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The day the German army opened fire on its own citizens in Blumental was the day of Pimpanella’s miracle. It was a cool summer morning, with the first promise of sun after four drizzly, cold days. Rosie woke early, hopped out of bed, and ran downstairs. Ever since she turned five, she had been allowed to check for eggs in the henhouse. She loved crawling into the small plywood hutch that housed the four chickens, reaching into each nest, and gently wiggling her fingers between the straw and the burlap, feeling around for that small, smooth oval, still warm from being under the hen’s puffed chest, the shell slightly soft.

Rosie also loved the hens, Pimpanella especially. Spindly little Pimpanella was the closest thing Rosie had to a pet; she was the only chicken who did not peck at Rosie’s feet in the outhouse. And Rosie protected Pimpanella against her grandfather. The last time Opa was home from Berlin, he declared Pimpanella useless because she had never been able to produce an egg. “A poor excuse for a fowl,” he called her. He chased Pimpanella around the yard with a stewpot lid, yelling at her to pull herself together and do her part for the war effort.

d11112b022aIs Everyone Loves You Back really your first novel, or do you have five more hidden in your desk?

I wish I had five novels stashed in my desk. But no, this is really my first novel. I did start one back in the late 80s. I got about 50 pages in and showed it to a writing class. Big mistake. One of the other writers, an experienced editor, or so I thought at the time, told me I had no idea what I was doing, that my pacing was all wrong, more like a short story than a novel, and that I would run out of steam unless I made an outline and slowed things down. Now that I am recounting this, I wonder why I didn’t just make the outline and keep on going? But I didn’t. I put the book away and never finished it.

katherine-a-sherbrookeYou’ve said Fill the Sky, while fiction, is based in part on an actual trip you took to Ecuador. Is it true a shaman spit cologne on you?

Yes, as crazy as it sounds, that part is true. It was the first shamanic ceremony I had ever experienced. None of the others were quite so…sticky.

 

Wait, you didn’t go running from all shamans after that?

Actually the harder part, is when a shaman tells you things about yourself you know are true at some level and yet still don’t understand, or are unwilling to admit.

 

Like what?

Well this particular shaman basically told me I was “tired,” which I took offense to since I had left the company I had founded a year before and had been napping religiously ever since. How could I be tired? What he meant though, I understood later, was that I had yet to find what gave me fuel in my life, and so I was destined to feel continually drained if I didn’t figure that out.

finalcoverTess hung up the phone and fought against an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. She wasn’t willing to accept her inability to help, to do something. She had pulled it off four years ago, the last time Ellie was sick. She’d done the research and found just the right medical team to blow away the odds and usher Ellie into remission. But that same team had now told her friend, her dearest friend, that she would be lucky to get another six months—nothing much they could do. And in her desperation, Ellie had already decided that flying off to Ecuador to work with shamans, or medicine people, or whatever they were called might be her only chance at survival. How had she failed her friend so completely?

“Jonathan!” She yelled from her chair.

mike-roberts-cannibals-in-love

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Mike Roberts , author of the debut novel  Cannibals in Love, available now from FSG Originals. Roberts also wrote the screenplay for the movie Goat, out in theaters now.

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rich-ferguson-new-jersey-me

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with TNB Poetry editor Rich Ferguson , whose debut novel, New Jersey Me, is available now from Rare Bird Books / A Barnacle Book. Big congrats to Rich! Go buy his book!

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margaret_wappler_neon_green

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Margaret Wappler, author of the debut novel Neon Green, available now from The Unnamed Press.

 

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Louise Miller_select_8744So, you are a pastry chef and your protagonist Olivia Langford is a pastry chef…is this really an autobiography thinly disguised as fiction?

It isn’t! I’ve never lit any of my places of employment on fire, or had any affairs with people at work, or lived in the country. All of the characters of The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living are fictional, as well as the places, the town and the plot.

But I did lean on many of the everyday details of my life. I have spent the greater part of the last twenty-two years in a professional kitchen, so it was delightful to get to play with the images and tastes and textures I experience every day. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is not only my debut novel but the first novel I have ever written. It was comforting to write about something so familiar while learning how to actually write a novel. That task alone felt like a big enough leap.

9781101981207.City Baker's GuideThe night I lit the Emerson Club on fire had been perfect for making meringue. I had been worrying about the humidity all week, but that night dry, cool air drifted in through an open window. It was the 150th anniversary of the club, and Jameson Whitaker, the club’s president, had requested pistachio baked Alaska for the occasion. Since he asked while he was still lying on top of me, under the Italian linen sheets of bedroom 8, I agreed to it—even though I was fairly certain that baked Alaska would not have been on the menu in 1873. But Jamie was a sucker for a spectacle, and his favorite thing on earth was pistachio ice cream, which his wife wouldn’t let him eat at home.

51h6MXJbAjL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_On its face, minimalism might seem like an ironic term for fiction—one more suited to architecture or interior design—but in describing the style of writing that still dominates many MFA programs, it’s entirely fitting. Featuring spare prose and terse descriptions of the everyday, this is the manner of literary writing most easily taught, most simply reduced to a matter of craft. Often purposefully lacking in plot and story—and stripped mercilessly of personality—minimalism in its most realistic form can become a study not in nonfiction but in a sort of antifiction, work that may qualify as literary in ambition, but not effect. Unable to animate the seemingly realistic world it has created, minimalism often fails the most basic of literary tests. Like a song sung to perfect pitch, but without passion, minimalistic fiction can want for soul. It can lack magic.

51kgifio8wL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Nobody walks in L.A. This is a well-known fact. Everything spread too distantly, too arrogantly—the city, the county, the Southland, however you want to categorize it all. The only connection the great roaring freeways, like clogged ancient rivers, carrying commerce and travelers, people making their way in the world, industrious and air-conditioned and unaware, but not walking, no, never.

Nonetheless, Father Jim Hinshaw isn’t going to let the limitations of his adopted hometown—three years and running, still genuinely flummoxed to be among what he used to think of as the chosen of Southern California—ruin his lifelong love of a good, brisk walk.

WT-purpleIt’s explained nicely in the blurb, by the way, but could you give us a quick premise/sum-up of your book, Over For Rockwell?

Okoye is pretty much a regular guy in his second year of college, which to him feels like a dead end. He wants to draw comics and he feels trapped doing the liberal arts thing. He’s also developed some romantic ideas about Hong Kong, based on movies and descriptions from a Chinese pal. So he drops out of school, goes on a whim, and from there his life explodes, in terms of excitement. Not that he gets much drawing done . . .

51FkAVmIKtL._SX353_BO1,204,203,200_And I’m telling you, she was about to slip. She was gonna blurt everything, I could feel it. I was sitting just like I am now. You know, legs crossed at the ankle, not too much, medium smirk. I was drinking coffee, just watching her. I was holding back, that’s what I’m saying. And that’s the part that kills me. I know that bitch! She’s dying to tell me! She just can’t bring herself to spit it out! Actually that’s the part that excites me. I can admit it. Like everywhere else, the women here are inveterate liars. But here it’s like they won’t let up! No matter what, the charade must go on!

Kittner_20140916_4158

Michelle Brafman’s debut novel, Washing the Dead (Prospect Park Books, 2015) is, above all things, about the healing power of love and forgiveness, about letting go of the toxic wounds of betrayal and hurt. In fact, Brafman experienced a similar transformative purge; she admits that she felt “fluish” at times when writing it. The novel, told in first person by Barbara Blumfield when she is 17 and also when she is  53 (the two narratives woven together in what Brafman calls a double helix), centers on her family’s expulsion from their Orthodox Jewish community after her mother has an affair with a gentile. After Barbara is called back to the community thirty-five years later to perform the ritual burial washing of her beloved teacher, she is forced to confront her mother’s sins and secrets, as well as her own.

 

JEN MICHALSKI: Washing the Dead explores themes of exile, forgiveness, and redemption in an Orthodox Jewish community in Milwaukee, and you start it off with a bang: an affair. So where did that come from?

MICHELLE BRAFMAN: Yes, the inciting event in the book occurs when the main character, Barbara, discovers that her mother is having an affair, and so begins the family’s exile from their spiritual community. I’ve been told that the story reads a bit like a mystery, and as you read on, you learn that nothing that happens in these opening pages, including the affair, is as it seems. Affairs are complicated, I think. Perhaps they are often less about succumbing to some hot sticky lust and more about escaping an unbearable emotional intensity or healing old wounds or filling unmet needs for love or myriad other motivations. I wasn’t thinking so clinically, though, when I decided to use the affair as a means to launch this family into the diaspora. The idea evolved from digging into my characters’ family history and imagining how the carnage from their secrets might be expressed via misdirected and destructive efforts to secure love.

Daren Dean pic 2What have you been reading in terms of new fiction? Can you make any recommendations?

If you like Cormac McCarthy, read Secessia by Kent Wascom; If you like grit lit, read A Tree Born Crooked by Steph Post; if you want a writer with her finger on the pulse of contemporary life, then read Refund by Karen Bender; If you long for prose reminiscent of incredibly bright moments that Raymond Carver was so adept at creating, then read Dispensations by Randolph Thomas; for New Orleans grit, read Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa; If you want a writer with the linguistic brilliance of Barry Hannah, try The Book of Duels by Michael Garriga; if you want to read a contemporary and brilliant southern writer then look no further than the current summer issues of both Tin House and Zoetrope for two short stories by Jennifer Davis. Finally, I’m especially looking forward to a Civil War novel called Fallen Land by Taylor Brown. That ought to keep y’all busy.