TLC Blog Tour: Dig Two Graves by Kim Powers, Thoughts and an Interview

  • digtwograves
    • Paperback: 302 pages
    • Publisher: Tyrus Books (December 4, 2015)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 144059192X
    • ISBN-13: 978-1440591921

 

And in the next second, I knew it wasn’t a joke or anything to do with drama club or anything Skip had done or…

A note, handwritten, was jabbed into the middle of the “body” with an open pair of scissors.

“YOU’VE KEPT ME WAITING LONG ENOUGH.”

You can’t make sound without air, so I didn’t make a peep, because at that moment all the air went out of my body.

Gone. Everything gone.

Sound. Air. Everything. Nothing. Skip. Life. Gone.

 

Ethan Holt, widowed former Olympic decathlete turned university professor, is engaged in the fight of his life after his only child, his daughter Skip, is abducted by a madman. As the kidnapper’s demands begin coming in, he realizes with growing horror this is no random act, no bid for something as basic as money. This crime is personal, a cold-blooded, calculated act perpetrated by someone who knows him and wants to ensure his suffering is as sharp as it gets.

The kidnapper’s demands come in the form of twisted rhymes, playing on the Twelve Labors of Hercules, a subject a classics professor is all too familiar with. As a former athlete, each task requires his utmost strength – both physical and mental. Ethan Holt is a man pushed to his absolute limits, the stakes everything he has left in the world. The kidnapper is a person teetering on the edge of insanity, blinded by rage, simultaneously horrified by what he’s become:

 

The kidnapper was gasping for air, stabbing at the crook in his left arm with a fresh needle. Only stabbing at himself would take over his rage, the rage he wanted to inflict on everything in his wake. On that person. On the other end of the phone. And on himself and how far things had gone. He wanted to stab it all away. Make himself hurt so bad for what he’d done… but his body could barely feel anything anymore…”

 

The plot of Dig Two Graves is tight, allowing the action to flow without being weighted down by unnecessary diversions. At the same time, the characterizations are superb, the good and bad guys drawn in a way that’s unflinching, portraits of all the best and worst in each. These are real people, three-dimensional and fully formed.

In the best books of this genre, it’s possible to both loathe and understand the motivations of the antagonist. By the end of the book, the reader will despise the actions of the villain, while also feeling a great deal of empathy.

An accomplished journalist, memoirist, novelist, screenwriter and television/broadcast journalist, Emmy and Peabody award-winning Kim Powers here demonstrates his ability to write an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride of a novel. Looking through his staggering list of credentials, you kind of have to wonder if there’s anything this man cannot write well.

kimpowers

Author’s website:  http://kimpowersbooks.com

Interview

Author Kim Powers was kind enough to answer a few interview questions for me:

LG: Have you always been interested in mythology? How did you come upon the idea of integrating the Twelve Labors of Hercules into a mystery?

KP: I like to blame it on Brad Pitt. I had just seen the movie of Seven – this was back when I was writing screenplays – and loved the architecture of it. The seven sins that everyone already knew. A tailor-made boiler plate. So the first thing that actually came to me, before the twelve labors, was the ten events of the decathlon. Maybe it was during the summer Olympics, I don’t remember, but I like that it was a nice, even number.

Believe it or not, the 12 labors, which is really the key driving force of the book, actually came a bit later. There was a time when the solving of the labors ran very much hand-in-hand with the decathlon events: Ethan was literally replaying all ten events: the shot put, pole vault, hurdles, etc. Then that got to be too unwieldy.

I guess I know a little bit more about mythology and classics than the average guy, but not much. I had taken four years of Latin in high school – don’t ask me why; I thought it would be a good baseline for learning other foreign languages – but that all left me.  Every translation in the book I had to look up. Back in the 80s, I had very fond memories of watching the Inspector Morse mystery series of Colin Dexter on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS; I loved how every episode seemed to be rooted in some arcane piece of mythology or ancient culture that only Morse could figure out! And maybe in a deeper way, as I got into things, I realized that human behavior, at its deepest, has never truly changed. The outside accoutrement have,  of course, but those base emotions – love, hate, jealousy, revenge – have been in existence since the earliest cultures. They are part of our DNA. I wanted to explore that, and also explore how old stories – the oldest stories, in fact – had a way out of pain and misery for my characters. I certainly had escaped an unhappy childhood, into a world of fantasy and books and made-up characters.

LG: How much research went into the writing of Dig Two Graves? What were some of the challenges involved in translating mythology into a modern story line? 

KP: The two pieces of “architecture” that began the book – the ten events of the Decathlon, and the 12 Labors of Hercules – were the only two things I really researched. I had a vague sense of both of them, but really had to dig back in to get the full details. And they both pretty much come down to running and throwing heavy things!

I did some research to try to get the medical details of what ailment the villain has; of birth abnormalities and what would have happened when, while he was growing up. Of what his motor and speech skills could be. With that, I didn’t want to pin anything down too literally, but I wanted to have a ready answer, if anyone asked me. (And I was also very much aware, in this era of political correctness, of not wanting anyone to say I had misrepresented their community.)

Coming up with modern-day equivalents to the Labors was a lot of fun; they went through a lot of changes over the course of time. At one point I had some crazy stuff about helicopters being the Stymphalian birds, but as the labors went on and on, came up with things where I could dispatch several of them at one time. I remember being in a gallery and seeing some Spanish painting of a sort of farm and a cattle chute; that was an “a-ha” moment for me, when I put three or so of the labors in the old abandoned kiddie farm.

I also had a lot of fun on Pinterest, which I’ve just discovered in the last two years or so, collecting photos of things that I could use as a reference for the old abandoned school, and the old ski lift/lodge. I can imagine a lot of stuff, but being able to take a wall from this and that drawing on the chalkboard and the way the roof has collapsed from real pictures was good for me.

I’ve written so much about the small town in Texas where I grew up, that I wanted to get away from that landscape for this. So I seized about making the college where Ethan Holt teaches a sort of version of Williams College, in Williamstown, MA. I spent many summers there working at the Williamstown Theater Festival. It’s up in the Berkshire Mountains, and has a fantastic variety of worlds around it. Extreme wealth, as well as hard-scrabble, blue collar, industrial mill poor. And a quick getaway across the state lines into Vermont. That served a lot of what I needed geographically, and it finally got me out of the deep South of Texas and the Alabama/Midwest of Capote in Kansas.

I loved writing the diabolical rhymes that accompanied each Labor; that was maybe the most fun part of the book for me. Rhymezone.com became my best friend, as I mapped those out!

LG: What about the father/daughter dynamic lead you to tell this story from the perspective of a widowed man and his only child? Was this POV always your intent, or did you consider other options?

KP: The father/daughter, Ethan/Skip bond is my favorite thing about the book, and the one thing I felt like I’d like to go back and explore more, in sequels. I’d love to see what they go on to next, in their lives, after the trauma in Dig Two Graves.  I’m very interested in how people recover from that; and how some people shut down and quit living and can’t move forward, and how others can let it go and move on.

I’m not a father in real life – except to the four dogs I’ve had through the years – and I’ve never wanted to be a parent, but I loved exploring that dynamic in a fictional way. I think I’d actually be a very good parent, although I don’t think I could ever let go of the worry. I didn’t set out deliberately to explore that, but it became the heartbeat of the novel.

I’ve never been the kind of writer who maps out a lot of stuff in advance, except for maybe a handful of very key turning points, so it was all a discovery for me. And to my surprise, I realized I was very much recalling the dynamic I had with my own father, who had to single-handedly raise me and my twin brother from the time we were eight years old, after my mother died. I realized I hadn’t ever given him much credit. A lot of readers had told me he was the missing character in my memoir The History of Swimming, but he very much gets a chance to tell his story in my next book, Rules for Being Dead, which I write more about later on here!

(There’s a line in the play A Streetcar Named Desire, when one of the characters, a neighborhood lady, says to Blanche and Stella, “Don’t need no ton of bricks to fall on me,” about realizing they want her to get out of the house. But I sometimes think I DO need a ton of bricks to fall on me; so often – and there are so many instances in Dig Two Graves – where I’ve written directly autobiographical things from my own life, but didn’t realize it at the time. Only after I finished writing do I go, “So  THAT’S where that came from!”)

A few times, when I began feeling like it was maybe a bit of a cliché to kidnap a young girl, and be another old white guy perpetrating violence against girls and women, I thought about changing Skip to a son. But it just didn’t have the same resonance. It might have been interesting – a novel of all men – but there was something so fascinating to me in that dynamic of a single father, trying to raise a teenage daughter without a rule book. The jealousy that daughter might feel, when her father begins dating again. I had gone through that – not jealousy, but resentment – when my own father began dating, after the death of my mother. And I wanted to explore that.

LG:  Skip is such a strong young lady, bright and self-assured. Is she modeled on anyone you’ve known? Likewise, Ethan is both deeply intelligent and athletically talented. Did his character spring from someone in your own life?

KP: I love Skip so much; I couldn’t begin to tell you where her name sprang from, it was just there, full-blown, when I first thought of her. And pretty much she was there, fully formed, as well. In earlier drafts of the book, she was a few years younger than her present 12-years-old, but then that began to feel creepy.

To a little bit, she’s based on my informal  Goddaughter, Adelaide Daniel. (Meaning I’m not officially her Godfather; she’s the daughter of my best friends, and I’ve always been her Gay Uncle – Guncle Kim.) She just started college this year – how time flies, but I’ve known her since she was a baby and have seen her grow up, as maybe an only child can. She’s studying acting and has always been interested in theater; those beats of Skip wanting to be an actress and doing sense memory exercises stem directly from that. She was in the musical of Legally Blonde at her high school and I stole that as well. A colleague at work told me about how his young daughter was obsessed, as were all her classmates, with making things out of duct tape, like purses, etc; so I was really picking up details everywhere and anywhere I could.

Ethan, the hero, is really “me with muscles.” I don’t know how else to describe him. I’m the least athletic person of anyone I know, but I went through a period of working out in my 30s. I thought back to that when I was writing all those scenes in the gym, and of him prepping for the Olympics. The pain/pleasure of it all.

There was one long paragraph I wrote – maybe the very first thing I ever wrote for the book – about how he treated the gym like a church, with the ghosts of everyone that had been there in the decades before him. And if you can’t remember that passage, don’t worry; you’re not going crazy! It’s not in the book anymore. I kept shoe-horning it various places, because I was so in love with the writing of it, but it just never fit. Talk about “kill your darlings.” Having to leave that passage out killed me! But Ethan’s emotional life is straight from me: other than the outward facts of his life – the Olympics, teaching, being a father – he is me.

LG: How difficult is it writing from the perspective of a deeply disturbed individual, such as the villain in Dig Two Graves? How does such a kind person as you write from such a dark, depraved place?

KP: Fantastic question! And only another good soul like you would be smart and perceptive enough to think it, or ask it. It was the hardest part of the book for me. At the end of the day, all the writing I’ve done has represented me: who I am as a person, what I believe it. I’ve never written “violence” before. Some early readers of book at one point told me it was clear that Skip – the kidnapped daughter – wasn’t going to get hurt. That she wasn’t in physical jeopardy. I had to grit my teeth and hold my breath and go back and add some, to make that believable, even though it’s not the kind of stuff I like reading.

I was able to write the “villain” by making him a character: at first, getting into his voice, his linguistic tricks, the way he would turn a phrase. And even though it’s a cliché a lot of actors spout, that you have to see him as a person rather than a black-and-white bad guy, I had to do that. When I came upon the chapters of his backstory – of how he first learned The 12 Labors of Hercules, to overcome pain; when I wrote the chapter about how he envied someone else, of how he tried to become that person, watching him on TV (careful not to spoil any surprises here!), that helped him  become more a person to me.

At the end, the showdown in the cemetery with the protagonist, that was two desperate people, not a bad guy and a good guy. That took everything out of me to write; I’d play searing arias from operas as I wrote, to help me get to that place emotionally. Maybe because I began my early life, as a kid and then in high school and college, thinking I was going to be an actor, everything had to have its own internal logic for me. I had to be able to “act” the character realistically. And I acted the villain to the place where I thought he was real, and I could understand why he would do the horrible things he did. He is basically a kid, asking God why these horrible things had happened to him, and getting revenge on the people he thought was responsible. If I’ve done my job right, by the end of the book, the reader will feel some sort of sympathy and understanding toward him. And because every writer always hopes his or her book will become a movie – I was already projecting that in my head: what do I have to give a big A-list Hollywood actor, to seduce them into wanting to play this character??

LG: How does the writing process differ from journalism to fiction? Is your approach to each the same, or do they require different strategies?

KP: The obvious basic difference is that journalism is supposed to be the truth, just the facts, ma’am, without any editorializing. (Haha, as the kids would say.) Once you’ve done it as long as I have, through my writing jobs at Good Morning America and 20/20, you realize how nearly impossible that is. I had never been to journalism school when I lucked into that first job at GMA; most of my colleagues had. The good part of that is that I wasn’t hide-bound by a set of rules, but it was a little bit of my failing, too.

So many of the writers I’ve seen at ABC have no sense of nuance, of creating drama or telling a story through their words. It’s just the facts. You can do that – or at least I can – without being boring. It’s the thing that drives me the craziest; I accuse some of my fellow writer/producers there of being school marms. I think it’s why I’ve lasted so long there – nearly 20 years – and done so well. I’m able to tell a story and convey human emotion. The worst situations there for me are when we have to crash a breaking news story, and it’s just a recitation of who, what, where, when. I like to supply the missing ingredient of Why?

One of the good things, however, that all that writing, day in and day out, has given me, is the stamina for writing books. It’s worked that muscle for me, and I can sit down and bang out five or six pages at a time, until the picture in my head is emptied out. Sometimes I feel like the day job uses up all my words, and I have nothing left at the end of the day, but it has also taught me to approach writing my books like a job: day in and day out. Not sitting around waiting for “inspiration” or “the right mood” to hit me. If I did that, I’d never get anything written.

LG: You’ve written about the loss of your twin brother, the relationship between Truman Capote and Harper Lee, and now a former Olympian faced with a seemingly impossible task, the life of his child hanging in the balance. What’s next for you? Is there another book in the works?

KP: I think the disappearance of my twin brother Tim (written about in my memoir The History of Swimming), and then his ultimate death, informs everything I write. For better or worse, I guess it’s sort of the broken record in my life. In a coded way, even Capote in Kansas was about that: two former best friends, who become enemies. The very last words in the book are Truman saying this to Harper Lee: “I’m sorry.” That was  completely me saying it to my twin brother. I was writing a blog post the other day for Dig Two Graves and it finally hit me, like an idiot, how much the search in that completely made-up thriller was informed by what I went through during the three days in which Tim went missing. The impotence of a character – me, or my hero Ethan Holt – to do anything, other than look to the heavens and say, “Where ARE you?”

So my next book goes back to that theme. It’s called Rules for Being Dead – part of my “cemetery suite” I’ve been jokingly calling it, along with Dig Two Graves. It’s a novel, but very autobiographical, sort of a prequel to The History of Swimming. It’s about a little boy whose mother dies when he’s eight years old, and his playing detective to find out what happened to her. At the same time he’s doing that, the dead mother herself is looking for the same answer, sort of floating around in the ether, not allowed entrance to heaven or hell, until she can find out. Sort of like The Lovely Bones. Was it suicide, murder, an accident, what? It will be my magnum opus, finally answering the question that has haunted me all my life. After The History of Swimming came out, I received some information about my mother’s death I had never known before – after some 40 years of mystery. It changed everything I thought I had known up until then. So that’s what the book is about. It’s done, and my agent plans to take it out and shop it around after the holidays. Wish me luck! After that, I’ve  scraped the family closets clean; now I’ll have to start actually making up shit!

 

Thank you to Kim Powers, as well as TLC Book Tours, for the opportunity to read Dig Two Graves.

dawn lerman’s ‘my fat dad,’ an interview, with thoughts

myfatdad

 

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (September 29, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425272230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425272237

Nutritionist, New York Times blogger and author Dawn Lerman grew up consumed by food, witness to her 450-lb. father’s see-saw obsession with diets. A man controlled by his own battles with eating, her father’s struggles took a toll, forcing his family onto the roller coaster of fad diets and an overall unhealthy attitude toward food. Yet, no one else in the family was overweight, a minor miracle.

If it’s true the kitchen is at the heart of the traditional home, Lerman’s family’s adversarial relationship with food was at odds with their family’s rich Jewish heritage, filled with meals to comfort the soul. Fortunately, Dawn’s maternal grandmother, Beauty, came to her rescue, both in providing a sense of love and stability and teaching her how to cook wonderfully flavorful, traditional dishes, essentially rescuing her from starvation and a childhood deprived of much in the way of nutrition. Even more powerfully, Beauty’s legacy  set Dawn on the path that would carry her into her life’s calling, founding Magnificent Mommies, a company providing nutrition education to students, teachers and corporations.

To read about Beauty is to love her; she was the sort of grandmother we all wish we’d had, or at least I do. Coming from a family fragmented, cut adrift from extended relations, I grew up in an environment devoid of nutritious foods. The Deep South formed my heritage, a world filled with biscuits and fried chicken and heavy, carbohydrate-dripping meals held together by animal fat. Though not as extreme, my own mother fad dieted her way through most of my life, reinforcing my own love-hate battle with food. And, ultimately, I never learned to cook, having watched my mother pull pre-packaged foods out of the freezer, plopping Banquet fried chicken, instant mashed potatoes and canned green beans in front of us, more often than not. Had I been blessed with such a grandmother as Lerman’s, I can only imagine how different my relationship with food could have been.

Thanks to her maternal grandmother, by high school Dawn had acquired a vast repertoire of dishes she’d become expert at creating. Her mother and little sister away, her sister performing in a production of Annie, she was finally able to introduce her father to  the wonder of home-cooked meals. Though her father had, by this point, lost a staggering 175 lbs, the weight was beginning to creep back up on him, as it almost inevitably does. And for a while it was great, cooking for her father. Then, he began drifting away again, leaving her alone while he spent more and more time at work. Undeterred, she kept studying and practicing her culinary art, turning what could have been seen as a failure to convince her father into totally embracing a healthy way of eating into a test of her convictions, a test she passed with flying colors.

My Fat Dad is essentially a collection of essays, columns about aspects of Dawn Lerman’s life. Each is accompanied by recipes, a combination of hearty meals and nutritionally-packed dishes, all of them unintimidating foods the average reader would feel comfortable making in their own kitchen. That’s part of what makes the book so wonderful, not only is it the story of one very determined woman’s path from misery to a successful career as a nutritionist, it’s also a cookbook filled with the love her maternal grandmother instilled in her, which she, in turn, passes along.

It’s like one big group hug, from Beauty to Dawn to us.

Dawn was kind enough to agree to answer a few interview questions for me:

1). What were your concerns in writing a book about your family? Were there discussions about what was off limits? 
 
Whenever you’re writing about family members or real people, there is always a fear that you will offend someone or feelings will be hurt. It is hard not to censor yourself when you know the people who you are writing about will read it. But in reading my book, “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love and Family, With Recipes.” ,  you will see very little is off limits in my family. And it turns out both my parents loved the book. My dad, always an ad man, remarked, “You’ve come a long way baby”.  My mom, the ultimate stage mother shares passages from the book where ever she goes.  She just wishes there were more pictures of her in the center of the book.
 
2). At what age did you become interested in writing and what inspired you to write this book?
 
I have written for as long as I can remember. I used to carry around a little journal and pretend I was Harriet the Spy. Writing was my escape from my chaotic childhood. It was a place to put my feelings. It transported me into a world where I felt safe. 
 
I originally set out to write a health book for kids about snacking.  While I was compiling recipes, I realized that each one of them had a memory attached to it.  The memory was as important as the recipe itself—it was the people I was with at the time; where I was when I tasted it; and the smells that made it so important.
 
 
3). Who are some of the biggest creative influences in your life, in writing and the culinary arts? Whom do you admire?
 
In terms of food memoirs, I read every one of Ruth Reichl’s books. I loved how she weaved food into the tapestry of her life. In terms of straight memoirs, I adored Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and as a child, I must have read Anne Frank a hundred times.
 
4). How would you sum up your philosophy toward food and nutrition? What message are you hoping to get across?
 
I hope my story helps families create happy memories around food.  I also hope that “food” is seen to be more than just the macronutrients, protein, fat, or carbs from which it is composed.  I have always had a passion for taking any family recipe and making it healthier—I hope readers can see that good food can taste good and you don’t need to give up your traditional favorites if you are willing to exchange a few ingredients (There is an index at the back of My Fat Dad that explains what you can use as a substitute for most of the basics that go into every recipe).
 
 
5). What are Americans doing wrong in relation to healthy eating? What’s the biggest, most prevalent issue we should be paying attention to?
 
As a holistic nutritionist, I believe it is important to know your client before making any blanket statement. However, I do think drinking beverages other than soda, like Green Tea is important.  Also, people should try to eat simple, filling meals and fill up at least half of their plates with veggies. 
 
Finally, as my daughter says, if it has a commercial attached to it, it usually is not good—this goes for processed foods, especially. How many commercials do we see for kale or strawberries?
 
6). How has your Jewish heritage influenced your relationship with food? What’s singular about this particular ethnicity?
 
I think Ray Romano who blurbed my book said it best“ Dawn Lerman grew up Jewish in the 70’s. I grew up Italian. Might sound different, but for the most part, it’s the same. Especially when it comes to food. The philosophy was simple, food = love. My Fat Dad hilariously and poignantly captures that essence .Whether you’re Italian, Jewish, or anything else you can relate to how family, food, and the love of both affect how we grow up, and live our life. Mangia!”—Ray Romano, Emmy award-winning actor
 
No matter what your culture is food that is past down through generations and cooked with love creates memories and lasting nourishment.
 
My grandmother Beauty would say, “I can find my heritage in a bowl of chicken soup.”
 
 
7). What’s your best advice to busy households juggling family, career and trying to eat healthily?
 
Try to pick one day a week like a Sunday and do a shopping trip as a family. Go to either a grocery store or a farmer’s market and pick what is in season. Then together get creative and plan your meals for the week. A big batch of soup, a roasted chicken, a batch of roasted veggies, some chopped vegetables for dipping can help you avoid eating fast food. Being prepared with snacks and easy to make meals will set you up for success.
 
 
8). What’s up next for you, project-wise?
 
My main focus is really what it always has been, trying to teach kids about the importance of proper nutrition and teaching them how to cook. I am in the process of writing a cookbook for kids.
 
9). Finally, if you had to choose a favorite dish – either a go-to comfort dish our personal specialty – what would it be?
 
I think it would have to be my grandmother’s chicken soup. It was in her kitchen, inhaling the smells of fresh dill that I learned what it felt like to be loved and nourished. As for baked goods, it would have to be my grandmother’s banana oatmeal cookies that I have given a little makeover to –adding flax seeds and coconut oil.
 
Dawn Lerman is a New York-based health and nutrition consultant and author of “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love and Family, With Recipes. ” Her series on growing up with a fat father appears on the Well blog of the New York Times 

 

 

Interview: Peter May

 

Peter May

Peter May

 

I was displaced from my bedroom and had to sleep on the sofa in the living room. At the end of the sofa was a bookshelf filled with books that bore the most exotic names and titles – Aldous Huxley, Lewis Grassic Gibbon… Eyeless in Gaza, The Grapes of Wrath. I always awoke early in the morning and would spend time gazing at these strange names until one day I picked one out and began reading. It marked, I think, the end of my childhood, and I don’t think I stopped reading for the next 30 years!

 

As a native Scot, it’s natural you’ve managed to create such a strong sense of place any reader can identify with. What is it about Scotland and the Scots culture you feel evokes such a visceral reaction in your readers? What makes Scotland so fascinating?
Scotland and the Scots are shaped by a hard climate and a hard religion, set against a backdrop of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was that hard religion that introduced universal education, bucking against years of Catholic dominance when the Church liked to keep people in compliant ignorance. The new Protestantism wanted people to read the bible, and so taught them to read and write. As a result, Scotland was in the vanguard of the new enlightenment, its education system turning out scholars and engineers, doctors and inventors, economists and philosophers. Scotland was transformed from a medieval backwater into one of the most forward thinking countries in the world, and the Scots took their ideas and their work ethic with them during the great migrations of the 19th and 20th centuries. Although Scotland has a population of only 5 million, the diaspora is around 22 million, and people everywhere can, I think, identify powerfully with the Scot on his journey “home”. In a way “The Blackhouse” is a microcosm of that journey, as we voyage back to the Isle of Lewis with Fin Macleod after 18 years away and share his emotions and the powerful pull of the island.

For me, and certainly for those who live there, the Isle of Lewis is a place of unique beauty and harshness. But I think the themes of exile and return are universal to the human experience, and so in a sense the story could find its setting almost anywhere.

Is there a certain place, time or state of mind you require in order to write? Do you write longhand or typed? What about revisions?
I am a very controlled writer, bringing with me the disciplines learned during 8 years as a journalist and 15 as a screenwriter. These include writing fast, economy of language, working to deadlines, and using dialogue to advance plot and develop character. I work at a computer, touch typing, so it seems my thoughts appear on the screen as they come into my head. I am not even aware of the keyboard as an intermediary. I write a detailed synopsis of my story after several months of research and development, and when I begin the book I rise at 6am and write 3000 words a day. I never have writer’s block, and in the main my revisions are confined to daily tidying and a final polish.

Say you were granted one question from one great writer you’ve admired – living or dead. What would you ask, and of whom (s/he must answer honestly…)?
I would ask Ernest Hemingway why he was so determined to excise the adjective from his writing.

Do you come from a family that appreciated reading and great literature? Were you an avid reader as a child?
My father was an English teacher. Both my parents had genius level IQs and taught me to read and write before I went to school. I always read voraciously as a child, children’s books, naturally. But when I was about 12 my uncle came to live with us after his wife committed suicide. I was displaced from my bedroom and had to sleep on the sofa in the living room. At the end of the sofa was a bookshelf filled with books that bore the most exotic names and titles – Aldous Huxley, Lewis Grassic Gibbon… Eyeless in Gaza, The Grapes of Wrath. I always awoke early in the morning and would spend time gazing at these strange names until one day I picked one out and began reading. It marked, I think, the end of my childhood, and I don’t think I stopped reading for the next 30 years!

Are you a bibliophile? Do you own an outrageous number of books or does being a writer curtail the need to possess so many? If so, are you the sort to keep them neatly shelved?
I hate to throw books away, so have accumulated an inordinate number of them over the years. My house is filled with groaning (and untidy) shelves of them – I even still have those books from the end of the sofa, inheriting them after my parents’ death.

Kindles, Nooks and other eReaders… Blessing, curse or something else? Do you own an electronic reading device?
I am constantly traveling, and always need and want to carry books with me. The advent of the e-book has been a boon for me personally, allowing me to take with me as many books as I like. I have a Kindle and an iPad. But I do understand the implications for the book industry, and how both publishers and booksellers will face an uncertain future with the surge in electronic publishing and reading. History will determine whether it has been a blessing or a curse.

Will books go away? Any worries on that score?
I don’t worry about it. But I think the traditional book of printed pages between soft or hard covers will vanish eventually from the mass marketplace, to be replaced by the e-book. There will always be a place, I think, for ink and paper, but is more likely to become a niche market. I don’t think there is anything I or anyone else can do about it. It is the march of progress. But I do think that the book will survive the transition and perhaps even flourish.

With all your writing experience and accomplishments, do you ever freeze in the face of the blank screen/page?
Never. As I mentioned, I write 3000 words a day. When my computer tells me I have reached that total, I stop – even if I am in the middle of a sentence. That way I always know what I am going to write next, and so never have a problem re-starting the next morning. My tip to aspiring writers is never finish your writing day at the end of a chapter. Always leave something to latch on to the next day.

Lastly, what’s your next project? Any teasers you’d like to dangle to drive your readers mad?
The Blackhouse is the first in a trilogy, called The Lewis Trilogy. The second book, The Lewis Man, is already out in the UK where it is a top ten bestseller, and the final book, The Chessmen, will be out in January. American readers, I am afraid will have to wait a little longer. I am currently working on a new book that spans the Atlantic – from the Hebrides to Quebec. I am currently on a research trip to Canada. It is, I think, an epic story,  and I can’t wait to get writing.

[Previously published 2012 at BookBrowse.com, rights retained by author.]

interview: wiley cash

[Previously published at BookBrowse.com, rights retained by author.]

Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash

In the bio on your website, you wrote: “I became a Southern writer because I wanted to recreate the South that I know, and I learned to write about the South from the writers I loved.” Why is southern writing so distinctive? Do you feel you had the choice to become any other sort of writer?

One thing that makes southern writing so distinctive is that it relies heavily on the voices of its characters and narrators. Southerners are pretty proud of their accents, no matter how much the rest of the country makes fun of them; southern writers want those accents reflected accurately in their work. I think it’s important to be true to the diction and vocabulary of southern speech, but I think it’s also important to remain true to the southern style of storytelling, which means as a writer you have to pay special attention to how southerners tell stories. Rarely are these stories told in a linear fashion; very often the storytelling is circular or digressive. I’m thinking of the narrator of Thomas Wolfe’s narrator in The Web of the Earth, an elderly woman based on Wolfe’s own mother who starts the story and then immediately changes the subject, only to return to the central story intermittently throughout the text. I’m also thinking of Kaye Gibbons’s novel Ellen Foster and the way Ellen, as the novel’s narrator, moves chronologically with long stream-of-consciousness digressions. The novels reads as if Ellen is telling the reader her story as it comes to her.

I don’t know that I had any choice to become anything else but a southern writer, and I don’t think that’s true just because I was born and raised in North Carolina. I grew up reading the work of southern writers like Clyde Edgerton, Thomas Wolfe, Flannery O’Connor, and Ernest J. Gaines, and those writers really informed my writing. But I think I was just as affected and influenced by the stories I heard from people like my maternal grandmother and the other people who surrounded me as I grew up. I might’ve learned to write from what I was reading, but I learned to tell from what I was hearing.

Why has the South been such a looming presence in so much of the best American literature?

The South has continued to loom large in our collective imagination because it so dominated the imaginations of this country’s earliest settlers. Aside from Jamestown, most of our early colonists settled in New England and along the northeastern coast. They built cities like Boston, Salem, and Philadelphia, and they rarely ventured too far outside those cities. They knew the French were in the north, but they didn’t quite know what was down there in the south, and that’s why they sent their outcasts to the southern colonies.

To these early Puritan settlers, the woods represented evil, unknown things, and they built a great mythology around what stayed hidden out there in the woods. The early settlers in the Appalachian Mountains did the same thing. Even after the south was settled that mystery stayed strong, and people in other parts of the country were still incredibly interested in the region. That’s why the local color writers like Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Paul Laurence Dunbar were able to stake their careers on writing about this region; their fiction, nonfiction, and poetry gave many readers their first tastes of the South.

Seldom can I say I loved – or loved the strong depiction of – every, single character in a book but I felt a very strong sense of acquaintance with the full cast in ALMKTH. Even the characters I despised I couldn’t quite bring myself to hate because you were able to show bits of goodness in them. Except, well… Readers of the book will know. Does characterization come as easily to you as it seems? Do you think this is the strongest aspect of your writing?

It’s important for me to create characters that readers can believe in, even if they’re unlikable. I don’t know that I’ll ever create a character more unlikeable than Carson Chambliss, but I can tell you that I enjoyed putting him on the page. I grew up watching guys like Jimmy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart on television, and I grew up aware of what they did with the power people gave them; some of those observations went into Carson Chambliss.

But I think place is probably the strongest aspect of my writing, at least I hope it is anyway. When I wrote Land I was trying to recreate western North Carolina because I missed it so much. I was living in southwest Louisiana, and I found myself homesick for those mountains, seasons, and fresh water. When I wrote the novel I got to go back there; I think these characters spring from that place. They wouldn’t be as real to me if they didn’t.

I loved Christopher/Stump most of all. He lodged in my heart and never let go. When you wrote his character did you realize how singular and special he was? Did you base his character on anyone in particular (in fiction or real life)?

What I wanted to show was how much Jess loved his brother, and I thought it was important make that love just as real as the characters themselves. Christopher’s presence looms large in the novel even though he doesn’t appear on very many pages, and I wanted the reader to feel his absence as much as Jess does.

Did you have a personal favorite character from the book?

I really liked Jimmy Hall. He comes into the novel with more past and more baggage than any other character, and we’re wondering if he’s going to screw everything up or finally do the right thing for once in his life. To be honest, I never really knew what he was going to say or do when I put him on the page. There was a time when I attempted to use him as a narrator, but he was just too out of control. He wanted to tell the reader what happened at the end of the novel, and he wanted to defend himself and try to explain the decisions he made. I had to cut out his narration even though I had over one hundred pages of it; I just couldn’t get it to fit.

How long did it take to write ALMKTH? With so many intersecting plots, how did you keep them straight and so well-balanced?

I started writing this novel as a short story in the spring of 2004, but I quickly learned that it wasn’t going to work; the story needed more space and more characters to round it out. I experimented with a host of narrators, but Jess, Adelaide, and Clem seemed to be the best folks to tell this story. Each of these three narrators represented a particular knowledge of the event: Jess knows what went on inside the church and what happened to his brother, whether he understands it or not; Adelaide knows the history of the church and she understands the hold Carson Chambliss has over his congregation; Clem is an outsider just like the reader, and he’s trying to put all the facts together just like we are.

The first draft I wrote of the novel was more like a character study where I delineated the pasts of each character in order to understand their role in the community and their role in this tragedy. In the later drafts of the novel I focused more on the plot and trying to keep it moving while maintaining the novel’s heavy emphasis on the characters. Toward the end of the revision process I found myself overwhelmed with trying to balance the pace of the narrative with the development of the characters, and I ended up making calendars that allowed me to match the evolution of the characters and their knowledge of events with the major plot points in the story. I wish I’d thought to do that earlier.

Do you keep a specific writing schedule, any particular place you need to be in order to best concentrate?

I’ve kept a lot of schedules. When I started the novel I was in graduate school in Lafayette, Louisiana. If you’ve ever been to Lafayette then you know it can be tortuously hot for much of the year. As a graduate student I couldn’t really afford to run the air conditioner, so I’d get up early in the morning – 5 or 6 a.m. – and write until late morning. I worked at a Cajun lunch house and in the evening I worked at another restaurant, so I liked to have those morning hours to focus on work.

When I moved to West Virginia to teach at Bethany College I’d still wake up early and try to get some work done before class started, usually around 9 or 10 a.m. I tried to write or revise a thousand good words a day. I wrote this book while living in Louisiana, and I revised it while living in West Virginia; it made for a lot of early mornings.

I’m no longer teaching every day, so that it makes it easier to get some good writing done. I’ve been traveling a lot since the book’s been published, so I’m getting used to writing in hotels and on airplanes. When I’m at home I work on a desktop computer without internet access. I still like to wake up early, have some coffee, read the headlines, and start working around 8 a.m. My desk is on the top floor of our house, and the window looks out on a hill where cows graze. It’s really quiet, and that makes it pretty ideal.

Did you write a thesis for your Ph.D.? If so, what was the subject? (Would love to read that!)

My Ph.D. is in creative writing and American literature, and an early draft of A Land More Kind Than Home served as the creative portion of my dissertation. The academic portion was a study of Charles W. Chesnutt and Thomas Wolfe, two North Carolina writers from opposite sides of the state. The study considered the ways Chesnutt’s and Wolfe’s literature portrays issues of race and class in North Carolina in the years between Reconstruction and the Great Depression.

Who are the literary luminaries writing today whose works you believe will stand the test of time? Any particular works you’d recommend to readers of literary fiction?

This is a tough question. My background is in American literature, and as a student of literature I’m used to those established canons and I’m used to the anthologies that have already made the decisions about what’s important and what’s not. That’s why I think booksellers and book reviews are so important to contemporary; they’re shaping the canon in real time without the benefit of hindsight that professors and literary theorists have. Booksellers are making decisions about what to put on the shelves and reviewers are making decisions about what to review; their jobs are really important, especially to contemporary readers.

There are a lot of contemporary writers whose work will stand the test of time. Ben Fountain and his new novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk come to mind, as does Karl Marlantes’sMatterhorn. Those are both debut novels, and that just blows my mind. I think Louise Erdrich’s work is incredibly important, and I feel the same way about Toni Morrison, Russell Banks, and Richard Ford; these people are chronicling the America they know, even if those Americas are all a little different.

When can we expect to see your next novel published? Will the themes be similar to ALMKTH?

My next novel is tentatively titled Stealing Home, and we’re thinking it should be out late 2013 or early 2014. It’s set in my hometown of Gastonia, North Carolina, and it’s about a washed-up minor league baseball player who kidnaps his two daughters from a foster home and goes on the run. There are the same themes of fathers trying to do the best they can, children trying to make sense of the world, and the constant threats that families face when they’re not as strong as they could or should be.

 

interview: jim crace

[Previously published at BookBrowse.com, rights retained by author.]

jimcrace

Author Jim Crace talks with Lisa Guidarini about his decision to retire from fiction writing, the biggest influences in his long and storied career, and how his novel Harvest is wrapped around timeless themes.

Harvest seems to be set in an era when English society is evolving from use of land to grow crops to enclosed pastures for animals. What about this specific time period did you find compelling as a setting for your novel? Could it have been set in any other time and place?
The time period isn’t all that specific, in fact. I wasn’t trying to write a novel that was medieval or Tudor or Jacobean. If the novel has a “setting” at all then it’s Shakespeare’s England. So it’s prose fiction based on stage fiction. But, if the exact time and location of the story are not important to me, the subject matters are. And the subject matters are timeless. Small farmers all over the world are still being forced from their land, edged out by timber sharks or soy barons or coffee magnates or housing developers. And those farmers may well end up as refugees or asylum seekers in towns or cities which resent them. So, yes, this novel could have been set in any other time or place – except for the fact that I had a local and personal reason to make it “Shakespearean.” I live in Warwickshire -“Shakespeare’s County” as the tourist board call it – only half an hour from Stratford-upon-Avon. And the fields where I most commonly walk are etched with the ridge and furrow of the ancient ploughing which stopped with sheep enclosures. I found that irresistible.

So you choose to leave the village unnamed in order to allow the story to also work as a commentary on contemporary society, and humanity in general?
Vagueness gives free rein to the imagination. I do respect the two golden rules of true historical fiction, that facts should be checked and confirmed, that writers should not impose on the past, 21st century sensibilities, such as feminism or homophilia or multiculturalism. Good luck to historical novelists, I say. But I’m not one of them. I don’t want to check or ratify anything. I want to invent and I don’t want the non-fictional truth to get in my way. My novels are paintings not photographs. And I’m not interested in writing any novel that isn’t drenched in 21st sensibilities, whenever or wherever it’s set.

The insular nature of the unnamed village was characterized by a xenophobic distrust of “outsiders.” Why is violence such an instinctive reaction in this story?
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, to quote (and misapply) the Billy Ocean lyrics. That’s to say, the tougher, more violent members of society, are always on the lookout for scapegoats, especially when there’s a shortage of work, housing or food. I live in the happily warmhearted and hospitable city of Birmingham. In easy times, there is very little tension between our various culturally mixed communities. But we’re in a recession at the moment. Many young men (and they’re the ones to worry about if you’re tracing the sources of violence) can’t find work and can’t afford their rents. Who can they blame? Who can they punch? Well, anyone with a dark face, anyone with a strange accent, anyone with the wrong-shaped nose.

Both Thirsk and Master Kent were childless – specifically, without sons – and widowers. Was this meant to unite these two characters in some way?
I’m not sure about the word meant. I start my novels with little idea of those details. I have no characters or plot or any narrative voice. I wait for the book to express itself and then let the story unfold in front of me. Narrative is giving; it does the work for you. It made Thirsk and Master Kent childless and wifeless and, as you say, it did unite them. They came to share the melancholy of men who have no one to love.

How has writing enriched your life? Has it been a compulsion, a passion that controls you, or something altogether different?
I suspect it’s less of an obsession for me than for most novelists. Maybe that’s because I’m hardly an autobiographical writer and so when I close my office door after work I am not bound to take my subject matter with me. But when I am working I am enraptured by the ancient and tested wisdom, playfulness and generosity of storytelling. That’s the enrichment I have enjoyed. But I would be foolish to think that there are not other enrichments to be discovered far from the word processor.

Were you raised in a bookish household?
I was bought up in an atheistic, socialist household by working-class parents who did not as a matter of principle reject the so-called higher arts. My mum was not a reader, though she was witty. Her genius was her hospitality and warmth. My dad was the reader. Part of his self-education involved embracing all sorts of creativity without being creative himself. He took us to the theatre, the opera, the galleries and, most important, into the countryside. None of our neighbors in the housing estate in north London where I was brought up did the same with their children. I think they distrusted my father a bit. His openness and inquisitiveness made them doubt themselves. But he was too private and self-contained to worry what people made of him. He held faith in his books, few in number, but still dear to him and now to me. He had Orwell, Steinbeck, Jack London, Shaw, Wells, all the progressive voices. And he had the classics of natural history. He read the reviews, too. And if a new novel was especially well received, he would bring it home from the library. That’s where I first encountered contemporary literature.

Are you a big reader now? Do you consider yourself a biblioholic or do you actively pursue other interests in addition to reading and writing?
I’m certainly not a biblioholic. My wife’s the one who always has her nose in a book. I’m more likely to have my nose pressed up against a pair of binoculars – or a windowpane waiting for the rain to stop.

Are you still planning to retire? And may I be so bold as to ask why? If you don’t continue to write, do you have another path you plan to follow?
As things stand, I have no plans to write any more fiction, though if the mood takes me I might write a stage play, some essays on natural history and a children’s book (called Boa). But all of that is uncertain. What is certain is that retirement for me will be marked by an increase in activity rather than a decrease. Sitting in front of a computer with no colleagues is not a healthy lifestyle. There are walks begging to be taken. I want a better garden. My tennis and my painting could improve. I have not been as politically engaged as I’ve wanted to be. There are demonstrations to attend and riots to foment. My grandson needs attention. My bike needs exercise. I need to brush up my French and my Arabic. I want to stay in bed. I think I’ll have a beer.

Once you’ve stopped writing fiction – and I hope you reconsider – how would you like readers to remember your works? What would be the most flattering thing you could hear?
I’m not interested in literary immortality. I’m enough of a rationalist (and atheist) not to care one way or the other if my books are read after my death. But there are reasons both practical and emotional why I’d be happy if my novels continued to sell after my abandonment of writing for another more communal life. I suppose the final weeks of my existence might be marginally more restful if I knew all my novels were still in print and that some of their readers recognized that, despite the dark places those books might have taken them to, the lasting tone is one of optimism.

Finally, to whom, or what, do you attribute your success as a writer? If you could give thanks and appreciation to one source, what/who would that be?
Thanks, Dad.

An Interview with Kevin Brockmeier

radiantfilmstrip

 

I reviewed Kevin Brockmeier’s latest work, a memoir of his coming of age, here. In short, it’s excellent, so you should read it.

Following that, I held an interview with him, which I’ve had in my queue far too long. I think it’s well-seasoned enough to post now. Sorry I’ve been so lazy occupied with other things.

Without further ado, here it is:

 

LG: What precipitated the decision to write about your experiences from 7th grade, in particular? Were there feelings of release afterward, any particular events you needed to get off your chest at this point in your life?
KB: The book had been percolating for quite a while. In fact, I tried to start it several years ago, but couldn’t quite figure out how to approach the material, so I set it aside to write The Illumination. Seventh grade was probably the most eventful year of my childhood, and certainly the most difficult, and it’s also the year I’ve spent the most time trying to understand. Writing the memoir, I’m afraid, didn’t exactly release me from any of that. What seems to have happened instead is that the events of that year, which had hardened over the decades into a dozen or so ready-made stories, were moved out of the realm of anecdote by the book and back into the realm of experience. The impulse behind the project was to take all the circumstances of my life—the person I used to be, the friends I used to know, the girls I used to like, the dreams I used to have, the movies I used to watch, the secrets I used to keep, the doubts I used to hide, the adulthood I used to anticipate—everything, whether good, bad, or embarrassing—and gather it back together.
LG: How does the process of writing autobiography differ from writing fiction? Should we expect more books about your personal life in the future?
KB: The actual work of it is very similar: me, sitting quietly in a room, slowly attempting to bend each sentence to its purpose. The difference is that, with this book, I tried very hard to cleave to the facts of my past experience, as well as to what I could recollect of my former consciousness. Even the most fantastic or otherworldly of my other books have been filled with the intimacies of my life, but none of the others were beholden to my actual autobiography. Again and again, at each moment, I had to remind myself what it was like to be the peculiar boy of thirteen I once was, and I had to suit the stance of the narrative to that boy’s mind, his understanding, and his vocabulary. It was a very foreign constraint for me, the truth—and a struggle, too, I have to say. I might attempt another memoir eventually (eleventh grade? twelfth?), but not right away.
LG: Are you a big reader of author autobiographies? Does reading such personal works enhance the experience of reading the author’s other works?
KB: I’m a big reader of authors—period. If I love a writer, I’ll read everything he’s written, and a fair percentage of what’s been written about him. Some of the authors I most admire were reluctant to write about their own lives (Italo Calvino). Others did so through a scrim of fantasy (Walter Tevis) and others still with almost no disguise at all (William Maxwell). Regardless, I think that when you read the whole of a writer’s work—fiction, essays, autobiography, and everything else—you do begin to see each individual book with more clarity. In my own particular case, while I’m sure A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip sounds like a departure from most of what I’ve written, I think somehow that it exists in the same narrative world as my other books. I hope, at least, that they all have something to say to each other.
LG: When not engaged in writing, how much time do you spend reading? Any work(s) or authors you believe influenced your own style of writing?
KB: Even when I’m right in the thick of a project, I spend a lot of time reading—certainly as much time as I spend writing. When I began working on this book, I was under the imaginative magnetic sway of a pair of memoirs, Stop-Time by Frank Conroy and I Will Not Leave You Comfortless by Jeremy Jackson, and also a pair of autobiographical novels, So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys by Chris Fuhrman. That said, I’m influenced by everything I read, or at least everything I read with love or hate rather than indifference. The best book I’ve read in the past year was Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban, and in the past few months probably Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. The best author I’ve discovered from out of nowhere recently is Chloe Aridjis, who’s published two novels, Book of Clouds and Asunder. I keep a list of my fifty favorite books, which I’m constantly reconsidering. I’ll append the most recent version of it to the end of this interview.
LG: Do you have a large book collection? Are you a one book at a time reader or able to divide your attention between several?
KB: When I’m reading for research rather than pleasure, I have no trouble setting one book aside for a brief dalliance with another, but otherwise I’m a serial monogamist. Against every free wall of my house is a row of bookcases, and every one of those bookcases is full. I would be entirely out of space if I didn’t keep discovering new little storage nooks: coffee tables, closets, cabinets.
LG:  What about your writing process? Are you able to juggle more than one major project at a time or does your current book consume you?
KB: Usually I work on one book at a time, though occasionally, if I’m writing a novel and I finish a section, I might pause for several weeks to try my hand at a short story. When I’m home, presuming I’m healthy, I try to devote as much of the day to writing as I can. I typically work from nine-thirty or ten in the morning to at least dinnertime, but I’m often more productive during my supposed post-work tinkering time than I am during my proper working day. The truth is that, hour by hour, I get very little done, but there are an awful lot of hours wrapped up in every story I write. The only thing I can say I’ve learned for certain is that the more time I’m able to spend writing, the more I’ll eventually, slowly, painstakingly, accomplish.
LG: Are you a writer who needs to outline a project beforehand or do you allow stories to unfold as you write? How much of your time is devoted to revision?
KB: I almost never outline, but very rarely do I begin writing a story without knowing roughly how long it will be, how many divisions it will have, and how its sections will rest alongside each other. The shape of a story—that’s what I know before I start: some scheme or intention of form that provides a predetermined vessel for the content. I tend to revise each sentence many times before I move on to the next, each paragraph many times before I move on to the next, and each page many times before I move on to the next, which is to say that I progress very slowly from the beginning to the end of a story in a series of tiny overlapping waves. Because I work that way, my stories have usually reached a state that’s fairly close to their final form by the time I complete the last sentence. My final editing process, then, usually involves reading back through them to look for any infelicities, imprecisions, or contradictions I might have missed along the way.
LG: Are readers of literary fiction a declining breed? What, if any, impact will current trends play in the prospect of yet-to-be-written classics?
KB: I can only speak for myself and say that I don’t know how books will be read a hundred years from now, from pages or screens or some device no one has yet imagined; don’t know what new shapes the English language will assume; and don’t know what upheavals, hardships, and erosions the world will undergo—but I believe that people will continue to find significance in stories and that there will always be value in examining words for their insinuations, their dim traces of other times and places, and attempting to fit each one properly to the next.
LG: Have you begun work on your next book?  Is it necessary for you to take significant breaks between projects or are you able to flow from one to the next?
Right now I’m spending a semester teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I never get much of my own work done when I’m here, but I do have a new project in mind, though so far I haven’t done much but tiptoe through the first few pages. I’ll see if I can gain my stride after I return home in May.
Fifty Favorite Books
Several rules: (1) I have listed these books in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, rather than in order of preference—though I’ve marked each of my ten very favorites with an asterisk. (2) I have chosen no more than one book per author, except in those cases where a pair of books or a trilogy seemed to call for a single shared listing. (3) I have tried to be honest, which is why there are so few classics on this list and so many semi-obscure fantasists and slim, sad coming of age stories.    —Kevin Brockmeier, June 29, 2013
1. A Death in the Family by James Agee (*)
2. Ghosts by César Aira
3. The Complete Short Stories by J. G. Ballard (*)
4. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (*)
5. The Gold Sisters Trilogy by Kate Bernheimer
6. Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
7. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (*)
8. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
9. The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati
10. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino (*)
11. Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
12. Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
13. The Latin American Trilogy by Louis de Bernières
14. Tales of Nevèrÿon by Samuel R. Delany
15. The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley
16. Blue Has No South by Alex Epstein
17. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
18. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys by Chris Fuhrman
19. Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant
20. The Torturer’s Wife by Thomas Glave
21. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
22. The Cockroaches of Stay More by Donald Harington
23. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
24. Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban
25. I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal (*)
26. Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
27. Elegy by Larry Levis
28. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
29. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
30. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (*)
31. All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories by William Maxwell (*)
32. My Happy Life by Lydia Millet
33. Essays by Michel de Montaigne
34. Complete Works and Other Stories by Augusto Monterroso
35. The Sharpshooter Blues by Lewis Nordan
36. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
37. Esther Stories by Peter Orner
38. Metamorphoses by Ovid
39. Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater
40. Selected Poems by Francis Ponge
41. My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
42. The His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
43. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (*)
44. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
45. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago
46. The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard
47. The Neighborhood by Gonçalo M. Tavares
48. The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis (*)
49. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
50. Stoner by John Williams

An interview with Colm Toibin

Colm Tóibín will be speaking at Elmhurst College this evening, on the topic of “The Irish Renaissance.” I am thrilled to say I’ll be in attendance.

Mr. Tóibín was kind enough to grant me an interview and here it is:

 

LG:  The term “Irish Renaissance” suggests there was ever a time Irish storytelling and culture was not appropriately respected. Why do you feel there has been an upsurge in “Irishness” and how recent was the shift?

CT:  The time that interests me most is about 1900. Up to then Irish playwrights – such as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw – had gone to London and lived there and written for an English audience. In around 1900 the movement began for Irish writers to live in Ireland and write for an Irish audience. This would have political as well as cultural implications.

LG:  What’s at the heart of this shift? Was there a single catalyst or do you see it as more of a progression?

CT:  I think the poet W.B. Yeats and his friend Lady Gregory were important, but it was also part of the time, a time when the periphery seemed to be moving towards the centre, when composers were interested in folk music, painters in primitive art and writers in folk tales.

LG:  On the flip side, for what reasons do you feel the Irish were formerly neglected, or even dismissed, as a culture capable of producing fine art?

CT:  Name an Irish novel of the nineteenth century. We had no Jane Austen, no Dickens, no Trollope, no George Eliot. Conditions in Ireland were not ripe for the novel; there was too much poverty and dispossession, not enough choices and chances.

LG:  Ireland is a singular country. It has a distinctive spirit immediately recognizable in its music, language and literature. What about the country lends itself so naturally to the telling of tales?

CT:  We had no symphonies, no great paintings, but slowly writing began to matter. Paper was cheap; literacy was the only way out of poverty; London was close and London publishers were interested in stories about strange places. The traditional music survived mainly in the west, and partly because of poverty. The language – Irish – did not survive as well because parents became aware that you would need English to go to England or America, as so many did.

LG:   We’ve just passed St. Patrick’s Day when, here in the United States at least, everyone’s Irish for the day. Is that offensive to you, that Americans (of Irish descent or not) drink green beer and glorify what’s become an Irish stereotype?

CT:   It’s funny and sweet and should be taken lightly.

LG:  I’ve asked this question of Frank Delaney, also, by the way, another very literary Irishman. His response was he took it in good humor, that it was a sort of tribute to Ireland in its way. But can it be seen as a negative?

CT:  No. It does no harm. There is a great connections between Ireland and America and there needs to be some way of honoring it.

LG:   I compare the feel of Ireland as a main character in literature to that of the American South. In fact, many Irish immigrated to that region, where the culture still echoes. Are you familiar with southern literature and do you see comparisons between the two?

CT:   Yes, I think so. There is a lovely strangeness about Irish writing, an unpredictability, and a way of handling solitude and dark themes. You also find this in the American South.

LG:  History has not always been kind to the Irish. Their history has been anything but smooth. From the Famine to the Troubles, the Irish have been beset in so many ways. Yet, Celts are a proud people who stubbornly cling to their homeland. The same may be said of other nationalities, yet it certainly seems the Irish are exceptional in this way. Am I being presumptuous in thinking so or is there really something so standout about the Irish?

CT:  I wonder about this. I think small countries in Europe, such as Croatia and Catalonia, the Basque Country and Estonia also have it.

LG:  ‘The Testament of Mary’ is not the only novel written by an Irishman to have been recently nominated for the Booker Prize. Sebastian Barry’s ‘On Canaan’s Side’ was, as well. Is this a part of the “Irish Renaissance,” what you find significant of late?

CT:  Three Irish writers have won the Booker Prize, and a good number of us have been nominated for the Prize– I have been nominated three times. And there are a number of good young writers publishing first novels now. There is a lot of energy in the literary culture. I wish I could say the same about the politics.

LG:  From what I gather, you no longer live in Ireland, but rather here in the U.S. Many Irish find a certain kinship with America, a welcome as it were. Do you feel as moved to create here as in your native Ireland? Is what you have accomplished here rooted in Ireland or inspired, at least partially so, by America?

CT:  I teach here one semester and then I go home. I like the openness of America. I like American manners, and the students I teach at Columbia are serious and hard-working and talented.

LG:  Finally, a bit of lighter tone from what I’ve asked earlier. Were you a bookish child, as is the case with so many writers? Was your home supportive of reading and traditional storytelling or did you pursue this on your own?

CT:  There was no traditional story-telling. There was a lot of silence. But there were books and books mattered. And yes, I was, from about the age of twelve, a very bookish kid.


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colmtoibinPhotograph: Kim Haughton

The Year of the Irish. Or the Quarter, at Least.

Known not so much for my timeliness as my obsessive nature, I’ve filled April, May and possibly June with all manner of Irishness. I did not bypass the month of March. Nay, I observed St. Pat’s with the consumption of a full half pint of Guinness and a resounding Slàinte, a tribute to at least a sliver of my ancestry, as well as admiration for the art and literature of Ireland. Plus, Guinness tastes good.

April 10: Colm Tóibín

Booker-nominated, all-round overachieving Irish writer Colm Tóibín is scheduled to speak on ‘The Irish Renaissance’ at Elmhurst College. Has Irish anything ever been out of fashion? To me, no, but I’d attend an event of any sort for the pleasure of hearing Mr. Tóibín hold forth.

BREAKING NEWS! I am in the process of interviewing Colm Tóibín. Watch this space for much, much more on Mr. Tóibín .

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May 12: Sebastian Barry

I am attending a reading/signing/pilgrimage with Sebastian Barry, the Bard of Ireland. You may recognize the name from one post out of every dozen or so I have ever posted. Of all the thousands of words I’ve written here, his name may have been mentioned with greatest frequency. Greater even than all articles, prepositions and participles put together.

He is once again gracing our shore on the occasion of the publication of his latest novel, The Temporary Gentleman,  book eight in what’s become a series of novels devoted to ancestors on both sides of his family. Must you read them in order? Not necessarily.

 

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More on that here:

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I can’t wait for the May publication of this book, sorry. I’ve pre-ordered the UK edition, as well as grovelled to his publisher (Faber & Faber) for an ebook copy of the ARC. So far no word but I assure you I’ve thrown myself into it with as much vigor as you would expect from me. At worst, the publication of the UK edition is April 3. With international shipping, I should get it roughly a day before publication in the US, because that’s just how things work for me.

 

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In more Sebastian Barry related news, I previously mentioned his novel The Secret Scripture is being adapted for the screen. When I wrote to wish him a Happy New Year the screenwriter on the project had just died, inconveniently enough. However, they found another gentleman to take up the task and it seems filming will begin in June.

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Bit more info on the film.

And did I mention Vanessa Redgrave’s one of the stars? Because she is.

 

ACADEMY-AWARDS

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Aaaaaand. I may go to Ireland in June. Or May. But probably June.

Must run! Good catching up with you.

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Interview with author Frank Delaney (Instant Replay)

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Happy St Patrick’s Day, all. As promised, here’s a re-post of an interview with another of my favorite Irish writers.

Enjoy.

Much health and happiness.

Sláinte!

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Interview: Frank Delaney – March 16, 2012

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“The Most Eloquent Man in the World.” – NPR

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“Every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story. In a good way.”
– from ‘The Last Storyteller’

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Irish-American novelist Frank Delaney has been telling the story of his native country through historical fiction for decades. A writer, broadcaster and James Joyce scholar, Delaney has been called by NPR “The Most Eloquent Man In the World.”

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His most recent novel, ‘The Last Storyteller,’ is the final installment in his Venetia Kelly trilogy. A mixture of ancient Irish folklore, eerily similar modern recreations of these stories and the beginnings of the Irish Republican Army, the intertwining plot lines revolve around main character Ben MacCarthy, the latest in a long line of seanchis, traveling collectors of folktales. His predecessor, John Jacob O’Neill, realizes he has grown too old to carry on. He is ready to pass the torch on to Ben, teaching him what he will need to know in order to carry on the tradition for posterity.

Venetia Kelly, Ben’s former wife, still holds his heart in her hands, though they’ve been separated for decades. He struggles with the feelings he still holds for her, though she’s married to another man, raising Ben’s twin children. Learning her new husband treats her violently, Ben must decide what action to take, his fiery temper threatening to lead him into committing an act of violence against the man he despises, while at the same time violence in Ireland itself is unfolding.

‘The Last Storyteller’ is a deeply felt, moving tale of ancient tradition colliding with the onset of The Troubles, a period in which Ireland engaged in a long, bloody civil war. Hatred and love, coupled with tradition and a land torn apart, ‘The Last Storyteller’ is an epic historical novel of Ireland told by one of its finest writers.

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Mr. Delaney very kindly granted me an interview, taking time out of his busy schedule, for which I am incredibly grateful:

1). Could The Storyteller be set anywhere but Ireland? Would any other setting compare in intensity of history, wealth of folklore?

Naturally, chauvinistically, I’d like to think that it could not be set anywhere but Ireland! But, let me be Irish, and contradict myself immediately. First of all, I try to write for a universal audience. If the definition of the novel is “a prose account of the human condition” then we might as well make it global, might we not? Secondly, years of reading mythology from all around the world, and from time immemorial, has taught me that “people are people are people” and that the story of mankind, as reflected in mythology, has shared long, wide, and colorful strands everywhere. As I say in the Author’s Note to The Last Storyteller, “mythology was a bible ever before there was a bible.” So, the answer to your question has to be that this is a story you could find in Alaska, India, Canada, Sri Lanka, Norway – whereever we have placed our feet.

2). How has Ireland changed in your lifetime, or has it? Can The Troubles ever be relegated to history?

Ireland has changed beyond recognition in my lifetime. It has changed politically, socially, spiritually, and culturally. I’ve always believed that the change began in earnest with the 1963 visit of President Kennedy. His youth, his vigor, his godlike glory showed my generation (I was 20) what was possible. Soon after, Ireland’s politicians began to reach out to the world to invite companies in on tax holidays and we began to grow an economy. Next came the contraceptive pill, which loosened social behavior as never before. Shortly after this, scandals hit the Catholic Church like rockets – scandals of embezzlement and child abuse; at the same time, Northern Ireland and the civil rights issue exploded. Now we had a melting-pot to be sure. And how it boiled! For 30 years people fought each other in the streets of that part of the country still under British rule, and only when President Clinton came to power was the matter settled, if somewhat uneasily. By then, the full disgrace of the Catholic Church was underway and people quit worship in droves. To cap it all, an era of unprecedented wealth, the famed Celtic Tiger, began to collapse, and the country is now fighting its way out of bankruptcy. At the moment, there is no violence in the politics; it rumbles from time to time, but given my own personal experiences as a reporter during the worst of the Troubles, I’m grateful for even an afternoon of quiescence.

3). What drives you? What ignites your passion?

Good question – easy to answer! Writing drives me. Writing ignites my passion. The challenge of telling a good story clearly and, I hope, in excellent and vivacious language, across a cultural arc that is as wide as I can make it – that gets me out of bed with delight every morning of my life. Just think of it – the very notion of providing a reader with a book that they find enriching and rewarding is a privilege that I try to service every day.

4). Should we fear technology replacing books? Are you a fan of the digital era?

I’m a fan of anything that enables and advances reading. Technology holds no fears for me – I have a Kindle and an iPad. I read on both and I also have a stack of books on my bedside table. Since the e-reader first began to appear, I have always taken the view that it was “as well as” and not “instead of.” In any case, the book as beautiful object has always been powerful to me – for instance, I have long been a fan of the Folio Society, that deliciously enriching producer and purveyor of beautiful books and have dozens if not hundreds of their gorgeous titles on my bookshelves.

5). As a native Irishman, how do you feel about the pre-packaged Irish stereotype on St. Patrick’s Day, the declaration everyone’s Irish?

You shouldn’t have asked this question! I admire the parade organizers and the parade marshals, and the participants in the parades, the dancers and the pipers and the marchers, who bring such pleasure and such delight to the notion of being Irish all across the United States and indeed the world. It remains extraordinary to me that an island not more than 33,000 square miles in size should be able to have its own national day once a year – what a size of personality that is! So I like the declaration that everybody is Irish for a day – but here comes the warning. I loathe the idea that to be Irish is to be drunk and vomiting and comatose from eight o’clock in the morning on as many streets across the United States as you can find. That’s racist behavior, stereotyping the Irish as drunk.. The people who do that offer no representation of anything Irish that I know to be the general ethos of our country, and I wish they would go and throw up in their own yards and stay away from the sweet and good-hearted celebrations of our native saint and our culture.

6). Do you have a dedicated writing space and/or set hours you work? (Maybe the question should be, is there any time you aren’t working…)

The second half of the question is the correct perception! I have two desks – one in our Connecticut home and one in our New York office. Insofar as decent social and marital behavior will allow (!) I am at those desks as often as I can be. As to hours of work – I find that I like best the work that I do earliest in the day. Over the years I’ve tried to refine as much as possible what kind of work I do in which period. So I reserve the morning, especially the early morning, for original composition, and try to do the rewriting at other hours of the day. But when a book is nearing an end, all those rules go out the window, and I write all the hours I need, sometimes ten, twelve, fourteen hours at a stretch.

7). Longhand, computer or typewriter? Which is your preference?

I tend to start a book in longhand – I make notes, I filled page after page of notebooks with odd jottings, observations, questions and inquiries. Out of this a general shape and idea seems to arrive somewhere, and I begin to write the first third of the book on the computer. That first section can take four to five times as long as the remaining two sections together.

8). Silly question, but why Joyce? Why devote so much time to lovingly explicate Ulysses, page by page? Thank you, by the way, but why?

Why Joyce? Why not?! Seriously – he remains, for me, one of the greatest writers of all time, and since I discovered him for myself, and began to revel in the joy that I find in him, I felt almost obliged to find a way of spreading that enjoyment. I know, I know, it seems nuts – but since I first started unpacking Ulysses phrase by phrase, with the express intention of leaving not a reference unexplained by the time I’ve finished, I’ve had something else wonderful happen to me. Apart from the hundreds of thousands of downloads of the weekly podcast, and the thrill of the enjoyment that people are good enough to share with me when they write to me, I am learning the most fabulous new raft of knowledge. Joyce had an extraordinary mind – he may have been one of the best read people of all time, and by taking the time and trouble to interrogate his – often very dense – references, I am learning what he knew. And passing it on. I can scarcely imagine a more enjoyable task.

9). How strong is the pulse of literary fiction, criticism and serious examination of literature in the 21st century? Who are today’s shining literary lights?

Great question! People have been saying for generations, “Oh, the novel is dead.” Well, it ain’t – nor is that wonderful American invention, creative nonfiction, nor is biography, nor is political writing. And as well as the books, the commentariat is alive and well. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that it’s healthier than ever, because we now have this wonderful new creature, the Literary Blogger. I’m a massive fan of this gorgeous animal, with all its fur and feathers – for a number of reasons. My main complaint about the general direction of literary criticism over the last century has been – and Joyce is a case in point – that it tended, in its lofty tone and often impenetrable language (not to mention occasional vendetta behavior), to be antidemocratic, to keep certain areas of literature to itself, whereas my own passion is for as many people as possible to be reading as widely as possible. The Literary Bloggers have no axes to grind, they’re not protecting their reputations, they don’t fear being sneered at by other critics, they’re reading what they want to read, writing what they want to write, and they don’t want to keep what they enjoy to themselves. They want to share. They want to expand the constituency of reading. They want to hail and applaud good writing. To my mind this is a very significant development – uneven, I grant, here and there, but, dammit, not as uneven as the generations of formal literary critics, and the blogging intention is so good and so worthy of loud vocal support that you can call it truly a new and, to my mind, incomparably welcome development in the world of reading and writing.

Frank Delaney’s website

 

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Interview with author Sebastian Barry (Instant Replay)

Bringing this over from Bluestalking at its Typepad location, replaying it due to the impending St. Patrick’s Day holiday. I have at least one other interview with a genuine Irish writer. You may bet your shamrock I’ll repeat it here by or before Monday.

This interview was a highlight of my life, not just my blogging life. Meeting him was an experience that took my breath away but this opportunity to engage in an interaction – be it via email or no – certainly qualifies as a life event that shall live in infamy. My infamy, that is.

Without further ado, here it is, my interview with Sebastian Barry:

(Sebastian Barry!)

 

You grew up in such a rich storytelling environment, learning more than most about your family’s history – especially contrasting here in the States, where we’re more “mixed breeds,” often without any clear ethnic heritage at all. Do you believe you would have chosen writing as your vocation if you’d grown up without such moving stories as incentive to pass on your ancestors’ tales (which tell so much about the history of Ireland)?

 

The strange thing is, my family was full of both stories and silence. Pregnant with silence. As a child there were versions of things, in particular my mother’s rather ferocious retelling of her childhood, available. My maternal grandfather also told me stories, since we shared a room in my childhood, about his travels all over the world, and indeed he kept an accounts book in which he always intended to write his autobiography – but how could he, when there was so much to keep secret? So even around these voluble stories there was a silence, or silences – very interesting silences too. So as I child was a short-trousered spy among them, trying to piece things together from clues, lies, admissions, and absences. Not very consciously maybe, but it was all such a tangle and a muddle there was an instinct to try and make sense of it. The other ingredient was, the sense of a prohibition on talking about many things. Why did my other grandfather never go home to Cork? What happened to those great uncles that disappeared? My painter grandfather taught me to paint, and I went to his house once a week religiously, but in all that time he never mentioned his own mother to me – because much to his shame she had been a Protestant. Awful in many ways, but also, wonderful, for a child at least – the mystery of it, and the strange anguish in these grown-up people, whom I adored unconditionally.

So in answer to your question, I could never have been a writer if I had been a true believer in all those stories – it was the silences that decided it.

 

 

The literature of the southern U.S. – I’m thinking of William Faulkner in particular – bears a strong resemblance to much Irish literature, due in part to several historical similarities: enduring/surviving civil war, the oppression/prejudice of some groups by those more powerful, the breaking away of part of the country from another (temporarily, in our case) and the resulting violence afterward in the way of racial prejudice (partly religious there): lynchings here, bombings there. etc.. Have you read much literature of the American South and do you have any thoughts on similarities between the two?

 

I haven’t read enough of the literature of the South (I confess) but I have taken a sort of tumultuous interest in the history of it – and you are right, our own Irish history is written there, mutatis mutandis, which I think primes the Irish reader to feel the full measure of the sorrow that rises from it. The binary madnesses of our species, religion against religion, race against race, gender against gender, are tragically universal, aren’t they? And written on the wind everywhere.

But Faulkner, aside from being a Southerner, is the prime instance of the writer going his own way. That in fact is what Seamus Heaney said to me years ago, when I was about 30. ‘You have to go your own way.’ It’s very simple, very true, and very hard to do.

 

 

The intensity of your writing, and the reading experience for your readers, is so great. Does it exhaust or upset you writing such personal material and do you sometimes find yourself needing to separate (i.e., take a break from) your work before resuming writing?

 

The disreputable fact is I love to work, especially when I get off the bank and finally into the river, and the boat heads away on the current of a book – even if the inevitable waterfall is to be heard far off in the distance. I take long breaks because I am old enough to realize that one of the sins of writing is to force it, despite what some people say about writing every day. You can’t run all day, day after day, and you can’t write like that either, unless you want to write ‘on sticks’ as it were. So it goes for me anyhow. What I am interested in is the fact that at some point a book makes itself possible, and I am so grateful for that that it is somehow immaterial to me if the subject matter is ‘dark’ –  there is no dark in the writing of it, somehow, or at least the light shone by sentences seems benign, and language itself maybe is a form of courage.

 

 

In the current literary world newspapers are eliminating or reducing space dedicated to books and literary culture, while blogging about the same subjects seems to be filling that gap formerly owned by professional journalists. Some doing a better job of it than others. Do you see that as a negative, i.e., should we be mourning the loss of more structured, professional reviewing, etc.? (Please ignore that I have a blog and don’t worry about offending.)

 

The greatest change in my writing life, of about 33 years, is the new availability of the thoughts of your readers. The sense of readers out there, beyond your ken, and yet existing in remarkable intimacy to you. No book is read communally, the reader is usually alone, in whatever place he or she reads. And yet there is a community of readers for a book, a sort of constellation of lights on an unknown map, each lit point representing a reader. And thanks to blogs and sites like goodreads, a writer if he so desires can hear the thoughts of this mysterious, deeply human, deeply personal and private demographic. It isn’t that it will make the writer write for his or her readers, but that he or she will write now for the first time among those readers – in their midst as it were, in a way that didn’t quite exist before.

Otherwise there are still the places that review, despite the shrinkages of space. What has partly compensated for that is the availability of all the reviews online. Previously, an individual bought The Times and what the Times said was the whole story for that particular person, and so on. So in a way, there is a sense that there are more reviews. Australia, US, Canada, and all the translation territories… So reviews do still dominate, strangely enough. And it is necessary to have that, it is as old as Greece and older. But maybe in the final analysis reviews are for readers, not writers.  Maybe when the writer reads a review of his own work, in that instance he mutates, becomes a reader. Because the source of books, the well of a book, is not to be found near that ground. Then there is also academic criticism, another creature altogether, most usually written by someone who has a chosen love or regard for the work being written about. And curiously enough, I think as far as I can see, many blogs work at that level, as if there is a hidden academia of interest, empathy, and enthusiasm, called the blogosphere. This is the new dispensation, and I think all in all it confers a blessing on writers.

 

 

It’s ubiquitous to ask about your own personal reading. How much reading time are you able to fit in and what have you read lately that you’d recommend?

 

I read like a tramp travels. Instinct, weather, where the wind blows me. I have about fifty books on my worktable at the moment, about bomb disposal, gun-running in Africa, all sorts of arcane things. I sometimes imagine in my mind’s eye, as I order yet another obscure title, the bookseller in some far away place, packaging up the book he or she thought would never be sold. That he or she had placed bets on would never be sold. ‘The Wonders of Modern Engineering’ (1927) for instance, which just arrived today… Otherwise I get quite a few galleys and try to read them religiously, because to write a book is a very hard, unlikely achievement bordering on the miraculous, and sometimes indeed crosses over into the very heartland of the miraculous.

 

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Sebastian Barry.

 

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List of works

Poetry
  • The Water Colourist (1983)
  • The Rhetorical Town (1985)

 

Fiction
  • Mackers Garden (1982)
  • The Engine of Owl-Light (1987)
  • The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998)
  •  Annie Dunne (2002)
  • A Long Long Way (2005)           Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize; winner of Costa Award and James Tait Black Memorial prize
  • The Secret Scripture (2008)    Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize
  • On Canaan’s Side (2011)           Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize

 

Plays
  • The Pentagonal Dream (1986)
  • Boss Grady’s Boys (1988)
  • Prayers of Sherkin (1990)
  • White Woman Street (1992)
  • The Only True History of Lizzie Finn (1995)
  •  The Steward of Christendom (1995)
  • Our Lady of Sligo (1998)
  • Hinterland (2002)
  • Whistling Psyche (2004)
  • Fred and Jane (2004)
  • The Pride of Parnell Street (2008)
  • Dallas Sweetman (2008)
  • Tales of Ballycumber (2009)
  • Andersen’s English (2010)