Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Not only is Julie Clark's THE ONES WE CHOOSE a fantastic novel that you all should buy right NOW, but it's going to be a FILM!

Not only does the amazing Julie Clark have a debut that is knocking everyone's socks off, she now has a film deal! She is partnering with Courtney Kemp (THE GOOD WIFE/POWER) and Lionsgate to adapt THE ONES WE CHOOSE for television!

I'm thrilled to host Julie here and get all the gossip and the news. Thank you so, so much, Julie. And everyone should go out to your favorite indie and buy this book immediately.

So how did this happen? Was your film agent actively seeking out people or did they approach you?

My literary agent gave the book to my film agents, who read it and then put together a list of producers, production companies, and writers to pitch the project, very similar to how books get submitted to editors. I honestly thought that was as far as it would go. But then my agent emailed me to say "A production company wants to talk to you about an option. DO NOT GET TOO EXCITED." Because a lot of the time, the interest goes nowhere, and she's really good at making sure I keep my feet on the ground and writing the next book. But when the offer came in, she finally gave me permission to get excited.

Do you get to write the script? Be in a cameo?
I will not be writing the script. I have no desire to learn scriptwriting, since I feel like there is still so much to learn about novel writing! But I will be able to consult with Courtney and whoever ends up writing the script, so that's really exciting. And I'll also probably pass on a cameo, since I'm much more comfortable behind the scenes. But it'll be fun fantasy-casting the series with my friends!

Obviously, film changes everything in a novel--how do you feel about that? Can you look at them as two different things?

 I have to look at them as two separate things, since they now own a piece of my story, and they can write it how they thing it will best fit for television. When I spoke with Courtney about her vision, I was really excited about the ideas she had, the things she wanted to incorporate, and even the changes to character and plot that she suggested. I loved THE GOOD WIFE and I love POWER, so I know she'll do something amazing with it.

What's obsessing you now and why?

Working on my second book! I'm at that fun stage of revision where the story, plot and characters are all solid in my mind, so now I can focus on making it sing. I read in a Celeste Ng interview about something her engineer sister says: First you make it work, then you  make it elegant. I'm in the elegant-making stage, which I absolutely love.

So does this fame make it easier to write your next book or harder, and why?

I'm still up at 3:45 every morning because books don't write themselves! I'm hard at work polishing up my next book which we will hopefully be sending out to editors soon.

Thanks Caroline for all you do for authors!! xo

A loving marriage. A terrible medical mistake. Judy Goldman talks about her extraordinary memoir TOGETHER

Judy Goldman has written the most wrenching and beautiful love letter this year. Together: A memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap is about time and resilience, and oh yes, love. And it's remarkable. Judy's the author of
Losing My Sister, a  finalist for Memoir of the Year by both Southeast Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) and ForeWord Review.

Her two novels are  Early Leaving and The Slow Way Back, a finalist for SIBA’s Novel of the Year, winner of the Sir Walter Raleigh Fiction Award and the Mary Ruffin Poole Award for First Fiction. And she's also a poet:  Holding Back Winter and Wanting To Know the End, which was the winner of the Gerald Cable Poetry Prize and the top three prizes for a book of poetry by a North Carolinian – the Roanoke-Chowan Prize, Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize, and Oscar Arnold Young Prize.

I'm so honored to host Judy here. Thank you, Judy!

 I loved reading about how you changed and grew resilient, brave and strong. Do you ever look back at your early years of your marriage and wonder how things would have unfolded if you had been that way back then?

One of the biggest lessons I learned about writing memoir is that you need to include sparks of reflection -- what you knew then, what you know now.  Who am I in light of who I was?  Well, what I know now is that I actually was resilient, brave and strong all along.  I just didn’t know it.  My grandpa called me “Flimely,” a Yiddish word meaning little bird.  That image of me stuck.  I was sweet, demure, too small to be taken seriously.  Even though I broke my engagement three weeks before the wedding (not to the man I’m married to), even though the all-white high school I taught in was one of the first schools in Georgia to admit black students and there were fierce fights every day, even though after teaching for two years I moved to NYC alone, I did not see myself as strong or brave.  But here’s the truth:  I was strong and brave and sweet and demure.  I didn’t know you could be more than one thing.  It took writing this memoir to find all the parts of me, to understand that we are all many things.

There is one line in your book that made me burst into tears: young love turning into old love.  There is, to my mind, something extraordinary, about going through something with another person over a long period of time. It’s easy to be in the rush of love, but navigating the sharks and man-eating jellyfish that pop up are something else, yet it is these very horrors that make love deeper. Can you talk about this please?

 Oh, Caroline, I love that my book made you cry!  In my memoir, I write about how, on our wedding day, my husband and I believed everything would stay exactly the same as the minute the two of us ran down the steps of my parents’ house in a snow of rice.  Look at that brand new husband and wife on the cover of my book -- the wife’s “going away” outfit, how she holds her little white gloves in her hand, the husband’s suit pants too short.  But really, if we’re lucky, if we're fortunate enough to spend years together, we’ll face change — both the slow, ordinary changes that life’s forward momentum brings and the sudden, dramatic ones that take us by surprise.  Identities will shift.  Roles will switch.  When my husband had an epidural to relieve his back pain, something went terribly wrong and he was paralyzed from the waist down.  We had both colluded in seeing him as the strong one in our partnership.  I used to joke I was like Patty Hearst:  I married my bodyguard!  But then I was forced to take over.  My husband was forced to give in.  I write in my memoir:  These shifts do not necessarily cause a marriage to falter.  They can strengthen it.  If we take the aerial view.  And keep creating our marriage as if from scratch.  And keep falling into bed with each other. 

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I tell creative writing students we have to write about what keeps us up at night.  What’s keeping me up now?  I’m working on a new memoir about how I walked alongside the civil rights movement, never for one minute linking arms with the people marching down the middle of the street.  Because I grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, attended the University of Georgia, taught school in Atlanta – during the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ’60s -- I kept finding myself in situations that turned into junctures.          

 Junctures interest me.  We neglect one path in favor of another.  We go straight instead of turning.  Our lives play out.
What else am I obsessing about?  How my 10-year-old grandson’s report on Louisiana is coming along.  What kind of drivers my 16-year-old identical twin granddaughters will be.  I’ll be 77 when my new memoir comes out in February — will I be too old to remember how to give talks and readings?  Do I need new boots for the winter?  
 Should I keep going with my obsessions, Caroline?   

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

What have I learned about writing, success, failure?

Here’s what I know:  You can spend years working on something you’ll end up throwing away.  The truth is, when you begin a new book, you cannot know if it’s going to be okay, or even if it has the potential to be okay.  My second collection of poetry was titled, Wanting To Know the End.  But we can’t know the end.  We can’t know if our children will flourish and be happy.  We can’t know if our house will sell.  We can’t know if we’ll be successful in what we write.  Who even knows what success is?
After I’d written poetry for years and was yearning to write prose, I studied The New York Times Book Review to see how long a novel had to be in order to be called a novel.  I found one that was 206 pages.  Great!  All I had to do was fill 206 pages.
There’s a lot you cannot know when you begin.  No one out there is begging you to write.  No one even knows if you got a single word down today.  Your job is to just push on.  Your job is to write the next word, the next sentence, another page.  Try to make it to 206.

Monday, February 4, 2019

A love letter to her ranch. The perils of the writing life. Finding your center and healing it. The great, great Pam Houston talks about DEEP CREEK

I think I've loved every thing Pam Houston has written. She has that rare ability to be so honest on the page, so brave even as she's being vulnerable that you cannot help but follow every word. I'm a city girl, but DEEP CREEK, her latest masterwork got me in ways I couldn't quite explain, so that I was dreaming of a ranch life, thinking about horses and pipes freezing in snowy weather, and seeing the rare beauty of the world. But she also got me thinking about family, about the wounds they inflict on growing girls and we heal.

I'm not the only one who adores this book. Take a look at these raves:

"…good writing can make you envious, no matter how foreign the terrain. Other times, you read a good memoir and find yourself wanting to track down the author and become friends. A third kind of book is so insightful and evocative, you shelve it beside other favorite and instructive titles. “Deep Creek” might just do all three.”
-Nathan Deuel for the L.A. Times 

“Pam Houston is in possession of a deep, heart-achingly beautiful love for her own personal piece of earth. And as equally deep is her ability for hope. In a time where the world is either drowning, or burning, or being drilled-into, Houston’s outlook promises a better tomorrow – even if that means we’re no longer here.”
-Sara Cutaia for the Chicago Review of Books

“If Cowboys Are My Weakness was Pam Houston’s call to millions of women—blasting us with self-recognition of how we give away our own power—then her new book is the response to that call.”
-Amy Reardon for The Rumpus 

Pam Houston is the author of the memoir, Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, as well as two novels, Contents May Have Shifted and Sight Hound, two collections of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton. Her stories have been selected for volumes of The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Short Stories of the Century among other anthologies. She is the winner of the Western States Book Award, the WILLA Award for contemporary fiction, the Evil Companions Literary Award and several teaching awards. 

I am so tickled and honored to have you here. Endless thanks, Pam.

I love that this book is like a love letter to your ranch. There’s a gorgeous line in your book about how your ranch saved you. I love the unexpectedness of what place does for you. All my life, I never wanted anything domestic because of my upbringing, and then suddenly, I had this old 3 story house, and I swear that house wooed me, and changed me. What I want to know is what you discovered that was new about your ranch in the writing, how you were even more changed by that ranch in writing about it? It surely must have deepened the bond.

I discovered several things writing this book. The first thing is that I wrote my way into a working definition of the difference between the action of fiction and nonfiction on the page.  In fiction writing the action is all vertical.  Fiction pops and dives.  If you were to graph the action of writing fiction it would look like a EKG.  Nonfiction is more about saturation.  It is water running out across a large field, sinking into all of the nooks and crannies. I got saturated with the ranch while I was writing this book, in a good way. I have spent so many of the years there just trying to figure out a way to pay the mortgage, writing the book was time to take stock. To enumerate all of the ways the ranch has grown me up, made an adult out of me, and they were more numerous than I ever imagined it. I knew I loved it in a romantic way, but I didn’t realize how much I loved it in a married people way, in a been through some stuff together way, in a learning each other all the way down to the bone way.

I also deeply loved the parts about your writing career (how is it possible that a university would be so snotty after you had published the incredible Cowboys are My Weakness?!!!), the travel involved. You went from struggling to fame, but what I love the most is you seem the same person, down to earth, knowing what is important. Do you think it is the ranch that helps you not let this all go to your head? I have a feeling that you don’t think you are as famous as you absolutely are, which makes me adore you even more.

I feel very lucky to get to do what I love for a living. And by that I don’t just mean writing, I mean teaching, which if I am really being honest is the center of my life, its deepest heart.  Because of how I was raised, and who I was raised by, I will never stop trying my hardest, never stop thinking that somehow I could have done an even better job, no matter how small or large the job it. I am a Capricorn, for one thing, and you know, we strive. Also, there are so many days when I fail as a rancher, when I fail as a writer, when I fail as a teacher.  So there is plenty of cause to try harder.  My friend Fenton Johnson calls this the price of admission to being a writer. You are never going to think the finished work is as good as it could have been and you are only as good as the thing you are working on right now. If I had let the good stuff that has happened to me go to my head, well, then I would be an asshole.  I feel lucky to be here, lucky to have gotten out of my childhood alive, lucky to have found a place in the world that feels like home, luckiest of all to do what I love for a living, but I don’t take one moment of it for granted. 

Your childhood was a horror house, yet I still felt your deep well of deep understanding and almost matter-of-fact mourning of what you did not have (and should have), and what you did with what you got instead. Do you think we can ever transcend our childhoods? And in a way, should we, since all those healed over wounds make us more compassionate if we let them?

Here is another thing writing this book solidified in my emotional center. I was born to parents who wanted me not at all, but that is far from the worst thing that can ever happen to anyone, and in my case it may have been the very thing that set me on this wonderful path. Being a writing teacher has taught me so many things, but one thing it has really taught me is that the abuse I suffered in my household was probably a 4 on a scale of 10. People do terrible things to children, and in my house, we had enough to eat, we weren’t on the run from the police, there were no guns (just to name a few things our privilege spared us). I don’t even know who I would be if I had not had the childhood I did. Would I be a writer?  Would I have compassion? Would I be so excited when the trauma stories of my students find their way into the world? Would I have found my way to the ranch? Nature was a much better parent to me than either of the people I was born to, but it is possible to see that as a gift rather than a tragedy. I am who I am because of everything that happened, good and bad, and I like who I am well enough.

I’m always obsessed by writing process. Do you feel that every book you write is built on the one before? Or is it always new?

I told myself, when I started writing this book, you are not going to rely on any of your old tricks. That is a terrible thing for a writer to tell herself, and I don’t even know exactly what I meant by it, but I knew each time I was doing that and made myself stop. The themes of my previous work appear in this book because they are the themes of my life, but in the voice of this book I am being much more generous with myself. I made space for self-discovery on the page. That made me very very nervous because I often think reflection, (as it has come to be called in NF classes) can be quite dull and can serve to shut the reader out of the story.  I did more of it than ever before here, and though it scared me I think it was the right decision for this book. 

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Well, I got married last summer, and I have never thought of myself as a married person, and I find my own status therein a constant source of both humor and wonder. I married a Taoist Forest Service lifer named Mike and I want to find a way to write about that happiness. Another dangerous subject.  Other obsessions: The Arctic and the way it is showing us exactly how dire and imminent the climate catastrophe is. Also the beauty of the Arctic. I’m heading to Iceland this summer. The work of my students is obsessing me, especially my students at the Institute of American Indian Arts, who are putting so much good work into the world right now, creating a whole new Native American Literature Renaissance. My non-profit, Writing By Writers, which is growing into all kinds of new programs in several states and Chamonix France. See, I told you, teaching is almost always at the center of my life. 

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Not one.  These were great.  Pan

Bestselling author Pam Jenoff talks about THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS, research, and why every book is harder to write than the last

I'm a little bit prejudiced on all things Pam Jenoff because not only is she a fantastic writer, but she's also one of the most fun people to hang out with at any book festival. Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Winter Guest, The Diplomat's Wife, The Ambassador’s Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She also authored a short story in the anthology Grand Central: Original Postwar Stories of Love and Reunion. I'm so jazzed to have her here. Thank you, Pam!

The premise of The Lost Girls of Paris is irresistible. A widow finds a suitcase of photographs of women, who turn out to have been spies during WWI under the amazing Eleanor Trigg. How did you find this story and what was it about it that made you know that this was the story you had to tell now?

I was researching ideas for my next book when I came upon the story of Vera Atkins (the real-life spy handler who inspired Eleanor Trigg) and the women who served Britain’s Special Operations Executive.  I was struck by the scope and bravery of their endeavors.  I was even more so taken by the fact that some of the women had died and never come back, and that their arrests suggested some sort of betrayal.  I was struck by the theme of strong women and also by the idea of the trust we place in our government – and whether or not that trust is warranted.

What I love so much about The Lost Girls of Paris is how much it fits into our women empowerment movement as it tells the story of these brave, resourceful women who dared and risked their lives even as many women had not yet recognized their own power. Can you talk about this pleas

I have long loved writing about women in history who, in normal times, would have lived a very set life, but through historical events, like war, are thrown off the path.  I like to see how they respond to tests and challenges and how they change and grow. I didn’t set out to write a book about #metoo, but several people (including the movie producer who has optioned it – a woman) have remarked how timely a story it is, as women are finding their voice in government and the arts and all walks of life.

I always want to know how writing one book differs from the last one. Did you feel that you were building on things you had learned—or did you get writers’ amnesia and it just felt like you were learning how to write a novel, even as you were doing it?

Every book is hard for me in a different way.  The Lost Girls of Paris is my tenth and arguably the most difficult to write.  I had three women across years and continents.  Weaving their stories together, managing a balance and finding their voices was equally frustrating, challenging, uplifting and rewarding.

The author Mary Morris once told me, when I was stressing about research, that the trick is to focus on the stories, rather than the dates and facts. Is it that way for you? What’s your research like? And what surprised you about researching The Lost Girls of Paris?

I always say that real life makes for terrible plot, but wonderful setting.  So I try and take all of the research and wave it into the sense of place.  Also, I am a contemporaneous researcher, so I only need to do so much before I start writing, and then I can research specific issues while I write.  (Writing and research are different parts of the brain for me and I do them at different times of the day.) For The Lost Girls of Paris, I was surprised by how many really good non-fiction books had been written about Special Operations Executive and the women who had served in it – and how they differ on what might have actually happened to cause the agents to be arrested.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I am working on a new book that is much darker than anything I’ve written before, and I’m wrestling with how to bring readers joy while being true to the story. I think it will come down to beautiful prose and really engaging characters and relationships.  Also, I normally know most of the story arc and this time I only know the first third.  But the voice is coming through very strong and I am strangely calm about writing into the unknown.


The great Elizabeth McCracken is in the house and talking about her fantastically great new book BOWLAWAY and lots of other stuff, too!

First, the incredible credentials:

Elizabeth McCracken is the author of six books: Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry, The Giant’s House, Niagara Falls All Over AgainAn Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Thunderstruck & Other Stories, and the forthcoming Bowlaway.  She’s received grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Liguria Study Center, the American Academy in Berlin, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Thunderstruck & Other Stories won the 2015 Story Prize.  

Who doesn't adore Elizabeth McCracken? She's hilariously funny on Twitter, her books are spectacular, and she's one of those people who you just want great things to happen to. And they do.

Her new novel BOWLAWAY is about a bowling alley, a mysterious son, and how the past intrudes on the future. (And Elizabeth, my 19 score was caused by gutterballs after gutter balls...) Thanks so so much for being here! I am so jazzed that I might take up bowling lessons, but probably not. And your Elvis hat? That's where Jeff and I honeymooned in December-_Graceland and we got our own private tour.)

I always want to know what was the why now moment for a particular novel? What question was digging at you that you had to explore?

I live in Texas now—heavens, what a sentence—and I miss New England every single day. I miss cultural crabbiness, & I miss autumn, and even ice; I miss steak tips and affordable lobster; oh dear lord do I miss the Atlantic ocean. So I started writing about New England and home. I was also really interested in genealogy—my grandfather McCracken was a genealogist—how devoted people are discovering who they are related to by blood, even though it’s nearly coincidental. I love family stories and how they seem important in a different way than the stories of friends.

 I absolutely loved that the pivot of this novel was a bowling alley!  Oh my God!  Tell me if you researched and what that research was like? Tell me what you think a bowling alley is a metaphor for, if anything? (And by the way, my highest bowling score ever is 19. Yes, that’s right. 19.)

 Well, once you start writing about New England, how can you avoid candlepin bowling? I was on candlepin bowling leagues as a child, and once I was in junior high school and high school, the local candlepin alley was where I hung out to play video games and bowl and eat junk food. I do love candlepin because there’s no such thing as perfection. Low scores are the norm. Nobody has ever rolled a perfect game. It’s dull and repetitive but also somehow beautiful—I wanted to write like life but that seems a bit much even for me.

I did less research than I sometimes do, though I spent a lot of time with a very odd book called The Game of Candlepin Bowling by Florence Greenwood. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of candlepin bowling games, too, which are intensely soothing and weirdly suspenseful. You never know till the ball meets the pins how successful you will be.  (19? Caroline! That seems statistically impossible!)

 What I also adore about your work is that there is an eccentric quality, but we never don’t believe a single thing you write. So, what were you like as a little girl? What was your world view then and what is it now?

I was an eccentric, without a doubt, from a long line of eccentrics, and I was raised (particularly by my mother) to be bullheaded about the things I loved and the things Elizabeth McCracken  effort.

 I have to ask this—I’ve loved your work since The Giant’s House, when you were a single librarian, and now you are married to another writer and a mom. Do you feel as if you are writing your life—and has it changed the way you work?
I definitely don’t feel as though I’m writing my life. My books and my life seem to be happening side by side—though for sure I write about children in a way that I didn’t used to, now that I spend a lot of time staring at them.

 What’s obsessing you now and why?

 Well, like most people I know, the GODDAMN STATE OF THE WORLD. I feel as though ordinarily I would be obsessed with all sorts of things, and my energy is taken up with reading news and donating to progressive causes and casting obscure secular curses on certain people which so far seem not to be working. But I’m also casting about for the new obsession.

 What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

 Yes, I did once get a bowling trophy, for Most Consciences. [sic—they meant “Most Conscientious.” Which is a pretty pathetic thing, when it comes to bowling.]

Friday, January 18, 2019

Art. Life. Loss. A piano. Chris Cander talks about THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO, why it's so wonderful hearing from her readers and so much more.

“A visionary novel about the madness inherent in all art and the burdens of history that give rise to art and must be carried in turn. The miracle of wonderful fiction is to place wondrous objects where we would never expect to find them–to make the unexpected both palpable and real–and this beautiful, intricate novel gives us one indelible picture after another, each one written in a different key.”
—Charles Baxter

Chris Cander is the author of 11 STORIES and WHISPER HOLLOW, which was longlisted for the Great Santini Fiction Prize, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance; nominated for the 2015 Kirkus Prize: Fiction, Kirkus Reviews; and chosen for the Indie Next Great Reads List, American Booksellers Association.

In her latest incandescent novel, THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO, two women, a Soviet concert pianist and a young mechanic, discover their connection to the same Blüthner piano--and to each other.

Thank you so much for being here, Chris!

 I absolutely loved the idea of an upright piano being key in a novel, and how it winds its way through the pages like a refrain. Which brings me to my favorite question: What was haunting you at the moment that made you know that this was the moment when you had to write this particular book?

I've long struggled with my relationship to objects with provenance, mostly because by nature I appreciate minimalism and order. But I was born into a family of artists and archivists, and we have a lot of stuff: my grandfather's countless woodworking treasures; handmade quilts and blankets from the women on my mother's side; my father's photographs, souvenirs, and mementos that have been passed down from one generation to another. Part of me wants to preserve everything with the care and love it deserves, and part wants to set it all on fire. So the idea of a woman having only a single physical object—an enormous, expensive, burdensome one—that represents both her parents and her lost childhood fascinated me. I wanted to know what she’d do with it, because I also want to do know what I will do with all the things I'll eventually inherit.

This wonderful novel spans so many time periods, as well as countries and history, that I am wondering about your craft. Do you map things out? Have charts? What kind of writer are you?

I tried plotting once, and it was the emotional equivalent of solitary confinement. There was no freedom in it, no joy. For me, creative writing is an act of spontaneous exploration, like an unplanned road trip. But when it comes to research, I'm fastidious. I keep precise records of what I've read and whom I've interviewed--and how it all informed the project. I use Aeon software to create timelines, so that every event is precisely noted. (If you want to know the moon phase or the exact age of a character on page 214, for example, I can tell you.) I do a ton of research, but use only enough in my novels so that the reader trusts me enough to lose herself in the story.

I'm also particular about my work ethic. When I’d been working on my first novel for a few months, I decided to calculate my average daily word count, and I came up with an average of .87 pages. I loved that figure, because it sounded so surmountable, and yet I’d made such progress. It became my mantra and my output goal, and now, my family and friends know exactly what I mean when I say, “I’m going to do my .87.” Any day I meet or exceed my .87 is a good writing day. Whether the 300 or so words are actually any good isn’t as important—especially on a first draft—as the commitment to the work they represent.

Art. Life. Loss. To me, these are the big, big questions. Do you think there are ever any concrete, set-in-stone answers? (I know the answer to this, but I’m curious to hear your take on this.)

I think if there were any set-in-stone responses to those huge, abstract ideas, we wouldn't need fiction. (I'm guessing you might feel the same way.)

I also love the title, because that word “weight” is really so freighted. Can you talk about this please?

In this case, the word is a double entendre. There's the psychic, emotional weight of the piano in the characters' lives, which grows heavier and heavier for different reasons, and the actual physical weight, which makes it not only a symbolic burden but a real one. (By the way, this particular Blüthner weighs 560lbs. That's a lot of piano to drag through a desert--and a life.)

What’s obsessing you now and why?

The current administration of our country has inspired/provoked in me an insomnia-inducing concern about the thoughts, emotions, and actions that can draw people together or wrench them apart, and the wounds they inflict on others as they try to heal themselves.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

How about this: Do you like hearing from readers of your books?

When I fall in love with a novel, I reach out to its author to say so, and to thank her for those two or three nights of reading pleasure. Because I mean it, and because I know the gruesome, inspired, tiresome, amazing, thankless, graceful, painful, divine work that goes into writing a book. I think it's nice to express gratitude for work that's made an impact, and I never expect a reply--though the kindest ones often do. And so yes, when a reader reaches out to me, I'm incredibly grateful they took the time to do so. In fact, I framed the first love letter I received from a reader and it still sits on my desk these years later, reminding me that I'm connected not only to the imaginary world, but to the real.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Thomas Kohnstamm talks about LAKE CITY, 3 x5 cards on corkboard, personal ethics, writing, and so much more.

The socko cover

Portrait of the artist

Just some of the rave blurbs

Thomas Kohnstamm is the author of DO TRAVEL WRITERS GO TO HELL? (great title, right?) and he lives and writes in Seattle. I loved Lake City, and I'm thrilled to host him here. Thank you, Thomas!

 I always want to know what the why now moment is for writers—how and why you felt haunted/pressed to write this particular book?

 Lake City took me almost 7 years to write. My first book, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, came out in 2008. I liked the book but it exited the commercial process as a pretty different product than that which I had set out to write. Lake City is, in many ways, the result of me re-starting from scratch, re-learning fiction and writing my purest comedic translation of my take on life and the world around me. It wasn’t something I did as a hobby or for fun: it was a compulsion. Counterpoint was really supportive of me and my creative vision for this book.

 Lake City is a fabulous mix of class and cultures, which I think is particularly appropriate given what’s going on now in politics. Do you think that most people can—like your hero—figure out what the truly right thing to do is? And if not, what the hell do WE do?

Lane, the protagonist, makes a lot of mistakes before kind of, sort of starting to get a few things right. In our dog-eat-dog, hyper-capitalist environment we are asked to make daily decisions where we balance our personal good against the wider good. Everyone likes to say that they are always thinking of others but also nobody wants to be the sucker. We place a ton of cultural value on the trappings of success and not on “he led a nice quiet life, didn’t rock the boat and was really dependable for those close to him.” We are all a combination of successes and failures. It sucks that current leadership models that one should always consider their personal needs before anyone or anything else.

Lake City is also really funny, particularly about Seattle, but I have to say this could take place in Brooklyn, too.  Why do you think our world has gone so haywire

Well, my grandfather was an orphan from Brooklyn and I’m not sure that the world is more haywire now than when he was a kid during WWI. That said (and this is not funny), we do have a fragmentation of society, family and a globalized market which is working out well for those with the right skillsets and gumption and many more are being rendered redundant. I have been thinking a lot lately about how the entire concept of the nation state is likely moribund. As humans, we have some big, fundamental issues to wrestle with in the coming generations.

So this is your debut novel (though you’ve written a memoir and animation series)—did it change your writing or you? And how?

I think that screenwriting really helped me with pace, plotting and dialogue. It is terribly hard to write a novel, but you are also allowed the luxury of a bit of digression in a book. Screenwriting is shorter but you must be ruthless with your words.

They’re all narrative cousins and working on one definitely helps the other.

What kind of writer are you? Do you outline or do you hang out for that notoriously pesky mu

Lake City was very tightly planned: like 3X5 cards on a cork board for most of the scenes. I spend a lot of time (years?) thinking about stuff (searching for the muse?) before really launching into something. I’m not the kind of writer to get off and running on something and then figure out what it is and end up cutting a bunch of pages. That’s not to say that I don’t keep room for flexibility, but my years in the trenches have taught me some pretty painful lessons about undertaking projects without a decent sense of where I’m heading.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Everything: politics, my family, my dogs, beer, weed, skiing, new books I want to read, new shows I want to see, old books I still intend to read, shows and movies I want to catch up on, mountain biking, trying to sleep, travel, languages. And, of course, my next book… already have the 3X5s on the cork board and the first part done.

When do you write?

I’m a bit of an insomniac. I write for a few hours in the afternoon when life and other work allows but, usually, I wait until after my wife and kids are asleep. I try to harness the insomnia as I catch a second wind around ten or eleven pm and can get a lot done between then and one or two in the morning. And no one emails or calls at that time – I love it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Australian outback. The pull toward and against dangerous adventure. Janet Clare talks about her extraordinary debut TIME IS THE LONGEST DISTANCE, obsessions, and her appearance at MY local Little City Books on Feb. 6th--and you all have to come!

I love debuts. Just addicted to them. Janet Clare's TIME IS THE LONGEST DISTANCE is set against the remote Australian outback and features a heroine as startling as the terrain. I called her novel a "phenomenally moving experience." And I'm not the only one knocked out. Look at this:

 “When Lilly, rocked by a family secret, agrees to trek through the Australian outback with her newly-discovered father, brother, and niece, the terrain is as remote and unfamiliar as her traveling companions. There in the crowded vehicle, the torment of past relationships pursues her—wanting adventure while wanting safety, feeling cramped and yet never close enough. A poignant and witty story of survival, trust, and awakening.” Susan Henderson, author of The Flicker of Old Dreams

“In deft, clear prose that reminds of both Cheryl Strayed and Michael Ondaatje, Janet Clare’s debut explores—in riveting, unflinching detail—a woman’s search for connection and meaning. In Lilly’s journey, with unfamiliar family in unfamiliar territory, we have a protagonist wanting in the ways we are all wanting: to find that thing that will make us complete. There are depths in these characters and I loved every word.” Christian Kiefer, author of The Animals 

"An impressive debut. A taut, compelling adventure, exploring little-known landscapes and the depth and breadth of a woman's yearning." David Francis, author of Stray Dog Winter 

I so loved the book that I contacted Janet, and we became long-lost friends and I'm going to be interviewing her at LITTLE CITY BOOKS in Hoboken, NJ on Feb. 6 at 7:00. Come because we are going to be laughing and talking and because her book is amazing.

Thank you, thank you, Janet Clare 

What was it haunting you that got you to write the book?
 Years ago, I heard about a man who, having spent most of his life in the United States, returned home to Australia for his father’s funeral only to find he had a whole other family living on the other side of the country. It started me thinking about that vast land, and all the spaces where we hide ourselves. How separate we can be from people--often family and those we love—who we see every day. And, too, the longing for those lost from our lives. I’ve always said I hate losing anyone still above ground.

What kind of writer are you? Do you make maps, or just follow that pesky muse?
 I make notes. Scraps of paper, post-its. Some that have nothing to do with what I’m writing, but nevertheless may work their way in. Never an outline. I admire people who do it, but I can’t. I have an idea, a point of view, and a place, which is very important to me, and obvious in Time Is the Longest Distance. My protagonist might come from someone I see, which was the beginning for my second novel. I’m always curious about interesting strangers, what their story might be. So, I try to listen, (I confess to being a terrible eavesdropper, though I also ask questions if it’s appropriate), then I just make it up. Start and see where it goes, which is often never where I would have thought at the outset.

What surprised you in writing this book?
The way these people come up against what I consider the big questions we all face in our lives. Love and loss. Thoughts of morality and mortality, and, how capable we might be of actions that surprise and terrify us. How differently we might act if we find ourselves out in some far-reaching emptiness, that sense of being gone from our lives. And, of course, the human imperfections from which we all suffer.

You mention the thrill of transgression. Could you talk about that please?
I think many of us are drawn to a certain danger, especially when presented with opportunity. The idea of breaking away, of chance, and going against the norm. I believe it is often women who a have a true sense of adventure, perhaps even more so than men. Women like Beryl Markham. Her book, West With the Night, has stayed with me forever. I’m not talking about climbing Everest or hand gliding, but stepping off the edge of your everyday life, taking a risk. Nothing quickens the blood more.

What's obsessing you now and why?
I have to admit getting this book out has been all consuming right now, talking about it. It’s all so new to me, but really wonderful. Reaching out to people, saying please, and someone, like you, Caroline, you’re amazing, who just grabs on and connects in a way that’s astounding. It’s the absolute icing, and I’m having a grand time. But I’m really looking forward to getting back to work on polishing my second novel, and a third that needs more time. All I want is enough of it.

What question should I have asked that I didn't ask?
Why didn’t we meet sooner? Though we’re 3,000 miles away, I am beyond thrilled to know you and so happy that you’ve read my book. The friendship and support of other writers, of people I respect, is truly gratifying.