Friday, October 2, 2020

Writer Bites! With Karin Cecile Davidson, author of Sybelia Drive

It's been a minute, hasn't it? The world may seem off the rails, but at least we'll always have books... Today, I'm thrilled to bring you a Writer Bites interview with Karin Cecile Davidson whose debut novel, Sybelia Drive, hits shelves this coming Tuesday (10/6)!



Karin Cecile Davidson has written a keenly-observed novel about the persistence of family ties and friendships, the press of history on private lives, and the tug of both home and away. At once delicate in its prose and bold in its vision, Sybelia Drive is a luminous debut.

—Elizabeth Graver, author of The End of the Point




Have you ever fallen in love with a book? 

Many times. Perhaps typically, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was one of the first, and Richard Adams’s Watership Down, back when it first came out in 1972. I still have my first editions with their soft worn pages. My copy of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine is a tattered paperback from ages ago that replaced the one I first bought at Prairie Lights in Iowa City in 1987, a few years after the book was published. That first copy began to lose pages and almost all of “The World’s Greatest Fisherman” disappeared, so there was no choice. I’ll always have a copy of this book. It’s been so influential and inspiring. Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves completely captured me in the same way that John Berger’s Into Their Labors Trilogy did, their questions about society and relationships remarkably supported by inventive narrative structures. And always, always Eudora Welty’s stories—any and all of them. 

Just recently I listened to Gabrielle Hamilton reading her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter. Published nearly a decade ago, and now with Hamilton’s NYC restaurant Prune closed due to Covid, it was strange and bittersweet to hear this beautifully written story read by the author herself. I felt like I was taken away, completely enraptured by her way of telling the details of her childhood, reporting in vivid terms the stress of running a wildly popular 30-seat restaurant, and describing her dishes in the clearest, most delicious prose.


How do you choose the names for your characters? 

It’s funny. They simply arrive. Lord knows how LuLu and Rainey entered my novel Sybelia Drive. And LuLu’s brother Saul? Honestly, I just don’t worry about it and then they come along and steal the show. I think part of the process must be intuitive, a subconscious calling up of all the names I’ve ever known. For example, LuLu’s father’s initials, CRB, which first appear on a silver lighter he keeps in his top pocket, are the same as my grandmother’s. Completely unintentional, and yet. Charles Royal Blackwood, III and Cecile Robinson Bradley share those initials.


What is your least favorite part of the writing process? Your favorite? 

The least favorite. Well, there’s a point in the final edits when I’ve got to compare manuscripts. I find that pairing amazing and dizzying all at once. The dizzying part has to do with the flood of words before me, even though the end of the entire process is near. Of course, once I finally get there, the reward is rich.

And the favorite. I love the drafting of a story when it’s going well, when one word is thrown down after another, and suddenly the page is covered with possibility. Characters become clear, along with their desires, their landscapes, and the story opens up and out.


What is your favorite form of procrastination from writing? 

Research. From searching out exactly the right sort of wildflower for a scene to delving into a book of military terms or studying maps that are decades old. Certain chapters of my novel required an enormous amount of research. Eventually I had to tell myself, that’s enough. The writing doesn’t get done unless I’m at least a bit disciplined, or really good at tricking myself.


Do you write to music? 

Absolutely. When drafting Sybelia Drive, I listened to music of the 1960s and 70s that became part of the character’s worlds and essentially part of the narrative. For the collection of Gulf Coast stories I’m working on currently, I’ve listened to Leontyne Price singing arias from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Florida blues singers Ida Goodson and her sister Billie Pierce, as well as songs from Some Girls by The Rolling Stones. Placing lyrics into the writing is something I’ve learned to steer away from, however. Too much copyright nonsense there. That said, there’s something inside the music that allows a way into a piece. Art making way for more art is something I seriously believe in and appreciate.


Friday, August 28, 2020

Writer Bites! With Heather Bell Adams

Getting to know....

            Heather Bell Adams, author of The Good Luck Stone




Her desperate decision during World War II changed everything. Now, almost 70 years later, her secret is unraveling.



Have you ever fallen in love with a book?

Yes, I would say I’ve fallen in love with lots of books. So many good ones, but I’ll give one example. Several years ago, when I finished reading Bloodroot by Amy Greene, I clasped the book to my chest, in tears. I was—and continue to be—astonished at this beautiful Appalachian novel.


How do you choose the names for your characters?

What a fun question! I talk to myself a lot… I try out how different names sound and whether they fit my mental conception of the character. In The Good Luck Stone, my agent asked me to change the name of a major character because she felt it was too similar to another character. Of course I was willing to make the change, but I’ll confess that it took an entire day of talking to myself to settle on a new one. (The character went from Patricia “Tish” to Kathleen “Kat.”)


Describe yourself as an author in One Word.

Heartfelt


Do you ever experience doubt or ‘impostor syndrome’? How do you cope with it?

Oh yes, all the time… I like what Elizabeth Berg says in Escaping into the Open about playfulness: “Learn from the inherent wisdom of children. Watch them when they work: They make it fun.” That advice helps me take myself less seriously and get back to the joy of writing.


Do you write to music?

Honestly, I prefer silence or just outdoor nature sounds. But the reality is that I write when the TV is on or other people are chattering away or the neighbor is landscaping or the dog is barking. It’s okay, truly. But silence is nice sometimes too.



Friday, August 14, 2020

Writer Bites! With Stephen Burdick, author of Deemer's Inlet

 Getting to know...


              Stephen Burdick, author of Deemer's Inlet, from Shotgun Honey


Deemer’s Inlet by Stephen Burdick




What does your writing space look like? What does your Ideal writing space look like? 

My living room and sofa. I hand-write each chapter in a notebook, editing as I go along, before entering them into the computer. Then I edit some more. A larger living room with a nicer sofa would suit me.


Go back to yourself at a very early stage in your writing career—what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Find a good writer’s group or take a creative writing class, believe in yourself and your work, and prepare for the criticism and rejection sure to follow.


What do you hope to be remembered for by future generations of readers? 

A writer of crime fiction who did his best to entertain readers with stories of mystery and intrigue. 


Is there anything about your writing that you wish more readers noticed?

Other authors have told me of the difficulty they have with dialogue. I try to make the exchanges between characters as realistic sounding as possible.
 
 
How do you handle negative reviews or feedback? How do you handle praise? 

A thick skin is necessary when dealing with negative reviews or feedback. You must resign yourself to the fact that your work is not going to please everyone. I am very thankful. For me, it is humbling to know that something I’ve created has, in some way or another, brought enjoyment to a reader.   

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Writing Workshops with Keep St. Pete Lit

I'm happy to announce that I'm now offering 4 online writing workshops with Keep St. Pete Lit. Workshops are short, affordable, self-paced and ALL offer prompt, personal feedback on a writing submission. Cheers and Happy Writing!


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

...But At Least We Still Have Books! (Fall 2020 Book Preview)

So... the world has been on fire as of late, but at least we still have books! Despite cancelled tours, pub-date push-backs and all the other chaos, 2020 has been a fantastic year for book releases, and the Fall line-up promises to continue the trend.

Whether you're stuck in quarantine, shouldering burdens or trying to keep things normal (as can be), it's time to start your pre-orders and get your holds ready at the library. Below are the books I'm most looking forward to, July-December, with reader suggestions following. Cheers and Happy Reading!






July








August








September












October










November









December











Reader Suggestions!

Aug:
Sept:

Oct:
Nov:

Friday, May 22, 2020

Writer Bites with Tom Pitts

Getting to know...

            Tom Pitts, author of the recently released Cold Water, from Down & Out Books.





When did you first start telling people you were a writer or author? 

I still don’t. Unless it’s to someone who already knows what I do, I keep it under my hat. I was talking to my wife the other day and I was explaining this new—and probably ridiculous—approach I was going to apply to my writing, and I caught myself saying, “I think that’s what actual writers do.” And she reminded me I am an ‘actual writer.’ Oh, yeah. Sure. Okay.

Go back to yourself at a very early stage in your writing career—what piece of advice would you give yourself? 

The same advice I give myself now—which I consequently ignore, by the way—and that’s to work harder, drink less, and slow down … actually, that’s it. Those three things. Maybe read more. The same advice I give to anybody, not just writers.

Have you ever visited a famous author’s grave? Who? Why?

Yes. Bukowski’s, during the Long Beach Bouchercon. I made the pilgrimage like so many. I went with Russell Lester, and going anywhere with him is an adventure. Anyway, we couldn’t find the damn thing. When we looked for help at the guard’s station, I somehow ended up directing traffic to a funeral for ten minutes. Very Canadian of me. Cars kept pulling up. “This nice young man looks like he knows what’s going on.” Anyway, it was like so many other things you make the trek to see, it’s anticlimactic. There’s no part of their creation there. No ingredients for their secret recipe.  Much better to visit a neighborhood or bar where an author hung. Am I glad I went? Hell yes. I didn’t really know Russell that well and it was a great bonding experience. Proof once again the journey is better than the destination.

Are there any authors who intimidate you? Any books? 

Oh, fuck. All of ‘em in a way. I mean, I always feel like other authors are more grown-up, their methods more sound, their ideas more cohesive. But success doesn’t intimidate me, I’ve been around a few famous people in my long and crazy life. Shit, now that I think about it, I’ve rolled with all kinds of people.  Murderers, rock stars, gangsters, and bums. But put me in a huddle with Lou Berney and I’ll get the shakes.

Are there any animals who tend to show up in your writing? 

Dogs. Always dogs. Which can be a mistake, because when the action starts, you can’t forget about ‘em. And a lot of writers do. Dogs bark. Dogs bite. When shit happens, they’re at the vortex. I guess I should start adding cats. You can mention them once and leave ‘em in the room like furniture. 

What do you wish more readers would ask you about? 

Honestly? Anything. Writers are so approachable. It always freaks me out a bit when a reader will ask a specific question about a book, like, how did you find your way inside my dream? Especially when they ask about a character I don’t remember writing.  I feel a little exposed, a bit on the spot, then I remember I put it all out there. That’s the point. My life is essentially open book, so ask me anything. I’m getting disturbingly more frank the older I get and the less I care. 


Friday, May 8, 2020

Writer Bites with Harry Marks

Getting to Know...

Harry Marks, author of The Prophet (now available)




"Max Barker’s trailer started to cook. Even at eight in the morning, the July sun had turned his little metal capsule into an oven. Not that he’d noticed. The bottle of scotch next to him had been full the night before and sunlight unraveled through the glass, casting drunken rainbows at his feet. Two inches of amber liquid idled at the bottom.

A knock at the door startled him out of his sleep and the Donald Westlake paperback in his lap tumbled into a squishy, dark patch of carpet next to an overturned tumbler. He grunted as he propelled himself out of his barcalounger. The knocking continued, the sound bouncing around the trailer’s walls with nowhere to go but Max’s reddened, hungover ears."

-Excerpt from The Prophet



What is your least favorite part of the writing process? Your favorite?

I love the drafting stage. I know a lot of writers prefer editing to drafting, but I think I prefer the latter because I enjoy the feeling of finishing the thing. Spending all those months working on it, coming up with characters and a whole world, and then writing “The End” is intensely satisfying.

The part I like the least is editing. I understand it’s necessary and that’s where “the real writing” happens, but ripping a thing apart and putting it back together is a slog for me. It’s not nearly as exciting as charting new territory.

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

Success means different things to different people. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel truly successful. I thought I’d be happy after having some short stories and flash pieces published, but that didn’t do it for me. I still haven’t been able to secure a literary agent. Even having people buy and enjoy The Prophet doesn’t seem to satiate this need inside me. There’s always another mountain to climb. Maybe I’m broken.

Success is like getting a raise—it’s never enough, and when you feel like it should be, it’s still not enough. Which leads me to the next question...

Do you ever experience doubt or “impostor syndrome?” How do you cope with it?

Cope? What’s that? Everything I do is drenched in impostor syndrome. When someone compliments my writing or my podcast, I thank them and wonder what the hell is wrong with them. And it seems to get worse with each book I write. Every manuscript brings more rejection, which fuels my self-doubt and makes me think I’m wasting my time pursuing a traditional writing career.

It’s been 10 years and I’m still at it, so I’m either too stubborn to quit or a glutton for punishment.

Are there any authors who intimidate you? Any books?

Eric Shonkwiler and Beth Gilstrap come to mind immediately. These are authors who have honed their skills to a razor-tipped point. They are infuriatingly good at what they do and I will read anything they publish because I know it will be amazing.
Eric’s Above All Men and Beth’s I Am Barbarella have still stuck with me years after reading them.

I’d also add Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch to the list for their scope and emotional depth.

Do you write to music?

This is kind of a curse for me. I’ve been a musician for most of my life and yet I cannot listen to most music when I write. It’s too distracting. I don’t make playlists for my books either. The only thing I’ll put on is the BGM (Background Music) Channel on YouTube and listen to nondescript bossa nova. The songs aren’t recognizable jazz standards, so I can leave it on and write without trying to figure out what it is I’m listening to.