Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Bites: Sarah Frank, author of One Chance

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

Today, I've got something completely new in store for you: a teen author (really, Frank is only 15 and already published- I think I was still showing up at school with my shirt on inside-out when I was her age) and a middle-grade novel. I was lucky enough to meet Sarah Frank, author of One Chance, a few months ago, as she attends Howard W. Blake High School, my former work stomping ground. Read on as Frank discusses writer's block, time travel and shares the best piece of writing advice she's received so far. Cheers and happy reading!

What drew you to the genre you write in?

Growing up, I fell in love with the Magic Tree House books so I knew that I wanted to include time-travel. In second grade, Harry Potter became my new favorite series (and it still is.) I loved the idea of creating unique and magic worlds. The following year, in third grade, I started reading biographies and found a new love in history. When I sat down to write the very first draft of One Chance in 5th grade, I knew I wanted to write a book that I would want to read. So, I combined time-travel, magic, and history to create the Stone of Discedo, a time traveling stone, which was the foundation of the book.

How do you handle writer’s block?

Writer’s block is tough. When I come to a spot where I don’t know what to do next (which happens more frequently than you might think), I pause my work, go do something else, and then come back to the piece with a fresh pair of eyes.

Who was your intended audience for the novel?
One Chance is middle grade fiction, so the target audience is between 4th and 7th grade, but I’ve met 2nd graders who read it and enjoyed it, as well as adults who have read it, too.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of writing advice I ever received was from a camp counselor at a writing camp I’ve gone to for 6 years. I remember her saying that no matter how many times you edit, there will always be things you want to change, and that everything is a draft until you die or get it published. This couldn’t be more true. Editing was a difficult process for me; it’s hard to let go of things you feel close to, but I kept reminding myself it’s just the way things go.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?
Harry Potter is the most influential book to me. J.K. Rowling has such an amazing craft and it was her that inspired me to want to write my own magical stories. If I hadn’t read Harry Potter and fallen in love with magic and fantasy books, I feel as though I’d be in a very different place then where I am today.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Howling from the Mountains

In case you missed it.... my interview with Taylor Brown, author of the just-released (and absolutely brilliant) Gods of Howl Mountain is live over at LitReactor. Take a look! And then go buy Taylor's book. Seriously.....!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Star Thief

I'm so honored to have my short story titled The Star Thief or How the Little Fox Made the Night Sky featured in Nonbinary Review's 16th issue, dedicated to The Little Prince.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Florida Madness over at CrimeReads

Oh hey, I'm over at CrimeReads (Lithub's new crime site that is taking the world by storm) writing about how I see Florida crime fiction and the authors who have influenced both my own writing and the Florida literature landscape. Enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Bites: Shuly Xochitl Cawood, author of The Going and the Goodbye

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

Today, I'm lucky enough to have Shuly Xochitl Cawood, author of the brilliant, if at times heartbreaking, memoir The Going and the Goodbye stop by. Cawood's work challenges the notion of a typical memoir and brings both a quietness and a weight to every page as she explores small towns, road trips, love and loss and what it means to, ultimately, let go.

"In this lovely memoir the narrator, although strongly rooted in a particular place, is always on the move into the unknown....The lyrical, fluid style immediately invites the reader along for the ride. I read this with great pleasure!" --Bobbie Ann Mason
Which character in the memoir gave you the most trouble?

I think the character I found most difficult was myself. I think it’s easier to see other people and to recognize their qualities, both good and bad. But it took me a lot longer to see myself with more objectivity in experiences that had happened and to understand what I had done wrong and why, and to view myself via the lens through which other people might have seen me. That took me years.

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

I originally planned on including a chapter which told the story of the relationship that finally moved me from being terrified of getting my heart broken post-divorce to discovering my former courageous self. I worked on that chapter for a long time, including during my MFA program, and it went through multiple versions. In the end, when I finally completed the manuscript and started sending it to publishers, that chapter didn’t make the cut. Parts of the original chapter did, but not the bulk of it. Still, I never gave up on that story. After the book got published, I picked up the story/chapter again and worked on it a lot more, over and over, until finally I felt like I had gotten it where I wanted it to be. It is now a stand-alone essay that will be a part of the prose and poetry chapbook I have forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks. I’m excited about having the story in there because it not only ties in with the theme of the chapbook, but it makes that chapbook have a connection to my memoir as well.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I switch genres. This past fall, I was focused on writing short stories, and then I got stuck in December—so stuck that I couldn’t seem to write or even edit my fiction, so I switched to poetry. Well, first I allowed myself a hiatus, which maybe some writers think you should never do, but I do take them, and they help me. When I was done with the hiatus from writing, which lasted several weeks and through the holidays, I still felt stuck, so I started writing poetry again. The poetry was terrible, but I was just allowing myself to write whatever weird thing came into my mind and let it take me where it wanted. Frankly, I was just relieved to be writing again, so I didn’t sweat the quality. After a couple of weeks, better poetry emerged. Sometimes it just takes time and patience.

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

This idea of defining success has been something I had to think about before I published my book, and after. Part of success for me was, first and foremost, publishing a book. That’s been my goal for decades, though I didn’t know what type of book—in high school I would have predicted it would be a novel, and in in college I would have told you my first book would be a collection of poems. Even ten or fifteen years ago I did not imagine my first book would be a memoir. Still, I have known throughout the years that in this lifetime I wanted to publish at least one book. Once I started working on the memoir and finalizing it, I realized success for the book (and for me) wasn’t just publishing it, and it wasn’t finding an agent or selling the memoir to one of the big New York publishers. Success meant publishing a body of work that I was proud to have created, that was some of the best writing I could produce at this stage of my writing career, and finding a publisher who really believed in the book and would be a partner with me on it. That drove all my decisions about publishers and the press I ultimately chose.

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

I don’t have just one! The best three pieces of advice I got were:

1) That if I was going to write nonfiction, I should start a blog. The blog helped me take something small that had happened in my life that day or that week and to try and write about it in a way that was compelling to readers. The blog definitely upped my storytelling skills.

2) That after I completed a draft of writing, I should go back and consider what I didn’t say and didn’t reveal in the pages. Often that is the real heart of the story.

3) And the most important: To never give up. Rejections will come—I aim for over a hundred a year—but tenacity wins.

Book Bites: Tabitha Blankenbiller, author of Eats of Eden

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

Ever heard of a "foodoir"? I hadn't either until I encountered Tabitha Blankenbiller's fun and fantastic Eats of Eden, a collection of essays using food as a gateway to explore everything from feminism to fashion to the literary establishment. Raise a glass and enjoy the interview!

“Lush, rich and delicious, these essays are as tasty as the recipes she delivers: Blankenbiller dishes not only fun but depth and honesty. She shows us that literature is not meant to fly above taste but delve into it. What a satisfying read.” —Rene Denfeld

Are there any writers you’re jealous of?
Oh god, all of them. I guess I don’t feel as if I legitimately am one, so all the others I see I think, oof, if only I could be a real writer, too. I wish I had a tenth of the fierce work ethic and critical prowess of Laura Bogart. Brandon Taylor’s aching eye for detail—he sees words and the world with an elegance way outside of my stratosphere. Kendra Fortmeyer’s imagination and shape-shifting—she can inhabit another mind like no one else. Jill Talbot’s poetry and forms, constantly pushing against what we think an essay is supposed to be. What writing is supposed to be. Rene Denfeld’s radical compassion and ability to completely remake a heart in the span of one novel. Sharon Harrigan’s masterful editing eye and her architectural precision she brings to her work. Elizabeth Ellen’s way of writing about relationships, and how I will be raving about her essay “A Review of By the Sea, Or, How to Be An Artist and Female, i.e. How to Be Unlikable, Or, How to (Not) Pander” until the day I die. Samantha Irby is just the queen.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?

Restoring my childhood dollhouse, making gaudy fascinators and brooches for suckers on Etsy, photoshopping my cats into memes, cosplay.

I think I picked the right creative outlet.

Have you ever given up on a writing project?

So many! And not just books that get shoved in the drawer, either. I’ve pitched essays that sounded so good in my marketing-speak sentences, then could not come together no matter what angle I came at them from. I believe you shouldn’t give up too quickly on an idea—sometimes you need to have a few false starts and get that “throat-clearing” out of the way before an essay comes together. Other times you didn’t have a full essay, you had a thought. Or a scene. Or a funny memory. Or you got out the full of it in the pitch letter. I hate that! One time in particular I got a yes from a big venue I so desperately wanted to net, but the article absolutely did not work, plus I couldn’t get any decent sources to speak with me. It’s frustrating, but not as frustrating as dragging something out that doesn’t want to exist.

In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Keeping “success” in perspective is an unending struggle. There are days I feel as though the universe is validating my choice to be a writer and my MFA kid dreams are coming true, and the other 95% of the days I feel anywhere from vaguely okay with what I’m doing on down to calling my mom from between bookshelves at Powell’s and crying because I’ve wasted my life on something that’s never going to make me happy (not to be specific or anything).

When I am very seriously questioning whether I have made the right decision to work at this, to really commit to building a writing life with whatever resources of time and energy and finances that I can scrape up, I go back to what I wrote in one of my notebooks during grad school: “I want to be part of the conversation.” At that point, I had never submitted to a single journal. Every possible accomplishment was a new one. I dreamed of being invited to participate in a panel, to sit behind a convention center banquet table with a microphone and a glass of water while a sparsely populated crowd listened to me and my peers talked about bookish things. I thought, if I could have an essay published somewhere, anywhere, I’d be happy forever.

Eight years later those goals have changed (hahahaha happy forever….), but I think this is what success is to me—it’s engaging. It’s building relationships with other writers, and with readers. It’s becoming better at what you do, a constant conversation with yourself.

What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?

Jo Ann Beard’s The Boys of My Youth. It was one of the first books I read for my MFA, and completely toppled what I thought a memoir was capable of being. What an essay could be. The longing and the fears and the love and the mess of coming of age as a woman that she braids in a way that comes off the page so effortlessly, but could only be accomplished by an absolute virtuoso. I’m so glad I picked it up when I was still putty, where its influence could be the stars I’ll forever reach toward.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Bites: Patricia Abbot, author of I Bring Sorrow

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

Today, I bring you an interview with Patricia Abbot, whose short story collection, I Bring Sorrow & Other Stories of Transgression, just recently hit shelves. Enjoy!

“A sparkling collection from Edgar-finalist Abbott...This brilliant collection is sure to boost the author’s reputation as a gifted storyteller.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

What drew you into the genre you write in?

Although a lot of the fiction I read would not be categorized as crime fiction, I am drawn to writing it because there is an immediate and compelling focus to the story: a crime of some sort, a grievance, a loss, some issue to be addressed. My first dozen or so published stories did not feature a crime per say but many were about marginalized people. Certainly many of my favorite books dealt with victimization, or feelings of desire unmet. My characters are often dissatisfied with their lot in life and how they address that dissatisfaction becomes the story.

How important is the setting in your collection?

The setting is very important to me. In both of my novels, the story reflects the city they take place in. Philadelphia of the 1950s-1980s (Concrete Angel) is very specific to me. One chapter, in particular, recalls the grand dames of department stores in the 1960s: Lit Brothers, Strawbridges, John Wanamakers and Gimbels. Going downtown to shop in those stores necessitated white gloves and high heels- even for a teenager. Shopping was an event. In Shot in Detroit, I tried to capture Detroit at its worst moment without being patronizing or callous. But all of my short stories treat place as an important part of the narrative, too. I would say after character, setting is the most important element for me. How to capture Tuscon, or Pacific Beach, CA or Portland, Maine without overdoing it is great fun for me.

What single book has been most influential to you as a writer?

The Great Gatsby can be read multiple times without losing its freshness. The book I read at 20 is different than the one I read last year. Each time, it reveals new insights on how to create character, place, plot in a very short novel. Every character in The Great Gatsby is dissatisfied. Unmet desire overwhelms all of them.

Did your collection have an alternate title?

It’s original title was Flight Tales. That made sense because in nearly every story someone is running from something: a woman from her bi-polar mother, an elderly woman from the Detroit that has changed, a man from his harridan of a wife. However, that title had no poetry to it. So I began to look for another way to express the theme. I Bring Sorrow is from an aria Maria Callas sang called “La Mamma Morta” (They killed my mother) from the opera Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giodana. It was beautifully used in the movie Philadelphia, bringing everyone to tears.

Do you have a set routine as a writer?

When the writing is going well, I write off and on all day. I am a pantser, so getting up and mopping a floor or taking a walk is part of the process for me. My unconscious needs time to catch up with my conscious mind. Lately, the switching between shorts and novels has been difficult. My head has not been in the right place to allow characters and incidents to take hold. Hopefully I am behind that.


Friday, March 2, 2018

La Casita Grande Interview

Many thanks to La Casita Grande for hosting this wonderful interview. They asked some tough questions about class issues, genre and how Florida crime writing stands out from the pack. Take a look.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Lightwood is a Kindle Monthly Book Deal

Today is the first day of March and that means.... Lightwood is on sale! Lightwood has been accepted as part of Amazon's Kindle Monthly Book Deal program, which means it's only $1.99 for the month of March. If you've been thinking about reading Lightwood, but haven't gotten around to it yet, here's your chance!