Friday, July 26, 2019

Author Spotlight: Beth Gilstrap

One of my favorite things about running an author interview series is having the chance to introduce new readers to authors whose work truly stuns me and leaves me in awe. Beth Gilstrap is just such an author. I had the opportunity to read with her (for the first time- I will jump at any chance at all to read with her) a few years ago and was floored by how well she is able to capture the voice of the tough Southern woman- in all its complications and vulnerabilities and rawness and messiness that, unfortunately, so many authors seem to have trouble finding. Afterward, I devoured her two collections- I am Barbarella and No Man's Wild Laura and have read every short story she's published since. I guess you could say I'm an unabashed fangirl and I'm both thrilled and honored to have her as part of the Author Spotlight series. Please go check out her work- you can thank me later.... :)

Who: Beth Gilstrap
Latest Book: No Man's Wild Laura
Follow! @BettySueBlue
Twitter    Instagram   Facebook 

Has the publishing industry ever made you cry? What did you learn from the experience?

Unfortunately, yes. It’s not an industry that values short story collections unless you already have a name as a novelist. I’m speaking from the frustrating process of trying to place a second full-length collection. But the truth is I don’t know if I ever will write a novel and so, a lot of doors seem inevitably shut for me unless I win some sort of major award.

What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I doubt myself all the time. Every day. I feel like I’m so far behind most of my peers who have novels under their belt, agents, teaching jobs, etc. I get overwhelmed by the idea that no matter what I accomplish it won’t be enough, but then I remind myself that I am under no obligations to follow whatever rules or timelines I think there are to being an artist. I love this quote by Cheryl Strayed:

 “You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you’ve got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.”

This is what I strive for though I am well aware that I likely wouldn’t be able to pay my own electric bill if it weren’t for my husband. I have to cling to the hope that giving it all I’ve got and going to work every day I can will be enough.

What is the first book you ever read that you threw across the room?

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. I am not a fan of shock for shock’s sake. For me, you have to earn it. Or maybe it was much earlier with Where the Red Fern Grows. Do not give me a story with dogs dying under any circumstances.

What’s your favorite thing to do to procrastinate from writing?

My favorite way to procrastinate is to play with my dogs & cats, garden, or cook. But really, I tend to be thinking of stories the whole time I’m doing those things so maybe the real answer is obsessive cleaning. 

If you were being shipped to a deserted island and were only allowed to bring one book, what would it be? Why? How hard would it be to choose?

It would be Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Though I’ve read this book several times, it continues to bring me to my knees every time I think about it. The way the characters continue to find beauty in their hopeless world is a lesson to us all.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Author Spotlight: Robyn Ryle

It's always interesting to me- how authors find each other. I'm pretty sure Robyn Ryle popped up on my radar last year when I was doing an 'all-call' on twitter, searching for information on the contemporary Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book scene. Ryle's book certainly fits the bill and I was so excited to get my hands on it when it debuted this past spring. She/He/They/Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters takes the choose-your-own format that we all know and love from the beloved 1980s fantasy novels and extends it to the exploration of gender. Along the way, and without being stuffy or pedantic, I might add, Ryle's illuminates the experiences of genres across a spectrum and also sheds light on how gender can be constructed by both the outside world and our personal choices. On top of that, it's fun. I wound up as a 'sworn virgin of the Balkans,' to give you an idea of possible outcomes at the end of your adventure.

Because this idea is so novel, and also extremely timely, I'm thrilled to shine the Author Spotlight on Robyn Ryle. Happy Reading!

Who: Robyn Ryle
Follow!: @RobynRyle

What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I doubt myself almost constantly, though a little less when I’m writing nonfiction. Maybe that’s why I’ve had more success in publishing nonfiction. Or maybe I feel more confident in my ability to clearly convey interesting information in nonfiction than I do in my ability to make art in fiction. Making art feels like a lot.

When the voices of doubt get worse than usual, I’ll make little affirmation post-it notes to put on my computer, right by the keyboard so I have to see them when I’m working. They say things like, “You’ve got this!” or “You’re always happy to have written!” or “You are the audience!” or “Keep going!” Obviously, some of them are just straight-up cheerleading. Some of them are reminding me of what is true—even when each and every word feels excruciatingly painful, I’m still glad to have written them. The next day, those words are almost never as bad as they felt when they were coming out. Even if they aren’t so great, it’s a place to start from. Something on the page is always better than nothing. So just keep plugging away.

 Do you have a secret for handling bad book reviews? And, yes, what is it?

My secret is not to read them. Or at least to do my best to avoid them. I can’t lie and say I haven’t read any. But I do think that once a book is done and out there in the world, there’s not much point in reading bad reviews. It’s not like there’s anything I can do about it at that point. The book is written and my part’s done. The bad reviews I have read are all mostly about what my book isn’t. They’re disappointed that my book isn’t the book they wanted it to be and I get that. I can have compassion for that. I wish my book could be all things to all people, but there aren’t enough pages!

If you have pets, what do they think about the time you spend writing and not lavishing them with attention? 

I have two cats so thankfully, they require only cat-sized levels of attention. My writing cat, Kevin (my daughter named her and, yes, Kevin is a girl), is almost always with me when I’m working. I write in our upstairs bedroom in the morning, so as I’m eating my breakfast downstairs, she sits at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me to head upstairs. While I’m writing, she’s either sleeping on the bed or on the footstool of my chair. If she’s not waiting for me at the stairs, I’ll say, “You want to write?” and then she’ll follow me up. So the words she knows are ‘treat,’ ‘out,’ and ‘write.’ I find it very difficult to write without at least one cat in the room. I don’t know how cat-less writers get anything done.

What was the most difficult part of SHE/HE/THEY/ME for you to write? The easiest? 

The most difficult part was balancing what I hoped would be a fun book to read with the very real and serious issues involved. I worried about this a lot. It is interesting to learn about gender, but also people lose their jobs, their families, their friends, their health and their lives over gender. The discrimination and violence that so many people face because of their gender, sexual identity and race has to be treated with all the seriousness it deserves in a choose-your-own-adventure style format. That was hard, along with expressing as much as possible about the diversity of how people live their gender. I didn’t cover everything because that would have taken ten volumes. But deciding what got in and what didn’t was hard.

The easiest part was writing about gender in cross-cultural and historical perspective. As a professor, I get a lot of papers that begin with something like, “Throughout all time, women have been the caretakers,” or “Men have always….blah, blah, blah.” There is almost nothing you can say about gender that has been true for all time or across all places on the planet. Really. Nothing. And trying to get that across in the book was fun, which also made it feel easy.

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

Video game, of course! It’s in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure! I’d love for it to be available as an app people could download on their phone, with graphics and links to outside sources and videos. That would be awesome.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Author Spotlight: William Boyle

One of the things I love most about the crime fiction community is how close-knit and supportive we are of one another. Writers, readers, fans- oftentimes we're all one in the same. We cheer one another on, celebrate each other's successes and spread the word. Trying to think back, I believe I discovered the work of William Boyle through rock star superfan Erin Mitchell, who kept posting about A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself (and I think The Lonely Witness before that). Of course, Erin's taste is impeccable and I'm glad I picked up Boyle's work. I'm also glad that he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few quick questions for this week's Author Spotlight!

Who: William Boyle
Latest Book: A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself
Follow!: @wmboyle4
Twitter  Facebook  Instagram 

How long did it take to complete your latest novel?

I started working on A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself in early 2016. I finished a draft by the end of that year but only about sixty or seventy pages from that draft made it into the final book. I made a few bad mistakes in that version and had to start over almost from scratch. I finished a second draft in early 2017—the thing that was wrong with that one was that I ended it too early. It was pretty much the book as it is now without the last ninety pages or so. I didn’t realize that’s what was missing at the time. I had the good luck to get some great advice from a couple of readers, but it took me a while to get things straight (in part because I put Friend on hold to write The Lonely Witness). When I went back to it in early 2018, I hit a stride and figured out the end of the book. So, it was about two years, all told. 

Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? The easiest? 

In A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, I’d say Lucia was the most difficult. She was much younger in my first draft, so I had this kind of constant fuzz around her when I was rewriting her as 15. Wolfstein was definitely the easiest. Writing her was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a character. I looked forward to seeing where she’d take me, what she’d say, how she’d react to different situations. 

Is there any significance or symbolism behind the names of your characters? How do you choose them?

I definitely have some character names that people think I’ve chosen for symbolic resonance (D’Innocenzio in Gravesend, for instance), but I pretty much never choose a name for that reason. Despite my last name (my father was Scottish), I grew up with the Italian side of my family in what was—at the time—a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood and I fell in love with the music and poetry of those dramatic Italian surnames. When I started writing, I plucked a lot of names—both first and last—from kids I went to school with. After that, my greatest resource has probably been the obituary page of a funeral home in my neighborhood. Amy Falconetti in The Lonely Witness and Gravesend is named after the actress RenĂ©e Jeanne Falconetti, who played Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.   

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

I love films, and A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself was inspired by many (you can see some here), but I can’t help thinking it’d make a great TV show. The book could be the first season. Subsequent seasons could go in many directions: push the story further into the future; Wolfstein and Mo in L.A. in the early ’80s, or in Florida later; the story of Gentle Vic; Lucia in the present day; even old sad sack Bobby could get a thread. That seems really exciting to me.

What was the most difficult scene in any of your novels for you to write? How did you manage it?

There’s a scene in A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself that starts out as a long screwball set piece and descends into chaos and violence. That was the hardest (and yet most fun) thing I’ve ever written. There were a lot of moving parts, a lot of characters to keep track of. This was especially a challenge given that I tend to like keeping things small (“Fewer moving parts mean fewer broken pieces,” as David Bazan sings.) The other challenge there was the tonal shift from screwball comedy to violent tragedy. I studied one of my favorite films, Something Wild, to see how Jonathan Demme accomplished it so effortlessly.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Essential Florida Crime Fiction- Walk in the Fire at BookRiot!

Many thanks to Alex Segura, Matt Coleman and BookRiot for including Walk in the Fire (and the Lightwood/Cannon series) on their list of Essential Florida Crime Fiction!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Author Spotlight: Melissa Duclos

Today's Author Spotlight is for Melissa Duclos, author of the recently released Besotted, a gorgeous, complicated love story (the best kind, right?) between two women living and teaching in Shanghai and fully embracing their expat identity. Duclos is also a highly visible supporter of small press and indie books and authors with her newsletter Magnify, so she scores major brownie points on top of her own work.... ;)

Who: Melissa Duclos
Latest Book: Besotted 
Follow!: @MelissaDuclos
Twitter  Facebook  Instagram 

How long did it take to complete your latest novel?

This depends on what you mean by the word “complete.” I finished Besotted the first time after two years of work. The book was called Ex-Pat then. I considered it done enough to submit to agents, but (thankfully) didn’t find anyone who wanted to represent it. I took a break from the book during my first year of grad school. After that I worked on it for another five years. The work was frequently interrupted during that time—I got married, moved across the country, and had two kids—but the book was an omnipresent part of my life. The second time I finished, the novel was called Recklessly, Sincerely, Besottedly, Shanghai. I sent it out to more agents, gave it to my book club to read and discuss, collected more rejections. As that agent feedback came in, I made one more attempt at revision and re-submission, finally settling on the current title, before I accepted it wouldn’t be published. That was in 2015. In 2017, I submitted it to two small presses: 7.13 Books and Red Hen Press. I didn’t have any more confidence in the book than when I’d put it down two years prior, but I had a very encouraging friend pushing me to give small presses a try. (I’ll never again underestimate the value of good cheerleaders to my writing life.) After Leland Cheuk, the publisher of 7.13 Books, accepted Besotted, I spent another eight months revising.

So, how long did it take? Besotted was published in 2019, 15 years after I left Shanghai and started the first draft. Subtracting out the periods of time when I’d either temporarily set the book aside or permanently (so I thought) left it for dead, it was about nine years of work.

Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? The easiest?

Sasha, the narrator of Besotted, was hard for me to write because I was an inexperienced novelist who wasn’t asking the right questions of my characters or myself. And so it took me a long time to empathize with her. In its early iterations, Besotted was Liz’s story and Sasha was her villain—an emotionally manipulative girlfriend Liz must find the courage to escape. Sasha is still those things in the final version of the story, but the novel isn’t concerned with how or why Liz leaves. Instead the book looks through Sasha’s eyes at what it’s like to be left.

Is it cheating if I say the easiest character for me to write was Shanghai? I worked hard to incorporate enough detail to bring the city fully alive—fully enough that I feel comfortable referring to my setting as a character—but that work was easy because I always understood who the city was in the context of my novel, and what it wanted. I always knew what Shanghai was doing in my book; I didn’t always know what my characters were doing in Shanghai. 

What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to market or promote your books?

I’m most comfortable promoting my own book if I can somehow support other writers in the process. My most creative approach to this so far has been a multi-step process that I’m working on. First, I lugged all the books my ex-husband left when he moved out—about ten boxes of them—down to Powell’s. I sold them for $180 in store credit, which I used to buy copies of newly released small press books. I ended up with eleven titles, which I’ll be offering as free bonus books to people who want to order a signed copy of Besotted directly from me. I don’t know, ultimately, if this will be an effective way to promote Besotted, but I think it’s creative.

What animal do you most identify with?

The prairie dog! They’re extremely social and live in close-knit groups, with their own complex way of communicating with each other. Whenever I’m working on my monthly newsletter Magnify or helping spread the word about new books and readings, I picture myself as a prairie dog running around trying to get all the other prairie dogs to read more books.

Have you ever been embarrassed to tell someone that you’re a writer/author?

I have, not because I’ve ever felt that a writer is an embarrassing thing to be, but more because at times I’ve felt I didn’t have the right to call myself one. Impostor syndrome manifesting as embarrassment. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there are certain benchmarks you have to achieve before you can call yourself a writer: a certain number of published pieces, or a book deal, or the ability to pay your bills by writing. I’ve realized, though, that those benchmarks just keep moving. I’m a writer regardless of which ones I’ve hit.