Monday, November 27, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Bites: Brad Abraham, author of Magicians Impossible

Book Bites: Short and Sweet Interviews for Readers on the Go

This is the beginning of a new series over here on the blog: Book Bites- Quick interviews with writers I love. Today, I bring you a Book Bite with Brad Abraham, author of Magicians Impossible, a new thriller packed with magic, secret societies and wild discoveries. Enjoy!

 "Part hard-boiled thriller, part magical mayhem, Magicians Impossible is a page-turning adventure where the stakes are high and the magic is mind-blowing. It's urban fantasy at its very best." ―Lisa Maxwell, author of The Last Magician

 What drew you to the genre you write in?

I’ve always been a fan of spy stories, be they in books, movies, or TV shows. Despite largely being billed as an “Urban Fantasy”, I approached Magicians Impossible from the angle of “Espionage Thriller.” It’s very much your classical spy story– the recruit brought into a shadowy world, the battle against a long-standing adversary, the centerpiece mission, the betrayals, the reveal – set in a fantasy world of magic and myth. I grew up on James Bond movies and novels, and those are very much in the book’s DNA. I always wanted to write a spy thriller like Goldfinger or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, so writing Magicians was a dream come true. I’ll confess I’m not much of a Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader, though I have been getting into it a little more as of late– when writing Magicians I deliberately stayed away from fantasy– but now that I’m finished I can now play catch-up.

Were they any parts of your novel that were edited out, but which you miss terribly?

The entire back half of Magicians Impossible was essentially tossed out, but that was my decision, not my publisher’s, not my editor's. I became a father midway through writing Magicians and once that happened I found the story I wanted to write initially was no longer the story I wanted to tell. Magicians is, at its core, a story of parents and their children, and particularly of fathers and sons. As a father to a son, I found I wasn’t the same writer I was when I started the book and that the story needed to change to address all I was going through as I adjusted to a whole new kind of life. In the end, though, I feel the book became stronger as a result; I wasn’t on the outside, looking in; I was on the inside trying to write my way back out. There’s nothing I miss terribly about the old version because I feel what I came up with was much, much better. I’m pretty unsentimental when it comes to my own writing, probably because of my background as a screenwriter. Old ideas are discarded all the time. Whether or not anything I cut works its way into other work (or even a Magicians sequel, should this book do well) remains a mystery at this point.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I’m one of those annoying writers who don’t really believe in writer’s block. Or at least it’s never been a big problem for me to overcome. Part of that comes from setting a schedule and sticking with it; I tend to write early in the morning before everyone else in the house wakes up, then again when my son is having his afternoon nap. I tend to outline before I sit down to begin drafting which I know some writers swear off of. But to me an outline is just a road-map to the destination; not the only way. Frequently I detour or find a more interesting route, but to me, having an outline to follow all but guarantees writer’s block won’t affect me or my work. Again, much of that comes from being a screenwriter by trade. When you have a fixed deadline you don’t have time to get writer’s block; you just write and worry about fixing it in the next draft.

Is there anything in the novel that you wish more readers noticed?

There’s a chapter that comes not quite mid-way through the novel, where Jason Bishop– the protagonist– is sent to see a character best described as an Oracle. That chapter is the wheel on which the entire story turns. It’s actually closer to a three-chapter sequence, but the entire book, its characters, its mythology– the whole story itself, turns on that sequence. Everything that happens before and after that chapter, particularly the third act of the story, is set up in that sequence. So if you’re looking for the key to unlocking all the mysteries in Magicians Impossible, you’ll find it in that visit to the Oracle. That character and what she reveals to Jason and to us, is probably the most important character in the book

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

To not spend all your time writing. A lot of writers have this romanticized image of being chained to your desk, stooped over your pen and paper, a bottle of whisky in the drawer, really suffering for their art. But if all you do is sit at your desk and write, what are you writing about? The best advice I ever got was to get out and see the world. To travel. To experience things. Go visit a part of your town or city you’ve never been to before. Go to the next town over. If you can afford to, hop on a plane and go to a country where everyone speaks a different language than you. The central portion of Magicians Impossible is set in Paris, and I went to Paris for the first time in 2011. I had an amazing experience there, and didn’t even realize then that I’d pull a lot of those experiences and locations out of my own life and put them into the book I hadn’t even conceived of yet. Step away from the desk and go see the world; that’s where you’re going to find your next, best idea.

Magicians Impossible is now available- pick up your copy today!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Interview with Giano Cromley, author of What We Build Upon the Ruins

Today, I bring you an interview with Giano Cromley, author of the short story collection What We Build Upon the Ruins. Framed by three interlinking stories focused on one family's reckoning with loss and struggle with grief, the tales in this collection are poignant, haunting and utterly captivating. Short story collections are often hit or miss, but What We Build Upon the Ruins swings for the fences and brings it home. Read on as Cromley and I discuss writing about loss, crafting messy characters and how short stories are more like poems than novels.

Steph Post: The three stories that frame the collection- "What We Build Upon the Ruins," "Human Remains," and "The Physics of Floating"- all tell a continuing story centering on a family's experience of building a birchbark canoe as a means of healing their shared grief. I'm curious as to the development of this triptych. Was this originally one long story that was broken up or was it written as a deliberate series over a span time? And what was the need for breaking the story into separate, individual pieces?

Giano Cromley: The canoe stories started out as just a single story I wanted to tell with no idea what it was going to be when it finally grew up. As I got further into it, I started to realize it was going to fall into that weird limbo state of too-short-to-be-a-novel-too-long-to-be-a-short-story. I was also in the process of putting together a collection at the time, so I figured maybe I could write about this family but have it be three distinct, separate stories. One of my favorite collections, The Watch, by Rick Bass, does something similar. The first story introduces a couple characters and seemingly resolves itself. Then, about halfway through the collection, you come across another story with the same characters and then again at the end. Those stories aren't as narratively linear as mine are, but it's like getting a surprise visit from some old friends when you're reading that book and you come across them. So once I had that model in mind, I set about writing the rest of this family's story in three separate pieces. It ended up being liberating, in a way, because I was free to make each piece about a different person in the family, with different ideas and themes to explore.

SP: The collection opens with the epigraph, "When the angels come, they'll cut you down the middle, to see if you're still there. To see if you're still there. -Cloud Cult." What is the significance of this striking statement and how does it relate to the thematic scope of the collection?

GC: I'm a huge fan of the band Cloud Cult, and the song it's from, "When Water Comes to Life," was written as an ode to the lead singer's deceased son -- almost as a way to comfort him in the afterlife. As I thought about those lines, though, I realized they could be equally applicable to those of us who survive a tragedy. Finding a way to go on is the only choice we have, but it alters us, changes who we are in some important and essential ways. The idea of cutting yourself open to see if that essential you-ness is still there struck me as being a pretty good depiction of what it's like for the ones who come out the other side of tragedy.

SP: All of the stories, in some form or fashion, are concerned with themes of loss and/or transformation. Grief, death and loneliness weave through the pages, but there are also beautiful moments of rebirth. What draws you to writing about such heavy subjects? Are these themes prevalent in all your work, or just in the specific stories chosen for What We Build Upon the Ruins?

GC: I don't think I'm a particularly dark person. But I understand the ways that loss and loneliness make their way into every nook and cranny of our lives. To me, there's comfort, maybe even honor, in acknowledging that fact, recognizing it, tipping your cap, and then finding a way to keep living. That's what this collection is primarily concerned with: Carrying on -- sometimes unsuccessfully, to be sure, but always clawing forward. I would say my short stories tend to dwell on these ideas a little more, whereas in my longer fiction I tend to use humor as a way to confront those parts of life.

SP: One of the things I so love about your stories is that they are filled with messy, complicated characters who sometimes disappoint the reader, but ultimately ring remarkably true. How do you go about writing such authentic characters and to bringing them so fully realized to the page?

GC: First of all, thanks! That's about the nicest compliment a writer can get. I like to observe people. And I think I've got an ear for an oddly emphasized syllable or a striking word choice or a response that's not really a response. I see it as the job of a writer to pick up on those things, interpret them, and use them in a way that gives meaning to the mundane. But, at the end of the day, I think a good part of fiction writing is like being a magician. You want to get so good at pulling off your tricks that the artifice behind them is unrecognizable. That's when you've really succeeded.

SP: Something that drove me crazy (in a good way!), however, about these stories is that as soon as I would fall in love with the characters, the story would be over. I found this particularly true of my favorite story, "Boy in the Bubble." I wanted the story to keep going- not because it was unfinished in any way, but because I fell so hard for Max and his parents that I didn't want to close the story on them. Have you ever considered turning one of your stories into a novel?

GC: You know, I've never really felt a desire to go back to any of my short stories with the intention of expanding them. A teacher of mine once said that short stories have a lot more in common with poems than they do with novels. Which I sincerely believe. And with the characters in my short stories, I usually leave them right where I want them to be once I finish a story. One of the things I like to ask my lit students when we read "The Lady with the Dog" is why Chekhov decided to end the story where he did? Why didn't he tell us how Anna and Gurov resolved their dilemma? Inevitably, they come back at me with, "Because he wanted us to imagine our own ending." Which isn't really the answer I'm looking for. He did it because they've made the decision to do something about their condition, to change it -- and that, right there, is the most important thing. How they go about changing their condition is far less important than the decision to actually do it.

SP: I always want to pay it forward, so I'd love to hear about some of the authors who have inspired you and your work. Is there any author in particular that has influenced you or who you'd like to give a shout-out to here?

GC: As I said earlier, the collection The Watch, by Rick Bass, certainly had a hand in how I chose to assemble this collection. For short stories, I'd have to say my main influences would be Joy Williams, Richard Ford, and William Trevor. Picking up their books recharges my literary batteries. A couple hours immersed in their work, and I'm ready to write again.

Thanks so much to Giano Cromley for stopping by. What We Build Upon the Ruins hit shelves yesterday, so be sure to pick up a copy! Happy Reading...