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?
Flat Water is the story of siblings, surfing, and sharks and what happens when those things come together both in the water and out of it. The novel is one part road trip, three parts unresolved grief, and a dash of shark-headed hallucination monstrosities.
Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And which character gave you the most trouble, and why?
I most enjoyed writing Kay, the mother in the novel. She is modeled after my own late mother, René. It was wonderfully fulfilling starting with the base of this woman I had known for the first thirty-seven years of my life she had stuck around and then imagining how she could change in this fictitious world. And though I certainly recognize my mom in the character of Kay, I found such great fun in writing a line while saying to myself, “My mom would never say that.” I don’t know precisely why such moments delighted me so; I just know they did.
The character that gave me the gnarliest headache was Max, the older brother who—with the exception of a handful of flashbacks—is dead throughout the novel. He is the ghost that haunts this story. Because of the setup—beloved older brother dies tragically at the age of nineteen—I ended up turning Max into a faultless martyr of sorts in the novel’s earliest iteration. I needed his character to be craggier and flawed but never to the extent that Monty’s grief at losing him ever felt misplaced.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
I believed in this book right from the jump. The publishing world around me, however, was less enthusiastic. Usually, rejection doesn’t faze me. It was the way the book was so roundly and thoroughly dismissed. As Stephen King articulated for us, getting personalized rejections means you’re getting close. I got nowhere. For months. Then Meagan Lucas, an author I very much admire—and who wrote Songbirds and Stray Dogs and recently released her collection Here in the Dark—got her hands on the book and reached out to me to say how much she enjoyed it. Knowing she thought I was on to something too helped propel me forward in finding a home for the book at Main Street Rag.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
As a grad student, I had this short story I liked, but I was concerned it was just another relationship story. My mentor, Jane Armstrong, chuckled and said, “Jeremy, they’re all relationship stories.” I have co-opted that advice ever since. We should, all of us, write relationship stories. They are fundamentally human and, therefore, matter most.
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
The off-roads I got to take in this novel which, at its core, is a very California story. Even so, the narrative visits a café in Flagstaff, a winery in Cottonwood, Arizona, a casino in Vegas. I remain shocked—and delighted—that a road trip found its way into the book.
How did you find the title of your book?
I knew my title very early on, and it’s an example of something I write primarily for myself. Though the final acts of the novel play out in California, this novel was also, at least in part, my love song to Nebraska. Nebraska is taken from an Oto word which translates to, perhaps unsurprisingly, flat water.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
Absolutely. As a hungry hypoglycemic and food fan myself, I put food throughout this novel—one of the first scenes is set in a restaurant. My personal favorite, however, is when the protagonist and his wife visit a hot dog joint from his past. I’m vegan, so I indulged my previous meat-eating self in building out the menu they order from. That scene was the most fun I had while writing the novel. But as I come back to my vegan self, I like to think even the hot dog joint would approve of a dill potato salad I think would be right at home on that menu. (Scroll below for recipe!)
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READ AN EXCERPT OF THIS NOVEL (click on “samples”):
https://mainstreetragbookstore.com/product/flat-water-jeremy-broyles/ (the “Samples” button leads to the novel’s first chapter)
- Russet potatoes, five pounds (peeled and diced)
- Vegan Mayonnaise, approximately one cup (I almost always go with Follow Your Heart)
- Yellow mustard, two tablespoons
- Fresh dill, one package or approximately twenty sprigs (finely chopped)
- Dill pickles, two (cubed)
- Celery, approximately four stalks
- Salt (kosher works best)
- Pepper (freshly ground is my go-to)
*One of the advantages of this recipe is its adjustability. For example, upping the amount of mayo used makes for a creamier salad reminiscent of deviled egg varieties. The keys, and there are two, that will help push the dish beyond the reputation (sometimes earned) of bland vegan food are these: salt and acid. Salt the water before bringing it to a boil. Salt the potatoes once they are cooked. Don’t be shy with either the mustard or the pickles. That’s the acid that brightens this salad up. And it’s hard to put too much dill in there. Seriously. Kill it with dill.
- Bring a large stock or soup pot to a boil. Aim for the pot to be approximately ¾ full, depending on the pot, as you need room for the potatoes. Salt the water with two heavy pinches of kosher salt.
- Peel and dice the potatoes. At least two rinsings are suggested—once after they’re peeled and again after they’re diced.
- Carefully place the potatoes into the boiling water. A large mixing spoon works well as a vehicle to place the potatoes in the water to avoid splashing.
- As the potatoes boil, rinse and chop the celery. Dice the pickles. Finely chop the dill. Make sure to remove the leaves from the stem. We appreciate the stem’s contribution, but we’ll be eating only the tasty leaves.
- Stir and check the potatoes regularly. To know when they are cooked, retrieve the large mixing spoon. Trap a single cube against the side of the pot using the spoon’s backside. If the potato just yields under gentle pressure, it is done. If you have to force the issue to get the potato to break, then it needs more time. If it squishes to mush when you press it, then you are on you way to making mashed potatoes.
- Once the potatoes are cooked, drain thoroughly and place into a large mixing bowl. Add salt again (two healthy pinches of kosher). This is also a good time to grind pepper over the top to taste.
- Add the previously prepared celery, pickles, and dill.
- Add the mayo and mustard.
- Stir to bring the ingredients together. If the mixture is looser than preferred, don’t hesitate to add more mayo. To give it even more punch, though, add a spoonful or two of the pickles’ brining liquid.
- Serve immediately warm or chill overnight for the ideal picnic or cookout accompaniment. The salad kills at potlucks too.