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.