Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lightwood Review in the Sun Sentinel

Many thanks to Oline Cogdill for this wonderful review of Lightwood in the Sun Sentinel (South Florida) newspaper! Here's a snippet:

"In Lightwood, Steph Post shows a flair for delving into the dark side of small towns and the even darker drive of families. While most of the realistic characters in Lightwood are not likable, Post makes us care deeply about what will happen to each, much as authors Daniel Woodrell and Elmore Leonard have done in their works."

http://www.southflorida.com/theater-and-arts/books/sf-book-review-lightwood-post-20170502-story.html


Friday, May 19, 2017

Love in a Teenage Wasteland: An Interview with Ed Tarkington

Every now and then I do an interview where I find myself nodding along at every sentence, feeling like the author and I are on the same page, even more so than I was reading said author's novel. This conversation with Ed Tarkington, author of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, a visceral novel of growing pangs set in a small Southern town in the 1970s, is one of those interviews.... Enjoy.

https://www.amazon.com/Only-Love-Break-Your-Heart/dp/161620382X?SubscriptionId=0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82&tag=&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=161620382X

Steph Post: I'd like to go ahead and start with the coming-of-age theme running through Only Love Can Break Your Heart. At its core, the novel is about Paul, and then his younger half-brother Rocky, coming of age, exploring their identities and learning their places in the world. In this day and age, most novels dealing with these themes are considered YA, but I definitely felt that Only Love Can Break Your Heart was written for adults. Who was your intended audience with the novel and why?


Ed Tarkington: I try not to think too much about audience when I’m writing. I begin with a character and an emotion or conflict and just go from there. Only Love Can Break Your Heart came from a deep-rooted desire to resolve or make sense of some difficult and disillusioning events from my own childhood, so it just seemed natural to tell a story that began in the narrator’s early years and encompassed the ensuing process of growth and reckoning. I think most writers are in search of insight or epiphany regarding the people and events or circumstances that gnaw at them. I still have a fairly romantic view of where writing comes from. The first audience is me. If the text feels true on the page, I figure maybe the people who read the same books I read and love will be moved by the story I’m telling.

Regarding the YA thing: I have to admit, the concept was not something I’d thought about at all until I started traveling to promote Only Love Can Break Your Heart and have met some YA writers and seen them in action at trade shows and festivals and so forth. The YA writers I’ve met are amazing people, and amazingly talented. I know a few novelists who are intentionally writing in that genre and producing incredible work for younger readers. But I know others who, like me and probably you too, just wrote the best book they could about the things they cared deeply about, and then an agent or editor said “we could do well if we pitched this as YA.”

If “Coming of Age” is a YA theme, then The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a YA novel. So is Great Expectations, and Catcher in the Rye, and The Unvanquished, and The Bluest Eye, or, more recently, The Goldfinch, which sold a bajillion copies in hardcover and won the Pulitzer Prize. I don’t mention these titles to invite comparison, but, rather, to say that I don’t see the theme as being the sole province of adolescent readers, or a book that speaks to young writers as one that should not also be read and taken seriously by adults. These days, genre is a pretty unstable concept anyway. Remember, the last book Colson Whitehead published before The Underground Railroad was about a zombie apocalypse. The one he wrote before that was about a teenaged boy and his friends spending a summer at the beach. Does it get any more YA/Coming-of-Age than that?


SP: As we just discussed, Only Love Can Break Your Heart is about growing up and, aside from time passing, hallmarks of this experience abound: discovering music, smoking cigarettes, admiring the cool kids and learning about sex. Was it deliberate to include these markers along the way or did these totemic moments come about naturally in the course of the story?


ET: Honestly, I don’t make any deliberate choices in my writing beyond what feels urgent and natural and rooted in a character’s desires and the obstacles between her/him and their fulfillment. As I mentioned above, the origin of this story was very personal for me. I have a much older half-sister with whom I had a relationship somewhat similar to Rocky’s and Paul’s. I wanted to write about that, but I was reluctant to write a memoir. I’m from one of those Southern families that doesn’t want its dirty laundry aired in public, and I love my mother too much to tell the truth. Furthermore, I think emotional truth is easier to get at when you distance yourself from the facts. So I decided to flip the gender and turn my sister into one of the “bad boys” from my street whom I observed when I was a kid with a mixture of awe and terror. They all smoked and drank and started having sex pretty young. So the story I had to tell was true to their experience, along with Rocky’s as a kid who idolizes and desires to emulate his older brother but doesn’t really fit that mold. As for totemic moments, well, isn’t that the stuff that matters to everyone when they’re going through that time of their lives?


SP: While many of the characters in your novel illicit sympathy from the reader, they are all deeply flawed- a characteristic that adds to the authenticity of the novel. What draws you to writing about these types of characters?

ET: What draws me to writing about flawed people? Being one, I suppose. Plus flawed people are the most interesting. Like that Kerouac quotation on ten thousand dorm room posters says, “the mad ones are the only ones for me.” I’ve always been drawn to the outsiders. I think this is a persistent theme in most of the novels I really love. Hester Prynne, Ahab, Huck Finn, Jay Gatsby, the Invisible Man, Randall McMurphy, T.S. Garp, Sethe—they are all so different, but in the most important ways, they’re wrestling with the same problem, whether it takes the form of resistance to social and political injustice or to the issues that arise in the smallest, but perhaps most influential, institution in all of our lives: our families. I just have enormous empathy for those who by choice or circumstance are unable to fit or conform into institutions or situations where most people appear to feel at ease. The reality, of course, is that, at least a some point, we all feel that we don’t belong, and we all struggle with our sense of self and our places in the world. I do, anyway—still. So those are the people I’m interested in—my people, I guess you could say.


SP: Only Love Can Break Your Heart, set in the 1970s, really plays up the element of nostalgia, something I've noticed more and more books, films and shows doing as of late. Do you think there is a reasoning behind this trend? And why do you think readers are so affected by the nostalgia in the novel?


ET: I wrote this book at a crisis point in my writing life. I’d worked for seven years on another book which was good enough (along with a referral and a lot of luck) to get me a really good agent, but the book did not sell. I was married with a toddler. I’d left the graduate creative writing world and taken a job teaching English and coaching wrestling at a prep school because I couldn’t afford not to have health insurance. The price of this compromise was a dearth of time to write, travel, or research the way I had for the first book. So I had no choice but to turn back to the place where I started—the place where I was formed, and where the urge to tell stories originated in me.

I don’t think that the nostalgia you’re noticing is a new trend, particularly in novels with adult narrators reflecting on childhood. Any time adults look back on the past, they do so with at least a small measure of nostalgia, because the world always seems simpler and more comprehensible through a child’s eyes. The point of what happens in Only Love Can Break Your Heart is to carry the narrator—and, by extension, the reader—through the process whereby the child narrator matures and begins to see the world and the people he loves for what they really are. If there is a particular trend of nostalgia in this cultural moment for the period of time I’m writing about, that’s circumstantial, dictated, I suspect, mostly by the fact that people who can remember those years are a big market with a lot of buying power. Twenty-five years ago, pop culture was dominated by nostalgia for the World War II generation. A decade ago, Mad Men kicked off this huge nostalgia for the early 60s, which was a pretty grim time but which still came across on TV as comparatively sexy and glamorous, despite the misogyny and racism, the alcoholism and serial infidelity, etc. Now the 70s, which I barely remember but know from history class was not exactly the smoothest decade in American history, and the 80s, which, in my recollection was a pretty tedious time characterized by terrible fashion, lame music, insipid sit-coms, and perpetual fear that we were all either going to get blown up by the Russians or catch AIDS, are getting the same treatment,. Even books, films, and TV shows that mean to satirize or critique those times unintentionally romanticize them, the way even a decidedly anti-war movie like Apocalypse Now or Platoon makes combat seem thrilling and adventurous. So it goes.

SP: Finally, music plays a big role in the novel: the title itself comes from a Neil Young song. Why was it so necessary to include all of the song and music references? How important is music to you, both in your personal and writing life?


ET: When I started the book in response to the urge I mentioned earlier to write about my half-sister, the first thing I thought of was the voice of Neil Young. When I was six years old, my half-sister gave me my first rock records—Best of the Doobies by the Doobie Brothers and So Far by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. I would sit in my room and listen to those records over and over. My favorite song was “Helpless” by CSNY, which is basically a Neil Young solo track. The voice just hypnotized me. Listening to that song was probably one of the most important formative influences in my life as an artist. In school, when I was supposed to be doing math problems, I would stare out the window and just think about the sound of that voice and the images it describes. A big part of the bond I formed with my half-sister revolved around that music—sitting in her room listening to records while she drew or painted and smoked one cigarette after the other. So really, the soundtrack of the book was set twenty years before I began to write the story.

I think the extent to which people of mine and previous generations fetishized specific music and musicians may be difficult to fathom for people who have grown up with streaming media. This is not a criticism so much as an explanation. Before everyone had perpetual access to everyone, you latched on to someone like Neil Young or Keith Richards or Bob Dylan and literally wore them as badges on your jacket, both as signifiers of your identity and talismans of safety in the feral halls of public middle and high schools. So this isn’t a contrivance for me; it’s utterly organic to the lives of the characters I’m writing, who began as memories of people I once knew.

Music is less important to me now than it was then, though it still matters a lot. We connect most viscerally to music when we’re kids, because it offers a vehicle or conduit for our emotions at a time when most of us lack the vocabulary to express those feelings in language. Before we can even read or form words, we make and respond to music. So there’s really nothing purer or more primal. As we get older and our understanding of language catches up, we find a different, perhaps deeper means of self-knowledge through reading and writing poetry and prose. So I still get the same satisfactions as always from music, but my heart belongs to the novel.

Living in Nashville and having worked in my twenties at a music club, I’ve met a lot of famous musicians, and I can’t deny being a little giddy at times. But I nearly fainted after I met Louise Erdrich. Writers are my rock stars.

http://www.edtarkington.com/olcbyh/

So many thanks to Ed Tarkington for stopping by and giving so much to this interview. Be sure to pick up your copy of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, available now from Algonquin Books, today. And, as always, Read, Review and Recommend. Cheers!

Vending Machine Press

If you're interested in reading Lightwood, but still need an extra nudge, you can read the first scene over at Vending Machine Press. Many thanks to VMP, both for this showcase and for publishing past work!


https://vendingmachinepress.com/2017/05/01/lightwood-steph-post/



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rhysling Poets' Showcase

Many thanks to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association for the nomination of my poem "Alice-Ecila" for a Rhysling Award (and for the fact that my photo is next to Neil Gaiman's- a fact that I will never forget....

https://specpo.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/2017-rhysling-poets-showcase-13/



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My Book, The Movie

Many thanks to Marshal Zeringue for letting me build a cast list for Lightwood over at the My Book, The Movie site. Some of the picks were easy (ahem.... Margo Martindale for Sister Tulah), but others were certainly more head-scratching. All I can say is, casting directors: take note....!

http://mybookthemovie.blogspot.com/2017/04/steph-posts-lightwood.html




Friday, April 28, 2017

Crossing Paths on Crossed Bones: A Conversation with S.W. Lauden

S.W. Lauden has written one of the craziest, wildest novels I've read this year and I'm thrilled to be able to catch up with him to discuss Crossed Bones, a strange crime tale of low-lifes, bad decisions and, oh yeah, pirates. Crossed Bones, the follow up to Crosswise, debuts this Tuesday (May 1st!), so go ahead and pre-order now....
https://www.amazon.com/Crossed-Bones-S-W-Lauden/dp/1943402574/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493403796&sr=8-1&keywords=crossed+bones+s.+w.+lauden


Steph Post: Okay, Shayna and Tommy... wow. I'm not going to ask how you came up with these two crazy main characters—because I might not want to know—but I did want to ask about their role in the novella. Would you say that Crossed Bones is more plot-driven or character-driven? And is this style found in all of your work?

S.W. Lauden: Thanks, for having me, Steph! And thanks for the great blurb for Crossed Bones.

Writing the two Tommy and Shayna novellas has been an interesting challenge for me. The first book, Crosswise, started out as a short story I wrote while vacationing on the panhandle of Florida. I came up with the crossword puzzle concept and started writing without knowing too much about the characters. Because of that, Tommy and Shayna truly unfolded as I wrote the story and just kept developing as it evolved into a novella.

When it came time to write the sequel, I had every intention of centering the action on Tommy’s search for Shayna. But as I wrote, her story kept demanding more and more attention. I found myself needing to answer the question of why he’s so obsessed with her. The best way I could figure out to do that was letting her take the wheel (helm?) for a few chapters. The result is that Crossed Bones is probably more character-driven than Crosswise.

By contrast, I’d say that the character development and storylines in my Greg Salem punk rock P.I. novels are more intentional, and decidedly less crazy. The Tommy and Shayna books are definitely a separate animal.


SP: Shayna, in particular, is more at home in the underbelly of the various places she winds up in for both books. That's probably why I enjoyed her character so much; I'm usually the one rooting for the loser or underdog. What attracts you to writing this type of character? And why do you think readers enjoy them so much?


SWL: Shayna’s a real bad apple with a serious taste for trouble. Tommy’s no angel either, but his law enforcement background keeps him honest most of the time—at least until he gets around her. Then all bets are off. There’s something about the nature of their relationship that makes him kick morality to the curb whenever they’re together. Maybe it’s love, or maybe she brings the real Tommy out into the light. Whatever the reason, the two of them together is a pretty dangerous combination.

I like writing these two characters precisely because they are so over-the-top. Everybody has some amount of darkness lurking around, but most of us manage to keep the darkness under control. It creates a sort of morbid fascination with the types of people who give into those temptations, giving the rest of us a glimpse of what might happen if we ever gave in too.

SP: It's funny; the only two places I've ever lived are Florida and North Carolina and both are places where Shayna and Tommy find, and cause, trouble. In your mind, what is the connection between the two states? Is this just an east coast beach bum coincidence or was there something else at work here?


SWL: I did want to keep Tommy and Shayna near the ocean, but I’ve also had great experiences in Florida and North Carolina over the years. Having been to both places, I felt a little more comfortable writing about them, but I still fictionalized the main settings. The plots and characters in the Tommy and Shayna books are extremely dark and cartoonish, so I didn’t want anybody to think I was actually trying to describe a real community. These stories are meant to be collages that I'm pushing to one extreme or another.

The panhandle of Florida—with it’s white sand beaches, crystal clear water and laid back resort vibe—seemed like a great place to set a series of murders. That was the inspiration for Crosswise. Once I decided to make the sequel about a modern day pirate treasure hunt, the outer banks in North Carolina was the obvious choice for Crossed Bones.

https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/lauden-crosswise/


SP: As you just mentioned, Crossed Bones has a bit of a pirate theme, both at the campy and serious level. Pirates and crime would seem to go together, but you still don't see this combination in many contemporary crime fiction novels. So first of all, why don’t more people write about pirates? (I mean, come on, everybody loves pirates) And second, what brought you to the "pirate-noir" genre?


SWL: I'd guess that more people don’t write about pirates because the pirate meme has jumped the shark so many times in popular culture. At this point it’s pretty hard to picture anybody besides Johnny Depp whenever the word is conjured, and that’s a character most of us could use a break from. So you run a very serious risk of being completely cheesy or terribly derivative by embarking on a pirate tale, especially one that makes no pretense of historical accuracy.

That said, pirates remain an enduring symbol of self-indulgence, greed and violence—and I wanted to send Shayna on a strange and desperate adventure—so I took a stab at it. I think the campiness of the pirates helped to balance out the violent rabbit hole the characters go down in this book. There’s a healthy dose of absurdity built into the DNA of the Tommy and Shayna books that allowed me to play with that theme, or at least that's what I was going for. My hope is that people will have as much fun reading Crossed Bones as I did writing it, but I won’t be surprised if a trashy/campy beach book about cocaine-dealing pirate impersonators isn’t everybody’s cup of grog.


SP: Along with the fabulous Eric Beetner, you host a monthly podcast called Writer Types. It's a fairly new podcast, but has quickly gained quite the following. What makes Writer Types stand out in the crowded sea of literary podcasts?


SWL: I'd say that it comes down to the quality and variety of the guests. Eric and I have been pretty stoked by the caliber of authors and industry professionals that have appeared on the podcast so far—and we're getting more request every day. The crime and mystery universe is vast and diverse, filled with a lot of characters that are pumping out some truly amazing books. From that perspective, other than giving ourselves the daunting challenge of doing so many interviews for each episode, we've gotten pretty lucky so far. You can ask me again in another couple of episodes and I might give you a totally different answer.

SP: As you are someone who has a pulse on the literary crime scene, I'm dying to know what novels you're looking forward in the coming year. Any titles I should really have my eye on?


SWL: Right now I'm looking forward to Jo Nesbo's new Harry Hole novel, The Thirst, Don Winslow's The Force and Into The Water by Paula Hawkins. What else? Jordan Harper's She Rides Shotgun promises to be amazing, and so does Joe Clifford's next Jay Porter novel, Give Up The Dead. I've also got an advanced copy of Jeffrey Hess's short story collection, Cold War Canoe Club, took a sneak peek at Tom Pitts' American Static, and I'm looking forward to A Negro and an Ofay from Danny Gardner. Did I mention that Angel Colon is releasing Blacky Jaguar Against The Cool Clux Cult this June? And Rob Hart's next Ash McKenna book, The Woman From Prague, drops this July, Further down the road, I'm looking forward to Naomi Hirahara's next Mas Arai book, Hiroshima Boy.

That's just off the top of my head. A lot of good books coming our way in the near future.


SP: Okay, my reading list just got completely updated.... So, finally, book-wise what's next for you?


SWL: Rare Bird Books will release the third book in the Greg Salem trilogy, Hang Time, in October of this year. After that, I'm working on a new novel that is still in the early stages. It's fun to write about new characters and new landscapes after spending a few years with Greg Salem and Tommy and Shayna. I'm hoping that one will see the light of day sometime in 2018.

https://badcitizencorporation.com/

Thanks to S.W. Lauden for stopping by! Don't forget- Crossed Bones will be released May 1st from Down and Out Books. Be sure to pick up a copy and, as always: read, review and share!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Florida Talk

Check out my recent discussion with fellow Florida writer Alex Segura (Dangerous Ends) over at LitHub. We're chatting all things Florida: crime, fiction and what makes this state so crazy. Cheers!

http://lithub.com/florida-man-talks-to-florida-woman-about-florida-crime/