Blogs at Amazon

A Love Story Complicated by a Crime: “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

I received a somewhat disturbing text from a friend the other afternoon. She was running late for work Paying_guestsbecause she couldn't put a book down that I'd recently leant her. "How can I go? I must read on!" "But, the children!" I cried. She is a nanny, you see, so while I could relate to her plight--I had spent a rare sunny day in Seattle, indoors, eschewing some much needed vitamin D reading the very same book--I didn't have children to keep alive. Such are the perils when one picks up The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. So readers, clear your calendars.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Waters recently, on a not-so-rare rainy day in Seattle, to talk about this historical page-turner, set during a "politically untidy" time that has many parallels to our own. 

The story takes place in 1922 in suburban South London. WWI has ended and ex-soldiers are roaming the streets, unemployed and uncertain about the future. In a once grand and genteel house, Frances Wray--a spinster with a surprising past--lives with her mother.  "They've lost their men to war, and they've lost income and servants, and so they've had to bring in lodgers to make ends meet, and they are Leonard and Lilian Barber, the paying guests of the title. Francis is at first appalled by their gaudy furniture and bothered by the sound of them moving about upstairs, but finds herself increasingly drawn to Lilian. So the novel is the story of their affair and the sort of dramatic and really violent and alarming consequences that it has for everybody involved."

The novel was inspired, in part, by an actual murder case from that time--a case that had a "classic triangle at [its] heart--a wife, a husband, and a male lover. And, I began to think what it would be like if the lover was female--what that would do to the story, how it would touch on other issues in the period." With this germ of an idea, Waters began researching similar cases in earnest. "I was struck when I looked at those murder cases--and I looked at lots of other murder cases from the period. They did tend to feature ordinary people who by some sort of mistake, by a moment of madness, were plunged into nightmare and into disaster and ultimately towards some sort of violent death. And I was very struck by the fact that people in murder cases like that, they don't know what's coming...In the months, weeks, days leading up to the murder, they were just leading their ordinary lives."

Waters is known for plotting-out most of her books ahead of time, but she admits that she was knee-deep in the writing process before realizing that--despite the murder and the mayhem--the book is mainly a love story.  "I really was sort of rooting for Frances and Lilian but very conscious that their love came at a cost...Once I'd realized, though, that that was kind of the trajectory of the book--that it was based on their love--the book came together for me more smoothly. And then it became a novel very much about how their love is put under pressure, how it's tested by this dramatic incident, and the moral complexity of the events that follow."

Sound a bit dark? Fortunately, as fans of other Waters’s novels like Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith can attest, she has a knack for humanizing her characters with pitch-perfect humor for the period that also resonates with a modern audience. "Often humor is so specific to its moment that it doesn't date well. There's nothing worse than, sort of, terrible comics movies from the 20s, for example...The best of them last but they just seem incredibly tiresome now as no doubt our movies will in another hundred years. So, it's trying to find humor that belongs, feels like it belongs to the period and yet still seems kind of funny to us. That’s quite a challenge...We do need to get beyond those static black and white pictures of the past and remember that people live their lives in color, and with laughter, as well as with tears and sternness. The whole range, that's how you bring the past to life."

The Paying Guests was a Best of the Month selection for September.

Weekend Reading: The Perfect Seattle Day... Sort of

It feels like fall has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The sun is still hanging on in Seattle, but barely, and it's getting cooler. I have a neighbor who describes the Perfect Seattle Day as "gray sky, gray mountains, gray water." He'll have his wish soon. At least it will be good reading weather.

Here's what we'll be taking a look at over the weekend. Happy Friday!


 

TITLE

Atlantia by Ally Condie

Seira Wilson: A new stand-alone novel from the author of the Matched trilogy—one of my favorites. This one is also a dystopian novel, but one where society is divided into those who live above--on land--and those who live in the submerged city below the sea. And, like the Berlin Wall, whatever side you’re on is it—you can’t leave. Twin teenage sirens, hard choices, and a mysterious death—this is shaping up to be another winner from Ally Condie. (Available October 28th)

Also reading:

 
TITLE

Why We Lost by Daniel P. Bolger

Chris Schluep: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are common topics for fiction and nonfiction these days. Mostly, I've recently been focusing on the fiction titles written about the wars--but General Bolger's honest look at what happened and why comes from a pretty unique point of view. This could be a big book.  (Available November 11th)

Also reading:

 
TITLE

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014 by Alice Munro

Erin Kodicek: I’m reading Family Furnishings by Alice Munro. Much to many readers’ chagrin, Munro announced that she was putting her pen down for good last year, after just having won the Nobel Prize in Literature. ‘Furnishings’, therefore, is a hand-picked selection of short fiction that she wrote over the past two decades. Reading these stories makes me rue her retirement even more, but it’s also a reminder of why Munroe is so beloved. (Available November 11th)

Also devouring:

 
Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev

Jon Foro: When British TV producer Peter Pomeratsev's traveled to Russia, he found a country wild at heart and weird on top--flush with cash, hustlers, and power brokers, but few rules (especially if you have cash). He also found an entertainment industry churning out agitprop and eager for Western tropes to co-opt with a Putin twist. The "surreal" subtitle is apt. (Available November 11th)

Also reading:

 
TITLE

The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

Neal Thompson: I’ve read enough mysteries and thrillers to know this much: when there’s a locked door, there’s usually something bad behind it. That’s what Rea Carlisle quickly discovers when she inherits a house from a strange uncle she barely knew. Turns out he was even stranger than she could’ve imagined. Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a city of ghosts and a blood-soaked history, it feels as if menace lurks with each turn of the page in this dark and brooding forthcoming novel from a master of neo-noir. (Available October 28th)

Also reading:

 

10 Books We Missed in High School … and Later Loved

Blame it on Cliff Notes, or our English teachers, or laziness, but there are plenty of classics that even our well-read crew of editors never read when we should have. Our friends at SheKnows.com asked us to come up with a list of books that we didn't get to until after high school. Sheepishly, we admitted that the list was a long one. Here are ten that we loved, even if we discovered them a bit late.

MobyMoby Dick

Reading Moby Dick in my early twenties, and once again in my late twenties, was a revelatory experience for me. For many reasons, it’s a book that I think about often. Here’s the line I’ve been considering lately:  “whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” –-Chris Schluep

King Lear

Shakespeare and high school kind of go hand-in-hand. I remember reading Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, and a few others. But my most rewarding experiences with the bard have been when I’ve sat down on my own and cracked open a play or even one of his sonnets. Yes, you have to be in the right mood for something like this—but as a friend of mine recently commented: “it’s been 500 years and no one has figured out yet how to do it better.”  –-Chris Schluep

Crime and Punishment 

I shied away from Crime and Punishment in high school because it was sooooo long and seemingly complicated--but when I spent a summer abroad in college, I was desperate for something long and complicated and. . . in English. Never mind that C&P is, of course, a Russian novel, the English-language version--which I found in a used book store--meant I could have periods of respite from Spanish conversation with my non-English-speaking hosts and friends. –-Sara Nelson

Fahrenheit 451 

After graduating, I went on a time-consuming, extracurricular tear on some classics that apparently weren’t classic enough for my high school: Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner, etc. But best of all was Bradbury, and of all his indispensable books, Fahrenheit 451 appealed most to my Cold War brain. –-Jon Foro

GrapesGrapes of Wrath

I took the long way around to The Grapes of Wrath: starting with Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, I worked through Wallace Stegner and other giants of western lit, eventually to Timothy Egan’s Dust Bowl classic, The Worst Hard Time. Steinbeck was the logical end of this journey, humanizing much of the suffering that formed the West, as well as the nation. –-Jon Foro

A Separate Peace

As the father of two teen boys, I’ve become something of an expert on the dark side of adolescence. Like Lord of the Flies and other sinister takes on coming of age, Knowles explores that fine and sometimes dangerous line between growing up on your own terms — or on someone else’s. –-Neal Thompson

Brave New World

I think I might’ve wrongly assumed that since I’d read 1984 I could skip Huxley’s take on a dystopian utopia. What was so remarkable about reading it years after high school was seeing how frighteningly prescient Huxley was in predicting their weirdness of life in a future society — like ours. –-Neal Thompson

FliesThe Lord of the Flies

Maybe it was my mom’s screams at my brother and me (“You’re just like ‘Lord of the Flies’ you two!”) that kept me away from this classic for so long. But thank god I finally discovered the book that explained the madness of boyhood to me, and so much more. Sorry, ma! –-Neal Thompson

To Kill a Mockingbird

I somehow lumped this in with some of the other books boring me to death in high school (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, anyone?) but when I read it as an adult I understood why so many people consider this their favorite novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is everything you need to know about innocence lost, injustice, kindness, and love. You can’t help but be changed by it. –-Seira Wilson

Catch-22

I had no idea that a story of war could be serious and funny at the same time until I read Catch-22. Joseph Heller introduced me to the brilliance of satire and ingrained in me the utter impossibility of truly “winning” a conflict of politics and belief, when human life is the currency being wagered. –-Seira Wilson

~

>Read the original story at SheKnows.com

 

Exclusive Recipe from "The Skinnytaste Cookbook"

SkinnytasteCall me a skeptic, but when I hear the words "light on calories, big on flavor" I'm generally doubtful.

In the case of The Skinnytaste Cookbook, however, author Gina Homolka is absolutely right.  I made the Cajun Chicken Pasta on the Lighter Side last week and seriously could not believe how good it was.  And low calorie! And everyone in my family liked it! 

I decided then and there to turn this week over to the pages of The Skinnytaste Cookbook and every single thing I've made has been delicious.  Plus, I've heard nothing but raves from my fellow diners (believe me, this is not a given...). 

So far we've had Zucchini Lasagna (even better the next day), Santa Fe Chicken (yes, a slow cooker recipe that takes 10 hours, just like a work day. amen.), and Sausage with Peppers (I chopped the veggies ahead and it was super fast to get on the table).  

Gina Homolka is my new hero (not even kidding) and The Skinnytaste Cookbook is our Best Cookbook of October spotlight title. Below is an exclusive recipe from her that I'm dying to try.  Even though I keep saying I won't buy any more kitchen gadgets I'm pretty sure I've got a spiralizer headed my way...  Enjoy!

 


Raw Spiralized Beet Salad with Candied Pecans and Goat Cheese

Serves 1

If you're not a fan of cooked beets, you may be surprised if you try them raw! They're sweet and crunchy and absolutely delicious in this spiralized salad, which I made using my favorite cooking gadget, the Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer. And since there's no need to turn on your oven, it’s ready in less than 20 minutes. The creaminess of the goat cheese goes well with the sweetness of the beets, and the mint makes it bright and refreshing!

RawSpiralizedBeetSalad

  • 1 medium beet
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon golden balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon local honey
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 ounce candied pecans
  • 1/2 ounce goat cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh mint

 

Peel the beet and trim off the stem end. (I recommend using gloves to prevent staining your hands.)

Insert the thicker end of the beet into the round blade of a spiralizer fitted with the smallest blade, keeping it centered.

Cut the beet into long spaghetti-like strips. Using kitchen scissors, cut the strands into pieces that are about 8 inches long.

Transfer the noodles to a bowl and add the olive oil, vinegar, honey, and salt, and season with black pepper. Toss well and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Transfer the beets to a salad plate. Sprinkle with the candied pecans, goat cheese, and mint, and serve. Serving size: 1 salad

Calories: 214 • Fat: 13 g • Carb: 21 g • Fiber: 3 g • Protein: 5 g • Sugar: 17 g Sodium: 171 mg • Cholesterol: 7 mg

Trust the Reader: Author Colm Tóibín on "Nora Webster"

Nora WebsterOh, to spend a few minutes talking to Colm Tóibín! Even on a transatlantic telephone call, the sonorous voice comes through, as precise and erudite and charming as you would expect from having read his books. Tóibín is a master of the beautiful, quietly emotional novel, but he’s also very definite in his opinions ("This business that you must like characters in fiction!" he practically harumphs) and rigorous in his locutions. I wish I could have listened to him for hours...

Tóibín's new book, Nora Webster, is a selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month. It will be available October 7.

Many of your books take place in, or refer to, the same county in Ireland where you grew up, and to people you might have known in the town. Who or what was the inspiration for this particular novel about a widow and her children?

My father died when I was 12, and it was just myself and my brother and my mother in the house. And I noticed everything. So while this is not a memoir, it does come from memory. A lot is invented, but what isn’t invented is the silence, the way of handling things. All the chattering, but underneath so much that is not being said. What I set out to do was just to get it right: the story of those years and what it was like in that place. I began to imagine as much as remember. It’s as though I was making a tapestry from two forms of wool: one was called memory, the other imagination. In many ways this is the story of what happened to me, even though it is a novel, not a memoir, and not fully from memory.

Some early reviews have compared Nora Webster, as a character, to Hedda Gabler and Emma Bovary. How do you feel about that?

The way I see it is that she’s sort of Emma Bovary without the adultery, the obvious excitement of a 19th century novel. Yes, the book is about provincial life. And yes, it’s about a woman oddly trapped. And yes, it’s about a woman who is not meek and mild, who can exert herself. And like Jane Austen’s Emma, every so often she does something extraordinarily wrong. She’s oddly damaged in some way or other, but at the same time has many good qualities. Still, you don’t want to make her a fierce mother, an Electra figure, a Medea. She wants to be left alone, but she also wants everyone to come near her. There are levels of ambiguity in her that I thought would be interesting.

You don’t generally write loud, noisy books, and this one is no exception. You seem most interested in designing the small moments, the interior thoughts...

It’s a question of trusting the reader. When you leave out an awful lot, the reader's imagination is pushed very far. It’s a portrait of a sensibility, the same as a painter would paint. One of the advantages of being in New York a lot is going to the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] and looking at the Vermeers. It’s not so much creating "scenes"--as ordinary moments. You have to make them luminous, make them mysterious. Make them matter.

Do you feel differently about this book than your others, because it does have an autobiographical element?

There’s an early novel called The Heather Blazing that is like this is in that it goes back to the childhood and the house. The others are based on my having left the town. So yes, the [autobiographical] ones feel different. They have a funny, different texture to them.

Peter Heller (The Painter) Interviews Bill Roorbach (The Remedy for Love)

Peter heller and meThe only thing better than interviewing one of my favorite authors? Having two of my favorites talking books with each other--at a bar.

Peter Heller (author of The Dog Stars and The Painter) recently shared a drink or two with Bill Roorbach at City Park Grille in Petoskey, Michigan--a Hemingway hangout--after which he asked Roorbach about his new novel, The Remedy for Love.

Heller previously had this to say about Roorbach's latest: “I’m not sure there’s another American writing today who can lay down a love story, or any story, with the depth and freshness of Bill Roorbach ... leave it to him to tease out the subtle nuances in the progress of love while stoking a tale that is as gripping as any Everest expedition.”

I'll step aside and let them have at it...

~~

Peter Heller: I took to The Remedy for Love right away, maybe because it’s a shipwreck, desert-island kind of story, albeit inland in Maine, and those are my favorites. Are you a fan of Defoe, Conrad, Coetzee? Or any of the epic non-fiction survival narratives like Shackleton’s?

Bill Roorbach: I love those kinds of stories, and all the ones you mention. Robinson Crusoe was a mainstay of my youth, and the Coetzee version, whoa. Speaking of youth, “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad. I think you’d call it a novella now, a long story based on the author’s own experience.You know it, right? This kid goes to sea on a coal boat and somewhere in the far southern ocean the boat catches fire. But that’s just half the adventure--the rest is getting back to England, which the protagonist manages, much as Conrad did. You can’t rest for a second reading that thing. And that’s just what I was going for, but boiled down to a simple situation--nothing unusual for Maine--that spirals out of control. Add a woman. At first, it’s just about one person trying to help another as snow starts falling, and then it's a disaster. Yet it’s a disaster with certain comforts.

IndexPH: Eric and Danielle are tailor-made not to get along, maybe even to hate each other. Was that fun for you, to throw them into that cabin and bring down the Storm of the Century?

BR: It was fun and painful in equal measure. I liked how Eric’s sweet nature and sense of duty is what gets him involved, and then how her mistrust makes him question his own motives. There he is being helpful, but he needs help, too, and doesn’t even know what he needs.

PH: I was constantly surprised as I read The Remedy for Love. And I’m not easy to sneak up on. Did the characters surprise you as well?

BR: I was surprised writing these two people, for sure. They found ways to reveal depths I hadn’t known about when I started in. I kept having to revise to catch up with them. Several times I had to stop and do several days of research, just to know what Danielle knew, or to understand her experience. Eric, same, though his revelations are quieter. I was also surprised by the way the storm in my story kept growing. Ten years ago, I don’t think anyone would have believed in this storm, least of all myself. But after Katrina and Sandy and all the typhoons that have wreaked havoc in Asia recently, and after recent winters in Maine, well, we’re all just waiting for it to happen.

PH: Well, I loved reading the book, as I said--had to get up and put on wool socks.

BR: I had the same experience, writing in the summer. I’d look up from my keyboard and be surprised there was no snow outside, that it was warm and safe. Like waking from a dream and realizing you haven’t really been thrown off a cliff.

PH: The Remedy for Love, which is so compact and intimate, seems like a departure from Life Among Giants, which is so multi-layered and covers so much time. Is this a purposeful shift?

BR: Life Among Giants took a long time to write for many reasons, but one reason was the huge cast and the grand sweep of time. When it was time to start a new book, I resolved to write one with just two main characters, one main setting, and make the central action happen in just a few days. The manuscript of Life Among Giants was huge, too, and it would take a while to come back from the various stages of editing. I used those months to start The Remedy for Love, one section at a time, and then used the even longer months of waiting for Life Among Giants publication day to keep drafting and stay sane. By the time the Giants paperback tour was done, The Remedy for Love was in production!

PH: You live in a not-large town in rural Maine. The setting of the book is beautifully rendered and you have a way, with this attention to very particular detail, of immersing the reader. The peripheral characters feel very real as well. And what happens when you walk into the local café after a book like this is published?

BR: Luckily, there are no cafés here! But seriously, Woodchurch, the town in the book, only somewhat resembles my town. The people in Remedy are thoroughly fictional. And most all of the action takes place deep in the woods, anyway, so I avoid trouble. Still, I’m sure people will be guessing.

PH: Do you spend a lot of time in the woods? Have you ever feared for your life there?

BR: I spend a lot of time in the woods, yes. Always have, since I was a little boy and didn’t have to home till dark. Now it’s a long walk or ski every day pretty much all year, and a lot of hiking and swimming, that kind of thing. My scares are usually more comic than life-threatening. Once I got lost in the fog and got off trail as it was getting dark. I didn’t mind the prospect of sleeping in the woods, but I didn’t want to miss dinner. So I did the Boy Scout thing of making straight lines by sighting on trees (you know, you pick three trees that form a straight line, walk forward one tree, and find another tree ahead in a straight line, and so on—this keeps you from going in circles, which is how people stay lost) and finally crossed a road, but miles from my car. Once, though, well, I should have feared for my life, but was too dazed to think that way: I’d taken an epic fall skiing far back in the woods here on a very cold morning, like ten below, all by myself, no phone in my pocket, no service out there anyway. I hit my face, snapped my neck back, and I knew I was hurt, even though there was no pain, but I couldn’t get up, couldn’t make myself move—things just weren’t working properly. After a long time in that weather (my sweat freezing), I started to go to sleep. I finally told myself I had to move, and then I did, got back on my feet and skied home a couple of miles. The pain didn’t start for a few days, happily, and the end of the story is a spinal fusion, three vertebrae in my neck. Titanium in there now…

PH: Why the title? This is a great love story that subverts itself from the start. You must have loved Frank Zappa.

BR: I love Zappa. Suzie Creamcheese and Sheik Yerbouti. Hours in Jimmy Naphen’s attic analyzing every nuance of note and word, and appreciating the strange combination of comic lyrics with very serious music. But this title comes from Thoreau. His remedy for love is to love more. Who knew old Henry had ever had a broken heart?

PH: What’s next?

BR: I’m working on the pilot script for Life Among Giants, which is in development at HBO. Still a lot of hoops and hurdles before we’ll get it on TV, but at least I’m getting paid. And also, main project, working on a new novel, which I’ve been calling Lucky Turtle. Takes place mostly in Montana, so I’m getting back out to your territory, also the territory of my youth. And a book of stories, which Algonquin will publish in 2016, The Girl of the Lake.

PH: Danielle reminded me so much of a woman I dated in the late 90s, whose wounded mercury and magic almost killed me. Who was your Danielle?

BR: What’s that? You’re breaking up. And I’ve got to cook dinner anyway. Thanks Peter, great talking! 

~~

>See all of Roorbach's books

>See all of Heller's books

Jane Lynch Gets Mean (fictionally speaking, that is)

MarleneQueenOfMeanEarlier this year, when I found out I was going to interview Jane Lynch during Book Expo America, I kind of got heart palpatations.  I love her in films, particularly Best in Show, saw her play Miss Hannigan in the Broadway revival of Annie last year (a show I'd never had a particular desire to see until I heard she was in it), and then of course, there's Glee...

Turns out, she's this totally amazing, down-to-earth children's book author. Yes, that's right--Jane Lynch, along with her co-authors and illustrator, have written a funny and smart picture book about bullying.  October is National Anti-Bullying Month, so it's only fitting that we should be talking about Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean  on October 1st.

The main character, Marlene, is a bully who is trying--as many do--to make friends and be popular with other kids, but just doesn't know how, and so resorts to being pushy and mean.  In the video below, Lynch and I talk about Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean, Lynch's own experience as a bully, and creating a character that stays true to her personality but learns how to tone down the sharp edge. 

 

 

How I Wrote It: "Dark, Dirty, Fierce" - Merritt Tierce, on "Love Me Back"

Tierce_headshot_800Who knew the life of a waitress could be so brutal, compelling, and nasty. Merritt Tierce's gripping and gritty debut novel Love Me Back is the story of Marie, a single mom in Texas who can't seem to stay away from the drugs, sex and bad choices that have created an obstacle course between her and adulthood. Fiercely written and uncompromisingly blunt, Tierce (a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree and a Rona Jaffe Award-winner) is a bold writer and a powerful new voice.

~

Ten words that describe Love Me Back?

Dark, dirty, fierce. Woman, mother, sex. Men, appetites, sex. Restaurants.

Reader

I wrote it for myself, and for Marie (the book’s narrator). I don’t write with an imaginary reader in mind, or to satisfy anyone other than myself--I write to make sentences that sound whole and original. I read for the same reason: not to find out what happens next but to hear the best words in the best order. When I say I wrote it for Marie I mean that I was inside her mind and I was trying to tell her story in a respectful, honest way. To the extent that Marie is a version of my younger self, especially in the first few chapters of the book, I wrote the book for all three of us--a way to salvage whatever was important about all that. Writing is the alchemy that refines the joyless experiences of my youth into something of value.
 
Tierce Space

I have a cedar closet that I’ve converted into a writing space. It smells wonderful and it’s small, about two feet deep and four feet wide. I love small spaces and I love being hidden away from the world. I put a rocking chair in there and my husband installed some reinforcements under the closet’s shelf so I can climb up and dream-nap. There are string lights and a paper lantern. On the walls I’ve posted many beloved talismans--handwritten notes from friends, drawings my kids made for me when they were little, some favorite photographs--as well as strong ideas I’ve had over the years, one per notecard.
 
That space is where I go when I can’t write anywhere else in my house. We have seven pets and three children, so our home is rarely quiet. If I’m not at home I can be exceptionally productive in transit. Something about being confined to an airport, or on a train/plane surrounded by strangers, opens the vault. Constraints provoke creativity.
 
Tools

I usually write on my MacBook Air. I write in Word (although I’m recently enamored of Pages), but I never write with the document in typical manuscript layout--portrait orientation, double-spaced, etc. I can’t stand to see that on my screen. The words look vulnerable and weak and I instinctively want to herd them closer to one another. I have a template I use to make the document look more like a book: landscape, two columns, justified, Garamond 13 pt, specific margins and spacing, among other elements I conform. If I could make the white background more page-colored I would. I often set the View mode to Focus so all the toolbars and rulers and menus disappear.

When I write by hand I like Pilot .38 pens. They are hard to find in stores because the tip is so fine, which is what I love about them. And while I’m more disturbed all the time by the firearms violence in this country, it’s not lost on me that I write with a .38 and I do believe that words are extraordinarily powerful. My pen is my weapon.
 
Soundtrack

I need either complete silence or loud, loud, engulfing sound. I finished one of my last drafts of Love Me Back at a goth club in Dallas. I sat in a high-backed red velvet chair at The Church and slipped right into flow state.
 
Fuel

When I’m really writing, especially something new, my body seems to enter a version of suspended animation--I suppose temporarily suppressing its normal operations to push more blood to my brain. I don’t become tired or hungry or thirsty until I’m out of the grip, and then I find I am behind on all kinds of systems maintenance.
 
Inspiration

I love weeding. I took a class on Chekhov from Allan Gurganus, and one of his many wise prescriptions was that we [writers] should all garden. I hadn’t had the yard or time to do that until after I graduated from Iowa, but over the past couple of years I have discovered he is absolutely right. I love visiting my plants every day and weeding is so restorative, for both my head and the flowers. Sometimes I’m disappointed if there aren’t any new weeds.
 
Frequently I fall asleep when I sit down to write, which used to frustrate me. I felt like it was a sign that I wasn’t disciplined enough to just force my mind into a keen, industrious state. But I’ve realized that my brain is actually taking a bath. It’s soaking itself in some sleep to wash off whatever film of clamor or preoccupation has built up. When I awake from these naps I can hear myself more clearly.
 
Walking is a great generator as well. I’ve written about this in a story called Everything I Did in Madrid. In that story, a writer can only have ideas while running--once the heart starts beating hard it gives up the good stuff.

National Book Foundation Announces the List of 5 Under 35

FacesEvery year, book lovers look forward to the National Book Foundation's announcement of their "5 under 35"—a list of young, talented authors selected by a committee of former National Book Award nominees. Each member on the committee picks one of the five new authors. Here are this year's picks and the authors who picked them:

  • Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya (Riverhead, July 2014) Selected by Aleksandar Hemon, 2008 National Book Award Finalist for The Lazarus Project
  • Redeployment Phil Klay, (Penguin Press, March 2014) Selected by Andrea Barrett, 1996 National Book Award Winner for Ship Fever and Other Stories
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press, May 2014) Selected by Karen Tei Yamashita, 2010 National Book Award Finalist for I Hotel
  • Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton & Company, March 2015) Selected by Andre Dubus III, 1999 National Book Award Finalist for House of Sand and Fog

Hollywood, Behind the Camera

Hollywood Frame by FrameThe following is excerpted from Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997.

Introduction, by Author Karina Longworth

In the pre-digital era, contact sheets offered a quick, visual summary of a photo shoot, and photographers, editors, and even subjects would make marks directly on the printed contact sheet pages to signify which images should be printed (and which absolutely shouldn't), how they should be cropped, and whether or not more shooting was needed. Once a frame of film was exposed, it couldn't be deleted, so contact sheets always include "mistakes" -- moments which the photographer, or the subject, may not want anyone to see. The contact sheets in Hollywood Frame by Frame are interesting for all of these reasons, and more. Most movie stars are given approval over which images of themselves are used for publicity purposes, and from the 1950s through the 1970s, the key way stars approved images was by making marks on contact sheets. Publicity departments, too, would use contact sheets to select the right, and wrong, ways to present the images representing a specific film or star. In allowing a glimpse into which images of stars like Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and James Dean commercially useful and which weren't, these contact sheets tell stories about how star personas are invented, while also exposing aspects of the individual celebrities' personalities which the entire industry of celebrity myth-making usually tries to squeeze out. 

 

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Breakfast at Tiffany's (Paramount/The Kobal Collection/Howell Conant)
 
Bus Stop
Bus Stop (Archive Photos/Getty Images)
 
Giant
Giant (© Sid Avery/mptvimages.com)
 
Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (Photo by Peter Stackpole/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
 
Once Upon a Time in the West
Once Upon a Time in the West (Photo by Bill Ray/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
 
Raging Bull
Raging Bull (Christine Loss)
 
Rear Window
Rear Window (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
 

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

October 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31