas, and take him back to their native Germany, Julia Kruse must completely rebuild her life in America. The Lost Son chronicles Julia’s journey from Depression-Era Queens, NY through World War II as she struggles to provide for herself and her remaining son, Johannes. Over the years, her search for Nicholas is thwarted at every turn, until she falls in love with chauffeur Paul Burns, whose boss might have the political connections to find her son and bring him home from the German front during the last days of the Third Reich, where Johannes is also fighting for the Allies.

 

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

 

I really enjoyed creating Paul. I just decided that for my main character to fall in love with someone after everything she’s been through in her first marriage, he’d have to be pretty special. Probably Nicholas, the younger son, gave me the most trouble, because he grew up in Germany. Even though I read a lot of memoir and history about Germany between the wars, it was hard to get him to come through authentically. I hope I was successful.

 

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

 

Oh boy. Well, the book got me my agent, Anne Bohner at Pen and Ink Literary in 2012. You read that right. 2012. She sent it on submission twice, to an A list and a B list. There were some near misses but it didn’t land. After that she freed me to submit to independent presses. I spent the next several years submitting to contests and small presses and again, came coming close and shortlisting for awards several times. The closest came in spring 2018 when I submitted to a press where the editor said no and then a month later contacted me and said he was still thinking about the book while he was reading other submissions, that it had stayed with him. He said he wanted to talk about some suggestions with the upshot being if I took those suggestions, he’d look at it again. My agent said she doesn’t normally recommend someone do revisions without a contract but it wouldn’t hurt to talk to him. So we had a nice phone conversation. I actually thought his suggestions, which were substantial, sounded like they would improve the book. So I dove back in and did another revision, mostly to the second half of the book. Sent it back. He still said no but that he was sure he would find a place somewhere. I need to send him a copy.

 

I submitted to Regal House right at the beginning of the pandemic. Jaynie Royal, the publisher there, responded positively at every step of a rigorous submission process. I had also submitted to a teaching press in Baltimore at the same time and suddenly they wanted it as well. So I went from years of “not quite” to two yeses simultaneously. With the help of advice from my agent, I chose Regal House. I’m so glad I did. They’re a fantastic press.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

Not surprisingly, given that story: “never give up.” Persistence has gotten me pretty far in this field. I remember saying over and over for the past ten years, “I would give up on this book but it keeps coming so close.” Now I’m glad I didn’t. Also, the process of writing is really what matters if you’re a writer, what feeds you. Trying to get published is business. It feels good when you get a “yes” but it won’t feed you. Ultimately, you have to enjoy the process.

 

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

 

The character of Johannes, Julia’s oldest son, who grows up in the course of this book. I also had fun writing him. Funny things he would do or say. I got one of his remarks from a story in a 1930’s Catholic elementary school textbook which I just happened to pick up at a flea market (I LOVE flea markets).

 

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

 

The Lost Son is very loosely based on something that actually happened to my step-great grandmother, Julia. I didn’t find out she was actually my step great-grandmother until I was in my early 30s. I learned how she and my grandfather, Jacob, married in the mid-1940s in what was a second marriage for both, a late-in-life love. At the time I was the mother of two young boys myself and I couldn’t imagine how my stepmother endured the loss of her youngest son as an infant. I thought about her a lot over the years. I also decided that my great grandfather must have been a special person for her to have overcome such a betrayal and remarry.

 

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

 

 

Absolutely. Food is a big part of this book; Julia is a pastry chef whose father was a renowned chef. She works at a bakery. So German foods like brotchen (morning rolls), sauerbraten, and bread play a big part. The novel takes place in Queens in the 20s-40s, when German, Italian, and Irish immigrants were the main population. There were German restaurants everywhere. I mentioned Gebhardts, where Julia and Paul go for their first date, and which is a real restaurant my grandparents brought me to a lot as a kid. I also mention egg creams often, which were a big part of the soda fountain culture in New York at that time. But I will leave you with my husband’s family’s French bread recipe, which Julia finds great satisfaction in making, as do I.

 

Vanderslice Family Bread

Yield:              8 loaves                      4 loaves          2 loaves

                        2T salt                        1T salt            ½T salt

                        2T sugar                     1T sugar         ½T sugar

                        2T yeast                     1T yeast         ½T yeast

                        9-10 c flour                5-6 c flour      2-3 c flour

                        5c warm water          2 1/2c warm water   1 ¼ c warm water

                        olive oil

 

Combine yeast, salt and sugar with warm water in a large bowl.  Cover with a dishtowel and allow to proof for 5-15 minutes, the evidence of which will be bubbly biscuit-colored coating on top of the mixture.  Stir in flour 1-2 cups at a time until a stiff ball of dough forms.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead between 5 and 10 minutes, then place the dough ball in an oiled bowl in a relatively warm spot until it rises to double in bulk.  Rising will take between 1-2 hours but at this point you can just go about your day.  As my mother-law would say, bread is very forgiving.  The dough won’t take over your kitchen like the blob, or “fall” like a cake, so if you want to go to a movie, rake the lawn, take a long lunch with friends, feel free to do so.

When you’re ready to return to it, set your oven to 350 and while it pre-heats, punch down the dough on the same floured surface and divide it into eight, four or two balls of even-size size which you can then shape into long baguettes.  If you have a brush, you might brush the tops with a little milk or olive oil (I have come to prefer the latter). Place these on oiled, foil covered baking pans (if you get serious about this, you’ll probably want to invest in baguette pans; I was fortunate to inherit mine from my in-laws but baking pans are fine when you’re just staring out) and allow to rest/rise for another 10 minutes or so.  (My mother-in-law would be alarmed that I don’t let the baguettes rise for at least thirty additional minutes but I am usually under a time constraint at this point or just feeling impatient.  The loaves seem to come out the same.) Slash each loaf diagonally a few times with a sharp knife, then bake for forty-five minutes at 350.  Depending on the heat of your oven, if you’re cooking more than 4 loaves, you may need to switch out the loaves on the top and lower shelves of the oven midway through to make sure they cook evenly.  Loaves can be consumed immediately, with the rest frozen for reheating during the week.

 

 *****

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK:

https://www.regalhousepublishing.com/product/the-lost-son/

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK:

https://www.regalhousepublishing.com/product/the-lost-son/

 

 

Monday, March 7, 2022

TBR: Say This: Two Novellas by Elise Levine

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?

 

It’s a cold spring in Baltimore, 2018, when the email arrives: the celebrity journalist hopes Eva will tell him everything about the sexual entanglement she had as a young teen with her older cousin, a man now in federal prison for murder. Thirteen years earlier, Lenore-May answers the phone to the nightmare news that her stepson’s body has been found near Mount Hood, and homicide is suspected.

 

The two linked novellas in Say This follow Eva’s unsettling ambivalence toward her confusing sexual relations with her cousin, and construct a portrait of her cousin’s victim via collaged perspectives of the slain man’s family, in a multi-faceted exploration of the devastating effects of the aftermath of violent crime.

 

 

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

 

The character Jim in the second novella, “Son One”—the father of the murder victim—is tetchy, in thrall to memories good and bad, self-blaming, accusatory, and bad-joke-telling even in his grief and in the face of a debilitating stroke. Exploring his emotional and tonal range—and allowing myself that latitude in developing his character—was a fascinating, rewarding process.

 

I did, however, really struggle over the course of about a million drafts with Eva, the central character of the first novella, “Eva Hurries Home”. As with Jim, she’s also very complex, with so many layers to peel away. But one of the most challenging aspects of writing her lay in showing that her chosen, recent uncoupled situation—she’s broken up with a series of romantic partners—is not pathological, that it’s not a negative response to the sexual exploitation she experienced as a young teen. As an adult at this moment in time, she’s reveling in her sense of independence from partners, finding herself in a freeing, unencumbered, undistracted state that allows her to finally reckon with her past and her cousin’s transgressions. Steering this aspect of her character felt tricky: I could feel the opposing pressures of traditional and still-pervasive depictions of women alone as blighted, unnatural, unhappy, inherently wrong, and had to keep checking that I wasn’t unconsciously resorting to these same old tropes, and that instead I was pushing back against them.  

 

 

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

 

The lows arose from the usual questions I have when writing, and which lead me through seemingly endless revisions. Can I get the pieces to hold together and achieve a narrative momentum? Which was especially the case with this book, since I used a fragmented form, with very short, elliptical sections—plus the two novellas needed to link up. Other, equally important questions I grapple with: am I doing justice to the characters’ complexities? Can I locate clarity even in the heart of their very human irresolutions?

 

The highs also came through the usual channels: my good fortune at having some insightful readers willing to suffer through my drafts, including my long-time editor John Metcalf—who somehow convinced me, as he always does, to overcome my rampant self-doubts and heed my drive to see the characters’ inner lives and actions through.   

 

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

It’s not exactly advice, but I keep these words of Joy Williams close to my heart: “Whenever the writer writes, it’s always three or four or five o’clock in the morning in his [sic] head.” Her words remind me to feel less afraid of exploring the dark places of character.

 

 

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

 

Surprise #1. I was more than half way through writing the first novella, “Eva Hurries Home”, when the idea to use an abecedarian form—beginning each section with a successive letter of the alphabet, a – z and then z – a—for “Son One” occurred to me. It made so much sense: Eva is a compulsive list maker as she strives to quell her confusions and the chaos of her emotions, and the slain man’s family in the second novella, also roiled by powerful feelings, might also employ lists, even more highly ordered ones, as a method of emotional containment. Another compelling reason to write an abecedary: earliest examples of this formal approach to writing are found in the ancient Hebrew liturgy, and this sacred lineage spoke to this contemporary, secular family’s deep yearning to locate meaning in the face of the unspeakable.

 

Surprise #2. I thought, uh-uh, no way can I pull off using this form. It sounded excruciatingly difficult. At least try, I told myself. Deep breath, laptop out to the front porch, give it an hour, see if anything happens. And it did happen: the constraint helped break open the characters, providing an emotional through-line by which I could chart their experiences. In fact, developing and revising this novella came much more quickly for me than for “Eva Hurries Home”.

 

 

How did you find the title of your book?

 

I had the titles for the separate novellas from their inception, but not one that would tie the two together. They’d each undergone numerous revisions before I added a brief section to “Son One” in which Lauryn, the sister of the slain man, is trying to think of ways to name her thoughts and feelings toward her brother and his death. In the new material, she at one point lands on the phrase “Say this”—and, since “Eva Hurries Home” also centers a character in the process of attempting to name her experience, I realized I’d found a title that worked for both novellas. 

 

 

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

 

Sorry, no recipes! Just lots of food mentions and related sensory memories in the novellas, especially in “Eva Hurries Home”—like Eva, I love to eat, hate to cook. But now that I think about it, the various food items do make for an intriguing ingredient list: jicama from an aspirational DC salad bar, the boiled hot dogs Eva’s cousin used to cook, the greasy noodles she orders in on the night she’s at home considering the celebrity journalist’s request to interview her. Plus the fresh sea beans—those crisp, iodine-rich vegetables that grows in marshy, coastal areas, a few stalks of which she snaps off and chews when as an adult she returns to the narrow peninsula in southern Washington State where she and her cousin once roamed. Place together in large bowl, stir well? Okay—maybe not!

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER: http://biblioasis.com/

 

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:

https://bookshop.org/

https://biblioasisbookshop.com/

 

 READ AN EXCERPT FROM THIS BOOK HERE.


 

 

Monday, February 28, 2022

TBR: Share the Wealth by Maureen Thorson

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?

 

Share the Wealth is a funny-dark exploration of the interplay of luck and abundance. Life is constantly throwing us curveballs – sometimes delightful ones, and sometimes totally crappy ones. These poems try to find the beauty in the world’s both uncertainty and its too-muchness.

 

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

 

Before writing this book, most of my work was in series. My first two books were of poems all drafted around a single idea or theme, and with specific formal restraints. When I started writing the poems that became Share the Wealth, I focused on trying to recover my ability to write poems that would stand up on their own. Ironically, I think that writing a book-length poem or series is for many people far more unusual or intimidating a project than trying to organize singly-written poems into a coherent manuscript. For me, it was the opposite. And of course, when I actually did start organizing all of my “one-and-done” poems into a book, I found that many of them did touch on similar ideas or themes even if I wasn’t consciously aware of the connections when each poem was written.     

 

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

 

Share the Wealth went through what I think is probably a very familiar road to publication, at least for books of poems: seemingly endless submissions to contests and open readings! And all the while, revisions. I took poems out, I put others in, I rejiggered the ordering, I line-edited the individual poems.

 

The lows of the contest/open-reading process are well-known. With many presses and contests charging submission fees, it can feel like you are spending a lot of money without knowing if your manuscript is being taken at all seriously. Some contests don’t even notify submitters of the eventual results. When you’ve been submitting a manuscript for a long time without getting any traction, it’s easy to get discouraged.

 

But when a manuscript does get picked up by a press, oh, what a feeling! I actually had to sort of sit with Veliz Books’ acceptance of Share the Wealth for a few days before responding. I kept reopening my inbox, sure that the acceptance email would have disappeared in a puff of internet smoke. 

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

I’m a big fan of trying to write every day. Not that I take my own advice – not all the year-long anyway. But several times annually, I set myself month-long challenges where I draft a poem every day. I typically spend the first seven days or so writing a lot of very obvious poems, after which I run out of “normal” ideas and the very weird and interesting stuff starts coming out.  

 

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

 

The inspirational value of snow. I started writing the poems that became Share the Wealth after moving to Maine. Before that, I’d lived almost my whole life south of the Mason-Dixon line, in areas where any snow that does fall melts quickly. Here, not only does it snow a lot, it keeps piling up until spring. But the landscape doesn’t feel bare, somehow. Winter in Maine is at least as lush as summer, in a funhouse mirror kind of way.

 

How do you approach revision?

 

I approach revision . . . slowly. My first draft of a poem is often 90% of the way there, and then I spend 90% of the total time working on the other 10%. Often, the part that is trickiest for me is the ending, and especially trying to resist an ending that is too pat and tied-up. There are at least two poems in the book for which I only was able to find the final lines two or three years after drafting the rest of the poem – which remained unchanged.

 

I also revise in small doses at a time. I rarely sit down and try to do a wholesale re-write of a poem. It’s more like having a jigsaw puzzle where you try to slot in one of the loose pieces every time you walk by, rather than sitting down and doing the whole puzzle at once.

 

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

 

There’s a lot of food in the book, particularly fruit. While there’s a pear on the cover, I cook more often with apples. So, here’s a recipe for one of the easiest and best apple cakes I know: https://smittenkitchen.com/2012/01/apple-sharlotka/

 

*****  

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.maureenthorson.com

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://veliz-books.square.site/product/share-the-wealth-by-maureen-thorson/58?cs=true&cst=custom

 

READ A POEM, “Beautiful Now”: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/753667/pdf

 

 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

TBR: The Gleaming of the Blade by Christian J. Collier

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?

 

In my opinion, my work is interested in intimacy and interrogation. My work tends to focus on exploring the parameters of a subject in a way that both involves the body and the world beyond it.

 

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

 

I don’t know if I really have any boundaries when it comes to my creative work. If anything, I’m interested in granting myself more permissions and possibilities to work with, so I think that’s a more apt lens.

 

My friend Donna Spruijt-Metz attended a workshop with Patricia Smith a few years ago and told me about some of the rules Patricia uses when writing and revising, and I thought that was a great way to set one’s table, so to speak. As a result, when I committed to revising the manuscript before sending it out into the world again, I had established a set of rules to follow: each piece had to have a degree of risk, something I didn’t originally expect to say, and I wanted to allow myself to be a little bit dangerous to get at some truths.

 

I think that freedom comes from an amalgamation of the people I’m both influenced and raised by. One of the phenomenal things about being inspired by someone else is it grants you certain freedoms to try different things. A large part of my life has been populated by artists who aren’t timid, and I didn’t want the work in this project to shy away from the ways it interrogated race, the South, etc.

 

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

 

I think the lowest part of the book’s journey to becoming a book was before it received the Editors’ Selection from the 2021 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. There’ve been several times prior to this year that I felt close to having the manuscript in a place where it made a cohesive statement and seemed fully formed, and I’ve later realized that I was wrong. The manuscript was a finalist for another competition prior to it being accepted by Bull City, and in that span of time, I felt a little discouraged. One of the things I worry about artistically is if what I’m making is really hitting the marks I want, and even though I’m certainly not new to rejection, from time to time, it does take the wind out of the sails.

 

As for the highs, they keep coming. I’ve been stunningly blessed over and over this entire time. Bull City has been one of my dream presses for ages, so the fact that Noah and Ross loved the book and wanted to help bring it into the world means a great deal. Having Dr. Destiny O. Birdsong, Charif Shanahan, and Bao Phi blurb the book is an honor. Nate Austin agreeing to let us use his incredible artwork for the cover is amazing. I think, to try to tie it all up in a relatively succinct fashion, the people who’ve blessed and continue to bless the book and me with their time, attention, enthusiasm, etc. is the ultimate high though.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 

For the past few years, my favorite piece of writing advice has been to write into surprise. I don’t write in a linear fashion anymore. Most of the time, I’m initially just putting things down and moving words and sentences around to try to find patterns that sound interesting. From there, I’ll continue moving things around until, eventually, I find a way into and through a poem that I wouldn’t have found had I been trying to actively dictate where it was going. It’s a very brain off/ instinct on kind of affair, which I enjoy because it keeps my internal editor out of the equation until he’s needed.

 

There’s a saying that if there’s no surprise for the writer, there’ll be no surprise for the reader, and I believe that. Working in this method has allowed me to write from a place of surprise every time, because I don’t know and can’t anticipate where the poem is going or what it wants to say for much of the process. It’s also allowed for way more interesting poems, too.

 

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

 

So much surprised me about the way this book took shape. I have a bit of distance now that’s allowed me to see the book in a different light. I’m sure my answer will change (which is a good thing! It means I’m finding new surprises), but right now, I realize how much of the finished product came from completely new poems. A few poems in the initial version of the manuscript had to be cut, and I was asked about other work that we could consider. I’m not a writer who has an abundance of pieces, and I tend to work more with a particular theme or project in mind, but four pieces I either envisioned for something completely different or hadn’t considered being in the collection at all ended up being added. Without those poems, I think the book misses something vital, so I’m very pleasantly surprised by just how much they add that I never realized earlier.

 

What was your experience ordering these poems?

 

I used the same methods for ordering the version of the manuscript Bull City accepted and the one in that appears in the final book version. When we decided to cut a few pieces and add others, what the book was saying and how it was saying it changed a little bit.

 

I like playing music that captures the tone of the work and just being surrounded by it. When I ordered the poems the last time, I had Kris Funn & CornerStore’s version of “Who They Wish I Was” by Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah on repeat. I laid out all the poems and a few maybes around the apartment and went to work. I know it’s common for poets to try to put the strongest poem first in a collection, but I like poems that introduce you to a world to kick things off, too. From the very beginning, the first poem in the chapbook sets the tone, and I love that.

 

Also, I implemented the last line-first line strategy where I’d look at where a poem ended and see how it worked with the first line of the next poem. I think, because of that, the chapbook kind of feels like a conversation or one big piece, and that interests me. It feels more like a concept album to me than, say, a mixtape, if that makes sense.

  

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

 

This is an amazing question! I wish there were some foods associated with the book. I can definitely recommend some alcoholic drinks that would pair well with reading the book as well as some musical selections though.

 

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: Christian J. Collier (christianjcollier.com)

 

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: The Gleaming of the Blade by Christian J. Collier – Bull City Press

 

READ A POEM, “When My Days Fill with Ghosts”:  http://haydensferryreview.com/christian-colliers-when-my-days-fill-with-ghosts

Work-in-Progress

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