Tom Bouman: Dry Bones in the Valley

November 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

18377991Dry Bones in the Valley – 978-0393243024 – Hardcover – W.W. Norton -$24.95 (ebook version available at lower prices)

This is a very fine mystery set in an unusual locale – rural Pennsylvania (fracking country). I don’t usually read mysteries, but one of the pleasures of doing interviews with writers has been that I have been sent books by publishers that I would normally never have even looked at on my own. It’s fun to pick up a book, to start reading a few pages and then to be thoroughly hooked. That happened for me with Tom Bouman’s fine first novel. I really liked the portrayal of his main character, the local policeman, Henry Farrell. He’s terrifically drawn and is a compelling, complicated, extremely human character.  And I liked the way Bouman worked his way slowly into the depths of the story. And I really loved the way he wrote about the people who live in this isolated rural county in Pennsylvania.

Bouman’s interest in the outlaws and eccentrics who inhabit this world, his appreciation and even love for those who have kept to themselves, and to older forms of relationships among family and neighbors is palpable and powerful.

The book revolves around a body found in the woods and the search, naturally enough, for the killer. This novel is well worth spending some time as the story unravels. Great characters and fine writing make for a terrific read.

Author website here. Bowman used to work in publishing – he was an editor – and now lives in northeastern Pennsylvania with his family.  As of this writing, he is attending law school, so it may be a little while yet before he publishes his next book. And here is a terrific piece that Bouman wrote for Modern Farmer about rural crime fiction (that is a genre I did not know even existed!) I am hoping we’ll see a new book from Tom Bouman before too much time passes.Bouman_Tom_031

Jowita Bydlowska: Drunk Mom: A Memoir

November 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

0143126504_bDrunk Mom – 978-0143126508 – Penguin – paperback – $16 (ebook editions available at lower prices)

What an incredible book. Tough, loving, uncompromising. So much power in this book, admittedly at times, very painful to read, and stunningly honest to the point of extremism. But Jowita is such a fine writer, it is impossible not to admire this book and despite all the terrible things she tells us about herself, that she is alive, and able to speak her truth is incredible.

You know that any book with a title like this is going to be amazing, but there is no way to get through this book without being thoroughly bowled over, and depending on one’s tolerance for witnessing someone else’s painful mistakes, perhaps more than in any other book you will ever read. And yes, Jowita is completely and terrifyingly honest about herself and her misadventures throughout.

It’s valuable to understand that when Jowita first wrote this story, she wrote it pretending it was a novel. She had to get through that ironically deep denial as part of her ability to understand herself, one assumes. And that is part of the power of this book, that the author is able to uncover layers of denial, fear and guilt to get to a place where she can be honest with herself, and by telling that story to the world, reach a kind of absolution, a place in herself where she can be able to reconstruct herself, not forgiving, but finding the parts of her persona that are who she is not drinking. This is very powerful reading and a book I recommend no matter what you feel about yourself or others who are drinkers, addicted, lost, or found.

Short summary: Three years after she gave up drinking, Jowita Bydlowska found herself drinking again – at the party celebrating the birth of her son. Thus begins the harrowing tale of her descent, once again, into full blown alcohol and substance abuse. You have to read this one for yourself. Go buy this book, prepare yourself for a powerful experience, and read it now. Another good interview with the author on NPR here. And Jowita’s website, worth a visit – “I was born in Warsaw, Poland. I moved to Canada as a teenager. I live in Toronto with my little family in a little house. I write, write, write (compulsively, happily, unhappily, obsessively)” here.

I very much enjoyed talking to Jowita, who does a great interview. This conversation runs a bit long at 36 minutes, but hopefully it’s an experience well worth your time to hear.
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Mary Kay Zuravleff: Man Alive!

May 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Man_Alive_6_Layout_1-330-expMan Alive! (a novel) – 978-0374202316 – Hardcover – Farrar, Straus & Giroux –  $25.00 – eBook versions available (and paperback to be published October, 2014)

I loved reading this book. It has a great sense of humor, it’s complex without being too serious about itself, and a story that grabs you from the beginning and won’t let go. Mary Kay Zuravleff is a terrific writer, original and entertaining. And there’s a lot going on to keep you thinking throughout. Man Alive! tells a great story. Rather then me bending myself into a pretzel to tell you about it without giving away too much, here’s the author’s own short summary (from her terrific website – just like her writing, a busy and interesting place to visit):

The one-paragraph version, no spoilers:
All it takes is a quarter to change Owen Lerner’s life. When lightning strikes the coin he’s feeding into the parking meter, the pediatric psychiatrist survives, except that now he only wants to barbecue. The bolt of lightning that lifts Dr. Lerner into the air sends the entire Lerner clan into free fall, and Man Alive! follows along at that speed, capturing family-on-family pain with devastating humor and a rare generosity. This novel explores how much we are each allowed to change within a family—and without.

I’m late getting this interview posted. I talked to Mary Kay shortly after Man Alive! was published in late 2013. I wish I had known about her work before, but at least now I know I have two more books of hers to read.  And I am looking forward to her next book.  It’s not often you can have this much fun with a novel. Talking with her about this novel, as well as how she works as writer, was a distinct pleasure, and very entertaining. She is as fun to talk to as it is to read her work. Alice McDermott called her writing “exuberant.” I can’t think of a better word myself.

Mary Kay’s previous novels were The Bowl Is Already Broken and The Frequency of Souls. She received the American Academy’s Rosenthal Award and the James Jones First Novel Award, and was nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children. Mary Kay serves on the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and is a cofounder of the D.C. Women Writers Group.mkz_MA_standing_crop-330

Douglas Rushkoff: Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

September 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Present Shock978-1591844761 – Current – Hardcover – $26.95 (ebook versions available at lower prices, and paperback edition due February 2014)

“If the end of the twentieth century can be characterized by futurism, the twenty-first can be defined by presentism.”

As it happens, I started this Writerscast project as an antidote to my own sense of what Douglas Rushkoff calls Present Shock, which is about how time, technology, attention, human intelligence, culture, meaning, advertising, commerce and belief systems that mark 21st century modern life have changed the way we experience our lives.  This is an important book that having read and thought about, I can highly recommend.

What is ironic is that all of the things about our time that Rushkoff talks about in Present Shock, our feeling of being too busy and overwhelmed with input, our inability to filter out what does not matter to us and to focus on what does matter most are all the reasons why so many people I know will end up not reading this book at all.  In fact the author felt those same issues during the writing of the book, and had to devise a plan and method that allowed him to concentrate on getting the work done.

You are not alone if you are feeling the need to make some space for yourself.  It took me much longer to read this book than it would have some years ago.  And it took me much longer to find the space in my life to write this short piece and post it than I am comfortable with.  Technology in communication has enabled tremendous gains for many of us, while at the same time enslaving us to our devices.

Rushkoff brilliantly describes what has happened to us – the end of narrative, changes in the way we perceive and operate in time, what he calls digiphrenia – mental chaos provoked by digital experience – our need to escape the present, and our inability to filter information and sensory input.  We instinctively know what he is talking about because we experience it ourselves every day.

But most of the time, most of us believe all of these concerns are personal and individual – how do I learn how to cope with the modern world?  I think Rushkoff’s point in this book is that these are not individual problems, they are structural, and we need to start thinking about ways we can alter the course of our culture, to take control of technology, to act rather than be acted upon.  In that way, this is an inspiring book, which I hope will lead to change in thinking and behavior.

I interviewed Doug about one of his earlier books, Program or Be Programmed.  He is a terrific talker as well as writer and I am sure you will enjoy listening to our conversation. Rushkoff

 

 

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews John Sundman

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing John Sundman for only a brief period of time, but value my emerging friendship with him greatly.  He’s been a writer in a variety of forms, and a visionary thinker about many things I am interested in.  He’s been a self publisher for quite some time, and I thought his experience doing his own publishing would be a good starting point for a conversation about where publishing appears to be going.  Here’s his bio (from his Smashwords page):

John Sundman is a freelance technical writer, essayist, novelist, self-publisher, volunteer firefighter, food pantry co-director, former Peace Corps Volunteer, husband, father, and advocate for people with disabilities who resides on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, very near to Massachusetts, USA. He has spent more than 20 of the last 30 years somehow connected to the Silicon Valley/Boston high-tech/computer industry. He also has experience as a farmer, student of agricultural economics, and worker in rural African agricultural development. His books are more subtle than they appear.

John blogs with a number of other free thinking visionaries at Wetmachine (“we write about, mostly, the nexus of technology, science and social policy in the USA. We also write about software praxis, technoparanoia, the craft of writing, self-publishing, politics, and random bullshit. Sundman and Gray, in particular, are leaders in the “random bullshit” category.”)

John’s books are quite good and well worth reading (here’s a review of his first book, Acts of the Apostles, that more or less set him on a successful path of self-publishing, an early web story, which serves as precursor for so many other stories of discovery).  I could have interviewed him about one of his books, but I thought talking to him about publishing would give us a chance to talk more broadly.  Do take a look at his books (widely available in online retail stores).  And he’s finally doing a book with a publisher other than himself, an overhauled and rewritten Acts of the Apostles with the esteemed Underland Press.

John and I had a great talk.  I’ll be interested to hear from listeners what you think of some of his ideas.

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Lisa Tucker: The Winters in Bloom

November 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-1416575405 – Atria – Hardcover – $24.00 (ebook editions available)

From the author’s website describing The Winters in Bloom:
Together for over a decade, Kyra and David Winter are happier than they ever thought they could be.  They have a comfortable home, stable careers, and a young son, Michael, whom they adore.  Yet because of their complicated histories, Kyra and David have always feared that this domestic bliss couldn’t last – that the life they created was destined to be disrupted.  And on one perfectly ordinary summer day, it is: Michael disappears from his own backyard.  The only question is whose past has finally caught up with them. David feels sure that Michael was taken by his troubled ex-wife, while Kyra believes the kidnapper must be someone from her estranged family, someone she betrayed years ago.

As the Winters embark on a journey of time and memory to find Michael, they will be forced to admit these suspicions, revealing secrets about themselves they’ve always kept hidden.  But they will also have a chance to discover that it’s not too late to have the family they’ve dreamed of; that even if the world is full of risks, as long as they have hope, the future can bloom.

The Winters in Bloom is the first book I have read by Lisa Tucker, whose books are about families and relationships.  I wasn’t sure when I started it whether I was going to finish, I was worried that it was going to be formulaic and predictable, and especially at the outset of the novel, where the two parent characters are introduced, I was very nervous about where this book might go and whether I could stay with it.

It turned out that I could not put it down.  It is full of surprises, deeply felt, complicated in ways that are better left for the reader to discover for her or himself.  I ended up of course, loving the book, and looking forward to talking with Lisa about her characters and her writing.  And did I say, she is a terrific writer?

As with the title itself, which has a subtle ambiguity, this novel will offer readers depth and a kind of thoughtfulness about what a family can and should be, that runs counter to our initial expectations for it.  I really liked being surprised by this book.  Lisa also gives a great interview and I think you will enjoy hearing our conversation about her book.

I really liked this quote about the book too:

“Brilliant, tender, and  riveting. . . Reading The Winters in Bloom is like falling into some beguiling dream,  one you don’t want to wake from. There is a fascinating strangeness at work here, an off-kilter logic that keeps you enrapt and breathless. This is what can happen to people like us when the past comes calling. Lisa Tucker has not  described a world; she has created one unlike any you’ve never seen. She has breathed life into her characters, and they will breathe life into you.”
— John Dufresne, author of Requiem, Mass

Lisa Tucker’s website is worth a visit also.

Amor Towles: Rules of Civility

November 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-0670022694 – Viking – Hardcover – $26.95 (ebook and audiobook versions also available)

Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility has become my favorite books.  This WritersCast interview series has allowed me to read some incredibly good books this year; Amor Towles’ story of New York City in 1938 has risen to the top of my list of novels I fell in love with.

Rules of Civility opens with the book’s heroine, older, successful, married, with her husband viewing the famous mid-sixties Museum of Modern Art showing of Walker Evans’ 1938 New York City subway photographs. She and her husband see and talk about two particular photographs – a man she knew in 1938 and who mattered hugely to her life and helped shape the arc of her entire life.  Then the real story begins, as flashback to that high intensity period of her life, when by accident, she began the process of becoming the person we meet at the opening of the book.

It’s a great way to start a book.  Reminding us of just how much a role chance and happenstance – and what we make of it – means to our lives.  Author Towles loves the way opportunity winds around us, especially it seems at the fraught time in our lives when we are setting out in the world to define ourselves, when we make the choices that define our lives, sometimes purely accidental, sometimes with just an inkling that these choices will have monumental effects.

There is a wonderful story here.  Our heroine, Katey (who grew up as Katya, an immigrant’s daughter), is living in Manhattan.  It’s 1938, still Depression era America, but just on the cusp of its ending.  New York is both gritty and glitzy at the same time.  Katey is working as a legal assistant, going out at night with her limited funds and her few friends.

One night, she and her best friend meet a man who will thrust Katey into a new life, where she meets the smart set of society, and gains the confidence to become a modern, successful woman, in many ways mirroring the American story arc of the same period.

Towles is a terrific writer, and I found myself reading some passages aloud to revel in the beauty of his sentences.  He brings New York in 1938 to life, reminding us how close we actually are to what is now almost a forgotten period of our history.  The book made me want to see again some of the great movies of this era, all of which shared the ironic understanding of modern culture this book displays.  I’m quite certain Towles has seen them all and internalized their values.

You need to read this story for yourself – it’s complicated and has an utterly rewarding denouement.  Suffice to say, Katey learns a great deal about the people she meets, loves some, despises others, and absorbs what she learns on the way to becoming herself.  This one year is the pivot point for her entire life, and the sense we get from the story is that New York has engendered the same for millions who came there for a very long time, though probably for many less self-aware than Katey and her author, Amor Towles.    Here’s one of the great lines from the book that in some ways encapsulates the story it tells: “from this vantage point Manhattan was simply so improbable, so wonderful, so obviously full of promise — that you wanted to approach it for the rest of your life without ever quite arriving.”  Perfect.

This is Amor Towles’ first published novel.  In our discussion, we talked about how he was able to write it, despite having a full time job and a family.  And we talked about the story of the novel, and its characters, and about New York in the 1930s, a great and somewhat neglected period for fiction.  It’s a great book and I hope an equally rewarding conversation for listeners.

Amor Towles website is worth a visit.  And you also might enjoy George Washington’s Rules of Civility (& Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation) which plays a critical role in this novel. And a nonfiction piece he wrote called What I learned from Cole Porter on Oprah.com.

M.J. Rose: The Hypnotist

September 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-0778329206 – Mira Books – paperback – $14.95 (e-book and audio book editions available)

M.J. Rose is a critically acclaimed novelist – she’s best known for her thrillers, of which The Hypnotist is one.  It’s in a series with The Reincarnationist and The Memorist, all them with reincarnation as a central theme.  MJ’s characters are compelling and well drawn, and her stories are complex and original, the books are fun to read and impossible to put down.  What more could you ask of a novel?

M.J. is also well known among writers for her activism in behalf of writers, and her brilliant understanding of marketing.  But that’s a different conversation than the one we had about The Hypnotist, a book I deeply enjoyed reading, for me perfect as I got to read the book on vacation, and it is way better than most books we think of as “beach reads.”  As one reviewer said: The Hypnotist has “something for everyone: murder, suspense, history, romance, the supernatural, mystery and erotica.”

The detective Lucian Glass becomes deeply involved in the pursuit of anti-hero Malachai Samuels, whose Phoenix Foundation is committed to the study of reincarnation (at almost any cost).  Glass is a tortured soul whose own life connects him to the present and past day lives of other characters in this novel.  It’s a complexly drawn story and one that will reward readers, even those who have no interest in the paranormal or esoteric metaphysical subjects that are do beautifully woven through the story. You will enjoy the denouement, and the story will stay with you long after you have turned the last page of the book.

Rose is a skillful writer who treats her readers to a high level of originality and surprising story making.  She is also fun and rewarding to talk to about her books, as she shows in this insightful interview.  She has a great website, a couple of blogs, and aside from having written 11 works of fiction, she has also co-authored two books about writing, and has been profiled in Time Magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, Business 2.0, Working Woman, Newsweek and New York Magazine, and has been on many television shows.  She is also the founder of the very successful book promotion business, AuthorBuzz.

Nick Mamatas: Sensation

July 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-1604863543 – PM Press – paperback – $14.95 (e-book editions available)

“When Julia Hernandez leaves her husband, shoots a real estate developer, and then vanishes without a trace, she slips out of the world she knew and into the Simulacrum—a place where human history is both guided and thwarted by the conflict between a species of anarchist wasps and a collective of hyperintelligent spiders. When Julia’s ex-husband Raymond spots her in a grocery store he doesn’t usually patronize, he’s soon drawn into an underworld of radical political gestures where Julia is the new media sensation of both this world and the Simulacrum.”

Nick Mamatas is an incredibly inventive writer.  Sensation combines comedy, inter-species communication, fantastic imagination, social and political critique into a fast moving, tightly plotted and very unusual storyline.  By combining a science fiction bent with a hyper-real portrayal of modern digitally connected culture, Mamatas is able to play with all the elements of modern everyday life, so we see things differently, perhaps even more clearly.

In some ways like The Matrix, there is an invisible world around and behind our own.  Fittingly, in Sensation, that world is essentially woven by a species of spiders that has created an very special relationship with the human world, one that is far from predictable and complicated in its own right.  These spiders care about humans, protect them, and use them for their own purposes in an ongoing war with a parasitic species of wasps.  On this unlikely and unusual premise, Mamatas has built a fantastic story.

I enjoyed reading this book on a number of levels, not the least of which for the author’s simultaneously dark, comedic and critical approach to our modern digital, paranoid, corporatized and controlled society.  I do like it when a novelist can successfully include political critique in a work of fiction.  Mamatas is an accomplished writer with a dystopian outlook I enjoy.  And similarly I enjoyed our conversation about this book and the author’s approach to writing.  I think you will appreciate his approach to talking about his work.

“Nick Mamatas continues his reign as the sharpest, funniest, most insightful and political purveyor of post-pulp pleasures going. He is the People’s Commissar of Awesome.” — China Mieville, award-winning author of Kraken and The City and the City

Nick’s website is well worth a visit as well as his online journal (Nihilistic Kid).


Anna Lappe: Diet for a Hot Planet

July 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

978-1-60819-465-0 – Bloomsbury – Paperback – $15.00 (ebook editions available)

Anna Lappe´ is the daughter of the well-known activist and writer Frances Moore Lappe´, author of the classic Diet for a Small Planet, a book that introduced Americans to the idea of thinking about food and its role in ecology and the world economy, and how food is so deeply intertwined with economics and politics.  Anna has therefore been involved in food issues since she was a child.  She and her mother collaborated on another interesting and challenging book, Hope’s Edge in 2002. So it’s not a surprise that she is so thoroughly cogent and coherent writing and talking about food issues in the context of climate change.

As Anna says on one of her many website, takeabite.cc, “the food system is responsible for as much as one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are particularly alarming because the food sector is the biggest driver behind methane and nitrous oxide emissions, which have global warming effects many times more powerful than carbon dioxide.”  In Diet for a Hot Planet, Lappe´ goes straight to the heart of the issue: if we are going to think about the global climate crisis, we have to think about our food system, and if we are going to make change to mitigate the effects of climate change, we must make changes (now) in the global industrialized food system that dominates most of the world today.

This book was extensively and deeply researched; Lappe´ talked to many scientists, went to UN, governmental, corporate, and grassroots agriculture conferences, worked her way through many lengthy and dense reports and studies, and also visited organic farms around the world.

In this book she has put together an impressive array of facts proving that global industrial agriculture—specifically the use of hazardous chemicals, concentrated animal feeding operations, biotech crops, and processed foods—is impoverishing the land, destroying rain forests, polluting waterways, and emitting nearly a third of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet.

By contrast, intelligently designed and operated organic-farming methods reduce carbon emissions and toxic waste while at the same time nurture soil and biodiversity.  Lappe´is convinced (and will likely convince you) that eating according to ecologically appropriate principles can not only influence the marketplace and help combat world hunger and climate change, but will make us healthier and safer as well.  Lappé also decodes food labeling, exposes Big Ag’s “greenwashing” tactics, and offers “seven principles of a climate-friendly diet.”

With a terrific foreword by the brilliant Bill McKibben, Diet for a Hot Planet should be essential reading for anyone who is trying to grapple with making real change in the way we live on this fragile planet.  Anna is a terrific public speaker and our talk for WritersCast is lively, full of information, and optimistic and positive as Anna herself.

Anna Lappe´related organizations and websites should be on your bookmark list:

The Small Planet Institute

Take a Bite Out of Climate Change

Anna Lappe’s Blog

Small Planet Fund

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