Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mustcat Tales (A Book Review of A Tree Born Crooked)

This review of A Tree Born Crooked comes all the way from Muscat, Oman. And I think it might have made me blush. But, I tell you, I'm a sucker for a well-thought out, well-analyzed and well-written book review.

Here's an excerpt:

"The three protagonists land with feet firmly in their respective archetypes. ‘Rabbit’ hops from the page through the writer’s deftness of brush, as vulnerable as Steinbeck’s Lenny and seemingly headed for as grisly a fate. James’ taciturn solidity places him in a line of heroes from his namesake, Dean and back as far as old English warrior Beowulf. The character of Marlena is tough yet compassionate; her words half-way, a window through which to view the locked-in world view of all three: ‘We can’t escape who we are.’ "

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Club

Thank you so much to Lisa O'Neil and her book club in St. Augustine, Florida for reading A Tree Born Crooked as their February book selection!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Notes on Largheated Boy- A Playlist for A Tree Born Crooked

This is something I've been wanting to do for a long time and I'm thrilled to share it over on one of my favorite lit/music websites: Largehearted Boy. Today, I bring you the playlist for A Tree Born Crooked. Read about my reasoning for each song and then stream the entire soundtrack on Spotify. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mohawks and Waffles and Stupid Oranges: An Interview with Dave Housley

It's been a little while since I've had an interview up and I'm so excited to bring you this one. (And if he headline didn't catch your eye, then I don't know...) Today, I'm talking to author and editor Dave Housley, who meets my questions head on, no holds barred. Housley is the author of the recently released collection of stories and essays, If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home,  as well as two other story collections. He is also a founding editor of Barrelhouse, a literary magazine that I very much admire. And did I mention that he's funny? So here you go- just sit back, relax and enjoy the show...

Steph Post: In an event of sheer randomness, I read two of your short story collections- Commercial Fiction and If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home- right after reading Ben Tanzer's collection Lost in Space. You both include myriad, witty pop culture references in your work. What is the connection for you between humor and popular culture? Is this a connection that you think many writers exploit?

Dave Housley: Ben is a good friend and a writer I really admire in a lot of ways, so the comparison is flattering. For me, the pop culture thing is just kind of what comes out when I start writing. I’m interested in movies and music and television, and so are the people I write about. I think that kind of stuff, which on the surface might seem silly, is really important to people. I know people who care more about a football team or a band than they do, maybe, about their job. It’s also an interesting way to look at how you change, by choice and necessity, which are really different things, as you get older. I really like the Grateful Dead, but I like them in a different way than I did when I was 20. Part of that is by choice and part of it is just the situation I’m in (forty seven freakin’ years old with a wife, son, real job, etc). On a practical level, I think the pop culture stuff gives the work a little bit of a hook, some sweetening to make all the quiet desperation go down a little easier. 

SP: As a novelist, and only occasional short story writer, I'm in awe of putting out a collection of short stories. How long does it take you to write a short story? Do they come in thematic waves or are they all separate pieces which you later organize into a collection?

DH: I’m trying to finish a novel and I’m pretty much in awe of anybody who can rightfully call themselves a novelist! I work in fits and starts. I have a full time job doing web work for Penn State, so my nine to five isn’t about writing, so I basically chip away at it whenever I can. It might take me two weeks to write a story, but that would be pretty quick and a shitty first draft, so probably it would take a month, maybe two, to write something that I think is even worthy of sending out to get some feedback.
I do try to work toward a collection, so if I’m writing stories I’m writing them with a goal in mind, and there’s some connective tissue that I hope will bind them all together. Or, that’s how I’ve been doing it lately. Right now I’m working on a collection where all the stories end the same way, in a massive cleansing fire (it will be called Massive, Cleansing Fire), which might be a terrible idea, but I feel like just having that idea has given the writing a kind of engine that keeps me writing. 

SP: The first book of yours I read, Commercial Fiction, is a collection of very short pieces- each one an interpretation of a television commercial. As I was reading, I imagined you watching television and then jumping up to write down ideas when a Wrangler's commercial came on. What was your process for creating these pieces? Did you study the commercials or were they only a spark that you later ran with?

DH: Those were really fun. I wrote them originally for the literary magazine Hobart’s website as an ongoing column/project for them. Originally, I was trying to do one every other week, so I would literally watch television and then kind of hop up and run over to the computer to start writing. It was during football season, and if you look at the table of contents you can really see what our corporate brands think of the American male: fast food, erectile dysfunction, beer. 
The spark for those was obviously the original commercials. I would just watch TV and commercials are so weird and obvious that something would always touch off that little spark of “what if?” The big what if is really “what if these were real people?” and the world of the commercial was extended beyond thirty seconds. I’ve always been kind of interested in that question, like what happens to the ancillary characters when the camera is turned off?  There’s a thing television shows, even the best ones, do all the time, when two characters are having a dispute and one of them says something and the other one just kind of stares at them, and then the scene ends. But in real life that’s not the way that interaction works. The scene doesn’t end. Somebody has to break that staring contest, look away, maybe leave the room, fumble with keys, say something or not, walk out to their car and move the McDonald’s bag out of the way, etc etc etc. That’s the thing I’m interested in, I think- what happens when that scene doesn’t end. I like all that awkward stuff, the stupid small moments. 
That project was really fun, though. I would recommend something like that to writers because it really made me get out of my own way and do some different stuff. That constraint was really useful and I wrote a lot during that period. It was all kind of ridiculous but it was fun, too.

SP: If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home has much in common with Commercial Fiction- your style is immediately visible on the page- but there is a seriousness bubbling under the surface of these stories, a bittersweet nostalgia, that lends weight to the stories. How was your mindset different in writing this collection?

DH: Thanks for saying that! I think the best compliment I ever got was from Steve Almond, who said “I bet people tell you all the time how funny these stories are, but they’re really sad.” I like to think I can make anything really sad, even a Wiggles concert or a Budweiser ad. The stories in If I Knew the Way have a lot of what a friend called “father/son shit” happening in them, a lot of reckoning with getting older and the disappointments and limitations that might bring. I tend to write maybe five years behind where I am in my life. I guess I process things slowly. 

SP: Just as Commercial Fiction is an ode to, well, commercials, If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home is an homage to music. I'm not going to go so far as to ask you who your favorite band or musician is, but if you had to listen to only one type of music for the rest of your life- what kind would it be?

DH: I’d probably listen to Exile on Main Street or the second Band album, something from that early Seventies period when things were loose and countryish and a little sloppy. 

SP: Similarly- (and just for kicks)- if you wind up in hell and there is only one song playing over and over for eternity, what would it be? (for the record, mine would be any song by Creed or Nickleback....)

DH: Hmmm…right now my son is watching some YouTube video called Stupid Orange, and the theme song keeps on getting stuck in my head, so I’d say that, but hell would also be full of modern country and autotune. 

SP: In addition to being the author of three books of short fiction, you are one of the founding editors of Barrelhouse Magazine. How important do you think literary magazines and journals are today? What is their place among the glut of pop culture media outlets?

DH: I think they’re really important! I am obviously very biased, but I think literary magazines, and small presses, too, are the places where so much interesting stuff is going on. Writers are taking risks, doing things that are experimental and interesting and play around with form. It’s where a lot of the fun stuff is happening. Hobart will publish a bunch of stories based on television commercials. Barrelhouse will publish a section about dive bars or Patrick Swayze. Diagram will publish work that’s really pushing the boundaries of form. Ten years ago I think it wasn’t quite as much fun as it is now – there are more magazines, it seems to me, that embrace pop culture and technology and aren’t afraid to take themselves a little less seriously. It’s much more fun, or it can be, at least, than people think when you say “literary magazine.” 

SP: Finally, most people I know haven't read a short story since high school. They read books, yes, thank God, but not short fiction. Someone the other day asked me- who even reads stories anymore? So, I'm putting this question to you: who reads short stories? And why should we? 

DH: The cynical, realistic answer is that writers are reading short stories. I hope other people are reading them, though. Stories are so much fun, so quick, you’d think that in the age of the clickbait headline, stories would feel more fun to a general audience, more approachable than a novel. I think they get a bad rep as something that’s “good for you” when really they can be just as fun as a novel, and way shorter. A story can break your heart in a page.
I also love how flexible the genre is. A story can be a Yelp review, or an ebay listing, or a fundraising letter or an outline. 
I know you a little bit, so I’ll give you the best pitch I think I can: Justified was based on a short story. Now I’m going to exit the scene like those television shows I was talking about. Bam.

See- I told you it would be a show! Pick up copies of Commercial Fiction and If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home today. Read, review, repeat....

Monday, February 16, 2015

Getting Lit: Booze and Books with Sam Slaughter

Out of all of the perks of being an author, this is up there with the best. Check out Sam Slaughter's new series over on Entropy, wherein he takes an author interview and transforms it into a unique cocktail inspired by a novel. Check out his first concoction, "The Crooked Tree" and be sure to keep an eye out for more books and booze coming in the series.  Cheers!

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Badass Chronicles, Round Three, David Joy

In case you missed it, check out the third installment of my Badass Chronicles, happening over at Revolution John magazine. This month I'm getting down to the nitty gritty with author David Joy. His stunning debut Where All Light Tends to Go hits shelves March 3rd. Don't miss out!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Getting Lost with Ben Tanzer (An Interview)

Ben Tanzer and I connected through an infinitely looping writer's network, bonded over Justified, and I was thrilled to be introduced to his work by reading a collection of his short stories: Lost in Space. Tanzer has a sharp wit and a keen eye for commenting on pop culture and true matters of the heart, often even in the same sentence. His writing sparks, but yet has familiar undertones that resonate with the reader. Even if you can't relate, you can relate. Tanzer seems to know what connects people and how to strike the nerve that reels us all in. I ran with the questions here and Tanzer never missed a beat.

Steph Post: Lost in Space is a collection of essays, stories and snippets which essentially focus on fatherhood. In these pieces you write about your wife, Debbie, and sons, Noah and Myles. How have they reacted or responded to your book and your inclusion of them?

Ben Tanzer: This is a great question, and semi- more complex than it sounds, as I can't even treat Debbie and the kids as something monolithic. They just care about different things. So for example, I consciously set out not to embarrass anyone, but whereas what embarrasses Debbie now will probably not change much in five or ten years, the boys are all over the place, and who knows how that will change, when they're teenagers or God forbid my age. What's key in their case, is that the boys are protective of their secrets, so they care mostly about that, though they do ask little things about the book, do you talk about sex, how, and stuff like that. What's funny with Debbie is she always reacts to things I wouldn't imagine she cares about. In the book for example, I share my intimate thoughts on getting a vasectomy and maybe dating Selena Gomez, and yes, that's in the same essay, and she doesn't care about any of that, but if I confuse the most granular details about a conversation we once had, she's like that's not right, what up?  

SP: Maybe it's just because I love lists, but the "Interlude" sections of  Lost in Space were my favorites. One of them, "The Don Draper Interlude: A Mad Men Guide to Raising Children," analyzes our favorite ad man's approach to life. If you could be any television, film or pop culture father figure, (knowing that your wife and kids would still be dealing with you) who would it be? Why?

BT: I'm glad you like lists, because I know readers like you exist and I wanted to be sure to take care of you. It also felt very Klosterman to me, and I really wanted to feel Klosterman. Meanwhile, it would be cool to be like the dads who are all super Zen and caring, because I really want to be that way. Like Fred MacMurray in My Three Sons. Harry Dean Stanton in Pretty in Pink. Or Judd Hirsch in Running on Empty, which I so, so love. But it's the dads who are ridiculously, and intensely, loving towards their kids and family, and anything but Zen, that I relate to the most. And so in that regard, maybe Larry Fishburn in Boys N The Hood is the dad I most want to be like. I love him. Though I just love Larry Fishburne in general, so this answer may be terribly skewed from jump. 

SP: In another piece, "The Mel Gibson Interlude: Or, What We Talk About When We Talk About Movies," you list films, broken into various categories, that you believe you and your son Myles will watch together one day. I've always thought that movies become different every time you watch them with someone new (which might explain why I love to watch movies alone). What are you thoughts on this? Do you think watching movies as a family, or with family members, is different than watching movies by yourself?

BT: I think it's much different. I've always liked to watch movies by myself, and I really love to now that I almost never have a moment of silence, but the talking alone is a nightmare. The boys talk through every movie. Less so in a theater where they tend to be more spellbound, but at home they're like a Greek chorus, though much of that is endless questions about everything. As a whole though, that doesn't bother me, not if they're actually into the movie, and not complaining. Speaking of the list, however, I listened to some podcast on Christmas Eve day where they argued that Die Hard is one of the great Christmas movies. I had no idea it even qualified, but Debbie and I saw it on opening night, and I love it too, and so we made the boys watch it with us. They complained non-stop about having to do so beforehand, and then once it started, but then started asking questions, and slowly, finally, somehow, they loved it. It was a small victory, but well worth the group watch, and so the lesson may be that group movies that we've already seen and want to experience again through them, awesome- anything else, maybe not so much.

SP: Finally, in "The Darth Vader Interlude: Dads Who Rock and Those Who Kind of Suck Ass," Darth Vader is listed as your number one "suck-ass" dad. Considering Vader is my favorite Star Wars character of all time and was one of my first crushes (yes, I just admitted that), I have to ask you to go into more detail here. Yes, there was the hand-cutting-off part and the turning Luke over the to the Emperor part, but didn't Darth Vader sort of redeem himself in the end? 

BT: I'm sort of stuck on the fact that you had a crush on him. And yes, his suck-assedness has nothing to do with his general awesomeness, or his redemption arc, which is nice. But Vader is most definitely an absentee dad, and not much of a listener, and if you can't at least manage those things, and then you cut your kid's arm off as well, well, that is sort of suck-ass indeed.

SP: In conjunction with the above question, if you had to write a how-to parenting guide for Vader, what would it contain? Any tips or tricks you'd offer him?

BT: Be present, it's sort of the number one rule. And when you're there, be there, listening, not plotting total world domination, or checking your texts, or whatever. Pay attention. Breathe. Which, while Vader sort of has the breathing thing down, it's not exactly in a calming way.
I should add here, that I once wrote a piece for "Untoward" about Darth Vader looking back on his life as an old man and questioning whether he could have been a better father. I'm not sure reading it will further answer your question, much less change your life, but if I can't hype it here, where can I?

SP: In addition to Lost in Space, you are also the author of My Father's House, You Can Make Him Like You and Orphans (among others). What is the most important common thread running through your work?

BT: On the most basic level I am interested in how people communicate, or don't, how we get in the way of making connections, and how that getting in the way is impacted by our fucked-up families, inability to cope, find the right words, at the right time, substance abuse, violence, work, and on and on.

SP: As if being an author and editor, were not enough, you also run "This Blog Will Change Your Life." How did this blog get started and where do you see your self-proclaimed "vast, albeit faux, lifestyle empire" going?

BT: I was encouraged by the publisher of my first novel Lucky Man to support the marketing of the book, and as I contemplated how to do so, I reflected on my great love for the Monorail episode of "The Simpson's." I decided then that the most entertaining way for me to approach the marketing of Lucky Man was to do so as a product that just might change lives, and I asked myself how that might work. This led me to think about how self-hype is beautiful, but a world of hype beyond myself, and regarding the things I love, books, authors, movies, Diane Lane, was even better. More love, more connections, more of everything. From there, the blog begat the Zine and the Zine begat the podcast, or vice-versa, and in time all of the different platforms I added to expand the impact of all of that love, hype, and connection. And in that way it is a very real empire, but in continuing to deem it faux, I allow myself to figure out what a real empire would really do, which sort of continues to elude me. Do you have any ideas?
(Um.... Actually, no. I'm not very good at empires....)
SP: Finally (and this might be a dangerous), give me one piece of unconventional parenting advice. I'm warning you though, if my kids turn out screwed up, I'm blaming you...

BT: This may not be unconventional, but the whole idea that you can be friends with your kid, that's awesome for the "Gilmore Girls" and their ilk, television families, but I'm not sure that works on the whole here in the slightly more real world. Love them. A lot. Be present. Whenever and however you can be. Listen. Always. But unless they're Rory Gilmore, and she's pretty fucking special, sometimes you have to set limits, be mean, and even ugly. It's a really wonderful, terrible thing, most of time, and while I never encourage anyone to become a parent, just like I never encourage them to try therapy, marriage, or hallucinogens, all things I have found enjoyment in, I wouldn't have it any other way personally. Not anymore anyway.
Thanks so much to Ben Tanzer for swinging by. Check out Lost in Space and his many other books and, as always, read a book, write a review, support your authors!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Advice To Writers

Check out my latest author interview over on Advice to Writers. (Hint: I give advice. To writers....)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

This Podcast Will Change Your Life

In case you missed it, check out my podcast interview with Ben Tanzer over on This Blog Will Change Your Life. This was one of my favorite interviews to do, because I'm talking about all of the things that I love and that have influenced me as a writer: from Star Wars to Justified, Grit Lit to Tattoos and everything in between. Ben is a wonderful host and I had a blast.

Have a listen!