Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Bites: Alex Segura, author of Blackout

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

I'm so excited to bring you an interview with Alex Segura today! Segura is both an uber-talented crime and mystery writer and one of my favorite people to 'event' with. (He's also one of the nicest and most hardworking guys in the business...) Blackout, Segura's fourth novel to feature Miami PI and anti-hero Pete Fernandez, keeps the hits coming as Pete now finds himself entangled with both cult leaders and politicians, all set in front of a steamy South Florida backdrop. When you're done reading, be sure to check out Segura's website for information on his upcoming tour dates, including a stint with me at Books & Books on May 23rd. And be sure to pick up a copy of Blackout, hitting shelves May 8th.
“Alex Segura one of the writers who reminds me why I fell in love with PI fiction and wanted to write it.” ―Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of Sunburn

What drew you to the genre you write in?

That’s a great question. I’d always been a fan of mysteries and crime novels – I think Mario Puzo’s The Godfather was one of my earliest pulp novels, at the tender age of eight or nine. So that kind of set the tone. I was also an avid comic book reader. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I’d moved to NY from Miami and was working in comics, doing PR. When your hobbies become your job, the tone is different. I was now working in what was once a realm of fantasy. I turned to crime novels as a form of escape – building off masters like Chandler and Jim Thompson and discovering people like George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman and Dennis Lehane. Those novels were so seeped in setting, too, that it got me to thinking about Miami – a place I was very homesick for – and how cool it’d be to have a Miami PI that was as flawed as Tess Monaghan, Nick Stefanos, Pat Kenzie or Moe Prager. I didn’t have any luck right away, so in an act of hubris, I though, “I’ll write one myself!” That’s kind of how Pete Fernandez was born. To more directly answer your question – I think crime fiction, if we have to get into the genre debate – is the most authentic space if you really want to showcase the world as it is, and present it in an honest way, warts and all. The best bits of social commentary and reality have come to me by reading crime fiction, which often presents us with a raw, unfiltered look at the world around us, and I find that really appealing as a writer.

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

I put a lot of little hat tips and in-jokes in the Pete books to keep me entertained, so it’s always fun when people catch them. I gave a sleazy lawyer the same name as a reporter friend and one of the baddies shares a surname with an editor I worked with at DC Comics.

In terms of bigger picture stuff – I hope the themes are clear. That’s the struggle for all writers, right? That your message comes across? All the Pete books have been about Pete’s personal struggle as he tries to solve a case. Some of the cases are direct pulls from his father’s files. Others tie into his family’s life in Cuba. This one – Blackout – is all him. A case he failed to solve, because he was a raging drunk, has come back to haunt him and it’s collected a ton of deadly baggage on the way. This book is about Pete’s realization that there’s more to recovery than just not drinking – it’s a pass to a new life, and in this book, hopefully, he realizes that and takes it. At least that’s what I was going for. Fingers crossed people get it, too.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

My only routine is that I jump on pockets of time when they arise. I have a full-time job, I have a family (including a rambunctious toddler) and everything else that keeps people busy – so I do my best to prioritize writing. I was listening to Attica Locke speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book last weekend and she said something I completely agree with and will paraphrase, but basically – you don’t have to write every day. But you do have to write. Don’t let the idea that you have to write every day prevent you from writing, because there is no one, clear method to succeeding as a writer. That said, you should stay engaged as a reader and think about your writing as much as you can. My routine, then, is to be mindful of when I have time to write – usually at night, after dinner and after the kid is asleep – and make the most of those times. It’s worked for me so far.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Stephen King’s On Writing is invaluable – a heartfelt memoir of the craft that is loaded with good advice and lots of humanity. I reread that book every few years and always feel reborn after. So, that’s a cheat, but there you go. Elmore Leonard is spot-on when he says not to spend too much time describing places and people. A book is a mental contract with a reader and, I feel, you have to meet them in the middle – give them just enough to paint a picture in their head and go on this journey with you. If you bog the book down by describing how many notches a belt has or the kind of soda bottle you’d find in the backseat of a car, you might lose them. Especially if you’re writing a crime novel that relies on the propulsion of plot.

Another bit of advice that comes to mind, that I’ve been going back and forth with fellow authors and thinking about a lot lately is “focus on the work.” There are so many damn distractions in life today, especially for writers – promoting your book, building a brand or platform, campaigning for awards, creating the right look for your website, whatever…but none of it matters if the book isn’t good. That should be the focus, first and foremost. You have to hope the rest will fall into place, but your main concern as a writer should be the work.

What do you wish more readers would ask you about?

I’d love to talk about Pete’s supporting cast! I really enjoy writing them – sometimes more than Pete, to be honest. Kathy Bentley, Pete’s partner, is a big part of the series and really interesting to me. I hope readers enjoy how we push them forward – Kathy, Dave, Harras, Jackie – in the next book and beyond.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Bites: D. Michael Hardy, author of Pain and Longing

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

This Friday, I'm bringing you something new: an interview with author and photographer D. Michael Hardy. In his debut collection, Pain & Longing, Hardy combines unflinching, soul-searching poems with gorgeous black and white photographs in a compelling exploration of the razor's edge of solitude. Just in time for National Poetry Month!

How do you handle writer’s block?
Whenever I’m feeling stuck I put on music – jazz, darkwave, trip hop - something that conveys the mood of the piece I’m working on. Music has saved my life on countless occasions, and it almost never fails to trigger the flow of words when I start thinking I’ll never be able to write another word again. Going for a long walk, especially after dark, when there’s nothing but you and the stars and the creatures of the night, also helps clear my head of all the distractions life throws at you and get my head back in the game.

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

I think for me, being a successful writer means putting out the best work I possibly can, something I can look back on after six months or twenty years, and be proud of, and hopefully enough people enjoy it. And I’d like to make enough money to live without having to work a day job. I think that’s the more realistic dream for most writers. I’m not really interested in making six-figure book deals or winning awards. If those things happen that would be amazing, but it’s not why I write.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

In a way. I mean, I write whenever I can, but because of my day job I usually write from around ten p.m. to midnight or a little later on the weekdays, unless I go out, which I rarely do these days. I like to write at that time because everything else has been taken care of, work and emails and chores, and I can focus solely on the writing. Sometimes that involves some whiskey or wine, and knowing I don’t have to go anywhere and can just crawl into bed when I’m done is a huge comfort. I also like to write early on Saturdays, for a couple hours between breakfast and dinner, and then the rest of the weekend I can be free to enjoy at my leisure.

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

It’s not advice I’ve received personally, and I’m sure most every writer has already heard this, but it was to write the book you want to read. I’ve held onto this piece of advice more than any other, and it’s almost like my mantra when I sit down to write. The stories and poems in my head are what I want to read most, so I do my best to transfer them to paper. Ultimately, at the end of the day, you have to be proud of the work you put out because once it’s published it no longer belongs to you and your name is on it, and you have to be able to stand behind it. And whether people like my poetry and forthcoming novel and whatever else I write in the future, or they hate it, I know I need to be proud of it. And I’m proud of this book I’ve just put out, so that’s what truly matters to me.

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

For poetry, hands down it would have to be Charles Bukowski’s The Pleasures of the Damned. I think his greatest poetry is in that collection, and if you’ve never read him before it’s a perfect book to start with to truly get a feel for his poetry. He’s my biggest influence when it comes to poetry, so I can’t recommend him enough. His poem “Eulogy to a Hell of a Dame” is beautiful and never fails to bring me close to tears. Of course, Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis was the book that, when I was young, convinced me that I wanted to be a writer. That book completely changed my life.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Book Bites: Vincent Chu, author of Like a Champion

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

Today, I bring you an interview with Vincent Chu, author the debut short story collection Like a Champion. Chu's eighteen stories are self-deprecating in their humor and sharp in their style- odes to the underdogs, the disappointments and the people who try really, really hard but still fall short. Happy Reading!
"Chu finds ways to turn the everyday into the revelatory." -Kirkus Reviews

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I think short stories are a great way to get into writing fiction. I was always a fan of literary fiction, that just happened to be what I read and related to, and stories were a natural entry point because you can jump right in, experiment and get easier feedback. Once I started writing stories I fell in love with the genre, uncovering a whole history of unbelievable writers and collections. With short stories, I love this idea of jumping suddenly into a new world, right into the action, into someone’s head and then jumping out. For a writer, it’s a dream come true because it lets you try out so many different voices, characters, formats and settings.

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

For me, being a successful writer means being able to write something that makes you happy, and at least one other person happy. If you can satisfy these criteria, and build from there, of course, I think you can consider yourself a successful writer. The secondary stuff, getting published or selling books or getting good press, means little without those first two things.

Did the collection have any alternate titles?

For a long time, I had the working title of Little Wins, which a friend and confidant suggested to me, which is fine and accurate to the collection and the corporate tone fits some of the themes of office drudgery, but I felt like it was perhaps missing something. I also loved the idea of using sports terminology, especially as some of the stories are about sports and all are about notions of victory and defeat, and competition of some sort, and so I also bounced around with the title of Look Alive, which probably triggers traumatic memories for anyone who has ever played organized sports growing up. I still like this title a lot. In the end, Like a Champion just felt right, and just that word 'champion' I love so much aesthetically.

How important is the setting in your collection?

Setting is really important, even if I don’t always specify the actual location. Some of my stories take place specifically in San Francisco or Germany, but most are in an unnamed big city or small town, that perhaps seems American, but perhaps could be elsewhere. Setting is so important to empathizing and understanding a character, and of course it can just be such a fun element to write.

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

There are a lot of good and true answers to this question that perhaps reveal how basic I am, like Catcher in the Rye or The Sun Also Rises or High Fidelity, and I could gladly go with one of these, but I’ll back up and go with John Grisham’s The Firm. I read this when I was 10, and certainly had no idea what the hell was really going on, but it was the first grown-up book I read that had me really hooked, that I read start to finish in a month, wanting to jump back in as often and for as long as I could. The Firm has little to do with my writing style now or what I write about, but it was the first book that showed me what was possible with a book, reeling a reader in and keeping them engaged. That should be the goal of any writer, regardless of genre, to get someone as addicted to a story as I was to The Firm in the fifth grade.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Do Some Damage Bucket List

Many thanks to Marietta Miles (author of May) for including me in her piece on writerly bucket lists over at Do Some Damage!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Giving Up on Bleak House

Oh hey, I threw in the towel on reading Bleak House and crime writer Art Taylor reached out to ask a few questions... Check out his piece (also featuring Patricia Abbot) in the Washington Independent Review of Books about giving up on books.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Bites: Sarah Frank, author of One Chance

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

Today, I've got something completely new in store for you: a teen author (really, Frank is only 15 and already published- I think I was still showing up at school with my shirt on inside-out when I was her age) and a middle-grade novel. I was lucky enough to meet Sarah Frank, author of One Chance, a few months ago, as she attends Howard W. Blake High School, my former work stomping ground. Read on as Frank discusses writer's block, time travel and shares the best piece of writing advice she's received so far. Cheers and happy reading!

What drew you to the genre you write in?

Growing up, I fell in love with the Magic Tree House books so I knew that I wanted to include time-travel. In second grade, Harry Potter became my new favorite series (and it still is.) I loved the idea of creating unique and magic worlds. The following year, in third grade, I started reading biographies and found a new love in history. When I sat down to write the very first draft of One Chance in 5th grade, I knew I wanted to write a book that I would want to read. So, I combined time-travel, magic, and history to create the Stone of Discedo, a time traveling stone, which was the foundation of the book.

How do you handle writer’s block?

Writer’s block is tough. When I come to a spot where I don’t know what to do next (which happens more frequently than you might think), I pause my work, go do something else, and then come back to the piece with a fresh pair of eyes.

Who was your intended audience for the novel?
One Chance is middle grade fiction, so the target audience is between 4th and 7th grade, but I’ve met 2nd graders who read it and enjoyed it, as well as adults who have read it, too.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of writing advice I ever received was from a camp counselor at a writing camp I’ve gone to for 6 years. I remember her saying that no matter how many times you edit, there will always be things you want to change, and that everything is a draft until you die or get it published. This couldn’t be more true. Editing was a difficult process for me; it’s hard to let go of things you feel close to, but I kept reminding myself it’s just the way things go.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?
Harry Potter is the most influential book to me. J.K. Rowling has such an amazing craft and it was her that inspired me to want to write my own magical stories. If I hadn’t read Harry Potter and fallen in love with magic and fantasy books, I feel as though I’d be in a very different place then where I am today.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Howling from the Mountains

In case you missed it.... my interview with Taylor Brown, author of the just-released (and absolutely brilliant) Gods of Howl Mountain is live over at LitReactor. Take a look! And then go buy Taylor's book. Seriously.....!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Star Thief

I'm so honored to have my short story titled The Star Thief or How the Little Fox Made the Night Sky featured in Nonbinary Review's 16th issue, dedicated to The Little Prince.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Florida Madness over at CrimeReads

Oh hey, I'm over at CrimeReads (Lithub's new crime site that is taking the world by storm) writing about how I see Florida crime fiction and the authors who have influenced both my own writing and the Florida literature landscape. Enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Bites: Shuly Xochitl Cawood, author of The Going and the Goodbye

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

Today, I'm lucky enough to have Shuly Xochitl Cawood, author of the brilliant, if at times heartbreaking, memoir The Going and the Goodbye stop by. Cawood's work challenges the notion of a typical memoir and brings both a quietness and a weight to every page as she explores small towns, road trips, love and loss and what it means to, ultimately, let go.

"In this lovely memoir the narrator, although strongly rooted in a particular place, is always on the move into the unknown....The lyrical, fluid style immediately invites the reader along for the ride. I read this with great pleasure!" --Bobbie Ann Mason
Which character in the memoir gave you the most trouble?

I think the character I found most difficult was myself. I think it’s easier to see other people and to recognize their qualities, both good and bad. But it took me a lot longer to see myself with more objectivity in experiences that had happened and to understand what I had done wrong and why, and to view myself via the lens through which other people might have seen me. That took me years.

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

I originally planned on including a chapter which told the story of the relationship that finally moved me from being terrified of getting my heart broken post-divorce to discovering my former courageous self. I worked on that chapter for a long time, including during my MFA program, and it went through multiple versions. In the end, when I finally completed the manuscript and started sending it to publishers, that chapter didn’t make the cut. Parts of the original chapter did, but not the bulk of it. Still, I never gave up on that story. After the book got published, I picked up the story/chapter again and worked on it a lot more, over and over, until finally I felt like I had gotten it where I wanted it to be. It is now a stand-alone essay that will be a part of the prose and poetry chapbook I have forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks. I’m excited about having the story in there because it not only ties in with the theme of the chapbook, but it makes that chapbook have a connection to my memoir as well.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I switch genres. This past fall, I was focused on writing short stories, and then I got stuck in December—so stuck that I couldn’t seem to write or even edit my fiction, so I switched to poetry. Well, first I allowed myself a hiatus, which maybe some writers think you should never do, but I do take them, and they help me. When I was done with the hiatus from writing, which lasted several weeks and through the holidays, I still felt stuck, so I started writing poetry again. The poetry was terrible, but I was just allowing myself to write whatever weird thing came into my mind and let it take me where it wanted. Frankly, I was just relieved to be writing again, so I didn’t sweat the quality. After a couple of weeks, better poetry emerged. Sometimes it just takes time and patience.

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

This idea of defining success has been something I had to think about before I published my book, and after. Part of success for me was, first and foremost, publishing a book. That’s been my goal for decades, though I didn’t know what type of book—in high school I would have predicted it would be a novel, and in in college I would have told you my first book would be a collection of poems. Even ten or fifteen years ago I did not imagine my first book would be a memoir. Still, I have known throughout the years that in this lifetime I wanted to publish at least one book. Once I started working on the memoir and finalizing it, I realized success for the book (and for me) wasn’t just publishing it, and it wasn’t finding an agent or selling the memoir to one of the big New York publishers. Success meant publishing a body of work that I was proud to have created, that was some of the best writing I could produce at this stage of my writing career, and finding a publisher who really believed in the book and would be a partner with me on it. That drove all my decisions about publishers and the press I ultimately chose. 

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

I don’t have just one! The best three pieces of advice I got were:

1) That if I was going to write nonfiction, I should start a blog. The blog helped me take something small that had happened in my life that day or that week and to try and write about it in a way that was compelling to readers. The blog definitely upped my storytelling skills.

2) That after I completed a draft of writing, I should go back and consider what I didn’t say and didn’t reveal in the pages. Often that is the real heart of the story.

3) And the most important: To never give up. Rejections will come—I aim for over a hundred a year—but tenacity wins.


Book Bites: Tabitha Blankenbiller, author of Eats of Eden

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

Ever heard of a "foodoir"? I hadn't either until I encountered Tabitha Blankenbiller's fun and fantastic Eats of Eden, a collection of essays using food as a gateway to explore everything from feminism to fashion to the literary establishment. Raise a glass and enjoy the interview!

“Lush, rich and delicious, these essays are as tasty as the recipes she delivers: Blankenbiller dishes not only fun but depth and honesty. She shows us that literature is not meant to fly above taste but delve into it. What a satisfying read.” —Rene Denfeld

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?
Oh god, all of them. I guess I don’t feel as if I legitimately am one, so all the others I see I think, oof, if only I could be a real writer, too. I wish I had a tenth of the fierce work ethic and critical prowess of Laura Bogart. Brandon Taylor’s aching eye for detail—he sees words and the world with an elegance way outside of my stratosphere. Kendra Fortmeyer’s imagination and shape-shifting—she can inhabit another mind like no one else. Jill Talbot’s poetry and forms, constantly pushing against what we think an essay is supposed to be. What writing is supposed to be. Rene Denfeld’s radical compassion and ability to completely remake a heart in the span of one novel. Sharon Harrigan’s masterful editing eye and her architectural precision she brings to her work. Elizabeth Ellen’s way of writing about relationships, and how I will be raving about her essay “A Review of By the Sea, Or, How to Be An Artist and Female, i.e. How to Be Unlikable, Or, How to (Not) Pander” until the day I die. Samantha Irby is just the queen.

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

Restoring my childhood dollhouse, making gaudy fascinators and brooches for suckers on Etsy, photoshopping my cats into memes, cosplay.

I think I picked the right creative outlet.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

So many! And not just books that get shoved in the drawer, either. I’ve pitched essays that sounded so good in my marketing-speak sentences, then could not come together no matter what angle I came at them from. I believe you shouldn’t give up too quickly on an idea—sometimes you need to have a few false starts and get that “throat-clearing” out of the way before an essay comes together. Other times you didn’t have a full essay, you had a thought. Or a scene. Or a funny memory. Or you got out the full of it in the pitch letter. I hate that! One time in particular I got a yes from a big venue I so desperately wanted to net, but the article absolutely did not work, plus I couldn’t get any decent sources to speak with me. It’s frustrating, but not as frustrating as dragging something out that doesn’t want to exist.

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

Keeping “success” in perspective is an unending struggle. There are days I feel as though the universe is validating my choice to be a writer and my MFA kid dreams are coming true, and the other 95% of the days I feel anywhere from vaguely okay with what I’m doing on down to calling my mom from between bookshelves at Powell’s and crying because I’ve wasted my life on something that’s never going to make me happy (not to be specific or anything).

When I am very seriously questioning whether I have made the right decision to work at this, to really commit to building a writing life with whatever resources of time and energy and finances that I can scrape up, I go back to what I wrote in one of my notebooks during grad school: “I want to be part of the conversation.” At that point, I had never submitted to a single journal. Every possible accomplishment was a new one. I dreamed of being invited to participate in a panel, to sit behind a convention center banquet table with a microphone and a glass of water while a sparsely populated crowd listened to me and my peers talked about bookish things. I thought, if I could have an essay published somewhere, anywhere, I’d be happy forever.

Eight years later those goals have changed (hahahaha happy forever….), but I think this is what success is to me—it’s engaging. It’s building relationships with other writers, and with readers. It’s becoming better at what you do, a constant conversation with yourself.

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

Jo Ann Beard’s The Boys of My Youth. It was one of the first books I read for my MFA, and completely toppled what I thought a memoir was capable of being. What an essay could be. The longing and the fears and the love and the mess of coming of age as a woman that she braids in a way that comes off the page so effortlessly, but could only be accomplished by an absolute virtuoso. I’m so glad I picked it up when I was still putty, where its influence could be the stars I’ll forever reach toward.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Bites: Patricia Abbot, author of I Bring Sorrow

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

Today, I bring you an interview with Patricia Abbot, whose short story collection, I Bring Sorrow & Other Stories of Transgression, just recently hit shelves. Enjoy!

“A sparkling collection from Edgar-finalist Abbott...This brilliant collection is sure to boost the author’s reputation as a gifted storyteller.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

What drew you into the genre you write in?

Although a lot of the fiction I read would not be categorized as crime fiction, I am drawn to writing it because there is an immediate and compelling focus to the story: a crime of some sort, a grievance, a loss, some issue to be addressed. My first dozen or so published stories did not feature a crime per say but many were about marginalized people. Certainly many of my favorite books dealt with victimization, or feelings of desire unmet. My characters are often dissatisfied with their lot in life and how they address that dissatisfaction becomes the story.

How important is the setting in your collection?

The setting is very important to me. In both of my novels, the story reflects the city they take place in. Philadelphia of the 1950s-1980s (Concrete Angel) is very specific to me. One chapter, in particular, recalls the grand dames of department stores in the 1960s: Lit Brothers, Strawbridges, John Wanamakers and Gimbels. Going downtown to shop in those stores necessitated white gloves and high heels- even for a teenager. Shopping was an event. In Shot in Detroit, I tried to capture Detroit at its worst moment without being patronizing or callous. But all of my short stories treat place as an important part of the narrative, too. I would say after character, setting is the most important element for me. How to capture Tuscon, or Pacific Beach, CA or Portland, Maine without overdoing it is great fun for me.

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

The Great Gatsby can be read multiple times without losing its freshness. The book I read at 20 is different than the one I read last year. Each time, it reveals new insights on how to create character, place, plot in a very short novel. Every character in The Great Gatsby is dissatisfied. Unmet desire overwhelms all of them.

Did your collection have an alternate title?

It’s original title was Flight Tales. That made sense because in nearly every story someone is running from something: a woman from her bi-polar mother, an elderly woman from the Detroit that has changed, a man from his harridan of a wife. However, that title had no poetry to it. So I began to look for another way to express the theme. I Bring Sorrow is from an aria Maria Callas sang called “La Mamma Morta” (They killed my mother) from the opera Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giodana. It was beautifully used in the movie Philadelphia, bringing everyone to tears.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

When the writing is going well, I write off and on all day. I am a pantser, so getting up and mopping a floor or taking a walk is part of the process for me. My unconscious needs time to catch up with my conscious mind. Lately, the switching between shorts and novels has been difficult. My head has not been in the right place to allow characters and incidents to take hold. Hopefully I am behind that.


Friday, March 2, 2018

La Casita Grande Interview

Many thanks to La Casita Grande for hosting this wonderful interview. They asked some tough questions about class issues, genre and how Florida crime writing stands out from the pack. Take a look.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Lightwood is a Kindle Monthly Book Deal

Today is the first day of March and that means.... Lightwood is on sale! Lightwood has been accepted as part of Amazon's Kindle Monthly Book Deal program, which means it's only $1.99 for the month of March. If you've been thinking about reading Lightwood, but haven't gotten around to it yet, here's your chance!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Anthony Award Nominations 2018!

It's that time of year! The Anthony Award ballots are out and Bouchercon alums and attendees are now scrambling to put together their crime fiction nominations. To make things easier, I've compiled a list of eligible novels, stories and collections. This is by no means an exhaustive list- I'd say that Jay Stringer over at Do Some Damage has the most comprehensive list going at the moment- but rather these are the titles that have been somewhere on my radar over the past year. Happy nominating, happy voting and most importantly, happy reading!

Best Novel:
Lightwood by Steph Post (hey, it's eligible....)
Burning Bright by Nick Petrie
Knuckledragger by Rusty Barnes
Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda
Another Man's Ground by Claire Booth
American Static by Tom Pitts
The Savage by Frank Bill
Crime Song by David Swinson
The Late Show by Michael Connelly
A Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner
The Weight of This Word by David Joy
The Force by Don Winslow
Unsub by Meg Gardiner
Heaven's Crooked Finger by Hank Early
Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick

Best First Novel:
Where the Sun Shines Out by Kevin Catalano
Ragged by Chris Irvin
Dark Chapter by Winnie M. Li
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
The Dry by Jane Harper
Swiss Vendetta by Tracee de Hahn
Daughters of Bad Men by Laura Oles
Adrift by Micki Browning
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Best Paperback Original:
Cold War Canoe Club by Jeffery Hess
Accidental Outlaws by Matthew Phillips
Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult by Angel Colon
A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski
Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck
What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt
The Blade This Time by Jon Bassoff
Hardway by Hector Acosta
Outside the Wire by Patricia Smiley
The Day I Died by Lori Rader Day
The Art of Murder by Casey Doran
The Rebellion's Last Traitor by Nik Korpon
A Fatal Collection by Mary Ellen Hughes
No Way Home by Annette Dashofy

Best Short Story:
"25 Minutes to Go" by S.W. Lauden
"A Necessary Ingredient" by Art Taylor
"I Know They're in There" by Travis Richardson
"Man in Black" by Terri Lynn Coop
"How You Did It" by Eric Beetner
"Missouri Waltz" by Sarah M. Chen
"Millions of Hungry Mouths" by Paul J. Garth
"Tuesday" by Erin Mitchell
"Crazy Cat Lady" by Barb Goffman
"Missing Person" by Rick Helms
"A Woman's Place" by Josh Pachter
"The Trial of Madame Pelletier" by Susanna Calkins
"Let it Burn" by Robert Mangeot
"The Explorer" by Maurissa Guibord
"My Side of the Matter" by Hilary Davidson
"Straight Fire" by Danny Gardner
"The Hug" by Rob Hart
"Rose of My Heart" by Nik Korpon
"Deadbeat" by Thomas Pluck
"Money for Nothing" by Holly West

Best Critical/Non-Fiction Book:
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
American Fire by Monica Hesse
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Best Anthology:
Killing Malmon edited by Kate and Dan Malmon
Hard Sentences edited by David James Keaton
Just to Watch Them Die edited by Joe Clifford
The Obama Inheritance edited by Gary Phillips
Crime Survivors edited by Pam Stack

Best Online Content:
Unlawful Acts
Writer Types
BOLO Books
The Rap Sheet
Writer's Bone
The Thrill Begins
The Reading Room

Bill Crider Award for Best Novel in a Continuing Series:
Dangerous Ends by Alex Segura
Blind to Sin by Dave White
The Devil's Muse by Bill Loehfelm
Blood Truth by Matt Coyle
A Conspiracy of Ravens by Terrence McCauley
Cast the First Stone by James Ziskin
Blessed Are the Peacekeepers by Kristi Belcamino
The Woman from Prague by Rob Hart
Blood Truth by Matt Coyle
Path into Darkness by Lisa Alber
A Palette for Murder by Sybil Johnson
Hellhound on my Tail by J.D. Rhodes

Monday, February 19, 2018

Over at BULL: Men's Fiction

So many thanks to BULL: Men's Fiction magazine for running an excerpt of Walk in the Fire and conducting and posting a killer interview with me (about everything from poison, to split-personalities, to pacing as breathing and why I write about fire).

Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Bites: Nicole Tong, author of How to Prove a Theory

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

I'm so excited today to be able to bring a poet over for a Book Bites interview! Nicole Tong, whose debut collection How to Prove a Theory just hit shelves this past fall is not only a brilliant poet and writer, but human being as well and I'm honored to have met her as a freshman at Davidson College and gone through the years with her there. Tong is a poet's poet, one who truly understands language in a visceral way and brings that experience to the reader in a series of striking, startling awakenings on the page.

"Balanced between before and after, breathes Nicole Foreman Tong's How to Prove a Theory, a collection of poems impeccably made. If poetry can work as solace in the face of loss, these poems are the proof. Quite simply, this is a beautiful debut." -- Sally Keith, author of River House
How do you handle writer’s block? 

Because of my teaching load (16-20 credits a semester), I don’t get to write as frequently as I have good ideas, so I rarely experience writer’s block. I do simmer over how to best address something I’m contending with, and when this happens, I usually go for a run or a long hike. I voice record lines over and over until I think I have a way into music of the poem.

I started running when I turned 30, and when I started, I couldn’t run a mile. Several years later people closest to me started getting sick including my dad and my brother-in-law who lived alone in North Carolina. Running was a coping strategy. I couldn’t always bring myself to sit at the computer and come up with a polished idea of how this series of losses made me feel, yet I could, if I ran long enough, find some degree of music or some line that stuck. Before I knew it, I was spending whole days hiking or running. The goal was never to become an ultramarathoner, but that’s what happened in a quest for a finished collection.
In the book, you can see examples of poems that began as voice memos because the lines are markedly shorter. “Marathon” is one example.

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

“Chinook Theory,” which is a poem for my dad; it’s also one of the newest. I wrote it in one pass at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts just before I submitted the book to contests. We had a difficult relationship, but writing a poem like that one helped me reconcile the difference between the father I knew growing up, the combat veteran with PTSD, and the man who died with the women of in his life circled around him.

By early summer 2015, he was very weak. He needed help doing everything at the end, but when the hospice nurse assured him the morphine would keep away the pain at the end of his life, he asked if he could have something local because, in his words, he “want[ed] to feel it coming.” He was the toughest person I’ve ever met.

And, I’ll note, he would have loved being the star of another poem. In 2007, I read “And the Place Was Water” at my MFA graduation reading. He had had a stroke the season before. It took him all winter and spring to walk so that he didn’t need a wheelchair for that event. The poem was printed on the program, and he read ahead as I read aloud:

                    Fall was fraught
        With leaves changing
Dad’s side
Went numb post-stroke
        Doctors asked him to walk
                    On legs of water
        So he did
Without question

He started to cry audibly, and then I started to cry. The whole auditorium was in tears by the end (if I even made it to the end). I don’t think he knew poems could speak about life as it is and not as we want it to be. I think he thought I was spending my time in fields writing about flowers. 

 Did the collection have any alternate titles?

a. And the Place Was Water

The subtitle for Lorine Niedecker’s “Paean to Place.” In its earliest stage, the book was my MFA thesis, and this was the strongest poem with the surest footing. I had a catastrophic flood in 2013. The poet Marilyn Chin would say in this case and in so many others, “The muse knows.”

b. Theory of Everything

I was reading about the quest for a unified field theory starting with Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, and Brian Greene. Then one summer afternoon I went to the movies, and I saw a trailer for a film with the same name. I think you could have heard my reaction throughout the building, but in the end and given the ways in which the collection evolved especially in the months before publication, I’m happy I had to keep pushing the title.

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

The first book of contemporary poetry I read was James Kimbrell’s The Gatehouse Heaven. This was one of twelve books I read in my first semester freshman English class at Davidson College. I could probably recite the long title poem by this point. This book (along with the Catholic hymns and prayers of my childhood) is the music I’ve carried with me the longest. I can find the echoes of and nods to James Kimbrell though I couldn’t see them while writing. I see them very clearly now. I owe this poet and a few others a debt of gratitude for life as I know it.

What do you wish more readers would ask you about?

The story of Camp Lejeune in “Let the Dead Bury Their Own.” This water contamination event really happened. It, along with Agent Orange exposure, lead to my dad’s death. It may be why I don’t have children. I spent the first thirty days of my life in the NICU of a base hospital, so my first baths were in contaminated water. My first bottles were poisonous. Not only did the government fail to protect those charged with protecting all of us, but it knowingly harmed them by not closing contaminated wells sooner and by covering up the magnitude of the damage to begin with. These are stories rarely in the news, but when I hear of events like those in Flint and Puerto Rico, my brain fast forwards twenty or thirty years. I imagine how our inaction will ultimately affect generations.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Bites: Douglas Light, author of Where Night Stops

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

Today, I bring you an interview with Douglas Light, author of the brand new thriller Where Night Stops, hitting shelves everywhere today. Enjoy!

"This sinuous narrative works neatly, both as a gripping novel and a solid meditation on identity."
―Kirkus Reviews

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

I’ve not quit on a project, but I’ve had projects quit on me. I got to the point where I realize that I’m trying to force an idea into a form it isn’t made for. I’ve three novels that have lost momentum after I’d written a hundred-plus pages. Two of those pieces became successful short stories, and I’ve poached lines and ideas from all of them for other works.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

I write every morning, putting in three hours before heading off to my nine-to-five. It helps me to view writing as a job, and like all jobs, there are bad days and good. The “muse” is a nice concept, but it doesn’t carry a person far—or far enough. Writing is work.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I’ve had periods of time—a day, a month, more—where what I write is awful. The work never sees the light of day. But having a block, not being able to write, isn’t something I’ve experienced. Often, I have to explore a lot of wrong directions before discovering the right one.

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

I lived in New York City for 21 years, and wandering the streets of certain parts of the city over the years, I’d see what appeared to be fishing line running from light pole to light pole. I discovered the wire marked the boundary of an eruv, a designated area which allows Jews to carry things on the Sabbath or holidays. I worked the concept of an eruv into a chapter of Where Night Stops. That chapter, and many others, ultimately didn’t make the final draft.

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

The delete key is your best friend.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Bites: Kristina Riggle, author of Vivian in Red

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

Today, bestselling author Kristina Riggle stops by to talk about her 2017 novel Vivian in Red. A historical mystery and tangle of family drama all wrapped up into one and set in the 1930s, Vivian in Red explores the ties that bind two people across generations and through a love of music and theater.
"With Vivian in Red, Kristina Riggle proves herself a master storyteller. Her expertly drawn characters and New York City itself pulse with life in this stunning novel loaded with family secrets, passionate love, and the magic of Broadway. An absolute joy to read.”
—Tasha Alexander

What drew you to the genre you write in?

I’d been writing contemporary mainstream fiction about family conflict for years, and my agent challenged me to widen my scope to something more grand and expansive. I figured one way to do that was to write about a family over multiple generations, a family with a clouded legacy. That drove me to writing about the mid 1930s, and 1999. I got hooked on historical fiction. I used to be a journalist, and applying my research and interview skills to the 1930s world of Broadway, first generation Jewish-Americans in New York, and songwriting, was like an independent study. I loved it.
Were there any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

I don’t know that I miss it, but I had a painful cut from Vivian in Red. I had one character in the contemporary timeline make an out-of-state journey, and that section covered forty pages in the manuscript. An early reader told me she loved the world I’d created, and didn’t want my characters to leave it, that she was impatient to get back to my New York City setting. I resisted, but my own rule of thumb with a difficult critique is to sit with it at least overnight, and then walk myself through the process of making the change, to at least try it on for size. So then I did a “save as” and whacked out the offending section. I could stitch the book back together around those missing pages so easily that I knew immediately my savvy friend was right. Dammit. But anytime you can take out 40 pages without much damage…yep. It’s gotta' go.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I used to be a newspaper reporter, and there is no such thing for reporters. There is a story-size hole in the paper waiting for your words. Even if they suck, when deadline hits, you turn it in. (OK, this story-size hole thing only existed in the days of physical newspapers I guess. But stay with me.) Because of this, and the amount of writing I had to produce in a given day (on top of research and interviews), I don’t get hung up on quality in a first draft. Which is why I produce many, many drafts. I just keep my fingers moving even if I think I’m only producing garbage. Chances are, in the cold light of dawn the next day, the words won’t be half bad. It only felt terrible in the moment. Hard work is like that. Self-doubt is like that, too.
But sometimes you do get stuck where you can’t even make your fingers type garbage. In that case, I’ll talk a walk. Fresh air and exercise do wonders. Or I’ll switch to handwriting in a notebook. Something about not having the pressure of an official formatted manuscript breaks the logjam, and reminds me of the days before I even learned to type, when I was a kid with a notebook and a Bic.

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

I am so proud of Vivian in Red. I really stretched myself for this book, and had to research so much I didn’t know. I created a male Jewish Broadway songwriter protagonist who came of age in the 1930s. I am none of those things. I didn’t even know which Gershwin brother was the lyricist when I started (it was Ira). I had to teach myself lyric writing in the style of the day. I set the book in New York City and I live in Michigan. I’ve only been to New York once, for 48 hours. But I took a deep breath and went for it, and I’m so proud of the result.

Did the novel have any alternate titles? 
So. Many. Titles. The folder on the computer is still called “Tin Pan Alley” and I referred to it as “the Milo book” (for my protagonist, Milo Short) for the entire time I was writing it. Various titles I tried and rejected myself or were nixed by others include: Lyrical, It Had to Be You, Someone to Watch Over Me, Love Me I Guess and Dreaming of a Song (still rather like that last one). I pleaded with my agent to just send it out with a filler title, reasoning the publisher would change it anyway. She (reasonably) argued that a better title would give it a better chance with a publisher, too. She threw out, via email and off the cuff, “What about something like Vivian in Red?” And I gasped. Trouble is, Vivian never wore red that I specifically noted. But I pulled up the manuscript, changed her dress in the opening section from green to red, fixed the title page and headers, and we were off to the races. It went out to publishers the very next day.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Walk in the Fire, Crimespree Interview

Many, many thanks to Kate Malmon and Crimespree Magazine for this killer interview. Malmon asks some hard, thoughtful questions on this one. Take a look to find out more about the fate of Judah Cannon in Walk in the Fire, teaching and being taught, and the moment when I decided to dive headfirst into writing.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Walk in the Fire Review, Unlawful Acts

So many thanks to Jim Thomsen and Unlawful Acts for this amazing, detailed, and smart review of Walk in the Fire. I love (who doesn't?) reviews that delve deep and go for the guts of a novel and Thomsen nails it.

"Walk in the Fire is full of similarly inspired moments, and sumptuously crafted plot threads wrapping themselves around her sumptuously crafted characters like kudzu vines until they, and we, can scarcely breathe. Everything makes sense, and everyone surprises. It represents the intersection of Steph Post’s abundant talent with her growing command of story and character craft. It’s damned close to a perfect novel, and closes by dropping a damned-close-to-perfect cliffhanger in the next chapter in the Sister Tulah-Cannon saga."

Friday, February 2, 2018

Book Bites: Bethany Ball, author of What To Do About The Solomons

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

Today, I'm lucky enough to have Bethany Ball stop by for a Book Bite. Ball is the author of What to Do About the Solomons, a darkly funny, globe-spanning, multi-generational family saga that was short-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Happy Reading!
"A wry, dark multigenerational tale, full of emotional insight, about the Israeli and American branches of an extended family.”―New York Times

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

There is nothing I’d rather be doing than writing, but when I’m not writing I’m playing tennis or platform tennis. I think if I spent all that time playing tennis rather than writing I’d probably be much better than I am.

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

A successful writer has the desire to write, takes that desire very very seriously regardless of any kind of outward success. Joins writing groups, takes classes, if possible (community education classes can be amazing), reads lots of books like the ones they want to be writing, reads writing books and sends work out consistently.

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

The best review was the New York Times, absolutely. What was so great about it was that the reviewer felt so much warmth for the characters. I was worried that I had been too hard on them, showed too much of their foibles and faults. I was happy she felt love for them, because I certainly do.

The worst review I received was from a teacher in my high school. I didn’t know her, I’d never been her student, but she gave me one star and said I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about. It seemed hurtful because my school district is one where about 15% of the kids go on to college. Maybe I was in a vulnerable place when I read that, but it hurt. But a bunch of my teachers did read the book and are proud of me. And I have nothing but love and respect for all the wonderful teachers I’ve had.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

I write when my kids go to school. This means I’m stealing time away from doctor’s appointments, chores, working out, grocery shopping, whatever exercise I can fit in. But I prefer this. To me it’s an ideal schedule. It leaves me just enough time, not too much and not too little. If I have a big project to work on, or if I’m at the beginning stages of a project, I try and go away somewhere for at least 24 hours. Even if I’m holed up in a local hotel. I have an apartment in the East Village that I have access to so I’ll go there. Sometimes it’s hard to get deep into a project without a large chunk of time. Then when I get back, I find I can maintain it. I work really hard when I do go away, mostly because I feel guilty about being away, and also I know I need to use the time wisely. 

Did the novel have any alternate titles?

I had a terrible time naming this novel. It was really frustrating. I kept wanting to give it biblical titles and my editors and agent were really against it (they were right). I think I wanted to call it, All the World’s a Narrow Bridge, and also, Guy Gever Stands in the Fields. Eventually, my lovely brilliant agent, Duvall Osteen came up with What to Do With the Solomons and thank heavens everyone agreed.

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

I’m thinking a lot about my second novel right now. I’d written 70k words and was kind of thinking I would turn it into my agent right about now. I gave it to my friend to read and he felt pretty strongly that the writing wasn’t there. He kept asking if it had been written before the Solomons book and that was a pretty good sign it wasn’t ready to go. So I’m rewriting it. So that’s the greatest advice I’ve recently taken, which is to not be precious with your work. Rewrite and revise. If you are impetuous, as I tend to be, slow down. On the other hand, my friend Scott Wolven once told me you can’t take the same amount of time with a second book as you did with the first. So I’m trying to find that space between not taking seven years to write book number two and not thinking I can write a book in twelve months.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, an Interview with Deirdra McAfee and BettyJoyce Nash

"Nothing says America louder than a gun." With this bold statement, Deirdra McAfee and BettyJoyce Nash open their recently released anthology Lock & Load: Armed Fiction. It's not even a question that guns, gun violence and gun control are central and imminent facets of the American political and sociological (not to mention emotional) landscape. What is questionable, and fascinating, is how guns shape our identity as Americans, both as individuals and members of a divisive and turbulent society. Through works of short fiction from authors rising and established, McAfee and Nash explore this question, as well as the powerful ties between guns and storytelling. I have to say that I was quite impressed with this collection, both in its mission and its content, and I was thrilled to have the chance to dig deeper and peel back even more layers on this topic in this interview with McAfee and Nash.

Steph Post: Your introduction opens with the bold, if controversial, statement, “Nothing says America louder than a gun.” You go on to discuss American history and pop culture and how gun and weapon language has entered our lexicon, perhaps even without us realizing it. Is there any one succinct reason why you think gun and gun culture has become so intertwined with our identity as Americans?

Deirdra McAfee: Americans have domesticated firearms. Without guns—no matter how you feel about their uses—our country wouldn’t exist. Muskets declared our position at Lexington and Concord. The Spencer carbine maintained our union during the Civil War. Before and after that, firearms insured our westward and southward expansion. Guns were among the tools that tamed the wilderness, put food on the table, and kept predators, animal and human, at bay.

Unlike the plows, axes, traps, and fences that also helped claim the land, guns are direct, effective, dramatic, and final. They entered our national mythology as the everyday tools of the straight-talkin’, straight-shootin’ breed that we Americans believe we are.

They pervade our language—we shoot from the hip, we get shot down, we do shots—and our culture, including video games, movies, and TV. We become familiar with guns as children, starting with “Bambi” and “Old Yeller.”
BettyJoyce Nash: I’m no historian, but the USA and guns seem to have grown up together. The French and Dutch supplied guns for the Revolutionary War; later, U.S. government contracts drove domestic firearms technology and production during the run-up to the Civil War. (After that war, I’ve read, guns littered the ground—they were heavy, and soldiers often had to hoof it home.)

Our frontier culture and westward expansion are inextricably linked with guns. The many wars U.S. soldiers have fought and still fight, on our own soil and on foreign soil, and the mass shootings that occur with frightening regularity, also keep guns alive and kicking, in real and fictional arsenals.

Guns and gunplay continue to dominate popular culture, especially TV and film and books. Art imitates life. It’s one reason why we had no shortage of gun stories for the anthology. My grad school professor Pinckney Benedict said, when I approached him with the idea of a craft seminar about “Firearms in Fiction,” if you’re an American writer, sooner or later, a character in one of your stories will pick up a gun.

Steph Post: Gun control, and the arguments for and against it, have been part of the national discussion for decades, but in recent years, and in light of so many mass shootings, these discussions have escalated to include political, moral and ideological identity. In many ways, Lock & Load could not be a more timely foray into the discussion. Did this collection come together because of its topical and timely nature, or was this a subject you were both always interested in building a collection around?

BettyJoyce Nash: Productive conversations about guns and gun control are notably missing from the public sphere. Lock & Load: Armed Fiction was driven not by the “gun debate,” but by the ubiquity of guns that show up in literature because literature reflects society. Curiosity about guns, their roles and treatment in literary stories, fueled the idea for the anthology.

In researching my MFA craft thesis and seminar, I investigated how authors from Chekhov—imagine “The Duel” without Chekhov’s sensory, character-driven prose—to the present used guns in literature. (I started with Chekhov because of his famous dictum: “A gun introduced in the first act must go off in the third.” Symbolic objects must pay off — that is, drive character and story in a meaningful way. Incidentally, the gun in Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” does not fire.)

Deirdra McAfee: We did not have any particular personal interest, experience, or affinity for guns. Nor did we have any personal antipathy to or paranoia about them. Each of us researched her own gun story by taking a gun safety course. We didn’t compare notes on, or even discuss, our own gun stories until after they were published.

Our stories taught us that using fictional guns effectively takes almost as much skill as using real ones. A loaded gun dropped into the beginning of a story causes the reader to watch the gun, not the story, while one tossed into the middle makes the reader flinch, caught unprepared; a loaded gun dumped into the end leaves the reader feeling cheated.

And these are simply the narrative problems of introducing the gun. Firing (or not firing) entails its own complications: pulling (or not pulling) the trigger, for example, changes the character’s nature as well as the story’s.

BettyJoyce Nash: In researching Lock & Load, Deirdra and I observed that some writers used a gun to jack up tension and create false drama, but in the best stories, a gun deepens character and advances story. Our anthology demonstrates this literary skill. Marylou, in Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Family Reunion” is an able hunter who dresses her own kills; when she takes aim at the end of the story, the action surprises the reader, and yet is inevitable and appropriate to her character, to the story. 

Deirdra McAfee: Rip van Winkle’s fowling-piece gave him his excuse to escape his wife and find strange game indeed in the Catskill forests. Guns drive wonderful work by all sorts of American writers, including Twain, Cooper, Sarah Orne Jewett, Willa Cather, Richard Wright, and Norman Mailer, and, of course, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway.

We read widely, seeking the best. Years of reading contemporary fiction as writers, in addition to undergraduate and graduate literary educations, refined our tastes. Although we soon learned that guns are more likely to wound a story fatally than to strengthen it, we did discover a number of extraordinarily skilled writers. We resolved to find their stories a new and wider audience, and Lock & Load was born.

Steph Post: The thing that most piqued my interest about Lock & Load was your deliberate inclusion of women writers. Again in your introduction you write, “women have more often been causes, or spoils, of armed conflict than actors in their own right.” I was even more surprised, and pleased, to see that many of the stories are not just written by women, or from a woman’s point of view, but explore a woman’s agency in relationship to guns and violence. The women in these stories are complicated and developed, not mere victims or dead girls (as has been a disturbing trend in crime fiction in particular as of late). Why was this quality in the writing important to you? 

BettyJoyce Nash: Steph, this question is so well phrased: “… explore a woman’s agency in relationship to guns and violence.” This “agency” is critical in literary fiction, for women and men. We were pleased at the number of men and women authors who submitted character-driven gun stories that reach for the complexity and confusion around guns in literature.

Deirdra McAfee: We didn’t deliberately include women. That was part of the fun of assembling this
anthology—after we secured the first half-dozen stories, a nationwide call brought in another 100. Our standard was simple: we wanted the best stories.

Many of those turned out to be stories women wrote, stories, as you noted, in which women shoot (or don’t shoot) for their own reasons. We wanted stories that took us into new and different worlds. We wanted characters who came alive. Our writers brought us both, and more than half of those writers happened to be women.

That was both ironic and reassuring. Their talent won them places in this volume, and their presence makes Lock & Load reflect the world as it is: more than half of the human population, after all, is female. Although women remain radically under-represented on faculties and in publications—and as main characters, too—they far outnumber men in MFA programs. Paradoxically, too, women have always been American literary fiction’s mainstay, the vast majority of its readers.

Steph Post: This is the sort of question you’re never supposed to ask editors of an anthology, but I love to do it anyway. Do you have a favorite story in the collection? Or a story that you wish received more attention? And while I doubt it needs more recognition, I’ll go on record as saying that Annie Proulx’s “A Lonely Coast” won, and kept, my number one spot throughout the book.

Deirdra McAfee: The question is like asking us to choose among our children. Our great admiration for each other’s gun stories, which appear in the anthology, planted the seed for Lock & Load. The wide reading and long experience we brought to the project kept us alert to nuances of language, setting, and action, and kept us enthusiastic about sharing what we found.

Language often captivated us, as it did in Nicole Louise Reid’s “Pearl in a Pocket,” and John Edgar Wideman’s “Tommy.” Wideman’s story, incidentally, first published in 1981, remains striking and fresh, not only in its keen understanding of the title character’s situation, a sympathy that never slips into sentimentality, but also in the beautiful way Wideman captures the language Tommy heard and used.

Circumstances also resonated, as in Mari Alschuler’s “Revealed,” set in an armed, apocalyptic Manhattan, or Daniel Cox’s “Lady Bird,” in which a damaged veteran returns home to Texas. Sometimes the mood and tone struck us, as in Sara Kay Rupnik’s “An Act of Mercy,” in which an abandoned wife arms herself and broods on her husband’s return, or Elaine Maloney’s similarly situated but shockingly different “The Weight.”

BettyJoyce Nash: All Lock & Load stories are my favorites. That said, one gun story had haunted me for years: Rick DeMarinis’s “The Handgun.” This story felt like my rookie intro to a literary gun story because I heard Rick read it in 1999 at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City. At one point, he started laughing so hard he could hardly keep reading. If you read “The Handgun,” then you know it’s a layered, masterful piece—“hilariously chilling,” as we say in the intro.

Steph Post: You’ve been bringing Lock & Load to readings and events across the country since its release this past fall. What has the reception been like?

Deirdra McAfee: The reception has been wonderful, beyond anything we imagined. Guns, as we thought, are household objects; they certainly haunt the American landscape and imagination. As we discovered, almost everyone has used or encountered a gun. When we talk to audiences and strip away politics, we find that people are eager to talk about their own experiences, and to think and discuss firearms in a civil, personal way.

Lock & Load’s other purpose was to foster such conversations. Guns are technology; they are valuable, dangerous, efficient, and often beautiful. Before we think about them at all in a political way, we should consider first what they mean as objects, as metaphors, and as symbols.

BettyJoyce Nash: People are impressed with these stories, especially when they grasp the stories’ depth; audiences seem intrigued with the idea that art offers a way for them to talk about society’s touchy topics. People also say these stories have inspired them to consider guns more deeply and differently. 

Steph Post: Have there been any questions or topics that seem to reoccur during discussions with readers?
BettyJoyce Nash: Most people want to know why and how gun stories interested us and why and how literature can enlarge and change readers.

Steph Post: And finally, in a world of anthologies and collections, many of which have been built around crime writer or violence or guns and gun control, Lock & Load stands out, particularly in its inclusion of brilliant writing and storytelling as opposed to simply diatribe. What do wish you more potential readers knew about Lock & Load?

Deirdra McAfee: You’ve exactly expressed what we want readers to know: “Lock & Load stands out, particularly in its inclusion of brilliant writing and storytelling as opposed to simply diatribe.” We wanted the best, and we found them. The concept is original, the anthology is groundbreaking, the stories are compelling.

BettyJoyce Nash: Just what you said—Lock & Load tells compelling stories. The best literary fiction defies definition. Literary fiction lures readers into often odd, troubling worlds, not to teach lessons, not to lecture, condemn, or convince, but to enrich our understanding of who we humans really are and how we connect. As Eudora Welty has said so well: “Not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.”

Be sure to pick up your copy of Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, published by the University of New Mexico Press and now available everywhere. If you're in the D.C. area, McAfee and Nash will be at Politics & Prose on February 6th to discuss and promote the anthology, and if you're attending AWP in Tampa this March, they'll be there as well. Be sure to look them up. Cheers and happy reading!