Monday, September 30, 2019

Everyone, meet the patron saint of readers and writers, the amazing Zibby Owens! Here, Zibby talks about her famed podcast Moms Don't Have Time To Read Books, (up for a Lovie Award, so read on and vote by October 3rd), her book recommendations, why she might open a bookstore, and so much more

Zibby Owens has been called the Oprah of the podcast world. And rightly so. Her incredible podcast, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” was nominated for a Lovie Award, the European version of the Webby Awards! Please vote it up here for the People’s Choice by October 3rd. She writes fabulous articles, she has great reading suggestions (who else would suggest books by emotional issue?), she organizes events, and she's just, well, cooler than cool.

I'm so happy to host her here. Thank you so much, Zibby! And your book recs to me were right on the money!

I don’t know anyone who does so much for books—and in such an inviting and cheerful and creative way. I love your podcast Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books because honest to God, you READ the books of your authors and ask the smartest questions.  How did this podcast start?

It started in such an offhand way! I had been writing a bunch of parenting essays and my husband one night said, “Maybe you should take all your parenting essays and make them in to a book!” And I replied, “Ugh, moms don’t have time to read books!” Then I said, “Hey, that could be a funny title!” I ran the idea past a few agents - who disagreed! Then an author friend, Sarah Mlynowski, suggested to me over coffee that, “You should really start a podcast.” I responded, “What’s a podcast?!” After that, I researched what else was out there and decided to try one with that same title!

I also really love the essays you write, first because not only are they beautifully written, but they all have a feel to them, as if you are sitting across from us at a cafĂ©, over coffee, casually opening up your heart and letting us see the contents. I loved the essay about the psychic, the essay about sending your son off to boarding school (Oh God, wait until college, though I will tell you, they DO come back. Altered, but they are still yours in many important ways.) Do you think of an audience as you write? (I can’t or I freeze up, but you seem much more self-possessed than I am.

I don’t really think about my audience. As you said, I just write from the heart. I write so that I remember how I felt. I write to share my experiences with others so that we can all go through life a bit more connected! But no. When I’m actually writing, I’m not thinking about an audience at all.

You have written about food, health, being a mom, but oh my God, this article about how to hook poor time readers really was full of fabulous innovative ideas, especially about a book show that isn’t boring. ( I love the idea of putting out reading samples for people to get hooked and then buy the book. I think does that, or they used to, but we need more places like that. I admit I’ve left books at doctors’ offices myself, Do you think authors should be posting little teasers from their own books on their social media pages?

I think that would be great!! Or videos of them reading a chapter and answering some questions!

OK, we have to talk about your VIP book curator service. (I’ll put this link in: What strikes me about this is how much fun you are clearly having doing this (and, of course, what a blast for the person who hires you.)  So what surprises you when you do this?  And tell us about how you devise reading plans for people? How accurate are you?

Um, no one has actually bought this yet!!! But I do offer personalized book recommendations to anyone who signs up for my newsletter. As you know, I just did yours!! They’ve been building up in my inbox but I finally got back to everyone. I love seeing what my listeners have been reading and what they’re in the mood for. It helps me get a sense of what’s popular and what isn’t … and what people think of certain books! I love connecting individually with fellow book lovers!

You really really help the writers’ community, (which I try to do with my blog and by being just as helpful as I can be.) And you seem to do everything. What are you really dying to do next that you haven’t done yet? Does anything scare you?

I’m dying to open a bookstore and I think I may have found a partner to actually accomplish this! I would also love to do more with TV and write a book or two myself! Does anything scare me? Something happening to my kids.

Holy Moly, Mother of God, I was about to order 40 Love when I saw you gave it up and started over. You have to tell that story. And PS, the cover is great. I know this is a question that all writers hate, but I’m going to ask you anyway…how is the writing going?

This project is on hold for now. I’ve tried writing it as a memoir and in two different styles as fiction. I’m going to revive at some point and I’ve been toying with a new plot in my head. I might just try to make it into a great essay! If you want the whole story, we might need to have that coffee!

I also love that you have and showcase books you wrote which stayed on the shelf. All writers have those! Jonathan Evison talks about the 6 novels he buried. I couldn’t throw away a novel I wrote, which couldn’t sell, but I was able to cannibalize sections of it and put it in another novel later on. So all is never lost.  Will you go back to those books, do you think?

I think I can find a new life for some of them in another form!

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Um… chocolate chip cookies, per usual!!

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

Maybe just something about how I get it all done!? And for that I have to credit my husband, Kyle Owens of Morning Moon Productions, who inadvertently led me to start the podcast and is my #1 fan and champion with literally every thing I do. I get his advice on everything from article titles to guests on the show to… everything! Also my kids have been amazingly supportive and are super into the whole thing. It would be impossible to get anything done if they weren’t enthusiastic about what I was doing.

Podcast: Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books
Instagram: @zibbyowens; @momsdonthavetimetoreadbooks
Facebook: @byzibbyowens; @momsdonthavetimetoreadbooks


Monday, September 23, 2019

Portrait of the novelist as a painter, too. Mary Morris talks about painting and writing and creativity--and P.S. You want to pre-order ALL THE WAY TO THE TIGERS as soon as you can.

I know and surround myself with a lot of creative people, and it always amazes me when it turns out a painter is a fine writer, or a writer can also dance ballet. When I was in high school, I thought about being a painter, and even had a special scholarship with two other girls to attend Mass College of Art special classes. But though I've continue to paint, writing took over.

When I heard that acclaimed author Mary Morris paints and saw some of her gorgeous work, I wanted to buy a painting! Mary Morris is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the critically acclaimed novels The Jazz Palace, A Mother’s Love, and House Arrest, and of nonfiction, including the travel memoir classic Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. She is a recipient of the Rome Prize in literature and the 2016 Anisfield-Wolf Award for fiction. Upcoming soon in June 2020 is All The Way to the Tigers, and trust me, you WANT this memoir, about traveling solo, finding redemption and ...tigers!

Thank you so much for being here, Mary! I love my painting and I love you.
It’s always fascinating to me when writers do other creative things. They also dance, or paint, or act, or knit or sew or sculpt outrageously well. But what is more fascinating is how seriously we creatives take those other things that we do. I’ve been painting since I was a kid, and was good enough to get into a program for high school students at Massachusetts College of Art.  I did oils and acrylics, watercolors and pen and inks, and then writing took over. Art was pushed to the background, and though I still love to paint watercolors, I don’t’ take it as seriously as my writing.

Which brings us to you, and your gorgeous paintings, which you obviously take seriously.

How did you start to paint? And why?

That’s so interesting that you have this visual art background.  I never knew that!  Also funny that you think I take my paintings “seriously.”  I actually try to take them “unseriously” if you know what I mean.  I guess it all goes back to the mother, doesn’t it?  My mother was a very creative person.  She could do anything with her hands.  She sewed and quilted.  She had great craft skills and she painted.  I have a vivid memory of watching her paint a strange image of a woman whose face was a brilliant blue on one side and black on the other.  She was wearing an enormous hat.  I remember watching my mother make this painting. 

When I was fairly young I took painting classes with a man named Jerry Valez.  He had a small studio on a side street in our town and I’d go there once a week and paint in oils.  I’m not sure how old I was but I had a sense at a young age that I wasn’t very good at it.

Still I always loved, and still love, painting and visual art.  But I never learned how to draw.  This has always been a …….  I wanted to draw but I just never got around to taking a class.  Anyway I started traveling and I traveled a lot and then one day I began to bring a visual component into my travel journals.  They were very multi-media and included collage, some drawing, pen and ink, and at some point I added watercolors.  I began to travel with a small set of watercolors and with time the journals became as much as what I saw as what I felt (and in which case wrote down). 

What does painting mean to you? What do you hope it means to those who see and love your work?

 Freedom.  I find that I am completely free when I am painting.  I am often very ego invested in my writing (and I wish I weren’t).   As a friend once said to me years ago, if you’re ego gets in the way you’re doomed for all eternity.  I am egoless when I paint.  I honestly don’t care.  Another quote I like comes from the Rose Tattoo, this middle-aged woman shows Marlon Brandon a landscape she painted.  A very ordinary landscape and he just stares at it blankly.  She says to him, “I know they aren’t very good, but I feel better when I do them.”

That is what freedom is about for me.  Feeling better means being more in touch with an elusive part of yourself where you can be very present and quite frankly have fun.  Be playful.  The minute it stops for me in painting I’ll probably stop doing it.  I guess basically I have to not care.  Recently I got my first commission and I just couldn’t do it.  It was for a big piece and required special paper.  Most of my paintings have been in my journals or on small sheets of paper.  But this was to be big.  It had to fill a wall in a friend’s new house.  Needless to say I felt a huge sense of responsibility.  And then I finally said to myself, for lack of a better word, fuck it.  Just do what you’ve always done.  Do it intuitively.

When others look at my painting, I want them to feel the joy that I feel when I make them.    

 I don’t know what I am doing when I set out to paint.  I let the colors, the moisture and texture of the paper, the quality of the pigments dictate to me.  There’s an artist whose work I like and I have been studying her technique.  Her name is Barbara Nechis and the book of hers that I rely upon is called Watercolors from the Heart. 

What other writers or artists have influenced you in this work?

I know he’s fallen out of favor but I have always been drawn to Henry Miller as a thinker and as a painter.  I love his travel writing and his literary essays.  His Colossus of Marousi is, in my opinion, one of the great travel books.  And I love his painting.  He painted all the time and he published several books of his paintings, including one called something like Paint and Die Happy.  That’s about where I am at.

I’ve also been influenced by some of the great journals such as the journals of Frida Kahlo.  There’s a terrific facsimile of her journals that you can buy.  And also Dan Elon who was an incredible artist and journalist who died tragically in Somali at the age of 26.  His mother put together the extraordinary book of his journals called The Journey Is the Destination.  His work is just amazing. 

And finally I am incredibly drawn to the work of Joan Mitchell in part, at least initially, because she was married to my cousin, the publisher of the Grove Press, Barney Rosset.  Joan was Barney’s first wife and I believe the only one he truly loved.  Joan is a great artist and I find it actually an honor to stand before her work.  She strikes a balance between peace and power.  Perhaps in some ways that is the definition of beauty – that balance that is so hard to strike. 

 What influence does your art have on your writing—or vice versa?

I feel as I may have answered this above, but basically if I get caught up in my ego around my writing, if I start saying to myself oh this is no good or not good enough or no one’s going like it or buy the book or whatever, I have to stop.  And that’s when painting can come in. 

You know here’s another good example.  I am a very good cook.  I like to cook.  But I am only a good cook when we don’t have company, when it’s just me and my family.  Because if someone is coming over, then I have to impress that person, then I have to make a monk fish with chervil sauce or something else that will make them think I’m great.  And you know those meals are never very good.  It’s the spontaneous ones.  The ones when you say oh I have some nice mushrooms and chicken breasts and red wine.  I think I’ll make coq au vin, just for the fun of it, for the hell of it.  Those are the meals I wish I could serve you.  

My studio is actually set up in such a way that I can swivel from my writing desk to my painting desk.  For a while I had the painting desk upstairs in our daughter’s old bedroom, but then she and her husband came and reclaimed that space so I moved the art table downstairs and the results for me have been great.  I can move fluidly from one medium to the next and if I start to care too much about the writing, if I start to worry it to death, I switch over to a painting where I can be much more fluid and free. 

Drue Heinz Literature Prize winner Kate Wisel talks about the best titled book ever, DRIVING IN CARS WITH HOMELESS MEN, the deep scars of four Boston women, why hope is never lost, writing, and so much more.

Kate Wisel is a native of Boston. Her writing has appeared in publications that include Gulf Coast, Tin House online, Redivider as winner of the Beacon Street Prize, among others. She received her MFA from Columbia College Chicago, and is currently a Carol Houck fiction fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches fiction, and works as an assistant for music critic Jim DeRogatis.

Driving in Cars with Homeless Men is astonishing--so astonishing it won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. And  Holy Moly, Look at just some of the praise:

This debut collection of short stories traces the visible and more subtle scars of four women: Serena, Frankie, Raffa, and Nat. What binds them above all else are their experiences of violence. Against the vivid backdrop of early 2010s Boston, their antics and heartbreaks are kept inside tiny apartments, spill onto the streets, and wander into dirty dive bars. It’s GIRLS without all the privilege and a fictionalized version of Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women(2019), if the three women were friends…this is fierce and emphatic. 

You can hear the crackle of heat and the roar of a powerful fire burning through these pages. Young angry women, brokenhearted mothers, and men who are lost to themselves and others struggle in the world of Driving in Cars with Homeless Men. Close to the edge, fearful of love yet dying of longing, Serena, Frankie, Raffa, and Natalya are vital and tender. Their stories are incandescent.
Min Jin Lee, 2019 Drue Heinz Literature Prize judge and author of Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko, a finalist for the National Book Award

“Kate Wisel’s women think like razor blades. They talk tough and love tougher, except how they love each other which is pure and deep, and ought to be enough, except it isn’t, ever. These women vibrate with life, with longing, with an urge toward self-annihilation, with hope. Their hope will break your heart the hardest. Along with the sentences, which seem to be written by angels, razor-blade toting angels. This is one architecturally stunning, linguistically dazzling, hyper-intelligent, heart-expanding debut.”
Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness; and Deep Creek: Finding Hope In the High Country

“Kate Wisel is a fearless writer—with literary guts and a distinctive nitro style--and Driving in Cars with Homeless Men is a remarkable debut. The gritty lyricism of her voice makes me think of punk rock and blown mufflers and creaky bedsprings flavored with cigarette ash, red bull-and-vodka, gum stuck to the bottom of a Doc Marten, a little bit of Denis Johnson mixed up with a Janis Joplin howl. Welcome her. I can't wait to see what she does next.”
Benjamin Percy, author of The Dark Net; Thrill Me; Red Moon; and Refresh, Refresh
Thank you so much for being here, Kate!

I absolutely loved the fierce young women (and the struggling men) in Driving in Cars With Homeless Men. Where, in your psyche, did they come from? What haunted you into writing this fabulous collection?

Thank you so much for your enthusiasm. I’m so glad you loved the women. I think of the psyche as the internal state, and there’s a filter between the outside world and the psyche. For me, what moves through this filter is patterned when observed as a whole, and by default, has a point of view.

Sometimes I feel like a metal detector, which is fine by me. I’d rather feel primarily like a metal detector than, I don’t know, somebody’s third wife? I look, am attracted, let life as it is speak to me. If imagination is the connection between what’s real and physical, and what can defy that, a possibility, a beyond, then the characters and material come from my experience, filter through as an amalgam, then run away from me into imagination. Writing the stories felt like chasing after a predator and tackling them to the ground. That’s how I knew they were stories, if I was moving behind them, sometimes angrily or with a type of trepidation. And then I picked up different DNA as I went, the best laughter I know, a woman’s fingers looking like keyholes on the train, sifting through the contents of an addict’s backpack, the cadence of a Boston accent, how the Goodyear logo is a pair of wings above the heel of a sneaker. Life is Seinfeldian, perfectly timed, a design that calls back to itself, even and especially when it’s going disastrously. That’s why it’s satisfying to recreate life, all the parts as a whole are painfully perfect as is.

Because I was being taken to defining places or moments in each character’s life, structurally, I could tell the women’s overall story more intricately, like a web, all messy and connected. I realized I was interested in the consequences of these four character’s pasts, their victories and failures. More broadly, what came through the filter was what happens to girls who keep men’s secrets inside them. Where they go, together and alone, and how they survive.

Do you think there is ever a moment when hope is truly lost?

Never. I wanted the book to feel like it was never at rest because my characters can’t afford to stop. They’re in motion, and because of that there is a physicality to hope and it’s how the characters are propelled. Also, I don’t think the girls ever lose their sense of humor, which is another form of hope.

What kind of writer are you? Do you map things out, or does that pesky Muse guide you along?
I don’t map things out but if you think about, a story’s like a map. You’re guided by the tension of logic and imagination, which is really just a scenario. Here’s what happens if…

 Being such a highly praised debut author must be intoxicating—how does it fuel you into your next work? How does it hamper you?
Literature is, of course, a conversation, and if I’ve had the chance to speak then my job now is to listen. If there’s something I’m working on, I dedicate my life to it. But I’m learning now about process and reading a lot about what other artist’s processes look like. I like what Mathew Klam says about being versus doing. Sometimes an artist’s job is to be so they can do. You can’t have a point of view, use it, then expect you’ll have another like a beer. I want to earn my point of view. I’m not churning out pages to impress anyone. I want to know what this time is about, what moves me, what I’m interested in.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Last week I saw a man texting with his toes at an outside patio. The man had his forehead pressed to the table, and underneath, his toes were typing as if he was playing a piano. From my car, I saw a woman dancing in a park, alone, so happy. We caught eyes and she wasn’t angry. She was okay with me witnessing her. “I hope you got the diamond necklace that I sent to you.” These were the lyrics I remember from the song that was playing in my car. In the documentary One of Us, about Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, there’s this scene, against all of the violence and religious oppression, that takes place when the subject returns from LA to a Seder dinner, and all the men begin this impromptu hymn and it’s actually gorgeous, and you realize, oh, it must be really hard to leave this kind of familial community. These insane domestic paintings by Mark Greenwold that are both hyper-real and surreal, sort of depicting the grotesque nature of intimacy, which I learned about by reading that Mathew Klam interview. If you haven’t wondered my internal state is pondering connection.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Maybe what I’m reading? I’m loving Prodigals by Greg Jackson. Hard Damage by Aria Aber which I can’t recommend enough. Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison and I Dreamed I was A Very Clean Tramp, the Richard Hell autobiography.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Race. Foster Care. Deep secrets. And what makes a family. Lisa Sturm talks about her gripping novel ECHOED IN MY BONES.

 Lisa Sturm's gripping novel is about race, foster care and the traumatic secrets of the past.  As a young girl, Lakisha gives up her newborns, one who looks white and one who looks black, into the foster care system. But years later, Laikisha must search for them to save another--and herself.

Here's just some of the praise:

 “This uplifting story reminded me that the invisible threads that create a family are often stronger than time, distance, and hardships.”
-- Jennifer Haupt, bestselling author of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills

 "Drawing on her experience as an inner-city psychotherapist, Lisa Sturm reminds us just how much distinct environmental stressors, or advantages, pave our paths in life, and also how profound our need for family is. This well-crafted and well-imagined novel will keep you reading well into the night."  
-- Ellen Sherman, Just the Facts and Monkeys on the Bed

Lisa Sturm's short stories have been published in literary journals such as Tulane Review, Serving House Journal, Mom Egg Review, Willow Review, and Turk's Head Review, and in an anthology entitled Sisters Born, Sisters Found (Wordforest Press, 2015). She received the Willow Review Fiction Award and the Writer's Relief Peter K. Hixson Wild Card/Fiction Award for selections from her debut novel, ECHOED IN MY BONES (Twisted Road Publications, 2019), a story inspired by her work as an inner-city psychotherapist. 

Thank you so much, Lisa for being here!

I always, always ask this question. What was it that was haunting you personally that propelled you to write Echoed in My Bones?

I suppose, in some sense, I was haunted by former psychotherapy patients whose suffering or faith or resilience or decisions I found deeply moving. For example: There was a seventeen-year-old girl who needed to prepare for the SATs and couldn’t afford a study guide, so I gave her an extra one we had lying around the house. When I handed it to her, she kept running her fingers over the glossy cover and finally shared, “No one has ever given me a brand-new book.” That stuck with me. There was a mother of six who had survived childhood homelessness and sexual abuse and sought therapy because she wanted to ensure her past trauma wouldn’t interfere with her parenting. Her strength was inspiring. I’m haunted by a mother I saw just a few times, who was court-ordered to receive counseling because her husband had injured one of their children while drunk. Child Protective Services warned that if her husband didn’t move out during the investigation, her kids would be taken away—but for some unfathomable reason, she couldn’t ask him to leave. I still struggle with that one. Finally, there was an eighth grader whom I saw after she’d been repeatedly raped by a family member. In foster care, she’d become sexually active with boys in the neighborhood and her foster mom threatened to kick her out. That girl was so sweet and so loveable, I often fantasized about adopting her myself. I’m sure there were others, but those are a few that stand out in my mind.

You’ve written such a powerful and provocative novel about race and family and the choices that we make. Can you talk about this please?

When I worked with these inner-city women, I felt a strong bond. Most of them had no other safe place to share their feelings, and so our sessions were particularly raw. There were certain themes that came up repeatedly: faith, hope, family, abuse, trauma, mistakes and repairs, and unrequited longing for connection. My office was a ten-minute drive from my home, and yet before taking this position, I’d had no idea of the suffering that was occurring practically in my own backyard. I tried to write from a place of caring and compassion, wanted to share what I’d learned about their hardships and how I’d made sense of it. Like Grandma Louema in the novel, I wanted to transmit a message of hope and healing. This story carries with it a wish that all of my “ghosts” find their own place of peace.

What was it like writing this novel? Was there ever a moment when you thought you had lost the story? And are you the kind of writer who plots things out or do you wait for that pesky Muse.

Right from the start, I was clear about the beginning and the end of the novel. It was wrestling with what should be included in the middle that proved difficult. Deciding in what order the story should be told was also quite challenging. The biggest plot shift came during the fifth rewrite (with the help of a wonderful developmental editor, Julie Mosow), when I changed the way Tessa and Jasmine come together. By editing out a few unnecessary scenes, I also gained more space to really explore my characters’ thoughts and emotions. For my next project, rather than waiting for the muse, I’m trying to flesh out all of the backstories and outline each chapter before attempting a first draft.

 Can you talk about the great title, please?

Echoed in my bones was always a line in the poem that came to define the various parts of the novel. Once the search for a bone-marrow donor was woven into the plot, echoed in my bones became meaningful on many levels and seemed the perfect title. Fortunately, my publisher agreed!

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Lately I’ve been thinking about former patients who were in law enforcement and others who were in gangs, and I’ve been pondering the way personal history plays a role in decision making, particularly when people are under pressure. My next project is about a therapist, Delia Chase, whose drug-dealing client, Darnell, is murdered on the eve of his escape from gang life. In a desperate attempt to figure out how and why he was killed, Delia recruits another client, a police officer named Jimmy, to help.

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

Did the question of “cultural appropriation” figure into the process of getting this book published?
As I was querying for representation, this question did seem to deter some agents. Fortunately, I found a publisher who understood the special perspective my therapy work afforded me in the creation of this story, and I did enlist sensitivity readers from the community who combed through the manuscript. Because of my deep concern about this issue, the review that gives me the most satisfaction came from The Director of the Irvington Library (located just a few blocks from the clinic where I worked). Once she raved about it and told me she was recommending it to her own book club, I breathed a sigh of relief—and then did a happy dance.