Tuesday, March 22, 2016

WIN a $100 Pandora certificate and a signed copy of the fabulous Wade Rouse's (aka Violet Shipman) new novel, The Charm Bracelet

I know the photo of that handsome devil on top doesn't look like a Viola Shipman, but he is! I first met uber-popular memorist Wade Rouse at Kathy L. Murphy's exuberant Pulpwoods Queens event. Imagine 500 people and 30 writers, and all the writers had to dress in circus gear and serve barbecue to the guests. Being a vegetarian, this was hard for me to do, but Wade and his husband Gary began joking with me, putting me at ease, and soon I was on the floor in stitches. And they kept me that way through the 3-day event. We've all stayed friends and I am thrilled to announce Wade/Viola's new book, THE CHARM BRACELET.

For his pen name, Wade chose his grandmother's name to honor the woman whose charms, life and lessons inspired his debut novel.

I was lucky enough to read an early manuscript of this novel and fell in love with it so much I provided a blurb which appears on the back cover. I'm excited to be able to pair with the author on a giveaway that truly captures the beauty and meaning of the novel, in which the charms on a grandmother's heirloom bracelet reconnect her to her daughter and granddaughter and remind them of what's most important in life: family, friends, and a passion for what you do.

You can win a signed copy of this book, as well as a $100 Pandora gift card, if you please respond with a story (and photo, if you can) of your favorite heirloom and what it means to you. I will announce a winner a week from today (the 29th) by having my husband select a random number based on the total number of entries. Good luck, and please pre-order Wade's beautiful book today from your favorite bookseller.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The amazing, book-passionate, force of nature, Colleen Dunn Bates talks about the incredible publishing house (celebrating its tenth anniversary): Prospect Park Books

Colleen Dunn Bates is wonderful. We talk books, we talk publishing, and what I most want to do is get to have coffee and pie with her in person. Her Prospect Park Books (celebrating it's tenth year!) produces wonderful , critically acclaimed nonfiction, fiction--and these books succeed like crazy. And she deeply cares about her writers. In one conversation, I mentioned this novel I loved, Gina Sorell's Mother's and Other Strangers, and Colleen, overburdened with work, heard the passion in my voice, and took a look--and bought the novel a few weeks later! I'm thrilled to host her here. Thank you for everything, Colleen!

When and why did you start Prospect Park Books? How has it changed since its inception ten years ago?

Prospect Park Books is a California native, publishing beautiful print and digital books with wit, creativity, and intelligence. We focus on fiction, humor, cooking/food, and regional titles, and we work with authors, designers, and artists who are outside of the New York mainstream.
Prospect Park Books is a California native, publishing beautiful print and digital books with wit, creativity, and intelligence. We focus on fiction, humor, cooking/food, and regional titles, and we work with authors, designers, and artists who are outside of the New York mainstream.

I started Prospect Park Books in my house ten years ago. (Side note: not in Brooklyn—I live in an historic neighborhood of Pasadena called Prospect Park.) In the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was the packaging editor of a series of guidebooks published by Simon & Schuster, and I also wrote tons of magazine articles and a few nonfiction books. In 2002, Crown published a book called Storybook Travels that my friend Susan LaTempa and I wrote. We were so proud of that book—still are—and were sad to see it fizzle from neglect, bad luck, and some poor choices. The experience left me a little bitter, but I loved books, so eventually I decide to publish books myself and try to do a better job with and for debut and midlist authors than the big guys were doing.

 PPB has changed dramatically since those early days. I really had no idea what I was doing back then, so I learned by doing and failing. My first book, an unusual guidebook called Hometown Pasadena, succeeded far beyond my (modest) hopes, and it gave me the hubris to keep going. I learned some hard lessons in the following couple of years, not the least of which was the nearly impossible challenges involved in publishing guidebooks, which date very quickly.

 I now think of Prospect Park as two businesses: The first phase lasted four years, and the second iteration is six years old. Six years ago, luck and circumstance and friendship led me to publish my first novel, Lian Dolan’s Helen of Pasadena, and it did very well. I’ve always been a big fiction reader, but until then, I felt that I had no business publishing fiction. But suddenly that’s what I was doing.

 At that same time I was going through breast cancer, which was pretty overwhelming. I had a teenager at home, another kid in college, a business I was running alone, and a year and a half of surgery, chemo, radiation, and more treatments. But thanks to a wonderful husband, great kids, and an amazing and large community of friends and family, I got through it all very well. And then we became empty nesters, so I hurled myself, with tremendous post-cancer energy, into growing Prospect Park. About that same time, an old friend, Patty O’Sullivan, joined me, and together we created a business plan, got some funding, committed to publishing more titles (including more fiction), and moved our distribution to Consortium. Patty moved on to new adventures recently, but we remain great friends, and I’m grateful for how much she did to help grow the business.
Patty once described us as a “nano Random House,” which was apt. We are quite unusual for a small press. Typically they have a tight focus: perhaps poetry, or fantasy, or sustainable living. It would have been much smarter, business-wise, to just publish one kind of book. But I find that boring. I want to publish what I love and what I know. I read popular and literary fiction and mysteries and humor, and I was a writer/editor in the food world for many years, and I love my hometown of L.A.—so therefore I publish fiction, mysteries, cookbooks, humor, and books about L.A. A crazy-broad mix for an indie, but there you have it.
Prospect Park Books does such wonderful books--and they get acclaim in the NYT, The Washington Post, and make the Best of the Year lists--and they also happen to have fabulous covers. This is amazing in a tough publishing climate! How do you do what you do?

With an inherent (if now tempered) optimism, a lifelong drive to be around and to connect smart, talented, thoughtful people, tons of hard work, and no doubt a stiff shot of insanity. Really, it’s a nearly impossible business for those of us who are not nonprofits and therefore can’t get grant money to help with overhead and staff. But I’ve given this ten years of my life, and goddamnit, I’m going to make it work!

 In truth, it's all about the people. It’s always about the people. The books are wonderful because talented people write them and talented people design them. My job is to find those people, assemble great teams, make the books as good as they can be, both editorially and physically, and do everything I can to get them the attention and sales they deserve. Without deep pockets. How hard could that be?

 The heartbreak is the tough publishing climate. I’ve had worthy books sell well, and make the L.A. Times Bestseller list, and win awards… and I’ve had equally worthy books struggle to get the audience they deserve. There are just so damn many books out there. I recognize that I’m part of the problem by adding to the stacks littering the hallways at Library Journal. But I’m in too deep now to stop. Plus I believe in every book and every author.

Tell us about "being arrested" by Booklist! The story is hilarious. And see the mugshot above.

I publish mysteries, and they’d been getting well reviewed in Booklist, because I’m blessed with such damn fine mystery/crime writers. They were doing a feature on editors of mysteries, so the writer included me. It was an honor, because Prospect Park is so small. And it was fun to play along with the theme, which included providing front- and side-view mugshots of me.

What's obsessing you now and why?

Two things. First, the search for funny. It is so very hard to write funny, and nothing makes me happier than a smart, engaging book— fiction or nonfiction— that makes me laugh. I’m all about a good laugh, which you might not know from some of the more serious books I publish. (But I love all my children equally, really I do.) It has been so much fun to publish such witty authors as Lian Dolan, Anne Flett-Giardano, Jennifer Worick, Judy Rothman, Christopher Noxon, Karen Rizzo, and Phoef Sutton, and I am always on the hunt for a new writer who has the rare gift of writing funny.
Second, I’m obsessed with my business. Nothing is more entrepreneurial than a small press. Unlike tech, we’re not getting VC money to pay for staff, and we’re selling a product that can and is returned for full refunds for basically forever. So like a cactus in the Mojave, we have to look for every clever way we can to survive. I’m always working, always thinking, always trying to figure out how to make it succeed. So many people have this fantasy of life at a small press, that you get to sit around and read and talk to authors and leisurely debate cover designs. We get to do that for about 15 minutes a week.

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

What books are coming up next? I’m so glad you asked. This spring and summer have such a lovely mix: the big, gorgeous cookbook Little Flower Baking, by Christine Moore; the gripping and important novel This Side of Providence by Rachel Harper; the sixth Mas Arai mystery, Sayonara Slam, by the gracious and beyond-wonderful Naomi Hirahara; and the paperback launch of Christopher Noxon’s wise, witty, and tremendously entertaining debut novel, Plus One.
Coming in the fall-winter season is an equally diverse mix. First up is Bertrand Court, the second work of fiction from Michelle Brafman, whose debut Washing the Dead we published last year. She’s such a talent, and as you know, this new book is so beautifully written, and I have very high hopes for it. Next is the paperback edition of Alan Hruska’s excellent legal thriller Pardon the Ravens, which we published in hardcover last year; an adult coloring book (yes, jumping on the bandwagon) for my current hometown, Color Pasadena; a fun and fast-moving crime thriller, Heart Attack & Vine, the second in the Crush series by the very talented Phoef Sutton; a terrific debut novel that you’ve already read, A Narrow Bridge, by Joyce Gittlin and Janet Fattal; and a humor/gift book called Talk Like a Californian: A Hella Fresh Guide to Golden State Speak. We're having lots of fun with that one.

 And even more beyond that, including Gina Sorell’s remarkable debut novel, Mothers & Other Strangers, which you told me about! It’s already well into 2017 in my world. And I’m happy to say that 2017 is looking very good indeed.

Kristi Coulter talks about Yoga Behind Bars, blogging, her new novel THE THIRD PARTY, yoga poses and so much more

Thanks to the amazing Jean Trounstine, I've been attending bookclubs run for previously incarcerated women who must attend a class as part of their parole or probation. It's been an extraordinary experience (forget everything you know about women's prisons. Every woman I spoke with hated Orange is the New Black and felt it was unrealistic.)  So I happened to meet the amazing Kristi Coulter who started up Yoga Behind Bars. I'm so jazzed to have Kristi here. Thank you a zillion times, Kristi!

I've spent most of last year researching women in prison, and the most profound experience I had was going to two book group classes for women who were on parole or probation. I loved these women--and I was shocked at how stunned they ere that someone would actually WANT to come to their group, because as far as I could see, the honor of listening to their stories was mine. You're involved with yoga in prison.. Yoga Behind Bars/ Please, tell us about it--how does the program work, what does it do for women--and what doesn't it?
Yoga Behind Bars is a nonprofit here in Seattle that offers free yoga and meditation classes to incarcerated people throughout the Washington state prison system; I'm on the board of directors. Prison is an insanely stressful, dehumanizing environment--we try to counter that impact by giving prisoners tools for dealing with stress and anxiety both while they're incarcerated and afterward, when they are back in their communities. Our students tell us they feel calmer, healthier, and happier from practicing yoga, and that leads to great downstream effects like more thoughtful conflict resolution and decision making.

We have a long-term vision of changing what incarceration means in America--making it something that actually helps people and sends them back out into the world ready to succeed, vs. just warehousing them for a time. We work with other organizations and the legislature toward that goal. But our core mission is to give prisoners tools right now. Some of the people we teach probably shouldn't be in prison at all. Some of them are there because of crimes stemming from untreated addiction or mental illness. And some of them did pretty bad things and absolutely are in the right place. We don't really draw a distinction. They all can benefit from mindfulness.

We reach 5,000 students a year via a small army of yoga teachers who volunteer their time. Even with their efforts, it's hard to keep up with demand--so in late 2015 we launched the nation's first 100-hour teacher training program for prisoners. Our first class of ten men--we started with men because 93% of our state's prison population is male--just graduated, and now they can offer yoga classes in their home facilities. These are all guys who are serving long-term or life sentences, and now they are in a position to be embedded teachers and role models in their prisons. That's huge. That's how cultural change starts to take root and spread.

What does our program do for women? Well, on a purely physical level it helps them (and men) feel better. Many of our students have chronic aches and pains or other physical issues that yoga helps to relieve. It also helps them to find some quiet. New teachers are often shocked by how LOUD prisons are. For a couple of hours a week our students can be in a quiet room where they work on cultivating internal calm and peace. And most importantly, it builds their self-esteem, which is a major issue for many incarcerated women. We're currently raising money to hold a 100-hour teacher training for women prisoners. Funds permitting, that should happen in the fall.

What doesn't our program do for women? One thing is that it doesn't help them sustain a yoga practice or yoga community post-release. Yoga classes are expensive, not to mention very white. Many of our students are of color, and when they look inside a commercial yoga studio they don't see anyone who looks like them and are dissuaded. (Just like I'm too shy to go to one of those black churches with the big gospel choir even though it would be supremely awesome.) And even if that weren't a barrier, affordability often is. We constantly kick around ideas--could we offer scholarships? could we at least give a free mat to every paroled student for home practice? There's much to be done by the broader yoga community to make it more accessible to people who aren't your standard head-standing middle-class white lady (like yours truly). One local studio launched a monthly class geared specifically toward people of color, and received such an onslaught of harassment, including death threats, that not only was the class cancelled, but the entire studio closed out of safety fears. Death threats! Over yoga! In one of the most liberal cities in America! I mean, sweet fancy Moses. So yeah, there is work to be done.
How did you get involved with Yoga Behind Bars?

I've been practicing yoga for 12 years and at one point considered becoming a teacher, because yoga has been transformative for me and I wanted to pass that along to other people. But there are a LOT of yoga teachers out there already, especially (or so it seems) on the West Coast. When I learned about YBB I thought aha, here is a different way to help. I became a donor, and then got to know the leadership team and helped them recruit and hire a new executive director. (I have conducted almost 700 job interviews in my corporate job, so I'm sort of an expert.)  And last year I joined the board of directors. From my day job I know a lot about building businesses from the ground up via strategic planning, team development, and other wonkish-sounding skills that are very useful for a fast-growing organization like YBB. So that's the role I serve. I can't teach a roomful of people to do Revolved Triangle, and I can't speak with deep authority about reforming our penal system, but I can read a 5-year plan and pinpoint the traps and blind spots that someone else might miss.

 You've written fabulous essays and commentaries, all on your great blog, and you're now a novelist. Tell me what that feels like? (I ask because when I first wrote a novel, I threw up a lot. A whole lot.)  Can you talk about the novel, please?
Well, here's my story: I went straight from college to an MFA program at age 22, and won some nice prizes and published some pieces and was pretty darn sure I'd be famous by 30, or at least 30-*ish*. And then...what happened? A few things. One is that I did not yet have the stamina required to really do the work. Writing had always come easily to me, and I stood out in a few small ponds, and then post-MFA I landed in a big pond with other equally talented writers who actually worked really hard and I went "Wait, what's going on here?!" Plus I had bag-lady fears so wanted a "real job," which proved to be a distraction. And also I was just TIRED. I'd been writing like a maniac since high school and had never really done anything else. I would give my characters the most awkward, obviously fake jobs because I barely knew what a job was like myself. I mean, I was one step away from making them all recent MFA graduates who now temped in law offices.

So without ever officially quitting, I drifted. Got married, got some dogs, traveled, found my way into a number of fairly high-powered and interesting corporate jobs, etc. (I still have bag-lady fears, though.) And along the way, managed to develop a white-wine habit that eventually led me to realize that I was a--oh, what's the word I'm looking for?--a drunk. A high-functioning, urbane, nice drunk, but still. So I threw a bucket of cold water over myself. As part of getting sober I started my Off-Dry blog, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people. And about six months into sobriety I had a craving to WRITE-write again, so one day I sat down and wrote three pages of a story. I would say it was as easy as getting back on a bike, except I recently rode a bike for the first time in a decade and it was kind of a disaster. (Bumpy dirt road, angry Mexican dog, etc.)  It was much easier than that.

That was almost three years ago, and I've been writing pretty steadily since then, and it's FUN now in a way that it wasn't in my striving 20s. Even when the day-to-day work is kind of a slog, which it often is, it's a GLORIOUS slog. So that is how it feels. Sloggy and glorious and woeful and joyful and just the right amount of scary. There's not a luckier girl in the world.

As for the novel itself: the working title is THE THIRD PARTY. It's a love-and-friendship triangle about a feminist historian and two very tall men: a former track star who has never left the state of Michigan and his misanthropic older brother, who makes hipster bourbon for a living. It's set in Ann Arbor and is a (mildly exasperated) love letter to college towns--the way they are urbane and provincial, arrogant and defensive all at once. It's about people trying to expand the boundaries of their lives and what happens when they do so thoughtlessly or too fast. There is a St. Bernard named Scobie in it, and a 50K race run on a single one-mile loop, and a made-up heroine of the Michigan women's suffrage movement. There is a dowager with a sword cane, and a little bit of sex. I was inspired by big-hearted, wryly funny books like The Art of Fielding and The Interestings and every Laurie Colwin novel ever. I'm trying to write a novel that could make someone feel the way I did when I discovered those books.

Seeing it all written out like this makes me think I sound crazy. That's normal, right? Please say yes even if you have to lie.  (Note: Answer is YES.)

While working on THE THIRD PARTY, I've also been writing and publishing essays about my transformation from chronically hungover jackass into sober and bright-eyed semi-jackass. I'm currently working on a proposal to turn those into a book, too. Perhaps I'll call it SEMI-JACKASS. (Then again, perhaps not...)

What kind of writer are you? Do you plan things out or just sit down and write and see what happens? Do you have rituals? (I love rituals..)
Oh god, I want to be a planner! It sounds so wonderful. But I can't do it. When I plan more than one chapter ahead, the words just sit there on the page like lumps of bad biscuit dough. I started THE THIRD PARTY with a last line, a couple of characters, and a song stuck in my head, and it's grown organically from there. I'm very scene-oriented, so often the process feels like I'm swinging from scene to scene on a jungle vine, trying to hang on. At one point I told a writer friend, "I seem to be writing this thing in concentric circles" and then waited for her to tell me that was totally normal. I'm still waiting.

I also love rituals, but I've almost made a fetish this time around of NOT having them, because I can easily get hung up on everything being just so. I carry an iPad mini and keyboard in my purse so I can yank it out anywhere and write a few lines--as someone with a full-time day job, I knew I had to learn to seize the moment and not be precious about it. I actually wrote a decent paragraph while sitting inside a drive-through car wash last week.

What's obsessing you now and why?
I think a lot lately about women and why our freedom so often seems to be in the hands of a small group of powerful men, whether they are senators or mullahs or just guys with guns. I'm also fascinated by the way that alcohol permeates every aspect of US culture--I ran a half-marathon last year that had a margarita tent!--and by how I see women confusing over-drinking with empowerment. (Which I TOTALLY did myself.) What else? Distance running, Tom Ford lipstick, a Cincinnati band called Wussy who are the best-kept musical secret in America. A wonderful new novel called Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte. And finding the perfect tan booties for spring--so if you see any...

What question didn't I ask that I should have?
"What's your favorite and least favorite yoga pose, Kristi?" Favorite: Uttanasana. What's not to like about just flopping forward? Least favorite: so many to choose from! Today I'll go with Parivrtta Utkatasana, or Twisted Chair Pose. I do not particularly enjoy cramming my stomach and most of my internal organs onto the side of one leg while also doing a squat. Maybe it's just me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Secrets. musical theater (Hamilton!), writing, more. Lynda Cohen Loigman talks about her amazing debut THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE

First, the reviews!

The Associated Press called The Two-Family House "a richly textured, complex, yet entirely believable story.

The Beaumont Enterprise says that the characters in this debut are "achingly human, tragically flawed and immediately recognizable."
Oprah Book Club Pick author Christina Schwartz, national bestselling author of Drowning Ruth raves, "In a single, intensely charged moment, two women come to a private agreement meant to assure each other's happiness. But as Loigman deftly reveals, life is not so simple, especially when it involves two families, tightly intertwined."

And because this is only the second day the novel has been out, there will be more praise flooding in.

The Two-Family House (published by St. Martin's Press) is the debut of the talented Lynda Cohen Loigman. I'm so delighted to host her here. Thank you so much Lynda!

Every novel seems to have some sort of spark, something that was haunting the author that compelled him or her to write. What was it for you?

When I was young, my favorite stories were the ones my mother and her two sisters would tell me about their childhood in Brooklyn. They lived with their parents on the top floor of a two-family house, and my grandmother’s brother, his wife and their three daughters lived on the bottom floor.

My aunts told the best stories – tales of knish carts, holidays and visits to a fancy Italian restaurant in Manhattan. As a young girl with only one brother and no sisters, I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than growing up in a two-family house as one of six girls. That home became the setting for The Two-Family House.

The spark for the story was separate, and it was something that came to me when I was pregnant with my first child. I had made a deal with my husband about how many children we would have – I had agreed to stop at two, but I insisted that if the first two were boys, we would try again for a girl. My desire for a girl was something that consumed and confused me. Why did I care so much? Why did anyone?

My grandmother, the mother of three girls, told me many times throughout my childhood how much she had wanted a boy. My brother was the first of her four grandsons, so you can only imagine how much she doted on him. There is a scene in The Two-Family House where Helen remembers her grandmother giving her brother the coveted cherry from the top of the chocolate cake she brought every week from their local bakery. That was me – my grandmother let my brother have the cherry every Saturday!

I thought about gender a lot when I was pregnant, about how far people might go to have a boy or a girl. Then, six months after my daughter was born, I read an article about a new technology that allowed couples to come closer then ever to choosing the gender of their baby. I wondered whether my grandmother would have used something like that if it had been available in her time, and it occurred to me how lucky it was that both she and her sister-in-law had three girls each. There was no reason for envy or resentment to fester. But I couldn’t help imagining what might have happened if one of them had all girls and the other all boys. What would that house have looked like? What if they had been pregnant together? Imagine the tension!

That’s where the story came from, and for years I would tell different ideas about it to my husband and to my friends.  I was telling this story for at least ten years before I ever started writing it down.

What kind of writer are you? What’s your process like—and what do you wish it were like?

Well, I’m still figuring this one out, but while I was writing The Two-Family House I found that my need to include certain scenes shaped my process. Before I started writing, I had a list of very specific situations I wanted to put the characters in, certain moments I wanted them to suffer through, especially after the night of the blizzard. A lot of people have described The Two-Family House as “character-driven,” and it definitely is. But what drove me while I wrote was my desire to show the behavior and reactions of the characters when they were in distress.

For instance, I wanted to have a scene where Helen was required to fill out paperwork for one of the children. It sounds like such a mundane task, but given the story, that moment where Helen has to write down what her relationship is to Teddy on a hospital form becomes very dramatic. Once I had that scene in my mind, I had to figure out a way to get the characters to the emergency room, so I came up with Teddy’s accident at Sol’s party. The creation of the party led to other events – Rose wandering off, and Mort blaming Judith. Every time I put my characters in an uncomfortable or painful situation, they took over. They did and said things that surprised me, but working that way helped me get closer to them and to craft a more realistic story.

I wrote The Two-Family House from the points of view of the six main characters – four adults and two children. This structure helped me get into each character’s head in the best possible way, and it allowed me to dig very deeply. One thing I loved about this method was that it allowed me to replay certain moments from different perspectives.

The last thing I’ll say is that while I was writing The Two-Family House, I discovered what a linear writer I am – I have to write my stories in the order that people will read them. I can’t skip ahead and write the ending because I need to experience the story along with the reader. As I write, things change, characters develop, details are added and layers accumulate. For instance, I could never have written about Natalie as a young woman until I had written about her as a child. I wish I were not so tied down to this way of writing, because when I get stuck, I am truly stuck! I can’t make myself work on a different part of the story, and sometimes that drives me nuts.

This is your debut, so what’s up next? And does having one book published feel like writing the next book will be easier?

I’m very excited about my next book! I’ve been working on a story about a recently engaged young woman and her grandmother. The grandmother has kept a secret from her family for over fifty years, and it finally catches up with her as she watches her granddaughter navigate the upcoming wedding. There is more humor in this next book than there was in The Two-Family House, but it is still a complex and character-driven story. The book flashes back to the grandmother’s days as a young woman, so we get to see a lot of the 1930s and 1940s in New York.

It’s definitely easier to write this second novel. Some of that stems from the fact that I have more confidence in my abilities, but a lot of it is because I have learned how to be more productive.

I always want to know what surprised you in the writing of this particular book, how the characters took over, or the plot changed, or any way, really. What surprised you?

I love this question! When I first started thinking about The Two-Family House – and long before I began writing it – I was focused on the women in the story. Back then, they weren’t Helen and Rose yet, but I knew that one of them would be the mother of four boys and one would be the mother of three girls. I was obsessed with these women, and I spent years thinking about them and asking myself questions about them. What kind of women were they? What kind of mothers? What were their relationships with their children like? What were their secret longings and what disappointments had life thrown their way? What would happen to their relationship if they made certain choices? Sure, I knew there would be men in the story, that Abe and Mort would be important characters, but I didn’t really think about the emotional trajectories of the men in the same way. I always thought that the women would be the real stars of the show.

But when I began to write, the men became just as important as the women, and I grew just as attached to them. I always knew Abe would be a great guy, a lovable mensch, from beginning to end. We all know people like Abe, so he was easy. But Mort? Mort was the toughest, initially the most despicable, and, in the end, the biggest challenge to write because of the way he redeemed himself and changed his way of thinking. What surprised me the most was how much I looked forward to writing the chapters that were told from his point of view.

I knew Mort would grow on me, but I did not anticipate how much his character would consume my thoughts. He kept getting more interesting, more multifaceted and more conflicted as I wrote. I wanted to know what drove him to behave the way he did, I wondered if he could truly change, if he could forgive and love and mourn. Mort captured my heart in a way I never could have predicted when I began to write the story. The novel started out as a story about two women, but in some ways Mort emerged as the most complex character of all.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I’m a big musical theater person, so it won’t surprise you to know that I am thoroughly obsessed with Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. I dragged my husband and friends to see it at The Public Theater last winter, but we had no idea what a phenomenon it would become. When the soundtrack came out, my daughter and I began listening to it, and now it is on a constant loop in my car. I finally took her to see it in January for her 17th birthday, and she was completely blown away.

I think that Hamilton has particular appeal for writers – the focus is on the lyrics, and the words are the stars of every song. Plus, one of the recurring themes is Hamilton’s writing – how much he wrote, how he couldn’t stop himself from writing, how he even tried to write his way out of public scandal. I think that all authors can relate to that overwhelming need to write, and to fill a creative void.

Plus, the other appeal for me is that the show was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. You have to love a musical that is based on a book!

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

Well, one question that people ask me a lot is when the reader is supposed to know the truth of what happened the night of the blizzard. The answer is that I always assumed that readers would figure this out quickly, or at least have strong suspicions from the beginning of the story. I tried to keep the night of the blizzard murky and mystical – without coming right out and saying what happened – because I wanted it to haunt the reader the same way it haunts Helen and Rose. But I always intended the book to be a drama and not a mystery: the choice the two mothers make is not a secret I want to keep from the reader – rather, it is a secret that Rose and Helen keep from the other characters. For me, the most compelling part of the story is not the choice that Helen and Rose make – it is the way that choice affects the rest of their lives, their relationships with their families and with each other.

Thank you so much for all of your questions, and for having me on your blog. I am so grateful and honored to be one of your guests!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

John Jodzio talks about his extraordinary collection of stories, KNOCKOUT, writing, how many people have died from javelin accidents, and so much more

John  Jodzio's work has been featured in a variety of places including This American Life, McSweeney's, and One Story. He's the author of the short story collections, Get In If You Want To Live and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home and the forthcoming Knockout (Soft Skull Press, Spring 2016). He lives in Minneapolis and I am so excited to have him hosted here! Thank you, thank you, John.

I always ask writers what was haunting them before they began writing their particular book, so I want to ask you the same question. And did writing Knockout answer any questions for you?

It took me five years to write all the stories in Knockout.  All throughout that time I went through the traditional roller coaster that I think every writer of every book throughout history has gone through – lots of angst about whether what I thought was good was actually good.  Writing Knockout answered one large question in my mind and that was could I follow up my first short story collection (If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home) with something better and more satisfying? Luckily, I think Knockout has accomplished that.   

What I loved so much about this collection are the surprises, which are stated very matter-of-factly. An Opium Depot opens up. A bounty hunter has a pet boa and another story features a ragtag tiger.  There’s also an alcoholic bed and breakfast. Yet everything connects in a way that is so startling, you find yourself rereading pages. So, how do you write? Do you plot everything out or do you find yourself just following the muse? Do you have serious rituals?

I am a slow writer and I think the reason it takes me a ton of time to finish stories is I’m constantly fiddling with plot points and characters and making damn sure that anything bizarre seems like it is matter-of-fact.  My one goal is always to keep my reader entertained and to not do anything to knock them out of the world I’ve created. 

I don’t really do much plotting.  Most of my stories are simply the product of a funny sentence I’ve written or an intriguing scenario I want to explore and then they are pulled together by trial and error over a ton of drafts.  
The only serious ritual I have is that I eat way too many burritos.

You could say that the characters in Knockout are knocked about by life, their dreams pressed to the pavement, their dead ends growing deader by the minute—but there is also a frisky glimpse of hope here, and lots of hysterical and smart humor. I’m just curious: why are these people on the edge of life your chosen cast of characters? What is the singular thing that they can reveal?

I think I’ve always been interested in people who are getting knocked about.  I’m trying to figure out how hope and humor are present within the tragic and unsettling. For whatever reason, these are the characters and themes I constantly return to when I write.     

You’ve got real cult status. You’ve been called a weirdo by the likes of an admiring Dan Chaon and a thematic traditionalist by Chuck Klosterman. So what do you call yourself?

The only thing I ever tell anyone about myself is that I’m a short story writer.  Maybe I’ll combine Dan and Chuck’s descriptions and call myself “a weirdo thematic traditionalist who eats a lot of burritos”? 

What’s obsessing you now and why?

In the last few weeks I’ve started to work on my next book.  It’s a novel and it’s totally baggy and full of possibility at this point.  I’m excited and scared about whether or not I’ll be able to pull everything together in a meaningful way.

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

Q: At this point in your novel how many people have died from javelin accidents?
A:  At this point four, but there may be a couple more.

The totally fabulous Julie Klam talks about writing, giving advice, the road to publishing, and why no one knows what really sells books

 Can you ever get enough Julie Klam? No, of course you can't, and that's why I'm including this great interview that Julie offered me. Julie is not only the author of the fabulous books above, she's an advice columnist at Dame, a book critic, dog lover and hilariously funny.

You graduated from New York University in 1988 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in film, cinema and fine arts. In 2001, you began working as a freelance writer, landing articles in such publications as O, The Oprah Magazine, Rolling Stone, Harper’s bazaar, Glamour and The New York Times Magazine. How do new writers get their work published in a national magazine? What is the basic process and what are some important “must-dos” to be successful? 

Things have changed so much… sooooooo much since 1988. For example, when I pitched a magazine, I would go to my fire pit and send the smoke signal ‘Johnny Depp profile’ and if the editor liked it, I would get paid two wooly mammoth skins a word. Ha ha I joke. But it was all mail and follow up phone calls, oh yeah and there were actual magazines to pitch to, a lot of them. That’s what people looked at when they were bored. Now we are never bored because we have our phones!
But you want advice. Well, it’s about a gazillion times harder to get an assignment because more writers and less places to write. That said, I think if someone wants to write something, you have pitch it well to an editor and if they say no, see if you can get an idea what they’re looking for. Or build a time machine.

 In addition to freelancing, from 1999 to 2002, you worked as a writer for VH1’s television show, Pop-Up Videos, earning an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Special Class Writing”. What kind of abilities and talents must a writer possess to qualify for this type of wor

Interestingly for Pop-Up, it was to be able to write short and tight – kind of pre-dated the tweet and status update. It was hard though because you were telling a story, but there were a lot of punch lines in there, too. Writers needed to be taught to do pops, the producers, including my extraordinarily talented ex-husband, really figured out the best way to make the show work. I was there in around the 7th season and by then it was a well-oiled machine. Which brings about a good point, when you are hired to write for a tv show or magazine that has a voice, it’s your job to deliver in that voice and not try and be a big pain in the ass and make it your own. I mean make it great, but realize you are working for a company, you are not an artiste!

From the period of 2002 to 2003, you took a major detour and authored and co-authored a series of five World War II history books, which were published by Smart Apple Media. http://www.smartapple.com/ As background, Smart Apple Media is a distributor and publisher of children's books for schools and public libraries from K-12. Since our research doesn’t indicate you were ever a World War II buff, how did this opportunity arise and what convinced Smart Apple Media you were perfect for this assignment? Of course, we also are curious, how in the world were you able to produce five books in such a short time period?

Six books!  Five would’ve been easy! It actually came from a book packager called Byron Preiss. (Book packagers find writers to write books on a topic sometimes for a company. Like I did one for Comedy Central with them.) Anyway, the editor a lovely woman named Dinah Dunn who very coincidentally was the sister of my best friend, Jancee, approached me to write these. She chose me because I was broke and had time on my hands and they needed six 6000 word books in six weeks.  I was able to do it because I had to. But I did try at about week two to get pretend I was dead which I’ve actually done many times since then to get out of work.  But they knew I was faking so I finished it.

 In 2009, Please Excuse My Daughter, a memoir, was published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA). It recounts your life of growing up in the affluent Westchester County of New York under the tutelage of your mother, who sounds like every little girl’s dream. For example, taking you out of school to go shopping at Bloomingdale’s was the norm, which you used as the premise for the book’s title. Since this was your first foray into writing a memoir and since Riverhead Books touts itself as a well-established publisher of best selling literary fiction and quality nonfiction, please describe the chain of events, which enabled you to land a contract.

I had the idea for a book, it felt like a story that hadn’t been told. It wasn’t super-dramatic, I hadn’t been rescued from a well or come back from a life of drugs and prostitution, but it seemed like a good story nonetheless. I mean the whole thing was about not really being ready for adulthood which is much more of a thing now than it was then. Whatever this generation is – XY, everyone knows they aren’t ready for life, but we were supposed to be ready.

Anyway, I have an amazing agent, the great Esther Newberg and she told me to write a  proposal and some sample chapters which I was able to do really fast. It was definitely a story that was all there in my head. We talked about who my dream publisher would be. I remember I got up one morning at like 5 am and was pulling all of the books off my shelf that felt like what I wanted my book to be and I noticed that in all of the acknowledgements they mentioned Geoffrey Kloske. So I googled him. He’d been an editor at Scribner and was now the publisher of Riverhead Books so I knew I wanted to be there. I sent Esther an email that said “what about Riverhead?” And she wrote back
“There’s a young woman there….” Later that day she said the young woman, Megan Lynch, wanted to speak to me. I talked to her on the phone for about an hour, we clearly had the same vision –which was for her to be my editor and she told me that she needed to speak to Geoff but he it was a Friday and he was going away for the weekend so it would probably be the following week. I hung up the phone and about 45 minutes later Esther called me and said “Riverhead made an offer.” I was jumping up and down. Megan edited that book and the three after that and the left to be a big shot at another company and now my editor is Jake Morrissey (who edits Anne Lamott and Marlon James among others). Please Excuse My Daughter got very nice reviews – a full page in The New York Times Book review.. really cool, but it didn’t sell well, and Geoff said to me, “I’m sorry this book didn’t hit it, but hopefully the next one will and if not, then the one after that.” And that is not what most publishers say, so I knew I was in the right place. When ever I write Riverhead Books I dot the I with a heart.

Your first memoir was followed the next year by another memoir, You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness. Once again, Riverhead Books was the publisher. In a previous interview, you revealed, “With the second book, there were times I felt more slumped. Sophomore efforts for writers are talked about: If your first does well, will the second?” How did you work through this and what did you do to motivate yourself to finish the book?

I had the most trouble figuring out what the second book should be. It’s always hard to follow-up a memoir, especially one that takes you to the present. I mean what was going to write about, my book tour? How I had a lot of club sandwiches? But I’d been doing the dog rescue for years and I wrote the draft for it while I was going through a lot of the stuff… which is interesting. I wasn’t looking back I was in it.  I wasn’t that motivated to do the edits which is weird because now that’s my favorite part, but Megan said one day, ‘if you don’t get this done by next week, it’s going to be a whole other year before we can get it published.’ I was at the gym in the middle of working out, I put down the towel and went home and finished it over the weekend.

After the publication of You Had Me at Woof, you were quoted as saying, “My first book got a lot of reviews and the book sold very little. This time I’ve gotten barely any reviews but the book’s done great. It’s redefined for me what it takes to sell books.” What did you learn? What exactly does it take to sell books?

You know, you think you learn something and then you put those things into practice the next time and it turns out to not be the case. What does it take to sell books? That’s the gazillion dollar question! I thought I knew, I don’t. I think it changes all the time. I remember talking to this agent (not mine) and saying, ‘well there’s no guarantees to selling books except Oprah.’ And she said, “my client was on Oprah and barely got a bump.” When a book does well everyone tries to figure out why and duplicate it, but there are so many factors, you just can’t say. It’s definitely a confluence of things….and luck… and I think a great title and a great cover and a great book. Sometimes I think an author with a great personality who can get on tv is the thing and then you see the most obnoxious writer in the world who is number 1 on all the lists. I was at a book club fair for my first book and there was a room full of authors signing books. No one was on line to get my book, but there were a zillion people on line for this other woman and I decided it was because she wore a sweater with a snow man on it and I had a velvet blazer. Clearly the snow man had put a spell on the readers!

Please explain a “book trailer” and discuss the most effective methods to distribute it. We love your book trailers, by the way!

Book trailers are little 3 minute videos that like movie trailers, try to get a person to buy a book. Sadly, I think book trailers are over now. I did a few and basically they were me trying to be funny and have fun. The first one I did with one of my best friends, Ann Leary, she directed it. We took something that should have been about a half a day’s work and turned it into 3 months. Really. It was like Titanic. We had no idea what we were doing, but Ann learned to edit and she videotaped 8 million hours of me and my dogs and our friend Susan Orlean and Ann’s husband Denis and she made some of the greatest trailers that ever were. The following year I had 2 big budget trailers, both amazing and fun –did they sell books? I don’t know but I enjoy watching them. One is a fantastic animated thing and the other is a little movie with Geoff Kloske and Timothy Hutton. Geoff was so funny because he didn’t act. In fact, one of the things about Geoff, if you meet with him, he eats nuts. He didn’t stop eating nuts for the shoot, even with a big hair and make up team. And Tim was just –extraordinary. You know after the video he went on to get a part in the movie Ordinary People and won an Oscar. All because of me.

In 2011, you wrote an additional dog memoir, Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself (Riverhead Books), which was closely followed by Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate and Can’t Live Without (Riverhead Books).

The latter sparked a weekly “friendkeeping” advice column titled “Dear Julie”, in DAME, an e-magazine publication. We read several columns and loved the way you were able to exhibit your trademark sense of humor, while consistently offering sage advice.

How did this opportunity present itself and what has this experience taught you?

Everyone should read Dame magazine. It is the smartest online magazine EVER CREATED. I seriously gasp at the stories on there. One of the editors, Kera Bolonik, was my facebook friend. She and I always had a lot of online laughs, but also really liked each other and I for one had always wanted to work with her. She was coming up with content for Dame and approached the founder, Jennifer Reitman, about using me for a column. It turns out Jen is a big dog rescue person so she said yes. It is absolutely the joy of my week … answering those letters. At heart, I am a know it all. Also, I’ve been in therapy for almost 30 years so I know what people are supposed to do… doesn’t mean I do it but I know. Since then I’ve worked with Kera and another editor Lisa Butterworth. I send her my columns and she only writes back the parts that make her laugh –there’s never any ‘change this’ or ‘tone it down.’ I love them so much –if you can put a bunch of hearts around the Dame Magazine link, I would appreciate that.

We loathe this moment when the interview has come to an end and we still have so many more questions to ask. We will leave you with one simple question: What’s next on the agenda for the unstoppable, passionate and multi-talented Julie Klam?

I have a book on the nature of celebrity that is so late, I should be killed, but I will get it done. And maybe a book of my columns. More dog things because I love the dogs so much. Another podcast with Ann Leary and Laura Zigman… uh… lose the weight I gained this summer… find a suitcase with a million unmarked non-sequential dollars… there’s a dress on sale that I want…. Need to make dinner….

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Happy Pub Day! Clea Simon talks about here edgy and dark new novel, THE NINTH LIFE, the election, writing and so much more

 I first met Clea Simon on a website for writers and it didn't take us long to become fast friends and comrades-in-arms. I'm thrilled to host her here for her edgy new novel, THE NINTH LIFE, which has been racking up the raves--and Clea was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today!

Clea is the author of three nonfiction books and four mystery series. The nonfiction books are Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings, Fatherless Women: How We Change After We Lose Our Dads and The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats. The Theda Krakow mystery series was launched in 2005 with Mew is for Murder and continued with Cattery Row and Cries and Whiskers, and Probable Claws. Her Dulcie Schwartz series launched in 2009 with Shades of Grey, and continues with Grey Matters, Grey Zone, Grey Expectations, True Grey, Grey Dawn, Grey Howl, Stages of Grey and Code Grey. The Pru Marlowe pet noir series started in 2011 with Dogs Don't Lie and continues with Cats Can't Shoot, Parrots Prove Deadly, Panthers Play for Keeps, Kittens Can Kill and, in 2016, When Bunnies Go Bad . In 2016, Severn House launched a new, darker Blackie and Care mystery series with The Ninth Life.

A regular contributor to the Boston Globe, Clea's writing pops up occasionally in such publications as American Prospect, Ms., San Francisco Chronicle, and Salon.com

The Ninth Life just got a rave from Library Journal, the kind that authors would kill for. Tell us about the book, where it sparked, how you wrote it and can you also talk about the "waiting for reviews" stage?

Thank you, Caroline! As you can imagine, I’m over the moon. I feel like the reviews have been getting it – the “it” being that after 19 (yikes!) cozy/amateur sleuth mysteries, I’ve written something darker, even if it also (like my other mysteries) features a cat.

I’m not sure what sparked it, actually. I know that I tend to read darker, more serious fiction than I’ve been writing for the last decade or so, so I guess it made sense that this would finally come through. I was thinking, at first, of a kind of Sherlock Holmes pastiche – only, Holmes has been removed from the scene and the action focuses on one of his Irregulars, the street urchins who did his errands. And I knew that i wanted a narrator who could not directly interact with the other characters. (Not-really-a-spoiler alert: he’s a cat.) One thing that was hard for me was finding the heart of the book. Blackie, as the narrator is called (that’s not his name, but that’s another story), is rather cool and distanced. It wasn’t until I realized that although he’s the POV character that he’s not the heart of the book that it really took off. Does that make sense?

Then it was the classic thing where I wrote a draft in a rush - and only after reading it through did I realize that there was this other theme going on, about the sexual abuse/exploitation of children. Because of my background writing “cozies,” I don’t do explicit violence. I can’t stand to be cruel to my characters for no reason, although I want them to be tested. But there is a lot of darkness in this book. So, yeah, waiting to see what the critics would think - cat mystery AND dark, etc. - has been nerve-wracking. I think PW nailed it when they said, "Noir fans who are fond of felines will find a lot to like.” Though the jury is still out on how many of those kinds of readers there are. Library Journal said "A delight for anyone who relishes cat mysteries.” And that was NOT a foregone conclusion.

 I also loved that Publishers Weekly says you take a turn to the dark side with an edgy new novel--who wouldn't adore THAT phrase? Were you consciously trying to be darker, or did it just happen, or just fit with the story you were telling? I think I'm asking, how much control do you feel you really have over your writing?

This is one of those books that just came to me. I couldn’t have made it softer if I had tried - this just wasn’t that kind of book. So, I guess the answer is I didn’t feel I had any control.

Do you base the cats in your mysteries on real cats you've loved and known? Blackie, in The Ninth Life, is a new cat--how'd you go about creating Blackie?
I think he’s a person I’ve known, but I’m not sure. I know I project mightily onto every animal I see, because … hey, they’re not going to argue with you, right?  He just is, you know?

You've written a lot of different series and some nonfiction books--is the writing process the same for each book?
With the series books (right now the Dulcie Schwartz feline mysteries and the Pru Marlowe pet noir books), I can’t start with a fresh slate. I not only have a cast of characters already in place, but I have a larger overall series arc. For instance, Dulcie Schwartz is almost done with her doctoral dissertation - so that has to be part of the book. And Pru Marlowe is thawing a little in her relation to other people and that’s a constant I have to at least touch on. I do pick up and momentarily abandon some of the secondary characters book by book, but the overall larger story has to be at least taken into consideration when I write the series.

You're also one of the hardest working writers I know. How do you manage your time?

Thanks, Caroline! I know for a fact that you work pretty hard too. For me, fear of deadline is a motivating factor. I always want to have something on paper – a pile of words – that i can start revising early enough so that I can conceivable make my deadline. The way I do it is I give myself a word count per day that I have to write. Right now, I’m going for 1,250 words a day. Knowing that none of them may make it into the final book helps!

What's obsessing you now and why?

The election. Don’t ask. Trump. I just … can’t.

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

OK, I’m going to be self-serving here and say, “Why should anyone who doesn’t normally read cat mysteries read this book?” To which I’d say, it’s not about the cat. Its a dark take on the hero’s quest, with all that implies. Only, yeah, the hero is a feline.

Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts talk about their dazzling new novel, A WELL-MADE BED, being scammed, the wanderings of dementia, murder, lust and so much more


 "A tour de force written by two wildly talented writers."
Connie May Flowler, author of Before Women Had Wings

Yep, yep, that's only some of the praise being given A WELL-MADE BED, an exhilarating new novel written by two equally exhilarating writers. About murder, lust, friendship, dementia and that mysterious wheel of Peruvian cheese, the novel is both rollicking fun and rapturously written.

Abby Frucht won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize in 1987 and is the author of six other novels, Snap, Are You Mine?, Licorice, Life Before Death, Polly's Ghost and a second collection of stories, Fruit of the Month and The Bell at The End of the Rope. 

Laurie Alberts  is the author of three other novels (Lost Daughters, The Price of Land in Shelby, and Tempting Fate); a story collection (Goodnight Silky Sullivan); two memoirs (Fault Line and Between Revolutions: an American Romance with Russia), and a craft of writing book (Showing & Telling). She has received a Michener Award for the Novel, The Katherine Anne Porter Prize, the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society Prize for short story, and an American Fiction award.

What sparked the writing of this book? What was it that haunted you so you had to write this?

Abby: I read a newspaper article in 2010 about old people with dementia who wandered.  The detective who was being interviewed said that such people tend to walk in the direction of one of two things: water, or a place or event from out of their pasts. I thought of a daughter following around her dad who was wandering and learning things about his and her past, and what haunted me was the idea of him leading her toward evidence of wrongs he had done, wrongs in which she herself was in a way complicit ... but I knew that such a book would need to be a more plot driven book than I have ever felt able to write on my own. So I called up Laurie.  Plus, the other thing was, I was tired of sitting around by myself at my desk. Laurie’s a thousand miles away, but as soon as she said yes, my desk got brighter and busier. It was like turning on the TV or something; stuff just started happening.

Laurie:  I am the “No” person in this relationship, so when Abby called me talking about writing a novel together about a serial killer with dementia I didn’t want to write about that subject together or alone but we’d both been recently scammed – Abby’s parents lost all their retirement to a famous scammer and a college friend of mine, who is now in jail, tried to involve me in his Ponzi scheme, so I suggested we work with the scam theme instead. Out of that grew an entirely new idea – of Jaycee and Noor and the cocaine-laden wheel of Peruvian cheese.

What was it like to work with another person? What did you expect it would be like and what happened instead? Did you find your writing routines changing?
Abby: I loved working with Laurie.  I loved knowing that we were going to read each other’s chapters and each other’s input as soon as we and they were ready, and that we would talk about what we read, and that whole new unexpected parts of the story were going to come into being without my needing to be the one to think of them.  I loved, as I knew I would, the grounded rationality of her world and her characters, whose lives continue to appeal to me as being more real, more palpable, and more relevant than the lives of my own characters, which tend in my view to lack a center of gravity.  As for routine; I’m a sociable person, and I loved the mix of creativity and friendship. It was like cooking a giant and unwieldy meal together and somehow pulling it off or at least getting away with it.

Laurie: Abby is much more lyrical and playful in her prose than I am. I was constantly surprised and inspired by the turns she took with events and language. Of course I said “No” a lot when I thought she was being too fanciful. Working together also revealed to both of us the differences in our composition process – I tend to blurt out a first draft, concentrating on generating ideas, and then go back to work over the prose later. Abby likes to get everything exactly right as she goes along (and also as she revises endlessly). We had to acknowledge the differences in our approaches and find a way to be respectful of them. We also discovered that we had two very distinct internal images of the place where Jaycee lived with her dotty parents and their “Living History Books” theme park. I ended up having to draw a map that we could agree on – or maybe I forced that one by drawing the map. What’s inside your collaborator’s head is a mystery constantly being revealed…

Noor and Jaycee are so different, yet they share one driving need--money. And they need it right away. Ah, that's something everyone I know can relate to--but their so-called foolproof plan isn't so foolproof. Do you ever think that if money worries went away, the world would be so much easier to maneuver? (Then we'd only have to worry about work we love and love we need...)

Abby.   My parents, who are gone now, were Bernard Madoff investors.  Overnight December 11, 2008, on the day of Madoff’s arrest, their life savings went from something over half a million dollars to exactly four dollars and sixty four cents.  But when I watched the ABC miniseries about Madoff’s crimes a few weeks ago, I didn’t miss my stolen inheritance. I missed my parents.  So yes, I agree that the world would be a much sweeter place if everybody had the luxury that I had of sitting on a soft couch in a warm room with a full stomach missing my parents instead of their money.

Laurie:  I think we tend to create problems to fill the problem-vacuum and we would just invent other issues to fret about if we had no money worries. I’m not talking about people who are struggling to survive, but people like you and me. Yes, the world would be easier to maneuver – we just might not be as happy about it as we think we would be.

I love the subtext of the title--the well-made bed that always gets messed up in one way or another. Who came up with it--and why?

Abby: Just a day or two ago, right now in February 2016, a week before pub date, I picked up the book to choose which passages I would read at a reading next week, and I was surprised to find our title, A Well-Made Bed, buried amid the rest of the prose on the bottom of page 118.  We hadn’t planned on embedding our title in the prose as some authors do, and in fact, when we wrote that chapter, in which a principle mystery of the book is answered, our title wasn’t A Well-Made Bed yet at all but the working title, A Cool Drink of Water or maybe even further back when between us we called the book Hillwinds. The funny thing is that the paragraph on page 118 in which the words of the title are found, is contextually the perfect place for them, because it’s in that paragraph that the book’s main balancing act, between a life on “the straight and narrow,” as Jeff puts it as he lies in his well-made bed after doing a grave wrong, and a life in which you do bad things on purpose, is expressed.  Ordinarily I go out of my way NOT to include a book’s title in its pages, because it makes me think of something my friend, the writer Mary Grimm once said to me when we were walking in her Cleveland neighborhood decades ago, and that is that she finds it self-conscious for a title to be included.  So now I think maybe Laurie and I were being self-conscious subconsciously.  Is that even possible?

Laurie: I was trying to remember how we came up with that title but Abby conveniently discovered its source the other day. Or, if not its source, its expression.

What's obsessing you now and why?

Abby:  I’ve always been most interested in observing, in the news and through literature and even in the people I know (not to mention myself), the outer limits of human fallibility.  At least that’s how I used to put it. Now I see that human fallibility HAS no outer limits.

Laurie: Having survived a very nasty riding accident in September including a helicopter airlift—one of many I should say -- and following an intervention by doctors and family, I’ve had to give up my horses and my riding life. What’s obsessing me now is getting over losing 30 years of my life with horses and remaining open to what will come next.

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

Laurie:  How many fights did Abby and I have along the way as we wrote this book?  Many, including some ugly ones in which we cyber-hurled insults and curses at one another. Are we still friends and willing collaborators? Absolutely.