Archive for August, 2009


Tara Laskowski Interviews Jessica Anthony

August 31, 2009

I’m pleased today to host an interview between two great writers — and to present this interview as the first post of my recently redesigned site. Here, Tara Laskowski, the Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong Quaterly, talks to Jessica Anthony, author of the highly praised novel The Convalescent. The two writers were classmates in the MFA program at George Mason University, and Anthony returns to Mason on Wednesday, September 23, for an alumni reading as part of the 2009 Fall for the Book Festival. Tara introduces the novel — and the interview — here:

Jessica Anthony’s debut novel, The Convalescent, hit the shelves earlier this summer to rave reviews. (Check out this one at the San Francisco Chronicle.) Anthony was the winner of McSweeney’s Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. As McSweeney’s proudly writes on their web site about The Convalescent: “It is the story of a small, bearded man selling meat out of a bus parked next to a stream in suburban Virginia . . . and also, somehow, the story of 10,000 years of Hungarian history.”

I’ve been a big fan of Jessica Anthony’s work ever since we shared a fiction workshop class in grad school, and I can see why Barnes & Noble chose the book as a recommended summer reading pick, part of their “Discover Great New Writers” series. It’s a sharp, smart book that’s as weird and charming as its main character.

Tara Laskowski: In many writing classes, professors will say, “Write what you know.” You obviously haven’t stuck by that rule with this novel. What are the challenges of that, and what are the benefits?

Jessica Anthony

Jessica Anthony

Jessica Anthony: When I started writing fiction, I often struggled with real life and invention. I felt bogged down by all sorts of things: whether I was being unfair to a person I knew; how I could use something interesting that happened to my advantage—but as soon as I let go of writing what I “knew,” as soon as I began aiming for pure unadulterated invention, the boundaries suddenly disappeared. There was no need to sort out what in my life was useful to fiction because it was suddenly all useless. It was a very freeing, happy feeling not to have to rely on experience to tell a story. So I don’t see much benefit for ‘writing what you know,’ whether in fiction or non-fiction. I have never had much interest in heavily autobiographical fiction, because I always found myself asking: “Why isn’t this an essay?” And what do we know of anything, really? If you have a character who has lost a parent and you have also lost a parent, you and your character experience that loss in wildly different ways (usually for the story to work, the further you are from your own experience the better, otherwise you may suffer defending the weaknesses in your story with that embarrassing insistence: “But it actually HAPPENED that way…”). If you are an essayist, memoirist, journalist, or fiction writer, it seems to me that you’re probably better served by writing what you learn, observe, or investigate. Reading what a writer has sought out in truth and fiction is far more interesting than reading what a writer knows.
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Erica Eisdorfer’s “The Wet Nurse’s Tale”

August 28, 2009

Erica Eisdorfer, long-time manager of the Bull’s Head Bookshop in Chapel Hill, has been earning rave reviews for her new novel, The Wet Nurse’s Tale. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book yet (part of the reason that it has been mentioned in this space before), but I was pleased to see Carolyn See’s review in today’s Washington Post, which praised the book as “informative, unusual and intelligent.” Here’s a quick excerpt, about the novel’s glimpses into Victorian England:

The merit of this novel is in the considerable information it gives us about the lives of the servant class, how domestic life actually worked in those days, and the strange station that a wet nurse might occupy in a household, isolated between social classes but utterly indispensable. (Also included here are a dozen mini-chapters that are statements from women of the day, each of whom has her own good reason for putting her children out to nurse, ranging from breast infections, to mental illness, to helping with parish work or the harvest, to prostitution, to a mother’s death, to simply not wanting to lose one’s figure.)

See’s review follows on the heels of similar praise in the News & Observer, where Ruth Moose wrote: “Recently at a conference, one speaker remarked that ‘books will only be dead when women stop reading them.’ As long as books such as The Wet Nurse’s Tale are being published, women will be reading, and books will always be alive.”

Does the next of Moose’s comments — calling the novel “truly a woman’s book” — reveal part of the reason I (a guy) haven’t picked it up yet? Perhaps. Yet the praise being heaped on the book certainly commands attention, and I hope that the right readers continue to find it. And for those looking to find Eisdorfer herself, she’ll be at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village on Saturday, August 29, at 11 a.m., finishing up her tour of local bookstores.

Meanwhile, I’m back to my Mike Hammer novel… or actually, the new Margaret Maron.

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N.C. Events… Quickly

August 27, 2009

Apologies that my updates here have been so few and far between. At the point where the end of the summer flows into the beginning of the school year lies an treacherous inlet, and I’ve been caught somewhere in riptides and undertow.

Among the chief things on this weekend’s literary calendar in N.C. is another appearance by Alexandra Sokoloff, author of The Unseen. She’ll be at the Barnes & Noble, New Hope Commons, Durham, on Saturday afternoon, August 29, at  2 p.m. For a preview of the book, check out my interview with Sokoloff here.

And for yet another preview of the North Carolina Literary Festival, check out their just-posted, downloadable schedule of events here.

As for a preview of what’s coming up next here: Tune in Monday for an interview with Jessica Anthony, author of The Convalescent.

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N.C. Events: Regulator Bookshop Hosts Local Launch for “Love Is A Four-Letter Word”

August 20, 2009

Since my interview with Michael Taeckens a few weeks back, he’s been making the rounds with a series of appearances throughout New York City, promoting the hot new anthology Love Is A Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Break-ups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts. This Friday, however, Taeckens will be debuting the book on his own turf, with the first official tour stop in North Carolina. Contributors Wendy Brenner, Margaret Sartor, and Patty Van Norman will join Taeckens for a reading and signing on Friday, August 21, at 7 p.m. at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop.

This weekend also marks the start of the N.C. Literary Festival‘s “Authors on the Road” program, bringing some of the state’s leading writers to various venues in advance of the Sept. 10-13 festival. Charles F. Price, author of Nor the Battle to the Strong: A Novel of the American Revolution in the South, and Daniel Wallace, author most recently of Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, will kick off the program on Saturday, August 22. Price appears at Pack Memorial Library at 2 p.m., and Wallace will cover the other end of the state with a 3 p.m. appearance at New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington. For a complete list of participants, visit the NCLF “Authors on the Road” page here.

Also of note this weekend is an appearance by Mark L. Van Name with his new science fiction book, Overthrowing Heaven, the third book in his Jon and Lobo series (after One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack). He’ll be at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village on Sunday, August 23, at 2 p.m.

For more events, check out the MetroBooks Calendar at right!

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NC Literary Review: New Issue, New Look

August 17, 2009

The North Carolina Literary Review has just announced the publication of its 2009 issue, boasting a focus on N.C. drama and a smart new design! 

As always, NCLR offers a combination of scholarly criticism and creative works. For example, this issue includes both a recently discovered interview with Paul Green and the text of White Dresses, one of Green’s plays; and  the balance of the drama section includes both critical perspectives on works by Tennessee Williams (whose Clothes for a Summer Hotel was set in Asheville), Elizabeth Spencer, and Jim Grimsley, and insider views on the state’s history of “musician’s theater” by none other than Bland Simpson himself, and original plays by June Guralnick, Richard Krawiec, Kat Meads, and Sam Post

Beyond that focus on drama, the new issue also covers the full range of genres: an interview with Betty Adcock, a review of one of her poetry collections, and a sample of her own poetry; a short story by Malcolm Campbell, winner of last year’s Doris Betts Prize in short fiction; an interview with first-time novelist William Conescu (also interviewed by me in Metro Magazine), and much more. I’m proud to have an essay of my own included here as well, discussing mystery novelist John Hart‘s three books, The King of Lies, Down River, and The Last Child.

In all, a great issue, even without my bias in being included in its contents! I can’t wait to work my way through it, and glad to encourage it here.

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