Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Bites: Tom Pitts, author of 101

It finally feels less-than-scorching here in Florida which is a clear indication that the year is slowly winding down. No worries, though, I've got a few more killer reads to showcase before we close out 2018. Today, I'm lucky enough to bring you an interview with Tom Pitts, author of the recently released 101- a wild ride of a tale replete with drugs, bikers and detectives, all scrabbling together in Northern California's "emerald triangle." This interview is a pretty wild ride as well...

101 is typical Tom Pitts, the kind of novel that proves he’ll forever and ever have followers, trailing behind him begging for one more hit.” —Eryk Pruitt

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

This is gonna sound like bullshit, but … no. I’ve always lived my life believing I didn’t need the whole pie, just a little slice. I’ve never been that greedy. Years ago, when I was looking for some shady side work, an old gangster told me, “Tom, you’ll never make it in this kind of life. You’re not hungry enough.” And he was right. I know I’m never going to be huge, I don’t write blockbusters, I’m not trying to write the great American novel; I just do what I do and try the best I can. It’s important to have a little perspective too. Take a look at where you started and where you are. Occasionally I have to remind myself there’s always somebody down the ladder a couple rungs who’s sayin’, “Damn, look at how well Tom’s doin’.” As for the friends who succeed? I’m happy for them. Truly. Their success is there to inspire me and make me aspire. Besides, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

That’s gotta be a sarcastic question. Man, what free time?! As it is I need to carve out the time I have for writing, steal it from my life. I run myself ragged. I look back at my novels and wonder how the hell I did it. Between the job, the family, and getting enough sleep so I don’t crack-up and kill someone, there is no time, let alone free time. Oh, wait … drinking. I’d probably do a lot more drinking.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

Two of note. Most recently I surrendered 20k words into a novel. It just wasn’t lighting a fire for me. I think the story line was too ambitious. I was out of my element and when I slipped back into my element, I felt like I was running over well-tread ground. The other one was a book I was writing while I was still out on the street. Joe Clifford still tells people I was pushing around a shopping cart with a desktop in it—and that’s not too far from the truth. I was out of my mind on drugs, but I was trying to write this huge crime novel that just kept splintering and splintering. Years (and years) later I went back and found the floppy discs (yeah, floppy discs) and downloaded the damn thing and had a look. It wasn’t too bad. The title was so good, I won’t tell you what it was ‘cause I might still use it.

Who was your intended audience for the novel?

Aside from folks who’ve read and enjoyed my last two novels, and the new readers I hope will discover it, I was acutely aware while writing this book that a lot of the people who the characters are (loosely) based on would be reading it. Some of them are not big readers either. I’m anxious to see what they think of my interpretation of their world. A lot of my pals who’re out there on the fringe give me great feedback about my work. It’s always a great feeling when someone tells me they don’t read and yet they finished a book of mine in a couple sittings.

How important is the setting in your novel?

All my novels (so far) have been set in and around the Bay, and the Bay Area’s played an important role in all of them. San Francisco is alive and well in my work and I’ve been told many times that I treat the city like a character. But with 101 the setting is even more integral. The backdrop of the story is deep in the redwoods of Humboldt County and I went to great lengths to deliver an accurate portrayal of life in the Humboldt hills. From way back in the bush to the little hippie town of Garberville, all the way down the 101 to Oakland and San Francisco, I cover a lot of ground in this baby. I’m finishing out my Northern California Quartet with the next book, Coldwater. That one is set mostly in Sacramento, but ends in Malibu, of all places.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Book Bites: Patricia Austin Becker, author of Cane River Bohemia

As always, I'm excited to bring you something just a little bit different, and today I'm featuring a biography! Patricia Austin Becker's Cane River Bohemia examines and fleshes out the life of Cammie Henry, a freethinking woman who, in the 1920s, turned a former Louisiana plantation into an artist colony and surrounded herself with writers, painters, naturalists and other intellectuals. Just released, Cane River Bohemia is a fascinating look into the forgotten life of a woman who cultivated her own paradise and changed the lives around her. 

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

I’m not sure “jealous” is the word I’d use but I am rather envious of people who have the luxury of time and solitude to write. That’s one true gift that Cammie Henry offered to the writers that came to stay at Melrose, and I am definitely envious of Lyle Saxon and how he was able to walk away from his full-time job at the Picayune, move into the cabin at Melrose, spend his days writing and his evenings sitting in the company of Miss Cammie and whomever else might be in residence that day. The environment there was so rich for creativity.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time? 

I can’t imagine not writing, but probably I would be digging through some archives someplace or else knocking things off my bucket list like driving Route 66 from East to West or attending Oktoberfest in Munich.

Were they any parts of your book that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

Hahaha! The first line of Cane River Bohemia was initially, “Cammie Henry spent her entire life on damned rivers.” Both Bayou Lafourche, where she grew up, and Cane River where she spent her adult life, were dammed. I thought it was hilarious; my editor, thankfully, had better judgment!

Do you have a set routine as a writer? 

I discovered that I write best in the morning and when it is raining. The best writing days for me on Cane River Bohemia was when we had three consecutive snow days, the schools were closed, and I couldn’t go anywhere. It was glorious. I plugged in my headphones, cued up my favorite playlist, and went to work.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?

I’m not sure I can name a single book, but Southern writers speak to my soul: Eudora Welty, Rick Bragg, Harper Lee. Not Southern, but I love his seeming simplicity and the rhythm of his writing: E.B. White.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Miraculum ARCs are here!

...And they're gorgeous. Just sayin'. :)

Want to know what's inside? Check out Entertainment Weekly's feature on Miraculum for a sneak-peak at Chapter One... Oh, and pre-orders are up as well! 

(If you are a reviewer interested in an advanced copy of Miraculum, please contact me or Jason Pinter at Polis Books. Miraculum is also available on Netgalley for request. Many thanks!)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Book Bites: Erica Wright, author of The Blue Kingfisher

Erica Wright is a maverick. Crime writer one minute, lauded poet the next- she's pretty much unstoppable and I'm thrilled to have her back to celebrate the release of her latest Kat Stone mystery: The Blue Kingfisher

"Fascinating and fully developed characters lift Wright’s intriguing third Kat Stone mystery...Wright’s vividly told tale is studded with wry wit.” ―Publishers Weekly

Were there any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

Oh, what a great question. I had a scene at a campaign rally that amused me to no end. I wrote it before the 2016 election, and it was light-hearted, gently poking fun at the elaborate promises of politicians. It had a Lady Macbeth-esque figure who disrupts the evening with a paranoid rant. If I wrote it now, it would be a lot more cynical. Ultimately, I cut it because it didn’t forward the story, though, not because of tone.

How do you handle writer’s block?

No way through but through. Is that a real phrase? What I like about writing fiction is that there’s a tangible work aspect to it. When I’m writing poems, most effort takes place off the page, doing the dishes or studying a star atlas. There’s a lot of patience required, a lot of trust. Every time I start a new poem I think, what if I’ve forgotten how to do this? I don’t have that same fear with fiction. Of course, there are days when my writing’s cringe-worthy, but I’m still able to write. And maybe I don’t use those paragraphs, but they lead to a new idea. So I suppose my practical advice is don’t be afraid to write badly. As Richard Hugo would say, “When you are writing, glance over your shoulder, and you'll find there is no reader. Just you and the page.”

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

I appreciate how writers are opening up now about the realities of this career. Authors you assume write full-time reveal their side hustles, and it’s bracing but important information. I think the true measure of success is working on projects you love. Writing what you want to write. If somebody wants to publish those treasures, even better.

Did the novel have any alternate titles?

It’s funny, yes, the novel definitely did. But I can’t remember any of them. I just remember that they didn’t work. I loved the idea of the kingfisher because it’s a stunningly beautiful bird and is quite deliberate in the way it hunts. A kingfisher will find a high perch, then swoop down for its lunch. I’m interested in the idea of haves versus have-nots, those perched highest and those nearer the earth, and how that relates to crime. So I took some creative license and made “kingfisher” the title and also the nickname for someone who finds off-the-book jobs for immigrants, a key plot point.

What was something interesting you learned while researching that didn’t make it into the novel?

I learned that there are no jellyfish that cause hallucinations off the coast of New York—but I included one anyway.

Want to know more about The Blue Kingfisher? Check out my in-depth interview with Erica Wright over at LitReactor

Want to know more about Wright's poetry and other novels? Check out my 2017 interview in which all are covered... 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Bites: Joe Clifford, author of The One That Got Away

Okay, admit it. You've been waiting for this interview. Today, I'm bringing you shoot-from-the-hip answers to a few questions from rock star author Joe Clifford. His most recent novel, The One That Got Away will hit shelves this December, but if you can't wait that long, check out Clifford's Jay Porter series and the book that started it all, Junkie Love. For now, read on as Clifford gives it to us straight about broken characters, deadlines, golf, and why crime writers are some of the nicest folks you'll ever come across....

"Taut, pacey and with a powerful sense of place, Joe Clifford's The One That Got Away is an intelligent and astutely observed piece of American small town noir." --Paula Hawkins

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I made the switch to genre, mystery, because honestly, the people were nicer. This isn’t to knock all literary fiction writers. But that’s the place I started, and I found many to be, well, sorta douchey. Or at least rude. And I think about this often, why mystery writers—crime writers—who write about some god-awful stuff—murder and assaults and kidnappings—tend to be some of the nicest mutherfuckers you’ll ever meet. Whereas, conversely, literary fiction writers, who write all about feelings and shit, are a little more insular, snobbish, pretentious, dickish. And I think it’s because we mystery/crime writers understand there is no end game. No prize. Every once in a while someone breaks through, and you are truly happy for them. But most of us are happy to get our books out, have some people like them, and so we support one another. Without generalizing too much, I think literary fiction carries a heavier weight, that illusion of the Great American Novel, and how it is going to change your life. It’s not.

Which character in the novel gave you the most trouble?

That’ll always be Jay Porter. Jay is a character I deeply identify with, and a character that pisses a lot of people off. He’s morose, sullen, angry, hellbent on revenge, and not all that nice. And while I am not like that, at least not entirely, I can see how I could’ve ended up there. A couple more wrong turns, fewer good breaks, whatever. But my life broke a different way. But it didn’t for Jay, and when so many things go wrong I see how people can become broken. My brother was broken like that. The stories of broken people interest me. Heathcliff. Holden Caulfield. Camille Preaker. I’ve found that a lot of readers don’t like to be reminded of that kind of thing, and that if a book is too dark, you run the risk of alienation. But that was the story I wanted to tell. But, yeah, it hurts that Jay doesn’t get a little more love.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

What I’m doing now. Golfing. I’ve been golfing a lot. I’m trying to take time off before the next book. I have three out this year (Broken Ground [Porter 4]; the 2nd Ed. of Junkie Love. And [my first in a 3-book deal with Down & Out] The One That Got Away. And a 4th if you count the Italian translation of Lamentation [Porter 1]). Which involves a lot of traveling to promote. I don’t think I get one uninterrupted three-week block till the New Year. Moreover, though, I want this next book I write to be … the one. I feel like I am running out of time. Anyway, it’s sorta driving me nuts, not writing. So I’ve been golfing a lot. Which with my injuries (motorcycle accident) is tricky. I’ve got a little old man swing. But it’s fun. I did it a lot when I was a kid. My wife thinks it’s a mid-life crisis. Probably. Still beats having an affair and buying a sports car.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I once heard another writer say that the best cure for writer’s block was having a deadline. It’s pretty amazing, especially if an advance is involved. I mean, you ain’t giving the money back. I haven’t missed a deadline yet.

What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?

Well you know how that is. You love all your babies the same. It’d be like asking you which chicken you love best! But, yeah, since you’re asking (and I’m answering). Junkie Love. It was my first book, and it’s the story of my life. I am very proud of work I did on the Jay Porter series, in part because I was able to expose what a bunch of rat-bastards the Manafort family is (have fun in prison, Paul). And my new thriller, The One That Got Away, may very well be the “best” book I’ve written, at least in terms of character, plot, mystery, etc. But Junkie Love will always be the story of how I got from there to here. And I like here. Most days.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Book Bites: Charles Dodd White, author of In the House of Wilderness

I'm so excited today to bring you an interview with Charles Dodd White, in my opinion one of the best Appalachian writers to date, whose harrowing In the House of Wilderness debuted last month to critical acclaim. White is known for the beauty and brilliance of his language and now he's bringing us a story of mythical proportions, set in a stark and desperate landscape, centered on a family that embodies the harshness of the land around them.

"In the House of Wilderness may be Charles Dodd White’s finest achievement to date. This is a story that at once moves and lingers, well paced but dripping with the language we've come to expect from his pen. Line for line, White is one of the most talented writers at work in the American South."—David Joy

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I can’t become invested in a piece of writing unless I can feel that something urgent is at stake. So, for me, that really dismisses a lot of so called “high concept” fiction. Some readers have called my writing Gothic, but I really think I’m writing realistically about people who find themselves in difficult circumstances. I want the reader to feel like the conflicts my characters face are recognizable and important. That’s the heart of fiction, for me.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

More than once. When you sit down to write a novel, you’re flying blind. One of the great things about that is that you have a world of possibility in front of you, and if you’re doing the job right you’re taking big risks. The downside of that is, of course, those risks don’t always pay off and sometimes you end up with a mess on your hands. I like what Harry Crews said about this, though I’ll butcher it in paraphrase. Sometimes, when the work isn’t there, it needs to go into the fire. I like that idea of purifying the work by destroying it so then you can go on and make something new from the ground up.

What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?

I’m always proudest of what I’m currently working on. I want to make sure I’m doing something different each time I set out on a project. As a writer it’s important to keep looking forward and to realize you’re building something longitudinal. A long term career is something that requires you to try to understand yourself and to reflect that honestly in what you create.

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Success is writing the books that only you are meant to write. That might translate into sales, big publishers, and critical accolades or it might not. But being proud of sticking to your own view of what your art should be isn’t something that can be taken away from you. 

Who was your intended audience for the novel?

In the House of Wilderness is a book for people who believe the world doesn’t offer up easy answers. The characters are human, and as such, they are flawed. I’m not interested in writing something that promotes a cardboard version of right and wrong. As Hawthorne said: “Ambiguity is sacred.”

Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Bites: Kate Gehan, author of The Girl & The Fox Pirate

Today, I'm super-excited to bring you an interview with The Girl & The Fox Pirate author Kate Gehan. I mean, will you look at that cover! A dreamy, wonder-filled short story collection is exactly what we need right now....

"This is a charming, keen collection of creatures and treasures where even the darkness crackles and zaps with tiny electric lights." -Leesa Cross-Smith

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

Piano and guitar lessons. Maybe song writing.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I do everything I can to get out of tired patterns. I explore new music, walk different streets, hit a new museum exhibit, and get out and people watch. Reading poetry aloud late at night and showering in the dark also rewires my brain.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

A handful of years ago I started a novel about the opiate epidemic in Staten Island, where I grew up but left after my family moved away after I graduated from college. The story and characters grew out of a series of short stories, beginning with a couple who sells pot out of their ice cream truck. But then as I began to get serious about the project, the New Yorker published an exhaustive article about oxycodone busts on the island, and a few authors published books on the subject, along with Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. I didn’t move quickly enough and the market became saturated. Plus, I had qualms about writing about a place I’ve been away from for so long. My characters still feel real to me and I think about them often, but I’ve let go of their story.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

It’s twofold: Just sit down and do it for 20 minutes, and everyone else faces the same blank page.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?

I read Robert C. O’Brien’s children’s fantasy/sci-fi novel The Silver Crown as a child. The protagonist’s house burns down, she witnesses a murder, and escapes a kidnapping by sheer gumption and by use of a magical crown only she can control. Ellen uses the gifts she’s been given to survive a dangerous world—what a feminist heroine! I loved how O’Brien mixed realism with magical fantasy and I think I’ve been chasing that combination ever since in my own writing.