Category Archives: 3 to 5 Questions for Authors

3 to 5 Questions: Kathleen Stocking

Kathleen Stocking; writer, teacher, traveler, and Northern Michigan native. Her life is a collection of amazing experiences in incredible places. She has been a  teacher to hardened criminals and vulnerable children around the globe and she shares her experiences in her autobiographical books. Lake Country: A Series of Journeys, Letters from Leelanau, and her latest The Long Arc of the Universe detail in essay form her experiences and the people in her life. Her life is moving, inspiring, and surprisingly familiar. Although she travels the world and makes an effort to see and experience as much as possible, Northern Michigan has always kept her “grounded.”

How did you start your literary journey? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Not sure how to answer this because I think that, at least in my case, I didn’t start my literary journey, as such, but it was more that it started me, or maybe the way to say that is that it was “in me” and after a while I recognized it. At that point, maybe when I was about nine or ten years old, I began to see that this desire to express in words, a deep need to do so, is what was called being a writer.

You’ve been to and seen some incredible things. Where do you find the strength to face so much human suffering?

Well, a lot of people have more strength than I have to face a lot of human suffering: Doctors without Borders comes to mind, people working in refugee camps. People who work in hospitals, schools, prisons in this country and all across the world.  A neonatal intensive care nurse, how does she do her job, day after day? And, of course, soldiers and policemen.  Somehow, in each person there must be inner reserves of strength, maybe from a good childhood where they were loved and they know it, or they find that helping others is its own reward, that they are doing something to make things better, and that makes them feel good and gives them the strength to continue doing the work. And for the writer, someone with a lot of curiosity like me, there’s always the chance to understand something difficult. But, that said, people need to have a break from ceaseless trouble and I found that by returning to my home in Lake Leelanau from time to time, I could rest and build up my reserves, and go out again.

What was the best teaching moment you’ve ever had?

The child in the homeless shelter who didn’t speak for weeks and weeks, because of trauma, and then one day wrote the most beautiful poem about a star in the night sky. I’ve never forgotten it.

Who is your favorite author?

There’s more than one. Here are a few: Shakespeare, Nabokov, Walt Whitman, D. H. Lawrence, Marguerite Duras, James Baldwin, Jim Harrison. I admire writers who have an intuitive sense of the way images and events in nature create emotions. I admire writers who have moral courage.

Have you ever considered writing fiction?

All the time. But fiction takes more time than I’ve ever had.  I would like to write a mystery and put in it all the things I had to leave out of the nonfiction. In nonfiction you can’t use certain material because it might put someone in harm’s way or sometimes, even though you know something to be true, you can’t write about it because you don’t have corroborating evidence or a second witness. But in a fictional mystery story I could talk about the things I left out.

What book is on your bed stand right now? (What are you reading right now?)

I’m reading, “The Story of America,” by Jill Lepore. She’s so logical and witty and her research is extensive.  It’s wonderful. Nonfiction. I read, “The South,” by Paul Theroux a while ago and it was great.

With which Dewey Decimal number or section do you identify? (your books rest squarely in the 900s – 910, 917, and 977.)

I love the whole library and at different times have read a lot of fiction: Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gorky, Ibsen, Malraux, V. S. Naipaul. Many, too many to name.

3 to 5 Questions : Judith Hartley

thewingedlife

 

Judith A. Hartley, a poet enjoying her senior years in Traverse City, lives with fibromyalgia and can barely get around anymore, but she is a tough woman who still manages to create beautiful poetry. Interviewing her brought me to tears with her gut wrenching honesty about poetry, humanity, and her struggles with mental illness and loneliness while discussing her work.

Judith uses a free form style for most poems but can be found to play with more structured verse throughout her works. She deals with topics like death, love, longing, and spirituality.  She also works some quirk and humor into her poetry which makes it easier to relate to her and her verse. She wrote, “my poetry is born from a deep need to find the divine in the everyday experiences of a good life.” Her poetry flows straight from her heart. She said in our interview that without poetry in her life, she wouldn’t still be here today. Each poem is a life preserver.

TADL carries three of her poetry collections; The Winged Life, Wise Child, and Behind My Curtain.

behindmycurtain

How did you start writing poetry?

I started writing when I was 22; I think it was a broken heart. When you are young with unrequited love, you know, you’re dating and it doesn’t work out. I had a son in my teenage years, I had a teenage marriage that didn’t last very long. So at 22 my son [Scott] was five years old and I was looking for a good job to support both of us. I found a secretarial job at GM and it paid good money so I took it and I worked there 4 ½ years and I made good money but I didn’t stay there because I was a round peg in a square hole! I wasn’t suited for GM, I was a poet! I was trying to go to college and raise my son and occasional go out on a date and it was all too much. My son always came first. After a while Scott started crying when I went out. I asked him if I could go out when he was asleep but he said he wanted me with him all the time so I stopped dating and stopped going to college. That’s when I started writing poetry; there was a lot of stress and depression in my life which plagued me for many years. They [doctors] tried so many medications on me and they didn’t work. I was in and out of mental wards for many years and my mother had to take over raising Scott because I wasn’t stable enough to raise him. In the mean time I was taking jobs and struggling and paying my mother to take care of Scott. I kept writing and eventually went back to school. I was on a special program through Lyndon Johnson called New Frontiers, a program for patients with mental illness and drug addiction, and it paid for my education and even my textbooks. I worked 20 hours a week and went to school 20 hours a week. I did graduate from Oakland University with a BA in English with a concentration in Psychology and Sociology, it took me 10 years! I just kept persevering.

Then I got a good job with the state of Michigan as an interviewer of people with disabilities who were trying to get help with finding jobs. It was a wonderful work. I really liked working with people who had disabilities, especially depression because I knew what to ask and how to help them cope. We really need to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness in this country, people think that mentally ill people are violent but they are not. Most of the people I worked with, people with schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder, were simply afraid.

About that time they transfer me up to Traverse City. I was originally working in the Pontiac area but I was having dreams of water and rocks, I knew I was going somewhere special. Poets are prophets they say! I went up to TC by myself, didn’t know anyone, and I loved it. I was driving around and wondered why people didn’t have smiles on their faces! They should be smiling all the time, it’s so beautiful! The landscape brought me to tears. I worked at a rehab for about 8 years.  I retired to focus on writing and devote all of my attention to poetry. So here I am, retired and doing exactly what I wanted to do.

Which poets have influenced you?

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. I t’s funny, they are so opposite, Whitman goes on and on and Dickinson is so succinct. Also Wallace Stevens cause you have to think with him and he’s very deep. I didn’t like Robert Frost too much.

How has your poetry changed over the years?

I don’t think it has changed much at all. I just thought about my son, you know how mothers brag about their sons. When he was nine months old I was worried because he hadn’t walked yet and then at a year old he just popped up and started walking. I was very professional, I didn’t wobble around or feel my way, I just started and I was top grade. I don’t think I’ve changed much, I don’t really. I was in my 30s and that’s when I was having serious depression and that was when I was writing the most. I went to a psychologist at some point and he said the best way to cope with anything is to create something. So I was staying stable by creating poems. It was then that I produced the most and the best poems.

What type of books do you read? What books are on your nightstand right now?

I like deep books and I like spiritual books. I read spiritual books mostly and I am a student of the bible. When there was nothing else there was always the Lord.  And Non-fiction, I’m not a patient anymore with fiction. I don’t like stories, I want the truth! I’m between books now! Someone gave me a book about ice skaters, it’s about Russian Ice skaters and that was interesting. I like biographies and autobiographies. I like people who have overcome odds, like Marie Curie and Helen Keller. I like strong woman, and strong men too, people who are heroes and heroines. I’ve done that since I was a small child. I’ve always looked for the people who succeeded despite handicaps.

If you were a Dewey Decimal Number, which would you be and why?

Between 100 and 200 because those are the ones that I studied in university and that’s where my brain my goes, that is my mental position.

3 to 5 Questions: Tom Carr

Local author and journalist Tom Carr’s first book, Blood on the Mitten: Infamous Michigan Murders from 1700s to Present, has been making quiet a splash in Traverse City and beyond. In fact during our interview, folks at Brew were stopping our interview to congratulate him. I was also privileged to learn about Tom Carr’s exciting future projects, but you’ll just have to keep your eye on this Northern Michigan author to see for yourself!

What got you interested in writing about true crime? 

Tom Carr: Well I always liked reading about it. I really enjoyed semi-true book The Michigan Murders they change the names of victims and perpetrators, another book I finished recently was Devil in the
White City. I thought it would be interesting to do stories that talk about Michigan that goes across time and across the state. I’ve lived a lot of different places in Michigan. I’ve also covered some crime as a reporter for the Record Eagle.
The book has a really interesting format, was that your idea?
I had a lot to do with design in that after Heather Shaw at Mission Point Press designed it and I said, wow that is really great! She was the editor and the designer, she is one of the three people who started Mission Point Press, along with Anne Stanton, who I worked with at the Record-Eagle and has been a friend ever since and Doug Weaver, who was head of books and other specialty publications for the Kansas City Star. The look just nails the tone of the book and it’s just fantastic.
What are you reading right now?
I like to read history, historical fiction, and true crime, the whole gamut really. I really like historical westerns and I really like Sarah Vowell, I just read Take the Cannoli and I really liked Assassination Vacation. I also really enjoy Stephen King’s more experimental fiction like 11/22/63 and Under the Dome. But my kindle broke and a lot of my books were on there!
As a true crime buff, you have to have a favorite mystery, what is your favorite murder mystery?
Well, the story of the Robison murder and Mardi Jo Link did such a wonderful book on that, that is such a perplexing case (When Evil Came to Good Hart). There are the New Year’s Eve 1970-71 murders, and that one happened in my home town. It’s a really hard case because when I called around to the police stations the jurisdiction of the crime had changed so many times that it unfortunately seems to have been lost in the shuffle and has gone cold. Hopefully, someone will come forward with information, but it’s been forty five years but you never know. It would be nice to see someone working on it or maybe a deathbed confession.
How well do you know your Dewey Decimal? Do you identify with any particular number?
I’d have to look at the shelves! What number would I be?
We have you down as 977.4 – Michigan History!
That’s great, I was thinking of getting a t-shirt with the book’s ISBN number on it.
Very Cool!

3 to 5 Questions: Mardi Jo Link

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

Mardi Jo Link started her publishing career with true crime titles like When Evil Came to Good Hart, Isadore’s Secret, and Wicked Takes the Witness Stand. In 2013,  this Michigan native switched to biographical material. Her memoir, Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass On a Northern Michigan Farm, was an Indie Next pick, has been optioned for film, and received significant national attention. Her latest book, The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, tells the story about how her eight best friends met and how they now take yearly trips to Drummond Island and will be out in paperback this August. Mardi’s books are uniquely North Michigan and are filled with so much humor and heart (yes, even the true crime books) that they are hard to put down. Her books have been wildly popular in Michigan as well as all over the country. We met for coffee and breakfast at Brew in order for me to ask her a small number of questions.

I love both your true crime books and your memoirs, why did you choose to stop writing true crime?

After publishing my first books I was looking for an agent to take my career to the next level. In the meantime I had also published some essays about my life as a single parent and the agent who was most interested in my work suggested I write a memoir. So, I had the unexpected opportunity to turn the spotlight on my own life. Bootstrapper was the result.

Bootstrapper gets very detailed about life on the farm and the difficult time you went through keeping everything running on top of raising three boys! What was the most difficult part for you and what is your favorite farm animal?

I’d say the most difficult thing is the relentless string of issues that arose during that difficult year. There was always something to be fixed or something going wrong. I’d say my favorite animal is definitely horses though I was surprised at how interesting chickens are!

In Drummond Girls, the eight of you become friends at Peegeo’s Food and Sprits (some of you as employees and some of you as regulars at the bar). What was/is your favorite thing to order there?

Vodka Soda and deep fried cauliflower! Yum! Today I’m partial to their Veggie Sub.

In interest of Fine Print tradition, I’ve gotta ask, if you were a dewey decimal number, what number and why?

My answer, at least today, is American Colonial History (973) because I have been conducting research on my own family tree for my next book. I’m researching specifically the Penn’s Creek Massacre and two young German girls a Delaware Indian raiding party captured and then raised when their parents settled on Indian land. I’m not sure what form the book will take, and to help me figure that out for the first time I’m doing something called “blogging your book.” Which just means blogging about the writing and research process. You can find it at  “A string around my finger.

3 to 5 with Emita Hill

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

Author and lifetime Traverse City summer resident, Emita Hill, will be coming to our library (Woodmere branch) to discuss her book, “Bronx Faces and Voices” on August 27 at 6:30 p.m. Hill’s book focuses on oral histories of the Bronx community from the Eighties, voices of real people living real lives during tumultuous times.

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Ms. Hill will be talking about the importance of oral histories and sharing her knowledge of the process of preserving memories at this special program, but we got the chance to ask her a few questions ahead of time!:

Q: Your book, Bronx Faces and Voices: Sixteen Stories of Courage and Community,  tells the stories of sixteen different New Yorkers living in the Bronx between the 1970s and 1980s, a time of great upheaval there. What are some of your favorite New York-centric books or films (or websites, such as Humans of New York)?

 

A: Definitely I’d include Humans of New York.  It’s marvelous.  Books are legion, but it’s hard to beat Robert Caro’s massive biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. For the Bronx, Connie Rosenblum’s Boulevard of Dreams and Jill Jonnes’ We’re Still Here. I love fiction centered in New York and authors like Doctorow and Chabon and Pete Hamill.  That’s just a tiny sampling.  E.B. White’s tribute to New York is a must-read.

 

Q: What made you interested and what keeps you interested in recording oral history?

 

A: Oral history for me goes back to Homer and the whole oral tradition of preserving individual memories and also cultural memories.  But the beauty of our technology is that we can now record what was oral and ephemeral.  We have the best of both worlds: the uncensored immediacy of a person talking and the ability to preserve their very words first in audio and later in transcription.
I love stories.  The stories in my book are preserved in a library—the Leonard Lief Library of Lehman College, the Bronx campus of the City University of New York–on tape and with my early transcription, accessible to scholars who have used them over the years–but I’m delighted that sixteen of them are now also available to the general public through this book.  I should add that the descendants of the men and women I interviewed are thrilled to have these stories made public.  One of the men I interviewed, now deceased, expressed his pride during the interview, saying to me, “I’m pleased that I will be a part of history.”
Q: Could you give us an example of someone talking about their history that inspired you?

 

A: I was aware of Studs Terkel’s work when we first started our program in the Bronx.  I can’t say that any one interview or talk inspired me but I can say that both in my scholarly work and my leisure time reading I have always loved letters, memoirs, and epistolary novels, works written in the first person.

 

Q:  How can a beginner become involved in preserving oral history?

 

A: Anyone can purchase an inexpensive digital recorder and start preserving stories in their own family or community.  Libraries across the country are now encouraging this and helping train people to do it and even providing the recorders. Some schools are developing programs to help high school children record their grandparents’ stories and their parents’ stories. Key to being an oral historian is to be a good listener which means being really interested in what you are hearing and interrupting as little as possible.

 

Q:  If you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?

 

A: Which of the hundreds of Dewey Decimal numbers would I be?  Wow.  To go back to my personal scholarly field I should choose 844, literature of the French 18th century. Or following my life and career, perhaps 376, the education of women.  Or 707, education and research in the arts.  But how about 007, not assigned, not being used?  That would be fun and open-ended.

 

Thanks Emita! We look forward to enjoying your program and your book!
Photo Credit: The featured image shows Hill’s book cover on the left and Georgeen Comerford’s photo of Emita Hill interviewing Alice Kramer in 1982 on the left.

3 to 5 with Nicole C. Kear

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

Nicole C. Kear is the author of the memoir Now I See You (St. Martin’s Press), chosen as a Must-Read by People, Amazon, Martha Stewart LivingParade, Redbook, and Marie Claire UK among others. She is currently working on the first six books of an early reader series for children, The Fix-It Friends, to be published by Macmillan Kids’ Imprint, in 2017. Her essays appear in the New York Times, Good Housekeeping, New York, Psychology Today, Parents, as well as Salon, the Huffington Post and xoJane, and she teaches writing at the NYU School of Professional Studies. A native of New York, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, three children and two aquatic frogs. You can follow her continuing misadventures in motherhood on her blog, A Mom Amok, watch her book trailer here and learn more about Nicole on her website and Facebook.

Also, we’re reading Now I See You for our June Books & Brewskis! And she’s going to visit us via Skype! So excited! Read our interview with Nicole below:

Q: Though your book deals with pretty heavy subject matter, the experience of going blind from a young age, an emotion that continues to stand out in your writing is your humor. Is there a comedic author or book that helped to shape you as a writer?

A: There are so many. Most of my favorite writers are funny, to some extent. I have long been a fan of David Sedaris. His point of view is just always so frank and so funny, in the most effortless way. I read Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott when I was just starting my writing career and I found her honesty and humor to be a real revelation. But the book that had perhaps the biggest impact on the writing of my book was Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton. He has the same eye disease I do, and he writes about losing his vision in a way that is both piercingly poignant and also laugh-out-loud funny. I think his book really made me feel like I had permission to be as funny and irreverent as I wanted to be.

Q: Did you always know that your experience would make a great book or did it come to you all at once that you should write about your life?

A: I’m not sure I was even aware of this at the time but I think there was a tiny part of me that really hoped, from the day I was diagnosed, that my experience would cohere into a story that would one day be helpful and interesting to others. I think it was a hope I harbored, unconsciously, because it offered me some solace. But for the most part, no, I didn’t really think about writing a memoir about my experience losing my vision until my husband, also a writer, suggested it one day on a long car ride. As soon as he mentioned it, I realized it was absolutely the story I had to tell. It was a real “aha!” moment, and I’m grateful to my husband for it.

Q: Did your friends and family, especially those mentioned in the book, read it as a draft or after it was published?

A: I gave my family the book early, before publication, but after it was finished. I also gave it to a few close friends, many of whom are writers and gave me tons of invaluable feedback. But a lot of my friends only read it after publication — and many of them were shocked to find that I was losing my vision; they had no idea. One friend, who had been a roommate of mine, read the synopsis on Amazon, and was convinced the designation “memoir” was a mistake, and that it should say “fiction” instead.

Q: Lastly, if you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?

A: Oh that’s easy. 999-Extraterrestrial Worlds. I’m joking, of course. Not about the Extraterrestrial Worlds but about it being easy. I just spent a half hour googling “Dewey Decimal,” then had a ten-minute episode where I had to wrestle my inferiority complex because I didn’t know jack about the DDS. Then I had a five-minute long identity crisis. Then I found 999 but wondered, for about 2 seconds, if that was perhaps a Satanic number, and then I remembered no, that was 6s. So actually, it was the hardest thing I did all day.

3 to 5 with Cari Noga

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

sparrow cari

We are lucky. We have quite a few local writers around these parts, one might even say a bevy if one were looking for an excuse to use that word. And we feel even luckier when they come to visit! In this case, popular author and Traverse City resident, Cari Noga has agreed to visit our blog and one of our book clubs!

Later this month we will be meeting with Cari to chat about her novel, Sparrow Migrationsa story about characters involved in the Miracle on Hudson plane crash in 2009. But we got a head start by asking her some questions here on Fine Print:

Q: Where do you write?

A: As the composition and members in my household have grown over the last 10 years, I’ve used four different rooms as my home office. As of the new year I’ve come full circle, back to my original location, a big open space at the top of the stairs. The walls are painted bright chartreuse, my favorite color, and it has both south and west-facing windows. My husband and I share an L-shaped desk and I have a tablet with detachable ergonomic keyboard that I use as my dedicated writing computer. While it does have an Internet connection I don’t have any social media passwords saved on it, nor email. Quiet and concentration are necessary for me to write, so I’ve found this technological nakedness important to productivity. My prime writing time is 9-11 p.m., when everyone else is asleep.

Q: Is there a sentence or phrase in Sparrow Migrations that you are most proud of? Why?

A: “Like the piping plover was a rare bird, Robby was a rare boy. But he was a boy, not a diagnosis.”

These lines belong to Sam Palmer, father to the 12-year-old autistic protagonist Robby Palmer, who comes to this realization near the end of the book. I like them for both writerly and personal reasons – the original use of simile, comparing an endangered species to a human with special needs, the spin that saves the first sentence from being a cliché. The second part sums up what Sam learns in the book and makes the point I hope readers take away. No matter what labels we assign to people, they are fundamentally people first.

Q: If you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?

A: 093 Incunabula

I Googled “Dewey Decimal” to answer this question and the spelling and pronunciation of this word made me smile, so I picked it. Then I learned that incunabula are books printed before 1501. It’s a Latin term that means “the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything.” As Sparrow Migrations is my debut novel, my fiction is still in its early stages, so it seems quite fitting, as well as fun to say.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Re-engaging with my second novel, Pinata Tears. Like Sparrow Migrations, I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo (2013). Afterward, I changed the ending, which meant I had to change quite a bit more! I was about 80 percent done last fall when I got an offer to re-release Sparrow Migrations, which I had originally self-published. My attention turned back to that book, and I just completed revisions in February. (The new edition will be out June 23 from Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing.) The break affords me fresh eyes on the story and characters, which ultimately should be a good thing. I hope to send Pinata Tears to beta readers this spring.

Read more about Cari and her book here. And join us at Books & Brewskis April 28!

Photo credit: All photos are from www.carinoga.com.

3 to 5 with Courtney Maum

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

Courtney Maum is a contributor to the New York Times bestselling essay collection, “Worn Stories,” and the book reviewer for Electric Literature’s satirical “Celebrity Book Review.”  She is also the author of the novel “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” which we are reading for Books & Brewskis this month, and we are sooooo excited to talk about it (and even snuck in a little teaser talk at the last meeting).

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The publisher describes the book as: “a love story in reverse, set in Paris and London, a failed monogamist attempts to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love with your spouse?” The B&Bers who’ve read it already (over-achievers!) describe it as: “funnnnny!” Read more about the IHSMFHWY here and our interview with Courtney below:

Q: How much research did you do for the setting of this book? Did you travel to Paris? Become familiar with the art world?

A: I lived in France for five years and am married to a French man, so all of the Paris stuff came from my own eyes and heart. As for the art world—the art world functions closely enough to the literary and fashion world for me to parody it. There’s always going to be an “It” artist; a flavor of the month. There are a lot of egos, a lot of mixing of hi-culture and lowbrow. And when I was in high school, I dabbled in art myself—I was really  into oil painting and mixed media collage. I miss it, actually. I find making art very therapeutic.

A lot of the research I put into this book, though, I did as I went along. I’m obsessed with realistic details, so for example, when Richard goes on his “man date”  with Harold, I did a lot of research into the actual cafés that were available in that area, to the layout of the strip mall and such, all the way down to the distance between the strip mall and the park. It’s probably not necessary for me to put that level of realism into the book, after all, it’s a novel, I could just make it up, but it’s comforting to me somehow. I want to believe that these people really exist in the world that we know.

Q: Your main character, Richard, can be pretty unlikable (although I did read an Amazon review where a reader said she kind of wanted to sleep with him). Is it harder to write or relate to an unlikable character?

A: Thanks for calling that review to my attention—I stay away from the cavern of online reviews, but I’m glad that Richard has a willing fan somewhere! Whether or not you like or relate to an unlikable character has to do with voice. I’m able to engage with nearly anything if I like the way a voice is written. For example, I just finished Martin Amis’ “Zone of Interest” which is written from the point of view of Nazis during the Second World War. And not the repentant kind. By making his narrators extra repelling, extra horrifying, by pushing them to the absolute limits of the vileness they already contain, Amis ended up creating an incredibly moving read. The book takes its power from the unlikability of its main characters. Because they’re so heinous, we’re afforded a view into the Holocaust that we’ve never seen.

As a writer, you have to like your narrators. I ended up feeling a lot of compassion for Richard—it makes sense to me, the mistakes that one can make when a marriage starts feeling stale. As for Amis, there is so much word play in “Zone of Interest”, I imagine he was able to keep going because the mechanics of writing that book were fun. The subject matter is horrible, but the writing of it—the over the top buoyancy of the language—must have fueled him along.

Q: Could you tell us a backstory detail about one of the characters that you didn’t include in the book?

A: Sure! In the first version, there was a mysterious architect named “Monsieur de Beaupuy” who ends up being the buyer of “The Blue Bear” painting that Richard did for his wife. The catalyst that got me to start writing “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You” in the first place was that I passed a handwritten note in the Paris gallery district that read, “Mr. Architect, you wanted to buy the Blue Bear and you were wearing an elegant hat. Please get in touch.” So the story started off with me asking, who is this architect? What is this Blue Bear? The entire first draft centered around the relationship between Richard and the architect. But it didn’t make the final cut!

Q: What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to dispel writer’s block? Did it work or fail miserably?

A: I don’t know if it’s creative, it’s more embarrassing than anything else, but I like to put on really cheesy music and dance around the house. I’m talking really cheesy, like One Direction. Sometimes it helps for me to listen to really manufactured music that has had a high level of commercial success. I’ll listen to the chord progressions, the song’s overall length, how quickly the song moves to the chorus, and I’ll get a notion of how my story should progress.

And, of course…

Q: If you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?

A: Just for the record, I had to look this up! I haven’t had to encounter the Dewey Decimal system since I was like five years old. I have absolutely no head for numbers, so I wouldn’t be one. I’d be the library card. The one with all the “due dates” on it in the back

Thanks Courtney! We can’t wait to discuss and celebrate the book on March 31 at The Filling Station Microbrewery and we look forward to reading more from you!

Check out Courtney here or follow her on Twitter: @cmaum.

 

3 to 5 with James Scott

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

One of our many awesome book clubs is Books & Brewskis. We meet monthly at The Filling Station Microbrewery where the staff is suuuuuuuper nice and the pizza is hot and delicious and the beerz is flowin’. And we talk about awesome books (or at least regular books that awesome people have feelings about).

In February, we will be reading the debut novel of James Scott: The Kept. Here is the summary:

In the winter of 1897, Elspeth Howell treks across miles of snow and ice to the isolated farmstead in upstate New York where she and her husband have raised their five children.  But as she crests the final hill, and sees her darkened house, immediately she knows that an unthinkable crime has destroyed the life she so carefully built.

 Her lone comfort is her twelve-year-old son, Caleb, who joins her in mourning the tragedy and planning its reprisal. Their long journey leads them to a rough-hewn lake town. There Caleb is forced into a brutal adulthood, as he slowly discovers truths about his family he never suspected, and Elspeth must confront the terrible urges and unceasing temptations that have haunted her for years. Throughout it all, the love between mother and son serves as the only shield against a merciless world.

 A scorching portrait of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence, The Kept is told with deep compassion and startling originality, and introduces James Scott as a major new literary voice.

Sounds beautiful and creepy, two of my favorite qualities in a book. And, lucky us, James Scott was nice enough to answer some questions about himself and his new novel, which is receiving excellent praise.

Q: Reviews of The Kept categorize it as a western, a thriller, a historical novel, crime fiction AND literary fiction. How would you describe your book and did authors of a specific genre inspire your work?

A: I like authors that sprinkle some genre into literary work. I love Cormac McCarthy for example, and he often draws from westerns or thrillers. Right now, I’m reading Station Eleven, and that combines a bunch of things. If you had to put it on one shelf, though, it would be literary, simply because it doesn’t adhere to any of those genre conventions fully enough to qualify completely, I don’t think. It’s the platypus of books.

Side note: I don’t read reviews. I read three and a half. That was plenty.

Q: How important are titles to you?

A: Pretty important, but not crucial. I liked The Kept because it spoke to many elements of the book, and in that sense, it shifts in meaning depending on where you are. I have trouble with them until I have a clear idea of what the book’s about in the larger sense.

Q: This novel is set in the turn of the twentieth century. How much research do you do before you began writing?

A: Before I started? Almost none. Once I got going, I had a better sense of what I needed and was able to fill in the holes as I went. I can fall down research holes and never emerge, so I wanted to go to the library/internet/youtube/expert with questions that were as specific as possible.

For the aspiring historical fiction writers out there,  if there was a Sears catalog when your book takes place, find one. It has everything– guns, clothes, perfume, food– you could ever need.

Q: Whatcha working on now?

A: A novel set in Vermont in the 1990s. The main character runs an architectural salvage shop and is a volunteer diver for the police department. I told my agent it would be funny, and it’s funnier, I suppose, but it’s definitely not funny. More death and misery!

Q: Anything unexpected in your reading pile/ #toread stack?

A: Unexpected? Probably not? Lemme see… Find Me by one of my best friends from grad school, Laura van den Berg; Sometimes the Wolf, by my other best friend from grad school and best man, Urban Waite (I read that one, but he made some changes that I’m sort of skimming to find); The Kid (Ted Williams bio that I’m sort of savoring); Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell; Duplex by Kathryn Davis; and All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu.

I keep some short stories close by in case I don’t have the patience/time for a novel: Best American Short Stories (Egan, ed), Man v. Nature by Diane Cook, Karen Bender’s Refund.

Librarian’s note: Ok, I asked more than 5 questions. But it’s my blog post and he’s got great answers so, if you’re a rule stickler, don’t read on.

Q: What’s just about the best thing you’ve ever seen?

A: I don’t have kids yet, which would be the easy answer. Instead, here is a list of finalists:

  • My wife in her wedding dress
  • Walking up to my mom’s house at Christmastime, when it’s all lit up and warm inside
  • My dog swimming
  • Sunsets:
    • reflected on the St. Lawrence River in upstate NY
    • over the land beneath Lookout Mountain, in Georgia, which is one of the places I go to write and also where I got married
    • from the Cross at Sewanee, in Tennessee
    • on the horizon of the Atlantic in Ogunquit, Maine
    • on the mountains in Vermont
  • The moment of blackness before a movie starts
Q: If you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?

A: Oh, I’m fine being in old 813. 8 is my lucky number and 13 is 13. So it’s nice and even.

Books & Brewskis will be discussing The Kept on Tuesday, February 24 at 7 PM. In the meantime, check out James Scott’s website and his recommendations for wonderful things!

3 to 5 with Charles Baxter

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

We love Charles Baxter’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry and we extra-love that he has ties to Michigan where he directed the Creative Writing program at University of Michigan. He is a National Book Award finalist, has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and was also a Michigan Author of the Year. You can check out his work here (may I recommend The Feast of Love to start?) and read his quick interview with us below:

Q: When did you first, without hesitation, call yourself a writer?
A:  When my first book, Harmony of the World, was published in 1984.
Q: Have you read anything lately that makes you think differently about fiction?
A: No. Once I reached middle age, I had a fairly clear idea about what fiction was and could do. Nothing that I’ve read lately has changed my view of that, fortunately or unfortunately.
Q: Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
A: The unrelieved suffering of children and of animals.
 
Q: Anything unexpected in your reading pile?
***
 Thanks Mr. Baxter!