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Helen86_Final Cover.inddLife Above Sea Level

patchogue 1968

“Sink or swim,” my mother’s brother says as he drops me from the side of a boat in the Great South Bay. Bobbing up, head above water, I can see the shore, see where my father sits in a folding chair, Times spread across his lap, head tipped back, eyes closed. Water fills my nose and lungs, and I am scooped out by a strong-armed uncle. Funny, they said, it worked so well with all the other kids.

Every summer my mother’s family piles into this house bought by a grandfather, great uncles, and an aunt. My mother’s family: police detectives, payroll clerks, and Brooklyn Navy Yard workers. Irish. This is a place where men come to catch blues, weekend fishermen after a perfect run. Where women wash clothes in ice-cold water, then hang them on long lines cast toward the Bay. Line-dried clothes, stiff and hard, that stink of bay water and don’t bend easily against skin.

Richard & Bob FinalRichard Kramer: I’d like to start by saying we’ve known each other for years and had a thousand conversations like this. I love that we can still have these conversations, but something has changed for you.

Bob Smith: I have ALS. The strangest thing about my life-threatening illness is that two of my favorite writers: Henry Thoreau and Anton Chekhov, also had life threatening illnesses. They both had tuberculosis. I’m not comparing my writing to these literary giants, but I’ve always admired them. Thoreau was ardently against slavery and Chekhov traveled to Sakhalin to write against Russia’s prison system. (Children of prisoners accompanied their fathers to prison.) Both of these writers knew the Angel of Death was stalking them, but they kept writing and fought for other suffering people.

GinaBNahai 2How Long?

To write the book? Seven years.

 

Were you getting paid by the hour?

Yes. In gold bullion. So I held out because the price of gold’s been going up of late. That, and I couldn’t get the story right to save my life.

 

Which story is that? I stopped counting after the first dozen.

Yes, I realize there are many characters and each one has his own life and struggles, but the main story, about the value of Truth, is what took so long to shape.

LuminousHeartRaphael’s Son died alone in his car, sitting upright behind the wheel with his safety belt on and his throat slashed from right to left—a clean, some would say artful, cut of almost surgical precision. His body was discovered at 4:45 a.m. on Monday, June 24, 2013, by Neda Raiis, his wife of seventeen years who, according to her statement to the police, had found him cold and unresponsive in his gray, two-door Aston Martin with the personalized license plate—I WYNN—as it sat idling against the wrought-iron gates of their house on Mapleton Drive in Holmby Hills. Nearly one hour before that, Neda had been awakened by the sound of what she imagined was a car accident—metal crashing against metal—on the street. She had spent the next fifty minutes drifting into and out of sleep. Then, finally, she had decided to investigate the source of the earlier disturbance, risen from bed, and walked the length of the yard to the front of the estate. The sound she had heard was that of the Aston Martin crashing head-on into the gate.

Jac-Jemc-HeadshotWhat do you struggle with most in writing?

Time. Everything takes longer than I think it will, more drafts than I think it will. Then there’s the business and admin side of things that eats up so much free time. Then the joy of reading and supporting other people’s work. I also work a more-than-full-time job that’s entirely separate from my writing, as well as taking on smaller writing-type/teaching jobs from time to time. I function best when busiest, but I have a partner and family and friends I love so much, and I want to offer help and support to them, and I can’t really fathom turning them down in favor of writing most of the time.

DifferentBedEverytime(new)(large)The Wrong Sister

Okay. Say the reason you’re stuck here in limbo is totally unclear to you. Say you were a woman who cared about little but treated others basically well. Say you had a twin who was married to a doctor, but because you were so ambivalent, you never agreed to partner up, never liked anyone enough to commit or even give someone a real chance, to ever approach the situation where you might have to explain these feelings to another human being because you’ve joined to have and to hold, in sickness and in blah blah blah…

RosnerBYJulia McNealWhat do you love/hate about being a writer?   

I get to do things like this — interview myself, I mean. Which is kind of a love/hate thing right away.  Because in this type of activity there is a temptation toward grandiosity and humility all in a single moment.  Because I have to wonder who really cares what I might ask myself and what the answers might be. Because when I post on Facebook that I’m going to do this and invite some help with questions, I actually receive some really intriguing and compelling suggestions. The point is, I truly enjoy (I am amazed at this!) being given the chance to investigate myself and to know that this is “my job.” Asking myself questions and trying to answer them is in fact a basic description of my full-time employment.

Electric City_FINALBefore the name Electric City there were other names, and before those names there were no names at all. The river carved itself into the valley, remembering everything. Pines thickened and pushed against the sky. Autumn went dark, then ghostly, freezing into the hibernation of winter; spring resurrected the landscape and the creatures that filled it, painting the scenery back to life. Summers shimmered with wet heat until fall erupted into a riot. The story repeated and repeated, the same and yet not the same, year in and year out.

COVER_0You are the man who sang “God Bless the Magyar” after we lost the war. I watched you sway by a bullet-pocked door, heard you testing the national anthem’s loose notes, a lost war’s afterthoughts. I hadn’t heard it since school, and then school was called off. All up and down Saint Matyas Street, wind chased your song among tattered banners and plackards and flags. Elms cast their shadows on smashed cobblestones, windowsills lined with wash. A corpse swayed against a streetlight in accompaniment, its belt buckle clinking the pole, red-checked shirt cheery against the dull sky. Its urgent clogged smell permeated the air, the sad clothes on clotheslines.

Author Karen KarboThe Diamond Lane was first published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1991, Overlook Press published a trade paperback in 1993. What’s it like to have a book go out of print, then be reissued in a gorgeous new edition with sexy French flaps, and an introduction by Jane Smiley?

Long before The Diamond Lane was published the first time, Dr. Egon Spengler prophesied that print was dead. And yet, it lives on. The only way print can continue to survive can is in beautifully designed editions like this new one from Hawthorne Books. So far, there’s no app that can completely satisfy the human need for the tactile experience, and if you’re a reader, eventually you’re going to tire of Kindle, that cheap floozy, and settle down with something you can gaze upon, you can feel and hold. Also, crack open a book and take a whiff. There’s no smell like that ink-on-paper smell. As far as being lucky enough to have Jane offer to write an introduction, I am humbled beyond measure. I have been a huge fan of hers since The Age of Grief. She’s one of our greatest contemporary writers, plus a kick ass horsewoman.

Cover_TheDiamondLaneFreak accidents ran in the family. What else was Mimi to think? First Fitzy, now Shirl. What happened to lingering diseases? What happened to people dying in their sleep at eighty-five? The world was as reliable as patio furniture in a hurricane. It was so awful it made her laugh. The day after it happened she called in sick. She was convinced if she went to work, on the twenty-first floor of a building on Sunset Boulevard, the FitzHenry luck would bring on an earthquake. Mimi and Mouse were ten and nine when their father, Fitzy, was run over by a dolly.

amina_gautier5How did you select the title for Now We Will Be Happy?

There’s a long and a short answer to that question. The short answer is that the title comes from Rafael Hernandez’s song “Ahora seremos felices,” which translates into English as “now we will be happy.” Hernandez was an important Puerto Rican composer of music; titling the collection after his song is a way in which I honor him.

Gautier_front (1)Aguanile

The phone calls from my grandfather began after Charlie Palmieri died. Grief-stricken, my grandfather called each time one of his favorite musicians passed away. Delicately, he announced the passing as if it were that of a family member or someone we had actually known. The calls had little to do with any ability on my part to appreciate the musicians he revered. He turned to me by default; none of his children shared his interest in the music. My mother and uncles eschewed all things Puerto Rican, and his second set of children shunned his tastes, preferring hip-hop and Top 40 tunes. Though not the aficionado he was, I had spent my summer vacation humoring him, and now he treated me like a fellow enthusiast, viewing me as a sympathetic comrade, a person who shared his first family’s blood but not its resentment.

todgoldbergheadcolorYour last book came out in 2011. It’s 2014. What have you been doing all this time?

Honestly? Writing. And writing and writing and writing. But sometimes, that just means I’m not writing at all, I’m just thinking about writing, thinking about what I haven’t written, thinking about what I’d like to write, thinking about maybe never writing again because, these days, there’s just an awful lot of good stuff on TV and if my choice is to sit quietly in my office writing murder stories or watching an infinite number of episodes of Chopped, well, Chopped wins. It’s a sickness, it really is. I find it profoundly, psychically comforting to watch other people cook food I’ll never eat while I – with absolutely no acuity in the field whatsoever – make snap judgments on the quality, taste, and general success or failure of the meal.

Gangsterland_FINALPrologue

April 1998

When Sal Cupertine was going to kill a guy, he’d walk right up and shoot him in the back of the head. Shoot someone in the face, there’s a good chance they’ll survive. Sal never messed around with a gut shot or trying to get someone in the heart. It was stupid and made a mess. You get told to kill a guy, you killed a guy. You didn’t leave it up to variations in the wind and barometric pressure and all that Green Beret shit he saw on TV. No, Sal knew, you just went up and did it. Be professional about it and no one suffers.