Tuesday, December 30, 2014

First Drafts and Writing

First drafts are complicated beasts. On the one hand, there's excitement- new story, new characters, new directions, new possibilities. On the other, there's frustration. And doubt. And that nagging suspicion that maybe I don't know how to write a novel after all. Despite this being my third go round (Fifth if you count the two books before A Tree Born Crooked, which I am not counting...), the old anxieties are beginning to swarm like yellow flies in the Florida woods.

With the last book, at this point in the writing (which is still very, very early), I was struggling with point of view. This time it's narrative distance. And the old standbys of pacing and plot construction of course. Add to that the sheer volume of unexpected research (due to unexpected story developments) and it's been a slow, somewhat intimidating process. And then there's everything else that's been going on in the writing, publishing, working, living world....

Still, I'm pushing on. I'm having to let go of some of the time expectations. I've had to allow myself room to explore this new book in the way that I want to. In the way that I think it deserves. In some respects, that means adjusting my writing process, which is difficult. I'm pretty hard on myself when it comes to writing and though I certainly don't planning on cutting myself any slack, I will have to be patient and understand that every book is different- this new one especially so.

And so this is the writing life. Neurotic. Critical. Plagued with anxiety and isolation and at times the edge of madness. At times, a tiny, exhilarating, addicting moment of success.....


Monday, December 22, 2014

Dancing with the Masters: A Conversation with Mira Jacob, author of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing

Today, I am super excited to bring you an interview with Mira Jacob, author of the debut novel everyone is talking about: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing. Though to be fair, aside from the chronology of this novel in what is sure to be an amazing body of work from Jacob, nothing about this book is akin to a debut. It already belongs on a shelf with the masters and has the makings of a classic before its time. Traveling through decades and across continents, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is more than just the tale of Amina Eapen and her family. It is an emersion into different cultures, both Indian and American, and an exploration of the truest nature of love, loss and resilience. Jacob's book has a deep heart and an edge of magic to it. It was the sort of novel I reluctantly put down and eagerly picked back up, and I feel truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to catch up with Jacob and to bring her words to you.

Steph Post: Especially after the first full 'family scene' in India, I was especially struck by how well you handle dialogue in The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing. At many points throughout the novel you write these crazy, chaotic family scenes around the dinner table that include many family members, all talking at once, all pushing different agendas, all loving and hurting one another at the same time. In a way, these parts of the novel felt like an Indian August: Osage County of sorts. How did you manage to keep all of the dialogue straight as you were writing these scenes?

Mira Jacob: My mother made me into a rampant eavesdropper. As an immigrant, she is constantly delighted by what Americans will discuss in public, and just as often as not, a dinner out with the two of us is spent with us wriggling our eyebrows at each other. It drives the men in our lives understandably crazy, but it has also turned me into a person who can automatically track an entire conversation with my eyes closed. I know those beats well.

SP: Along the same lines, just as multiple threads of dialogue are woven through these family scenes, multiple timelines are woven throughout the novel as the story flashes back and forth between 1998, 1979 and 1982 to give the reader a full picture of Amina and her family's tale. In crafting the novel, how did you plan out the myriad settings? Did you outline first? Or write each timeline separately? How did you maintain the balance of settings as you were writing?

MJ: You know what's funny? I didn't even consider pacing settings as I wrote. I think in scenes, so I wrote about 400 of them and cut half. In terms of jumping between locations and times, I did plot that out on a wall after my agent told me the story was dying in the middle and my husband (a filmmaker) suggested I try to storyboard.

SP: Your characters, while unique and definitely memorable, seemed completely natural and almost effortless. They were rich and complex- at times, I felt as if I were reading a memoir and not a novel because the characters were so dynamic and realistic. How do you begin the process of crafting a character? Are your characters ever based on or influenced by real people?

MJ: One character in here absolutely is--Thomas, the father. I had originally been writing about a father who was going to be leaving his family somehow, and then in real life my father got cancer and died. To make a long story short, putting him in was the way I dealt with my grief. But the rest of the characters, including Kamala and Akhil, just sort of revealed themselves over time, and became more real to me in the process of writing, to the point where I wasn't sure they didn't exist when I stopped. I missed them. I kept thinking I might run into them.


SP: As with all great family dramas, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is filled with moments of heartache, frustration and triumph. The plot of the novel is buoyed by a series of highs and lows that keep the reader continually invested in Amina's story. Reading your novel was a deep, multi-layered experience, and it never felt like work to get through the narrative. Yet some novels do require a 'labor of love' from the reader and make it worth it in the end. What are your feelings towards this subject? Do you think readers should have to struggle with a novel?

MJ: First--thank you for all these nice things you are saying. When I am lying in bed wondering who I am next year, I'm pulling out this interview and using it as therapy. So as for thinking readers should struggle a bit--I do think that's more than fair. Art is worth fighting for, always. At the same time, after running Pete's Reading Series for 14 years, I have a strong love of a direct narrative that just keeps you pulled in. As a result, I tend to go for complicated structures with very straightforward scenes. It feels like asking the reader to do the right amount of work for the kind of story I'm going to deliver.

SP: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is your debut novel and it has taken the literary world by storm. Do you think that you have a particular style that sets your apart? Do you want to have a trademark style?

MJ: I had one lovely review that basically said "she's a combination of Bharati Mukherjee, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy and Woody Allen," which was flattering at every turn, obviously. And one day I hope that combo will be called Mira Jacob.

SP: Speaking of debuts, this has been an incredible year for debut writers. Who are some of your favorite new authors on the scene?

MJ: So many! Right now I'm remembering Marie-Helene Bertino, Scott Cheshire, Courtney Maum, Ted Thompson and Will Chancellor, but I'm sure I'll go away and have 20 pop to mind instantly. We were a bunch of crazy weeds this year.

SP: Finally, we all know that writers are influenced by other writers and other books- who or what outside of the literary world played a significant role in your crafting of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing?
MJ: My dad was a brilliant live storyteller, the best I can think of, actually. Timing, arc, sensibility, he really knew how to pull emotions to an unexpected place, and he was unafraid to hold a silence. I still think about that when I feel stuck. What's going to make the room come apart? Gun for that.


Thanks so much to Mira Jacob for stopping by! Make sure to pick up your copy of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing today!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Two Lists!

I'm super stoked to mention that A Tree Born Crooked made two more end of the year lists!

Top Ten Books of 2014 on Bent Country by Sheldon Lee Compton

"Wow, people. Hardcore Florida."


Best Books of 2014  on The Spark (Alternating Current) by Leah Angstman

"Her writing is colorful and full of rough beauty, and she’s gunning for her spot among the backwoods boys to bring a little touch of female firecracker to the country-noir picnic."
That's right, boys- this firecracker is here to stay....

Thanks so much to Sheldon and Leah, both amazing people and writers in their own right. Their support of A Tree Born Crooked is much, much appreciated. As is their friendship.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Small Press Book Review: A Tree Born Crooked

Check out this review of A Tree Born Crooked by C.A. LaRue over on Small Press Book Review. This is one of my favorite lines...

"And while I hate to make comparisons to other writers, Post’s Tree-Born vibe is very Carson McCullers meets fearless inventiveness of Virginia Woolf, with maybe a Barry Hannah daiquiri air-brushed in."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Swim in Frozen Waters: An Interview with Winterswim author Ryan Bradley

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an author interview, but get ready- the series is gearing back up and I’ve got quite a few waiting in the wings. Over the next month I’ll be posting interviews with some amazing authors and I’m so excited to kick it off with a conversation with Winterswim author Ryan Bradley.

Winterswim is a crooked, dark, strange little tale. I read the story of the meth-addicted Pastor Sheldon Long and his awkward, but well-meaning son Steven, in one sitting. Reading Winterswim is like taking a gulp of sharp air and then plunging underwater into a frozen sea, staying down as long as you can, and then emerging, gasping, sputtering, shivering, addled, and ultimately, changed by the experience. It’s not for the squeamish, not for the easily offended. This is a book for readers who want to be stricken, and for those daring enough to take the plunge, it will be worth every second.
Steph Post: As Winterswim pulls no punches, I’m going to follow suit and dive right on in with the hard questions. Winterswim takes place in a harsh Alaskan landscape, populated with shadowy, almost half-formed souls, so I wasn’t surprised about the violence present, or at least lurking, in almost every scene. I was surprised, and, honestly, shocked, by the amount of predatory sexual violence in the story. It becomes so prevalent as to reach a point of saturation, creating numbness in the reader, which echoes the numbness felt by the characters. Was this your reasoning for including so much disturbing sexual imagery, at the possible cost of alienating some readers? Were you using these scenes to convey an ulterior message?
Ryan Bradley: We’re all half-formed souls, right? I’m a very nonviolent person in real life, to the point that even accidentally hurting a person or an animal would make me sick to my stomach. I was driving a couple weeks ago and a bird hit my windshield and I haven’t stopped feeling a little queasy over it. Sometimes the stuff I write has the same effect, but what I’m interested in exploring is the lengths people will go to in life, the way they justify things to themselves, the way they interact with others.
So, to get more to the point, yes, a big part of the reason there is so much predatory violence is that numbness, another part of that is I think it’s a more realistic portrayal. If you’re going to write about a serial killer but hold back on the violence I don’t think you’re painting a very realistic portrait. If you’re going to write about someone who preys on a particular set of characteristics, then those are the people your story is going to end up revolving around.
I made a conscious decision years ago to not hold back with my writing, to write what I wanted to write and not worry about what some (or any) people might think. On one hand that limits my audience and probably the ability to sell my books to larger publishers, etc., but it’s the only way I know to honor what I want to get out of writing.
SP: Your style is clearly minimalist in a very distilled, honed sense, and this shines brightly in the development of your characters. What interested me most, though, is how I found your characters developing backwards as the novel moved forward. Many stories start with a complex character and throughout the course of the narrative, layers of the character are peeled back to eventually reveal an inner core to the reader. Your characters, especially the main characters of Pastor Sheldon Long, Steven and Kate, begin as simple characters, but build in layers as the story builds in tension. By the time the novel ended, I felt that I knew less about your characters than I did at the beginning, because they had been wrapped in these layers, which ultimately left them as more fascinating. Was this your intention? Do you normally write characters this way?
RB: I’ve never thought about it in exactly those terms, but you are definitely right. Simplicity in writing is sort of my mission, though part of it is just naturally how I write, whether I’m trying to or not. But as far as how the characters unfold it is definitely what makes sense to me. We never really know everything about a person. When you first meet someone all you have is the basics. But you can know someone for years and still be learning about them. I think it should be the same for fictional characters.

There are two things people seem to think is necessary in fiction in regard to characters, one being that you have to establish their personalities/identitites early on, and two, that as a writer you have to know your characters inside and out. I resist both notions. As a reader I don’t feel the need to open a book and know exactly what a character looks like, what their background is, etc in the first third of the story. And as a writer I don’t feel the need to map out the entire histories of my characters, each scene they’ll tell me something about themselves. Just like getting to know someone in real life.
SB: Winterswim is rooted in its setting of Alaska. Even as I’m writing these questions, I’ve been tempted to make allusions to winter- diving into frozen waters, wrapped in woolen blankets, etc. Everything about this novel, from the setting to the style to the language seems to echo a barren state of winter. As someone from Florida, who, ahem, has barely even seen snow, I found the world and atmosphere you create to be as foreign as an alien planet. So, why Alaska? Why winter? In other words, why is everything so cold?
RB: Alaska is alien, especially in comparison to the rest of the country. I was born in Alaska, half-raised there, worked in the Arctic Circle briefly. I think about Alaska every day, look at the weather in Anchorage, look at pictures. I miss it intensely. There’s a quote in something (a movie, a book, hell maybe some class I took in college) about great writers having conflicted relationships with where they are from. I don’t have that (not to imply that I might be a great writer), despite the fact that I don’t align with the state that well in personality, politics, etc. I have a complicated relationship in being away from Alaska. As such, most of my fiction takes place there. Not only does it serve my stories in terms of setting, but also in the kinds of people I want to write about. Plus, it helps me feel close to home in some way.
SP: Yet, I must say, that while I can’t relate to the temperature of the world of Winterswim, I can certainly relate to the seediness. I, too, write about characters who are on the bottom, who are lost and often unlikeable. If you turned up the heat, your characters and mine could probably inhabit the same town. Do you think the setting of Winterswim isolates your story or allows readers to get closer to it?
RB: I’m reading A Tree Born Crooked right now (well, not this second, as I am at work)! I think there are definitely a lot of similarities between what we write. And I think the interesting thing about writing unlikeable characters is that you start to find things that make you realize how you can find something sympathetic in anyone. It’s easy to write a character who has good intentions, and doesn’t fuck up, and who people will find it easy to root for, but that’s not very interesting to me. People are flawed, so why not embrace that. If you have a cast of unlikeable characters people are still going to find someone to root for if it’s well written.
As for the isolation, I’m not sure. I don’t think people can necessarily always relate to that setting, but I think for those who can’t it’s a sort of curiosity. I’ve spent time in a lot of different places, and as a reader the setting of a story has never effected my engagement with it. I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone, but what are you gonna do?
SP: My favorite part of Winterswim was the inclusion of the Tlingit legend of GonaqAde’t, a sea monster. I love mythology and have been deep in the study of world tricksters for the book I’m currently working on. Can you tell me more about GonaqAde’t and why you included this tale in the novel?
RB: This was the missing piece as far as the writing of the book. Once I realized that the native mythology had to play a part in the story the writing started to flow so much easier, so much more quickly. I’ve always been fascinated by mythology as well, and growing up I was around the native cultures of Alaska a fair amount. We had a lot of family friends who were Tlingit, I spent time at pow-wows, etc.
It’s one of the myths I remember most vividly, because a friend of my stepfather’s wrote a play based on the legend and I remember watching that as a kid. Of course, I probably mangled the legend of GonaqAdêt quite a bit, but that’s what Pastor Long does throughout the story, he twists and twists these myths, these characters, until they suit his convictions and delusions. Pastor Long was born into a conflict between Christianity and native culture, so trying to make him one-sided just wasn’t going to work.
SP: Outside of being a writer, you are also a designer and you designed the amazing cover for Winterswim. How important was the visual image of Winterswim to you? What do you think the cover says to readers?
RB: Thank you. Attempting to put biases aside, it’s one of my favorite covers I’ve designed. I really wanted something almost cinematic and I think I accomplished that. At first I bristled at the idea of putting a cross on the cover, but it worked so well that my own feelings about that fell away. I hope it conveys a few things at once, that it’s going to be a cold, dark, grimy read.
In the digital age, and especially with small presses where the books are more often than not being bought online, book covers have to be approached differently I think. What might make you pick up a book in person might not make you click on a product on Amazon, per se, and vice versa. I don’t know if the Winterswim cover necessarily would do either, but I’m quite fond of it anyway.

SP: Of the many things we have in common, we both have tattoos that relate to our books. Can you tell me about your Winterswim tattoo and why you felt the need to get it?
RB: I always had the idea that when I had a book published I would get a tattoo for it. When my first novel, Code for Failure was about to come out I got John Dermot Woods’ awesome drawing for the cover tattooed on my forearm. I also have one for my poetry collection, TheWaiting Tide, and the Artistically Declined Press logo to represent both running the press as well as the books of mine that we have put out. The plan is to have something that will relate to every book I write. For Winterswim I picked an early alternate design I came up with while working on the cover. In one sense it’s kind of messed up because it’s basically an illustration of someone reaching out for a drowning girl. But in some ways that feels pretty representative of being a writer in general.

When I got the tattoo done the artist was asking about the book so I gave him a rough summary of it and he paused, asked what had given me the idea. I gave him a shrug and an “that’s just what came out” kind of answer and he took a longer pause. Then he said “does your wife ever worry about you.” To which I could only reply, “all the time.” 
SP: Finally, what’s next? In addition to writing novels and designing book covers, you are also an accomplished poet and short story writer. Is there anything you can’t do?

RB: I’m gonna try to keep breathing. Other than that, who knows. I have at least one thing on the horizon book-wise that I can’t quite talk about yet, but I really haven’t written much in the last two years. I’ve worked on revising some existing manuscripts. I have a billion ideas but not much time to get them down. I’m considering trying to write a TV script based on Winterswim. That seems like it might be fun. Mostly that’s what I want to try to do, find ways to be creative and have fun at the same time, which probably sounds easier than it is, at least for me.

Thanks so much to Ryan Bradley for stopping by! Pick up your copy of Winterswim today and, as always, read, review, repeat….


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Tree Born Crooked Is Now Available In Bookstores!

Heads up! My publisher has expanded its distribution- A Tree Born Crooked is now available to order through Ingrams. Own a bookstore? Look it up and order. Go to bookstores? If it's not on the shelf, ask for the store to order it and carry it.

Support your Indie bookstores and Indie authors!

Thanks for the love...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Promise Me- The Round Up Zine

Heads up! My flash fiction piece titled "Promise Me" was featured in the Flash Edition of The Round Up Writer's Zine. Enjoy!

Entertainment Weekly Radio

Last Wednesday I was fortunate enough to be interviewed on Behind The Scenes with Anthony Breznican for Entertainment Weekly Radio. (Siruis XM Radio) If you missed the broadcast, you can still listen to the episode on demand! Don't miss Anthony and I talking about the films that inspired A Tree Born Crooked... (you might be surprised by a few....)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Steph's Amazing, Spectactular, Superlative, 2014 Book List Extravangaza!

In the spirit of the seven million end-of-the-year booklists currently circulating on and off the internet, I felt inclined to add to the noise and create my own. So here you go- I present to you, Steph Post's Most Important, Highly Essential, 2014 List of Books Extraordinaire...

(Note: Most of these books are already on actual, notable book lists, but that should make these awards no less important...)

Ryan Bradley's WINTERSWIM- Book most likely to be read by angry polar bears. Also, book most likely to kill you if dropped on your head (when frozen into a block of ice, as seen above).

Anthony Breznican's BRUTAL YOUTH- Best totemic imagery (I'm talking baby sharks in jars, people). Special award for characters most likely to stay with you long after you've finished reading.

Taylor Brown's IN THE SEASON OF BLOOD AND GOLD- Book most likely to renew your faith in the power of short stories. Monumental award for Best Short Story of the year for "Sin Eaters" as well.

Eric Shonkwiler's ABOVE ALL MEN- Best use of risk-taking dialogue.

Smith Henderson's FOURTH OF JULY CREEK- Best use of word re-appropriation. (Wyoming, oh Wyoming....)

Leonard Chang's TRIPLINES- Best use of a single line to convey the heartache of an entire story ("You killed my tree.")

Nayomi Munaweera's ISLAND OF A THOUSAND MIRRORS- Book most likely to break your heart and then put it back together again.

Tom Bouman's DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY- Best use of setting to create theme. Also, book most likely to convince you to make a squirrel pie.

Scott Cheshire's HIGH AS THE HORSES' BRIDLES- Best opening and closing scenes. Special award for best Star Wars reference.

Schuler Benson's THE POOR MAN'S GUIDE TO AN AFFORDABLE, PAINLESS SUICIDE- Best book design. Special award for a story with a Popple in a meth lab.

Sheldon Lee Compton's WHERE ALLIGATORS SLEEP- Best exhibition of honest, brutal, punch-you-in-the-face writing.

Matthew Gavin Frank's PREPARING THE GHOST- Best arrangement of bizarre topics that make perfect sense together. Also, book most likely to make you never, never eat calamari again.

Will Chancellor's A BRAVE MAN SEVEN STOREYS TALL- Book most likely to cause you to see the world differently. Special award for influencing me to research mythology.

Honorable mentions go to Will Boast's EPILOUGE and Mira Jacob's THE SLEEPWALKER'S GUIDE TO DANCING for being incredible debuts that I am currently in the process of reviewing.

The Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Sam Kean for making me love science and whose TALE OF THE DUELING NEUROSURGENS is the Book most likely to make your jaw drop. 

Now that, my friends, is a book list. If you haven't read these gems, do so. Do so now. And always, review and spread the word....

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stephen King's Contemporary Classics

I am so thrilled to share: a story that I wrote is included in the fantastic new book of Stephen King scholarship: Stephen King's Contemporary Classics: Reflections on the Modern Master of Horror. In addition to Chapter 14 (my story), my graduate school project for a Stephen King class is analyzed in another essay on teaching with King's On Writing. Yep, I am pretty proud of this one...


Read To Write Stories Part 2....

In addition to the writing exercise that was built around A Tree Born Crooked and posted earlier in the week, Read To Write Stories has an interview with me up today. Michael Noll and I are talking Florida, plot issues and how Cormac McCarthy helped me to craft dialogue. I'd say it's worth a read...


The Badass Chronicles No. 1

Today, I am proud to announce the very first installment in my series over on Revolution John Magazine. The Badass Chronicles is a monthly column wherein I am writing about all things I consider to be badass. (read this first article to find out what exactly means...) This month I'm writing about one of my favorite short stories of all time- Jenny Hollowell's "A History of Everything, Including You." Please take a look, share and be sure to check out all of the killer writing happening everyday on Revolution John.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Tree Born Crooked on Read To Write Stories

I am thrilled to share that A Tree Born Crooked is featured on one of my favorite writing sites today: Read to Write Stories. This site uses excepts from current novels to teach a specific lesson on writing. An excerpt from A Tree Born Crooked is used to teach writing active character descriptions. This is a writing teacher's dream come true!

And stay tuned for Thursday, when an interview with me will be featured as well!