Thursday, September 20, 2018

Book Bites: Brian Tucker, author of Pokeweed

I'm always trying to spice it up with my Book Bites and today I'm bringing you not only a YA novella (though it's really for adults, too), but a YA illustrated novella. And let's just throw 'historical' in there as well, as Brian Tucker's recently released Pokeweed is set in Hazard, Kentucky, in 1888. Here, Tucker shares his thoughts on True Grit, establishing a fictional place over a span of works, and what you can learn just by heading to the library.

"Brian L. Tucker is writing about Eastern Kentucky in original and interesting ways, and Pokeweed is a perfect example of that. I'm excited about this newest book and eager for what Tucker does next. You should be, too." - Sheldon Lee Compton

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I wish I could stick to one genre! I’ve written in different mediums with each work I’ve released. My first work, Baptisms & Dogs, was a short story collection written in the fictional town of Seton, KY. I draw largely from my experiences of my hometown of Monticello. The collection was close to me, as it was constructed while working through my MFA program at the Bluegrass Writers Studio (2010-12). This work prompted me to think more about place and setting as a character. It led me to tackle my first novel, Wheelman, taking place in central Mexico (again drawing from a summer residency our MFA program took to San Miguel de Allende (2010)).

Following this, I tackled a second YA novel and went explicitly through a Christian publisher to house the action/adventure work, Swimming the Echo. Again, I based the story in Seton, KY and allowed personal stories from my childhood (growing up in cave country) to allow the reader to travel to Mammoth Cave and witness some of the behemoths situated below ground. Since this second novel, I felt challenged to try something new. After reading Robert Gipe’s illustrated novel, Trampoline, I thought “Hey, it’d be cool to try to illustrate a tale told east of Seton.” I thought long and hard about surrounding towns, and I let research become a part of what would eventually become my newest publication, Pokeweed. It’s an illustrated novella set in Hazard, KY, at a time just after the Civil War. In it, I utilize factual events of a not-so-famous feud known as The French-Eversole Feud to permeate the travails of a teen forced to reckon with the loss of his sister (gunned down by one of the feudists). Due to the shorter length, I sought out an illustrator, and the artist totally nailed the vision I had for eastern Kentucky at that time in American history. It is set for release September 20th, and I can’t wait to share it.

Who was your intended audience for the novella?

Anyone who’s ever picked up a copy of True Grit and thought, “This is fiction!” I wanted to cater to that crowd and tell a story in a new style. I couldn’t get the character, Mattie Ross, out of my head. Portis did such a fantastic job writing a character into existence, and I wanted to mimic that with illustrations and true accounts. While the main character, Z Snopes, is a teen in his own right, his story is one for everyone who’s trying to survive.

Was there something interesting you learned while researching the novella?

So many things happen when you check out a book from the library. For the sake of keeping this [interview] brief, I loved reading about the dwindling size of a town—post-Civil War. (Not for the hardships and pains Hazard, KY people underwent, but the raw realization that just two opposing clans wreaked so much havoc from their sins.) Much like the Hatfields & McCoys, this feud consisted of ever-present hatred. At one point, less than fifty people were stated as living in the city of Hazard. The fear of getting shot caused people to move elsewhere. I couldn’t imagine that type of thing happening, even with all of the recent shootings we’ve seen in the US.

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

This is a tough one. Every book can lend itself to a future idea or project. Wendell Berry’s creation of Port William in all of his great books comes to mind. So does Harriette Arnow’s books, especially Hunter’s Horn and The Dollmaker. I also love anything Thomas Merton wrote.

How important is the setting in your most recent novella?

Setting has gained so much more heft to what I write. Seton, KY started as a word on the page, and it grew from there. I wouldn’t say it’s nearly as fleshed out as Berry’s Port William, but it’s become special to me with each new book. My first thought now is, “Should I bring it back home?” And I weigh the pros and cons of starting in Seton or somewhere else. It’s nice to have that spot in mind. I love my hometown, and I wouldn’t be who I am without the people God placed in that corner of the world [Monticello].

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Walk in the Fire on the Coil

Many thanks to Al Kratz and Alternating Current's The Coil Magazine for this stellar review of Walk in the Fire!

"Steph Post is on a roll with 2018’s Walk in the Fire, a sequel to last year’s Lightwood, and her third novel so far. It’s no longer sufficient to suggest Post’s work is like gritty, noir, crime writers such as Daniel Woodrell. It’s time to say the work is classic Steph Post. The catalog stands tall now."

Saturday, September 15, 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 will be up on Netgalley soon. Many thanks!)

Book Bites: Danny Gardner, author of A Negro and an Ofay

Today, author Danny Gardner stops by to chat about his debut novel, A Negro and an Ofay (recently nominated for a Shamus Award!), now available from Down & Out Books. Here's Gardner on genre, success and taking a pause instead of giving up. Happy Reading!

“Fans of Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos are going to devour Danny Gardner’s brilliant new book. A Negro and an Ofay breathes exciting new life into noir fiction.” —Jonathan Maberry
What drew you to the genre you write in?
It’s heyday is the 50s, a period I most identify, for many reasons.
 Are there any writers you’re jealous of?
Were they any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?
No, fortunately. My debut set the standard for author control in my career, God help everyone else.
Have you ever given up on a writing project?
Never, although several are on pause until I’ve evolved into who I must be to continue them in truth.
In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
To have saved someone’s life and world with my work.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Bites: Leah Umansky, author of The Barbarous Century

I'm always excited to showcase poets, and today you're in for a real treat. Leah Umansky, author of this year's standout The Barbarous Century is here to talk about breaking down barriers with poetry, how television can be inspiring and keeping the strange in writing. Enjoy!
"And in this book Umansky has made something wondrous indeed—something fierce, formally inventive, and unapologetic."
-Maggie Smith

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I’ve always loved poetry, but what draws me into poetry is the freedom. There are no rules. You can do what you want with poetry, unless you’re writing in form, but even when I write in form (which is rare) I always shake it up a bit and strange it out. The poems I love are the ones that make you feel, the ones that make you think about them, days, months later, and the ones that make you cry or laugh. What draws me into poetry is how tangible the emotions are on the page. I love that a poem can be about anything. I also love that a poem can be short or long. I also love that a poem written hundreds of years ago can still strike a chord today with readers. That’s something I really enjoy seeing, in my role as a teacher, too.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

Oh, there are so many writers I’m jealous of. I think it’s good to be jealous of other writers – to some degree that is – because it keeps you motivated, it keeps you engaged with your craft and of course it keeps you curious. I’m always jealous of writers that can recite their poems by heart at readings, or can recite other famous poems by memory. I’ll never be that person, though I wish I could be. I’ve only ever memorized a poem twice in my life and it was just torture. I’m also jealous of writers that write freehand. I have such a hard time with that. I need to type my poems, my fingers just type faster than my brain sometime.

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

I’m going to answer this question a bit differently. I wouldn’t say anything was edited out, but I will say that originally, the book was not in three titled sections with the middle section focusing on story and pop-culture. I think these sections shape the book nicely, and maybe that's why the book got rejected years before, because it needed that structure.
Also, there’s a long poem in the middle, “Holding,” which is a real emotional poem for me, and I almost cut that one out. It was a really hard decision. I’m glad I trusted my gut and kept it in. I’m glad I didn’t make those cuts.

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

I think what makes a writer “successful” is subjective. For some people it could be, publishing in a certain journal, or reading for a certain organization, or teaching at a certain college. For others, it could be being in a workshop, having a book or chapbook published, or knowing other writers. For me, being a “successful” writer is being proud of the writing I do and identifying as a writer. That took a long time for me. Sure, you can look at your achievements as milestones, but I don’t think that’s really very helpful or important. I think setting goals is important and I think being inspired is important. I feel the most successful when I am happy and inspired by an idea or concept. I feel the most successful when I meet people at readings and events who have enjoyed my work, or my reading, who are not a part of the literary community. That’s when I feel proud – when a poem reaches someone who didn’t think they would enjoy poetry – whether it’s someone at a reading or even a student in one of my 8th or 10th grade classes. When a kid enjoys a poem for the first time, it is really an amazing accomplishment. It’s like when a student realizes they LIKE Shakespeare! (He isn’t so bad, right? )
I guess the short answer here, is I think a poet is successful when we break the stigma we are always fighting against.

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

As I said earlier, I’m a teacher, so I’m always grading or planning or trying to think of new ways to teach something. If I wasn’t writing, if I wasn’t teaching, or grading, I’d probably be checking out a lot more live music. I love concerts. I’d probably going to even more readings, watching more television, traveling more, and going to more museums because those are the things that inspire me. I try to carve out free time for myself to just enjoy all that the city has to offer but sometimes, I set too many goals for myself. Sometimes, I need to sit down and binge TV because inspiration strikes when you least expect it. I say this all the time, but it’s true: never did I ever think television would inspire me to write poetry and now, I just never know when something will get me to pause and take some notes.

To learn more about Leah Umansky, visit her website and be sure to check her out on Twitter: @lady_bronte

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Bouchercon 2018! See you there...

So, Bouchercon is only 2 WEEKS AWAY.....

Here's the scoop and where you can find me:

Bouchercon 2018
September 6-9th
St. Pete, Vinoy Renaissance

Noir at the Bar
8:30 pm
Vinoy Bar

Panel: The Life and Crime of Florida Man (and Woman
Vinoy, Royal 1AB

Panel: Blue Collar: Writing the Working Class
Vinoy, Avery Chancellor

Panel: Southern Crime
Vinoy, Avery Chancellor

Book Bites: Gabino Iglesias, author of Zero Saints

If you're active at all in the indie or crime lit communities then you'll probably recognize the name of Gabino Iglesias. Novelist, columnist, editor, prolific book reviewer and champion of other writers, Iglesias can be found everywhere from Shotgun Honey to The Rumpus to The New York Times. Today, he's stopped to talk about his novel, Zero Saints, his obsession with frozen corpses on Mt. Everest, and what it means to find success. Cheers and happy reading!

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?
Reading. All the time. Just reading.

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

I define success as being able to do what you love and find readers that enjoy and support your work. I also think contributing to any important discussion with your writing is crucial, and the more you can do that, the more successful you are. For a long time I thought that writers who find so many readers that writing becomes their full-time gig were as successful as you can be. Now I think other things matter more than money. I still want money for my work and I’m a huge advocate of authors getting paid, but finding your voice, sharing your passion with others, enjoying the friendships of writers you admire, and doing readings, to name a few things, also make me feel accomplished. 

Is there anything in the novel that you wish more readers noticed?

Yes! I tend to develop lingering obsessions with random things. For example, I’m obsessed with corpses left on Everest, strange things caught on trail cameras, and the psychological effects of solitary confinement. One of those things I obsessed about for a while is the Dyatlov Pass incident. In a nutshell, the incident happened in 1959 when the frozen bodies of a nine-member ski-hiking expedition that had gone missing weeks before in the northern Urals of the Soviet Union were found. Some of them were in their underwear and barefoot. A few of the bodies showed signs of traumatic pressure or crush injuries and one them had no tongue because it’d been ripped out. Oh, and the bodies showed small traces of radiation. Well, I took some of their names and included them in the novel. I’m still waiting for someone to point that out.

Did the novel have any alternate titles?

I worked on it and thought it’d be titled Santa Muerte. Then it struck me as too obvious and clichéd. Plus, it was in Spanish, and that could confuse folks even more. Then I thought Holy Death, but that’s… kinda weak and I’ve seen it before.

Are there any symbols running throughout your novel? Do readers recognize them?

There are many. I’m huge on syncretism. Many readers pick up on that. I’m really happy they do.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Book Bites: Frank Morelli, author of No Sad Songs

Punk rock and Alzheimer's aren't two things that usually go together. (Okay, actually, when you think about, they do sort of go together, and after reading the book, you'll see why even more so...) Yet, Frank Morelli, author of the coming-of-age YA novel No Sad Songs, deftly interweaves the two, as well as grief, alcoholism and, oh yeah, being a typical teenaged boy. Though No Sad Songs tackles some heavy issues, it's also hilarious and one of those rare books that truly captures the authenticity of a teen's outlooks and experiences, while still resonating with adults.
"This coming-of-age tale is a must for any YA collection." --School Library Journal (starred review)

Which character in the novel gave you the most trouble?

Strangely enough, the toughest character to write was my narrator, Gabe LoScuda. It’s weird because he’s the character most like me in the story, but I think that sometimes made me want to lean towards making him too likeable. That’s also kind of a weird statement to make, but the further I got into Gabe’s story the more I started to feel his struggle internally. I felt there was an authenticity problem to have Gabe carry all the weight of his grandfather’s illness and the loss of his parents without having a sizeable chip on his shoulder. I started to feel like I wanted him to be more real. Less of a superhero and more of a standard teenager who just happens to be performing heroic tasks. In subsequent drafts I went back and roughed him up a bit. Made him more abrasive in places and therefore more susceptible to experiencing growth and change. The challenge in that was going as close to the line as I could go without making Gabe lose all of his support with the reader.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

So many. At the top of the list is Stephen King. I grew up reading his books and then spending the better part of the weeks following sleeping with the light on. He’s amazing. He also happens to be living my life in an alternate reality. Imagine living in Maine. Waking up to writing everyday. Publishing new titles with roughly the same speed and efficiency as a Ford production line. It sounds like heaven to me. On a side note, I keep tweeting at Mr. King with promises of providing my skills as the ringer on his all-author softball team. Curiously, he has yet to respond. I think it might be a collective bargaining thing. He’ll come around.

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

That’s easy. It’s an absolutely terrible piece of creative nonfiction (I had no idea of that at the time, btw) that I wrote at the beginning of ninth grade. I called it “Lost on the Slopes” because, get this, it chronicled the first time I went skiing and, you guessed it, got lost out there on the trails. I still have it sitting on my shelf next to all of my slightly more professional writing. Every time I read it, two things happen: 1) I cringe and begin to doubt every other word I’ve written since and 2) I smile, because this was the first piece of writing I ever had the courage to share with other people. “Lost on the Slopes” will never go down in the annals of literary history (and, no, I will not share it with you...ever!), but it was my gateway. It made me want to create again and again, and it gave me the confidence to begin completing the basic transaction of literature, which is to find a worthy consumer.

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

Serving as the ringer on Stephen King’s softball team would be a good start. No. To be totally honest, I measure writing success on a micro instead of a macro level. I don’t think it’s healthy to obsess over what your novel might become or to compare book rankings to find your worth. I feel successful when I create a sound plan for a day of writing and then execute it. If I do that enough times in a row, suddenly there’s a book. If I’m happy with what I’ve created at that point, then I’m a success. I don’t know, people might tell me that’s a super low bar to meet, but I don’t see it that way. If you’re invested in your writing and you believe in your story, the most difficult reader to satisfy will always be yourself.

What was the best review you ever received? The worst?

No Sad Songs has received many good review from some significant reviewers. I won’t sit here and tell you that receiving praise from the industry standards wasn’t both satisfying and relieving. It was. But my favorite review came on a classroom visit right here in Greensboro, just a stone’s skip from my front door. It was an oral review, and the young man who gave it is currently helping his single father care for his grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. To hear his story and then listen to him make comparisons to the experiences of my main character told me I had truly created a work that was able to reach the right person at the right time in his life. To me, that’s why we write the books.

The worst review? Ouch. That came from a beta reader shortly after I’d written the first draft. She said something like, “Cute story, but it doesn’t have the depth to be a published novel.” At the time it felt like the literary reviewer’s equivalent of “Cool story, bruh.” But it was ultimately helpful and led me to expand on the personal essay device I wound up using throughout the story. You never know. Sometimes a bad review can be worth a thousand good ones.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Book Bites: Nick Kolakowski, author of Boise Longpig Hunting Club

This Friday is another 2-for-1 on the author interviews and, oddly, seems to be the day for wacky, off-kilter crime fiction. (Mercury is still in Retrograde, right?) Nick Kolakowski's new novel, Boise Longpig Hunting Club, hits shelves next Tuesday and he's stopped by to discuss Lolita, making grenades and writing the absurd. Oh, yes.... Cheers and happy reading!
"A bounty hunter, his underworld criminal sister, and a dead body stuffed in a gun safe. What could possibly go wrong? In Boise Longpig Hunting Club, Nick Kolakowski unleashes a sordid and delightfully twisted tale of double crosses, revenge, and good ol' redneck justice. Like the bastard child of Joe Lansdale and James Lee Burke, this one is well worth the sleepless night you'll spend captivated." --Joe Clifford
Were they any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

In the first draft, there was a lengthy flashback chapter that showed how the main character, Jake, became a bounty hunter. It featured a meth-crazed lunatic robbing a bar, then trying to make a getaway in a “cab of the future” driven by a complete eccentric, only to encounter Jake in the midst of an epic bender. It was madcap and funny and weird, but the tone completely didn’t jibe with the rest of the manuscript, so with great reluctance I cut it out.

With all of my books, I try to inject a bit of absurdist humor into the proceedings, in order to prevent the narrative from getting too heavy for its own good. But it also means that, during the editing process, I end up wrestling with myself over mood—too light? Too dark? Life is strange and hilarious, sometimes even at the worst moments, but in prose that dichotomy between funny and bleak can sometimes come off as jarring. 

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

I generally like to have firsthand knowledge of whatever my characters do, whether firing a certain kind of pistol or cooking a particular meal. When I was researching this book, someone showed me how, in theory, you could craft a makeshift grenade out of ingredients you’d find around a farm. (Thankfully we didn’t actually try to make one, because given my chemistry skills, I probably would have blown off a hand or two.) I carried that explosive knowledge around like a gem for a couple of months, fully intending to use it as part of the big finale, but it never found its way into the book—mostly because the process of making one didn’t mesh well, pacing-wise. 

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

“Plow through the first draft as fast as possible. You can’t get hung up on perfection at an early stage, or you’ll simply grind to a halt.” Which is exactly what I needed, advice-wise; when I was younger, my impulse was to laboriously craft every single sentence. And that’s why I had such a hard time finishing longer pieces in my early twenties.

How important is the setting in your novel?

Setting is everything. Idaho is a fascinating state, facing a lot of issues right now. The book touches on a number of them—political extremism, the ‘Californication’ of parts of the Treasure Valley, and so on. The plot couldn’t exist without the location.

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

Nabokov’s Lolita. I know that’s a bit of pretentious answer, but I read it when I was fourteen, and it awakened me to two things. First, the suppleness and capability of language, in the right hands. Second, that there were people out there so masterful at writing that I’d never in a million years approach their level. That mix of excitement and envy has fueled me ever since.

Book Bites: Earl Javorsky, Author of Down to No Good

Today's Book Bites interview is with Earl Javorsky, author of Down to No Good, the second novel in Javorsky's Charlie Miner P.I. series. (And Miner is back from the dead, just to give you an idea of the quirky ride you're in for!) Read on as Javorsky talks about "paranormal noir," not having a writing routine and what his idea of success is. Happy Reading!
"Earl Javorsky's Down to No Good is wildly original, wildly energetic,wildly funny--it's just straight up wild, and I mean that in the best possible way."
Lou Berney, Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone

What drew you to the genre you write in?

My Charlie Miner books are a weird hybrid. Some would call them hardboiled/paranormal mashup, but I prefer to call them metaphysical noir. First of all, although I grew up on science fiction and read some horror—Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc.—in my teens, I’m more of a crime/mystery reader, so the sudden emergence of a paranormal noir narrative was a fluke of the moment. Or not. Perhaps it was inevitable.

I was sitting at my desk one day and wrote this sentence: They say once a junkie, always a junkie, but this is ridiculous. I haven’t been dead more than a few hours and I already need a fix. I contemplated that goofy line for a while and wrote the first ten pages, creating Charlie as a drug-addicted PI who now has to go solve his own murder. Down Solo borrows from Stephen King only to the extent that, generally, people don’t reanimate their bodies and continue daily life. Otherwise, the novel is more or less a straightforward (well, slightly convoluted) Chandleresque mystery.

By the way, my second novel, Trust Me, is a much more conventional thriller involving a sex predator in the Los Angeles recovery community. It’s based on a real character, although he never murdered anyone. I felt the story had to be told. I’d say it pretty much dictated the genre as it unfolded.

Who was your intended audience for the novel?

Well, this flows from the first question. Mystery/Hardboiled/Noir readers who can accommodate an element of the fantastical. I wrote in 1st-person present tense in order to create the immediacy of Charlie’s experience, which is as strange to him as it is to the reader. My hope is that this makes it easier to accept.

Also, I’d like to reach the recovery community with all my books, as altered consciousness and substance abuse—and the thoughts, feelings, and actions that flow from them—drive the characters in different ways than ordinary motivations.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

I have no set routine. I come up with an idea and—each time—I create a Rubik’s cube of a structural puzzle that paralyses me. How am I going to get to where I think this is going? If I write this, then that can’t happen, and if I go down this path I’m committed to it and might wind up doing a lot of work I’ll then have to undo. With Down Solo, I wrote ten pages in the initial sitting and then had no idea what to do with it; two months later I had a vision of how it could unfold. Unfortunately, I completed the narrative arc at page 100 and had a novella. It took six months of inaction before it occurred to me that there were deeper levels I could plumb—that I had only set the stage for the real story. Then I worked in spurts for about a month and finally finished.

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

Well it’s certainly not about money or fame. If I could orchestrate reality (God knows I’ve tried), I would be self-sufficient as a writer with a loyal cult following. Short of that, I vacillate: On the one hand, I feel successful in having reached people with my fiction and having been validated by quite a few writers whom I respect; on the other, I have to admit to being disappointed in the distribution aspect, and frustrated with the whole self-marketing charade. But I have to walk that last bit back, because here I am, interacting with you and your readers, and, if anyone’s gotten this far, we’ve connected. And that has its own indefinable value.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

A few come to mind. James Lee Burke for his gorgeous prose and his insight into character. Iain Pears and Vikram Chandra for their ability to weave multiple threads into massive, intricate, and fascinating tapestries. And Michael Gruber for having written The Tropic of Night and dancing on the edge of reality.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Miraculum Cover Reveal!

It's here! And head on over to Entertainment Weekly for the exclusive reveal, including a write-up with interview from the fantastic Anthony Breznican and an excerpt from the first chapter. January's not that far away...

January, 2019
Polis Books

Book Bites: Sweta Srivastava Vikram, author of Louisiana Catch

Today, I'm excited to bring you an interview with Sweta Srivastava Vikram, author of Louisiana Catch. A thriller that steps beyond the mystery genre, Louisiana Catch tackles a host of timely issues including online relationships, violence against women and feminism on a global scale. (I'm also excited to be able to meet Vikram at the upcoming Louisiana Book Festival in November!)
"A moving, modern story about letting go of the past in order to find true empowerment. As a longtime advocate of women in need, Sweta Vikram doesn't shy away from difficult topics. Louisiana Catch deals with the complexities of love, loss, history and home."
--Georgia Clark

Which character in the novel gave you the most trouble?

So glad you asked this. Jay Dubois was annoyingly difficult to write. He is not the kind of person I would want to engage in my day-to-day life or allow in my personal space. It was creation from a place of unfamiliarity. Writing him while struggling to not get upset wasn’t always easy because he is truly that brilliant and psychopathic. Because Jay Dubois is the most complex and nuanced character in Louisiana Catch, I read books on psychology and interviewed psychotherapists.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

Not really. Jealousy stems from fear and the fear of missing out. I believe there is a big pie of publishing and there is enough for each of us to get a sliver. I am focused on my own path and realize there is no room for competition or jealousy as it is counter-productive. How do you measure your success against someone else’s? Where does jealousy end? At what point do you say start and stop? I am definitely inspired by other writers and there are a few I admire a lot. But am not jealous of because it seems pointless and endless. We are all here to go about our own journeys. I’d much rather conserve my energy for things that nourish me.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I am grateful that I write in different genres, so I can always switch back and forth between poetry, fiction, and nonfiction to handle writer’s block. I also meditate and teach yoga. That’s been greatly helpful in embracing the highs and lows of a creative life—you show up to your words with dedication, just like you would show up to the yoga mat, and your words might surprise you. But commitment is key. Once you put aside your ego and expectations (just because you want to write doesn’t mean there will be a shower of words in that very moment), everything gets easier. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

I haven’t given up, but sometimes, the book has given up on me and refused to move, no matter how many times I try. But that is part of a writer’s life. So, you put in your 100% but remain detached to the outcome of your efforts. Nothing feels crushingly dramatic then.

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

My debut U.S. novel Louisiana Catch. I spent years researching, interviewing, teaching, and writing this book. Louisiana Catch changed me and my writing. People are able to relate with the characters and the story. The book has resonated with survivors. It’s spoken to men and women across different ethnicities. It's timely given the #MeToo movement and is already on U.K.'s The Asian Writer’s list of “Books to Read in 2018" and for two weeks in a row, on Amazon's #1 new release under women's divorce fiction. And, it’s for this book and my work, I won the Voices of the Year award, which is given to women whose voice and platform has been used to make the world a better and more equitable place. I am honored that Chelsea Clinton has been a recipient of this award in the past.

Book Bites: Rob Hart, author of Potter's Field

If you read crime fiction or mysteries (and haven't been living under a rock these past few years), then you know Rob Hart. With his break-out news about next summer's The Warehouse, his Anthony nominations, his workshops over at LitReactor, his forthcoming Food-Noir collection (stories of "culinary crime") or, you know, the five novels he's published in the past four years, Rob Hart has been more than a little busy. Potter's Field, the fifth and final installment in his Ash McKenna series that began back with Hart's debut New Yorked, hit shelves in July and is, of course, garnering a lot of buzz. Lucky for you, Rob Hart took a breather and stopped by to answer a few quick questions. Enjoy!
“Brings the series to a satisfying close...gripping action sequences...Hart has a fine command of wiseguy comments, a modern take on the noir crime idiom, and enough vulnerability in his protagonist to make the reader sorry to see the last of Ash.” ―Publishers Weekly
What drew you to the genre you write in?

I like crime fiction because you're generally dealing with people at their rock bottom, which is when you really get the measure of a person.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

A few! The biggest was a novel called Not Yet Lost. It was a horror story with this weird meta-narrative and it might have been a bit too ambitious--I don't think I was ready to write it. I got up to 70k words and just sort of fizzed out, so I put it away. I may come back to it at some point, even to scrap it for parts.

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

I wrote a story called "Creampuff" that was in the Unloaded anthology, and will be in my collection food-noir, Take-Out, coming out in January. Out of all the stories I've written it's my favorite. Not even really sure why. Just do. But I'm also really excited for people to read The Warehouse. It's the closest I've gotten to the kind of writer I want to be.

What was the best review you ever received? The worst?

The best and worst were for my first novel, New Yorked. I was so afraid of what my mom would think, because here was this character roughly my age who was a heavy drinker and drug user and just an utter idiot, and after she read it she said, "I felt bad for him." And that just really cut to the heart of what I was trying to do. The worst was the person who bought the book and left a one-star review calling it "too New Yorkie."

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

From Amy Hempel, who is probably the best living short story writer: The biggest mistake young writers make is wanting to publish more than wanting to write well.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Book Bites: Angel Colon, author of Pull and Pray

Nobody does wild, crazy, fun, and yes, sometimes weird, noir like Angel Luis Colon. His latest offering to the crime fiction world is Pull & Pray, due out next Monday (7/30) from Down & Out Books. Read on as Colon shoots from the hip and tells it like it is.
“Tough, sly, and funny as hell; Fantine Park is a noir hero for a new century. With Pull & Pray, Angel Luis Colón continues to show why he’s one of the finest voices in crime fiction.” —Nick Kolakowski author of Slaughterhouse Blues

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I write crime and horror (mostly crime now) and I guess what drew me to both wasn't so much the actual darkness of the subject but the idea of investigating that darkness. Why would people hurt or exploit one another? I've always been interested in what drove folks when they were at their most desperate. Whether that's in regards to needing money or power or simply to survive. It's obviously pretty fertile ground to work on and I thoroughly enjoy that; especially if I can find some levity in there too.

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?

As a whole? Not really. I think it's perfectly normal to feel professional jealousy at successes and events, sure. We all want to be signed or win an award. When it comes to quality or style I don't think it makes sense. Every writer's different and while I know I'm not anywhere near a brilliant writer, I also really like my voice and my style. It took a long time to find that confidence and I'd never undercut it by being jealous of someone else's style. I'd rather admire the stories I know I won't write or can't write. Hell, Jordan Harper's She Rides Shotgun is incredible but I'm not jealous of the book or his ability - he put the work in and deserves the accolades.

I AM jealous that he gets to work on LA Confidential, though, but that's as a fan of the cast they've lined up and the material!

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

I'd be running a hell of a lot more. I'd probably end up injuring myself again which only leads me back to writing. So ultimately, I'd end up in front of the keyboard again.

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

Pull & Pray (out July 30th from Down & Out Books) was a slow write but it's the first project I didn't leave anything out of. I actually found myself needing to dig in and add two more scenes to flesh out a few character decisions without things feeling to abrupt. My last novella, Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult, I actually threw out a completed MS twice with that one. Not a lot of fun but the finished product is something I was very proud of.

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


That's it. There's nothing to be happy about, to fret about, or to be heartbroken about if there's nothing on the goddamn page. So you write. You create and you do what you love without worrying about what comes next. Next doesn't matter.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Juno-beans and Garden & Gun....

This past Tuesday I had the incredible experience of walking into my local Publix (the only grocery store around here, the only one I ever go to) and seeing the latest edition of Garden & Gun- containing my Good Dog piece on my dogs Vegas and Juno- right at the register. Sometimes things just work out, right? Garden & Gun is one of maybe two magazines I regularly read and to see Juno's story in its pages, available to the world... well, I'm not going to lie and say that it wasn't pretty much a dream come true. Anyone who knows me at all knows how much my dogs mean to me. Hell, every book I've ever written (and most likely ever will) is dedicated to one of them. If you open up Walk in the Fire, you'll see Vegas' name right there, with an allusion to the very same The Little Prince quote referenced in the magazine, which is also a line that I have tattooed on my arm. To say that "Finding Juno" wraps up quite a few important things in my life right now would be an understatement.

Cheers, and Happy Reading.....

Friday, July 20, 2018

Book Bites: Sarah Ward, author of Aesop Lake

Today I'm branching out again by bringing you an interview with YA author Sarah Ward. Aesop Lake hits shelves next Tuesday (July 24th) and tells the story of two teenagers living through and grappling with the aftermath of a heinous hate crime in rural Vermont. Read on as Ward discusses writing for teens, NANOWRIMO, and creating a book that both embraces and confronts a timely, and difficult, subject.
"Emphasizing that there’s no shame in recovering at your own pace but no refuge from responsibility either, three illustrated Aesop fables punctuate the well-paced novel." -Kirkus Reviews

What drew you to the genre you write in?

Ever since I was barely an adolescent myself I wanted to write for young adults. This age group is always relevant, carving new paths into the way our culture thinks and behaves, and yet there is something so familiar to their experience that we can relate to the pain, and the sweetness, of moving from childhood into adulthood. As a parent of two young adults, and a youth group leader at a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, I have spent a lot of time talking with teens and early twenty-somethings. They are brimming with energy, passion and discovery. When I worked as a clinical social worker, my favorite clients were young adults, because they always came in with such bravado, but when treated with respect and kindness they opened up very quickly. I find that writing for them is just as satisfying. I believe that we shouldn’t “write down” to what we think is safe; we should challenge young adults with difficult topics and real-life situations. I also find that adults enjoy YA as much as the youth, as we have all been there, and can relate on so many levels.

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

Yes, in the first several drafts, Aesop Lake was told from three perspectives: Leda, Jonathan and Marcia. Marcia is Jonathan’s mother, and I felt strongly that her perspective on the hate crime was important, and that she could bring in the voice of the community. However, my editor felt that Marcia’s voice wasn’t necessary, and that it was a little odd to have an adult tell part of the story in a YA novel. So, I talked with my daughter, who was seventeen at the time, and she agreed with my editor. I had to cut ten chapters, shift the important pieces into Leda & Jonathan’s story, and then write four new chapters to make up for the gaps in the story line, all on a three-month timeline. Whew! Not only was it painful, it felt like a herculean task to take on over the holidays, but I did it!

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

Yes, my first attempt at a novel fell flat after fifty pages. I was listening to a web-cast that suggested outlining the novel to help you write it faster. But as soon as I completed the outline I was bored. I couldn’t keep the intensity going in my storyline, and the characters felt shallow, as if I were trying to make them do what I had written in the outline. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience, and never outlined again. This novel, Aesop Lake, was written during National Novel Writing Month 2015 (NANOWRIMO), where you spend the entire month of November trying to pump out 50,000 words of a novel. You can’t critique yourself, and you have no idea what is going to happen in the story. Every day you are just doing the best you can to get to a specific word count, and at the end of that magical month Aesop Lake had a first (horribly written) draft! And then the work began to shape and craft what became the final product.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

No, I sometimes wish that I was one of those writers who could get up at O-dark-thirty, to write for an hour before the rest of the world stirred or stay up late every evening and pull prose from the dusty corners of my office, but I can’t. I like to sleep in to six-thirty and I don’t have an office in our small condo. I mostly write on the weekends, sometimes in the library, or at a coffee shop, or Panera, if it’s not too crowded. When my daughters were young I would squeeze in thirty minutes of writing while they were at a music lesson, or when I was waiting for their lacrosse practice to end. I called this “stealing time” and it worked really well. Now that they are older, and I don’t need to cart them around, I have to be more disciplined about finding time to write. I like to go away for a weekend retreat to a friend’s house, or a cabin in the woods and get as much done as possible. For over a decade I had a strong writing group that met once or twice a month, but we have drifted apart and their goals changed. Now I get together with my best writing buddy, Tammy, and we keep each other on track. Until I can give up the day job, I will just keep fitting it in and around the rest of my life, but it seems to be working.

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

This past spring, I was at the 2018 American Writers Programs (AWP) conference, and I sat in on several panels about writing for young adults about challenging subjects. My new novel, Aesop Lake, takes on a hate crime against a gay couple, and one of my main protagonists, Leda, who witnesses the crime, has to choose between doing the right thing, or protecting her boyfriend and family. I asked one of the panelists, Sarah Aronson, how does she cope with negative reactions to her topics, since I'm assured that some will judge my book as too violent, anti-Christian, etc (even though it is not), and Sarah's response was, "as soon as this book is released, start writing the next one. Don't get focused on any negative press, or the haters, because they don't really matter. What matters is getting back to work, telling the next story that is ready to be written, and putting your energy into the creative process." I can't wait to do just that, as I've been thinking about my next novel for six months. I'm ready to go.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Interview on Covered

Many thanks to Harry Marks and the Covered podcast (which I highly recommend for anyone interested in learning more about books, authors, writing and the publishing world) for hosting me and letting me ramble on about everything from the trials of writing a trilogy to why I love the storytelling in video games. Cheers and happy listening!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Book Bites: Gale Massey, author of The Girl from Blind River

Today, I've got a local fav stopping by to chat. Gale Massey, author of The Girl from Blind River, also hails from St. Petersburg Florida and her debut novel- out next Tuesday!- is a knock-out. A dark, complex and gritty tale of family loyalty gone wrong, The Girl from Blind River is an unforgettable read.
The Girl From Blind River is a part coming-of-age, part redemption story with a razor sharp edge... The plot is twisted and the prose nuanced and graceful, but it's the characters that stick with you... Stellar debut!"
―Kate Moretti

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

I heard Michael Koryta say, “Keep your head down and keep moving forward.” This bit of wisdom helped me get through the first draft. It’s easy to get distracted by craft books, writing conferences and classes. Those things serve an important purpose but eventually you have to put all that aside, assume you’ve learned enough to get through a rough draft, and get down to business. Of course, there has to be a story in there, a plot with twists, characters that possess depth, a setting that is fully realized. But none of that can happen if you don’t put your head down and write.

How important is the setting in your novel?

Well, it’s crucial really. In Blind River there are broken sidewalks, freezing rain, a diner, a pawn shop. There’s a river that smells of runoff from the town’s only manufacturing plant. Then there’s the Walmart on the highway just outside of town. I love using weather to intensify a scene. Snow and ice, rain, leads to runny noses, freezing fingertips. These things create a scene and an atmosphere for the reader to experience. Jamie feels ensnared by her family and Blind River, I want the reader to feel what she feels, so they’ll root for her to get the hell out of there.

Are there any symbols running throughout your novel?

I use poker and gambling to symbolize some aspects of American culture. Children in this country are sold a dream they can rise from the circumstance they are born into, that the American Dream will come true for anyone willing to work hard enough, that pulling one’s self up from the bootstraps is actually possible. But many people are born into circumstance they will never find their way out of and the dream of making a better life for themselves and their children really isn’t viable. That’s why the lottery system has seen such a crazy boom in the last three or four decades. People living in poverty, such as the kind I grew up in, know deep down that education alone isn’t going to pull them out of their circumstances, that dream jobs have vanished in the tumultuous economy – and matching five random numbers on a ticket bought at the 7-Eleven might be their only solution. Jamie sees poker as her only real avenue to get out of Blind River but the odds are definitely not in her favor.

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

I have to mention two. Connie May Fowler’s Before Women Had Wings and Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. I saw myself and my roots reflected in both those books and came to see that stories about girls were important to both our culture and also spoke to some deep yearning inside of me. I read a lot of books in between those two and eventually began to believe I had something to add to the discussion.

What do you wish more readers would ask you about?

Once the book gets out into the world (July10th!) I hope readers will notice and want to discuss the subtle degrees of sexual orientation experienced by a couple characters, and how that plays into the family dynamics. I’d love to discuss that more.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Great Fall Book Preview- 2018!

Here we go! All the upcoming books I'm most looking forward to for the rest of 2018. Thanks to everyone who provided suggestions and be sure to check out the Reader Picks at the bottom of the list. Also, take a look back at my Spring 2018 list for some of the fantastic books that have already hit the shelves this year. Ahh! So many books! Happy Reading!













The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker (July)
Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann (July)
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting (July)
Nightwolf by Willie Davis (July)
The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman (July)
Assisted Living by Erin Murphy (July)
Pretend We Live Here by Genevieve Hudson (July)
The Poisoned City by Anna Clark (July)
The Hazard's of Good Fortune by Seth Greenland (August)
TV Girls by Dana Diehl (August)
Trust Me by Hank Phillipi Ryan (August)
Graffiti Creek by Matt Coleman (August)
Cherry by Nico Walker (August)
Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter (August)
Presiding Over the Damned by Liam Sweeny (August)
When Rap Spoke Straight to God by Erica Dawson (September)
Red Hotel by Gary Grossman and Ed Fuller (September)
Boise Longpig Hunting Club by Nick Kolakowski (September)
Dreamin' in '89 by Todd Monahan (September)
We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix (September)
The Spying Moon by Sandra Ruttan (September)
A Certain Loneliness by Sandra Gail Lambert (September)
The Devil's Wind by Steve Goble (September)
The Last Danger by Rusty Barnes (October)
Adult Teeth by Jeremy Wilson (October)
The Scoundrel's Among Us by Darrin Doyle (October)
Under My Skin by Lisa Unger (October)
Go to My Grave by Catriona McPherson (October)
One Small Spark by Jackie Minniti (October)
Nighttown by Timothy Hallinan (November)
Race, Nation, Translation by Zoe Wicomb (November)
Peach by Wayne Barton (November)
The Place You're Supposed to Laugh by Jenn Rossman (November)
Into the Night by Sarah Bailey (December)
The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke (December)