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About Neal Thompson

Neal is a journalist/author, an amateur photographer/videographer, and a compulsive reader-writer whose rampant tastes veer from narrative non-fiction to literary fiction to long-form journalism to memoir/biography to sports, history, food, music, and so on. He's also a dad/driver/banker/chef to two skateboarding teen sons and an avid skier and runner. Favorite way to kill an hour: a book, a bourbon, and some Miles Davis.

Posts by Neal

Guest Post by Iris Johansen, Author of "The Perfect Witness"

IrisJohansenIris Johansen, New York Times bestselling author of "The Perfect Witness," shares with us her top five favorite mystery and thriller reads.

KILLER by Jonathan Kellerman. For psychological suspense, you can't go wrong with Kellerman's Alex Delaware, a brilliant psychologist who frequently consults with the Los Angeles Police Department. In "Killer", a bitter child custody battle between two sisters escalates in a most lethal and surprising way.

DIRTY MARTINI by J.A. Konrath. Chicago police detective Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels will keep you laughing even as you navigate the twists and turns of her homicide  investigations.

"Dirty Martini" finds her on the trail of a psychopath who's poisoning the city's food supply.

BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE by Lee Child. I'm a huge fan of Child's Jack Reacher series, which follows the adventures of a former military police officer who now lives off the grid, drifting from town to town. He's tough as nails, but appealingly sympathetic. In this book he squares off against a killer who is targeting members of his former elite military unit.

THE COVE by Catherine Coulter. It seems like everyone now reads the Catherine Coulter's riveting FBI series, but this is where it all began. Sally Brainerd is hiding from her father's killers in a small Oregon town, but when FBI agent James Quinlan arrived to try and bring her in, sparks fly and people start dropping dead. Romantic Suspense at its best.

BEYOND BELIEF by Roy Johansen. You didn't think I'd leave my son off this list, did you? Roy was an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer long before we started writing the Kendra Michaels books together. BEYOND BELIEF introduces paranormal debunker Joe Bailey, a police detective (and former magician) who exposes phony spiritualists and fortune tellers. But he begins to question his skeptical beliefs when he investigates a murder caused by possibly-supernatural means.

 

The Goodreads Interview: Stephen King

Goodreads_icon_1000x1000Thanks to our friends at Goodreads for this excerpt from their recent interview with Stephen King, whose new novel, Revival, was selected as one of Amazon's Best Books of 2014.

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KINGJust when you think Stephen King's well of pitch-black, sleep-with-the-lights-on horror must surely be running dry, he finds new and possibly even darker ways to terrify us. His latest novel, Revival, sees the author of more than 50 global bestsellers—including The Shining, Pet Sematary, and It—return to the "balls to the wall" (King's words) supernatural horror with which he made his name.

In a recent Twitter post about the book, King told readers, "If you're going to buy it, better tone up your nerves." His publisher, Nan Graham, said that upon reading it, "I asked Steve whether it really had to be this dark, knowing before he answered that, yes, it does.

Indeed King dedicates Revival, out this month, to "some of the people who built my house," including Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and H.P. Lovecraft. A story of fate, rock and roll, religion, obsession, and addiction, it follows Jamie Morton, a boy from Maine whose life becomes inextricably bound to his onetime childhood pastor, an increasingly sinister figure who performs mysterious electrical "healing" sessions.

Despite a near-fatal accident 15 years ago, after which he considered retiring, King remains prolific. Revival marks the author's fourth novel in two years: In June he released Mr. Mercedes, billed (on his website) as his "first hard-boiled detective tale"), and last year the 67-year-old published Joyland and Doctor Sleep, his gripping sequel to The Shining.

King tells Goodreads what inspired Revival, how tea by the gallon rather than drugs and alcohol now fuel his craft, and why he loves collaborating with his novelist sons, Joe Hill and Owen King.

Goodreads: Congratulations on the un-put-down-able Revival; my children almost went hungry. What was your inspiration for this book? And is it really "the most terrifying conclusion" you've ever written?

Stephen King: The inspiration was Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, which is a terrifying story about the world that might exist beyond this one. Other influences were Lovecraft, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and my own religious upbringing. And I've been wanting to write about tent show healings for a long time!

I wanted to write a balls-to-the-wall supernatural horror story, something I haven't done in a long time. I also wanted to use Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, but in a new fashion, if I could, stripping away Lovecraft's high-flown language.

GR: The book is concerned with what you call the "fifth business," "change agent," or "nemesis"—the person who pops up at regular intervals throughout life with a purpose yet to be revealed. Who is this person in your life, if there is one?

SK: I think we rarely recognize the fifth business in our lives at the time those people are changing us. As a writer, I'd have to say it was Philip Roth, who first spoke to me in college when I read [Roth's 1967 novel] When She Was Good. Since then, he's shown up again and again, at 10- or 20-year intervals, always saying—through his work—"Come a little farther. Do a little better."

GR: How did your experience of addiction and playing in a rock band (the Rock Bottom Remainders) inform your portrayal of the hero Jamie Morton?

SK: There's a saying—"Write what you know." It's bad advice if you take it as an unbreakable rule, but good advice if you use it as a foundation. I did spend years as an addict, so I know that world, although I wish I didn't. When it comes to rock music, I'm not much of a player, but I do have entry-level chops. I'm more knowledgeable as a listener, and Revival gave me a way to write about rock and roll without being preachy or boring. Through Jamie I had a chance to talk about how important rock is to me and how it lifted my life.

GR: Revival seems as much a meditation on family and aging, love and loss, as it is a mystery/horror story. Was this your intention from the outset?

SK: I never have a thematic intention at the outset. The story informs the theme for me rather than the other way around. But as it happens, you're right—this is, at least to a degree, about getting old and the rapid passage of our lives. "It's a damn short movie," James McMurtry says, "how'd we ever end up here?"

GR: There's a line on page 25 that says, "Writing is a wonderful and terrible thing. It opens deep wells of memory that were previously capped." How true is this for you in your fiction?

SK: Writing is like being in a dream state or under self-directed hypnosis. It induces a state of recall that—while not perfect—is pretty spooky.

GR: Which of your books/stories are you most attached to and why?

...READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW AT GOODREADS.COM...

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About the interviewer:

Catherine Elsworth is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She previously worked as a reporter and editor for the UK's Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph for 13 years and was the Daily Telegraph's Los Angeles correspondent from 2004 to 2009. She has also contributed to Tatler, Stella, and Cond&eacute Nast Traveller. In 2012, she was a semifinalist for the 21st annual James Kirkwood Literary Prize for fiction.

Dean Koontz Interviews His Dog, Anna, Who Interviews Him

Dean Koontz's latest novel is The City. On December 9 he's publishing a Kindle Single, Odd Thomas.

His dog Anna's, ahem, new book is Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn.

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Dean Interviews Anna

AnnaDEAN: Hey, sweetie, how does it feel to see your first book, Ask Anna, in print?

ANNA: Better than a bee stinging me on the nose, maybe not as good as being given a membership in the Sausage-of-the-Month Club. I'm a little worried about the celebrity thing, so I've ordered a custom disguise that makes me look like a poodle.

DEAN: There's an article in your book that reveals how people like Noah and Albert Einstein changed history by listening carefully to their dogs' advice. Are you aware of any more recent famous people who failed to heed the advice of their dogs?

ANNA: Tragically, yes. Mr. Johnny Depp's dog warned him not to play Tonto.

DEAN: Is there any down side to a dog being a successful author?

ANNA: Carpal-tunnel paw. Hollywood wanting to buy the film rights and recast me as a gerbil to be played by Adam Sandler in a furry suit. Perhaps a catty review here and there. Static electricity from the computer screen standing my fur on end, so that for hours at a time I go around looking as if I stuck my tongue in a wall plug.

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Anna Interviews Dean

Koontz2ANNA: Hey, Dad, what's it like having to share the limelight with me now that I'm a published author?

DEAN: I have no jealousy whatsoever. I hope you enjoy a career that is bigger than mine. And don't worry: I would never--never!--put one of those annoying post-surgery cones around your head for no reason at all except envy or something. And I would never--never!--change your name to Pussycat and make you answer to it.

ANNA: Good to know. Sometimes we go for a ride in the car and you let me drive, and then you insist on sticking your head out the window. Are you mocking me when you do that?

DEAN: No, short stuff. It's fun! All the great smells!! My ears flapping in the breeze!!! People pointing and laughing!!!!

ANNA: Since my book is about advice, is there any advice I've given you that you're sorry you didn't take?

DEAN: That incident with the angry ferret comes to mind. But they sewed the thumb back on nearly where it was before, and I can still hitchhike with it if I ever need to.

ANNA: Hey, Dad, let me put the loop of my leash around your hand, and I'll take you for a walk.

DEAN: Great! Can we go to the park? Can we? Can we? Will you throw the ball for me? Better yet, the stick! Will you throw the stick?!?

~

> See all of Dean Koontz's books

> See Anna on Facebook

Excerpt: "The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps," by Diogo Mainardi

ThefallBrazilian author and journalist Diogo Mainardi's unflinching story about raising a son, Tito, with cerebral palsy, The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps is comprised of 424 short passages, each representing Tito's steps walking toward the hospital whose errors caused his disability. 

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Just before he was 6 months old, Tito went for another examination at Padua Hospital.

His neurologist lay him face down on the stretcher. At that moment, he should have rolled over onto his back. Instead, he merely waved his little arms about, but -- like a turtle -- he was unable to turn over.

That was the first sign that he had cerebral palsy.

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I had found out that my wife was pregnant exactly one year before.

I wrote about it on 23 February 2000 in my column in the magazine Veja.

I started by saying that, up until then, my rejection of fatherhood had been one of the rare, unquestioned certainties of my life. I went on to say that my wish -- and I quote word for word -- was to have "a turtle child, and whenever he became too agitated, I would just have to roll him onto his back and he would lie there, silently waving his little arms."

I got my turtle child.

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Some days after the examination at Padua Hospital, we received the results through the post. According to the neurologist, Tito had suffered "damage to the extrapyramidal system."

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I know how to read.

Reading is my job. I think by reading. I feel by reading. When we received the result of the examination at Padua Hospital, I read all about the extrapyramidal system. Nothing I read prepared me for what we were about to discover.

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Now I know what Tito has.

According to the neurologists who have examined him over the last few years, the damage to his thalamus was caused by his bungled birth. The thalamus is part of the extrapyramidal system. The damage is infinitesimal, so much so that no machine has ever yet managed to detect it. But it's serious enough to affect all his movements.

Tito can't walk, pick things up or talk normally.

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After examining Tito, the neurologist at Padua Hospital sent him to a physiotherapist at Venice Hospital.

During the weeks that followed, the physiotherapist put him through a series of tests.

It was only when all the tests were over that -- with a feeling of fear and panic -- I first heard the term which, from that moment on, would come to dominate my life.

Tito had cerebral palsy.

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The fear lasted a week.

Then it passed.

The reason why it took only a week for the fear to pass was a fall.

Tito was sitting on my lap. I was sitting on the sofa in the living room reading the newspaper. My wife, who was rushing about, caught her foot on the rug and fell flat on her face in front of us. When Tito saw her fall, he laughed out loud. We both pretended to fall over. And he laughed and laughed and laughed. And we laughed with him.

Tito's cerebral palsy immediately became more familiar. Slapstick was a language we all understood.

Tito falls. My wife falls. I fall.

What unites us -- what will always unite us -- is the fall.

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Abbott and Costello Go to Mars: On a voyage into outer space, Lou Costello gets his astronaut's boot caught in a storm drain and falls over when he wrenches it free.

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Francesca Martinez is a comedian.

She has cerebral palsy. All her performances revolve around that topic.

According to her, the term cerebral palsy can only have been invented to induce "fear and panic." That is why she likes to be described as a "wobbly" person. She is always wobbly, always about to fall.

Francesca Martinez's humor -- like Lou Costello's -- takes its inspiration from her falls.

Cerebral palsy is her astronaut boot caught in a storm drain.

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Francesca Martinez told the Daily Mail what had happened to her.

Her cerebral palsy, like Tito's, was caused by a medical error. Her mother was left unattended for some hours because "being a Sunday there were fewer hospital staff on duty." Francesca remained in the womb and was left without oxygen for seven minutes.

Cerebral palsy, she explains, "occurs when part of the brain fails to work. It affects one child in five hundred. Each case is unique, but usually people's muscle control and mobility are affected."

The best way to describe how cerebral palsy affects her is that she appears to be "slightly drunk." Her speech is slurred and her balance wobbly.

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Two weeks after learning that Tito had cerebral palsy, I wrote about it in my column in Veja:

My 7-month-old son has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. From the outside, that piece of news might seem utterly desperate. From the inside, though, it's different. It was as if they had told me my son was Bulgarian. If I discovered that my son was Bulgarian, the first thing I would do would be to consult a book to find out more about Bulgaria: gross national product, principal rivers, mineral wealth, etc. And that is what I did with cerebral palsy.

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After saying that cerebral palsy was a term that struck fear into the heart and that, for the first time in my life, I belonged to a minority, I ended the column in this shamelessly sentimental way:

I consider myself to be a humorous writer. For me, there is nothing funnier than frustrated expectations.
Frustrated expectations about social progress.
Frustrated expectations about scientific discoveries.
Frustrated expectations about the power of love.
I have always worked from that anti-enlightenment viewpoint. Now I've changed. I now believe in the power of love. Love for a little Bulgarian.

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From that moment on, Tito's cerebral palsy became a recurrent theme in my columns.

Over a period of ten years, I devoted eight columns to him.

If, as Francesca Martinez estimated, cerebral palsy affects, on average, 1 child in 500, I published a column on the subject, on average, every 500 days.

Cerebral palsy affected the lives of my readers as often as it affects life in general.

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In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Francesca Martinez stated: "That's the huge secret about disability -- anyone with experience of it knows that a disabled person is just a person they love."

In my first article about Tito, that was the only "huge secret" I had to reveal.

Astonishingly, for me and for Anna, Tito's cerebral palsy was never a cause for sorrow. Astonishingly, for me and for Anna, Tito's cerebral palsy never seemed a burden.

At 7 months, Tito was simply a person we loved.

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In mid-2001, we took Tito to see a neurologist in New York.

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Tito and me in New York.

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In New York, I became Tito's first mode of transport.

He would point left and I would go left. He would point right and I would go right. He would point at his grandmother and I would hand him over to his grandmother.

Tito would choose my fate by sending me off to the right or to the left.

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The New York neurologist was very encouraging.

After doing a few tests, he predicted that, in two years' time, Tito would be speaking normally. He also predicted that, in four years' time, Tito would be walking on his own.

Both predictions proved false.

Tito never spoke normally. He never walked on his own.

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Christy Brown had cerebral palsy.

During the first few months of his life, his parents took him to various neurologists in Dublin.

They all said that Christy Brown would remain forever in a state of "torpor," because he was an "idiot," "mentally defective," a "hopeless case" and "beyond cure."

In his autobiography, My Left Foot, Christy Brown described how he was able to overcome the worst prognoses, finding a way of typing and painting with the big toe of his left foot.

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Like Christy Brown's parents, Anna and I learned to ignore all the doctors' stupid prognoses, whether positive or negative. Like Christy Brown's parents, Anna and I learned to celebrate each step taken by Tito, however wobbly.

After a certain point, we even learned to celebrate his falls. In the early years, Tito would always hurt himself when he fell. Over time, he developed new ways of breaking his falls.

Knowing how to fall is much more valuable than knowing how to walk.

Guest Essay: David Baldacci, on the Origins of "The Escape"

In David Baldacci's latest novel, special agent John Puller hunts down an escaped prisoner who's become the most wanted man in America--his own brother. The Escape is an Amazon Best Book of the Month for November.

DB-AuthorPhoto

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Baldacci2The year was 1983. I was sitting in my law school class at the University of Virginia. It was my first year there and I didn’t really know anyone. We had name placards that we had to slide into slots in front of us so the professor could call on us by name. No pressure. Sitting next to me was a young man in full military dress blues. I found out later the JAG (Judge Advocates General) School--which trained military lawyers--was located right next to the law school. Military lawyers-in-training would also have classes with us regular folks. I remembered being quite impressed. Over three decades later I conjured up that old memory to write a scene in my new novel, The Escape.

In creating the John Puller series and wanting to immerse myself in the military world as much as I could without actually enlisting, I flew to Fort Benning in Georgia to spend three days with the infantry and the elite Army Rangers. (See photos below.) Jumping off parachute towers, firing sniper rifles, escaping from upside down Humvees and trying to keep up with two rock-hard Command Master Sergeants in performing the Army’s functional fitness training regimen was just what I needed to write the sort of books I wanted to. And most importantly of all, listening to soldiers from privates all the way up to generals tell me why they wanted to put on the uniform and risk their lives. That sort of information you simply can’t get by searching online.

The Escape is ultimately a book about brothers. So being the history buff that I am, I included a bit of history about two siblings from long ago, one famous, one not. We all know the story of General George Armstrong Custer, the flamboyant and publicity-seeking Civil War veteran who is best remembered for leading his Seventh Calvary to slaughter at Little Big Horn. What many folks may not know is that George had a younger brother named Thomas Custer, who was awarded not one, but two Medals of Honor during the Civil War for capturing two Confederate Regimental Battle flags. The second instance cost him a gunshot wound to the face, but did not stop him from riding back to his lines with the captured flag. This very same brother, along with an even younger brother, Boston, followed their older brother George to the very end, dying with him at Little Big Horn. Love can truly make you blind. But family is also forever.

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> See all of David Baldacci's books

> Follow him on Twitter

> Visit his website

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Amazon Asks: Patricia Cornwell, on Her New Novel, "Flesh and Blood"

Flesh and Blood is Patricia Cornwell's twenty-second novel featuring forensic sleuth Dr. Kay Scarpetta. This time Scarpetta pursues a sharp-shooting serial sniper, and her investigation leads too close to a family member--her own flesh and blood. Flesh and Blood is an Amazon Best Mystery-Thriller of the Month.

Cornwell

Describe your new book in 10 words?

Cornwell2Scarpetta is unstoppable.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

My iPhone is loaded with a huge library of Kindle titles that make it easy for me to read while traveling. Some of the latest are Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin, A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and All We Had by Annie Weatherwax.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

Book that changed your life, or made you want to become a writer?

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Books can change the world and fix what is horribly broken.

What are you obsessed with or stressed about now?

The Bermuda Triangle and Jack the Ripper (not stressed, just hugely motivated).

What's your most prized/treasured literary possession?

A book about Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture that was signed by Agatha Christie (which was a gift from her to someone named "Lucy Boo." I sure wish I knew who that was).

Pen Envy -- book you wish you'd written, or character you wish you’d created?

Okay, I admit I wish I'd created Sherlock Holmes.

What's favorite method of procrastination, temptation or vice?

Playing with our bulldog.

What do you collect?

Art by Dr. Seuss and really cool belt buckles.

Best/worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

Best: Don't take no for an answer. Worst: Do something else because you'll never make a living as a writer.

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> See all of Patricia Cornwell's books

 

Excerpts from "BOMB: The Author Interviews" - Featuring Colm Toibin, Chris Abani, Patrick McGrath, and Martin Amis

BOMB-Author-InterviewsFor more than thirty years, BOMB magazine has been pairing artists, authors, poets, and painters together for intimate artist-on-artist conversations, more than 1,200 of them so far. In BOMB: The Author Interviews, published last week by Soho Press, the magazine's editor, Betsy Sussler, has compiled an incredible collection of authors interviewing authors: an unknown Jonathan Franzen; Roberto Bolaño, just before he died; Lydia Davis and Francine Prose; Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz; Jennifer Egan and Heidi Juilavits; and many more.

Below are snippets from two of those conversations, featuring two authors featured on Amazon's Best Books of the Year list: Colm Tóibín (Nora Webster), in conversation with with Chris Abani (The Secret History of Las Vegas), and Martin Amis (The Zone of Interest), in conversation with Patrick McGrath (Constance).

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CHRIS ABANI: I play with sexuality in all my books. There’s an ambiguity to all my characters. In The Virgin of Flames, the protagonist wants to be a woman. I write my characters from the inside out. There’s no spectacle to it, so of course the first question is, Where is your body in relationship to this text? That always fascinates me. Before I wrote this book about this guy who wants to be a woman—I had always prided myself on, while being straight, being not homophobic at all. Until I wrote a scene where the character is finally about to make love to a transsexual stripper but realizes that that’s not what he wants. In fact, he wants to occupy the stripper’s position. And you have that whole Crying Game moment, but instead of the penis revelation being the thing, it’s the penis disappearance. So this transsexual stripper is teaching this guy how to disappear his penis, so that he could wear a G-string were he to perform as a stripper. I researched it on the Internet. My girlfriend at the time read what I had written and said, “This reads like a manual.” The rest of the book was beautiful but then it’s, “Okay, over here we have the penis.” I really had to go there, so I hired someone who performs as a woman. I said, “Okay, show me how to do this.”

COLM TÓIBÍN: Do you have his number? (laughter)

ABANI: I wanted to ask you, did coming out change your interaction with the text or with readership or with editorship or all of this?

ToibinTÓIBÍN: Yeah. For me, writing down the opening section of The Story of the Night and publishing it, was a very big moment. It was like what you were describing, except I realized I was going to go on being it, even if I stopped writing about it. It was like writing down the truth, which is something we should all be very suspicious of. And the question then is that of putting the truth genie back in the bottle. I would like a rest from either being gay, gay, gay or being Irish, Irish, Irish. Some other thing you could be—French, maybe, or very old, or clean-living—I might try. Obviously, being a woman would be terrific. I did it in my first novel so I suppose I cannot do it again. I wish there were more categories. I suppose there will be in time.

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PATRICK MCGRATH: Evil accumulates?

MARTIN AMIS: Evil takes it out of you. Evil’s always been winning.

MCGRATH: Why should evil keep on winning? 

AMIS: Perhaps because the brain is partly reptilian. I have a rather schmaltzy notion of human potentiality which is, in fact, embodied in literature. 

MCGRATH: How do you mean? 

AmisAMIS: It’s a commonplace that literature evolves in a certain way but it doesn’t improve. It just stays there. It’s a model. I think literature has not just been about, but embodies: the best. The best that humans can do. 

MCGRATH: The best moral thought? 

AMIS: The best moral thought. The representation of humanity at the crest of itself. Something like that. In fact, I’ve never understood why the idea of literature as religion was demolished so quickly. It seems to me that would be a tenable way of looking at it. It’s a constant, making something out of the present and the past at the same time. Certainly an elitist thing, there’s no question about that. But it’s an elite open to everyone. 

MCGRATH: Do you see it decaying alongside everything else? 

AMIS: Literature? No. I mean, they say the novel is dead. Well, try and stop people writing novels. Or poems. There’s no stopping people. I suppose it’s conceivable that no one will know how to spell in fifty years’ time, but not while the books are still there. You don’t need a structure. The autodidact is omnipresent in fiction.

Video: An Interview with Author and "Font Nerd" Lena Dunham
-- "I Love the World of Books"

DunhamPraise for Lena Dunham’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, has come from all angles: David Sedaris (“A fine, subversive book”), Judy Blume (“Always funny, sometimes wrenching”), George Saunders (“smart, honest, sophisticated, dangerous, and charming”), Miranda July (“hilarious, artful, and staggeringly intimate.”) At Amazon, our reviewer Brittany Pirozzolo called it “Thoughtful, hilarious, and exquisitely-written … like reading your quirky big sister's diary.” 

In this interview (taped at Book Expo America in New York back in May), the writer, creator, and star of HBO’s hit show Girls discusses how writing was actually her first love, and has remained a passion, as has reading. “I love the world of books,” she said.

Writing the essays that comprise Not That Kind of Girl gave her back the “one on one relationship with writing” that she’s missed while working on Girls.

Not That Kind of Girl was Amazon's Best Book of the Month "Debut Spotlight" in October, and was named one of our 100 Best Books of 2014.

How I Wrote It: Frederick Barthelme, on Dictation, Tornadoes, Dishwashers--and Chocolate

BathelmeFrederick Barthelme's new novel is There Must Be Some Mistake.

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How

When starting a new project I first gather all I’ve got in the way of unused text--fragments of stories, scenes cut from novels, sketches, characters, complaints I’ve jotted down, jokes once-loved, whatever. All this stuff has little in common save once it was important enough to draft. I put this mess into a single file and begin The Rewrite. It’s building a monster out of body parts. I stitch the stuff together, revising, extending, smoothing, shaping, seeing where it leads me. I change things without a thought--names, places, times--always trying to find the drama in the microscopic without losing the macroscopic, trying to remember that characters have political and social notions embedded in their lives. For me this embeddedness of beliefs in the characters and their world is the real heart of fiction, and the way fiction works. I take mismatched parts and unify them, jam them together in the middle of a dinner party at someone’s house, add a couple of disinterested guests to lively up the show, and maybe something happening out in the kitchen, where things are always happening. Then I rewrite until a sentence, a paragraph, a scene catches me in a way that seems essential. Then I move on.

This “method” often delivers wonderfully unforeseen results, strange aspects of character, angles on the world that feel fresh and enrich the story, which is what the work is turning out to be by now. For my money, the cardinal rule is keep yourself guessing, surprise yourself, as if printing a photograph that gradually reveals things you had no idea were present.

Eventually all the elements are stitched together seamlessly--these characters in these settings living these lives that resemble our own, but are, in the final balance, wholly fabricated. What we have is a story or a book, a celebration, a festival of argument and suggestion, cajolery, seduction; a gift to the reader in hopes of finding a shared world.

Barthelme-office copyWhere & When

I write mostly after midnight. Years ago I worked on a typewriter at a desk, a door on two sawhorses. Later I used a computer. Later still, I began dictating into a mini cassette tape recorder. I wrote anywhere and everywhere. Two Against One was the first novel entirely dictated. I did it in bed, walking around the neighborhood, in the car, in stores. I wanted to change the prose, make it messier, more inclusive, so I dictated. I liked it. It was fresh and interesting to work that way. Double Down’s first draft was done mostly in lovely darkness on the beach at Fort Morgan, Alabama, in an aluminum folding chair. Bob the Gambler was dictated while driving around town, incorporating whatever sights were to be seen in the early morning hours. Elroy Nights was also a car book. All were dictated in sequence, sometimes edited and rearranged later. Then, with Waveland, I started using the computer again to do the basic text entry.

Most of the latest novel was written in my home office (hello Internal Revenue Service), at a desk, with my feet up, on a MacBook. It’s so small you really feel connected to it in some special way, so it’s a treat to write with.

In February 2012, with a tornado coming, we hastily abandoned the house, thus were absent when the roof came off, the ceiling fell, the lovely pink insulation drifted down, and the two-by-fours flung themselves through the windows. This excitement resulted in a two-month stay at the pet friendly Candlewood Suites, where the ongoing rewrites were done in a moderately antiseptic first floor suite, brown in color. (See the photo below.) We took the first floor the better to provide access to the outdoors for Marshall, everyone’s favorite Springer spaniel.

Space

I’m not the kind of writer to put encouraging quotes or snapshots or other small objects with special meaning around my work place. I’m afraid this kind of thing seems corny to me--the whole idea of surrounding oneself with “meaningful” tokens to spur the muse. I like the muse to keep its distance. And the knick-knacks, too, though it is certainly possible I take too hard a line on this.

By contrast, I’ll happily have the silent television running where I’m working, the better to steal some peculiar bit caught out the corner of my eye. And I will have the windows open if possible. I just don’t want a lot of preciousness around. I’m in my head when writing, and there’s a lot of stuff already in there, and that’s what I attend to. If I want something corny in the story, I want it to emerge “naturally” from my own corny heart.

Tools

With this book I downloaded Scrivener. Ordinarily I use Word like everyone else, so I cringed at the thought of special “writing” software. But once I figured out how Scrivener worked I found it very helpful. It fit my process perfectly. Easy to get things in the order I wanted, painless at text entry, good reorganization, a breeze. It was great and I now recommend it. What’s best about it is that it keeps the whole project at your fingertips in a way word processors can’t. You have all your chapters, sections, bits and pieces right there in a column on the left and the text of the moment on the right. If you want to check something, connect with a prior chapter, move a scene, remind yourself, whatever, it’s all right there in front of you. A big help for longer works. Five stars.

Soundtrack

I like things quiet when I work, so night is good. I love the ringing in my ears and the comforting hum of the air conditioning, the hiss of cars speeding by, whatever outside sounds manage to creep into consciousness. I’ll listen to music (using earphones, because it’s the middle of the night and there are sleepers sleeping), and when I do it’s usually non-tragic, non-hysterical stuff like Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, the early Dollar Brand, many of the ECM players, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Django of course, Miles of Silent Way, and, if I’m particularly giddy, the nutball trumpet of Lester Bowie in the late I Only Have Eyes for You period. I like some classical music, old and new, and I love the sounds made by home appliances--dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, hot water heaters, coffee makers. Some years ago I proposed to the record company that we release a record of a forty-two minute gourmet recording of my dishwasher. I made a demo CD complete with attractive cover. The CD was called Great Washer and it was beautiful in every aspect. It did not fly. Now, these many years later, I note that some shallow personages are posting low quality digital files of their lesser dishwashers on the YouTube. Sleep aids, they say.

Fuel

Chocolate.

~

> See all of Barthelme's books.

Barthelme-motellife

 

Best of the Year: Celebrity Authors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2014

It's becoming a thing: Each of the past few years, when we announce our editors' picks for Best Books of the Year, we also share a list of our favorite writers' favorite books.

This year we asked some of the biggest names in books, fashion, film, food, music, and more--all of whom have recent books of their own--to tell us about three books they loved in 2014. See which books Anne Rice, Brooke Shields, Lena Dunham, Norman Lear, Tory Burch, George Clinton, James Franco, Mark Bittman, Alan Cumming, Martin Short, Diana Gabaldon and others chose as their favorites.

The full roster is in alphabetical order below, or you can visit the Celebrity Picks page on Amazon.com.

Holly Black
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman
Grace Bonney
Grace Bonney
Tory Burch
Tory Burch
George Clinton
George Clinton
Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming
Christopher Paul Curtis
Christopher Paul Curtis
Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo
Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond
Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham
Cary Elwes
Cary Elwes
Gayle Forman
Gayle Forman
James Franco
James Franco
Alan Furst
Alan Furst
Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon
Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande
Dorie Greenspan
Dorie Greenspan
Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat
Deborah Harkness
Deborah Harkness
Laura Hillenbrand
Laura Hillenbrand
 Gina Homolka
Gina Homolka
 Jeff Kinney
Jeff Kinney
 Norman Lear
Norman Lear
 Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman
 Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch
 Lianne Moriarty
Lianne Moriarty
 B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak
 James Patterson
James Patterson
 Stephanie Perkins
Stephanie Perkins
 Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult
 Anne Rice
Anne Rice
 Sarah Richardson
Sarah Richardson
 Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields
 Martin Short
Martin Short
 Lara Spencer
Lara Spencer
 Brandon Stanton
Brandon Stanton
 Garth Stein
Garth Stein
 Amy Stewart
Amy Stewart
 Brad Thor
Brad Thor
 Scott Westerfield
Scott Westerfield
Meg Wolitzer
Meg Wolitzer
 William Gibson
William Gibson
 Sean Brock
Sean Brock

"Fog Island Mountains" by Michelle Bailat-Jones wins Inaugural Christopher Doheny Prize

FogislandmountainsMichelle Bailat-Jones's novel Fog Island Mountains has won the first-ever Christopher Doheny Prize, which recognizes excellence in writing about serious illness. The prize was created by Audible in honor of Chris Doheny, an employee at Audible who lost his battle with cystic fibrosis in 2013.

Fog Island Mountains--the story of a man with terminal cancer whose wife disappears--was published this week, in paperback and audio (narrated by Jennifer Ikeda).

Our thanks to Diana Dapito, Director of Editorial Merchandising at Audible, for the following remembrance of Chris Doheny.

~

Chris Doheny--one of my closest friends and favorite colleagues--passed away in 2013 due to complications from cystic fibrosis. Unless you were part of his close inner circle (and even then the topic didn’t come up often), Chris didn’t talk much about his illness; about how difficult it was for him to breathe sometimes, and how a double-lung transplant, the last resort for treatment which Chris received in 2010, would still only potentially give him a few more years.

Chris Doheny2Instead, Chris liked to talk about books. (And music. And good coffee. And soccer. But a lot about books.) In our work together at Audible, Chris championed his favorites--Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Pastoralia by George Saunders, Tinkers by Paul Harding … long before it won the Pulitzer. The first book he ever recommended to me, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, is still one of my favorites, and my son loves Jon Klassen’s darkly funny I Want My Hat Back, a gift from ‘Uncle Chris’ that perfectly reflected his wicked sense of humor. Chris’s discerning taste and deep love of literature was prevalent in all facets of his life--he even named his pet rabbit Vonnegut. Towards the end, he was almost done writing his own novel, and it was at his request that his vast collection of books was given away at his funeral--the best way for a book lover to leave a piece of himself with his friends.

And when we knew that the end was coming, Audible’s publisher, Beth Anderson--the woman who hired both me and Chris and had been our mentor since 2004--worked with Chris to figure out the best way we could honor him. And so The Christopher Doheny Award was established with The Center for Fiction to recognize excellence in fiction or nonfiction on the topic of serious physical illness. The author has to have personal experience dealing with life-threatening illness, either his or her own or that of a close relative or friend. Because even though Chris didn’t let CF define him, he thought it important that more books address the toll that serious illness can take on the patient, family and friends, and others.

I was honored to be a judge--along with Beth and the authors Ann Hood and Dani Shapiro--for the first prize awarded in Chris’s name. But I’ll admit I felt a lot of pressure reading through the submissions because Chris had such high literary standards and the winner absolutely had to reflect them. When I started reading Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones though, its atmospheric storytelling really stuck with me, as well as the notion that, in Japan, doctors would sometimes keep the dire realties of a terminal diagnosis from patients. (Something that would have driven Chris crazy.) I knew I’d found my pick for a winner, and was thrilled to find that it actually was the unanimous choice of all the judges. I have no doubt that Chris would be proud of this selection, and am excited for more readers and listeners to discover it.

~

About Christopher Doheny
 
Chris Doheny joined Audible, Inc. while in college as a summer intern in 2002 just a few years after the company was founded. After graduating from Georgetown University in 2003, he returned to Audible, Inc. and spent the next eight years helping to build the company. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was just a baby, Chris strived to live as normal a life as possible. Chris received a double lung transplant in June 2010. He passed away on February 20, 2013.

Read more about the Chrisopher Doheny Prize here: http://centerforfiction.org/awards/the-christopher-doheny-award/

How I Wrote It: An Interview with Cary Elwes, on His Memoir, "As You Wish"

ElwesCary Elwes discusses his new memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, a behind the scenes look at the filming of the cult 1987 classic.

In this exclusive interview, filmed this summer in New York, Elwes says he was inspired to write the book after meeting with the cast and crew at a twenty-fifth anniversary reunion in 2012. "I felt that the time was right to tell my story," he said.

"The making of the film was really a collaborative effort. We're like one big family ...It's not just my book it's theirs as well, it's all of ours."

The book contains never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, including backstage stories and secrets.

Lunch With: Mark Bittman, on Cooking with Speed and Confidence

20141014_133913_resizedI've been cooking since I was a teenager, starting as a short order cook at the Gibson Girl diner in Sparta, New Jersey. (Still the best job I ever had). I found myself thinking about that long-ago job as I leafed through Mark Bittman's new book, How to Cook Everything Fast, which encourages improvisation and experimentation. I remember the day at Gibson Girl when I ran out of bacon for our famous Butch Burgers--bacon, cole slaw, special sauce. I ran to tell my boss, Vinny Scapicchio, who slapped a couple pieces of ham on the grill. "They'll love it," he said.

In How to Cook Everything Fast, Bittman offers strategies and shortcuts designed to help people cook with the same level of confidence as my man Vinny. During a recent visit to Seattle, Bittman spoke with us over lunch (at Shanik Indian restaurant, followed by a shot at Uptown Espresso) about his attempt to create a book full of recipes (2,000 of them) that can each be completed in 45 minutes or less.

By combining cook steps with prep steps, the book is designed to streamline recipes and take away the excuses many people use for not cooking their own meals--not enough time, don’t know what I’m doing, don't have the right ingredients… The book encourages compromise, such as replacing ingredients with something that's close enough. “And I think that is what cooking is all about. It’s about compromise. We all feel sort of hurried,” Bittman said. “You never have the perfect ingredients.” 

To Bittman, perfect is less important than fresh and handmade. “I think the from-scratch thing is really important, because it’s the only way you know what you’re eating,” he said. “We don’t know what’s in the food we eat unless we cook it ourselves, and to me that’s the primary reason to cook. I want to know what I’m eating.”

These days, Bittman has become an evangelist (in his New York Times opinion columns and elsewhere) for encouraging people to eat better by folllowing a simple rule: “eat real food."

No need to follow recipes slavishly, he insists. If you have the basics in your pantry, you can make just about anything. With practice, you can even develop the instincts and trust in your own judgement to, say, swap in grilled ham atop a burger when you don't have bacon.

Bittman2~

> See all of Mark Bittman's books

> Visit his website

> Follow him on Twitter

 

A Dark and Stormy Night: A Roundup of Halloween Lit

As you put the finishing touches on your costumes and keep dipping your hands into the bowl of trick-or-treater candy, enjoy these literary themed jack-o-lanterns--Jack, Poe, Max, Katniss, Harry and Sherlock. If these aren't spooky enough for you, check out these Halloween-themed book lists:

The-shining-pumpkin

Enhanced-buzz-28924-1382082488-4

Enhanced-buzz-28031-1382334452-4

Enhanced-buzz-25798-1382332373-9

Enhanced-buzz-24749-1382332148-4

Enhanced-buzz-3045-1382329188-20

Where I Wrote It: Irish Novelist Stuart Neville's Musical Man Cave

Part of our new series featuring authors' desks and workspaces, here's a look at the guitar-filled attic of Northern Irish crime writer Stuart Neville, whose new novel, The Final Silence, publishes next week. The Final Silence is the chilling story of a politician's daughter who inherits her strange uncle's house, and in a locked upstairs room discovers horrific evidence of his life of crime. (No, not guitars. Much worse.)

Stuart Neville's Office.jpg

Neville1“I divide my writing time between the study room at my local library and the attic office of our old Edwardian house. When I know exactly what I want to write, I’ll tend to go to the library because it feels more like a working environment. When I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to write, it’ll be at home, right at the top of the house. This is where most of my guitars live.

I’ve been trying to convince my wife that they’re an essential part of my creative process, but I’m not sure she believes me. It’s a nice room, isolated from the rest of the house by a steep and narrow stairway, with a view over the neighbouring park.

I have a few photos around, mostly of me meeting people I admire, like James Ellroy, or the one you can see on top of the Marshall amp, with my chance encounter with Jeff Beck in a Dublin pub. I don’t know if this room is as much an office as it is a man-cave, but it’s my place, my bubble, and everything I write starts here.”

     --Stuart Neville

Neville2~

   > See all of Neville's books

   > Visit his website

   > Follow him on Twitter

Moonshine, and an Interview, with John Grisham

GrishamThe first time I met John Grisham was eight years ago in a bookstore in Charlottesville, Virginia, his home town. I was there to give a reading from my second book, and Grisham was in a back room signing stacks of copies of The Innocent Man. The store owner (I think it was New Dominion) kindly brought me into the back room to meet the man--he was signing more copies that day than my book probably sold in its lifetime--and he graciously spent time asking about my book (the story of southern moonshiners and the birth of NASCAR) and eagerly shared a swig from the jar of moonshine I'd brought along for the reading. 

So, is there a connection between that day in Virginia, and his new book, Gray Mountain, also set in Virginia, about a city lawyer battling Big Coal? 

Nope. None whatsoever. I just never get tired of telling people I sipped moonshine at a bookstore with John Grisham. (See below. No, that's not a wig.)

Earlier this year, I spoke with Grisham (at Book Expo America, in New York) about not only his then-unnamed twenty-seventh novel, Gray Mountain (which went on sale last week) but about his first book, A Time to Kill, and his decision to revisit those characters 25 years later, in 2013's bestselling Sycamore Row. "It was really enjoyable going back to that locale, with those people," he told me.

~

~

> See all of John Grisham's books

~

Gisham-moonshine

Zeppelin Porn — "Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page"

020914-0811 copyright Ross HalfinAbout ten years ago, my wife stumbled across the Led Zeppelin film, The Song Remains the Same, which awakened the 14-year-old fanboy inside her. My own 14-year-old musical tastes were mellower (Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Allman Brothers, and the like). I now listen widely, voraciously, all genres and styles.

But my wife? She was, and remains, an old-school one-band woman. Most of the CDs in her car are Zeppelin, and whenever all-female cover band Zepparella comes to town, we're there. Over the years, I’ve nurtured this fixation, and her crush on Jimmy Page. I bought her the Jimmy Page action figure that poses above our stereo, and have gifted her just about every Zeppelin book and bio.

But none of that compares to the 500-page “photographic autobiography,” Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page, an advance copy of which has taken up the prime spot in the middle of our coffee table. Weighing more than our dog, the book covers the entire "journey of my musical career," as Page writes in the introduction--hundreds of photos, from his teen choir boy years to his appearance in It Might Get Loud. In short, it’s hard-core Zeppelin porn.

Our thanks to Page and his publisher, Genesis Publications, for the exclusive photo above (Page holding his own book), and for sharing these samples below. And, honey? You're welcome.

P14 © Dennis Coffin - 014-015 scan ok

P317 Jimmy 1977 by Janet Macoska

P331 JP000017 copyright Hipgnosis

P484 SP_DSC7274 copyright Scarlet Page

Continue reading "Zeppelin Porn — "Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page"" »

Exclusive Excerpt: The Sweetest Sound, by Rick Bragg (From “Good Dog: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty”)

GoodDog

The Sweetest Sound

(Excerpted from Good Dog: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty, a collection of stories inspired by Garden & Gun magazine’s popular “Good Dog” column. Other contributors include Jon Meacham, Roy Blount, Jr, Dominique Browning, P.J. O’Rourke, Ace Atkins, Jill McCorkle, and Robert Hicks. Good Dog goes on sale today)

By Rick Bragg

As we made our way diagonally up a ridge, rocks turning our ankles beneath the slick carpet of leaves, I felt myself begin to slide sickeningly straight down the mountain, straight toward what I knew to be a bone-breaking deadfall. I caught myself on a gummy pine sapling, breathed a minute, and started up again, even farther behind. No one had even turned around, and the romantic in me, the one who read about lost souls on desert islands, wondered how long I would have lain there, broken and forgotten. My brothers said I thought like that because I read too many books.

DogBut falling was not romantic on the mountain. Falling was what you did up here. You walked; you fell. You chewed some Brown’s Mule, or some Beech-Nut, if your stomach could handle it. I did not chew, so mostly I just walked and fell.

What a dumbass I was, I thought, as I slid again and lost thirty yards of the uphill ground I had gained. A smart boy would have chased some brighter light, somewhere, because the light was where the girls lived. A smart boy would have been in town, leaning on the hood of a car at the Rocket Drive Inn with a Cherry Coke in one hand and a beautiful woman in the other. Or, at least, that was how I figured it should be. I was not yet ten years old, and a beautiful woman would have sent me into a convulsion.

No, we went the other way, away from perfume and soft shoulders, gouging deeper and deeper into the dark, into the foothills of the Appalachians along the Alabama-Georgia line. It was November, maybe even as late as December, 1969, but it could have been any night when boredom was stronger than common sense, after the cold sent the snakes down into the earth, and walking out into nothing was as much adventure as we could divine.

My big brother, Sam, was only three years older than me, but he drove a Willys Jeep he had hacked out of a rust pile and made to live again by soaking its bones in buckets of dirty gasoline. And so, he got to walk in front. He had an ax in a tow sack, but no gun. This was as far from a gentleman’s hunt as I guess a fellow could get.

We were all the same, us boys, on the outside. We did not own big parkas or camouflage anything, because while we still had real winter back then, it was too short in which to invest much wealth. We wore flannel shirts and thermal undershirts and something called a car coat, a thin and useless thing that, as near as I could tell, was made out of polyester, cat hair, and itch. Walmart would, one day, sell a trillion of them. We got a new one every other year; that, and a gross of underwear.

The smart ones in the group wore two pairs of pants, even three, because the briars ripped at our legs with every step. Sometime, back in the times of our grandfathers, these mountains had been old-growth hardwoods and towering pines, but none of us could remember a time when the South looked like that. Old men talked of an age when the great trees towered into the clouds and the forest floor was dark and smooth and clean, but these mountains had been clear-cut generations before, creating a tangled mess of skinny trees fighting for the light, with undergrowth and saw briars strung between them like razor wire.

It was a time before hunting was a fashion. We hunted in our work boots, laced up around two pairs of socks—three, if you were growing into them. The ones who had gloves wore them and the ones who didn’t walked through the woods with a pair of tube socks over our hands. I guess an outsider would have laughed at us, but outsiders did not get to go.

So armored, spitting, and breathing hard, we attacked the mountain. And no one said a word. I tried to whine, once, and ducked just in time to avoid being slapped back down the mountain.

“Hush,” my brother hissed, then, gentler: “Listen.”

The baying was so thin it vanished in the wind in the trees.

But he could hear it plain.

“Joe,” he said.

Continue reading "Exclusive Excerpt: The Sweetest Sound, by Rick Bragg (From “Good Dog: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty”)" »

Cook This: Chicken Parm in 30 Minutes, from Mark Bittman

BittmanI've never been good at being told what to do. In the kitchen, that resistance is to blame for the testy relationship I have with cookbooks. I love them, but I'm not a paint-by-numbers cook, preferring to snag bits and pieces of four different recipes.

That's why I've always appreciated Mark Bittman's cookbooks and his New York Times columns. His recipes aren't prescriptive, they're fluid, adaptable. Don't have turmeric? Try paprika. Don't have broccoli? Try brussell sprouts or fennel.

In his new book, How to Cook Everything Fast, Bittman offers strategies and shortcuts designed to help people make healthy meals quickly. Many of the recipes have variations, like the one below.

Don't have chicken? Try eggplant.

[*Look for our interview with Bittman later this week.]

~

Fastest Chicken Parm*

Time: 30 Minutes

Makes: 4 servings

(*Note: The "naturally fast" techniques in the book call for doing some of the prep work while some of the ingredients are cooking. In the recipe below, the "prep" steps are italics.) 

This take on the classic couldn’t be easier: Instead of dredging and panfrying, just stack the ingredients in two stages on a baking sheet and broil. Done this way, the tomatoes get lightly roasted and the bread crumbs stay nice and crunchy. (For eggplant like this, see the Variations.)

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium ripe tomatoes

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)

Salt and pepper

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese

2 ounces Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup grated)

1 bunch fresh basil

1 cup bread crumbs

 

1. Turn the broiler to high; put the rack 6 inches from the heat. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet and spread it around; put the baking sheet in the broiler. Core and slice the tomatoes. Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 2 thin cutlets for each breast. Press down on each with the heel of your hand to flatten.

2. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the broiler. Put the chicken cutlets on the sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with the tomatoes, and broil on one side only until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, rotating the pan if necessary for even cooking, 5 to 10 minutes. Grate the mozzarella and Parmesan. Strip 16 to 20 basil leaves from the stems. Combine the bread crumbs, mozzarella, and Parmesan in a small bowl.

3. When the chicken is cooked through, remove the baking sheet from the broiler. Lay the basil leaves on top of the tomatoes, sprinkle with the bread crumb and cheese mixture, and drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil.

4. Return to the broiler, and cook until the bread crumbs and cheese are browned and bubbly, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

 

Variations

Cubano Chicken

Use sliced dill pickles instead of the tomatoes and Swiss cheese instead of the mozzarella. Omit the basil. Before putting the pickles on top of the chicken in Step 2, spread a little Dijon mustard on the cutlets. Instead of the Parmesan, mix 1/2 cup chopped ham into the bread crumb and Swiss topping.

Chicken Melt

Use Gruyère cheese instead of the mozzarella and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves instead of the basil. Omit the Parmesan. Before putting the tomatoes on top of the chicken in Step 2, spread a little Dijon mustard over the cutlets.

Fastest Eggplant Parm

Instead of the chicken, slice about 2 pounds large eggplant crosswise 1 inch thick. After the pan heats in Step 2, spread out the eggplant slices—but not the tomatoes—and turn to coat them in some oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until softened and browned in places, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the eggplant, then top with the tomatoes and proceed with the recipe from the end of Step 2.

Where I Wrote It: John Twelve Hawks, on Writing his New Novel, "Spark"

Readers of Omnivoracious may be familiar with our "How I Wrote It" Q-&-A series, in which we ask authors to describe the writing of their book (including questions about their work space, their tools, their fuel--you can read them here). In "Where I Wrote It," we'll be asking authors to share photographs of their desk or office, along with a brief description of that space and what role it played in the creation of their book. Our thanks to John Twelve Hawks, whose new novel, Spark, is a Best of the Month pick in mystery, thriller, and suspense.

John12Hawks

In our Digital Age, it's almost impossible to live "off the grid." But we can find places of refuge where we know that our thoughts are our own.

The first draft of my new novel, SPARK, was written at a friend's house in rural Ireland.

Every morning, I would sit at the kitchen table near the cast iron stove, drinking strong tea while I gazed out the window at a green world. Everything seemed possible at that moment, and words streamed in with the sunlight.

Spark2  --John Twelve Hawks

~~

[Note: John Twelve Hawks, a pseudonym, is famously, elusively anonymous. Here's a portion of a note he posted on his Random House-hosted website, announcing the publication of SPARK: "Contrary to Internet rumors, I am not dead or in prison. I do move around a great deal and live in London, rural Ireland and New York City."]

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