Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Steph Post's New Author Survival Guide!

Today marks the one year anniversary of the release of A Tree Born Crooked. The past year has been a roller coaster of a ride, with fortunately more highs and lows, and the learning curve has been steep. In honor of my first book's first birthday, I'm offering a gift of sorts: Steph Post's New Author Survival Guide! (Also known as a list of things that have kept me off the ledge during this crazy, hectic, exciting, tumultuous and altogether amazing experience). If you're a recent or soon-to-be debut author, I'm here to give you my humble observations and tips. These are also things that I hope to remember and apply for the rest of my writing career... So, here we go:

Steph's Survival Guide!

-Make friends and allies with fellow debut authors. They will listen to you and commiserate with you. They will understand what you're going through.

-Keep your friends close who are NOT authors or writers of any kind. They will listen to you, at first, and they will most likely not understand at all what you are going through. This is good. These friends are essential, as they will not let you whine about all the whiney author things you are going to want to whine about constantly. They will keep you grounded, because they don't just don't have time for that. They will remind you that there is more to life than Amazon rankings and Goodreads reviews.

-Don't become overwhelmed by everything happening in the literary world that you will be bombarded by on social media. Yes, all of your author friends are having readings and going to book festivals and winning awards and making lists and looking super cool ALL THE TIME. Don't let jealousy or, God forbid, self-pity consume you. Keeping those not-author-friends by your side will definitely help with this.

-Promote and support other authors as much or more than you do yourself and your own work. Yes, your book is awesome and you want the world to know. There are also a ton of other awesome authors out there and they need the world to know about them too. This is also the best way to gain support from your fellow authors and to make connections. Plus, it's kind. And being kind is badass.

-Don't be selfish.

-Remember that you are not fighting against your fellow authors for sales, attention or what have you. It's not author vs. author. It's authors vs. the world. However you look at it, we need each other.

-Keep in mind that unless you are J.D. Salinger, there are many more books to come for you. All of your hopes and dreams of success do not rest on your first book. Don't put that kind of pressure on yourself. You'll have enough going on to stress you out.

-Be considerate of absolutely everyone who supports you. People who are willing to interview you, review your book, re-tweet your promotions, like your incessant Facebook updates and write you personal emails are incredible people. Readers are everything. Always make time for them. Always express your gratitude.

-Read. There is no excuse for a writer not to read. And review. How can you possibility expect people to read and review YOUR book if you are not doing the same?

-Have fun with the publishing experience and remember that it is not just something that you "have to deal with." No one forced you to publish your book. You most likely spent months, years, who knows how long, trying to get your book published. You've now gotten what you wanted. Enjoy it. And don't take it for granted.

-Work hard. It's not going to be easy. It shouldn't be.

-Most importantly, WRITE. Write, write, keep writing. Sure, you're probably not going to get much done the first few months after your book releases. If anything, you will be too busy, too excited and too exhausted to even think about working on another book. But you have to eventually. You probably didn't become an author just because you wanted to be published. You became an author because you HAD to write, just as you have to breathe, and then you eventually decided to do something with all that writing. Salinger maybe only had the one novel published, but he never stopped writing. And really, at the end of the day, continuing to write will keep you even more sane than your non-writer friends will.

-And also, keep a puppy nearby. Trust me on this one.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Summer Round Up!

Appearently summer is over this week (though you wouldn't know it here...) and as we're going into fall (or post-summer in this part of FL) I'd like to take a quick look back at the "wow" books from the past few months. Unlike last year, where I was gobbling up debuts like it was nobody's business, I've been shying away from contemporary literature lately in light of the fact that I'm deep in my hobbit hole of writing. It's that whole Anxiety of Influence thing... I've been absorbed in research and classics, but a few of today's hot up-and-coming writers managed to break their way through and conquer my heart. If you haven't bought and read these gems already... hop to it!

Brian Panowich's Bull Mountain.

"Bull Mountain has everything you would want in this genre: outlaws, grit, violence and filial loyalties being smashed together and pulled apart, all with a literary grace that is both natural and surprising."

The Suicide of Claire Bishop by Carmiel Banasky

"I’ll just go ahead and say it now- Carmiel Banasky’s physiological tour de force The Suicide of Claire Bishop is going to be one of THOSE books. You know, one of the novels that everyone is talking about this fall."

Bud Smith's F 250

"Many a novel has tried to walk the line Smith takes here and the story ends only in hipster posturing and pretention. Without a doubt, Bud Smith’s F 250 is the real deal."

Then there's also the books that I was lucky enough to obtain an advance copy of. Be on the lookout for these beauties in the coming months....

Fallen Land by Taylor Brown- January, 2016

Eric Shonkwiler's Moon Up, Past Full- October, 2015

God in Neon by Sam Slaughter- Winter, 2015

And then there's a few other books that dazzled me this summer- just in case you were interested...

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Simon Mawer's The Glass Room

Happy Reading!!!

Friday, September 18, 2015

What Are You Reading?

Many thanks to Maureen O'Leary Wanket for her review of A Tree Born Crooked on her "What Are You Reading?" round-up. This is great review list to check out if you're looking for some killer books, by the way....

Thursday, September 17, 2015

5+20 Female Short Story Writers

Thrilled to be included on this list: 5+20 Female Short Story Writers You Should Be Reading Right Now by Entropy Magazine. And even better- this list includes story excerpts from all of the mentioned authors so you can get to know their work and why they were included on this list. My "authors-to-read" list had already grown tremendously and I'm sure yours will too. Have a read...

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Art of Madness: An Interview with Carmiel Banasky, author of The Suicide of Claire Bishop

I’ll just go ahead and say it now- Carmiel Banasky’s physiological tour de force The Suicide of Claire Bishop is going to be one of THOSE books. You know, one of the novels that everyone is talking about this fall. Complete with schizophrenic characters, art theft, Greenwich Village in the 60s, paranoia, Hasidism and the possibility of time travel, The Suicide of Claire Bishop is a whirlwind of a complex and utterly brilliant story. I’ve already recommended it over on Writer’s Bone and now I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with the author. I dove deep with Banasky and she chose to dive even deeper. This is an interview for readers, yes, but especially for writers. The Suicide of Claire Bishop debuts tomorrow (September 15th) so read on and be sure to pick up your copy this week.

Steph Post: The Suicide of Claire Bishop is written from two different character’s viewpoints, with different point of view styles. The narrative jumps back and forth between Claire Bishop in 1959 and West Butler (in first person) in 2004. While they are are linked by the portrait of Claire, every other aspect of their stories is very different, from events to voice to time period to gender. Even the fact that Claire is sane and West is schizophrenic. I’m curious about the process of crafting one novel containing two very different narratives. Did you write the novel straight through, alternating between characters as you went along, or did you write first one story and then the other? And how did you keep the dual stories focused and on track for the ultimate meeting of Claire and West?

Carmiel Banasky: I wrote a lot of my novel straight through, alternating their voices. (Though in my first drafts, I started with West before shifting back in time to Claire.) But big plot pieces came to me later, only after I could see what Claire and West’s character arcs were from a more aerial view. There were missing periods of growth and change or despair that I could only write having seen how both narratives parallel or move away from one another. I think much of the sixties sections I wrote later. And once I had one of them visiting their hometown and staying with their mother, I knew the other character had to as well. In many ways, their narratives are similar to me, or they reflect one another in an old, marred mirror sort of way: while one steals the painting and the other has the painting stolen, they both struggle with family, identity, pressures from society. They are both forced to question the fragility and control one has over one’s own mind and self, and how a diagnosis can define a life, or not.

From the outset, I knew that West was going to aid Claire in achieving the thing she’d been pondering all her life (maybe it’s obvious but I’m avoiding using a spoiler key-word here!). I knew the purpose of their meeting from the beginning stages of drafting. But, even though I knew what point A and point B were, I didn’t know what route I would take between them. I excised a lot that seemed OUT of focus on the track to get West and Claire where they had to be in the end. For West, his timeframe is shorter and his plot follows more of a mystery structure: finding and deciphering clues, even if they are only in his head. I felt like I had to focus his attention by allowing him to interpret everything he comes across as a clue connected to the painting or the painter, Nicolette. With Claire, anything could happen as we follow her over many decades. I had to choose the highlights that both disrupt and guide her character arc. Maybe the questions I posed were: What unsettled her from herself? What moments got her out of the comfort zone of the stories she was telling about herself? I’d like to think everything that made it into the book is vital in telling the story of how West and Claire become who they become to one another.

SP: Aside from the obvious fact of two stories and two characters dominating The Suicide of Claire Bishop, the themes of opposites and dualities are reflected throughout both the narrative and the style. There are the obvious character traits- male and female, sane and insane, 1950s and 2000s- but I was most interested in how your language conveyed this same sense of duplicity. Line such as “There Claire was, and wasn’t.” and “I am a lie. But I am not a liar.” Was this an intentional style decision, to mirror the schizophrenia of West and the uncertainty of Claire, or did the language come naturally to the story?

CB: I think the answer is two-fold: 1) These lines are probably instances of where my voice meets or overlaps with my characters’ voices. A “natural” language, like you said. And 2) I wanted to create moments, through language and through thought processes, to show how similar Claire and West really are. In Claire, I set out to portray a character who was sane, but who had been close to madness, or the idea of it, all her life. Claire is as obsessed with madness as she is fearful of it. When their voices overlap stylistically, it is Claire sinking further into her own brand of madness, or West lifting out of his. Our brains are so fragile, and West is not so different from the rest of us. He just makes a lot of hairpin turns while the rest of us stick to what seems to be a straighter path. That may be a horrible metaphor. But in any case, both paths follow a certain logic. I wanted West to feel relatable. One way to achieve that was to align the styles I used for both characters. Claire’s sanity is not so far removed from West’s insanity. The line between the two is thin.

SP: While there is, of course, a tradition of madness in literature, I was struck by how Claire is defined by her sanity. The artist Nicolette, after depicting Claire’s suicide in her portrait, comments, “You lived your life afraid you’d go mad… And now you’re disappointed.” It is this disappointment, and the seemingly infinite stretch of life looming ahead of her once she realizes that she does not have hereditary madness, that marks Claire’s character. What prompted you to write about un-insanity (for lack of a better word)?

CB: A good friend had a similar experience and shared it with me. I was already beginning to write both of these characters, and I was a sponge at that point in the writing process. I grasped onto that story when I heard it and immediately asked my friend, a poet, for permission to use it in my novel. She granted it, and was one of my first readers. It was exactly, thematically and plot-wise, what I had been waiting for. (I love that time in the writing process. Was it Saul Bellow who said something about having his suction cups at the ready?) In retrospect, maybe I was looking for a backstory that linked Claire and West through a difference. Claire thought her trajectory would look like West’s. She is so convinced and attached to this narrative of going mad, of unknowing herself by losing her mind, that when she learns that that the narrative is actually something other, she does in fact lose track of who she is. She no longer knows herself. The unknowing and redefining still occur.

SP: You write the character of West Butler extremely convincingly and I appreciated how well you portrayed his schizophrenia. What was the research process like for you to be able to so fully craft his character?

CB: I suppose I did a lot of asking permission in order to write this book. I had two friends who were diagnosed with schizophrenia and who had very similar experiences. They told me about their episodes. I was struck by the similarity. I was struck also by my own reaction, which was partly of fear—how my extraordinarily functional, brilliant friends could suddenly have brains so suddenly (it seemed to me) out of their own control. And finally, I was struck by the fact that I was so struck: I hadn’t read experiences like these in literature before, especially not in the first person. I wanted to write characters they could recognize (though West is completely different from both of them in most other ways). More importantly, I wanted to write a character with schizophrenia who is as relatable, loveable, and familiar as any character without schizophrenia to any reader who has or has not had experience with mental illness. I wanted to portray a whole human, schizophrenia being one of many characteristics.

I interviewed others with different types of mental illnesses about their journeys in and out of recovery. I read memoirs, novels, and some clinical books. I read essays geared toward family members of those with schizophrenia. I had a therapist friend read a draft. Elyn Saks’s writing and talks were a huge help. But the research could have been endless. At some point, I had to stop. I’m sure I didn’t read enough. There’s no way I got the experience exactly right. But I love West, that important author-character love, and I wouldn’t change him now.

There was always the question of what to put the most weight on: the story, or the portrayal of West’s disease. Luckily, these overlapped most of the time, were one and the same.

SP: Much of The Suicide of Claire Bishop is based on the concept of complicated perception, but my favorite parts of the novel are the moments of brilliant clarity where you use simple language to convey extremely difficult emotions. My favorite line comes from West as he is describing his feelings for Nicolette. He tells the reader, “I loved her so much I could rip out my collarbone.” This line floored me. Not because of its violence or its strangely poetic imagery, but because of its truth. Haven’t we all loved someone and/or been heartbroken to the point where we felt it physically, down to our bones? It’s such a simple description, but so perfect in its ability to encapsulate an otherwise slippery emotion. I have to ask then, do you have a background in poetry? Or does all of your fiction so succinctly use language to such a powerful degree?

CB: This is the type of language I learned from my friend—it’s one take on the schizophrenic linguistic style, if you will: seemingly unrelated elements coming together to create a logic that is beyond logic, that reaches a higher emotional truth. I wanted West’s language to make emotional sense even if it doesn’t make any other kind of sense. I was, however, afraid of exploiting the disease in that way, by romanticizing elements of it because some aspects felt like writerly, poetic, stylistic gifts. Lines like that are my attempt to portray the workings of West’s mind through my own literary voice.

I only write poems in secret. (Except I do have a weird historical novella in the works—fragmented poetry and prose. So some of it will hopefully see the light of day in the near future.) In general, sound and rhythm have always been the most important aspects of prose to me. But I used to, perhaps I still do sometimes but more rarely now, forsake clarity for lushness. West’s voice was a very difficult test and a great lesson: how do I allow his madness to feel logical and lyrical at once? He has his own logic, which should come across as sensical, if you are close enough to his perspective. There was also the challenge of using as few similes as possible. Something is not “like” something else to someone with schizophrenia. Things meld and overlap and many dots are connected, but simile is not commonly used. I, myself, am prone to using similes. So in one of my last revisions, I went through and excised as many instances of the word “like” (which were instances of me the author) as I could. It was a question of where my voice meets or should be reigned in from West’s voice.

SP: It is the bizarre portrait depicting Claire’s suicide that ties the characters and narratives of Claire and West together. The painting is described as “Claire at every moment of her life” as she falls from a bridge. In my mind, I saw this portrait in the style perhaps of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. In the novel, the portrait of Claire is painted in 1959. In your mind, who in that time period would have actually painted Claire’s suicide? Are there any contemporary artists that you think would be candidates to paint this piece?

CB: I have always seen Claire’s portrait (but never wanted to explicitly state this in the novel because I prefer that you had your own interpretation) in the style of Frida Kahlo, as I arrived at the germ of Claire’s narrative from an anecdote about the painter. Kahlo was commissioned by a Manhattan socialite to paint a portrait commemorating Dorothy Hale, the socialite’s friend who had committed suicide. Instead of a portrait, Frida depicted Hale’s death—her jump and fall from a tall building. It was considered an insult at first, but the painting, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, is stunning on many levels. It’s dream-like; it raises so many questions about death and suicide, and about the identity of the falling woman. I didn’t realize until later that what became of Kahlo’s painting is similar to the journey the painting in my novel takes: nearly destroyed, locked away, donated anonymously, etc. The lost and found nature of both my fictional painting and Kahlo’s painting makes a lot of sense to me.

SP: The Suicide of Claire Bishop debuts on September 15 and as I’ve said, I have a strong feeling that it’s going to be one of the heavy hitters on the fall literary scene. Aside from your own, of course, are there any novels debuting this fall or winter that you’re excited about? Any books or authors I should be keeping an eye out for?

CB: So many of my friends have books out this year! It has been fantastic to celebrate with them. Here are a few: Matthew Selasses, Alexandra Kleeman, Amy Jo Burns (paperback just came out), you know Scott Cheshire of course (paperback out now), Christopher Robinson/Gavin Kovite, Steve Totlz (his second book comes out next week). Next year keep an eye out for Michael Copperman and Kaitlyn Greenidge. I’ll probably think of more another day. These are my friends, I freely admit, and also some of the best writers I’ve ever read.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Conversation with Steph Post- The Spark

Many thanks to Kevin Catalano for this killer interview up at Alternating Current's The Spark. This was by far one of my favorite interviews, as Kevin conjured up questions about everything from tattoos to badass women to, of course, A Tree Born Crooked. Read on!