Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thoughtful Dog Interview

Today I'm hanging out over at The Thoughtful Dog magazine, discussing gritty writing, the importance of place and why more women aren't writing in Lightwood's genre. Read on!


Friday, March 24, 2017

Surviving A Book Tour

My "Book Tour Author Survival Guide" is now live over at LitReactor. This post is close to my heart- my own book tour for Lightwood was a roller coaster whirlwind of events and emotions and I wanted to share what I learned with other authors. I hope that these tips can be of some help or at least let others know that it's okay not to be perfect....


Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Zoologist Turned Crime Poet: Erica Wright

Today I bring you an interview with Erica Wright, author of The Red Chameleon and, more recently, The Granite Moth. Wright's crime novels have been on my radar for a while and I'm glad they finally caught up with me!
Also, if you're heading up to the Virginia Festival of the Book this week, be sure to catch Wright on one of her three panels as she balances discussions on her dual specialties:  crime writing and poetry.
Steph Post: I'm going to go ahead and start with the obvious- the title. The Granite Moth is the second of a series of PI novels featuring Kathleen Stone, a master of disguise. The first book was titled The Red Chameleon and so there's a trend here. Both animals reference Kat's ability to don a new wig and assume a new identity at the blink of an eye, but where did the inspiration come from with using colors and animals? And is this a trend that is going to continue throughout the series?

Erica Wright: When I was twelve, I wanted to be a zoologist. Then I passed out dissecting a frog and was gently encouraged to consider other careers. I’m still obsessed with animals, though, so the titles were an extension of that interest and a logical fit for a character who prides herself on disguises. I started a newsletter because that seems to be the number one piece of marketing advice for writers, but it’s mostly about critters. Did you know that rats in Mozambique helped clear the country of landmines? Amazing. Yes, this is definitely a trend I can’t escape.

SP: The Granite Moth had been on my radar for a little while and a large part of that was due to the cover. The design here just screams that the story inside will be dazzling. It's sort of disco meets old-school pulp which, honestly, mimics the style of Kathleen Stone and your writing. Did you have a hand in the cover selection?


EW: Charles Brock designed the gorgeous cover. I was given a couple of options for The Red Chameleon, but this style was a great fit for the series.

SP: One of my favorite elements of The Granite Moth is the wacky humor that rides alongside the hardboiled storyline. Part of this is due to the plot- the story opens with Kat watching a larger-than-life drag queen float in the middle of a Halloween parade- but much of it comes from the protagonist herself. Kathleen Stone is serious about her job, but also has a wry wit that made this character refreshing in a sea of gritty, hard-nosed private eyes. Where did Kat's voice come from? I'd imagine she's a helluva lot of fun to write.

EW: I was reading a personal essay by Oliver Sacks who had face blindness, a disorder which makes it difficult to recognize faces, sometimes even of people you know well. I wondered if there could be a related phenomena—someone whose face isn’t very memorable or that seems to change depending on the situation. Not exactly a glamorous superpower, but one that Kat has embraced. Some of her humor comes from this reality. She could feel sorry for herself; after all, she’s a young woman who sees the same fashion magazine covers as everyone else. Or she could take advantage of her unique ability to disappear in a crowd. In some ways, this quirk is a stand-in for how she grapples with questions of identify after being undercover for two years. She’s not quite as forgettable as she likes to believe, and yeah, she’s such fun to write. I look forward to spending time with her.

SP: I haven't yet read the first novel in the series, but I felt that The Granite Moth clearly stood on its own. Is it difficult to write successive books in a series, knowing that the reader may not have read about the origins of the character?

EW: It’s easier in the sense that I know the characters better than I did at first. While they still surprise me at times, they also act in ways I understand. I realize that this might sound crazy to non-writers, but after you spend years with fictional people, they don’t seem so fictional anymore. But I definitely needed help from my editor, the brilliant Maia Larson, to show me where more backstory or explanation was required. I always want to be fair to my readers. 


SP: In addition to writing crime novels, you are also an accomplished poet. I was surprised, but thrilled to hear this as I love it when I discover a writer who can play across the board. And Instructions for Killing the Jackal is now high up on my list. Do you find any conflict in your writing life as you straddle these two genres?

EW: I started writing fiction after I finished my first book of poems. That collection took me ten years, and my poetry tank was on empty. Instead of sending the book out and waiting for rejections to roll in (“That way madness lies”!), I started working on a novel. My first attempt was embarrassingly bad, but I still learned a lot from that failure. Now, I rarely write fiction and poetry on the same day, or really, during the same week.

SP: In addition to everything else, you are also a creative writing teacher. What is the best piece of advice or learning moment you ever received from a student?

EW: Oh, I love this question! In the very first session of my very first creative writing class, I was administering an exercise that I hijacked from one of my professors. Basically, I asked a series of unrelated questions, letting students respond to each one. It’s supposed to help with negative capability. Anyway, I was rushing through the questions because I was nervous, and this good-natured group of writers started chuckling and were all like “Take a breath! Slow down!” That was excellent teaching advice, but I apply it to writing as well. It’s not a race, and it’s not a competition. The nice part of this writing business is that there’s plenty of success to go around, which means you can root for others as much as you root for yourself.


And that, if not anything else, is why I am a new fan of Erica Wright. Be sure to check out both her Kathleen Stone series and her works of poetry. You can also catch her over at Guernica magazine, where she serves as senior poetry editor. Many thanks, Erica!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

L.A. Noir With Attitude: An Interview with Nolan Knight

Today I'm bringing you an interview with L.A. native and neon-noir author Nolan Knight. His recent novel debut, The Neon Lights Are Veins, is unlike anything I've read before (and that's saying something!). The novel's story is a fast-paced mystery and caper, dragging the reader through the underbelly of the Los Angeles night, but most impressive is Knight's style: in your face and no-holds-barred.

Steph Post: The first word that comes to mind when I think of The Neon Lights Are Veins' style is "kaleidoscopic." There's a lot of color, a lot of flash, a lot of snap. It's a style I have seen in noir before, but it's still rare. How did you develop this unique style and how important was establishing this style to the development of the story?

Nolan Knight: First off, thanks for having me here, Steph. Referring to the visual aesthetic of the novel, I think that it is less a stylistic choice than just an authentic rendering of nighttime Los Angeles in roughly 2008. When it comes to the actual design of the narrative, that came out of being patient with the process. I started Neon Lights in 2010 and had a shorter draft (similar to what was published) by late-2012. I shelved it, then came back several months later, needing fresh eyes. I think that the time spent fleshing out the vision I had for it is reflected in the end product. Neon Lights became more fluid and dense with each given pass.

SP: In contrast to all the flash, however, The Neon Lights Are Veins also takes place in a world obviously jaded. The first section is aptly titled "Loveless Gutters" and that line in the opening scene- "too bad this world craved dreamers"- sets the tone for a story set among worldly and world-weary characters. Did you ever worry that this story would be too dark for readers?

NK: No. Fortunately, there’s only one reader I worry about when writing anything—and that’s me. The fact that most of my favorite authors’ books developed strong readerships over years/decades, that’s enough for me to believe that other likeminded folks are out there, ones who could possibly be interested in a story like Neon Lights. That’s all that matters.

SP: One of my favorite things about The Neon Lights Are Veins are the characters and their names in particular. Mongo, Elvira, Rocco- the names are fantastic. Where did they come from? Are any of the characters based on real people?

NK: Most of the characters in the novel are based on random people I would come across in my old East Hollywood neighborhood. Drug dealers on skateboards, crust punks busking for beer, etc. As far as names are concerned… I remember when my wife and I were first dating, introducing her to my friends brought something to light: So many of them had odd nicknames that it made it hard for her keep track of everyone. This was something that I had never even considered growing-up in L.A. It got me thinking of how bizarro names had become household in my everyday life. So, when it comes to naming characters, most of the time I find myself taming down versions of what I’d like to call them.   

SP: Another defining element of your book is the cracking, whip-smart dialogue and slang-filled prose. From the first sentence, the reader is dropped right in the middle of this world, with no narrative reprieve. It's an immersive reading experience, you might say. Do you write your first drafts in this voice or is this a carefully cultivated style?

NK: This is just the voice that I feel most comfortable with. Anyone can look back at my short fiction catalog and see the footprints. Immersive is a good way to describe Neon Lights. Sink or swim. If I’ve done my job, the story will hook a reader and remove their safety net at the same time. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than reading a book where I can trust that the writer is in complete control while he/she takes risks with a progressive story.   

SP: The city of L.A., particularly it's underbelly scene, really functions as its own character in The Neon Lights Are Veins. How important was this specific setting to the storyline? Could this story have been told in another city?

NK: Los Angeles is a predator in Neon Lights, another antagonist that lures characters with beauty into a doomed existence. When I look at the story overall, I see the main characters as puppets, their strings popping to the fingers of L.A. The City as The Beast was imperative to the text. I’m not sure that it could be told in another city—only for the fact that I don’t know any other cities as well as I know Los Angeles. Born and raised. Thirty-six years. I’m still learning great things about this city every day and plan on growing old with it.

SP: You are clearly a noir writer. In addition to The Neon Lights Are Veins, you've written stories published in Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Needle and other noir-friendly or centered outlets. What draws you to the noir genre?

NK: When it comes to literary interests, I’m not drawn to any specific genre. If it’s a solid story, I’ll devour it. Most of the shorts I’ve had published definitely have a noir tendency, and Neon Lights is a noir novel; however, the novel I’ve just finished doesn’t read like noir to me, but I bet it will to readers. I think it’s just the setting that I’m drawn to. I like to be out late at night and so do my characters. Not much good happens in Late-Night-Los Angeles, and that’s often the tone reflected in my writing. Call it noir, call it whatever—just have a peek and see for yourself.


And you'll need to read The Neon Lights Are Veins for yourself. Be sure to pick up a copy and check out the other killer lit coming from indie press 280 Steps. Thanks so much to Nolan Knight for stopping by!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Writer's Read Recommendation

So many thanks to David Joy for recommending Lightwood in his featured column on Writers Read (and many thanks as well to Marshal Zeringue for hosting him). Here's a snippet:

"She reminds me of a cross between Ace Atkins and Megan Abbott, all that to say: read this novel, read the one that came before, and keep your eyes peeled for what’s coming next."


Also, if you haven't yet, be sure to check out David Joy's debut novel Where All Light Tends To Go and it's follow-up, just released, The Weight Of This World. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

This Book Will Change Your Life

So many thanks to Ben Tanzer and his fantastic blog "This Blog Will Change Your Life" for a killer, thoughtful review of Lightwood. Here's a peek:

"...Always pushing and churning all at once, everyone filled with conflict, loyalty or rage, or all of it all at once, because that's what crime novels are, the push and pull of doing the right thing, while constantly trying to define what the right thing is..."


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Shouting Out Nine Badass Women Writers

As today is International Women's Day, I thought it was the prefect time to highlight some of my favorite female authors. These ladies are as badass as they come and if you're not yet familiar with them and their work, that needs to change...

Beth Gilstrap


Natalie Harnett

Berit Ellingsen

Kathy Fish
author of Rift
Hasanthika Sirisena
author of The Other One
Mira Jacob

Carmiel Banasky
Sheryl Monks
Leah Rhyne
author of Heartless
Have some badass female authors you think deserve some recognition? Feel free to add them in the comments. The more, the better!

Andrew Hilleman Interview at LitReactor

Just in case you missed it,  I've got an interview up over at LitReactor.... I'm talking with debut author Andrew Hilleman, author of the brilliant World, Chase Me Down about history, memory and telling a true story. Take a look!


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mercury's in Retrograde

"Mercury's in Retrograde or Quit Blaming a Fucking Planet When You Can't Get Your Shit Together" is actually one of my favorite short (and I mean, short) stories. I wrote this piece in a quick shot and I've always loved it. Now, you can not only read it, but listen to me read it as the story is part of Lit-Tapes from Underpass Review. Take a second, have a listen, and be sure to check out the other two stories comprising Vol. 1 of the enterprise. Here's to Mercury....

Of Nature and Myths: Berit Ellingsen and Vessel and Solsvart

Today I'm thrilled to bring you an interview with one of my favorite authors: Berit Ellingsen. If you know Berit, then you know that her work is gorgeously weird, a crystalline web work gracing the page. She wowed me with the stark grace of last year's Not Dark Yet, but her latest literary offering, the story collection Vessel and Solsvart, spins away from the minimalist style and instead presents four stories which are complex, lush and primordial. You can read my full review of Vessel and Solvart over at the Small Press Book Review, but for now I'm talking to Berit about constellations, myths and Baroque art. Read on...


Steph Post: As you already know, I loved your collection Vessel and Solsvart. I'm going to jump right in, though, with my most burning question: what's up with cover? It's gorgeous and even if I weren't already a fan of your writing, I would immediately be drawn to this book. Is it a constellation? A mathematical equation? And how does In the Region of Bellatrix relate to the stories within or the collection as a whole?

Berit Ellingsen: I'm so glad to hear you like the collection and the cover. And thank you for reading and reviewing it.

The cover is an artwork called In the Region of Bellatrix by Eugene Newmann and is a star map of constellations. The artwork was part of an exhibition called The Raft Project, which featured a raft with human figures. In the Region of Bellatrix was a star map meant for the raft's navigation and was displayed on the wall behind the human figures. The book's designer, Brendan Connell, and Snuggly Books thought the cover fit the collection because several of the stories feature stars and other astronomical phenomena.

SP: The opening and title story, "Vessel and Solsvart" clearly has mythological roots. Is this story based on any one tale in particular?

BE: With the story "Vessel and Solsvart" I tried to imagine a new mythology, a mythology after our time, after the age of humankind, what the world might look like in that sort of future, and how the world might have reacted to the age of humankind and what took place in it. I also envisioned a world where the kinds of animals and plants we find in dark and moist places, such as moss and centipedes, and processes of decay, had taken over the planet because the sun had dimmed.

The structure with the repetition of four is common in Norwegian folk tales, but I didn't have any particular folk tale in mind when I wrote the story. Actually, the nearest direct inspiration was the music video for "Pyramid Song" by Radiohead. In this animated video a human figure dives into the ocean and finds an entire world down there, a suburban neighborhood, and a home where the figure settles in at the end. I thought of that video when I wrote the scene where Vessel dives down to the City of Reeds and Solsvart imagines what he might find there.

But the other cities in the story have no direct inspiration like that. They are imaginings of the essences of human cities and human life, such as the City of Stone and Tar.

SP: One of the first notes I wrote down in reading Vessel and Solvart is "attention to nature- would expect nothing less." The natural world, and in particular the eroding of the natural world, also featured heavily in your novel Not Dark Yet. I know that climate change is something you write passionately about in other arenas as well. Why is this issue so important to you and so central to your work?


BE: The natural world is very important to me because without the natural world the human world and humans can't exist. In our everyday lives we don't notice this much, except for those who work in agriculture, with livestock or with hunting in some way. But we are nevertheless all dependent on plants and animals for food, water for drinking, and an environment that is stable. When the natural environment is ruined or made less habitable, that will make life difficult also for human beings in urban environments.

The reason why the natural world is so central in my writing may also be that I live in a part of the world where almost all activities are heavily dependent on the weather, because the weather can turn from comfortable to deadly at any time of the year. Thus, everyone is aware of the weather and dresses for it. I also have a background as a biologist and work with space science and appreciate the natural world, the non-human living beings, and the Earth's great systems both academically and personally.

As I often like to say: The Earth's true riches are not oil, gas, rare metals or precious gems, but its great biodiversity and multitude of life forms. There are hydrocarbons and metals on other planets but so far, Earth is the only planet where we know there is life. And that makes not caring about or protecting that life and biological wealth so much worse in my eyes.

SP: All of the stories in Vessel and Solsvart have a dream-like quality to them, even though they referencing very earthy, physical elements- swamps, bones, snakes, etc. When you write, do you see your stories clearly, or is there a haze or a gauze over everything that you work through? I guess what I'm getting at is that, so much of your storytelling style is about mystery. I'm wondering if the mystery is there for you as well when you write.

BE: Often, the places and characters are mysterious to me too and slowly unfold as I write. I love exploring them and discovering new sides to them.

Inspiration is a mystery to me as well. Or rather, a bit of a black box. I call myself the first reader of my stories because I rarely plan them and tend to just write what comes into my mind then and there. That means I often have to do a lot of editing of both plot and language to turn it into a story with a structure that will satisfy other readers.

But I don't know where the ideas come from, other than inspirational sources here and there. Often when I re-read my own stories I wonder "where did that come from?".

Some of my stories are based on dreams, so that might give them the dreamlike quality. "Apotheosis," the last story in the collection, is one such example. It was based on a very strange nightmare I had and I thought it would make an interesting flash story about life, immortality, and eternal youth, which is so desired in our culture.

SP: Another theme I noticed flowing through this collection, is that of the attention to contrasts. Life and Death, Darkness and Light, Hope and Despair, Beauty and Horror. How do opposite elements work to tell a story? And were these contrasts something you consciously set out to explore or did they creep into your work on their own?

BE: I didn't consciously intend to write stories with such contrasts. But I think the kind of stories I like best myself are ones that have contrasting emotions and themes and go from high to low to light to darkness, and where the characters have contrasting sides to their personalities which encompass all of that. And in life you rarely get light without darkness, joy without sorrow, etc., and often the two can exist simultaneously, and a situation or place can be both beautiful and horrible.

I admire classical still lifes a lot, as well as the Dutch, Flemish, and Italian masters of European painting. "Summer Dusk, Winter Moon" is partly inspired by such art, as well as the fairy tales of HC Andersen, which are more romantic and softer than the Norwegian folk tales. I love the classical chiaroscuro painting technique of sharp highlights and dark backgrounds, such as in Rembrandt's or Caravaggio's work, so it's probably no coincidence contrasts play a role in my stories.

Even though artworks from the Baroque era may seem dated today, I think their subjects and portrayal of human life show that these artists knew everything about existence that we know in modern times, with the exception of the technology of course.
So, if you haven't been introduced to Berit Ellingsen before, I hope you have now. Vessel and Solsvart hits shelves on March 6th- be sure to pick up a copy- and also check out Berit's novel Not Dark Yet as well as her many other stories. Happy Reading!