Friday, October 25, 2019

Author Spotlight: Benjamin Drevlow

Today, the spotlight is shining on Benjamin Drevlow, author of Bend with the Knees and Other Advice From my Father and the soon-to-be-released Ina-Baby: A Love Story in Reverse. I was lucky enough to score an advance copy of Ina-Baby earlier this year and here's what I had to say:

“Not for the faint-hearted, but for those who champion the lonely hearts club, ‘Ina-Baby: a Love Story in Reverse’ is a gritty, grimy, no-holds-barred testament to a desperate clash of life and love. Drevlow writes with a raw hand and a poet’s tongue, delivering authentic characters and then flaying them alive for the reader. Fans of Charles Bukowski will have found a new favorite author in Benjamin Drevlow.”

Follow! @thedrevlow

How long did it take to complete your latest novel?

Full disclosure, Ina-Baby is a sorta kinda misfit tweener novel in stories, which I’m not sure really counts as short stories or a novel. 

Oh, and just for fun, the “plot” goes in reverse chronological order.

Which is to say: It took me fifteen years. I finished it almost a year to the day that my dog Truman died (spoiler alert: a dog named “Truman” dies in the end of the book, which is actually the beginning of the book, so spoiler-non-spoiler).

I started writing the first couple stories the year I graduated from school, which has made for a lot of fun editing and revision of a collection like this, because it’s not like your perspective on life (and/or writing) really changes much from age twenty-five to age forty, but that’s also why it made sense for me to organize the stories in reverse chronological order. This way there’s a fun “Benjamin Button” evolution/devolution thing going on where a man-baby who is forty years old evolves/devolves into a younger-man-baby.

Note: It may’ve taken me fifteen years, but that’s still better than the novel-novel I’ve been working I’ve been working on for the same fifteen years, but is still unfinished, or rather, it is mostly finished but it’s 1000-pages finished and if you haven’t figure out by now, I’m not exactly David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franzen, so sure, maybe in another ten years I’ll be able to walk it back to like three hundred pages that someone might maybe want to read and/or publish, but nah, just kidding. I’m nothing if not optimistic for the future.

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

I’m going to have to go with option six: play. Not sure that anyone would want to watch a movie, TV show, read a graphic novel, or play a video game where almost all the scenes alternate between a semi-naked fat guy lying on the couch with his dog versus a semi-naked fat guy getting into shouting matches with his wife versus a semi-naked fat guy writing stories about said couch-lying and match-shouting while his dog sits in his lap and whimpers.
But I really think it’d be a hit on Broadway, or let’s be honest here, off-off-offfffffffff… Broadway.

Have you ever been embarrassed to tell someone that you’re a writer/author?

That first year out of grad school (when I started writing these stories), I flipped eggs at a greasy spoon diner six days a week for minimum wage. Because it was minimum wage you had to get up at 4:30 in the morning six days a week to open, my boss refused to hire college students who tended to flake after like a week. 

Instead he often hired work-release convicts because they had motivation to come to work every morning. One of these convicts turned out to be the self-proclaimed “Meth King of Southern Minnesota,” who it turned out was actually great at cooking things besides meth. And with the Meth King turning out to be such a great hire, my boss then went on to hire at least four other cooks who’d “cooked” for the Meth King.

So yeah, I didn’t really want to broadcast my MFA in fiction to a bunch of “reformed” meth heads who often liked to talk at you while wielding large knives. 

But to my boss’s credit, they were all great cooks, and none of them ever tried to kill me.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Author Spotlight: Janet Somerville

I've never had the joy of meeting Janet Somerville in person and yet I have a picture of her dog, Garp, on my fridge. In case that doesn't tell you all you need to know about how awesome she is, Janet has been writing 'a letter a day' to friends, colleagues, twitter acquaintances and the like since 2014. She's the embodiment of the true literary citizen and steward, uniting readers and writers and championing the written word in all form. I'm honored to be able to shine a little light on someone who, in turn, shines so brightly.

Recently, Somerville- who has been studying and bringing Martha Gellhorn to light for years- published her debut book titled Yours, For Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn's Letters of Love and War 1930-1949 to critical acclaim. She was gracious enough to also pen the piece below, chronicling and celebrating her passion for Gellhorn and the road that led her to write a book. Enjoy, check out Somerville's book (of course) and be sure to say hello to her on twitter!

Who: Janet Somerville
Book: Yours, For Probably Always
Follow! @janetsomerville

Finding my way to Martha Gellhorn and her words began in May 2015 with a visit to Faulkner Books in New Orleans, where the bookseller recommended the correspondence between Eudora Welty and William Maxwell collected in What There Is To Say We Have Said. I’m drawn to letter writing, and continue to hand write a letter every day to send to recipients from Toronto to New York City to Amsterdam to Seattle to Tokyo, some of whom I know, but most of whom I’ve never met.

When I wrote about the extraordinary Welty/Maxwell correspondence on Twitter, a bookish follower in Fife, Scotland, asked if I had ever read
Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn, edited by her authorized biographer Caroline Moorehead. I had not. Within a few weeks I had not only read those letters but also Moorehead’s celebrated biography Martha Gellhorn: A Life. And, then I read every book that I could find of Gellhorn’s that remained in print from her early fiction like The Trouble I’ve Seen that emerged out of her Depression-Era work to her essay collections of reportage The Face of War and The View From the Ground published in the 1990s. 

I was planning to write a novel. My first. I had sketched out the narrative arc that began with Gellhorn dropping out of Bryn Mawr after her sophomore year and moving to Paris in the Spring of 1930 with $75 in her pocket, her portable typewriter and the dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. The plot would include cameos from the people who made history of the time like FDR, Mrs. Roosevelt, General Franco, Winston Churchill, and trail Gellhorn through her work as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War and on the Western Front during WWII and finish when her play
Love Goes to Press opened in London’s West End in 1947, to standing ovations, and, dumbfounded by the response, she slipped out into the night delighting in her luck.

However, I shelved the novel when I read in the trades that Paula McLain had just sold a novel about Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway to be called
Love and Ruin. As a debut novelist, I could not compete and no publisher would be willing to bring out a book about Martha Gellhorn that would possibly rival the work of a New York Times bestselling novelist.

In June 2016, I traveled to London to follow in Gellhorn’s footsteps and while there read the only publicly accessible copy of her debut novel What Mad Pursuit (1934) in Rare Books & Music at the British Library. In her lifetime she did not permit it to ever be reprinted, nor did she ever name it, only obliquely referred to it as “the baby novel I deny and never list.” And, when I received access to her restricted papers at the Gotlieb Archives at Boston University, and began to comb through the hundreds of folders through previously unpublished correspondence, I decided to try to shape a book grounded in her letters.

Gellhorn’s letters themselves are beautiful prose. And, they reveal a woman so engaged with her time. I hope readers who find their way to Yours, for Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn’s Letters of Love & War 1930-1949, will use the book as a springboard to explore her other writing. So many of her words are for all time. She remains a wonder to me.

(Had to throw in a new photo of Garp!)

Friday, October 4, 2019

Author Spotlight: Marietta Miles

Sometimes you get lucky. As when I was lucky enough to score an advanced copy of Marietta Miles' latest novel, After the Storm, out this week from Down & Out Books. Here's what I had to say....

“Opening in the aftermath of May’s climatic and life-altering storm, After the Storm continues to give voice to Marietta Miles’ complicated and complex heroine, May Cosby. Atmospheric, yet shot through with tension, Miles’ third novella proves her mastery of the Southern Noir genre, distilled down to its purest essence: dark, harrowing and razor-sharp with unapologetic authenticity.”

And while I think this gives you a glimpse of the teeth and nails in Miles work, it doesn't tell you quite how much of a badass this femme fatale of the written word really is. I'm honored to be able to shine the spotlight on her today and urge you to check out her novels,  novellas and the many collections and anthologies she has to her name. But first, here's Marietta Miles in her own words...

Latest Book: After the Storm
Follow! @mariettamiles9

What is the worst reason to become an author? What is the best?

Money is probably the worst reason to become an author. Publishing can be very fickle and it seems only a few writers are really safe from the ever-changing tastes of readers. Unless you make it really big, Joe Lansdale and Stephen King big, I’m not sure you can rely on the income for a long period of time. Plus, I think the lack of sincerity might be obvious in the work.

I write to remember the places and things I’ve seen. The people I’ve known. Good or bad. In a short-story I wrote years ago, a young husband and wife working opposing shifts would pass each other in the morning giving a kiss and a rolled-up emergency dollar bill. That was something my grandmother and grandfather used to do and they shared that same bill for two years.

I write to exercise the crazy thoughts in my head. For my sanity. To express happiness or grief. Disgust. Concern. A lot of time I write because I’m afraid.

There are so many books I’ve read that have moved me and set an imprint on my life. I write because I would love to do that for someone else. I want to hear that someone has been moved by a story or character I’ve created.

If you have pets, what do they think about the time you spend writing and not lavishing them with attention?

Well, I have cats. They have no problem letting me know if they need my attention. Lulu, Scarlet, and Steve are quite happy about my time spent writing. Lulu, aka Ninja, curls up next to the warm computer. She also likes to try and catch the cursor. Scarlet reclines on the arm of the chair and Steve lays behind me. They like the whole not getting up for long periods of time thing. Seems so similar to napping.

We have a brand-new gal in the group. Emma Kitty is a little stray that jumped in my arms while I was out. She prefers the outside, but once we know she’s healthy and not a danger to the other members of the Miles pride she’ll be an indoor munchkin soon enough.

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

Film. I imagine something in the vein of Swing Blade or The Apostle, both featuring Robert Duvall. He’s the Robert Mitchum of our time. Every great modern noir movie must have a part for Robert Duvall. I liked the strange casting of Dwight Yoakum and John Ritter in Swing Blade. The performances were distinct but subtle, perfect. Don’t get me started on Farrah Fawcett in The Apostle.

Now, I know that both of these are older movies, but they are precisely the movies I pictured while writing the book. Setting. Style. Both could be considered Southern Gothic and I’ve had that term, thankfully, used when describing my writing.

What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to market or promote your books?

With Route 12 I gave away copies of the book to readers with answers to trivia questions involving the folks who blurbed me. That’s not very exciting. I rely heavily on good reviews and word of mouth.

I’m afraid I’m not very creative in regard to self-promotion. I can be creative. Get in the “Imagination Box.” Trust me, I worked for an entertainment group doing creative promotions for way too many years.

I don’t dive deep into self-promotion because I worry I’ll annoy someone. Overwhelm people. I don’t want to become the crazy mother trying to sell her kid’s Christmas wrapping for the school fundraiser.

I should do a lot more promoting because so many people have helped me with this book. It’s a little selfish for me to do nothing, so I try to balance. Something we all seem to be attempting.

On that note, I really liked your reader with the cover posts. I thought it was a nice way to say thanks to the people who take the time to read your books.

Have you ever been embarrassed to tell someone that you’re a writer/author?

I never tell anyone I’m a writer. Never talk about it. Unless someone is editing for me or I’m working with Down and Out on a new book. When I’m at Noir at the Bar. Bouchercon. Surrounded by other writers. Outside of those circumstances, I never bring up my writing.

Sum up the essence of your latest novel in One Single Word.