y r a s r e v i n n a h 5t
INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS AND REAL LIVES, THIS NOVEL IS THE ULTIMATE STORY OF FINDING IDENTITY AND THE DREAMS, REDEMPTION, AND LOVE OF TWO WOMEN – MOTHERS FROM THE OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE WORLD.
A Story of Love Transcendent
Joel L. A. Peterson “I was so impressed with this book we are awarding it to our Luce Leaders at a Leadership Reception at the Sri Lankan Mission to the United Nations. Congratulations to author Joel L. A. Peterson!”
–Jim Luce Founder of Orphans International Worldwide and The J. Luce Foundation
NomiNated for multiple
AWARDS AVAILABLE ONLINE & IN ANY BOOKSTORE. A portion of all proceeds will be donated to charity.
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Margaret Brown fo u n d e r a n d p u b l i sh e r Anna Nair edito r i n ch i e f Christina Davidson c re a t i ve d i re c tor Ben Minton circ u l a t i on ma n a g e r Patricia McClain c o py e d i to r Marc Schuster c o n t r i b u t i n g e d i tor Morgan Siem c on su l ta n t , soc i a l me d i a
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Kasia Piasecka so c i a l me d i a ma n a g e r Jane Miller ac c o u n t i n g ma n a g e r For a dve r tising inqu ir ie s: c al l 2 14.704.4182 or e- mail m a rga ret@ s he l fm e di agrou p.c om For editor ial inqu ir ie s: e- mail m a rga ret@ s he l fm e di agrou p.c om or write to Shelf U nbou nd, P O B ox 852321 R ich ard s on, TX 75085
what to read next in independent publishing
Special Fifth Anniversary Issue INTERVIEWS 8
24 30 40 48
54 60 62 64 66 80 84 88 90 94
Kevin McEnroe Pinckney Benedict Paul Harding Grace Krilanovich Karen Tei Yamashita Edwidge Danticat Erika Dreifus Kathleen Winter John Jodzio Matt Bell Kevin Powers Elissa Schappell Adam Levin
116 122 128 132 136 140 144 148 152 156 160 164 170 176 180
Andrew Ladd Laura Woollett Eimear McBride John Brandon Dorthe Nors Carmen Boullosa Kevin Morris Dale Herd Kim Addonozio Karen Bender Sarah Gerard Sandra Newman Laura Pritchett Chris Adrian & Eli Horowitz Carol Guess & Kelly Magee Christopher Robinson & Gavin Kovite
Scott McClanahan Michael Kimball Amy Sackville Sergio Chejfec Melissa Pritchard Amy Schutzer
DEPARTMENTS 4 6 34 193
a note from the publisher shelf media podcast recommended reading last words
What if survival required you to unlearn who you are? How far would you fall to save yourself? Sometimes happiness is a long way down. The Johns family is unraveling. Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague’s daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance at who she might have become. David, their eldest, thrashes to stay afloat as his teaching career capsizes in a storm of accusations involving a missing student and the legacy of Christopher Columbus. And young Tilly, the black sheep, having traded literary promise for an improbable career as a Hollywood starlet, struggles to define herself amid salacious scandal, the demands of a powerful director, and the judgments of an uncompromising writer. By turns comical and poignant, the Johns family is tumbling toward the discovery that sometimes you have to let go of your identity to find out who you are.
… a powerful, gripping and realistic tory. …Wonderful...Worth every minute…”
What happens when you get the life you aim for and it hurts ke hell?
a powe RT 1 rful and promising debut.”
THE LION TREES Owen Thomas
urns comical and poigna nt, the Johns family is tumbl ing ard the discovery that somet imes you have to let go of your tity to find out who you are.
The Johns family is unrave ling. Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, olates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation th a colleague’s daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks erything for a second chance at who she might have becom avid, their eldest, thrashes e. to stay afloat as his teachi ng career psizes in a storm of accusa tions involving a missing student d the legacy of Christopher Columbus. And young Tilly, the ck sheep, having traded literar y promise for an impro bable eer as a Hollywood starlet , struggles to define herself amidst cious scandal, the deman ds of a powerful director, and the gments of an uncompromi sing writer.
THE LION TREES
THE LION TREES
—Pacific Book Reviews
Part 1 Unraveling
Part 2 Awakening
“ ...highly addictive, spectacular, and mind blowing...Thomas is a wizard of fiction.” —US Review of Books “A sweeping literary saga in the tradition of ‘Dr. Zhivago’, ‘Gone with the Wind’, and ‘The Thorn Birds’, this book has it all...original and stirring...” —The Eric Hoffer Book Award “ ...Every now and then, seemingly out of nowhere, a new voice comes along and knocks your socks off. Owen Thomas owns that voice... .” —The Anchorage Press “ ...This is a powerful, gripping and realistic story... . The Lion Trees does what so very few great novels can: it will take a lot out of you, but leave you with much more than you had when you began.” —Pacific Book Review AWARDS: 13 International Book Awards, including The Eric Hoffer Book Award, The London Book Festival, The New York Book Festival, The Amsterdam Book Festival, and The Beverly Hills International Book Awards. Now a Semi-Finalist for the Amazon Kindle Book Award
Owen Thomas lives and writes in Anchorage, Alaska. His two-volume novel “The Lion Trees” is available in paper and electrons at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Reviews, excerpts, interviews, discussion guides, as well as other information about the author and his work, are available at
a word from the
his issue marks the fifth anniversary of Shelf Unbound, which we’re celebrating with this special double issue reprising our favorite interviews since our launch in 2010, ranging from debut authors to a Pulitzer Prize winner. While we are proud to be a digital magazine reaching more than 125,000 readers in 70+ countries, we’re marking the occasion of our fifth anniversary by offering this issue for sale in print (see below). We recently premiered the Shelf Media Podcast, in which I interview authors about their books and writing (there’s a link to the podcast on page 6). In the coming weeks, we’ll be launching a podcast network of similar podcasts focusing on books and the arts. We’re excited to be jumping on the podcast bandwagon and hope you will come along for the ride. In five years of working on this magazine, the highlight for me has been engaging with a community of writers and readers dedicated to creating and supporting excellence in independent literature. Here’s to many more years and many more great books! Margaret Brown publisher
iv 5th ann
Shelf Unbound in Print! We’re offering this special Fifth Anniversary Commemorative Issue in a high-quality print edition. To purchase a copy, send a payment via PayPal of $50 (shipping and handling included) to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and mailing address in the notes. Allow two weeks for delivery. Photograph: Belinda Baldwin
What we eat is killing us. The Perfect Food
The electrifying new novel from John Crawley A young man in Hebron, Nebraska mysteriously dies. Then another. And still another. Soon hundreds and then thousands are dying. And doctors do not know what is causing the epidemic, until one young research scientist becomes a whistle blower. His discovery threatens the entire food industry, the White House and even the halls of Congress.
The Perfect Food is about the ability of a very few individuals to buy their way to justiceâ€“to power and to opt out of accountability. It is what happens when we allow our government to be run by the rich and powerful with little to no voice for the common person.
w w w.johncrawleybooks.com Available at Amazon, iBooks, BarnesandNoble, and Lulu
In the first Shelf Media Podcast, publisher
Margaret Brown talks to author Matt Bell about his three books and about writing, teaching the craft of writing, and his
forthcoming novel. She also talks to book reviewers David Rice and Michele Filgate about Bellâ€™s most recent novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods.
ear the top of Mount Everest, on 10 May 1996, eight climbers died. It was the worst tragedy in the mountain’s history.
Lou Kasischke was there. Now he tells the harrowing story of what went wrong, as it has never been told before—including why the climbers were desperately late and out of time. His personal story, captured in the title After The Wind, tells about intense moments near the top. The moments that revealed the love story that saved his life.
“A vivid, intimate memoir that, with great clarity and attention to detail, tells an unforgettable survival story.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review) Kirkus’Indie Books of the Month Selection
“A thorough analysis of the 1996 Everest disaster…and the best preparation for my Everest ascent.” Jean Pavillard, IFMGA Swiss Mountain Guide
“After The Wind is a thoughtful, well-written love story of Kasischke’s dedication to his wife and anchor Sandy and his passion for climbing. It delivers an edge-ofyour-seat description of navigating and mountaineering Everest and is punctuated with beautiful illustrations nestled in each chapter. Those new to the story, as well as anyone hooked on Krakauer’s original tale, will find After The Wind an engrossing read.” BlueInk Reviews (starred review)
Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at local bookstores in hardcover, ebook, and soft cover (international edition only) formats.
Son of celebrity, Kevin McEnroe throws off the weight of his famous last name with an assured, beautiful, sensitive debut novel. Readers may recognize the main character but most importantly will recognize the launch of the writing career of a true talent.
by Kevin Jack McEnroe Counterpoint Press counterpointpress.com
Shelf Unbound: Why did you want to tell the story of your grandmother’s drug and alcohol addiction, given that, as you said in a recent issue of People, you barely knew her? Kevin Jack McEnroe: In my family, my grandmother was considered a sort of cautionary tale, and I grew up knowing her in this context. However, when I took my first writing class in college, my professor prompted us to write from the perspective of the opposite sex. In doing so, I wrote a story about a grandmother’s—a nana’s— vision of her grandson. I wasn’t quite sure why she came to me in this context, but after this I kept writing about her, and trying to understand her, and in doing so I feel like I may have gotten to know her the best I possibly I could’ve, and I cherish that relationship so.
Shelf Unbound: You base your main character on your grandmother, the actress Joanna Moore, and other characters are based on your grandfather, Ryan O’Neal; your father, John McEnroe; and your mother, Tatum O’Neal; and yourself. Why did you choose to write this story as fiction? McEnroe: I believe that this book—and the character of Dorothy—is based on my grandmother Joanna Moore. However, the rest of the book, and the rest of the characters, are entirely fictional. And, more so, I feel like all the rest of the characters are some sort of version of me. I chose to write this as fiction because I have no interest in nonfiction. I’m afraid to write in the first person.
Shelf Unbound: The grandson in the novel says of his grandmother: “She never disappointed him. Even if he had to patch her life together—even as its threads, often, fell apart in his fingers, she never disappointed him. Even if he had to make it up—especially if he had to make it up—she never disappointed him. No matter what, he understood that they had something in common. That they were both alive and they knew what living meant. That they were together.” I found this passage so moving and beautiful. Why does the grandson character, and why do you, cherish the relationship with the grandmother? McEnroe: I think the relationship that I have with Dorothy, and therein Joanna, has allowed me to understand
myself better. I learned, in writing the book, that the reason I was so interested in her, I think, is because she had a tendency to get in her own way when she felt success coming, a tendency that I feel like she and I share. When you don’t believe you deserve success, you can do anything to blunt that. But, I think it was in my attempting to understand her better that I learned that that’s what we shared, something I wish she could’ve figured out herself. In that way I feel she saved me. To this day I view her as my guardian angel. Shelf Unbound: I think you humanize your grandmother’s drug use but you certainly don’t glamorize it. You began Our Town and got your book deal at a time when you were using drugs and you finished it in during two months in rehab last
A ROAD TRIP THAT WOULD CHANGE HIS LIFE...
Michaelâ€™s freshman year of college has not gone well either socially or academically. In 1969 failure from college or dropping out of school means the draft and possibly Vietnam. Michael desperately wants success, acceptance and popularity. He believes pledging a campus fraternity can help put him on the right path. As the final hurdle to get into the fraternity he must hitchhike 1500 miles over a weekend; a road trip which could save his freshman year and possibly change his life. The rides he gets, the people he meets and the obstacles he overcomes on his journey do change his lifebut in an unexpected way.
www.TomWascoe.com Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBookstore. UNBOUND
year. How did your own perspective on drug use change over that time and did your changed perspective make any difference in the book? McEnroe: I don’t think that drug abuse necessarily is passed down from generation to generation, but Dorothy, Joanna, and I certainly share something, and whatever this is drugs pair quite well with. Drugs allow you to live life entirely in the present, which early on can be quite appealing, especially if you find looking inward to be a scary thing to do. In the midst of drug use, the light at the end of the tunnel begins to feel too far away, and so turning around feels in some ways safer. Because, while behind you is dark, its also familiar. You know what’s there. Since I finished the book though, I feel I have to do better and try harder for Joanna, which again makes me feel like she saved my life.
Shelf Unbound: Was writing the book cathartic? McEnroe: The writing of the book was in fact cathartic. I find that the only writing of my own that I like is writing about the things that I don’t like to talk about. Shelf Unbound: Will your next book also be based on real life? McEnroe: In some ways, all of my writing is based on my own life. In that vein, Our Town is my California novel, and I have just begun work on a New York book, based on some of my experiences working at night in the city. Moral code changes in New York at night, and I look forward to exploring that.
UP S . WW
E Y L F
M O .C s5 e g a For
Here is the book that so many early readers are going crazy over. It is the TRUE story of the REAL American hero who risked his life in 1947 to fly the X-1 rocket plane through the sound barrier and take the world of aviation into the modern age. The risks were great with some scary ups and downs, but Chuck Yeager was steady and determined and he did it. What is the sound barrier? This book gives a careful explanation. You and your children will never forget this story. See the movie at www.supersonicflyer.com.
Press 53 www.press53.com
he 14 stories in Miracle Boy and Other Stories have appeared separately in such publications as Esquire and the Ontario Review, but gathered together they form a mythic world of small tragedies and large isolation. We talked to Benedict about the ever-present fear of losing a limb, the power of narrative, and his particularly compelling title story, “Miracle Boy.” —Margaret Brown
Shelf Unbound: What was the genesis of the story “Miracle Boy”? Pinckney Benedict: “Miracle Boy” came about primarily as an evocation of a couple of terrors from my childhood. The first was riding on the fender of the various AllisChalmers tractors on my family’s dairy farm. We owned three Allis-Chalmers tractors, in various horsepowers and configurations, but I used the Case Agri-King for the story because I love that name: Agri-King! It’s kind of how I think of my dad, who still runs—with my older brother— the farm in the Greenbrier Valley: He’s the Agri-King! The fenders on those tractors were slick and not really made for riding on, and the fields over which we rode— my father always driving of course—were rutted and rough, and falling off always seemed to me to be a distinct possibility. Falling off meant more than just a pretty good drop onto hard ground, though. We were always pulling some kind of implement, mower or hay-rake or haybine or, as in “Miracle Boy,” silage chopper, and a fall meant going into or under the thing. It seems like every farming
DEBUT: SEPTEMBER 2010
family we knew had members who were missing fingers, limbs, eyes, from agricultural accidents, and I had a morbid terror of losing a limb (or limbs) in this way. Oddly, I never worried much about dying; it was the idea of being maimed that haunted me. The accident that takes the hand of the father of Geronimo and Eskimo Pie—a hydraulic fencepost driver, a hand left carelessly on top of the post—actually happened on a nearby place when I was a boy, to a guy ever afterward known down at the barbershop as Lefty. I knew with perfect assurance that something like it was going to happen to me (for the record, it never did), but that wasn’t the kind of thing that you could tell your dad when he instructed you to climb up onto the tractor’s fender because you were going somewhere, to mow or rake a field or to chop some corn. And the lure of being with my father while he worked (at the side of the Agri-King!) was so exciting that I wouldn’t have stopped riding the fender even if I’d thought it might have been permissible to do so. And I vividly recall when I started reading in the
papers—I was old enough to be driving the tractors myself then, no longer riding on the fender—about people whose amputated limbs were being surgically reattached, and seeing the name “Miracle Boy” affixed to one of the stories—I think he got his arms lopped off and managed to call the paramedics by using a pencil held in his teeth—and thinking to myself, Holy cats! That’s amazing. Stoicism in action. One day I’ll write about that. The other terror (which was also a thrill) was climbing up into a treehouse made by my older brother and his friends when they were in their teens, when I was eight or nine. It rested in the crotch of a tree that was nothing but trunk, straight up, for perhaps 25 feet, before it divided and branched out. The ladder they had devised consisted of a line of 60-penny nails driven straight into the trunk of the tree. I’m not particularly physically brave—as my allconsuming horror at the idea of falling off the tractor perhaps illustrates—and climbing up that series of nails to gain entrance to their hideout (with its cache of tattered porn magazines, so worth the climb!), was as painful and as exhausting as anything I’ve ever done, except for perhaps the descent that followed. For the story, I combined that
experience with many days of fence-building, pounding nail after nail into square locust posts (locust is as hard as iron! at least when you’re driving nails by hand), to imagine how Lizard managed to make his way up the utility pole. Shelf: Which character came to you first? Benedict: Miracle Boy was initially at the center of the story. I wrote the small scene that happens just before he falls off of the tractor early on and thought that most of the story would be like that, written from his point of view. Miracle Boy himself is based (as much as he’s based on anyone specific) on a guy named Doug G________, who lived in my hometown in southern West Virginia. He was a couple of years older than I was, and had been horribly burned a few years before I ever met him. He looked melted, truly. I was fascinated with him, as were all of the kids whom I know. I wish I could say that my interest in him was kindly or generous, but I really just wanted to look at him up close, to see what burns like that actually looked like. I knew that it was rude to stare, and so mostly I saw Doug in brief glimpses, when I thought I could look without being detected. There were lots of rumors about how he
had suffered such terrible injuries. The one that was repeated most often is that, while his family home was burning down, Doug (quite young, maybe six or seven at the time) had grabbed his infant sibling (brother, sister, they seemed interchangeable in the various tellings of the tale) and hustled the baby outside. The house was engulfed in flame, and Doug, shielding the baby with his own body, had been grievously burned. A hero! He seemed a nice enough guy, though I never got to know him well. Quiet and aware that his appearance was gruesome and unnerving, but he never seemed to want to hide himself. I always (in that smug way that one feels such emotions) pitied him until one time, when I came home from college, I saw him briefly (he was easily recognizable, as you can imagine—an adult-size version of his candle-wax boyhood self) and he was driving a beautiful white ’69 Chevy Z28, rocking that classic 302 V8 mill with twin Holley carbs (290 horsepower from the factory, my ass! more like 400). At that moment, I understood that—whatever his misfortunes had been—he owned a much more badass car than I ever would, and I had no cause to pity him any longer. (At the time I was drivUNBOUND
ing an old Ford Mach 1, which is not nothing, but it’s not a ’69 Z28, and I’m a GM guy at heart anyway.) He probably, and rightly, pitied me. Shelf: You grew up on your family’s dairy farm. This story of small town farm boys in some ways feels nostalgic but is actually brutal, un-idealized reality. Is this harsh nostalgia your personal perspective or one you took on as narrator? Benedict: I like the phrase “harsh nostalgia” to describe the primary mode of my storytelling and believe that I’ll begin using it as though I had come up with it myself. It describes exactly how I feel about my boyhood: I miss many parts of it—the freedoms, the excitement of innocence (or naïveté), the delight in the everyday. And in a strange way I also miss the near-constant terrors: awful nightmares, and waking nightmares that were just as bad (my imagination has always been dramatic), and fistfights, the awful practical jokes played on me by my older siblings and their friends, the utter inability to communicate my thoughts and feelings, and the sense I had of terrifying, paralyzing helplessness. Life is considerably easier now, but it is also, I have to admit, a great deal less vivid. My stories are one of the ways 16
that I have of returning to that earlier time, which I miss but which I would not live through again for any amount of money. Shelf: Miracle Boy says, “It’s miracles around us every day.” Do you see miracles in this story? Benedict: I think it’s a miracle that it was initially published in a commercial magazine! (It appeared in Esquire.) I think it’s kind of a miracle that Lizard doesn’t die, either by electrocution or by falling to his death, just as I think it’s kind of a miracle that I didn’t die during any of the million misadventures— with firearms, with liquor, with drugs, with tractors and animals and cars that were far too fast—of my own growing up. And I think it’s a miracle that, at the end, Lizard realizes that someone besides him has real existence. That’s the hardest and rarest thing: to understand that other people are real, that they are not just figments of the imagination, not just shadows or ghosts, and that they must be accorded the dignity (however much that might be) that’s accorded to actual living beings. It’s hard for me, anyway, and so it seems miraculous when it happens either in me or in someone I observe or even, as in the case of “Miracle Boy,” in someone I’ve created. I also take pretty seriously the idea that things like
DEBUT: SEPTEMBER 2010
limb reattachment surgery are miraculous, but that we have become so dulled to their miraculous nature we hardly even notice anymore. Why are there no more miracles, we ask, when we’re surrounded by them all the time. Same goes for space flight, iPads, and Android phones. I’m still waiting on flying cars and X-ray glasses, but I imagine when they do finally come along, I’ll use them for a while, be amazed, and then say, “Ho hum, why are there no miracles in my life?” Shelf: Which character do you have the most sympathy for? Benedict: Lizard. If there’s anyone in the story who is my stand-in, it’s Lizard. At least, Lizard is the one I’d like to be. He’s a representation of what I might have been like if during my boyhood I’d been capable of learning moral lessons from the things that happened around me (though I paid relatively little attention to anything that happened around me, because my head was always stuck in a book of some sort, or a comic book; it took a lot of pain to get my attention.) I’m probably actually more like Eskimo Pie, who I always pictured as being called that because he loves Eskimo Pies, which I also do. He’s a
fellow of some girth, as am I, which is why he’s the one who sits on Miracle Boy. Lots of contemporary problems could be solved, I think, just by having large people sit on smaller people. It’s not as openly aggressive as punching, and it’s actually more effective. A buddy of mine who works in a jail—also a fellow of girth—has told me some great stories about sitting on prisoners who were getting out of control. Works like a charm. So I like Eskimo Pie a lot. Geronimo I don’t have much of a read on. I do know that he went on to join the Navy, because he shows up as the backseater in the F14 Phantom that crashes in the story “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.” Shelf: I read the story and then went back to it after a few days and was stunned to see how short it actually was—just over 11 pages. You tell an incredibly full, vivid, memorable story in such a scarce space—did you write it longer in your head or on paper and then pare it down? Benedict: What a nice compliment! Thank you. My stories tend be quite long: the longest in the Miracle Boy collection is something like 14,000 words. So I’m very happy when I manage to do something in a com-
pact space, as with “Miracle Boy.” I always tell myself when I begin writing a new story that this time I’ll write a story that’s perfect and gem-like and only 3,000 words long, so that magazines will be able easily to find space for it. And generally I end up with something long and gangling, something in the 7,000- to 9,000-word range, with tangents and digressions and minor characters who go off and do oddball things. And I like the freedom I have in those sprawling stories—but my ideal, when I sit down to write, is something more along the lines of “Miracle Boy.” I happily fail at my ideals, though. Shelf: Your first book of short stories, Town Smokes, was published in 1987. How have your writing and your writing style evolved since then? Benedict: It feels to me as though I’m taking more chances in my writing now: The stories are stranger and look much more like the world that I see in my head, that I have always seen in my head. I’m much less worried about a kind of theoretical literary perfection now (this was my idea, when I started out writing stories, to create some sort of small perfection, and I could drive myself mad pursuing that ever-receding goal) and much
more interested in telling a story—getting a real narrative on the page—that will catch people up, that catches me up as much as anybody else, and that tells some morsel of truth about the world. Chiefly, I think, I’m enjoying the act of writing far more than I have in my past books. It feels like play to me, and I feel free to be mischievous, to make in-jokes and personal references that only a very small number of my readers (perhaps none of them) will ever get, to make plot and character moves that I know will baffle and frustrate folks (also intrigue, I hope), simply because that’s the thing I see in my head. My stories are shaped much more like me these days. Shelf: As a reader, what do you value most in writing? Benedict: Powerful narrative. I see a lot of very “fine” writing—by which I mean writing in which the sentences are mellifluous, the paragraphs graceful, the diction intelligent and challenging—in which nothing much happens at all. I’ve taught for years in various MFA programs, and I believe that, while it’s pretty easy to teach talented folks to write fluid, stylish prose, prose that looks like it belongs in a book, it’s pretty damned hard to teach them that the UNBOUND
prose needs to tell a story. Stuff needs to happen; occurrences of vital import (at least to the characters) need to take place. MFA programs seem to me to have made the lovely sentence a commonplace virtue; now what separates real writers from wannabes is the narrative impulse. It’s a kind of charisma that’s hard to define, the storytelling gene (you either have it or you don’t, I think), that informs my favorite writing. Shelf: What’s a typical day of writing like for you? Benedict: I don’t have a typical day, though I wish I did. I always read with envy and admiration about the habits of other writers, how intrepid they are, how they rise before dawn or write into the middle of the night, how they cannot rest until they’ve achieved a certain word count or created a certain amount of splendor that day. (I suspect that many of these accounts of folks’ working habits, though not all by any means, are wishful thinking from excellent fictioneers.) My wife is also a writer, and she’s much better about actually putting in the hours required to create a meaningful body of work. She’s one of those people who, when she talks about the discipline required to be a writer, I believe her. 18
Like most of us, I’m a family sort, and my family is a lot of fun. I have a teaching job, and I find it pretty tough to write a whole lot during the semester. I like my sleep, and I like to read, and I like to watch movies and TV: I like all of these at least as much as I like to write, and probably more, since writing is work (even if it’s a very enjoyable sort of work) and these other things are leisure. And so I give them as much time as possible in my schedule. I’m ambitious for the quality of my work (but not manically so—I should be more exacting of myself) but not particularly ambitious for its quantity. Certainly the world does not seem in a rush for me to produce piles of the stuff! So my writing day contains exactly as much writing as I can fit in around the edges of the rest of my life. Mostly I spend time planning in my head what I will write next: stealing ideas from what I read, noting the quirks of the people around me and imagining how a character might enact them, making up grandiose plots that I know I will never actually enact on paper. Some stories are so much fun to make up and to revisit again and again that I never even bother to write them down. Those are actually my favorites, and so private and idiosyncratic and
DEBUT: SEPTEMBER 2010
arcane that I keep them wholly to myself. Shelf: What have you read lately that you would recommend? Benedict: Oh gosh! So much great work by young writers: my grad students surprise me all the time with work that should be published and oohed and aahed over, which should make them famous and celebrated, though that likely will not happen. I tell them that their sole job in my classes is to freak me out, and many of them take up the challenge with some success. Published work: In the Devil’s Territory by my friend Kyle Minor [Dzanc Books, www.dzancbooks.org]. Give + Take by Stona Fitch [Thomas Dunne Books, us.macmillan. com/thomasdunne.aspx]. I’m greatly enjoying The Passage by my old Iowa schoolmate Justin Cronin [Ballantine Books, ballantine.atrandom. com]. All highly narrative stuff, all beautifully written, all with that indefinable shamanistic quality. And I keep returning to old favorites, in part because they’re free to download to my Kindle: H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. I would happily kill or die to be able to tell stories at the level of either of those geniuses.
O RI T I R P S I Y T QUALI
” ! a z n a n o B c i F t i L a s ’ “It
Desert Rice by Angela Scott
White Chalk by Pavartik Tyler
When Sam meets “Jesus”—who smells an awful lot like a horse—in the park, life takes a different turn. He saved her once, and may be willing to save Sam and her brother again, if only they admit what took place that fateful day in West Virginia. But Sam doesn’t remember, and Jacob isn’t talking.
When Troy Christiansen walks into Chelle’s life, she’s desperate to believe his arrival will be her salvation. So much so, she forgets to save herself. Follow Chelle’s twisted tale of modern adolescence, as she travels down the rabbit hole into a reality none of us wants to admit actually exists.
Carry Me Away by Robb Grindstaff
The Lone Wolf by E.D. Martin
Carrie Destin, a biracial military brat, learns the injuries she sustained in a car accident will prove fatal before she reaches adulthood. Facing an abbreviated life with a brash attitude and a biting, sometimes morbid sense of humor, Carrie races to experience life before it ends, but spirals out of control, leading to a physical and emotional collapse.
After her husband’s infidelities are revealed, Kasey Sanford just wants to rediscover who she is. After an abusive childhood and years as a career soldier, Andrew Adams just wants someone to tell him that he’s doing the right thing with his life. When their paths cross, Kasey and Andrew embark on a tumultuous journey that demonstrates just what they’re willing to do to save the ones they love.
The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky by David Litwack A mysterious nineyear-old from the Blessed Lands sails into the lives of a couple in the Republic, claiming to be the Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. Is she a troubled child longing to return home, or a powerful prophet sent to unravel the fabric of the Republic? The answer will change the lives of all she meets… and perhaps their world as well.
DEBUT: OCTOBER 2010
Shelf Unbound: What first planted the seed of Tinkers in your head? Paul Harding: My maternal grandfather’s stories about growing up in Maine. Like George Washington Crosby, his father had epilepsy and abandoned the family when my grandfather was 12, after discovering his wife’s plans to have him committed to an asylum. Whether out of generational tact or something like simple grief, my grandfather would not elaborate on these facts, which made them all the more irresistibly fascinating to me, concerned as they were with my begats, so to speak.
Bellevue Literar y Press www.blpbooks.org
he naming of Tinkers as this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction was a win not just for first-time novelist Paul Harding but also for indie publisher Bellevue Literary Press, an arm of the New York University School of Medicine that gave small publishing its first win in this category since 1981. It’s a win for readers as well: Tinkers is a fantastically inventive piece of literature. Shelf Unbound recently talked to Harding about transcendentalist thinking, Moby Dick, and what it feels like to be the poster boy for independent publishing.
—Margaret Brown 20
Shelf: The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is awarded “for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” What about this story most reflects or reveals American life? Harding: I can’t say. I did not write it with “America” or “American life” in mind. It might be that that is what allowed whatever people find quintessentially American in it to permeate the material, though. Certainly, a book that has a protagonist whose first two names are George Washington is going to set some associations in motion, but I just picked the name George as an obvious fictional replacement for Paul, which was my grandfather’s actual name. He was Paul Washington Crosby. I think that the book is steeped in pretty thoroughly American literature and thought as well, given its proclivities with transcendentalist thinking. Shelf: The novel begins with George Washington Crosby, a clock repairman, imagining the house that he built by hand caving in on his failing body. It’s fantastic imagery of the literal dismantling of his carefully constructed life. Where did the idea for this scene come from? Harding: Well, I put the poor soul on his deathbed, alone, and had the idea that he was hallucinating about cracks in the house he’d built himself and spent his life meticulously maintaining. It seemed a kind of obvious emotional reaction, a fear he’d have as he felt things and himself slipping away from one another. Then, I just sort of applied a principle I most admire in Moby Dick, which is to extend metaphors to their logical ends, until they collapse, give way. The metaphor in this case was a bit more literal than usual, I think, though. Once the scene is framed in the context of a hallucination, I just wrote out the house collapsing, stage by stage, as if it were literally true. Then, I just left it alone. I didn’t want to over-determine the image; just describe the thing as precisely and as vividly as possible, as palpably as possible, and hand it over to the reader and her own imagination. Shelf: You’ve become the poster guy for small presses and independent bookstores. What did Bellevue Literary Press see in Tinkers that the larger publishing establishment did not?
DEBUT: OCTOBER 2010
Harding: Certainly, larger publishers and more commercially oriented agents look at every manuscript with the very real concern about whether they can sell 10,000 copies of the thing in hardcover. There’s a real bottom line with which everyone struggles. I don’t begrudge people the parameters of their jobs and economic reality. I think that someone who reads a zillion manuscripts a year might find Tinkers in the middle of the pile and think, What the hell is this? The real misfortune is that quieter, more meditative books are tougher to evaluate, or even to become implicated in, in such a profit-oriented environment. Anyway, it was my still unbelievable good fortune to somehow have Erika Goldman at Bellevue come across the manuscript. From there, it was a classic case of the right book finding the right editor. Since Bellevue is non-profit, I imagine that Erika had the good fortune to be able to read the book without certain, er, financial necessities tugging at her brain as she did. She just plain liked it, I think, and was able to publish it on that basis alone. Lovely! Shelf: You’ve described yourself as a “self-taught modern New England Transcendentalist.” How does this personal framework inform your writing? Harding: It’s just a habit of seeing. I mean, I find the New England transcendentalist thinkers—among whom I include, in addition to Emerson and Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, Wallace Stevens, and even John Cheever, to an extent—experience their own perceptions and relationships to the world and to other human beings in a way that deeply resonates with me, impresses me, challenges me, gives me joy, and so forth. This kind of thinking arose directly out of the thinking of the Protestant Reformation, of course, and I find the relevant cosmologies, morality, and so forth to simply be
the most beautiful impulses and ideas across which I’ve come. Shelf: Which came first for you in writing Tinkers, the use of the clock as a metaphor or the idea of exploring the fluid nature of time? Harding: It’s funny, the clock metaphor arrived as a non-negotiable dramatic premise of the book, because my own grandfather repaired and traded clocks and I apprenticed with him for several years. So, I didn’t think of it theme or symbol first. It was a literal, concrete fact, out of and through which I subsequently evolved some of the novel’s themes about time. Of course, I’m obsessed with being in time, with our experience of it, how it foreshortens and elongates and doubles back on or ahead of itself, and so forth, and I think of all that experientially, which as a fiction writer means in terms of character and also in terms of narrative. So it all harmonized in a beautiful and pleasing way; I was able to swim around in all sorts of temporal realms and luxuriate in all sorts of non-linear, associative states of mind. It’s all about mind and consciousness, and those are all about the essence of being human.
Shelf: Near the end of his life, George dictates his memories into an old tape recorder. You write, “He imagined that his memoirs might now sound like those of an admirable stranger, a person he did not know but whom he immediately recognized and loved dearly. Instead, the voice he heard sounded nasally and pinched and, worse, not very well educated, as if he were a bumpkin ... .” What does the dissonance between his imagined voice and his actual voice say about his sense of identity? Harding: I guess it says something about the discrepancy between how we perceive or want to perceive ourselves and how we actually are. My immediate impulse while writing that passage was just derived from how much I hate to hear my own recorded voice. It makes me cringe. I feel the same way about seeing photographs or film of myself. I always think, Terrible; that’s not how I’d like to think of myself at all. So, it’s a pretty usual bit of human mortification. There’s some Emerson in there, along the lines of each person thinking he is misunderstood, is better than he acts or is perceived as being.
Shelf: You studied with Marilynne Robinson, who won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Gilead. Where do you see evidence of her teaching or influence in your writing? Harding: In all of the above. She is a kindred spirit. Within 10 minutes of meeting her, I recognized her as a dear friend whom I’d not previously met. I can just sit with her for hours and hours on end and talk about art and music and philosophy and theology. In terms of writing, from my point of view, I feel as if we’re members of the same family. I experience her influence as a joy and as great good fortune.
Shelf: You were a drummer in the rock band Cold Water Flat. I hear all kinds of rhythms in Tinkers. Are you conscious of the pattern or meter of your language as you write? Harding: Absolutely. I am wholly committed to writing lyric prose, which is the term I use for writing that falls just the other side of prose poetry. I think of my writing in terms of things like tempo and time signature and rhythm, the musicality of language, its incantatory properties. These things are also, of course, other ways of thinking about the ebb and flow, catch and release of time held by or inside narrative. UNBOUND
book club find
The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich
Two Dollar Radio www.twodollarradio.com Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps is as baffling as it is brilliant. She dispenses with so many writing norms that the reader is required to figure out a new way to read. It’s a thrilling ride. The Orange Eats Creeps earned Krilanovich the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 honor this year. She is also bassist in the psychedelic soul band Unicornface. We had a few questions for Krilanovich, not the least being, What the hell? —Margaret Brown Shelf Unbound: The Orange Eats Creeps is a relentless existentialist nightmare told from the point of view of a nameless female hobo vampire junkie. I’ll pull out the key word here: existentialist. Is that the main thing you were going for? Grace Krilanovich: Yes, well, a lot’s at stake here and the dread, the leakage, the thrills and the devouring are all of the psyche as well as the body. I was going for something ultra-dramatic and ridiculous and at the same time quiet and sleepy, like a prolonged, hissing draft of air escaping from an inner tube. I felt it was worthwhile to risk cliché, excessiveness, and sentimentality if it meant approaching some kind of “existential” truth. What I certainly didn’t want to do was limit it too early, define what it was, wrap it up neatly, tell it what it should be. That seemed antithetical to the book’s purpose, its tone, and the form itself. Much of it is rooted in the sensory, the lived experience of the body—just heightened by multiple threats from external forces: drugs, predators, the landscape. And from internal forces: the throbbing bruise pressure of soul sickness. Shelf: “Twilight this isn’t,” writes Steve Erickson in the book’s introduction, and, indeed, there is not an ounce of vampire cliché in this literate novel. Why make the characters actual vampires, though, rather than just predatory human degenerates? Krilanovich: I wanted the confusion there, or rather, not knowing one way or another. Are they? Aren’t they? In terms of “actual vamps” vs. merely “predatory human degenerates”—there are lots of great examples of the latter: Evil Companions, de Sade, Story of the Eye, Buffalo Bill, the Mentors— but it’s the parasitism of actual vampires that had the richness of meaning that I was after. All of the shared cultural anxiety over our perceived interior purity, our bodies’ supposed tidiness and impermeability, wouldn’t have much traction without the imminent threats to Our Precious Fluids by the 22
DEBUT: DECEMBER 2010
parasitic force of the vampire. Everyone fears being sucked dry by some leisurely, non-productive ne’er do well. Imagine the insidiousness of all that languid reclining on overstuffed furniture, keeping of non-farmer’s hours (talk about going against the grain), being out of step with the world, willingly or unwillingly. Not being a producer, instead, a pure consumer. And what are they consuming? Life itself. The life essence of living, productive, “daytime” people. Converting them/destroying them. I don’t see my characters as literal vampires to the extent that Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric were in The Lost Boys, like Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein were in Near Dark— though I learned a lot about tone and the sick feeling I wanted to capture for my own nearvamps. Those movies have mystique and a creepy pull that Interview with the Vampire and Twilight don’t, although I still enjoy those two as films. I love going to see the new Twilight movie. I laugh and laugh while my boyfriend shields his eyes and pretends to go to sleep, even though he’s laughing on the inside, I’m sure. Let me make it clear that vamp clichés are still great. It’s a very important cliché to think about and make art about, and it will always be. Shelf: The main character is witness to, victim of, and participant in all manner of depravity. I ultimately had sympathy for her, though, and was moved by her poignant quest for her soul mate/lover/sister Kim. How do you, as the writer, feel about the main character? Krilanovich: Very tenderly. You know, I worked on this book for so long, six years. Inevitably (if things are going well) your characters take on a life of their own and begin dictating what will happen to them in the story. Or they just start going about their business and you’ve got to take it all down fast. It’s your job to listen, and be truthful, and do right by them. And of course you get attached. A great thing was being able to slip back into that voice for the revisions that happened after the book was accepted for publication. It was so much easier and surprised me because I thought that after two and a half years (and after having started a new novel) the characters would be faded out old wooden clothespin dolls of their true selves. But that wasn’t the case at all. Some of my favorite stuff was written last. Shelf: You connect the main character with Donner Party survivor Patty Reed and her wooden doll. What is the meaning of this connection? Krilanovich: It’s partly a personal fascination with the Donner Party and their plight. Growing up in California you’d take a fifth grade field trip to Sacramento and Sutter’s Fort where there’s a Donner Party exhibit and they’ve got the doll on view. Patty Reed’s Doll is a ‘50s illustrated chapter book that we read in class, strange as it may seem to have a cute kids’ version of the Donner Party tragedy. It’s something John Waters should adapt ASAP. So there’s that. But I also felt Patty Reed’s doll (the book and the phenomenon) had certain connections to the story I was writing. Thematically, there are echoes throughout Orange: parasitic beings (once again) with their own agendas, maybe a comforting little pet/confidant here or there and those little yapping sub-entities House Mom makes do her bidding. A lot of stuff in the novel about hibernation, foraging, madness setting in in the middle of nowhere, the site of unknown tragedy, the macabre, bones and artifacts buried in the earth, all those things I hoped would be deepened and broadened by the Donner connection. Shelf: How do you describe your writing style? Krilanovich: Ideally: lush, maniacal, fearless. Realistically: Up to 11, relentless, no brakes; a set constellation of words that crop up again and again. How many times can I get away with using the words “gelatinous,” “ashen,” “creepy,” “hippie,” and “vague” in one work of fiction? Shelf: What are you working on now, and are you writing it in a similar style to The Orange Eats Creeps? Krilanovich: Another novel. I would definitely say it’s written in a style similar to The Orange Eats Creeps. But this is a historical romance, Coast Range of California, circa 1870. Nights seem to stretch on into eternity. A pack of brindle mutts runs around under cover of darkness, leaving a trail of gore in its wake. UNBOUND
DEBUT: JANUARY 2011
by Karen Tei Yamashita Coffee House Press www.coffeehousepress.org
fter more than a decade’s work, California author Karen Tei Yamashita not only managed to finish her fifth novel but also to have it named a 2010 National Book Award finalist for fiction. I Hotel is a remarkable literary feat, telling the story of Asian American lives and activism in early 1970s San Francisco. Through the course of 10 novellas, Yamashita explores numerous perspectives and utilizes a variety of styles, from prose to graphic art. We talked with her about process, bebop, and the indie publisher that has been with her from the start. —Margaret Brown Shelf Unbound: You take a chapter in Asian American history and break it down into its human elements and stories. Which came first for you in writing the novel—the larger historical structure or the individual concerns and dramas of the participants? Karen Tei Yamashita: The process of researching and writing were probably more organic and back-and-forth between the historical and individual, so after so many years of pursuing this project it’s hard to say. At first I talked to and gathered stories from anyone who would talk to me. Over time, patterns and a time period emerged, and then I knew or decided what the larger historical context might be. At the same time, I also began to know and think about particular questions, so I could focus and hone my research. Maybe your question is not about what came first time-wise, but what became more important, and in that sense, the stories of individuals rose to the surface. Without those individual stories, there would be no book.
Shelf: From the novel’s start, I was thinking of your writing style as bebop. Fast, breakaway, improv, thematic. Later you have your characters discussing jazz. I assume you’re a jazz fan. Is bebop a fair assessment, or would you classify your writing otherwise? Yamashita: I like jazz, but my friends know I really know nothing about it. I had to study and listen enough to write these sections, and I had a lot of help from some very savvy aficionados and musicians. Music and its creative movement and changes are really important to these years, and whether I knew my stuff or not, I knew that the work had to be suffused with the rhythms and cadence of the music. How to employ narrative/text to realize sound—that was my work to solve as a writer. Soul and rock and folk are also there, I hope, but I like your idea of fast, breakaway, improv. Shelf: You worked on this novel for 10 years. Did your perspective on the events you write about change significantly over that time? Yamashita: Yes, certainly. It was a big project with big questions, so whatever I assumed in the beginning changed or got rearranged. For example, I thought originally about the movement as a youth thing, among very young inexperienced college students, but there was a mentorship by previous generations and a deep history recovered through that legacy. And if the movement was considered a local or national phenomenon confined to American borders, it became evident to me in researching that embedded in the premises and promise of this radical movement for civil rights were international and transnational connections to third world struggles and to immigrant homelands. What I discovered is somehow organized into the structure of the work. It was a long learning process, and I feel I am still learning. Now that the book is a published thing, it has its own life. That is to say, slowly, from readers, I am hearing other stories, the stories in between, the gaps, the goofs, the missing parts, the deeper story below the surface. Shelf: How did it feel to finally close the door on the book? Yamashita: Well, as I said, the door isn’t really closed, at least for the life of the book itself. But yes, it’s a relief to have kept a promise to finish a book. I bothered a lot of folks to make this tome. Maybe it’s my upbringing, but it’s been important to me to keep my promises, to be responsible.
DEBUT: JANUARY 2011
I O RI R P S I Y T I UAL
T Y #1!
” ! r e l l i r h T r e l l i h C 4 a “It’s Shatter Point and Forgive Me, Alex are winners of the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award in the category of Thriller
Shatter Point by Jeff Altabef
Whispers of the Dead by C.L. Roberts-Huth
Broome Time Serenade by Barry Metcalf
The hunt for a murderer unfolds, dropping Zoe right in the middle of a power struggle between a nightmare of a coven, and a serial killer leaving bodies in ceremonial circles in the rural parts of Baltimore’s city limits. A race against celestial bodies and the trail of earthbound body parts keeps our intrepid clairvoyant running right until the very end.
When authorities fail to identify human remains discovered in and around Broome, Martin and Claire are despatched to the idyllic seaside resort to investigate. Little do they know their every move is watched, as they follow first one lead then another, until they are face to face with a ruthless enemy who is determined to end their lives.
Maggie met Cooper at a young age, but even then she sensed something was wrong with him. His charm, good looks, and wealth could not hide the danger that burned in his sapphire eyes. Now a strong woman all these years later, reading Cooper’s letter throws her back in time once more. She knew this day would eventually come. He’d been haunting her for as long as she could remember, but from a distance. Now things have changed. He’s come for her.
Forgive Me, Alex by Lane Diamond “Now mortality, as it did seventeen years ago, lingers above me like the hangman’s noose. Yet it looms more ominous than ever, as if it will drop down around my neck at any moment. After all, I know the true Mitchell Norton. And whom shall I fear if not the devil, the grim torturer who conquered my aspirations and left me without a recognizable world of my own?”
Shelf: Your research included interviewing more than 150 people who were part of or witness to the story you tell. Tell us about one in particular. Yamashita: Al Robles. Al was a Filipino American beat poet who grew up in Japantown and the old Fillmore, known as the Harlem of the West for its jazz houses. He helped to found the Kearny Street Workshop for artists and writers at the I-Hotel, and he was a dedicated activist for the manong and elderly community in the hotel and surrounding neighborhood of Manilatown. Throughout his life and in the 30 years that the hotel was a cavernous open and demolished pit of rubble on Kearny and Jackson Streets, he wrote about and advocated for a community of elders, their stories and wellbeing. His life was an event and expression of his social and artistic beliefs, and his effect as a poet and friend to so many was to contain and give compassion effortlessly, with humor, music, and a kind of rambunctious but purposeful innocence. Shelf: Independent publisher Coffee House Press has published all of your books. What does that relationship mean to you? Yamashita: I have been blessed. I knew nothing about publishing 20 years ago, and I got trained and mentored by Coffee House. I came to know the importance of independent publishing as a space for new creative work and risk-taking and integrity, but also as a resource that keeps its books in print. This has meant a great deal to me as a writer because my books have taken a long time to stew among and garner over time a readership, and because CHP has kept their books in print, it means that several generations of readers and students in colleges and universities have been able to follow my work. I have known many incarnations of young staffs at CHP, and every one of them has been wonderful and supportive, hardworking, idealistic, and enthusiastic. What more can a writer ask for? The mainstay at CHP has been publisher/founder Allan Kornblum, and he’s been a mentor and supporter as no other. Shelf: What are you working on now? Yamashita: I’m working with my extended Yamashita family on a cache of letters written during the war, when our parents were sent to internment camps and the family was dispersed across the country and finally the world. There were seven Yamashita siblings born in Oakland, California; they are all gone now, but their correspondence reveals in articulate detail their multiple and intense relationships, their desire and deep sense of responsibility to keep the family together, and their understanding of their civil rights denied and prospects for the future.
DEBUT: JANUARY 2011
I O RI R P S I Y T I UAL
T Y #1!
R E E D G IN D N A T S Y RUB
A rare, authentic glimpse of the American Indian culture, circa 1500. A peoples steeped in spirituality, family, humor, and love of the natural world. “This novel of historic[sic] fiction is a must for any fan of Native American history, or seeker of knowledge, or lover of life. It is expertly crafted with vivid imagery and characters that will become beloved. If you don’t know what it means to sing someone home, prepare to swallow hard. It is heart warming and moving. Truly a thing of beauty.” —T.W. Griffith
“Circles possesses a lyrical style, reminiscent of a book like The Little Prince, but with a unique view of American Indian culture. If you enjoy dwelling for a time in the hearts and minds of those with a different yet beautiful relationship with the world they live in, you will enjoy this book. It does what all good books do—it allows the reader to see a special world through different eyes.” —Dave L.
ÂŠ 2010 Nancy Crampton
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2011
The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat Princeton University Press www.press.princeton.edu
n Create Dangerously, a powerful collection of personal essays on writing and exile, Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat details atrocities in her country of origin and her experience as an immigrant living in one world and tied to and haunted by another. “Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously,” she says. “This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” —Ben Minton Shelf Unbound: You’ve subtitled your book “the immigrant artist at work.” Is being an immigrant equal in weight to being an artist in terms of how you think of yourself? Edwidge Danticat: There are so many ways that I think of myself: as woman, mother, writer. Being an immigrant and being a writer is in many ways another layer along with all of that. They are all part of the totality that makes me who I am. Shelf: You depict atrocities—execution, assassination, torture—in a sober voice: “Blood spills out of Numa’s mouth. Drouin’s glasses fall to the ground, pieces of blood and brain matter clouding the cracked lenses.” How hard is it to write soberly about such gut-wrenching events? Danticat: As you can imagine, it’s not as hard as living those things, or even living through them. I try to write very simply because the events themselves have so much weight, so much power. The most you can do while writing about such
painful things is to be truthful, reflective, and respectful of the people and events you are writing about. Shelf: In a new collection from Granta, The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, the editors comment on a shift in perspective of the post-dictatorship generation. “For them, censorship, blacklists, exile and persecution are historical facts, rather than actual memories,” they say, referring to the “quotidian” rather than political nature of most of the stories. What do you see happening with the next generation of Haitian writers? Do you foresee a time when it will be less necessary for them to “create dangerously?” Danticat: Unfortunately, for the next generation of Haitian writers, especially the ones still living in Haiti, tragedy is not a distant memory yet. I am sure we all long for that day. Tragedies just take different forms. However, I know they want to be like all other writers. They want freedom within their art, to follow their art in the direction it leads them, to not be defined by others, to tell the stories they want to tell, just like any other writers anywhere in the world. The new generation is also more diasporic, more hybrid, inside and outside of Haiti. They mix genres. They mix themes. They are not homogeneous. They fall along different gender and class lines, use different styles of writing. It will be exciting to see what comes next. Shelf: You’ve written about Haiti extensively in fiction and nonfiction. Which allows you the most authentic expression? Danticat: I enjoy both. Some stories fit one form better than another, but both involve storytelling, and I love and feel privileged to be able to tell (write) my stories in whatever form they come. Shelf: You went to Haiti 23 days after the January 2010 earthquake. In the final essay in the book, you end with, “Great black country. I too bid thee farewell, I think. At least for now.” Do you think you will ever bid Haiti farewell in terms of writing about it? Danticat: Whenever I bid Haiti farewell, it will always be “for now.” That’s the immigrant dilemma, artist or otherwise. Part of you is always saying good-bye and hello to one place or another. I used to play a game with daughters when they were babies called “Hello Goodbye” where I look at them then away from then and each time say either hello or good-bye. I am always doing that with Haiti as well. Even as I am saying good-bye, I am always looking forward to the next hello.
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2011
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倀爀愀椀猀攀 昀漀爀 圀椀搀漀眀 圀愀氀欀
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䤀渀琀攀爀渀愀琀椀漀渀愀氀 䈀漀漀欀 䄀眀愀爀搀 圀椀渀渀攀爀
䌀漀渀渀攀挀琀 眀椀琀栀 䜀愀爀 䰀愀匀愀氀氀攀㨀 眀眀眀⸀䜀愀爀䰀愀匀愀氀氀攀⸀挀漀洀 䀀䜀愀爀䰀愀匀愀氀氀攀
㈀ 㔀 匀愀渀 䘀爀愀渀挀椀猀挀漀 䈀漀漀欀 䘀攀猀琀椀瘀愀氀 圀椀渀渀攀爀 䤀渀搀椀攀刀攀愀搀攀爀 䐀椀猀挀漀瘀攀爀礀 䄀眀愀爀搀 圀椀渀渀攀爀
READING Take a bite from your next favorite book.
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The Hero of Hucklebuck Drive by Gerry Burke www.authorgburke.authorsxpress.com
hat do you think of these disappearances in Toorak, Paddy? All pizza delivery boys. The newspapers are talking about a serial killer.” *** I awoke the next morning to the ringing of the doorbell. I slipped into my silk robe and slicked-back my hair. If my visitor turned out to be a Seventh Day Adventist, there would be blood on the ground. Her name was Mrs. Smith and she looked like the booby prize in a vanity raffle. I guessed the lady was all of forty and then some. Her bedraggled appearance was in some way due to the rain but she had sad eyes and there appeared to be red marks on both of her cheeks. Her hair was damp and discolored and her good bits were discreetly covered by a tight-fitting overcoat. The woman was clutching a mustard-colored umbrella that was dripping like an Irish faucet, so I invited her
in. I was dead keen to learn whether her husband might be John Smith. This was a name that people in law enforcement heard quite often. “You are Mr. Pest aren’t you, the famous detective? I was told you were the best person to find my Henry. He’s gone missing.” “I am more than happy to try and help you find your husband, especially if he was the one who gave you those ugly bruises on your cheeks.” “What bruises? That’s my rouge. We can’t all afford French cosmetics and my husband, John, is not missing. Henry is my son.” Although I was certainly chastened by this rebuke, I had a warm feeling about Mrs. Smith, and this was exacerbated when she removed her overcoat to reveal a well-rounded, taut figure that belied her years. She was some kind of gal for an old boiler. “OK then, tell me all about it. How long has he
been missing? How old is he? Could he be involved with a femme fatale?” “He is fourteen years of age, likes video games, skateboarding, and his mom’s cooking.” “In that case he probably hasn’t run away. I presume Henry is at school but does he do any part-time work?” “Why yes, he’s a pizza delivery boy.” The Hero of Hucklebuck Drive. Copyright © 2015 by Gerry Burke. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, iUniverse.
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Window Walk by Gar LaSalle www.AvastaPress.com
nah was the ﬁrst to board the hapless vessel, whose crew had been alerted to the Haida’s approach by their syncopated, grunting war song. The shaman of the clan, Klixuatan, dressed in bearskin and capped with a longbeaked raven mask, stomped his spear onto the deck. He blew a whistle and sang in a high-pitched whine. The paddles dipped the water in sync with the stomping beat. No shots were ﬁred. The schooner crew had left their powder to molder outside in a wooden bin. Because the sound carried well across the still of morning, they had minutes to prepare themselves for the onslaught. A ﬁerce knife ﬁght ensued on deck, seven men against two converging longboats, each carrying twenty-ﬁve warriors. Anah killed two more men that morning and took his ﬁrst head as a prize, that of his biggest opponent, an orangebearded man with a knot
braided in the Chinese style. For the ﬁrst time, Anah saw the difference between the ﬁerce, terror-ﬁlled eyes immediately before an opponent’s death and the ﬂat colorlessness when all life had drained away. The dead eyes on his prize were different from those of one who had simply given up living, as he had seen on his hobbled aunt the year before. Her eyes had become black holes, ﬁlled and tired and taking in no more. These eyes, however, were without color, as if the spirit released with the beheading had carried their hue away with it. After the killings, one of the longboats stayed behind to ransack, then set aﬂame the schooner while the second boat proceeded southward. Anah crowed his pride for hours after the killings. From Widow Walk by Gar LaSalle. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Free audiobook version available at GarLaSalle.com.
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Not F*ing Around by Jeff Leisawitz Available this fall from www.AvastaPress.com
obody particularly likes to think about it, but our days on this Earth are numbered. You have limited time to do whatever youâ€™re gonna do. You could check out tomorrow or walk the planet for another fifty years, but sooner or later the gig is up. Game over. This means at least one thing. Every moment, every breath, every thought, every action, every interaction, every intention and everything else is precious. Your life and your time on this planet is precious. The meaning of life has been hotly debated since humans have had the capacity to hotly debate. At the end of the day, I have no idea what the Universe wants from us. For all I know, sitting around playing video games, drinking cheap beer, pounding pints of your favorite ice cream, and/or binge watching reality TV is a crucial aspect of the cosmic plan. But I doubt it.
Humans are here to do stuff. And the humans who find their truth and have the courage to act on it are the ones who change the world. Their world. And the worlds of those they touch. What are you meant to do? In anticipation of the fall release of Not F*ing Around, we invite you to ask yourself what really matters. Get a free copy of the NFA Discover What You Love and Why worksheet now. From Not F*ing Around by Jeff Leisawitz. Publication date Fall 2015. Reprinted with permission.
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The Lion Trees, Part l by Owen Thomas www.owenthomasfiction.com
first met Angus Mann in Africa when I was twenty-nine years old. When I think back to our beginning, when I open up all of the little boxes in my head and examine those memories, I re-experience Angus more than simply remember him. My career was on its way up. His, almost an afterthought. Although, to be fair, the decision of Bright Leaf Films to option The Lion Tree was an unexpected shot in the arm. The Lion Tree, as a motion picture, gave Angus more public recognition in the eleventh hour of his career than did all of his preceding works combined; just as I told him it would. This was a victory I lorded over him mercilessly, until the very end. Angus would undoubtedly object to the term “career” as a characterization of his life’s work, connoting as it does a prolonged exchange of effort and personal sacrifice
for financial return. And, of course, he would be right about that. Angus never wrote for money, and for most of his life he never had much of it. He wrote words in exchange for oxygen. He wrote to live. He wrote because emotionally, constitutionally, he had little choice. Angus Mann wrote in his own blood. To call it a “career” misses the point. But back then, I was all about “career”—the prolonged exchange of personal sacrifice for financial return. I was then a comely sprig of singleminded ambition tempered by emotional immaturity, disgustingly poor judgment, low standards, delusions of grandeur and a tragic blind spot for irony. In short, perfect for Hollywood. And while I had little grasp of just why I was perfect for Hollywood, I knew in the pink of my marrow that I was perfect. I either sensed that I
had all of the runaway narcissism and other tragic self-delusions required of the Hollywood perfection standard, or I believed that I had no self-delusions at all and that Hollywood would reward me for my unique artistic talent as an actress; which, of course, is seriously delusional and narcissistic. So, either way, I was perfect for Hollywood. The Lion Trees. Copyright © 2014 by Owen Thomas. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, OTF Literary.
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After the Wind: 1996 Everest Tragedy— One Survivor’s Story by Lou Kasischke www.afterthewind.com
was excited and anxious. After almost six weeks, we were on the final push for the summit. Once the decision was made to leave Camp 2 it was a single continuous push. Camp 3 and High Camp would only be brief rest stops on the way to the top of the world. By my calculation and assumption, we would be on the move for 59 or more hours, with little if any sleep, and little solid food to eat. Sleep deprivation and lack of nutrition, by themselves, magnify the difficulty of all the climbing challenges. Hopefully I could get my body to digest solid food, but I wasn’t counting on it. My body would also have to climb 7,800 vertical feet while hypoxic and while my cell structure was dying from oxygen starvation. Also,
in very practical terms, others who had climbed the terrain before told me there was no place to sit down and take a rest. If you wanted to rest, it would be while standing and gasping for air. If everything did not continue as a go for some reason, it was possible to wait above the altitude at Camp 2 for a limited time before going further, or even return to Camp 2 after an aborted attempt and try again later. This commonly occurred and we were prepared for that possibility. We had the time and resources. But we never talked much about that contingency. Rob was always positive. He said that the idea and priority was to have patience and pull it off the first time and avoid the physical and logistical
challenge of a second attempt. I knew the next 59 hours would be the big hurt. It would be all misery. Suffer and endure. From After the Wind by Lou Kasischke. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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Last Light Studio www.lastlightstudio.com
helf Unbound talks with Erika Dreifus about her new book of short stories, Quiet Americans, published by Last Light Studio (www.lastlightstudio.com). Shelf Unbound: The stories in Quiet Americans look at the impact of the Holocaust on generation after generation, starting in prewar Berlin and moving through time and family up to the present day. What new perspective were you wanting to bring to the canon of Holocaust literature? 40
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2011
Erika Dreifus: This is such an important and complicated question. For starters, I’m beginning to notice the emergence of a new cohort of writers, those of us who are grandchildren of people who encountered, fled from, and/ or survived Nazi persecution in Europe. I’m in my early forties, and I seem to be among the “elders” of this generation: fiction writers and memoirists including Julie Orringer, Alison Pick, and Natasha Solomons were all born in the 1970s (Solomons in 1980),
and they, too, have returned to their grandparents’ histories in their writing. (I have written about this more extensively for Fiction Writers Review: http://fictionwritersreview.com/essays/lookingbackward-third-generation-fiction-writers-and-the-holocaust.) Second, most of the stories in the collection feature, in one way or another, immigrant experience and its after-effects, in the lives of the immigrants themselves as well as in their descendants. In that sense, I like to think that Quiet Americans can find a place in the literature about immigration as well as within the context of post-Holocaust literature. Shelf: Your paternal grandparents were German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s. Did you grow up hearing their stories of the Holocaust first-hand? Dreifus: I heard snippets of stories — about what my grandmother’s parents endured back in Germany during the Kristallnacht of November 1938, for instance, and their ultimate escape to South America in 1940 — and I asked questions. I should probably add that as a couple, my grandparents resembled most closely the characters of Josef and Nelly Freiburg, who appear a few times throughout the book. Like Josef Freiburg, my grandfather was the “quieter” one; my grandmother was the primary storyteller in all matters. Shelf: The first story in the book, “For Services Rendered,” is about a high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor before the war and the moral implications of the actions they take to survive. You write these characters with incredible emotional nuance and
empathy. Where did the idea for these characters come from, and did the story lead you where you were expecting it to? Dreifus: Well, thank you. The idea came from one of my grandmother’s story snippets. When she arrived in New York in the spring of 1938, my grandmother found a job working for a JewishAmerican couple as their daughter’s nanny. The little girl went to a pediatrician who later became my father’s pediatrician, too. Like my grandmother, this doctor was a German-Jewish refugee. According to my grandmother, he had cared for the offspring of “a high-level Nazi” back in Germany, and ultimately, this Nazi had told the doctor that he should “get out of” the country. I found these circumstances striking, but didn’t really focus on them until shortly after my grandmother’s death. At that point, research and writing took me in all sorts of directions I hadn’t anticipated. For instance, in my efforts to try to identify the mysterious “high-level Nazi” in question, I discovered all sorts of historical detail about Hermann Göring’s wife, Emmy, and the rest just fell into place. Shelf: You quote Günter Grass at the collection’s start: “It never ends. Never will it end.” And your stories reveal the profundity of the enduring pain of the Jewish people. Yet you end the last story with a moving moment of hopefulness. What was your thinking there? Dreifus: That’s a lovely observation. I’m not certain that it was intentional. And maybe that is a good thing. Maybe it points to our fundamental instincts, as humans, to hope. UNBOUND
“The Quiet American, Or How to Be a Good Guest” from Quiet Americans You will go to Germany. You will go, after years and years of refusing to go (even when you traveled through the rest of Europe after your freshman year of college), just as you refused to learn German until circumstances (that is to say, graduate school requirements) forced you to. But if your grandparents, may they rest in peace, managed to go back and visit, way back in 1972, then you can go. You will be practically next door in beautiful baroque Central Europe for a conference; you really should go while someone else has paid your transatlantic airfare. So you will. You are an American. You are a grown-up. What’s to worry about? Even now, even this summer of 2004, when your own homeland needs security, and every time you watch the news you’re afraid you’ll hear about another suicide bombing on a bus in Israel. You talk with your best friend before you leave. You say: “I don’t know which is worse, at this point. To be an American in Europe—or to be a Jew.” Your best friend is also an American Jew. She also has European-born grandparents. Hers survived a total of seven camps. Your best friend doesn’t have an answer. So today, a hot Sunday in August—a very hot Sunday that reminds you how much you hate extremes in anything, especially the weather—you are in Stuttgart. This is the city to which each of your father’s parents had traveled from their hometowns, back in the late 1930s, to apply for their visas at the American Consulate. You’ve already searched the Web and thumbed through the local telephone directory in your nice, air-conditioned hotel room. There is no longer an American Consulate in Stuttgart. When you were younger, your parents and you and your sister went to Paris. Because even then you showed an appalling inability to read a map and you demonstrated a similarly instinctive lack of any sense of direction, your parents signed you all up for a family bus tour of the city. Jet-lagged, you fell asleep two minutes into the tour, by the Place de la Concorde. But twenty years later you are in Stuttgart, and you aren’t jet-lagged, and your parents have reminded you, via an e-mail message that you read at a cybercafe, that it would be a good idea to take a bus tour of the city. To orient yourself. So you have already visited the information office at Königstrasse 1A to learn about the tours. You’ve paid your seventeen euros and bought your ticket. And now you are standing outside the Hotel am Schlossgarten, waiting for the bus. You aren’t jet-lagged, but you do have a cold, and every few moments you sneeze and blow your nose into tissues you then stuff into your bag. Probably this will guarantee an empty seat next to you, for which you are grateful. You can identify the other Americans easily enough—although somewhat atypically you can’t instantly guess whether they are American Jews or Gentiles—and your instincts are affirmed when you casually step closer and overhear their conversation. English. American English. When you climb on the nice, air-conditioned bus you sit behind them. All the other passengers seem to be German. And old. The natural question comes to mind as the bus lumbers along: What did they do during the war? Maybe your mind is playing tricks on you but somehow the old women across the aisle bear a striking resemblance to your grandmother: fleshy and white-haired with proud noses and blue-gray eyes. Your guide—an unusually petite woman named Greta who is wearing a string of green beads and whose lined face suggests she might be in her fifties, like your parents—lets forth a stream of words in German and then she says, in English, that this is how she runs things: she will tell the group everything in German and then repeat it for the English-speakers. You 42
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2011
smile. You’ve already forgotten nearly all the German you learned that summer you needed to acquire proficiency for graduate school. Except for one word. And it’s not a day of the week or a month of the year or a color or anything so simple. It’s Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It’s a word that means, roughly, “coming to terms with the past.” Greta with the green beads seems to be a good guide. She tells you that more than five hundred thousand people reside in Stuttgart; she praises its many parks, its ballet, its zoo. She describes all the buildings the bus passes. The State Gallery. The Opera House. The regional Parliament Building. As the tour continues there’s a refrain. Again and again Greta “This toredemption. Lamb to the Slaughter is a says: novel about lovebuilding and courage,had sin and be rebuilt after the war. The original was destroyed the bombings.” “Iron”by Mike McGann, 32 years old, is facing the twilight of his prizefighting career. for hisas future, he hasbeen refusedtold to honor promise to his Is that a note of accusation in her voice? Or are youDesperate just being, you’ve youhiscan wife to quit the ring and start a family. In despair, his wife, Madge, is leaving be, paranoid? him. The Americans—you and the American family occupying two rows across from you whom Rufus “Hurricane” Hilliard, Mike’s next opponent, is the most menacing by now you’ve learned live in Chicago—say nothing. Naturally. all alljust guests, presence in prizefighting.You’re He has won 22 of his fightshere. by knockout and The teenage son in the Chicago group dons some headphones his for parents don’t is said to be a formerand enforcer something calledsay TheanyBlack Mafia. But behind ring presence lives atoman nobody knows, thing then, either, not even, We paid seventeen euros for youRufus to goHilliard’s on this menacing bus trip and you’re going listen a complex man whoanymore. despises his own Unexpectedly left to what the guide has to say! Maybe they don’t want him to listen, In image. the meantime, hisalone before his bout with McGann, Rufus “Hurricane” Hilliard is forced to confront the sister reaches for some bottled water. past that haunts him and the future he dreads. But a few rows ahead someone is shaking his Charles shiny “Charliehorse” bald head,O’Connell, every time makes Rufus’s Greta cornerman, has been terrorized that comment about the buildings and the bombings. white-haired next by a mobThe kingpin to sabotage him.woman O’Connell,sitting who is an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler, blames himself for the ring deaths of two prizefighters. to him doesn’t move. Trapped inread a moral crisis, Charles “Charliehorse” Part of you is actually sympathetic to Greta. You’ve Günter Grass’s Crabwalk.O’Connell You’vemust finally confront his “Cardinal Sin.” read W.G. Sebald’s essay “Air War and Literature.” You understand that the Germans sufRufus “Hurricane” Hilliard vs “Iron” Mike McGann, just another fight fered, too. The civilians. Maybe Greta’s family shown suffered. fatherbutorbyuncle on TheMaybe ContinuousGreta’s Sports Network, the timeor it is over the older brother was gravely injured or even killed on Eastern Front. Youbecould understand, livesthe of these and many others will forever different. if that were her point. The problem—and it’s a serious problem—is that that doesn’t seem to be her point. Buildings don’t quite equal civilian lives, but buildings seem to be what preoccupy your tour guide. But you stay quiet. You shred a tissue and drop the pieces into your bag. You pick at your cuticles and at the chipped polish on your fingernails. Because, again, you might just be paranoid. But you also stay quiet because, remember, you are a guest. And not just any guest. You’re one who just doesn’t know whether it’s worse to be an American or a Jew in Europe these days. And today you aren’t only in Europe. You are in Germany. But Greta the Guide won’t give up. Now you’re looking at the New Palace. It’s really an old palace; in fact, it’s a very old palace. But it, too, suffered tremendously during the war, the poor thing. You’ve descended from the bus, all of you, to admire it close-up. The Germans heard the story first, and now they’ve walked off, across the street, to await the guide at the next landmark while you and your compatriots get the English version. To your surprise the bald man and the white-haired woman, whom you had taken for an old German couple, remain with your Anglophone group. Greta speaks. Another tale of destruction. Another refrain. Again you’re hearing that line about how much work had to be done to repair this building postwar, because “the original was destroyed by the bombings.” Now you’re getting really annoyed. And you’re standing in the sun and sniffing away, to boot. But you’d be annoyed anyway. As a Jew. Because this woman—this so-called guide—seems to be privileging certain kinds of wartime destruction over others, and her judgment is more than a little bit warped, in your opinion. ISBN: 978-1-4653-3927-0
ªxHSLEQFy3 9270zv*:+:!:+:!@ (101870)
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2011
A NEW VIEW OF BOXING
LOVE AND COURAGE, SIN AND REDEMPTION
“Set against the vividly rendered backdrop of professional boxing, Pete Delohery’s hard-bitten yet generous-spirited novel focuses on three men at a moral crossroad in their lives.
PETE DELOHERY LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER DELOHERY
A moving portrait is created of the men, each damaged by a brutal world, who flee from personal demons toward the only imperfect redemption available to them, victory in a fight.”
LAMB TO THE
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“This heartfelt tale makes a powerful emotional impact.” —BlueInk Starred Review Available on Amazon, B&N and petedelohery.com in ebook, paperback and hardback. ALSO in Spanish: El cordero al matadero
“If you love boxing, you’ll love this book. If you don’t love boxing, you’ll love the stories and characters.” —Karsun
And as an American. Because you can’t help feeling that this woman is angry at the Allies for having “destroyed” her country’s property. Apparently there’s no credit in the Bank of Greta’s goodwill for the Marshall Plan. But you say nothing. You think that even Sebald and Grass would want to slap this woman. But you certainly do not slap her. You don’t even say anything to her. You are only a guest. So you say nothing. You look away for a moment. Just a few yards from this spot there’s a café, where lots of people sit under umbrellas. They’re laughing, talking, eating, drinking. They’re not standing out here in the sun listening to nonsense and sniffing, now, for multiple reasons. You sigh. But when you look back at your own little group the bald man is breathing fast. Sweat runs down his face. His wife’s freckled hand rests on his arm. You’re alarmed. Is there a doctor here? How do you say, “Emergency!” in German? Right now that has to be a word far more important to know than Vergangenheitsbewältigung. But the man shakes free from his wife’s grasp. He wipes his face with a white handkerchief. He breathes deeply. And then he starts speaking. “Young woman,” he says to Greta, and you hear at once the voice of a Briton. Your mind flashes back to the D-Day celebrations that you watched on television at the beginning of the summer while you babysat your toddler niece, major celebrations this year for the sixtieth anniversary of the Normandy landings. “Look, sweetie,” you’d said, to this child named for your German-born grandmother, and how proud you’d been when the little girl had stopped strangling her plush stuffed puppy to stand at attention on her chubby legs, solemn-faced and respectfully silent not when George Bush was speaking, not even when the cameras shifted to the display of the Franco-German rapprochement at Caen, but just when the British veterans—an even smaller group than the ever-shrinking pool of American ones—had been marching, in uniform, past Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, at Arromanches. In her own way, the queen was a veteran herself, staying in London with her parents and sister throughout it all. They’d been bombed, too, remember. This British man evidently remembers. He remembers a lot of things. The sun is in your eyes, and you can’t quite look at him right now, but you can hear everything he is saying to the tour guide. “You should think a bit more before you speak, you know. I spent the war in the RAF. I cannot say that I am responsible for these particular bombings to which you continue to refer. But if I were, I would hardly be ashamed.” Greta stares. Despite the sun, you raise your eyes and stare, too. The Chicagoans— including the headphoned teenager—stare. Everyone stares. Except the Briton’s wife, who is rummaging in her large purse. But no one says anything. Then you sneeze, and you reach for another tissue. The Briton’s wife pulls a cap from the purse and passes it to her husband. At the end of the tour you give Greta a tip, which she will share with the driver, and you nod your appreciation. It’s the polite thing to do. You learned this from your father, when you saw him hand a few coins over to the tour guide on the bus that day twenty years ago, in Paris. Outside, you hurry to catch up with the bald Briton and his wife. Now you don’t have to be so quiet, and you can be more sincere. You have something to say. “Excuse me,” you begin, once you’ve reached them. And you look at this man, who may not have bombed this city but almost certainly bombed others. You clear your throat. And you speak again. “Thank you,” you say. “Thank you—so much.” From Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus, Last Light Studio 2011, www.lastlightstudio.com. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. 46
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2011
Named a Top Summer Read by San Francisco Book Review and The Independent
#2 Bestseller in Contemporary Fiction on Amazon
BROKEN WINGS BY SEJAL BADANI
hen her father falls into a coma, Indian American photographer Sonya reluctantly returns to the family she’d fled years ago. Since she left home, Sonya has lived on the run, free of any ties, while her soft-spoken sister Trisha, has created a perfect suburban life and her ambitious sister Marin, has built her own successful career. But as these women come together, their various methods of coping with a terrifying history can no longer hold their memories at bay. Buried secrets rise to the surface as their father—the victim of humiliating racism and perpetrator of horrible violence—remains unconscious. As his condition worsens the daughters and their mother wrestle with private for his survival or death, as well as their own demons and buried secrets. Told with forceful honesty, Trail of Broken Wings reveals the burden of shame and secrets, the toxicity of cruelty and aggression, and the exquisite, liberating power of speaking and owning truth.
by Kathleen Winter Black Cat www.groveatlantic.com
ince we interviewed Kathleen Winter a few months ago on Twitter, her debut novel Annabel has been long-listed for the prestigious Orange Prize—and then it made the short list [the winner will be announced on June 8]. We congratulate Winter on the well-deserved accolades that Annabel is receiving. To learn more about the book, and about the writer, read the following edited version of our Twitter discussion. Shelf Unbound: Annabel, your first novel, was a best-seller in Canada and a finalist for the Giller prize. It won the GLBTQ Indie Lit Award and has just been named a finalist for Amazon.ca’s First Novel Award. Annabel is the story of an intersex baby born in Labrador in 1968. How did the idea for this story come to you? Kathleen Winter: An acquaintance told me in my kitchen about an intersex child. I’d never heard of this, and did some research. I gradually found out many, many children are born with ambiguous gender, and I wanted to write about this. Shelf: Would you give us a brief description of the four main characters? Winter: Wayne/Annabel is the intersex child. Treadway is his hunter/trapper dad, wellmeaning and loving, but traditional. Jacinta is Wayne’s mother—a dreamer, a city girl trapped in the wilderness. Thomasina is Wayne’s midwife, mentor—a strong woman role. Shelf: And the setting could be called a character as well. Describe Labrador and why you chose it. Winter: Labrador is magnetic, northern wilderness: alluring and brutal, mystical and merciless. Shelf: In the prologue you describe a white caribou who has left its herd. “Why would any of us break from the herd?” This sets up a major theme of the novel, the many ways people can be isolated. Do you see Wayne as the most isolated character in the book? Winter: I love this question about Wayne’s isolation. I see his isolation as having an end, as he connects with the world. I see his mother as being perhaps the most isolated in the book, because she loses so much and can’t confide. Jacinta is cut off from any truth, or friend, or solace that might have nourished her.
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2011
Shelf: I actually think that his father, Treadway, is the most isolated. You render him quite beautifully. He does harsh things but in private reveals uncertainty. In the woods he sees a vision of his daughter and loves her. Was it hard to find his tenderness? Winter: I didn’t know his tenderness existed before I wrote the book. He showed it to me himself. I waited and he showed me. That’s how I do a lot of writing, by waiting to see what would really happen, not what I think should happen. Shelf: The mother, Jacinta, refers to the baby as a girl at the doctor’s. Does she always think of Wayne as a girl? Winter: Yes, Jacinta always sees the girl, Annabel. She sees Wayne as well, but she secretly and longingly sees her daughter. Shelf: Do you think it could be argued that Treadway’s decision to raise the child as a boy was not entirely wrong? Would Wayne have struggled equally raised as a girl? Winter: For me, the other choices include raising the child as ambiguous, without denying the male or female aspect, so to answer your question, I don’t think it would have been any easier to deny the Wayne side of Wayne and honour only Annabel. Shelf: You mention waiting to see what would happen in your stories. What else in the book came to you from waiting? Winter: Bridges. The bridge in the novel used to be a tree house but I didn’t like it. I waited and waited, and one day bridges floated to me. Also the ending—that was the hardest part and I had to rewrite the final third of the book many, many times. Shelf: I was particularly struck by the bridges metaphor when I re-read the book. It is subtle but powerful. All of the characters seem to be attempting to bridge two worlds or wishing they were in another world. Thomasina, the mother’s friend who witnesses the birth, seems to most successfully break out of her restriction. Tell us more about her. Winter: Thomasina is the strong one because she sees nothing wrong with blunt truth. She’s wise and strong, though wounded. Shelf: The story takes place in 1968. Why did you set it then, and would it play out the same today? Winter: I thought Medicine would have been less evolved then, but in fact the same brutal choices are made today. Shelf: Isolation is a big theme. The place is isolated, the characters are isolated from one another. Did you intend that at the start? Winter: My favorite author is E.M. Forster, who wrote “only connect.” Isolation is a huge theme for me, yes. My whole aim of writing is, I sometimes think, to ward off loneliness. I mean my own loneliness, the loneliness of the people in my novel or stories, and the loneliness of being human. Shelf: You mentioned struggling with the ending. How did you settle on this particular one? What alternatives did you consider? Winter: God, the possible endings! Treadway wreaks revenge on Derek Warford. Jacinta ends up in the mental hospital. Wayne and Wally become lovers. Wayne marries Graycie
Watts. Wayne stays in Labrador and becomes an outfitter. I could go on all night with possible endings. Shelf: So it sounds like you wanted to give Wayne happiness. Winter: I had to give Wayne a chance of happiness because the real lives of intersex people contain so much trauma. I couldn’t bear to write a novel without some hope for Wayne/Annabel. Not a happy ending, but one with a hope of connection. Shelf: You’ve mentioned E.M. Forster—what other writers do you most love and respect? Winter: Heinrich Boll, Colm Toibin, Katherine Mansfield, Gretel Erlich. Shelf: So what are you working on now? Winter: I’ve nearly finished a murder mystery and am doing preliminary reading for a nonfiction work about the Arctic. From Annabel
readway persisted. “Baby’s healthy?” Jacinta knew he never spoke idly, and he was not speaking idly now, and he was asking her for an honest answer. But what was the most honest answer? “Yes.” She tried this in a normal voice but it came out as a whisper. The strength of her voice, her real tone, which was a tone of plainness, like rain, which Treadway loved but had not told her he loved, did not inhabit the whisper. She wished she could go back and say yes again. Heat still radiated from Treadway’s hand deep into her belly. “He’s a big baby,” Treadway said, and the heat stopped. Jacinta wanted to blurt, “Why do you say he? Are you waiting for me to confess?” But she did not. She said yes, louder than normal this time because she did not want another whisper to betray her. Her yes was a shout in their quiet room. Their bedroom was always quiet. Treadway liked a place of repose, a tranquil sleep with a white bedspread and no radio music or clutter, and so did she. She lay there waiting for his hand to heat her belly again, but it did not. Had he moved it away consciously? Treadway was a man whose warmth always heated her unless an argument stood between them. In the morning Jacinta told Thomasina, “I went stiff as a hare. What are we going to do?” Any time fortune came to Thomasina—acceptance of her grass baskets by the crafts commission, the flowering of a Persian rose in this zone where no one could grow any rose, not even the hardy John Cabot climber—she knew happiness was only one side of the coin and the coin was forever turning. She had been single until she was well past thirty, when Graham Montague had told her he didn’t care that she had a curved spine and felt old—he wanted to marry her if she would marry him. Annabel had been born the following year and Thomasina had every reason to be happy, but instead she held her heart at the same level she had always held it, because she did not like extremes of feeling. Now she told Jacinta, as they spread jam on toast thinly, the way they both liked it, so gold shone through, “We will love this baby of yours and Treadway’s exactly like it was born.” “Will other people love it?” “That baby is all right the way it is. There’s enough room in this world.” This was how Thomasina saw it, and it was what Jacinta needed to hear. From Annabel by Kathleen Winter, Black Cat 2010, www.groveatlantic.com. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2011
JOHN BUSHBY Author of Espionage Novels
“Look for The White Raven— A Harry Braham espionage novel coming in Autumn of 2015”
The Rhinemaiden’s Song The Rhinemaiden’s Song has begun. In Germany, as 1935 draws to a close, Hitler is preparing for his conquest of Europe. For those who had read his book, the plan is all there, death and destruction await.
Shadow Soldiers In 1939, as the Nazis march across Europe the deadly cat and mouse game of espionage moves to a higher plane. America is technically neutral, but for American Rick Kasten, with family relations in key positions in the Nazi hierarchy, the war becomes very personal. The Warszaw Express The Warszaw Express begins at the close of the First World War the United States as withdrew back across the ocean, choosing isolation as foreign policy. In Europe a cadre of Americans came together to maintain a watch on what was happening in continent’s capitals.
Prowler Ball – A Yankee Station Sea Story is the novelized account of a combat cruise aboard USS Enterprise during the final days of the air war in Vietnam. The book is based upon real incidents and real people that I encountered during my combat cruise to Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The Last Voyage of the Paramaribo Queen Rick Kasten is back as he battles a new and more lethal group of Nazi thugs who are bent on destroying America. From New York to Lisbon, Berlin, Paris and across the stormy North Atlantic Kasten is out to torpedo the Nazi’s plans.
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short story Paper Darts Press | www.paperdarts.org
JOHN JODZIO’s If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home was one of our
favorite books of 2010. “Every one of the stories in his debut collection is succinct, funny as hell, and spot-on smart,” we said. Now Jodzio’s back with more in Get In If You Want to Live from new Paper Darts Press. Free inside? Illustrations by 19 local and international artists. Jodzio graciously supplied some A’s for our Q’s.
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2011
Q& A Shelf Unbound: Your new collection had me at “Recently I Passed a Kidney Stone That Looks Like a Shark’s Tooth.” How do you come up with your quirky yet profoundly human cast of characters? John Jodzio: In this book, I think most of my characters have a clearly defined idea of what they want, but they have a totally misguided idea of how to arrive there. To me, there’s always a high level of comedy in that type of circumstance. While I sometimes challenge them by putting them in these weird scenarios, I think a lot of my characters’ humanity is grounded in their ability to soldier on in the face of that strangeness. Shelf Unbound: How did the idea for an illustrated book come about? Jodzio: One morning I started looking through all these comedic shorts I’d written over the last few years for McSweeney’s and other places. They never seemed like they were going to fit in a collection with any of the longer short stories I was writing so I started to think about how they might end up in their own fun book. I wrote a couple more of them and then approached a literary magazine here in Minneapolis, Paper Darts, which is run by three youngsters, Meghan Suszynski, Regan Smith, and Jamie Millard. They’re known for their innovative art and design and I knew they were toying around with starting up a press arm, so I shot them the manuscript with the idea of getting a visual artist to interpret each of the stories. They loved the idea and then went bananas gathering up all the artists and doing all the design work. I can’t believe how insanely beautiful this book is. I love those three ladies so damn much. Shelf Unbound: Any plans to go long-form and write a novel? Jodzio: I’ve been thinking about it for a while and have an outline for one all intricately plotted out on butcher paper. Whenever I start to work on it though, I’m always pulled back to writing short stories. I try to have fun writing whatever I am writing and right now the novel seems like work and the short stories seem like fun, so I’ll probably just keep going with them for the time being.
Cataclysm Baby By Matt Bell Mudluscious Press www.mudlusciouspress.com Shelf Unbound: You’ve written 26 small tales of the grim and grotesque, with grossly malformed babies and shockingly evil children. How did you come to this subject matter and to the idea of cataclysm? Matt Bell: The apocalyptic mood has been a strong part of my reading and writing for a long time, and I’ve definitely written more fiction about people perched at endings than at beginnings. I like characters backed into corners, and I generally work from the belief that by my taking the everyday elements of
our lives—in this case, especially the family—and estranging them in some extreme situation sometimes allows us to see their parts more clearly. And certainly the use of violence and trauma in fiction always creates a strong reaction in readers. My hope is that it isn’t merely shocking, but that it discomfits the readers into a special kind of openness: by confronting the grotesque, we’re already dealing with elements outside our day-today life, and that confrontation can be both moving and generative of change in ways that a milder fiction might not be.
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2012
Shelf: You seem like a nice guy, Matt. Where do you go in your head to invent such wicked characters as the daughters who slowly dismember their adulterous father? Bell: As I writer, I often feel tasked to turn into what worries or upsets me, rather than away, as I more often would in my daily life. When I was a kid, it was the books and movies that scared me that I remembered into adulthood, and as an adult we’re still vulnerable to a similar kind of reaction or interaction. Where I might shy away from violent or upsetting thoughts while out in the real world, making the fictional world alive with conflict and danger sometimes means allowing that fear and disgust into my conscious thoughts, and then going past those emotions into what’s beyond them, an often useful space. What’s the thing that scares us most, and what would come to replace it, once we get acclimated to that first fear, as we inevitably will? Those are powerful places to visit, and worth exploring on the page. Shelf: I’m struck by the way you use language to evoke real, relatable pain within your fantastical gothic construct: the “pummeled womb,” “my grief-stung wife,” “this hurt-drowned heart.” Do you start with the carica-
ture and work to find the character, or the opposite? Bell: I wouldn’t say that I start with caricature, but I usually start with voice or image, and then try to unpack whatever it is that interests or moves me in that voice or image. What I’ve learned to do is to move forward by moving backward, continuing to go back to that initial inspiration, mining it for what else is there, and then extruding that into the next part of the story—and if I’m lucky, that process will lead to the next such image, the next self-powered or pregnant utterance, hopefully before the first one runs out of juice and leaves me stranded. This process is enough to get me from event to event, from scene to scene, from beginning to end, and along the way it ideally offers up everything I need to make it through a draft. When I was a younger writer, I thought writing fiction was about piling up novelty after novelty, trying to offer something new in every moment, but I think now I believe something fairly different: that this process of unpacking is more powerful, that it eventually goes deeper, by working to explore a greater part of a smaller number of objects or ideas. Shelf: Care to share what you’re working on now? Bell: I’ve been writing a novel for the
past few years, and am now in the final editing stages. After that? Who knows. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to start from scratch, and in many ways I’m looking forward to returning to the blank page, in all its possibilities. At the end of a project, it’s easier to work—because what you’re working on is presumably already pretty strong and only needs to get better—but the work is also more constrained, because every choice already made means there are less potential choices to make next. I’m looking forward to starting again, to
making another long passage through uncertainty, and to seeing what new experiences I might find there.
Hali, Halle, Hamako The day came when we could no longer hide the glistening sight of our daughter’s flippers, nor the secret of her skin, its oils and fur. Like the other parents afflicted before us, we took her to the lonely end of the
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2012
CHIMERA Released 7-14 BOOK TWO
CHANGELING Released 9-14 BOOK THREE
VECTOR Released 12-14 BOOK FOUR
PHOENIX Released 4-15
A secret society of evolved human beings travel an alternate plane with their minds to explore the universe and encounter other sentient life.
Ebooks on Amazon.com Print on B&N.com and Amazon.com
island, to the cliffs hung high above the breaking surf. There my wife kissed our daughterâ€™s wet nose, after which I bound tight her swaddling, stilling her wide limbs to her sleek middle, and then together we let our baby tumble from our hands, through the tall air, into the swallowing sea.
when sometimes I catch my own face staring back from the water beyond.
Now these eyes, watching the ocean crash its anger-first upon the shore, a parade of knuckles on top of knuckles on top of knuckles.
Or with that thing we deserve instead, a new mood from our new daughter, dredged deep from the dark, rising slow and sure, purposed only to take us back down.
Those waveless days, I see my face or a face like my face, but not the faces of the fish that once swam in those depths.
Our fish are gone, and our daughter too, and together her mother and I pray Afterward, what endeavors we under- for some rewinding of waves, some took to forget, even as our guilty reversal of what awful ripples we have bodies tried again for some more made, so that our daughter might one right-birthed baby, even as our bodies day find her way to the flatter side of proved unable to produce another â€“ the island, to the yellow beaches, to the even as we entered this famished sea, path leading to our small hut, our home this season of nets cast out and col- meant once to be her home. lected empty, until throughout our village every stomach was as hollowed And if it happens? If our pup returns? as our crib. Then what? And now these legs, walking me back to the cliff, my guilt-path worn through Then how: With anger? With forgivethe jungle. ness? With love?
Now this hurt-drowned heart, when I see how other times the ocean is flat like so much glass, like the unwalked beach below, its sand stormed upon, lightning-fused and mirror-smooth;
From Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell, Mudluscious Press 2012, www.mudlusciouspress.com. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2012
Alice Eckles is the author of a Phrase Book for Spiritual Emergencies, and publishes artisanal batches of poetry and prose that she sells from her honey booth at farmers markets and other events since she is also a beekeeper, shiitake grower and homesteader. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications including The Seattle Review and Nomads Choir.
“Alice’s new work is terrific. She brings gravity and personality to every page, and remains one of the slyest wits out there. The work is concentrated and forceful—she’s on a roll.”
In the year 2045, amidst planetary chaos and climate change, the Earth’s population has dwindled to survivors of “The Great Wobble.” New Age mystic, Deb Exlander seeks healing for her family and community as she and her practical beekeeper husband, Charles, piece together a new life. Deb’s quest becomes intimately tied to her deep love for nature and her recent acquaintance with a wild boar who roams the neighborhood.
Dancing Bee Press www.dancingbeepress.com
www.alice-eckles.com Also available in eBook Buy the book at your local bookstore, Amazon, or from DancingBeeArt on Etsy.
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers Little, Brown and Company www.littlebrown.com
he war tried to kill us in the spring,” begins this gorgeously written debut novel by Kevin Powers, a veteran of the war in Iraq. The Yellow Birds is at once a searing portrayal of the unremitting hell experienced by two soldiers and a work of such accomplishment that “Great American Novel” seems a warranted accolade. More please, Kevin Powers. Shelf Unbound: The Yellow Birds succeeds as both an evocative, poetic novel and a high-impact documentary of the horrors of war. Were these aspects equally important to you? Kevin Powers: Yes. And I would even say that I found it impossible to separate the two. I chose to emphasize the language as a way of highlighting what it was, exactly, that I was trying to document. Instead of simply creating a record of fictional events in time, a catalogue of circumstances if you will, I wanted to use the language as a kind of parallel to the experience of being in a war. I hoped that if the language in the book was strange and immediate and dynamic, but also clear, then a reader would have access to the full spectrum of emotional and sensory confusion that becomes Bartle’s everyday interior life. Many writers have very capably shown us the kinds of things that happen in war. I expect others yet to come will look at the war and illuminate that terrain with even brighter lights. I wanted to create the portrait of one person looking out from it, and to see what light, if any, would escape. Shelf Unbound: How soon after returning from serving in Iraq did you start writing the book, and what was your starting point—a character, or a scene, or a specific memory?
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2012
Powers: I started writing it about a year or so after I got back. I began by attempting to answer the question, “What was it like over there?” I was asked that question quite regularly and I became fixated on the idea of likeness and its function in the way we understand the world. It seems to me that analogy, comparison, simile, metaphor, whatever, are all inherent in our process of perceiving reality and our constant testing of our perceptions. Whether these relationships fit the patterns we are accustomed to, and so on. I wanted to explore the difficulty of trying to order the world as those relationships broke down. What would you test reality against after all previously held assumptions about the world had proved unreliable? In the face of our most extreme of human experiences, what kind of worldview would you have to cobble together from what remained? Shelf Unbound: I read that you completely scrapped the first draft of the novel. How come? Powers: I mostly completely scrapped it. The ideas I mention in response to your previous questions occurred to me as a result of that first draft. I realized that I wanted to make them the focus of the book and that I would have to start over to have any chance of doing so effectively. Shelf Unbound: Was writing the book cathartic? Powers: It never occurred to me until this very moment, but that may have been why I needed that first draft. It wasn’t until I started over that I felt like I was writing (however briefly) with the kind of clarity I wanted. Shelf Unbound: What are you working on now? Powers: I have a book of poems in a state of relative completion and I’ve started thinking with some determination about my second novel.
Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell Simon and Schuster www.simonandschuster.com
n eight interconnected stories, Elissa Schappell explores post-feminist revolution female angst with precision, brilliance, humor, and heart. I love this book. —Margaret Brown
Shelf Unbound: As the writer of the “Hot Type” book column for Vanity Fair, cofounder of Tin House magazine, and former senior editor of The Paris Review, you’ve probably read as much contemporary fiction as anyone. So with Blueprints for Building Better Girls, was there a particular literary territory you wanted to stake out as your own? Elissa Schappell: Since the time I was a little girl, writing has been the one thing I have always done and it is the only thing I have ever been good at. Growing up I very much wanted to please my parents—who were good parents—and be a good daughter. And certainly in the culture I was growing up in, girls were supposed to be nice. But I was a depressed kid from about the time I was 10, and nobody wanted to hear about that. So I would actually write swear words in water on the wall of my closet. I would write “fuck” there and in the pages of my diary. I wrote terrible poetry and terrible limericks. Writing was the one place where I could unload my anger. When I was an editor at The Paris Review, there was constantly brilliant stuff in front of me. “Wow, we have another story by Alice Munro!” We published the beginning of The Virgin Suicides. I was constantly thinking, Why do I even try? This is crazy. But you also see that good writers write bad stories, and I discovered that if I typed one of Raymond Carver’s stories into the computer I could see what he was doing. For me writing was life saving. It was the way that I solved the problem of being alive.
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2012
Shelf: Your female characters struggle with anorexia, infertility, motherhood, jobs, rape, narcissistic partners, etc. The commonality, and what compelled me to relate to each of them, strikes me as the struggle with identity. Do you see your characters as suffering a collective identity crisis? Schappell: Blueprints has a chorus of female voices that, while different, are singing the same song: This is what it’s like to be a woman in America. My idea was to write about very recognizable female characters and to tell the story you don’t know about them—the story they want you to know. We didn’t get blueprints. We got an entire book—a whole bunch of ideas that you should be a mother and a perfect wife and have a job and have great girlfriends and that you must volunteer. In etiquette books they tell you how to behave as a well-mannered person. In this book I wanted to show how these rules passed down from generation to generation hurt and separate and alienate women and how ultimately they force us to adopt these personas that don’t reflect who we are as a way to protect ourselves. When I think about identity, we are all burdened with an identity of our own making but also one projected onto us, and there’s no way that can’t be complicated. For me that is where the drama is. Shelf: You are known for your brilliant concision; The New York Times Book Review calls you “a diva of the encapsulating phrase.” What is your process for constructing a spectacularly descriptive and evocative brief sentence like “Roger had noticed the scar on the inside of my arm the third time we had sex.”? Schappell: I write a lot and then I cut it in half. It takes me a long time to figure out what I want to say. I work really, really hard at it. It is work and it should be work and it should hurt a little bit. For me personally, it should hurt. It takes a long time to write something truthful.
Hot Pink by Adam Levin McSweeney’s www.mcsweeneys.net
dam Levin delivers non-stop dazzle in the short story collection Hot Pink: “The fifty-third day in a row we hung out, me and Franco got all these grilled cheese sandwiches at Theo’s BaconBurgerDog from Jin-Woo Kim, who people call ‘Gino’ because we’re not in Korea or are in Chicago or people are lazy or two of those reasons.” But it’s not just spectacle; Levin also writes with affecting poignancy. Hot Pink is my new favorite color. —Ben Minton Shelf Unbound: Your award-winning debut novel The Instructions weighed in a 1,030 pages; Hot Pink is a collection of 10 short stories. Which is more challenging—developing and sustaining a long story or encapsulating a short one? Adam Levin: It’s a tie. I’m desperately afraid of boredom, so whenever I sit down to write fiction, I attempt the most challenging thing I can. Shelf: What’s the starting point for you in concocting characters like Susan Fells, a precocious 15-year-old lesbian double-amputee with denial and mother issues, or Jane Tell, an art school dropout who entices strangers to injure her? Levin: The starting point is almost always the sentences. I’ll write a bunch of sentences ‘til I get to one that I like, then delete the others. Of the one I like, I’ll ask myself one of the following questions: “What kind of person would say what was just said?” “What kind of person would think what was just thought?” “What kind of person would care to make the observation just made?” I’ll get some vague answer (e.g., “An angry young woman would say this.”), then write another sentence I like that follows the first, and I’ll ask one of the aforementioned questions again, but with a more specific subject, (e.g.,”What kind of angry young woman
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2012
would say what was just said?”) or, if the second sentence seems to be a bit dissonant with the first, which is often the case when things are going well (at some point, fairly early on, some dissonance will definitely need to arise if I’m going to stay interested in what I’m working on), I’ll ask the question more argumentatively (e.g., “How could the angry young woman from the first sentence possibly be the same speaker/thinker/observer as the speaker/thinker/observer in this second sentence?”). And so on, ‘til the the third or fourth or twentieth sentence – ‘til whenever the dissonance threatens to become nonsense -- at which point I’ll address the dissonance more directly, which gives rise to plot, which itself helps further determine who the character is. Other times, I just get bored, so I cut some awkward young genius’s legs off or something, and then have to figure out how to justify that narratively. Shelf: You write quirky characters who relentlessly fail each other and themselves, and yet you portray them with what ultimately seems like affection. Do you assess real people with the same generosity? Levin: When I find them entertaining, yes. Shelf: What are you working on now? Levin: A novel, I think. COLLECT ALL THREE | Turns out Hot Pink also comes in blue or grey so you can pick one to go with your couch. Cover illustration by Walter Green—see more of his cover designs at www.waltergreens.com.
The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon Translated by Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead, and Anne McLean Bellevue Literary Press www.blpbooks.org
Eduardo Halfon has been deemed one of the best young Latin American writers by the Hay Festival of Bogota; read his first work to be translated into English, The Polish Boxer, and you’ll see why. The concept of literature “tearing through” reality is both a theme of the novel and a device of it. We talked to Halfon about metafiction, translation, and filming his book trailer in Guatemala. Shelf Unbound: You wrote the short story “The Polish Boxer,” about your grandfather surviving Auschwitz, as a stand-alone piece and then developed a novel around the story. The novel centers on a Guatemalan literature professor named Eduardo 66
Halfon. What drew you to the idea of a metafictive narrative? Eduardo Halfon: Before I knew what I was doing—though I’m still never entirely sure what I’m doing—I was already wandering in the midst of that bizarre terrain, lost somewhere between
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2012
reality and fiction and fiction about fiction, and feeling very comfortable to be there. I guess I’ve always been drawn to theater pieces that tear down the fourth wall, and movie scenes where the character suddenly breaks character and speaks
into the camera, and literary works constructed out of echoes and mirrors. No rules that can’t be bent. No margins that are off-limits. No images that can’t later be interpreted differently. No story that is confined to being just a story. Ultimately, we write the books we want to read. Shelf: Your main character references the classic example of metafiction, Don Quixote, and like Cervantes you end up questioning the truths of your own story and the ability of literature to convey reality. The character Halfon asks, “How has my literature torn through reality?”
How do you, the real-life Halfon, answer this question? Halfon: Perhaps in the same way that the character Halfon would answer it: I see no distinction between reality and literature. Or I don’t care to see one. It’s almost as if that distinction, that dividing line between the two, didn’t exist. As if they were one and the same. As if the real-life Halfon and the character Halfon were both sitting right here trying to answer this question, perhaps taking turns or perhaps both talking at once, in unison. Reality works best through literature. Literature only works if it feels real, and true, and palpable—if you can smell it once it leaves
the room. At some point reality tears through literature, and literature tears through reality, and I don’t know which comes first, the chicken or the egg or the chicken. That other Halfon sure does smoke a lot, though. Shelf: The character Halfon says, “I’m fascinated by internal rather than external revolutions.” Where does your own fascination with internal revolutions come from? Halfon: It may be because I’ve witnessed first-hand the falseness and hypocrisy of too many political revolutions—mostly in Latin America. Supposed revolutionaries with funny hats and a UNBOUND
pseudo-populist discourse who are really only seeking personal gain, whether this be power or wealth or whatever. The only revolutions that I deem honest are those that don’t need to be said, or seen, or even heard about—very personal and internal shakeups that alter someone’s beliefs or perceptions and thus somehow, silently, secretly, also alter the world. Many of the characters in The Polish Boxer are experiencing this, or have experienced it already. The pianist Milan Rakic, the poet Juan Kalel, the academic and Twain expert Joe Krupp, the engineer Eduardo Halfon who’s slowly, and secretly, and perhaps even 68
unknowingly longing to become something else. Shelf: You are fluent in both Spanish and English. Why do you choose to write in Spanish? Halfon: There are at least, without some form of psychotherapy, three possible answers to that question. It could be because when I finally discovered books and literature and writing—in my late twenties, and completely by accident—I was living back in Guatemala, after having spent all of my adolescent and university years in the United States, first in Florida, then in North Carolina. A second answer could be because
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2012
I was born into Spanish, in Guatemala—my family and I left the country in 1981, the day of my tenth birthday. Spanish is my mother tongue, even if English later became more dominant, even if there’s now a stepmother tongue that I love and hate just as much. But a third and sweeter and perhaps even a more truthful answer is that literature, at some level, is a way of returning to my childhood, of revisiting those places and people I grew up with before being thrown out into the world. And my childhood, up until the day of my tenth birthday when we arrived in Miami, was all in Spanish. Writing, for me, is all
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I’ve taken too many liberties in rewriting them, thus producing not translations, but entirely different versions of the origiShelf: And why do you have nals—which raises the question other people translate your of what exactly is a translation, if not a new version. In any case, work into English? Halfon: That’s another ques- I’m sure that if I keep reaching tion I can’t answer so easily. I can come up with one or two For one, my literary language is more very plausible answers. Spanish; that is, I learned how But I might pull a hamstring. to write literature in Spanish. Not in English. And know- Shelf: You recently filmed your ing a language, even fluently, book trailer in Guatemala, askeven perfectly, doesn’t auto- ing people young and old to matically make one a writer in hold up a sign with your grandthat language. Not withstand- father’s number: 69752 (view the ing Nabokov. Also, in the few trailer here: http://www.youtube. pieces of mine that I have tried com/watch?v=kq1UzG_wmIs). to self-translate in the past, Tell us about the process. about a constant searching and digging for roots, and my roots were planted in Spanish mud.
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2012
Halfon: At first, I guess all I wanted was to film my grandfather’s number—my grandfather’s tattoo, received in Auschwitz, in 1942—traveling throughout Guatemala, thus combining visually two key elements of the book. But while filming, I kept having the idea that it is was as if my grandfather himself were traveling throughout Guatemala, telling and retelling the story of his number and the Polish boxer to all those people who eagerly picked up the flimsy sheet of cardboard, glanced at the big black digits, and so graciously smiled at the camera. Impossible for me to convey more in a minute and a half.
What makes a human human?
Josephine deBois “An intriguing script inspired by the greatest conductor of all times: Carlos Kleiber”
Explore the phantasmagorical world of Josephine deBois’ fourth novel, amadeus! A brilliant interplay of art and emotion that blurs the bounds between love and destruction.
“An exciting script at the edge of the modern biological sciences and mysticism.”
WWW.JOSEPHINEDEBOIS.COM AVAILABLE AT:
amadeus! What makes a human human?
In her authorships Josephine deBois explores the edge between the real and the unreal which she approaches in captivating stories developed from her exceptional imagination and deep psychological insight. She constantly explores the deep, fundamental questions of being and not being a human being as she brings the fundamentals of science, art and religion face-toface in stunning encounters of life, death and love. She also writes children books and is columnist covering scientific subjects. Josephine deBois lives in Europe.
his latest novel of Josephine deBois, is about outstanding “human beings” and characters intertwined in a stunning series of events: it is about Tiﬀany Yun, a young, beautiful and stellar female Asian pianist conﬂicted between culture and love; it is about Ludwig Mann, the greatest conductor ever, his passions, his woes, his love, his deep dark desires, and his endless struggle at the edge of music to always go beyond whatever stellar interpretations he delivered just moments ago, and not least his struggle with what he is; it is about Josephine deBois, an unbelievable beautiful woman driven to the edge of her life by deep, dark, irresistible desires; it is about Duilio Paioni, an outstanding, brilliant, Nobel-Laureate-Ready truth seeking scientist who has revolutionized the technologies to the edge where synthesis of human life is possible; it is about Giovanni Landini, a high ranking, ruthless church oﬃcial at endless conﬂict with his faith and deep sexual desires; it is about Marchetto Caccini, a top-ranking church oﬃcial ruthlessly defending his institution and faith at any price; it is about Sargent Samuel, an honest and truth seeking New York police Sargent “sandwiched” between power, corruption and pursuit of the truth in a mysterious case leading him to the edge of truth at the epicenter of a case so unbelievable that nobody believes even the truth; it is about Sora, a mysterious woman living at the edge to the world beyond and supernaturally manages the natural; and it is about Chujin, shaped in disaster at the edge to the world beyond, who seeks the souls to answer the fundamental question of what makes a human human. At the end of the stunning story, beauty and cruelty stand face-to-face in terrible moments of death and destruction. Love appears extinct but does it survive in disguise?
Watch the YouTube link HERE. UNBOUND
BOOK SHELF The Vampire Girl Next Door by Richard Arbib
The Bookwyrm Series: Part One by Suzanna J. Linton
An aura reader…
ark falls in love with Sylvia, the beautiful, but quirky girl next door, not realizing that she’s a vampire who killed his last neighbor. When Mark first meets Sylvia, he tells her, “You’re the girl of my dreams!” Sylvia smiles and responds with a warning—“Be careful what you wish for.” “The Vampire Girl Next Door is a choice pick for one looking for a romance with a supernatural twist, highly recommended.” —John Burroughs, Midwest Book Review www.thevampiregirlnextdoor.com
Available at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle. Paperback and all e-book formats available on author’s website.
A book store… A death threat… Helen only wants to run her store and manage her ability. However, when a family terrorized by a poltergeist comes to her for help, she can’t refuse. There’s something more dangerous than a poltergeist, though, and it has set its sights on Helen.
www.suzannalinton.com Available at Amazon.
Solaris Seethes (Solaris Saga book 1) by Janet McNulty
Aranya: Shapeshifter Dragons Book l by Marc Secchia
Every myth has a beginning.
Chained to a rock, tossed off a cliff—what if she did not die? What if she could spread her wings, and fly?
“Janet McNulty grabs you right from the beginning of her new book series: Solaris Saga. This is a great book in the adventure/sci-fi genre that will keep you interested from beginning to end…you are taken to exotic worlds and planets with creatures that are stunning and deadly and all have some aspect of the animals and history of Earth...” —Billie K, Amazon Customer www.mcnultyjanet.com Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, Kobo, Google Play, iBookstore, and Smashwords
“He spins a mythical yarn, achieving a notable balance between luxurious detail and intense action,” says Stephan J Myers, author of The Prayer. Discover Aranya, princess, criminal and dragon shapeshifter. Embark on the dragonride of your life. www.marcsecchia.com Available at Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes.
BOOK SHELF Hawkins Lane by Judith Kirscht
ed Hawkins’ and Erica Romano’s love and their love of the mountains overcomes their dissonant backgrounds—until the release of Ned’s father from prison disrupts the harmony. “An engrossing story of the influence of family in our lives, and of the struggle by two people to triumph over tragedy. You’ll be captivated from the first page!”. —Chanticleer Reviews www.judithkirscht.com Available at your independent bookstores and at Amazon. Sunsets and New Beginnings by Teri Riggs
andi Waters had the worst day ever. She lost her job, found her fiancé in bed with her best friend, then discovered he’d been stealing from her. She seeks refuge with her beloved aunt in the peaceful seaside town of Heaven’s Beach. Her ability to trust may be in tatters, but the handsome businessman with the surfer boy looks, might have her reconsidering. www.teririggs.com Available at Amazon.
Making A Living, Making A Life by Daniel Rose
ive decades of the best speeches of Daniel Rose, Chairman of Rose Associates. Winner of a number of national Cicero Speech awards, he has spoken at universities throughout the U.S., Europe and Africa on a broad variety of topics: economics, inner city education, racial problems, real estate, food & wine, and housing. “...a masterful debut collection of exceptionally cogent and timely speeches and essays...” —Kirkus Reviews Available at Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Early Automobiles: A History in Advertising Line Art, 1890-1930 by Jim Harter
substantial history of the development of the “horseless carriage” into famous racers like Stutz, Dusenberg, and Stanley, as well as household names like Oldsmobile, Ford, and Chrysler. Nearly 250 entrancing illustrations are gems of the art of commercial engraving. “Fascinating!” —Jay Leno. “Suitable for framing.” —Robert Lutz www.wingspress.com
BOOK SHELF How to Catch a Mouse with No Cheese by Donnie P.
1918 by David Cornish, MD
ow to catch a Mouse with No Cheese is written for people who either have been in business for up to a year or are interested in starting a business, but do not have money. It discusses five life-changing principles that will help you succeed. Each principle has its own basis for preparing you to get your business up and growing with no money.
inner of the Independent Publishers of New England Book Award, and the Readers’ Favorite International Book Award, “1918” is a rigorously researched historical novel about the influenza pandemic that killed 100 million people…humanity’s worst natural disaster. The actual medical literature and terminology of the time are used to put the reader in the mind of an early 20th century physician.
www.authordonnie.com Available at Amazon.
www.davidcornishbooks.com Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IngramSpark.
The 13th Month by Louis Paul DeGrado
ollow a revered priest’s courageous journey of sacrifice to stop evil forces in this new science-fiction thriller, “The 13th Month.” When a secret group who fight shadows, the remnant of evil forces that once roamed the earth, reaches out to Father Frank Keller, he must overcome his fear and enter a battle that may lead him directly to the gates of Hell! www.literarylou.com Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.
Life-ology 101: If All Else Fails, Smile by Michael Soward
ichael Soward, producer of cutting edge music, has written an inspirational story of transformation and the power of the smile. He shares the many trials and tribulations of his early life in the south as an African American and how he overcame these obstacles by smiling into the face of adversity and never giving in. He eventually discovered that smiling would become one of the great medicines of his life. www.michaelsoward.com Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
BOOK SHELF Three Movements for Six Hands by Terry Row Johannes Brahms Clara Schumann Robert Schumann
was completely caught up in this powerful, deeply emotional and heartbreaking story—so much so that I often could not put it down. The characters leap off the page; the music sweeps and curls and tiptoes through the story, carrying plot and pacing with it at a compelling tempo. —Kathryn Lynn Davis, NY Times bestselling author Honorable Mention, 2015 Paris Book Festival and 2015 New York Book Festival Available at Amazon.
hey are young, hyper-social, unconventional, and disenfranchised. They skip school because it’s boring, trade their time for money at unfulfilling jobs, and endeavor to find anything ‘real’. It’s within this suspended generation that we find four friends who strive despite it all, hurtling through the profound illuminations and irreverent shenanigans that compose a shattered mirror of urban millennial life. www.jackcaseros.wordpress.com Available in paperback or e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo, and iTunes.
Crepuscule w/ Nellie by Joe Milazzo
The God Thought by Dave Cravens
“...challenging, unconventional, rewarding...” —Kirkus Reviews
“... a sumptuous symphonic language feast.” —Michelle Newby, The Collagist “... audacious and fearless, lyrical and brilliant, superbly imaginative and assuredly accomplished.” —Steve Erickson “... boldly re-imagines the relationship between fact and fiction.” —Claire Donato “Dig it, dig it, dig it.”
Onwards & Outwards by Jack Caseros
single thought could unravel the world…
Read the new science fiction thriller by Dave Cravens! 5 Stars —The Examiner “Fans of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels and such Michael Crichton works as Sphere and The Terminal Man will find much to enjoy in The God Thought.” —BlueInk Review
— Douglas Kearney
www.crepusculewnellie.com Available at Amazon.
www.thegodthought.com Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
IAN DOUGLAS ROBERTSON
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Turtle Hawks by Ian Douglas Robertson
ericles Pontakis, host of the controversial TV show Under World, is fighting a losing battle against corruption in Greek society. When his life starts collapsing around him, he decides to make a documentary about the threatened Loggerhead turtle, in the hope of saving both the turtle and his soul. However, the path to salvation is strewn with unforeseen obstacles.
Available at Amazon, and Authorhouse. Last Train To El Paso— The Mysterious Unsolved Murder of a Cattle Baron by Jerry J. Lobdill True crime, western history, 263 pages, 50 images
cattle baroness’s pursuit of justice for her brutally murdered husband unveils a chilling truth and produces a mystery that endures for a century. “Holy cow! You’ve uncovered a dynamite story! I’ve just tried to call you in my enthusiasm, moments after finishing your book, but your voice mail is full.” —Bill O’Neal, Texas State Historian www.LastTrain2ElPaso.com Available at Amazon and the author’s website.
Applied Biology: A Novel of Bipolar Disorder by Jane Thompson One person can make a difference.
n spite of suffering with manic-depression herself, Claudia fights the Nazi machine as it euthanizes the mentally ill in Germany. She refuses to accept the status quo as many of her neighbors do, and joins the few in the battle against a seemingly unstoppable tyranny. Being countered at every turn, Claudia finds aid and comfort in the French Resistance. www.bipolarhandbook.com Available at Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.
Promote your book in Shelf Unbound in our Special Advertising Section for Authors. Each issue of Shelf Unbound is distributed to more than 125,000 people in the U.S. and 62 countries around the globe. Our introductory ad rate for this section is $375/quarter page as seen here. Contact publisher Margaret Brown to reserve your space.
BOOK SHELF Reducing Medical Costs at the Cost of Health by Reynold J. Conger Reducing Medical Costs (At the Cost of Health) is a novel exposes some of the dangers of allowing government bureaucrats to handle our healthcare. Dr. Conway uncovers a conspiracy to reduce medical costs by assuring that expensive patients die quickly. Now he knows too much and must hide in the mountains. Will he and his evidence survive? www.reynoldconger.com Available at Kellan Publishing and Amazon. The Indigo Journals: Spiritual Healing For Indigo Adults & Other Feminine Souls by Yol Swan
f you feel dis-empowered in a world that doesn’t make sense to you, The Indigo Journals holds the answers you’ve been looking for. The author shares her exploration of the soul, cosmic memories, and healing tools to help you fulfill your purpose and thrive in this excessively masculine world. YolSwan.com Available at Amazon.
A Balm in Gilead by Marie Green McKeon
iscover why Marie Green McKeon was a finalist in the International Book Awards and the IndieFab Awards. In A Balm in Gilead, a woman is stunned by a chillingly similar murder ten years after her college campus assault and reluctantly follows the path she most fears. “Fans of crime fiction, mysteries, and psychological thrillers will love this.” —Kirkus Reviews www.mgm-author.com Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble (e-book and paperback), and BooksAMillion. Used Cow for Sale: Poems of Love, Lust, and Lunacy by Melisa K. L. Graham
his provocative, insightful, and wickedly clever collection of poems highlights the cycle of adult romantic relationships. Love, lust, loss, lunacy, lactation, loneliness, and liberation all play a part. Original art by Phillip Lewis adds to the sensual feast. Listen to sample poems and view the art at www.1smelisa.com. Available at Amazon and SPARK Publications.
BOOK SHELF How to get Lucky: Real Magic from Everyday Life by Allen D. Allen
othing could be more useful than knowing how to make the right decisions. Most of us seem to anguish over decision making. Thank goodness there’s a book with a solid method for helping people figure out how to make tough decisions a lot less difficult. I found this book to provide excellent, practical tools that can be used for decision making. It’s an easy read, and well worth the $3.99 e-book price
Leadership Starts (and ends) In Your Head by Bob Dailey
hether you manage a department of three employees, or an international organization with thousands of employees, one thing impacts your success more than anything else: Your Mental Approach It’s all in your head…the rest is detail!
—5 Star Review on Amazon by GottaRead on May 2, 2015
This book will help you find and unleash the right mental approach...that thing that differentiates so-so managers from great leaders.
www.howtogetluckybook.com Available at Amazon.
www.EnCurUj.com Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble,
Rungle in the Jungle by Robert Logan Rogers Illustrated by Rachel McCoy
his is the story of an extraordinary victorious race set in the imagination of a child’s joyful world. Come join Josh the jaguar, Tim the Tiger, and Jessica the giraffe for their adventure. An overcoming story set in a fun rhyming style where positive thinking overcomes negative fear. Ideal for 5 to 8 year old’s.
www.rungleinthejunglethebook.com Available at Amazon and Createspace.
Promote your book in Shelf Unbound in our Special Advertising Section for Authors. Each issue of Shelf Unbound is distributed to more than 125,000 people in the U.S. and 62 countries around the globe. Our introductory ad rate for this section is $375/quarter page as seen here. Contact publisher Margaret Brown to reserve your space.
The federal bureaucrat charged with stopping the importation of dangerous materials vanishes only days before approving a new list of prohibited substances. Homicide detective turned Homeland Security Agent Greg Kane suspects that the HHS employee may have been killed to keep the new list from going into effect, but he has no idea whoâ€™s behind the crime, which chemical they are so desperate to import, and what they plan to do with it once theyâ€™ve gotten their hands on it. David Grace is the author of fifteen novels, two collections of crime short stories and five collections of Science Fiction Short Stories. Brief summaries of each of these volumes are contained on this site as well as links to E-Book sellers who sell these works as downloadable electronic books. Books are available in formats for Kindle, iPhone, Nook, iPad and other readers.
David Grace is the author of The Concrete Kiss, a Shelf Unbound Notable Indie Book for 2013
THE LAST DEATH OF TEV CHRISINI JENNIFER BRESNICK
Winner of the Shelf Unbound Writing Competition for Best Self-Published Book Jennifer Bresnick’s enchanting Tolkienesque epic fantasy The Last Death of Tev Chrisini captivated our judges from page one and held us in thrall through its conclusion 467 pages later. We fell in love with the story and its characters and with Bresnick’s assured literary tale-spinning. We talked to the 26-year-old author about her debut novel.
DEBUT: DECEMBER/JANUARY 2013
Tev Chrisini is a soldier who can’t die, caught in the middle of a war that won’t end. When a temporary truce is called, he is chosen to guide an envoy to the peace talks. But when a young woman in his care flees with a wanted murderer, Tev’s mission suddenly changes course, setting him on a race against dark forces to recover a legendary book: one that holds the secrets of his past—and the keys to his future. —Jennifer Bresnick Shelf Unbound: How did you come up with the idea for this novel? Jennifer Bresnick: It started out as an act of desperation five minutes after midnight on November 1, 2009. I had finally worked up the courage to participate in my very first National Novel Writing Month, but I was completely stuck for ideas. I’d never written a novel before—I’d never written any fiction longer than a ten-page short story for a college class—and I was entirely convinced I couldn’t do it. I was about to forget the idea all together, actually, when I started browsing my bookshelf for inspiration, and opened up to a random page in a book about military history. The phrase “there was always a war” jumped out at me, and all of a sudden there was a vision in my head of the world I wanted
to create, as well as the basic premise of the book. That phrase became the first line of my novel, and the story followed from there. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night (or many nights after). Shelf: Who are your literary influences? Bresnick: I’ve been a die-hard Tolkien fan since the third grade and I’ve worn through more than one copy of The Silmarillion, which probably says a lot about me. My other fantasy influences include Terry Pratchett, with his wickedly sharp sense of humor, and Tad Williams for his epic world-building and perfect sense of character. If you notice a bit of Regency flair in some of my work, it’s because Jane Austen and especially Patrick O’Brian are some of my all-time favorite authors. I love history, and I try to infuse as much historical and sociological realism as possible into my made-up worlds. But I can only ever hope to be a fraction as adept as O’Brian when it comes to weaving meticulously researched details, humor, action, and heart into my work. Shelf Unbound: I’m sort of stunned by how perfectly you structured the ebb and flow of the plot, given that this is a long book AND your first one. How did you go about creating this somewhat complicated, multi-story plot, and was there a lot of editing of the story sequences? Bresnick: I love stories with a lot of different plot threads, because they’re usually so
good at creating suspense and turning any story into a bit of a mystery. When everything comes together and you get that “Aha! I knew that’s what the grandmother’s necklace would be for!” moment near the end, it’s really satisfying both as a reader and a writer. The most challenging part of having multiple plots was making sure the timing worked out, considering most of my story involved journeys. Everyone was traveling to different places at different rates, and it did get a bit confusing. I ended up drawing a big calendar on a couple of pieces of paper awkwardly stapled together, and plotted each character’s timeline in a different color to keep track of it all. Then I discovered that there’s some really great storyboard software out there, and I felt a bit silly for getting my colored pencils out. But sometimes there’s just no substitute for scribbling on paper. The whole construction of the book was a learning process for me, and it was only with many rounds of editing that I got it into the shape that I wanted. Shelf: Why did you decide to self-publish? Bresnick: Originally, I only published a Kindle version of The Last Death because I wanted an easy way to allow some of my friends to read it. I used to be very, very shy about sharing my work, and it was a big step for me to make the book public. I had no expectations that anyone would be interested. But then I started getting some positive responses from family, former teachers— even strangers. My downloads picked up,
and I began to get some comments on my blog. Suddenly, readers out there in the wild were enjoying and embracing something that was deeply personal to me. It became a way to connect with people on a level I had never experienced before, which was both surprising and gratifying. I began to learn more about book promotion and how easy it was to publish in print—easy if the fickle formatting gods are on your side, at least. I decided to produce a paperback with CreateSpace, and I’m very happy with the results. Even if it never becomes anything more than a hobby, I’ve never been happier. Shelf: What are you working on now? Bresnick: Right now, I’m working on a prequel to The Last Death, called The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun. It’s set in the last days of the Empire when everything is starting to fall apart and the problems that Tev encounters are just starting to take shape. You’ll get to learn a lot more about where Tev comes from, and he does make a couple of cameos. I hope it will be available in the spring of 2013. I may come up with a few additional stories about Tev’s adventures during his long life. Some of the characters Tev encounters get a similar treatment in a companion novella I wrote, called Treason’s Choices. You can read all about my current state of creative affairs on my website, at www.jenniferbresnick.com.
DEBUT: DECEMBER/JANUARY 2013
Circle of Friends At the heart of the story is Lucinda, who moves to Sierra to escape her troubled past, but now struggles with her sick daughter, the return of her exhusband and increasing hospital demands. The Estrogen Chronicles, Circle of Friends, a novel of friendship, love, courage, and compassion gives an inside view of the inner workings of hospital operations under desperate times.
Who is the mysterious JS? Is he a romantic or a danger to lonely girls craving attention on the Internet? Author Cynthia Kumanchik confronts a frightening issue that teens face today when going online. In her book Deception she hopes that teens and parents alike are aware of the Internetâ€™s deception.
For author-signed copies, contact email@example.com.
Crapalachia is an open-hearted, poetic existential exploration disguised as a southern-fried memoir. McClanahan has staked out new literary territory and firmly planted the Crapalachian flag there. Long may it wave. Crapalachia: A Biography of Place by Scott McClanahan Two Dollar Radio www.twodollarradio.com
Shelf Unbound: Your fiction reads like nonfiction. Your nonfiction reads like fiction. Both read like truth. Do you give any thought to these labels when you are writing? Scott McClanahan: Hardly ever. I’m usually thinking more about stuff like this: There is a storm out at sea. A sailor asks the captain of the ship. “Captain, how often does a ship like this sink?” The captain pauses and says, “JUST ONCE.” Or maybe it’s more like when the writer is asked by the family member, “What is your book about?” The writer answers, “It’s about 160 pages long.” These feel like little pieces of Zen wisdom to me. I could spend hours thinking about them.
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2013
Shelf: In your Collected Works Vol. 1, released last year, an old abused dog commits suicide by running headlong into a coal truck. In Crapalachia, you write about the coal miners killed in the Sago Mine tragedy. You reference John Henry. The hard-toiling, hard-suffering common man (or dog) transcends the crush of the world through an act of dignity, and is remembered for it. Crapalachia is largely an homage to your Grandmother Ruby and your Uncle Nathan, who suffered from Cerebral Palsy and couldn’t walk or speak, and to your OCD friend Bill, an earnest soul who ends up going wrong. Was it important to you that the reader see the dignity in these characters? McClanahan: Did you know that Erroll Flynn’s friends kidnapped his body after he died? They snuck it out of the funeral home one night and took it out to a party. They sat him up at the table and let him play some cards and then they opened up his rigor mortis mouth and let him drink some gin. They put a lit cigar in his mouth and almost caught him on fire. They even had some party girls sit on his lap. Of course, they didn’t return his body until dawn, but dead Errol had one last great fucking time in his flesh. I don’t know if that’s dignified or not, but it seems to me like it is. I don’t think dignity is a word that I really understand though. The shroud awaits us all. The evacuation of our bowels happens to everyone including Helen of Troy. I guess it’s kind of like that scene from the Heller novel Catch-22. The young soldier is talking to the old Italian man. The old man is explaining his political principles. He says when the fascists were in power he was pro-facist. When the Germans came he was pro-German and now that the Americans are here he is proAmerican. The young soldier says, “Well you’re without principles then. It’s better to live on your feet than die on your knees.” The old man stops him. He says, “No. It’s better to live on your knees than to die on your feet.” Then he says: “How do I know? Because I am 108 years old.” Shelf: You write of your Uncle Nathan, “You’ll never know just how sweet he was. You’ll never know how alive he was.” Yet after reading this book I think I do know. Is that possible? McClanahan: Nope. Shelf: The subtitle of Crapalachia is “A Biography of Place.” It is, of course, that. But at the end, you write, “I wanted to write a book about all the people I knew and loved before I forgot them, but I see that my book is something else now ... I see that I have been praying this prayer ... Please tell me I existed ... .” So is this very close and tender examination of the lives of your people the cause of or the result of your existentialist thinking? UNBOUND
McClanahan: I’m not sure. I just wanted to see if I could resurrect the dead. I found out you couldn’t, but I think we need to get back to a place where writing is more like a spell, or a chant, or an amulet of some sort. Besides, the dead would probably be pissed anyway if we brought them back. I mean most of this stuff we do now came out of fertility cults, rituals, prayers to lead you through the underworld like the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I’ve just always been bothered by things. I mean bothered to the point I can barely function at times. One of my earliest memories is of this wild rabbit that got caught in a chain-linked fence behind our house. I was only four or five and the more it would fight to get free, the more it started to rip itself apart. I feel like that rabbit sometimes. I’m trying to get free, but my hide is coming off because of it. Shelf: You’re in a singing group called The Holler Boys. Did you by chance write the line “We all have hell and glory down in our hearts” in the song “I’ve Got the Sins!”? It sounds like it could be another tagline for Crapalachia. McClanahan: Nope, that is my Holler Presents partner Chris Oxley. This is his picture: http://hollerpresents.tumblr.com/post/44187927786/depression-maintained1-time-to-get-kicked-out#notes. You can tell by this picture that he’s a genius. We got kicked out of Kohl’s last night because we were up to some no good shenanigans. We’re living together now because my wife divorced me and his wife kicked him out of the house. We tell each other this before we go to work. “Don’t die today. Don’t die.” It’s the only mantra I trust anymore. Shelf: We’ve got a dog theme going in this issue. Your long list of things you’ve loved includes Samantha the dog, Nanook the dog, Midget the dog, and Buddy the dog. In your setting-the-record-straight appendix, you say, “I wouldn’t put Midget the dog on the list of things I’ve loved anymore. I really hated that fucking dog.” What’s the story there? McClanahan: She was a mean ass Chihuahua spoiled by my Aunt Nell. She’d bite you all of the time, but she was so old she didn’t have any teeth left so it didn’t really hurt. One person I would add to that list who I forgot to put on there is my ex father in law Elonza Turner. He’s one of those great human beings who still has some wildness in him. One morning Sarah was making up his bed and she found a giant chunk of cheese under the sheets. One night he woke up because he was hungry and he went to the freezer and ate some ice cream. He thought it tasted funny, but he kept eating it. The next morning he told Sarah, “Sarah, I think you need to throw out that ice cream. I think it has freezer burn.” Of course, he didn’t realize that he had eaten doggie ice cream. He’s a wild ass peacock. We need more wild ass peacocks in this life. 86
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2013
Two travelers uncover the legend of Prince Dracula’s treasure, but their rever the legend of Prince Dracula’s search into the Romanian past could researchawaken into the Romanian pastjust royal riches. much more than
ch more than just royal riches.
Legend claims that bloodthirsty Romanian prince Vlad “Dracula” left a treasure y Romanian prince Vlad “Dracula” left a A ﬁfteenth-century woodcut reveals the behind after his death. A fifteenth-century gs of blue ﬂame that rise from the ground only woodcut reveals the harbingers of this cut is also believed to harbor an evil curse that treasure: rings of blue flame that rise from d the treasure as yet uncovered. the ground only on St. George’s Eve. The ow are on woodcut holiday in Romania theirto harbor an evil is also during believed ay of the Dracula Tour through Bucharest, they curse that has kept weaker souls away and at the edge the forest. Her name is Gina Marin, theoftreasure asand yetManda uncovered. e blue ﬂames legend. Ben decide
the help of local librarian Dinu Varmas in an easure. Ben Florand and Manda Murrow are on
holiday in Romania during their spring
o uncover history, Varmas has something else in Onpositive the second of the Dracula arch seemsbreak. to produce results, day the team uch more than a treasureBucharest, hunt. It is possible Tourjust through they come upon more thanarevealing it might bring a of the forest. young treasure; girl lying at the edge e dead.
Her name is Gina Marin, and she claims bluebooks, flames e Mahan isto thehave author seen of two the children’s The of legend. d Duck and Ben The Courage of Violet Hue. Her ﬁ rst and Manda decide tonovel, abandon the ateau: Legend of the Cemetery Witch, was published in tour and enlist the help of librarian of 2011. She is an artist and educator and resides local in New York. Dinu Varmus in an effort to discover the hidden treasure.
While Ben and Manda hope to uncover history, Varmas has something else in $XX.XX mind. US Although their initial search seems to produce positive results, the team begins to realize they are on much more than just a treasure hunt. It is possible that the woodcut is capable of more than revealing treasure; it might bring a longdead prince back from the dead.
Jacqueline “It must be challengingMahan to come up with Author of Th e Courtyard Duck, Th e VioletMahan Hue, a newandtwist on the DraculaCourage story.ofMs. Ezrah’s Plateau: Legend of the Cemetery Witch has done it…a pleasant surprise from a generous talent.” “This plot was different from any other I have read…original…” “I would recommend it as a vacation book and, of course, to anyone who loves to read about Vlad Tepes…”
Author of The Courtyard Duck, The Courage of Violet Hue, and Ezrah’s Plateau: Legend of the Cemetery Witch UNBOUND
Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) by Michael Kimball Mud Luscious Press www.mudlusciouspress.com
rom #45 Adam Robinson, who once “hid out all night in a porta potty at an amusement park because some bands he really wanted to see were playing the next day” and later became a poet (Adam Robinson and Other Poems and Say Poem) to #307 Soap, who “was amazed at all the lather it could make,” Michael Kimball condenses life stories to the space of a postcard. In doing so, he gets to the heart of what it means to be alive. “I never expected strangers to tell me so much about themselves, so many things they have never told anybody else, but I found an unexpected intimacy in the postcard life story project. It tapped into something human and humane. I was continually amazed by what people told me. I wrote just over three hundred postcard life stories. I wrote one for anybody who wanted one. I didn’t want anybody to feel their life story wasn’t interesting enough. In fact, I found everybody’s life story is interesting if you ask the right questions.” —Michael Kimball in Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) 88
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2013
It was there that he learned that life is really terrible unless everybody forgives each other.
Shelf Unbound: You’ve condensed to postcard length the life stories of hundreds of people over the years. What have you discovered about humanity in the process? Michael Kimball: I was surprised by how earnest most people were and how willing they were to tell me intimate and difficult things about themselves. And I have even more empathy than I did. I see how broken and scared and flawed all of us are. I see how hard almost everybody is trying. It is so difficult to be alive and so wonderful too. Shelf: You include your own life story in the book. It begins, “Michael Kimball was born two weeks late—in Lansing, MI—during the Great Midwest Blizzard of 1967.” What, to you, is the most significant line in your own story? Kimball: I just re-read mine and I wasn’t sure what my answer would be until I reached the last line: “There’s something about being where he is, in Baltimore, that makes him feel like he can
do anything.” I feel like there’s some great, asyet-unknown future in that for me. Shelf: Your novel Big Ray, published last year, begins with the death of your abusive father. Your writing style is, as with your postcards, concise, direct, and unfettered. What have you learned as a novelist from writing the postcard stories? Kimball: I learned how to condense lots of life and story into one sentence. I learned more and more about picking the right details. I learned to only tell the most important parts. I learned how to maintain a narrative arc without obvious transitions and how to skip 10+ years with a little clause. Shelf: What do you think it means existentially that our lives can be condensed to a few hundred words on a postcard? Kimball: This question is probably catching me at a bad time, but I suppose it means that we do exist, at least for a little while, and that we matter, at least a little bit. UNBOUND
“If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream.” —Magritte Orkney by Amy Sackville
Counterpoint Press | www.counterpointpress.com
A literature professor honeymoons with his much younger bride on the Orkney Islands in this beautifully rendered tale of love and obsession. If you have yet to read Amy Sackville, prepare to be entranced.
Shelf Unbound: Like your debut novel The Still Point, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize, Orkney is very much a novel of place, with the sea being not just the new young bride’s obsession but also a character, a metaphor, a part of the novel’s overall dreamscape. How did you decide 90
to place your May-December newlyweds by the sea? Amy Sackville: The place and the characters arrived at the same time; it was that situation, of a couple in isolation on the island, that I started with. (Two clichés in one—the professor marrying his student, the woman gaz-
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2013
ing out to sea—but I’m quite interested in clichés. I’m interested in received narratives, I’m interested in resuscitating dead metaphors.) It is undeniably an enduring image, the figure on the shoreline; there’s both yearning and fear in it; standing there you feel yourself somehow dissipate, the borders of the self seem less solid, I think. And that idea, of self and landscape becoming inextricable, is central to the book; it’s one long pathetic fallacy, in a way. The sea conditions the formal framework of the book. There is a repetitive patterning, and a play on presence and absence, text and white space, which plays on the rise and fall of waves, the ebb and flow of tides. It’s not just any sea, either; the specific place is important. I am interested in Orkney as a place of mutability; one can’t always discern the border between sea, land and sky, and those borders are constantly in flux. I spent a few days on Westray, at the far Northwest of the peninsula, and it is a beautiPhotograph: Peter Schiazza, www.peterschiazza.com
ful and bewildering place; I spent most of my time just watching the weather changing. There is a layering and fluidity of meaning, too; Orcadian archaeology, history, myth, story, are all interwoven. I think that kind of instability, meaning shifting and mutating and slipping out from the grasp, is thrilling and vertiginous and compelling for me as a writer. Shelf: Dreams and dreamlike language and imagery run throughout Orkney. We, along with the husband, for example, get to know the wife mainly through the intense and fantastical dreams she recounts to him upon waking. What draws you to dreams? Sackville: I have always been a vivid dreamer, or perhaps I just remember my dreams more clearly than most people. My family typically greets the announcement “I had such a weird dream last night” with a groan. People say there’s nothing more boring than hearing about other people’s dreams, UNBOUND
“I find the logic of dreams fascinating, the shifts and associations, the disjuncture, the synaesthesia …” but as with any narrative, it’s the way you tell ‘em... I find the logic of dreams fascinating, the shifts and associations, the disjuncture, the synaesthesia, and most of all the fact that none of these things, in the dream, seem strange. I am interested in the profound dread that can accompany even the most innocuous of dreams, which can haunt you all day, even if you can’t say when you wake what it was that made the dream unsettling. In Orkney in particular I am interested in the gaps in narrative, and in attempting to tell a dream we must always find a way to accommodate those gaps. We say “and then for some reason...,” “and then I can’t remember a bit but then...,” or just, “and then” (which is the logic of dream narrative—and then, and then). When Richard’s wife tells her dreams, these are some of the most sustained parts of her speech that we hear (the only comparable sections are when she’s telling fairy tales). She exists most 92
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2013
vividly in these in-between places; she relates her dreams half-waking, and they reveal the fears and compulsions that she can’t or won’t articulate through rational, waking speech. Like her, I have recurring dreams of floods and of water overwhelming me, and almost all of her dreams are my dreams. Shelf: Orkney is your second novel. What did you learn or discover in writing The Still Point that informed or influenced Orkney? Sackville: The practical stuff: how, when, where I like to write; how to balance planning, research and writing, how to balance instinct and craft; how long it takes to rework a first draft and how to go about that. But, saying that, even those processes were quite different, because the book is very different structurally and the way it was composed reflected that. I would like to say I learned, on the one hand, not to procrastinate, and on the other, not to beat myself up about doing so (because sometimes it’s necessary)—but I still haven’t learned not to do either. I think, actually, that it was a line in The Still Point—something about a sketch of the island that the explorer character ends up on becoming “another Orkney”— that put these islands in particular into my head.
THE OUTLAW RIVER WILDE BY MIKE WALTERS
ho of us, at one time or another, hasn’t wondered if we are alone in the universe? Mitch Wilde never had, until a failed attempt at pulling an arrow out of his best friend Jack’s shoulder began a string of strange and unexpected events. When Native Americans start vanishing throughout the country and re-appearing in strange places on horseback, Mitch is challenged in ways he never dreamed. In addition, who are the uninvited strangers ransacking some of their homes? Added to this, Jack has taken to odd nocturnal treks.
The local sheriff releases hostility he has held against Mitch since high school and something—nobody wants to call them UFOs—has just crashed into several surrounding lakes. Can Mitch keep himself out of jail in the small Pacific Northwest town of Outlaw River? Can Mitch figure out what he strange entities emerging from the lake are and why? Can Mitch protect the beautiful life he and his wife Mabey worked so hard to create? Finally, can Mitch help his eccentric neighbor save the residents of Outlaw River, before it is too late?
“ “ ” ” “ “ ” ” The Outlaw River Wilde will keep readers who enjoy a story with an eschatological bent highly amused. Red City Review
An excellent start to a smart and intriguing new series, The Outlaw River Wilde proves a memorable debut for Walters and certainly one deserving of your attention. It is highly recommended. Book Viral Reviews
An original and impressively well written novel, “The Outlaw River Wilde” is a deftly crafted and highly entertaining story by an author who will leave his readers looking eagerly toward his next effort. Midwest Book Review
Great character development, likable characters to boot, and a mystery that just yearns to be solved. The Portsmouth Review
The Dark by Sergio Chejfec translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary Open Letter Books www.openletterbooks.org
ergio Chejfec’s The Planets was a finalist for the 2013 Best Translated Book Award. The latest of his books translated into English, The Dark further reveals Chejfec’s brilliant, inventive writing. Originally from Argentina, Chejfec teaches Creative Writing in Spanish at NYU.
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2013
Shelf Unbound: The narrator is obsessed with a young female factory worker, and everything we know of her is filtered through his warped view of her. How did you go about giving the reader a close glimpse of these characters while actually revealing very little about them? Sergio Chejfec: The story’s narrator finds inspiration in the mystery zone between what he knows and what he does not know: He loves the girl because she is a factory worker and because, while being a factory worker, she has a unique subjectivity. As a factory worker she cannot have the psychological attributes literary characters usually present. She belongs to another culture. Maybe that is why the narrator knows too much and too little at the same time. Shelf: “Like dust in an empty room,
these layers settle uniformly and without hurry …” This line in The Dark well describes your writing style: You have almost no plot and without hurry build the story layer upon layer. Did you build the story sparely from the start or did you pare it down in the editing process? Chejfec: In reality I give the same importance to the first draft as to subsequent ones. Sometimes I believe my novels are built basically from my effort to get away from the first draft, something incomplete or inaccurate. In my case, the versions advance and expand as I go about the editing process. Shelf: In an interview in Guernica, you said, “Literature needs to be a machine of illusions.” What did you mean by that? Chejfec: Almost all stories are presented as a natural and obvi-
ous outpouring of the real world, but they are not. I believe they should be presented as visions of the world, although partial, and as barely hypnotizing effects. When I say “machine” I mean that the novel only appears as an artificial organization of words, actions and arguments that because of its artificial character is able to talk about things more eloquently than the narrations that are seeking to erase the distance between what is said and what is apparently real. Shelf: Being diminished or not fully seen is a theme in the novel. For example, you write of Delia: “She had a special capacity for imparting an overabundance of being; not a longer life, but rather a more emphatic presence. This quality, by a predictable mechanism of compensation, tended to distance her, dilute her, and make her nearly transparent, like I’ve
said, just as happened every day when she took her place at the machines.” What drew you to this theme? Chejfec: The narrator is observant and analytical. He feels attraction to what is different and what he cannot understand. He likes to plot hypothesis, but not clarify mysteries. This novel is a small testimonial to the working class, so forgotten in spite of sustaining the world. It seemed honest to assume a non-paternal view—contrary to what the social or testimonial literature usually has— and try to describe that world as if it were about epitomes, through a moral digression that is at the same time anthropological. Shelf: What did you learn about this novel or about your writing in the process of having it translated into English? Chejfec: I feel very fortunate in
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2013
Where will our obsession with being always online, always connected, take us? How will the absolute trust we place in technology evolve? In the future there will be “the System,” one global, singularly autonomous Artificially Intelligent entity that controls every aspect of human life. Wallace Blair is a normal man with a normal family life, who lives in this apparent Utopia. That is until he is sent on an innocent errand which escalates rapidly into a downward spiral as the System conspires to rip everything from him that he holds dear. “Classic sci-fi, mystery, and noir fiction mix with futurist questions about where society’s slippery slope may be taking us.” Foreword Clarion Review 5 STARS
“cautionary sci-fi tale with an Orwellian, fablelike quality” Kirkus Reviews
“a thoughtful warning about the potential future of the human race” IndieReader
“fascinating—if disturbing— view of an AI world” TheBookbag review
“The Matrix meets 1984” San Francisco Book Review
trusting the criteria and decisions of Heather Cleary and Margaret Carson (they have translated my books). Sometimes, during a translation a question makes me review phrases or paragraphs in the original version, and almost always I discover I have not been very clear. I have the impression that every writer has the privilege of being more or less ambiguous (not many take advantage of it). But that privilege does not permeate to foreign languages. Therefore, you have to pay a price; the price is translation, and the translator is the only one capable of permeating that privilege. Otherwise, the review of the works to clarify to the translator the significance or textuality is the most absurd experience I have gone through. As if the translator were the guardian of the palace and I had to find the password to enter.
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2013
When is the Rumor and Cancer is the Answer Dr. Kevin Ryan MD FACP COL USAF (ret) Full Professor UCD (ret) and cancer survivor, is the author of the book When Tumor is the Rumor and Cancer is the Answer; A Comprhensive Guide to Newly Diagnosed Patients and their Families (428 pages.) Dr. Ryan is a Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude graduate of Georgetown University and Summa Cum Laude, AOA graduate of Georgetown University Medical School. He is also the recipient of an NIH immunopathology grant while in medical school. Read the reviews of the book HERE.
Check out the audio book HERE.
All reviews have been 5/5 and the book is endorsed by a former Surgeon General and the FOREWORD is by Internationally famous Dr. Maurie Markman , the National Director of Cancer Treatment Centers of America and former Director of the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center , Chair of Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering and MD Anderson.
All author proceeds go to the American Cancer Society
Palmerino by Melissa Pritchard In a mere 192 pages, Melissa Pritchard has created a rich, lush, and riveting story of two women writers in different eras. 100 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: FEBRUARY/MARCH 2014
Bellevue Literary Press blpbooks.org
Shelf Unbound: What drew you to write a fictionalized account of the life of the rather obscure Victorian-era lesbian novelist Violet Paget (aka Vernon Lee)? Melissa Pritchard: On a hot July afternoon in 2008, in the hills above Florence, Italy, I was introduced by an Italian friend to Federica Paretti, one of the members of the Angeli family who now own Vernon Lee’s former home. When the dark green door opening into the gardens of Villa il Palmerino swung back, and Federica, a former ballerina, extended her hand to greet me, I had the strangest feeling I had come home, that I knew the place. I returned the next winter to stay for two weeks, and would return two more times, staying longer each time. During that first visit, Federica told me about Vernon Lee and the Paget family, and during my second visit, as I came to learn more about this extraordinary, nearly forgotten figure of late Victorian literature and literary life, I felt, rather than decided, that I was meant to write about her, not as an increasing number of scholars were beginning to do, but to tell a more private side of Vernon Lee, to explore the notion of genius loci, or spirit of place, that she was so fond of writing about. I was seduced first of all by the beauty of Villa
il Palmerino and only later, with some initial resistance, began to research Vernon Lee’s life. Her brilliance and difficult temperament frankly intimidated me. In time, I came to understand that Vernon Lee and Villa il Palmerino were essentially one and the same thing, and that her difficult temperament was a kind of protective wall around an exquisitely sensitive, empathetic woman. Shelf: In keeping with the times, Paget led a very closeted and, at least in your fictionalized version, largely chaste life. What do you think her life would be like in today’s times? Pritchard: Various circumstances affected Violet Paget/Vernon Lee’s life. The male-dominated century into which she was born, the eccentric, if not bizarre, family in which she grew up, her own astonishing brilliance, and a less than favorable physical appearance which, today, could likely be corrected by orthodontic surgery. In rare photos of Violet, particularly as she grew into the writer she renamed Vernon, one can glimpse the condition some of her contemporaries, mainly men, cruelly referred to as her “ugliness.” An overdeveloped, misproportioned jaw lent her face an unfortunate look, particularly in light of the Victorian ideal of feminine beauty. I UNBOUND
believe (intuit) that she suffered over this, was self-conscious because of it, and by way of compensation combined with her own passion for knowledge and superior intellect, compensated for what was considered an unpleasing visage by an incomparable gift of talk, a prolific outpouring of books, articles, and aesthetic treatises, and finally, a sexual distancing from her own body. It is fascinating to imagine who Violet/Vernon would be, transported into today’s world of medical advancement, social media chatter, and in some cities and parts of the world, at least, a full respect for sexual orientation. If she lived in a city of literacy, liberal opinion, and acceptance of difference, of diversity, in London or New York, for example, I think she would thrive. I think she would be wholly loved and be able to return that love. She would be as famous now as she was then, perhaps more so, widely celebrated for her intellect and wit; I like to think that her unusual face, without surgical correction, might even be seen as uniquely beautiful. I came across a photograph of Vernon Lee, in her thirties, standing near her famous fireplace of pietra serena stone (for which she traded a large piece of her land), and was struck by how utterly hand102 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
If she lived in a city of literacy, liberal opinion, and acceptance of difference, of diversity, in London or New York, for example, I think she would thrive. Pritchard: In writing a biography, I discovered that one is irrevocably shackled to facts and to chronology in a far more stringent and constraining way than when combining research with imagination and even with intuition, to write a fictionalized portrait of an historical character. With Vernon Lee, I took artistic license and often “felt” my way into what seemed to be the emotional truths of her life. In doing so, I was all too aware I was possibly drifting off course from Shelf: You wrote a commis- the facts and possible realities sioned biography of philan- of her life and actual character, thropist Virginia G. Piper but in the end, the story I was several years ago. How does listening for, intuiting, took prebringing a real character to cedence over presumed facts. life in fiction differ from writWith the Virginia G. Piper biing a biography? ography, a book commissioned some she looked, imposing, not a figure to be trifled with. I like to think that people today—literary people, intellectuals, musicians, artists—would adore her. I certainly do. And if I were to meet her, I know she would initially intimidate me, but that we would ultimately find an affinity in our common interest in the subjects of empathy, the influence of art on physiology, and the supernatural world, particularly as these play out in literature.
DEBUT: FEBRUARY/MARCH 2014
A JOURNEY FROM
A MOTHER’S WORST NIGHTMARE Losing a loved one is never easy. When it is your child, it’s all the more difficult. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children, so most are unprepared when it happens. A little part of you dies, along with your child. You’ll never really “get over” their passing, but you will learn to live with the loss, making it a part of who you become. Through her two books, Karen Chaston share’s her three-year journey following the unexpected death of her son Dan at age 27. She shares with readers how her child’s death compelled her to rethink her priorities and re-examine the meaning of life.
BECOMING YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND Karen very quickly realised “we are the only person we spend our entire life with, so why are we putting ourselves last and not living the life we truly desire?” Her journey has taken her to Love & Gratitude as now she has become, more aware, grateful, healthier, energised and lives in her Essence. Karen now inspires women to become their own best friend and live in their Essence.
WWW.KARENCHASTON.COM.AU Available for purchase on author’s website and Amazon: Kindle or Paperback.
by the Piper Charitable Trust, I knew I had to write a highly accessible story. I learned a great deal from the extraordinary example she set, yet I chafed at having to keep the style of the book, the way I used language, relatively simple and concrete. My imagination felt as if it was in a straitjacket made of concrete. With Palmerino, I was free to 104 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
follow undercurrents, impressions, flashes of knowing—and to use language and form in a painterly, sophisticated, even risky way. I felt truer to myself as an artist. It was an honor to write the biography of Virginia G. Piper, but it was a challenging, anarchical thrill to write Palmerino. Shelf: Your story has a modern-day historical fiction writ-
DEBUT: FEBRUARY/MARCH 2014
er, Sylvia, researching and imagining Violet Paget’s life. Where did the character of Sylvia come from, and how did you decide to structure your novel in two time periods? Pritchard: Sylvia is very much me, exaggerated, tampered with, re-invented. At the time I chose to write Palmerino, I was feeling a similar loneliness, the death of both my parents, the loss of confidence in my future as a writer, as a heart’s companion to anyone else. My situation wasn’t as isolating and vulnerable as Sylvia’s, but I took certain aspects of my situation, exaggerated them and created Sylvia as my protagonist, a woman writer alone, aging, without familiar foundations or associations. I wanted her absolutely vulnerable to the ethereal presence of Vernon Lee, to “the great female soul that is Villa il Palmerino.” I struggled with the form of the novel, how to structure it. I didn’t want to write a fictionalized biography, set into the past —that bored me, and I wasn’t sure I was capable of it. I felt it would take me 10 years and 500 pages. I did wish to convey my love of this gorgeous, haunted place, Villa il Palmerino, my sense that Vernon Lee is still very much present in her former home and unkempt garden. I was doing research for Painting: Portrait of Violet Paget by John Singer Sargent
A thrilling tale of love and devotion as four Chicago friends search for an ancient treasure.
n ancient Queen from Southeast Asia, fleeing a falling empire leaves behind the remaining wealth and heritage of that kingdom hidden in a cave near Thap Cham (pronounced “Top Chom”), Vietnam. A Vietnam War photographer and three of his friends in Chicago become entangled in a story of intrigue, love and betrayal as they find a surprising connection to the ancient queen and her treasure. Their quest leads them straight into the arms of an evil despot who seeks to control and rule this ancient land and they discover that appearances are often deceiving. What happens next, and the love and loyalty between these friends is what this story is all about.
The characters in this novel are fictional and are not meant to represent anyone in real life. The events, while many are based on fact and actual happenings, are also fictional and should not be construed and as a historical record. This is just a story, nothing more, nothing less.
BY WILLIAM DIEBOLD “The detailed fictional characters made me care about their situations as well as their back stories, a rare experience in the suspense genre. However, this novel doesn’t really fit into any narrow genre - its wide ranging locations and time periods take it into “epic” territory. Recommended highly. ” —Dk Mercer “What a wonderful, fascinating story! This is a warm, satisfying adventure to read.” —David Doody “If you are looking for page turning action and suspense, or if you seek a deeper understanding of South East Asian culture, or if you are engaged by stories of love and friendship, this is your book! “ —Sherry C. Reynolds
the book, reading Henry James’ Italian Hours, when I suddenly remembered his classic work, The Turn of the Screw, how much I had admired it, been affected and haunted by it. I had found the key, the way into the novel; I would try to write a supernatural tale, both in homage to The Turn of the Screw and as tribute to Vernon Lee’s own highly regarded supernatural tales. I would also focus on the two great loves of her life, Mary Robinson and “Kit,” or Clementina Anstruther-Thompson, rather than attempt to convey her entire prodigious life. In the end, one is wisest writing the book one would most want to read. With Vernon Lee and Villa il Palmerino, I did just that, though it wasn’t easy. As for the ghost voice of Vernon Lee in the short sections titled “V,” I literally heard a voice, particularly in the first entry, and merely wrote down what I heard. Like Sylvia, as I wrote, I increasingly felt Vernon Lee’s presence, her guidance. When I was well into the novel, several revisions in, I read her supernatural tale “Amor Dure” and realized I was shadowing that story, the tale of a biographer, increasingly obsessed and overtaken by the subject of his study, a woman long dead. Perhaps it’s an archetypal sto106 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
ry pattern, the biographer seduced away from living by his dead subject, but I was jolted to see myself so closely mirroring Vernon Lee’s own tale of ghostly possession and genius loci, the power or spirit of place. Shelf: Did Paget’s writing style influence yours in writing Palmerino? Pritchard: By today’s tastes, Vernon Lee’s writing style is dense, elaborate, even florid. It is as if her prodigious brain and all facts and thoughts in it are pouring, uncensored, onto the page. If she is today best remembered for her supernatural tales, it may be in part due to this problem of thickety prose in much of her work. She overwhelms her reader. I greatly admire her travel writing, her nature writing, and The Enchanted Woods and Other Essays on the Genius of Places is one of my favorite of her books. It was said that to travel with Vernon Lee, even on a day’s walk in the hills above Florence where she lived, was to have an entire world of arcane and fascinating knowledge opened to one. She could peel back layers of time, she saw history as a palimpsest, and could, with ease and enthusiasm, tell you everything about anything. Henry James once said she was the only per-
DEBUT: FEBRUARY/MARCH 2014
son in Florence worth having a conversation with. But she was also incapable, it seemed, of editing herself. While her writings are today admired by an increasing number of fans and scholars, she is most definitely an acquired taste. In preparing to write Palmerino, I read a number of the books Vernon Lee had read and admired. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun and William Wetmore Story’s Roba di Roma were influential in helping to shape my style in the historicized sections written by Sylvia, and in the choice of words and diction “V” uses. My own fiction has been described, equally praised and criticised, as dense and elaborate, so it was fascinating to read similar criticisms of Vernon Lee’s prose, yet to find myself, by comparison with her style, a paragon of economy, several layers or thicknesses less than her. Vernon Lee was a genius, her brain retained everything she’d ever learned, she read voraciously, spoke and wrote fluently in four languages—it took a great deal of effort not to be intimidated by such a radiant and large mind, not to feel she was peering critically over my shoulder as I wrote, to find the point of empathetic connection between us. Fortunately, I think I did.
ENTER THE MAGICAL WORLD OF 16TH CENTURY IRELAND IN THE HISTORICAL ROMANCE/FANTASY NOVELS
The Irish Witch Series BOOK ONE
his kin. Few realize she is lities. Morag, the old healer, ithout it, how will she learn nd the malevolent curse on on will not allow her to see
ches the chieftain's eye, his
witch’ s daughter
ook Two of the Irish Witch Series continues the quest to end the curse of the Glade Witch. Forced to contend with the possibility of an arranged marriage, Alainn (pronounced awlinn) McCreary, healer, witch, and commoner, struggles alone to control her ever-growing magical powers and the yearning she feels for a man beyond her station. Killian O’Brien, virile, noble, betrothed to a dark-eyed Scottish beauty, challenges the social L fabric of 16th and anyone EIG H Acentury N N Ireland E D WA R D S who would dare dishonor the woman who has captured his heart. Can Alainn lift the curse that dooms any future happiness before The Witch Series time runs out? WillIrish Chieftain O’Brien keep their secret from [ BOOK ONE Killian or use it to control her? The] Witch’s Daughter weaves romance, adventure, and the supernatural into a tale of lust and longing that whispers darkly, “What wouldn’t you do for love?”
L E I G H A N N E D WA R D S The Irish Witch Series [ BOOK
A powerful, surprising fantasy that will leave readers excited for the next
Since she was a child, Leigh Ann Edwards has always had a vivid book in the series." imagination and lots of stories to tell. An enthusiastic traveler and — Kirkus Reviews author for over twenty years, her adventures in Massachusetts, Ireland, and the UK inspired The Farrier’s Daughter and its sequel novels in the Irish Witch series. Edwards adores animals, history, genealogy, and magical places—and Ireland is filled with many magical places. She lives with her husband and three cats in the lovely city of Edmonton, Alberta. ISBN 9781460264614
LEIGH ANN E D WA R D S
LEIGH ANN E D WA R D S
THE FARRIER'S DAUGHTER
t series installment... ple of a strong, selfruggles in a patriarchal e to keep power."
9 781460 264614
9 781460 208731
n sixteenth century Ireland, Alainn McCreary is healer to Chieftain O’Brien, his clan and his kin. Few realize she is also capable of many unusual supernatural abilites. Morag, the old healer, warns her against the use of her magic. But without it, how will she the learn the secret surrounding the Glade Witch, or end the malevolent curse on the O’Briend line? Even her powers of perception will not allow her to see how deeply she is connected to both.
ook Two of the Irish Witch Series continues the quest to end the curse of the Glade Witch. Forced to contend with the possibility of an arranged marriage, Alainn struggles alone to control her evergrowing magical powers and the yearning she feels for a man beyond her station. Killian O’Brien, virile, noble, betrothed to a Scottish beauty, challenges the social fabric of 16th century Ireland and anyone who would dare dishonor the woman who has captured his heart. Can Alainn lift the curse that dooms any future happiness before time runs out? Will Chieftain O’Brien keep their secret from Killian of use it to control her? The Witch’s Daughter weaves romance, adventure, and the supernatural into a tale of lust and longing that whispers darkly, “What wouldn’t you do for love?”
AVAILABE IN E-BOOK FORMAT
AVAILABE IN PRINTFORMAT
Red Hen Press | redhen.org
Spheres of Disturbance by Amy Schutzer
Told from the point of view of nine different characters, Spheres of Disturbance explores both life and end-of-life issues with depth and beauty. Schutzer writes with such empathy that she even convincingly evokes the thoughts of a pig. 108 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
Shelf Unbound: Tell us about the character at the center of your novel, Helen, who is dying. Amy Schutzer: Helen is in transit from the solidly corporeal body to losing that solidity, physically and mentally, from the cancer that has taken over. Her character allowed me to go along on that ride where we become diminished from what we were. Helen is not an extraordinary person, and from her daughter’s point of view, Helen has been stable, not the least bit reckless. But just like most of us, Helen does extraordinary things throughout her life. And one of those things is her decision to forego any more treatment for the cancer. Dying and death are still incredibly difficult for most of us to talk about. This process that will touch each of our lives, yet how to make sense of it?
I’m not sure we can. Helen’s character gave me an in to the many questions that accompany her dying.
Shelf Unbound: You tell the story from the point of view of nine different characters, including (and wonderfully so) a pregnant Vietnamese potbellied pig named Charlotta. How did you go about finding and creating them?
Schutzer: When I begin a novel, it is a response to either an image coming to me, or a character or a sliver of the plot, or a combination of these UNBOUND
things. I had been thinking about Niagara Falls—the people who went over the falls, the power of the water, roiling whirlpools, the scores of people who visit—and this led me to back up the view from those images to a house on a river many miles before the river goes over Niagara Falls. And that’s where the novel starts: in a backyard on the river on a particular morning. A fast, churning river, and what was in it, floating along—branches, milk carton, etc. Who was watching the river? That’s when Charlotta arrived, the potbellied pig. A pig? Who would own a pig? And so Avery was next to show up. I am not an outline type of writer. I begin writing and the story unfolds. The story also dictated how it wanted to be told, in this case, from the various characters’ points of view. They revolve around and intersect with Helen: family, friends, daughters, lovers, and animals. Each character was the center of and an orbiting part of a constellation.
S helf Unbound: Helen being at the very end of her life brings up conflicting reactions from the other characters: Her daughter, Sammy, is in denial; Sammy’s lover Avery, a poet, is shocked that Helen is planning to end her own life. Helen’s friend Joe,
110 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
who she has enlisted to help her, wonders about his father’s rumored suicide. What drew you to explore these end-of-life issues?
Schutzer: End-of-life: who wants to deal with that? But each of the characters has to in their own way. That’s what was so engaging about writing this —the spectrum of reaction: from the very selfish—Helen’s sister Maureen— to Darla, a teenager who runs right up to the spookiness of Helen’s dying and sees what she is able to see from her 15-year-old vantage point, then retreats into the chaos of adolescence. Then there’s Sammy, Helen’s daughter, whose denial is massive, and she is doing everything she can to keep it going and to keep anyone, including her lover Avery, from bringing the truth into the light. The other aspect for me in writing this was the decision Helen makes about her own end of life. She gets to that point where the treatment for the cancer is more compromising to her than not treating. I had witnessed this with my own family members and friends and seen the varying decisions each made. What choices do we really have with how we enter the process of dying? Who gets to make those decisions? And all the while this enormous event is looming, there’s life just carrying on in all its lovely complexity.
A virus has been steadily lowering human intelligence since 1944 ... Deliberate electromagnetic wave misuse! Adaptive strategies in global conflict? One generation away from utter entropic chaos! Holy crap, that sounds bad! Enoch Maarduk, new CEO of PHANTASM (Preventing Horrors and Nightmares Through Active Spectrum Monitoring), along with Phoebe, Dee and the rest of the crew are ready for action, more or less ... An excerpt from Kirkus Reviews —
“... the prose is intellectually invigorating, and theories generated by characters are striking. Leisurely paced but intelligent and profound ...” Readers delighted in D. Kenton Mellott’s first book, Exophobe (really, you can look it up yourself). Join this new adventure before the virus gets you and you’re too cognitively-challenged to even read! Print version: www.exophobe.com Digital versions: AMAZON • APPLE •
Shelf Unbound: Why did you set the novel in 1985 as opposed to today?
But we were still years away from the Race for the Cure that drew tens of thousands of participants, and more targeted treatments. Cancer was not yet the big business it is today with pink ribbons everywhere. I wanted to set the novel before that turn so that I could explore the difficulty a woman had on a societal level of going against the medical opinion of treatment and nothing but more treatment. Not that that doesn’t happen today. But 1985 didn’t have the public realm attached to one woman’s decision. No twittering or posting countless updates, diSchutzer: In 1985, not a lot of women ets, etc.—everything we have become were so open about their breast can- used to in the present day deluge of cer, nor was it so vividly in the public public sharing. It allowed me to bring eye. That was beginning to change. the story and the question of end-of-
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DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
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life back down to their essential struggles, which is ultimately a very personal, individual process. Politically, 1985 was rife with Ronald Reagan’s decisions, which in this author’s view did more to irreparably harm our economics and thus create the unstoppable trajectory of über wealthy at the expense of everything and everyone else. While not an explicitly political book, most of my characters are left leaning, and in 1985, trying to carve an alternative to the corporate and consumerist mandate that was stacking the deck in its favor.
Shelf Unbound: You begin the novel with the point of view of Charlotta the pig. I’m fascinated by the way you wrote her as a thinking character without really anthropomorphizing her—she is very much a pig. How did you approach writing her? 114 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
Schutzer: Charlotta, what a wonderful pig she is, she is. I wanted her just to be an animal, and allow her animal being to interpret each situation. She experienced the world through her senses. Even though she was connected strongly with Avery, it still was through smell, touch; or when Avery read a poem to Charlotta, she floated in the sound, not the meaning. I used clipped language, some repetition for Charlotta and more immediate reaction to try to approximate how a pig might respond to her surroundings. Shelf Unbound: Do you have a
favorite character in the novel?
Schutzer: No absolute favorites as that shifts with where I’m at in my life on any given day. But I’ll say this about the characters: Avery kept me grounded, more sure of where I was going with the story; Sammy, for all she tried to keep emotion bottled up, allowed a deep eddy of feeling to emerge. I love Frances, such a bad girl. And Marjorie, who comes under her influence, and teeters between duty and abandon. The teenagers, Darla and Ruth, were in that stage where everything is up in the air and possible— what’s not to like? While Helen wasn’t easy to write, she was the most compelling to get inside of to understand what we will all be faced with; she was also the hardest to let go of. And, yes, I adored Charlotta from start to finish.
TUCKER CHEROKEE SERIES OF THRILLERS
A scientist, Maya Li, and an entrepreneur, Tucker Cherokee, accidentally discover a way to end man-made global warming. So why are they running for their lives?
Why are Maya, Tucker, and their uniquely gifted young daughter, Star, targets for assassination during a period of extreme climate change?
To what extreme will Tucker and Maya go to help stop an international conspiracy intended to drive the U.S. into a new civil war?
“It’s a quick, enjoyable, refreshing romp through a well-realized natural and political apocalypse. Similarities with Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler are strong enough that Deadly Cold is a good read-alike for both authors.” —Foreword Reviews, Clarion Review “A fascinating, epic tale in compact form.” —Kirkus Reviews
W W W. T U C K E R C H E R O K E E . C O M
New Issues Poetry & Prose | wmich.edu/newissues
by Andrew Ladd Winner of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award Series, Andrew Laddâ€™s debut novel explores the concept of time via the increasingly constricted life of an island-bound family. 116 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
Shelf Unbound: Your novel follows the life of the McCloud family over three decades as they endure family strife and the drastically dwindling population of their home of Eilean Flor, a small island off the west coast of Scotland. How did the idea for this novel come about?
“ISLE OF MUCK” and not much else. So it’s interesting to me that the finished product nevertheless ended up including a reclusive mainland artist; I don’t know what deep-seated archetype I’m drawing from that the idea keeps coming back. As for the family strife, well, that wasn’t really my initial intention. The first draft was more about another character, a businessman from London, moving to the island. But I quickly realized that the relationships in the McCloud family, which I only really created at first for this other man to interact with, were far more interesting than anything he did himself. So I reworked the whole thing to be about the McClouds, and now the businessman, Michael, doesn’t even have his own POV sections anymore.
Andrew Ladd: The first glimmer of it was probably back when I was fourteen, on a school trip to the west coast of Scotland, where I first saw an abandoned island community and was really struck by how sad that was. But I didn’t actually make note of any concrete idea for a piece of fiction until I saw a news report about the dwindling population on the Isle of Muck a few years later, and I didn’t actually “do” anything with that idea for a few more years again. I was in an undergrad writing workshop and had to do some exercise where I wrote a scene between two characters, and that ended up being between the last two people left on a Scottish island—a reclusive mainland artist and a local man. After that I transferred out of my writing program and didn’t really come back to the idea of writing a novel until I was 23 or 24 and starting my MFA. By then I’d actually forgotten all about that undergrad writing exercise, and when I started What Ends I was only going Ladd: As I say, the first character I on a brief line in my notebook that said wrote was Michael, though I think that
Shelf Unbound: Which of the McClouds came to you first?
was partly because writing an outsider arriving on the island for the first time was also an easy way for me to get into the setting. (I guess you could also make a case for the reclusive artist being the first character who came to me.) But of the main characters in the finished book, Flora—the middle McCloud child—was definitely the one that I really fleshed out first, and still the one I can see most vividly. There’s a scene in chapter seven where she first meets Michael, which is one of the first scenes I wrote, and which is still largely unchanged from the very first draft. In some ways I feel like that first scene with her is really what drove the book to its current form—the section that continues that scene and chapter was among the most popular with my early readers, and for a while I toyed with making the novel entirely from her point of view.
Shelf Unbound: In writing the novel, which character interested you the most?
Ladd: It kind of ebbed and flowed, to be honest. The section where Barry (Flora’s brother) goes off to boarding school was very raw for me, and writing it I was the most engaged I’d felt with the book up to that point. But later I got equally wrapped up in his mother, Maureen, and at other times also in Flo-
118 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
ra, of course. Ironically, I was probably least interested in George, the family patriarch, who ultimately provides the book’s biggest emotional punch. Maybe it’s because I knew pretty much from page one what his fate was going to be.
Shelf Unbound: The physical isolation of Eilean Flor mirrors the emotional isolation the family members have from each other. What drew you to this theme of isolation?
Ladd: I don’t know that I was consciously thinking about isolation, actually—though I appreciate how unlikely that sounds given the subject matter! It’s funny, though—the other idea I had for a first novel had a similar premise, in that it would have followed a small
family in a very confined environment. I remember having a conversation with my writing group, back when we were all starting on our books, about how it seems like a lot of first novels actually have some kind of similar constraint on the world of the book, whether it’s setting or timeframe or number of characters or whatever. I think with a lot of first-time novelists—the few that I know, anyway— there’s a feeling of, “oh jeez, what have I gotten myself into, and what can I do to keep it manageable?” That’s probably as responsible for the sense of isolation in the book as anything else. That said, from the start I was obviously interested in what it would be like to be one of the last survivors of a small island community. So I think the recurring theme of isolation probably also grew quite naturally from that.
Shelf Unbound: Place is very much a character in this novel. Tell us about Eilean Flor and what inspired it?
Ladd: Well, there were my first experiences with the real Scottish Hebrides on that school trip, but as I say, what primarily drew me to the story was the human aspect—imagining what it would be like to see your community crumble around you. And at first the island itself wasn’t much more than a device to enable the telling of that human story. But it was definitely one of those projects where the more research I did into the Scottish islands the more fascinated I became with them—and the more details I knew I had to include to really convey how marvelous they are. I took pages and pages of notes from Tom Steel’s The Life and Death of St Kilda, and from Anna Blair’s Croft and Creel, both of which are about the history of other, real communities that have blinked out of existence. I worked so many of them into the first draft, too, that I had to do a lot of darling-killing as I revised. Definitely the most inspirational part of my research, though, was when I visited Canna, the island that Fior is loosely based on. The place was so atmospheric in so many ways I hadn’t expected or imagined—noisy, and eerie, and even somewhat menacing. I knew then that doing the island justice meant making it more than a simple backdrop.
Shelf Unbound: This is your first novel. What did you learn from it about the art and process of novel writing?
to be undisturbed for long periods of time to really get good writing done—I think a lot of writers feel this way—and that was pretty much how I proceeded for the first two drafts. But then grad school was over and I needed a day job and I knew that if I didn’t get the manuscript into publishable shape relatively quickly, it would probably languish forever. That really forced me to change my work habits, because if I didn’t try to get 500 words done while my wife watched TV in the background after dinner, then I just didn’t get any words Ladd: That it’s hard work! But also that done, period. And now, actually, I get there are some writerly habits that can all my best writing done on the subway, make it unnecessarily harder. For a long which is probably about as far from the time I had it in my head that I needed ideal writer’s retreat as you can get.
120 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
TIME TRAP BY RICHARD SMITH
Who was the mysterious Hector Lightfoot? What was he up to when he disappeared, and who were the two ghosts once seen in his house? School friends Jamie and Todd are destined to find out when they go to London to spend a weekend with Jamie’s Uncle Simon, who now lives in that very house. Soon after they arrive, Jamie has a frightening encounter with the two ghosts. Hector, a veteran from the First Afghan War, joined a covert expedition to China, and afterwards worked on a secret Government project in an underground lab at the British Museum. He vanished suddenly, and was never heard from again. Simon takes the boys to the lab, where they find a strange contraption—which, unknown to any of them, is a time-travel device. When the building is struck by lightning, the device is energised, and sends the boys back a century in time to the year 1862. There, surrounded by danger and exposed to disease, they are sucked into a life of crime in order to survive. Only if they can find Hector will they have any chance of getting home again. But why has he gone into hiding? Who is the man after him and what does he want? As they struggle to escape back to their own time, Jamie becomes convinced that the two ghosts he saw earlier are following them…
America’s future in the past is on the line, only Hector can save it...
(ABOVE) RICHARD ACCOMPANYING ILFORD PUPILS ON THE TRAIL.
(ABOVE) THE LOCATIONS FEATURED IN THE STORY
Imagine reading a book, then visiting the very places where the story happened; it would almost be like going on a virtual-reality tour. With Time Trap, you can do just that, and see the London locations where this exciting adventure is set. Visit the Time Trap Trail website for more details. www.timetrap.co.uk/p/the-trail.html
“Time Trap is a fascinating book aimed at 9-12 year-olds, but like Harry Potter, it will attract readers of all ages. It combines mystery and suspense with a well-researched portrayal of life in London in 1862. As the story unfolds, it thus has educational as well as entertainment value in what is a thoroughly good read.” —Sir Peter Heap K.C.M.G
“I rarely use the WOW word but Time Trap is one of those rare occasions and it gets it for the intrigue factor. The book is very well written and a delightful read. Children will absolutely love it.” —Goodreads review
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The Permanent Press | thepermanentpress.com
The Wood of Suicides
by Laura Elizabeth Woollett A schoolgirlâ€™s crush on her male English teacher leads to mutual destructive obsession in this well-drawn, compelling debut novel. 122 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
Shelf Unbound: Tell us about your main character, Laurel Marks. Laura Elizabeth Woollett: At face value, Laurel is a bright, attractive, modest, and well-behaved seventeen-year-old. Beneath the surface, she is calculating, vain, jealous, and judgmental, particularly toward other women. Beneath that, she is a bundle of insecurities, and more naïve than she’s willing to admit. Despising her mother and identifying with her father, Laurel is all too eager to begin an affair with an older man. She doesn’t particularly enjoy the intimacy, but becomes addicted to other aspects of the relationship—the admiration, the power plays, and the sense of doing something illicit and out of the ordinary. She sees herself as a tragic figure, a sort of martyr or romantic heroine, out of touch with the world and not long for it. Death is never far from her mind.
tions. Like her, I craved sophistication. I considered myself more intelligent than my peers. I had an all-or-nothing mindset and was drawn to extremes. I romanticized death. A lot of teenagers think this way, I’m sure. It comes with the territory. Laurel differs mostly in her intensity and her circumstances; she’s privileged, but also very isolated. This allows her to become more set in her ways.
Shelf Unbound: You began writing this novel when you were a teenager, and you are now 24. How did your personal maturation influence the style or direction of the novel as you worked on it over the years?
Woollett: At 18, I wanted to write a Shelf Unbound: How did you novel about a girl exploring her sexuality after the death of her father. I had go about creating Laurel? read Sylvia Plath. I had read Lolita. It Woollett: Laurel comes from a place seemed like a good subject. that is very familiar to me. I wasn’t I wrote about 50 pages. They were rubnearly as intense when I was her age, bish. After starting university, I put them but I did share many of her preoccupa- aside and didn’t pick them up again until UNBOUND
halfway through my degree. By that point, I had read more. I could write better. I was older than my main character, which allowed me to look at her more critically and turn her faults into fatal flaws. About five of those original pages were reworked into the opening of The Wood of Suicides. I scrapped the rest. The greater part of my novel was written between the ages of 20 and 23.
Shelf Unbound: Has being a Millennial influenced your writing or your ideas about what you want your literary career to look like?
Woollett: I don’t feel any particular affinity for my generation or desire to speak for it. The subjects that intrigue me most are timeless—sex, death, beauty, violence, corruption. More often than not, my characters live in a different or unspecified era. Even The Wood of Suicides isn’t exactly contemporary; it’s set in the early 2000s, before the social media revolution. Perhaps I could have had Laurel and Mr. Steadman Facebook-stalking each other and sexting, but I feel that would have
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DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
been a distraction, and I liked that they still exchanged letters and that sort of thing. It’s another way in which they’re invested in fantasy over reality. There are writers who do a great job of capturing what it’s like to be a Millennial and engaging with contemporary issues. I read them sometimes, but I’m not really one of them. For whatever reason, I don’t feel compelled or equipped to write about the Millennial experience—at least not directly.
Shelf Unbound: You write poetry and short fiction as well. How did the experience of writing a novel differ from writing shorter pieces? Woollett: When you’re writing a novel, everything is very big picture. You can have a clear idea of the themes, the main characters, and the most dramatic events, but a lot more world-building needs to be done to make these things plausible. Most novels have minor characters, whereas short stories can usually dispense with these. I found this a challenge of writing The Wood of Suicides, since I’m most comfortable dealing with a cast of about two or three. Short fiction has other challenges. The focus is narrower and everything
THE NEPTUNE CHRONICLES
Jamie Edmondson is friends with nearly everybody, as long as they don’t disagree with his strident views on the environment. When he leads an expedition up the California coast to the discovery of a new race of humans who live under the sea, things change. That’s when he meets some really bad people who don’t like humans that aren’t human. We call them Neptunes, and this race of telepaths threatens everything we humans stand for. When Jamie falls for a beautiful young Neptune, he discovers that when you’re underwater, no one can count your tears. VIC WARREN worked as an advertising executive in the travel industry for 30-plus years. He is a recipient of a Clio award and is best known for creating the Alaska Airlines Eskimo logo. His experience with Alaska Airlines opened many doors for him in the travel and tourism industry, and he started his own company called Turning Heads. He also became a book packager, editor, designer and writer in collaboration with several illustrators and publishers, producing more than 100 children’s books.
It’s Book Two of The Neptune Chronicles, and it takes you deeper into their underwater world. “Daddy, daddy! People on dolphins! There are people on dolphins out there!” Jamie and Mercy have been living on a tiny island in Fiji for five years, and their daughter, Saffron, just ran in to tell them that she saw Neptunes riding on dolphins. They have to travel to both sides of the globe to forestall what people are calling “The Dolphin War.” With the balance of power over and under the seas at dire risk, can they bring peace between the Neptunes and the humans in time? “Girl on a Dolphin” brings us closer to the almost human race beneath the waves.
needs to be there for a reason. At the moment, I’m writing a lot of true crime inspired fiction, trying to condense hundreds of pages of research into a few thousand words. It’s very difficult to decide where to place my focus, what to reveal and what to leave unsaid.
Shelf Unbound: You’re working on a collection of short stories titled The Love of a Bad Man, which could have been a subtitle for The Wood of Suicides. What draws you to this subject?
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DEBUT: APRIL/MAY 2014
Woollett: I first read Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal about 10 years ago, and was fascinated by the relationship between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter. Later, Wuthering Heights became a favorite. I liked how cruel Heathcliff was, but also how Catherine saw herself in him and identified with his cruelty. I’m not so much interested in stories of good girls falling for bad guys as girls who already have something bad in them and find themselves in these relationships. These girls are far more compelling to me, since they’re not just blank, virginal slates. They’re human, with the potential to act inhumanely.
FROM AUTHOR MITCHEL STREET
iper Walker, a high school senior, is unknowingly standing on the precipice of a monumental transformation in her life. She has always been offbeat, relating to nature and animals more than people. She grew up fast after her mom died from cancer at a young age, weeks after her brother was born. With a wrecked home life and a baby brother to raise, Piper is adopted by friends, a kind elderly neighbor named Esther and her cat Jazz, as her family and suppressed and strangled the world she is now part of. Somehow, she a nearby forest as her solace. A plays a crucial role in freeing the near death experience causes an captive races of this ancient realm. awakening inside her, prematurely Amongst the unspeakable beauty, opening her eyes to her destiny. A the unknown danger, and the desire world of magic and light she never dreamt of lay hidden in the shadows to find out who she really is, Piper discovers an unexplainable, first-time of what she thought was real. However, trouble brews in paradise. love that becomes the only thing that A long-standing tyrannical rule has she can cling to in her stormy life.
“Street’s plot-heavy tale promises a number of sequels; indeed, with the accumulation of characters, settings, and magical occurrences, one book is insufficient to contain his imagination.” —Kirkus Reviews
“What makes this work truly special is in the author’s ability to intricately weave components of art, science, and nature into a fantastical and engaging read.” —US review
“Street is a master of description, and the reader will be swept up in Piper’s new life, carried forward by the strange and wonderful world which Piper must master—or die.” —San Francisco book review
Eimear McBrideâ€™s novel is difficult to read but rewards the adventuresome reader with its genius and the heartbreaking story of a troubled young girl with an abusive mother, a disabled brother, and an uncle who molests her. I urge readers to step outside their literary boxes and experience this remarkable book.
Coffee House Press coffeehousepress.org
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride 128 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014
Photography: Jemma Mickleburgh
Shelf Unbound: You begin the novel with these lines: “For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say.” And you keep going like that for the next 226 pages. How did you invent this unconventional style of writing, and what were you trying to achieve with it? Eimear McBride: The starting point for the style was reading Ulysses. The effect it had on me was so profound that, after the first five pages, I understood everything I had written before had to go in the bin and I had to start again. More conventionally composed prose felt rather bloodless in the light of it
and I realised that there are great swathes of existence which cannot be adequately described or explored within those traditional, grammatical frameworks. What I hoped to achieve was an unmediated experience for the reader whereby the writer becomes completely invisible and the reader feels so closely implicated in the protagonist’s experience as to almost be experiencing it within themselves. Shelf Unbound: Was writing in this style constraining or liberating or both? McBride: I think it was both. As a writer, to decide to cut all ties with everything you have
ever been taught to believe is not only important, but necessary, in order to make your work communicable, is extremely liberating, and terrifying, but mostly liberating. Technically it was very difficult though because I then had to invent my own conventions and work out how to stick to them. Shelf Unbound: I’ve read that it took you nine years to find a publisher for this book, which last year won the Goldsmith Prize and recently won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. What do you think it says about the state of publishing today that publishers were reluctant to take a chance on it?
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McBride: Obviously the experience of being unpublished for nine years was hugely dispiriting for me personally and all the more so because I very quickly realised that the problem was far greater than mine. Somewhere along the line— doubtless in pursuit of greater profit margins—publishers decided to stop taking chances on writers, which means they also stopped believing in readers and their desire for work which examines aspects of life that cannot reasonably be explored within the confines of a 350 page whodunnit. It seems to me that many publishers have forgotten that the intrinsic nature of the reader is to be adventurous, interested and open to being engaged by different forms.
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014
Shelf Unbound: One thing I love about this book is that it requires the reader to float along in a state of incomprehension that then develops into partial comprehension and then into complete comprehension, if not of every moment but of the story as a whole. Were you concerned at any point that readers would struggle with it? McBride: I was always aware that I was making a big ask of readers. I knew, chances were, when they opened the first page and saw all those short, oddly punctuated sentences, it might alarm them a little. But, communicating the story was always central to my plan so I knew that, if I did my job properly, readers who were
willing to go through that period of adjustment to the style would hopefully find a compelling story there to make their initial extra effort seem worthwhile. Shelf Unbound: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is your debut novel. Will your next one be in a similar style or perhaps more traditional? Or do you plan a whole other form of invention? McBride: I’m still interested in language and what it can be cajoled into doing, so I won’t be returning to the traditional any time soon. That said, I built the language of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing around that particular story and next time I’ll do the same, which means it will be different again.
Quirky, inventive characters populate John Brandon’s first short story collection, from a down-on-his-luck former high school football star to a little league player obsessed with entrepreneurship. Each of the 11 stories is a winner.
Further Joy by John Brandon 132 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014
Shelf Unbound: You’ve written three novels, and this is your first collection of short stories. What does the short story afford you as a writer that a novel does not? John Brandon: Stories are harder in so many ways. In a story, you have to get somewhere that feels meaningful, or at least pointedly and thoroughly imagined, in such a short distance. You have to do a magic trick, sort of, one that hasn’t been done before, you hope. Every word counts. You have to think like a poet—every image is either helping the cause or it has to go. There’s more pressure than when you sit down to work on your novel. In a novel, there’s
no rush. It’s enough to keep figuring out what happens next. Magic isn’t really required— just a lot of work. What the short form does afford you is a space to do things that would be tedious over hundreds of pages. Certain types of comedy. Dizzying sweet little trips like, say, Barthelme did. Or in the case of my collection, I felt more comfortable using odd points of view. I’ve got third and first person plural in there. Shelf Unbound: What’s your process for finding and then developing your characters, like Little Leaguer Marky Sessions, obsessed with getting his entrepreneurial ideas into play?
Brandon: No method. Catch as catch can. Marky was a very minor character in a failed novel I wrote in grad school. A couple years after I’d put the thing in a drawer and left it behind, I found myself thinking about Marky. I write a lot of dark characters and dark situations, so it was refreshing to write a kid like Marky, to imagine noble motivations for him. Toby, the main character in my novel Citrus County, is the opposite of Marky—he’s a prodigy at evil. I don’t think I could’ve written a novel about Marky, because he’s too good, but I thought it might be interesting to follow him around for a day. Maybe that’s another thing the short story affords you—the chance to be upbeat.
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Shelf Unbound: Your characters are mostly struggling through life on their own, one or two steps away from something really bad happening. Is that a theme you developed consciously, or is that just where these stories ended up going? Brandon: That’s just where they ended up. They were written over a span of fifteen years, and I didn’t have a collection in mind while I was writing any of them. I tend to write about people with money problems. People with talents they can’t profit from. It’s not a conscious choice, but I think all writers have territory they’re comfortable on, and they gravitate toward it.
DEBUT: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014
Shelf Unbound: I particularly love your approach to the title story, referring to the characters as either “the girls” or “the fathers” in a seemingly detached manner: “One of the fathers followed a Mexican soap opera. The women were huge-eyed and single-minded, and the story would never end. It would outlive the father and maybe even his daughter.” But layer upon layer these snippets build on each other and develop into an emotionally deep story. How did your approach to “Further Joy” come about? Brandon: That story started as notes for something longer—
maybe a novella, I was thinking. It was going to be about this gaggle of high school girls, and I sat and wrote down anything I could about their lives. Then I got distracted from the project for a while, as will happen. When I pulled the notes back out a year later or something, my wife happened to be pregnant with our first child. She didn’t want to find out whether it was a boy or a girl, and I was secretly terrified at having a girl. So with that in my blood, the notes took on an edge, and I liked the way it sounded if I read straight through all these snippets. Next thing I knew, I had the first half of the story. Then the fathers followed naturally from that.
Dorthe Norsâ€™ collection of concise, sharply observed short stories delve into human connections both beautiful and disturbing. Each story here is a masterpiece of writing.
Graywolf Press graywolfpress.org
Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken 136 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014
Photography: Simon Klein Knudsen
Shelf Unbound: You are able to condense a novel’s worth of story and character development into your short stories. You’ve also written five novels. How do you approach writing a short story, as opposed to a novel. Dorthe Nors: I don’t plan my writing. It is as if the writing emerges from within. That goes for both my novels and my short stories. The difference is, though, that you have to control the story line of the novel for a larger span of time. You go back and forth on themes, characters, composition and so forth. The short story is more like singing. I truly feel like I’m singing a song, when I write a short story: The voice has to be strong. I have to stay with the theme. I cannot be lazy at any point. Every note counts — and I prefer to write my stories in one take; that is — most of the structure is written in one attempt. Afterwards I adjust — but the singing (the writing) itself happens pretty quickly and
without interruptions. Novels are in comparison oh so different to write. Shelf Unbound: Is there anything about the Danish language that is difficult to evoke in an English translation? Nors: I do think the kind of Danish I write in is pretty transferable into the English. I come from the part of Denmark that is called Jutland, and a lot of the Jutlandic dialect is related to English. But Danish only has 250,000 words. English has double that amount at least. That means that in Danish many words mean the same thing, and they change their meaning when they change their context. For instance “Kantslag” (the original Danish title for “Karate Chop”) means four different things in Danish. It means “karate chop,” but it’s also the word for “rimshot,” and for the chinks that you sometimes find on old china. On top of that it can also mean “the battle you undergo while being on the edge.” That’s of course
hard to translate into the English. But that’s also a wonderful thing about my obscure little language — that it has all these double meanings. It’s also one of the reasons why the Danes are so incredibly ironic as a people. We say one thing. But we mean another. Shelf Unbound: You seamlessly transition from mundane to fantastical and back. For instance, the girl licking envelopes with her brother at their father’s office, who then manically imagines disturbing scenarios of the men the letters are addressed to. The segment ends with: “She wanted to shake the man and ask if he had a car. Because if he had a car she wanted him to take her home. She didn’t want to be there anymore. She wanted to go home to her mother, but she couldn’t, because this man, who was nothing but a name on an envelope, had stuck to
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her …” The brother becomes alarmed, “and at that moment Louise remembers saying she didn’t care for the adhesive.” And then back to the mundane. When writing such scenes, do you start with the mundane or the fantastical? Nors: Almost all of these stories are written from one end to the other. That is, in one take. Some of the stories have been created in a slightly different way, though. In a few of them I have had two interesting fragments that I for the fun of it have tried to put together to see what would happen. That is NOT the case with “Do You Know Jussi?” though. That story was written from one end to the other. But it’s not that mysterious. Our minds often start out in the mundane and then we drift into the realms of the subconscious and then we return to reality and so forth. I remember having licked envelopes when I was 10 (in a completely different context than the one described in the story).
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014
But what I remembered was looking at the envelopes and feeling estranged from the names on them. I took that memory and used it in a completely different scenario. But I did it without planning it. It just happened. Shelf Unbound: Your first sentences are particularly masterful: “The Bangs work a lot and never shop for groceries themselves.” “It’s a year now since Allan moved out, and we had no children, though both of us were able.” “She started frequenting cemeteries that summer, preferring the ones others rarely visited.” How do you craft these intriguing first sentences? Nors: Thank you so much. I’m really thrilled that you like my first sentences. They are very important. In a short story (and even more in short-shorts) you don’t have an entire chapter to frame the scene. It has to happen in one sentence — and I don’t plan them. I don’t know why
this works for me, but I do think precision, accuracy and being to the point is the essence of good story writing and I also think you can’t construct your way through it. Again, it just happens. It emerges. It’s singing. It’s notes. If it sounds well — I let it stay there. Shelf Unbound: Did you work with the translator Martin Aitken on the book’s translation? Nors: Martin Aitken would translate these stories without my interference. Afterwards there would be small things that needed adjustment, but all in all the translation was done by him. I think he did a very good job on these stories. My novella “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space,” which has been bought by Graywolf Press along side my novella “Days,” was translated by American writer and translator Misha Hoekstra. We work closely together. Misha has the final call but I’m participating and it’s so much fun.
A new publishing house, Deep Vellum in Dallas, Texas, launches big with Texas: The Great Theft by one of Mexicoâ€™s preeminent writers.
Deep Vellum Publishing deepvellum.org
Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee 140 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R
DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014
Shelf Unbound: The story takes place in 1859 in the fictitious Texas-Mexico border town of Bruneville. What interested you in this time and place? Carmen Boullosa: I got to that date and place by sheer chance —it was a gift. A name called my attention, Juan Nepomuceno Cortina (an uncle, a cousin and a nephew of my father were Juan Nepomuceno Cortina). I started digging around about him, found two great biographies (one small and charming, a second one thorough and comprehensive), and I got hooked, not by Juan Nepomuceno so much as by Texas, his Texas, and how it ran in Mexican imagination. I chose a passage of Nepomuceno’s life, a small incident that triggered layers of events—among them the Cortina’s Troubles, the Mexican invasions into the American territory. I wasn´t after fiction but wanted to capture the legendary Mexican Texas. What interested me was to realize that Cortina, who had been so important, had vanished from Mexican memory.
How could it be? I wanted him back, and used the Ouija Board to invite him. The board worked. Shelf Unbound: You develop the story by detailing the reactions of a multitude of characters to the sheriff calling Don Nepomuceno a “dirty greaser.” I love the way you structured this story—how did you arrive at this approach? Boullosa: My real character was that place—a dated Texas. Its face was the prairie, and its voice a corrido, a ballad. I had to follow the logic of a geographical space, as I pictured the prairie; more of the same, but the same always different. Plus I wanted its voice, a voice that was constructed as a corrido— repetitive and sweetly obsessive, a tough combination. It was also like building a clock´s machinery. I gave myself a challenge: It had to be ample, like a prairie, and it had to be tight as the clock´s machinery. Because I wanted that Texas to have a soul, psychology,
personality, and psyche like that: ample today’s border situation? and tight. The clock-machinery form Boullosa: They would pretend suited me to build Texas´ persona. they do not live on the border. They would turn their backs to the facts Shelf Unbound: In this novel I and pretend to ignore the violence was particularly moved by the and death ruling the south. But they plight of Eleonor, the mail-order would enter the business and no bride of abusive Minister Fear, doubt profit from the revenues of all who is so trapped that she wants the illegal merchandize (arms, drugs, to die. What is the purpose of this humans) and help it grow. character in the overall story? Boullosa: Luckily, Eleonor Shelf Unbound: Robert Bolaño escaped my agenda. I wanted the has called you “Mexico’s characters to be part of my tight greatest woman writer.” machinery, gears to my service. Does it bother you at all to be Eleonor wanted to be a real person. categorized as a “woman writer” As did Magdalena. The girls had rather than just a “writer”? more heart and resisted more my Boullosa: Well, I´m not sure I clockmaker tools—not all but am a woman writer. Sometimes I some did. Maybe because as it´s a am, sometimes I´m more of a male cowboy story, and girls are not the writer. But men have no remedy ideal protagonists (though hell they (“los hombres no tienen remedio”). wanted it!), and when they are able A girl is a girl is a girl. Now I might to fit in, and make that hostile world be approaching “de-girlization”, their own, they are worth the trip. because old age might really make me neutral to others’ eyes (not to Shelf Unbound: What do mine! I feel more woman and more you think the residents of male than ever). Maybe then I won´t Bruneville would make of be a woman writer, but a writer.
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DEBUT: OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014
Make Andy a part of your childrenâ€™ s book Collection!
9 780578 138473
9 780578 138473
A new collection of short stories from the co-producer of Book of Mormon
Grove Atlantic groveatlantic.com
White Manâ€™s Problems by Kevin Morris
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DEBUT: FEBRUARY/MARCH 2015
Shelf Unbound: You’re a highly successful Hollywood entertainment attorney, and you won a Tony for coproducing Book of Mormon. Why add writing to the mix at this point in your career? Kevin Morris: I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but have come to it the long way. When I graduated from college, 30 years ago, I made a conscious choice to go to law school to earn a living. I promised myself I would eventually return to writing fiction. Good fortune led me to Los Angeles, and entertainment law and producing have been a terrific way to practice and stay involved with art and the creative process. Though I’ve written non-fiction— articles, book reviews, opinion pieces—finally the time came where I decided I had to dedicate myself to telling stories. That’s what I have been doing for the past five years, at least two full days a week, and beyond that as much as time, representing my clients, and being a dad will permit.
Shelf Unbound: Your father was a refinery worker, and a theme in some of these stories is respect for the capable doers of your parents’ generation compared with today’s hightech button pushers. In “Summer Farmer,” a depressed wealthy movie producer talks about riding the service elevator with “the working guys, the electricians, caulkers, framers and the like. Seeing them made him think of his dad and his uncles, who carried pressure gauges and tape measures and had specks of drywall in the hairs of their forearms at the end of the day.” In “Mulligans Travels,” Jim Mulligan—50 and struggling to make his next big tech deal— accidentally runs over his dog, which then becomes wedged under the rear axle, and Jim struggles ineptly to get the jack to work in time to save him. Are you nostalgic for pre-tech times and a real hard day’s work?
Morris: Not so much. It’s more that I am interested in the American Dream as it exists in today’s world and the relationship that men have with success. The way we live is changing rapidly and success is constantly shape-shifting. We’re busy trying to define it, deal with it, not get jealous about others who have it, what have you. And when we think we have achieved it, we worry that we are deluded or have redefined success just to make ourselves happy. At least the people and characters who interest me do. Stridently successful people without any doubt are pretty one-dimensional. There’s also a technical reason for upper mobility in the characters. Taking someone from poor to rich is a useful vehicle—it adds a layer of alienation and complication to a person’s story. We chase money so much in American life that we risk looking up only after it is too late. I’m hardly the first to observe that. And the over-achievers are especially prone to it.
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But, I’m more interested in the pressure not to let life pass you by before it passes you by, and the conundrum that puts my characters in. That’s Jim Mulligan and Eliot Stevens and John Collier from “Rain Comes Down,” even though it’s now too late for him. Is that a white man’s problem exclusively? In some ways, but mainly I think it’s a modern human problem. Shelf Unbound: Many of your characters, despite being privileged, are in a mid-life malaise—depressed, divorced, dissatisfied. You recently turned 50 (as did I)—is there an autobiographical element in these stories? Morris: It’s not on-the-nose autobiographical. More a sense of memory and an attempt to make something creative out of my life experience. The guys I write about share a sort of alienation as they get older. They’ve been hard workers and “succeeded” by society’s standards, but they can’t help feeling
DEBUT: FEBRUARY/MARCH 2015
like they should be happier. So, like Henry, the dog on the cover, you can’t tell if the characters are tough and ready to fight, or about to be run over. (The sadness in Henry’s eyes may be a hint.)
to worry about failing their boss or their family. They don’t have to worry about the responsibilities and fears that come with being a grown-up, a parent, a spouse.
Shelf Unbound: You selfShelf Unbound: A rare exuberant published White Man’s moment in these stories is in Problems in 2014, and then “The Plot to Hold Hands with it was picked up by Grove/ Elizabeth Tremblay,” which ends Atlantic. Why did you initially with high school student Roman choose to self-publish? Budding having indeed just held Morris: The first book I wrote, hands with Liz: “I think about a novel, received good feedback her sweater and her lips. I still in terms of its literary merits but smell her. I start to run. Slowly editors thought it was too hard to at first, kind of a home-run trot. categorize so, ultimately, I couldn’t Then I go faster. Then faster find a traditional publisher. It was still. All the way home.” Do you discouraging but I continued to think that kind of unfettered write. I found myself writing stories, exuberance is only for the young? and after a year had a collection of Morris: They sure seem to be nine that I thought would make a able to access it more easily. When good book. I didn’t even consider we’re young we’re so hyper aware of submitting it to a publisher, knowing ourselves—self-conscious, but also how difficult it is to publish story much more willing to take chances collections. I knew digital publishing and live on the edge. It’s easier for was becoming easier and selfthe young to feel unfettered because publishing more acceptable so I decided to go for it. they are unfettered. They don’t have
Coffee House Press | coffeehousepress.org
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DEBUT: FEBRUARY/MARCH 2015
Photography: Sopie Calle
shelfunbound What’s a typical starting point for you in writing a story, for example Felicia and David visiting a college friend in New York City, and David’s unease with the friend’s homosexual roommate in “The Big Apple”? daleherd There never is a typical starting point. In this particular story the starting point occurred some years later after the time in which the story is set when the writer’s wife remarked that she was the only woman who ever slept with this man the writer knew. shelfunbound How do you develop your characters, such as the psychic music composer whose daughter is on trial for murder? daleherd You meet them on the street, and you listen. shelfunbound Do you have a favorite story in this book? daleherd There are no favorites. Each one when you start it you hope will be your favorite and the best one you’ve ever written. Some reach farther than you thought possible when you started, and you find you have had the luck to reach the real story inside of the story you thought you were telling. The Prowler is an example of that, but is no more my favorite than are Rawlins, Captain Baa Baa, Eric, Welfare, Blood, Speed Limit or Beauty, etc. etc. etc. shelfunbound How do you find the entry point for your short stories, such as the first line of “Darlene”: “She wanted a bond, not a ring.” daleherd You try to cut to the most salient fact about one of your characters, specifically their emotional core, then let the story unfold from there. shelfunbound A short story is like daleherd As a metaphor? A good short story is a metaphor, a novel distilled down to bedrock. As a simile? A good short story is like an animal running: spontaneous, graceful, and seeming to fly while never losing contact with the ground.
snapshots shelfunbound What is the appeal for you of writing short stories? daleherd The fun of it, the pleasure of it, the desire to see what you can come up with in the shortest amount of space. Often you can’t, and so you go on and on and on, like this sentence, and more often than not you have a bad novella or worse, a bad novel, that no one wants to publish, let alone read. shelfunbound If you were teaching a course on short story writing, what is the primary piece of advice you would offer? daleherd You must have the good fortune to find yourself working in a menial job washing dishes and living in a rooming house for three months where you read every single story written by the thirty best short story writers you know. Then copy out in longhand the ones you most admire, slowing your mind down, learning how the past masters have constructed their story. You will learn how high the bar has been set. shelfunbound What’s a favorite book you read in 2014? daleherd The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Collected Stories of Issac Babel. shelfunbound Any books you’re particularly looking forward to in 2015? daleherd The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette, From Here to Eternity, The Alexandria Quartet, and The Sun Also Rises.
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“Eric” She had a k id asleep in the bedroom. I asked her if she wanted to ball and she said yes. She got her gun six times. I told her I was selling my car and all my belong ings and buying a sailboat and sailing to Australia. I said she could go but she’d have to pay. How much she said. A dollar thirt ys even I said. She said not bad. Then she said how much for Eric. I said ten thousand dollars.
In 1977 this 68 year old Grandmother from small town America took the art world by storm with her Blind Contour drawings. Much is known about Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton’s miraculous recovery from decades long depression through the compelling directness of blind contour drawing. But what is not known is what came before. This book, written mostly by Elizabeth herself, will take you on that journey. Buttons, November 22, 1982
“Her strength is in her principles.” —Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton
SIGNS ALONG THE WAY This true story has it all: intrigue, romance, comedy, tragedy, and medical and psychological breakthroughs. It is a story about an extraordinary woman struggling to live an ordinary life, until destiny intervened and urged Elizabeth Layton to begin a wondrous healing journey. A happy ending for sure, but oh what a journey to that end! This 360-page, soft cover, full-color memoir/biography is filled with photographs and drawings that illustrate Elizabeth’s life story—most of which is in her own words (printed in green, the color of her beautiful eyes). This book is co-authored by Elizabeth’s grandaughters; The Russell Sisters, Carla, Kathy & Judy Kay.
Soft Skull Press | softskull.com
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shelfunbound What’s a typical starting point for you in writing a story, for example the troubled little Annabelle with a neglectful mother and a lecherous grandfather in this book’s first story? kimaddonizio I often just start with an image that sticks in my head; in this case it was a little girl and a goldfish. Honestly, I don’t know where that came from. And I never know where a story is going. I feel my way along, asking questions: who is this character? What’s her life like? In the case of “Beautiful Lady of the Snow,” a lot of things changed in revision. The grandfather, for example, started out as a grandmother. I based her loosely on my aunt, who had been a large, clumsy woman. The significant changes came about when I began not just to describe my main character, little Annabelle, but to see the world from her point of view. Then I realized she must have a reason for this odd and kind of awful thing of having her pets die under her care. It’s as though I had to uncover her real story, what made her tick. I have to stop willfully writing the characters at some point. Nabokov said his characters were his “galley slaves,” but the point of greatest excitement, for me, is when they revolt and break their shackles. shelfunbound How do you develop your characters, such as the woman following a blog chronicling her ex-husband’s recovery from a bike accident in “In the Time of the Byzantine Empire”? kimaddonizio This one was somewhat autobiographical, in that my ex-husband did have a very serious bike accident he was lucky to survive. Writing that story was a way for me to work through some of my own grief over his situation. I still had to find the story, though, and that meant the woman wasn’t me, but a character in a similar situation. My daughter was upset by that story because she felt it represented my true feelings. What I did was take a very fleeting, passing emotion and amplify it so that it seemed the central character’s main concern. It’s like having a bad day and feeling a little blue, then writing a story about suicide. You’re not even close to wanting to kill yourself, but a mood may give you a little glimpse, and you work with that to discover more.
shelfunbound Do you have a favorite story in this book, and if so which one and why? kimaddonizio “Cancer Poems” was written in large part to honor a student and friend of mine who died. When she was dying, I read her the poetry of Jack Gilbert. I also wanted to explore what poetry can mean in the face of death. I loved inventing the teacher, Lily Yee, and exploring the dynamics of a poetry workshop. It’s both absurd and moving, what can happen in these classes. shelfunbound How do you find the entry point for your short stories, such as the first line of “Blown”: “You’re having breakfast with a boy you slept with last night but don’t know very well.” kimaddonizio I think that started with wanting to write about the weird glassware in that diner—drinking tea out of naked women’s bodies! Sometimes there’s one little thing you just have to describe, and you build an entire story around that. Also, I try for first lines that can create a lot of tension right away. The story “Ice” begins with an actual dream I had, and I knew it would make a good opening: “Last night I dreamed I killed my brother. With an ax.” As a reader, I confess I like instant gratification. If a first paragraph doesn’t grab me, I move on. So I try to write openings that will do the same to readers—make them curious or uncomfortable, and lure them in to the world of the story. shelfunbound A short story is like kimaddonizio …getting lost in a dark woods where demons and fairies lurk and stones may turn into bread, or vice-versa. At the end there is a small shaft of light through a break in the leaf canopy. Possibly you’re still lost.
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shelfunbound What is the appeal for you of writing short stories? kimaddonizio There’s great freedom, for me, in fiction. I write non-fiction as well—I have a memoir, Bukowski in a Sundress, coming out next year—and it can feel limiting having only myself and my experience to write about. The short story is an opportunity not only to invent, but also to get quickly to the heart of the matter, find something meaningful there, and move on. shelfunbound If you were teaching a course on short story writing, what is the primary piece of advice you would offer? kimaddonizio If it’s just one piece of advice, like one piece of pie, it would consist of at least two ingredients: honesty and ruthlessness. Honesty in that you have to confront the truth of the subject and not write around it—the only way out is through. Ruthlessness: be willing to destroy what you’ve done and recreate it from the ground up, if need be. Ice cream with that? shelfunbound What’s a favorite book you read in 2014? kimaddonizio Jo Ann Beard’s The Boys of My Youth, which I just discovered—gorgeous essays that read like short stories. And if I can have a second, I also loved poet Sarah Manguso’s memoir of her autoimmune disorder, The Two Kinds of Decay. shelfunbound Any books you’re particularly looking forward to in 2015? kimaddonizio Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering: New and Selected Essays, is just out and I’m dying to read it. I fell in love with him as a short story writer, and never realized he wrote essays. I’m still working on some essays of my own; when it’s time for a change I’ll go back to reading, and writing in, other forms.
Counterpoint Press | counterpointpress.com
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shelfunbound What’s a typical starting point for you in writing a story, for example unhappy thirty-something Anna Green, who survives a shooting at her high school reunion only to be defrauded by her first boyfriend? karenebender For me, a story is the collision of something in real life that interests me, and my desire to figure a feeling out. In “Reunion,” I wanted to write about a high school reunion, perhaps because I had been to two of my own, and found them so enormously odd and moving; every ten years, a group of people come together, because they share this incredibly deep bond: they grew up together. I loved it because it was such a unique American ritual, a strange way to measure time. The shooting became part of the story partly because I think fear of random shootings is now, unfortunately, part of the American psyche; it’s something that I believe we all carry, in some way, with us. It came into this particular story, perhaps, because it was a literal way of dramatizing the sense of mortality one feels at high school reunions. The boyfriend, Warren Vance, walked into the story and started talking and wouldn’t stop. He was the past, and seductive because he was the past, and he defrauded Anna because our conceptions of the past are sometimes a way of defrauding our sense of the present. That was what I learned from the story, and I had no idea that it would lead me there. I started with the balloons and the spangled light and that was where I ended up. shelfunbound How do you develop your characters, such as the girl whose younger sister has a “bad hand” in “Refund”? karenebender Each character introduces his/herself in different ways. That story began with the first line: “I loved helping my sister Betsy hide her bad hand.” I wrote it one day and then thought—who is this? Why is her hand “bad?” and I began to write scenes trying to learn about her. Then, by describing the older sister hiding the younger sister’s “bad hand” with a tube top, I learned more about the relationship between the sisters.
Each character is a form of theater for the writer. Every day, when I sit down to write, I become a sort of actor. I think, what would this person on the page think or say? It is the freedom to create a persona that is not my own. The character may have thoughts and ideas that are very different from my own, or I can take something from my own thinking and exaggerate it in a dramatic way. Creating a character is both a way of escaping from yourself, and simultaneously deeply inhabiting yourself; both hovering and diving. shelfunbound All of the stories in this book have to do with money—what interested you in this theme? karenebender I didn’t consciously chose money as a theme in the stories. I wrote these stories through two recessions—in 2002 and 2008, and financial struggle and all the emotions that that entails, was active in my mind. I also wrote these stories while my husband (Robert Anthony Siegel, also a writer) and I raised our children and taught and wrote, which is essentially a crazy juggling act of money and time, so issues of money are always prominent. During this time, income inequality was increasing in our country, and jobs more unstable; fear and frustration and envy about money have increased, I think, in recent years, and it has made me consider—how do we deal with this uncertainty and how do we define worth? shelfunbound How do you find the entry point for your short stories, such as the first line of “The Loan Officer’s Visit”: “For the first sixteen years of my life, my father was a vigorous man.” karenebender I tell students that a story should pose a question to the reader. The act of reading is, at its most basic, one of answering questions—and your opening should create a question that creates an urgency, a desire to read on. When a reader reads one of your sentences, the response should be, yes, to the language, the perceptions, but also, more basically—“and then what?”
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shelfunbound A short story is like … karenebender … a door into another person. shelfunbound What is the appeal for you of writing short stories? karenebender As someone who has written both novels and short stories, the true and perhaps embarrassing answer is: they are short. For me, novels require ox-like determination and patience over years. They are like running a marathon. Stories require the same diligence and patience, of course, but, well, they are shorter. It’s easier for me to try different characters out, different techniques or voices in a story. The relative brevity of the length is calming for me. For me, when I am writing a novel I feel like a Writer, (capitalized) which can feel like pressure, and when I am writing a story, I feel like a writer, (not capitalized) which sometimes makes me feel freer. I think that aiming to write as a writer instead of a Writer is generally healthier and makes the process more fun. shelfunbound If you were teaching a course on short story writing, what is the primary piece of advice you would offer? karenebender Ha! If I teach any course on writing, I say: Patience is what makes a great writer. Good writing happens over drafts. Let the story get better. Don’t be afraid to throw out. There’s more good stuff inside you. shelfunbound What’s a favorite book you read in 2014? karenebender I can’t list just one. Eileen Chang’s collection of novellas and stories “Love in a Fallen City,” translated by Karen Kingsbury, has prose that is just extraordinarily beautiful, about love and longing in Hong Kong and Shanghai post World War II; “Archangel” by Andrea Barrett weaves science and human relationships with incredible metaphors; “Rainey Royal” by Dylan Landis is a completely riveting exploration of adolescent girls in New York City in the 1970s.
Sarah Gerardâ€™s voice is intense and lyrical, her story of an anorexic young woman and her alcoholic boyfriend gripping and heartbreaking.
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Two Dollar Radio twodollarradio.com
Shelf Unbound: Your main character says, “A binary star is a system containing two stars that orbit their common center of mass.” In this case, the anorexic/bulimic unnamed main character and her alcoholic boyfriend are orbiting their addictions. You use the solar system as a metaphor throughout the novel—how did that idea come about? Sarah Gerard: I started reading about stars when I was writing an essay for BOMB Magazine about Charles Yu’s novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Originally, black holes interested me—how they warp space time, how objects crossing the event horizon change in shape and appearance. Then I learned that black holes are often unseen binary companions, and this led me to reading about binary stars, and stars in general. I’ve also always loved science fiction, especially sci-fi movies, and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. Writing a novel set at least partially in outer space, even if figuratively, felt natural.
Shelf Unbound: Your 2012 essay in the New York Times, “On Hunger,” candidly details your own struggles with anorexia and bulimia. Why did you choose fiction over memoir to tell your story in Binary Star? Gerard: I was drawing heavily from a particular period of my life but didn’t necessarily want the responsibility of a memoir; I felt that I should save others from possible embarrassment and, for my own sake, also give myself the freedom to fictionalize. I wrote the bulk of Binary Star very quickly—in about four weeks—so researching my own life was not really an option. I was much more interested in reading about stars than reading old journals and digging up details of my past. I also found it much easier to write the story as someone other than myself. This is not my story, but the narrator’s. Shelf Unbound: The main character is obsessed with physical beauty and is constantly comparing her body
to those she sees in celebrity magazines. You describe yourself doing the same thing in the NYT piece. What triggers this kind of obsession? Gerard: Speaking for myself, I wanted to be everything I felt that they were and I wasn’t: beautiful, affluent, admired. In short, happy. Shelf Unbound: I was moved by the end of your NYT essay: “I was going to be a writer, and writing was more important than being beautiful. Rather, I found, being beautiful was writing.” Was writing Binary Star cathartic for you, and are you truly able today to see your own beauty? Gerard: I don’t think much today about whether or not I’m beautiful in the physical sense; I’m much more concerned with being a good person by my own measure. I haven’t owned a full-length mirror or a scale since I began my recovery, and I have a completely different beauty regimen than I used to—now it’s basically
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nonexistent. I brush my teeth and my hair, and that’s it. I rarely go shopping for clothes. I don’t neglect myself; I feel good the way I am. This isn’t only a result of writing the novel, though. This is years of hard work and support from people who love me. Shelf Unbound: Unlike you, your main character fails to move on from or recover from her eating disorders. Why did you choose to give her life a different trajectory than your own? Gerard: Well, I actually don’t know whether or not she recovers. The story ends on a rather bleak note, but who knows what happens after that? To answer your question about trajectory, though: 1 in 5 people suffering from anorexia die from the disease. And though I think it’s valuable to write accounts of anorexia that end well, I think it’s equally valuable to write books that speak to the real suffering of an anorexic person and accurately portray the possible outcome if someone doesn’t seek help.
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Just long-listed for the prestigious Baileys Womenâ€™s Prize for Fiction, Newmanâ€™s novel is an inventive wonder.
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Shelf Unbound: You’ve written an extraordinarily literary dystopian novel. What drew you to a dystopian theme? Sandra Newman: Well, technically, The Country of Ice Cream Star isn’t a dystopian novel. There is no one government in it, and thus no opportunity for a truly dystopian situation to develop. I mean, if you can just walk out and go to a society you like better, it’s not much of a dystopia. There are a lot of features that my book shares with popular dystopias like The Hunger Games. It’s an adventure story that takes place in a forbidding world, with a heroine who fights a war against all odds. But that war isn’t a rebellion, and in fact, Ice Cream Star grows up in a little clan that lives in almost perfect anarchy. Of course, my book isn’t alone in being classified as a dystopia when it really isn’t. Any post-apocalyptic novel is now often called dystopian, even if it takes place in a world without any governments at all. As far as the post-apocalyptic
setting goes, I’ve been drawn to post-apocalyptic stories since I was a child. The end of the world as we know it, however depressing, also involves a certain awe. Postapocalyptic settings are also calculated to appeal to anyone who finds contemporary life a little suffocating. They’re for everyone who dreamed as a child about running away from home. Shelf Unbound: You invented a language/dialect in which to tell this story. How did you create this language, and was it constraining to write in it? Newman: When I invented the language, I was trying to imagine how English might change if left in the hands of teenagers and children, without any schools or mass media as a homogenizing influence, for generations. So I started by thinking about the kind of informal language teenagers use now. That led me to African-American Vernacular English, because it struck me (this is all in the first minute I was
considering the problem) that a lot of teen slang comes from AAVE, even among non-black kids. And there’s just something about AAVE that seems more vital and poetic to me than other versions of 21st century teenspeak do. From this point, I just started writing the language. It ended up drawing on a lot of other models that happened to be knocking around in my brain—I studied Russian at university, for instance, and patterns and idioms from Russian kept cropping up—but the process of creating it was mostly the same as the process of writing it. It came incredibly quickly and naturally, as if there was an Invented Dialect Generator in my brain that had been lying disused all these years. Writing in it was very timeconsuming at first, but it was never constraining. Really, I’d say it was liberating. It gave me the freedom to use poetic language without it seeming like the author doing an interpretive dance. So Ice Cream
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could use the phrase “before the sun be woken” to mean the hour before daybreak, and it would be clear it was just meant to be a common expression of her people. When I try to go back to writing in contemporary English, it feels constraining now, because you can’t just invent new words and expressions; you have to work within the boundaries of the English you’ve been given. Shelf Unbound: I like that Ice Cream Star is much more empowered than the typical pop culture female dystopian main character; she carries and uses a rifle, she smokes, she has sex, she chooses bravery rather than having it forced on her. How did her character emerge for you? Newman: Some of her character is just how I imagine teenagers would be in the absence of adults. Clearly they would all smoke and drink. They would ride horses at a gallop and burn down houses. They would
absolutely have sex—in fact, they would have to have sex at an early age in order for the human race to survive. But I’d also conceived Ice Cream as a hero. I’ve been interested for years in the existence of real heroes —people who are capable of pulling history in a different direction. I’d initially thought of her as Genghis Khan, but good. That is, she’s a child growing up in the tiniest, most impoverished community of her time and place, who manages to become a world leader through sheer courage and brilliance. Of course, apart from not being sociopathic, she’s also different from Genghis Khan in that she’s a girl. But she’s never aware of this as a limitation. She’s aware of being physically small, she’s aware of herself as a potential target of sexual violence, but because she has a heroic personality, she doesn’t conceive of these facts as fundamental limitations. Sometimes they become a problem, so she solves them however she can.
Shelf Unbound: The story takes place in a future America, yet there are still racial divides and homosexuality is, in some factions, still considered taboo. Why did you choose to bring these elements into the story, and do they reflect a pessimism on your part about America ever having real social justice and equality? Newman: Actually, in my future America there aren’t any racial divides, per se, because there’s only one race. When they appear, white people are invaders from another country, so naturally they aren’t very welcome. It’s not about their skin color; it’s about the fact that they’re murdering people and taking slaves. There is some racial prejudice in Marias city, but it’s only very distantly related to racism as we know it. So really the novel doesn’t express an opinion on whether America could ever have real social justice. For the record, I’m a great optimist on this issue, and I think that (assuming we can avoid any apocalyptic
breakdowns) it’s completely possible to achieve social justice. As far as the homosexuality goes, I was mainly trying to be realistic. I don’t find it possible to write a novel without any gay characters, because it just doesn’t correspond to any world I know. In the context of the world of The Country of Ice Cream Star, it seemed too good to be true that there would be no homophobia at all. Shelf Unbound: To what do you attribute the current popularity of dystopian fiction? Newman: We live in a world that’s very regimented. From an early age, we’re herded into schools where we’re told what to do at every hour. Then we get jobs where we continue to obey orders through the day, at the risk of losing our livelihoods. This regimentation has given us a degree of safety and wealth which is unachievable in a system where people don’t show up to work on time and obey laws. But we still can’t help feeling a little suffocated by it. In the meantime, economic
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inequality is rising throughout the developed world, so that feeling of suffocation begins to combine with a sense of injustice. And yet, we’re not at a point where violent revolution makes sense. Even if you’re working at a minimum-wage job, your life would almost certainly get dramatically worse if a civil war broke out. That doesn’t stop us from dreaming about revolution. You might believe intellectually that change has to be accomplished gradually through elections, but there is nothing fun or emotionally satisfying about that as a fantasy. In a fantasy, you take up arms against your enemies, you don’t vote against their policies. So dystopian novels magnify the oppression and injustice to a point that revolution makes sense. Then the forces of revolution are embodied in an ordinary person we can all identify with. Throw in a love triangle, and you have an unstoppable wish-fulfillment machine.
Children are gifts from God, and parenting those children can often be a difficult task. In his book “It’s Your Decision”, author Ed Grizzle shows how parenting can be successful when it’s carried out according to God’s plan. Using his life experiences as a guide, Grizzle explores the importance of making the right decisions in life—from choosing the right lifestyle and the right mate, to raising children according to what God has planned for you. As potential parents, how do you know when you are ready to have children? And, if you are ready, how do you plan for those children? Are your parents ready to become grandparents? There are so many aspects to consider when planning to bring little ones into this world. Grizzle presents a guide to strengthening lives and making your family life more enjoyable. He shows how this is possible when you accept Jesus Christ into your life; He will show you the way in the difficult times. It’s Your Decision, Parenting the Way God Intended answers many of the questions you may have about communicating openly and honestly, clarifying roles within the family, and even understanding that children will test parents!
An elderly ranching couple faces dementia and other trials in this rich, luminous and quite moving novel.
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Counterpoint Press counterpointpress.com
Shelf Unbound: You first wrote about Colorado ranchers Ben and Renny in Hell’s Bottom, Colorado, in which they were dealing with the immediate aftermath of their daughter’s murder. Stars Go Blue is set many years later, with the couple having been living estranged from each other on opposite sides of the ranch but now being brought back into proximity as Ben is suffering from Alzheimer’s. How did you decide to put the couple in this particular situation? Laura Pritchett: The characters who inhabit my books inhabit my mind as well. I can’t get rid of them. I knew I wasn’t done with Renny and Ben Cross—they simply had another story to tell. Meanwhile, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and while walking with him across the family ranch, I simply just knew that the next novel would be about a man with this disease. Thus the idea was born: Ben and Renny would have to come
together one last time, not only to deal with the effects of Alzheimer’s, but because they had to seek and find justice for their daughter’s killer (the thing that tore them apart), as well as face their own history with one another (and perhaps fall in love once again). I’m also interested in unique relationships—what do you do, for instance, when you fall out of love but you’re still running a ranch together? Why, live on opposite ends of the ranch, of course. I suppose that like all other fiction writers, I fall in love with imaginary people and then do mean things to them and watch them crawl their way out (towards wisdom and grace, in this case). Shelf Unbound: Your new novel Red Lightning, which comes out in June, is similarly a follow up with the characters you wrote about in Sky Bridge. What interests you about continuing to explore the lives of characters you’ve written about previously?
Pritchett: This makes me sound a little nutty, but I just listen. There was a woman named Tess (a character who appeared minimally in Sky Bridge) who just kept talking to me. She wanted her story told. I knew she had some things to say about redemption, about illegal immigration, about the West and its wildfires and changing landscape, and so I just sat down at my computer and started writing what it was that she wanted to say. (I’m not crazy, I swear!) Meanwhile, I became fascinated by the ways people who suffered PTSD view themselves, how specifically they disassociate, and how that could be rendered on the page. Around the same time, I was reading The Bone People by Keri Hume, and I saw how one author managed such a difficult task. All this came together in my mind as I listened to Tess yak away. To answer the question more fully: I remember reading Carol Shield’s work—she’s a Canadian writer most famous for her Pulitzer prize-winning book The Stone
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Diaries and her books are loosely connected—one character from one book shows up in another and so on. Many writers do this, of course, but the way Shields did it really expanded the understanding of the others. Each novel was a bit of an expanding universe, and the universes ran into each other and informed one another. I fell in love with that, and I’m certain that influence has been guiding me. Shelf Unbound: I cried at the end of this book, which is a rare occurrence for me as a reader. I was moved by the way you had Ben and Renny simultaneously struggling at the end – he with trying to hang onto what little mental capacity he has left and she close to freezing to death after wrecking her car in a snowstorm. But what really got me was how after those scenes, young Jess picks up as the narrator and puts an unexpected spin on the whole novel. Had you planned
all of this from the start, or did it develop as you were writing the novel? Pritchett: I suppose I should apologize for making you cry, but I’m not. I like crying when I read. Those tears are evidence of our shared humanity—that’s what art does for us, no? Connects us? But yes, I think the introduction of Jess as narrator is the wisest decision (and perhaps most risky) that I made in the writing of this novel. Jess steps in like a Shakespearean chorus, and the reader realizes she’s been present and observant and telling the story all along. When the book sold to Counterpoint, it was twice as long, and Jess and Billy narrated the last half of the book. Then my wise editor told me to chop off the last half, believing (correctly so) that the book was really meant to be short, tight, and focused. But Jess survived that cutting. As I revised, I just was taken with the strange and sure knowledge that she’d briefly narrate the ending. As is probably evident,
my writing process involves a lot of gut-level decision making. I honestly feel as if I’m just listening to my instinct. All I have to do is get quiet, pay attention, and write what I hear. Shelf Unbound: You have lived in Colorado for your whole life, I believe, and the state is a central part of most of your writing. Do you think your writing or characters would be significantly different if you lived in and intimately knew another region? Pritchett: I only moved away for a few years--long enough to realize my mistake. This place is enormously important in all my writing, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m sure that’s because place is important to me as a human being. I find my solace, my center, and my ideas while outside, engaging in the natural world. I hike or walk every day. While I’m walking, I’m writing in my head. Walking, outdoors, words, books— they’re all linked. Since my center is so tied up to place—and this place in
particular—it’s probably impossible for me to write about characters who are plunked elsewhere. I’m just not interested in writing about another locale. I doubt very much that I’ll ever write about New York, although the place is lovely. Shelf Unbound: Where does the title Stars Go Blue come from? Pritchett: Oh, I suppose several things were roiling around in my mind. One: Stars that burn blue are burning the brightest. Like Ben’s final weeks, they have a short burst of life – very intense and very bright. I was trying to capture a human soul in that very small moment of burning out, of being extinguished. Two: Water is a huge metaphor in the book, and the idea of frozen water, of the sky, of frozen chunks of stars, of the way memory freezes (and then sometimes melts, becomes fluid) all feed into the imagery of the book. But I didn’t want all this imagery static—like a memory, I wanted it to be going and moving and turning. Music is the other
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major metaphor in the book, and of course there’s that song of the same title. I’m not sure I had that on the mind so much as I did the idea of the movement of music. Who knows. Like everything else, it just came to me, and I listened. I do like it, though. It has intrigue and movement and image and color and texture.
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When Jane’s husband Jim dies suddenly, she is shocked to discover that his head has been removed by a cryogenics company. The novel follows Jane’s grief and Jim’s attempts to let go of his past life and evolve into a future life, but at its heart this smart, moving, and often funny book is a portrait of a marriage.
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by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz Farrar, Straus and Giroux us.macmillan.com
Shelf Unbound: How did you decide to write this book together, and what was your writing process? Eli Horowitz: I had worked with Chris on his amazing novel The Children’s Hospital, and we had stayed in touch since then. The basic premise of The New World was something he had been chewing on for a while, but then we let the unusual format of the novel help determine the path of the story. Shelf Unbound: This novel is kind of a hybrid—a sci-fi framework with existential themes, and a lot of humor as well. How did you come up with this combination? Horowitz: This combination was at the core from the early days, but the book’s digital origins helped bring this to the foreground. We imagined it as a single path traveled three times, a story being retold and reinterpreted. This led naturally to a range of tones and styles, because we had this
built-in prompt to view the central narrative from new angles. Shelf Unbound: Over the course of the novel, you really dig into the good and bad of this couple’s marriage. What interested you in exploring a marriage? Horowitz: I think we were particularly interested in how any relationship evolves over the course of its existence, and also beyond its existence—how you try to make sense of a relationship after the fact, a process that can feel almost like storytelling. You’re structuring a narrative, choosing what scenes to emphasize, seeking a coherent understanding—looking for a story that makes some sort of sense as you try to move forward into whatever’s next.
Shelf Unbound: The last 53 pages (in my e-book version on my phone) have the couple’s marriage vows in italic, repeated page after page and then slowly fading out. I thought this was so cool and brilliant. Where did the idea for this ending come from? Horowitz: Because the novel originally existed in a digital format, we were on the lookout for any potential tools that might be unique to that format. In this case, the way that a digital book is unconstrained by physical limitations—for example, a definitive ending—meshed well with the concerns of the story, the tension between the past and the future and the eternal present. Shelf Unbound: What did you particularly enjoy about writing together? Horowitz: From my perspective, it’s just the obvious: Chris is a tremendous writer. I don’t know of anyone else with his unique perspective of imagination
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and ambition and craft and humor and moral urgency. He’s got a crazy set of skills, obviously—writer and doctor and chaplain—and he brings all this to bear in his fiction. From his perspective...I respond pretty quickly to emails, maybe? I guess I’m honest without being entirely intolerable, and I try to integrate the concerns of the author and the reader, which can be useful for a writer as focused as Chris.
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In beautifully rendered, deeply imaginative short stories, Carol Guess and Kelly Magee mine the depths of the parenthood while also exploring gender and sexuality.
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DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2015
by Carol Guess and Kelly Magee Black Lawrence Press blacklawrence.com
Shelf Unbound: How did you decide to write this book together, and what was your writing process? Carol Guess: Kelly and I were having coffee together (we both teach at Western Washington University) when we decided to collaborate on a book manuscript. My goal in collaboration is to challenge myself, to match myself with a writer whose skills are different from mine. Kelly is very good at narrative structure. She can actually tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I’m primarily a poet, always distracted by the musicality of language, by shaping sentences in service to sound. I wanted to apprentice myself to someone who could write The Short Story. What I had to offer was my poetic sensibility, my energy, and a wild imagination. By the end of the project, Kelly was finding her poetic voice and I was excited about writing short stories. So we schooled each other. As for the actual writing process,
we worked in shifts, each writing the beginning of a story, then passing it along to the other writer to finish. We rarely edited each other’s words, but sometimes we broke story starters in half, or moved the beginning to the middle or end of a story. The trick was to create the illusion of a seamless whole. Kelly Magee: I had never collaborated on writing before this, but when Carol approached me with the idea, I was very interested. She had done several previous collaborations, so she had a good idea about what the potential pitfalls and challenges would be, which was helpful in getting started. I’d been fascinated with fairy tales for a while (and still am), so I suggested something loosely based around that. She sent me a list of more concrete suggestions, one of which was people who become pregnant with animals. I knew right away that that would be my choice. I tend to write without having any sense of where I’m headed, at least at first, and that makes my stories surprising
but often somewhat disconnected from each other. Carol is very good at conceptualizing a whole book, and I loved the idea of trying to do this particular topic from as many different angles as we could think of. It’s such a good idea that, even though the book is finished, I regularly get ideas for new ways to write about it. The shifts Carol mentioned— trading story-beginnings/endings —happened once a week, so we wrote these very fast. I found it so freeing to be able to take a story only as far as the first thrust before passing it along, and then to get a story that I needed to complete. It was a tremendously energizing way to work, and we were able to step up that already-rapid pace later on. I am naturally the kind of writer who labors over a story for weeks and months, so to be producing a couple of stories a week seemed magical and wonderful.
a lesbian giving birth to a school of fish, and all manner of other plays with gender and sexuality. What interested you in exploring these subjects? Guess: I realized after I’d finished writing With Animal that I began this project with my second novel, Switch, which was published in 1998. In that book, a butch lesbian turns into a cat purely for the thrill of experiencing transformation. I linked shape shifting to gender fluidity, implying that there’s something magical about the way humans play with gender and sexuality. Writing With Animal allowed me to continue to explore the themes of transformation and boundary crossing. I see gender and sexuality as a continuum; why shouldn’t there be a continuum of human and nonhuman animal lives as well? The book also demonstrates my impatience with the assimilationist emphasis of the contemporary American LGBT movement. I’m interested in all the radical places Shelf Unbound: You’ve got a man giving birth to a kangaroo, my imagination can go, and in the
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radical potential of sex/gender play and pleasure. Some of that has gotten lost as queers focus on marriage and military service. I wanted to write about bodies, emotions, and physical sensations. Magee: When talking about pregnancy, it’s nearly impossible to leave the body, and the gendered body, out of it, so I think that came up pretty organically. One of my personal ongoing projects is to complicate mainstream ideas about gender, sexuality, and family — probably because I come from, and have, a nontraditional family myself. But then there’s the animal world, which seems to push the line between what is possible and impossible, and transferring that to human sexuality became an intuitive part of the project. So, like, it’s not true of the animal world that the female is always the one to give birth, for example; transferring the characteristics of various animals into human terms (and vice versa) presented endless narrative possibilities. I am very much interested in
rewriting the “sexless mother” stereotype as well. I like complicated characters who want things they’re not supposed to want, and so I got inspired dreaming up unsanctioned desires for these mother/parentcharacters. I get frustrated by onesize-fits-all definitions of gender and sexuality, so I’m always most compelled by characters who are outliers, shape-shifters, and rebels. Shelf Unbound: These stories portray parenting as heartbreaking and tragic. Do you view parenting that way? Guess: That’s a tough question; thanks for asking. I had an abortion many, many years ago. It was very much my body, my choice; the right choice for me. But I felt sad at the time that I couldn’t live two lives: one life in which I was childfree and could explore my art and career to the fullest and one life in which I had a child and experienced that path. The beauty of being an artist is that when life presents me with an impossible choice—a choice I
can only make once, a choice that will change my life forever—as a writer I can live that other life, too. This is a comfort when I’m forced into a corner. So it isn’t that having children seems tragic to me, it’s that having a child represents a choice you can’t turn away from. There’s no going back. That’s what feels tragic to me. And I decided when I was still a child myself that I valued my time alone, my writing time, my independence too much to have children. But in another universe, I might. Magee: Well, the easy answer is that stories about parenting which portray it as uncomplicated and blissful aren’t as interesting; trouble (heartbreak, tragedy) makes for better plot. But in real life, I absolutely love being a mom, and I think it is great fun. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My kids gave me ideas for some of these stories. There is one about a sparrow that I wrote and wrote and couldn’t figure out how to end. So I asked my son what he would do if he had a story
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about a woman who gave birth to a bird. And he suggested the ending that I ultimately used. The hard answer is that yes, in addition to being wonderful and satisfying, of course parenting is heartbreaking and tragic. Every time your kids get their hearts broken, yours goes with it. Loving anything opens you up to heartbreak; and loving people since the time they were tiny and depended entirely upon you is a fierce and encompassing kind of love. My kids are still pretty small, but as they age I experience both the wonder and the heartbreak of watching them become independent beings, separate from me and yet still so connected that I feel their joy and their pain in my own body. One of the specific tragedies I come back to again and again in writing is the difficulty in communicating across gulfs of age, or temperament, or, in this case, species. You know what you want to teach your children, but you have no idea how to do it; or you fear you
are teaching them the wrong things; or you fear you’ll never understand them, or they you. All we have is this strange, fallible system of language, and I loved the way these stories provided a vehicle for writing about attempts, and failed attempts, to communicate among family members. Shelf Unbound: One of my favorite stories is “With Horse,” in which a woman gives birth to twin girls—one a human and one a horse. What was the starting point for that story and how did it come together? Guess: Kelly started that story and I was so excited when I read her beginning! Brilliant. I spent a lot of time thinking about what the characters wanted. Ultimately I decided that the twist had to be that the human/horse twins would compete for their mother’s attention —but that their bond as twins would trump their bond as daughters. Magee: I’m so glad you liked that
one! That was one of the earliest stories we wrote, and I was in love with the idea of extending the kind of medicalized conceptions/ births people really undergo to the possibility of animal children. My pregnancies involved medical interventions, and somehow it made the process more mysterious to me instead of less. So in that way, it seemed like a natural extension of this idea that you might be able to have twins of different species. I was also drawn to the idea of the mother feeling excluded by the child-animal bond, and how that feeling might cause her to act out. Shelf Unbound: What did you particularly enjoy about writing together? Guess: Every time I got a new story starter from Kelly over email, I felt like I was opening a present. Magee: The energy that came from the premise and the quick pace was definitely my favorite thing because it kick-started a writing habit that was in need of a kick.
Two young men’s lives diverge when one enters an MFA program and one is deployed to Iraq. Written by a poet and a military veteran, both millennials, this novel is more than a portrayal of war; it is a portrait of their generation. Read this book: It’s going to be on many a “best of ” list for 2015.
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by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite
DEBUT: JUNE/JULY 2015
Shelf Unbound: How did you decide to write this book together, and what was your writing process? Gavin Kovite: This is our first novel to be published, but not the first book we wrote together. We first met in Rome in 2004 during a study abroad program in poetry through the University of Washington. We became fast friends and, through a series of weird jokes, ended up writing a comic murder mystery based in Egypt during the excavation of the Suez Canal in the 1860s. We learned a lot about novel writing through that experience, and so when Chris came up with the initial idea for War of the Encyclopaedists in 2009, we were confident that we could write a decent book together. Christopher Robinson: We’re friends first and co-authors second, so our writing process happens mostly as a byproduct of hanging out and talking about ideas together. We came up with most of the characters, scenes, and basic plot arcs through casual chatting—we
shared an apartment in Brooklyn during the first year of writing the book. After that, I’d formalize it all in a spreadsheet and we’d divvy up chapters based on characters. We’d then edit each other’s work back and forth so many times that it’s now difficult to remember who wrote what sentence. Shelf Unbound: Your two main characters communicate with each other through occasional edits to a Wikipedia entry they created about themselves. It’s a great concept—how did you come up with that idea? Robinson: On the simplest level, the Wikipedia conceit allowed us a convenient way to switch from 3rd person to 1st person, providing tone and pacing variation for the reader and allowing the reader more intimate access to the characters as they speak with their own voices, unmediated by the narrator. Wikipedia also anchors the story in 2004, in the early years of the new millennium
(which was defined not just by the post-9/11 wars, but by the rise of social media, smartphones, and crowdsourcing). As the central symbol in the book, Wikipedia does a lot of work to set War of the Encyclopaedists in a particular moment in time and space, setting work that is complemented and completed by the highly specific details of character speech, cultural allusions, and so forth. Kovite: At that time, Wikipedia still had this start-up feel. The whole idea of an ur-reference curated by the lay public invoked both skepticism and starry-eyedness about the future of society. It was kind of like blogging—back then, it seemed like every other person had a blog (I had one, in Iraq), and blogging seemed important and new, as if every blogger could become some minor celebrity. Since then, the mass of information posted on the internet has both made the internet (and especially Wikipedia) more useful, and also made each individual content contributor more
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small-time and anonymous. Wikipedia is also a good metaphor for the proliferation of factual information in general. There seems to have been a period of time in the 20th century U.S. where there was more or less a central political and factual narrative—people could debate about what facts meant but in the main were relying on the same basic factual inputs due to the lack of alternative sources of news and information. Nowadays, people can get their information pre-filtered, though Fox or MSNBC in the mainstream, or even from more ideologically filtered sources like The Drudge Report or Alternet. It was always the case that people from widely different places could rely on widely different “facts,” but now Americans in the same city or neighborhood can get entirely different versions of “truth.” This is epistemically disorienting. It makes us reevaluate our relationship with “truth” and thus complicates our political beliefs (for those of us who are at
struggling, at least, to be aware of the biases inherent in the various information we consume). The rapid proliferation and democratization of knowledge creation, through Wikipedia, and through the Internet in general, gave us more access to knowledge than we’d ever had and yet made us more skeptical of received knowledge than we’d ever been. It was a fundamentally new thing for humanity’s relationship with knowledge. And it happened in the early 2000s. We wanted to capture transformative moment. Robinson: But perhaps most importantly, having Mickey and Hal correspond through Wikipedia edits to an article about themselves (which is an abuse of Wikipedia’s function and policies) is a perfect encapsulation of the emotional dynamic between the two young men, who are very close but also emotionally distant; the only way they can really share emotional content with each other is by veiling it with silly Wikipedia entries, ostensibly about abstract subjects,
like “Betrayal” and “Used Goods,” and written in a formal diction that is itself a kind of emotional armor. Their correspondence through Wikipedia is a sophomoric act of vandalism that is also an emotional reaching out to each other as well as an intellectual investigation into the larger forces that are steering their lives. Shelf Unbound: In addition to Hal and Mickey, you also created two interesting and carefully drawn female characters, Mani and Tricia. How did you want to use Mani and Tricia to develop the story? Kovite: The novel definitely started out focusing more on the male characters, with Mani and Tricia being more bit players. As the writing progressed, we shifted our focus to the women for a few reasons. We didn’t want to make the book a male-centric bromance— we wanted a specific, but not gendered generational story. And the women were both inherently
interesting characters—the itinerant artist hiding from her parents’ expectations and the brilliant but naïve social justice warrior putting real effort into making the world a better place. There was also the challenge of it—male and female characters are the same in basic ways but are also different in specific and interesting ways. Writing women in romantic and sexual contexts with our male characters was all sorts of fascinating—hopefully we got it at least sort of right. Robinson: Without Mani and Tricia, War of the Encyclopaedists would be half a story, not only because women are half of all people (a little more actually) but because we wanted to draw a convincing picture of a particular generation at a particular moment in history. Hal and Mickey really encapsulate the cynicism, the dependence on irony, and the yearning to escape it that characterize the millennial generation (or rather, the Oregon Trail Generation, a more specific term we find apt to these characters).
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Mickey and Hal also embody a certain listlessness, malaise, a simultaneous lack of purpose and search for purpose. Mani and Tricia are searching for purpose, too, but they are doing so in some fundamentally different ways. Tricia is driven and dedicated to improving the world around her—an idealist , not a cynical existentialist like Hal or a reluctant pragmatist like Mickey. And Mani, who is not an aspiring critic (Hal), a warrior (Mickey), or a social justice warrior (Tricia), but an artist—she, out of all the characters is the most optimistic and embracing of her own purposeless subjective experience. She pushes onward not knowing where onward is and not caring or fearing that she doesn’t know. She embodies a deep thirst for self expression as an end in itself. All those qualities-- the cynicism, the idealism, the pragmatism by necessity, the need for self expression as a kind of oxygen—they are defining characteristics of this generation, to our minds. These aren’t particularly female
traits—the idealism, the selfexpression—but in the broadest sense, we weren’t thinking of Mani and Tricia as female characters who bring a female element to the story but simply as characters who bring added emotional depth and complexity to the plot. While young men and women are trying to save the world, make their mark, or just make it to tomorrow without killing themselves, they are also thinking about romance and sex. A cast of all men or all women would thus be lacking an essential element of realism.
with it. It was still there, probably, hibernating.” But in the next paragraph Mickey is thinking of asking Tricia for a date, and the tone seems hopeful. Why did you decide not to bring PTSD specifically into this novel? Kovite: Because not everyone who serves in a combat zone comes back with PTSD. I didn’t. Most of the people I know didn’t. While it’s good that there’s popular awareness of the potential psychological effects of traumatic experiences such as military combat, my sense is that it’s overemphasized—that there’s Shelf Unbound: A number of the some kind of assumption that novels written about the wars anyone who’s been in combat or in Iraq and Afghanistan shine even deployed has emotional issues a big light on PTSD. I think you of the sort that makes it difficult to hint at it in these lines: “The function in society. That’s just not easy definitional categories had the case, and the assumption that all fallen away. Maybe that’s what or most veterans have some kind of allowed Mickey to see himself debilitating mental disorder makes it outside of the roles he was more difficult for vets to get jobs and accustomed to filling. A naked reintegrate into civilian life. When version of himself that had no I was interviewing for jobs at New use for anger, no relationship York law firms in 2008-9, the main
thing on my resume was a combat deployment, and this made for very awkward interviews; I felt that the assumption that I had some kind of PTSD was this elephant in the room, keeping me from getting the offers I wanted. I felt at times like saying, “Also, I’m not crazy, in case you’re wondering,” which is hard to say in an interview without seeming crazy. I don’t want to perpetuate that stereotype. Robinson: Another reason is that PTSD narratives are almost by definition about the soldier, haunted by the trauma of what she’s been through: war. We wanted to explore not just the soldier’s experience, but the civilian-military divide. Thus, rather than have Mickey psychologically scarred by his war experience, we focused on the misplaced sympathy of his friends, who worry about his physical and mental well-being, oblivious to what Mickey is fixated on: the death and disability of some soldiers under his command. Mickey’s emotional isolation from his friends upon
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returning from Baghdad is not a result of his war trauma as much as it is a result of good-hearted but mistaken assumptions on the part of his friends. To us, this is a much more interesting dynamic to explore, both because it’s far more common, and because it’s a difficulty born out of concern rather than trauma, which makes it not about the distance between the civilian and soldier, but the attempt to bridge that distance. Shelf Unbound: What did you particularly enjoy about writing together? Kovite: Writing alone can be fun when the energy and inspiration is there, but when it’s not, it’s a suckfest of insecurity and thwarted selfdiscipline. With Chris, those fallow periods just turn into bull-sessions about where the story will go. As long as one of us is on, we both know where the story will go, so there’s always some kind of “writing prompt” happening that each of us can cling to.
Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
ss le d a h rs e sh li b u -p lf se , e Once upon a tim d e w ie v re s k o o b ir e th g in of a chance gett ked ic w r e h g n si a le p d a h a ll than Cindere . d e g n a h c s a h y r o st t a Th stepmother. BlueInk Review: because every book
might not be a princess, but they all deserve a shot at the ball.
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Published on Aug 7, 2015
Special Fifth Anniversary Issue reprises 35 of our favorite author interviews, from debut novelists to a Pulitzer Prize winner.