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).



http://bullmensfiction.com/the-bull-interview/steph-post/





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.


https://www.amazon.com/How-Prove-Theory-Nicole-Tong/dp/1941551130/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1518809879&sr=1-1&keywords=nicole+tong


"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!

https://www.amazon.com/Where-Night-Stops-Douglas-Light/dp/1945572663/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513111632&sr=8-1&keywords=where+night+stops

"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.

https://www.amazon.com/Vivian-Red-Kristina-Riggle/dp/1943818169/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1518308686&sr=8-1
"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.

http://crimespreemag.com/the-steph-post-interview/

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."

https://www.unlawfulacts.net/steph-post/


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!

https://www.amazon.com/What-About-Solomons-Bethany-Ball/dp/0802124577/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1517498290&sr=8-1&keywords=bethany+ball
 
"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