Archive for July, 2011

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New Fiction & Nonfiction — at Mysterical-E and in North Carolina Literary Review

July 19, 2011

I’m fortunate to have two recent publications to announce — both a short story and an interview.

First up is some very short fiction that began as a sonnet (and in fact, in its current form online, one of the old line breaks has been preserved). I wrote “Hard-boiled Sweetheart” during my MFA years at George Mason University — an exercise for a Forms of Poetry class with Peter Klappert, undoubtedly one of the best writing teachers I’ve ever had. It was a fun little piece, and I sure hated to see it just tucked away forever inside a black binder. I don’t know much in the way of poetry outlets, of course, but flash fiction? I just pulled the line breaks (well, almost all of them!), submitted it to an online pub I greatly admire, and… Hooray! You can find “Hard-boiled Sweetheart” in the Summer 2011 issue of Mysterical-E.

Next up is an interview with Michael Malone in the 2011 issue of North Carolina Literary Review. (Note: The interview is not available online.) I sat down with Malone last fall during East Carolina University’s seventh annual Eastern North Carolina Literary Homecoming, and our talk surveyed his long career, from his debut novel, Painting the Roses Red, through his latest, The Four Corners of the Sky — with a fair amount of focus on my favorite among his books: the Justin Savile/Cuddy Mangum trilogy Uncivil Seasons, Time’s Witness, and First Lady. And even better news? That trilogy will soon be a quartet, with Malone hard at work on Dark Winter.

The rest of this year’s NCLR is simply remarkable. The front-of-the-journal focus on “North Carolina Environmental Writing” includes essays by David Cecelski, Jan DeBlieu, Janet Lembke, and Bland Simpson; poetry by James Applewhite, Gerald Barrax Sr., and Valerie Nieman; and art by Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Minnie Evans (the latter from the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art, where I used to work). The back-of-the-book “North Carolina Miscellany” includes my interview along with a new story by Robert Wallace (winner of the 2010 Doris Betts Fiction Prize), a review by Sally Buckner of several new poetry collections, and the great poem “Guitar Prostitute” by Robert Hill Long, founding director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.

Good stuff all around. — Art Taylor

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Interview: Megan Abbott, author of The End of Everything

July 1, 2011

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott‘s first four novels — Die a Little, The Song Is You, Queenpin, and Bury Me Deep — established her as a noir master. Her debut, Die a Little, earned an Edgar Award nomination, and her third novel,Queenpin, took home the prize for Best Paperback Original. Bury Me Deep — inspired by the notorious “Trunk Murderess” scandal of 1931 — was nominated for a slew of honors, including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry Awards, the Hammett Prize, and The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Set from from the 1930s through the ’60s and mostly in Los Angeles, these books revisited familiar times, territory and themes (they’re fully steeped in sin), but Abbott also reinvigorated some standard tropes, particularly because of her focus on female protagonists and perspectives. (It’s perhaps worth noting  that before publishing her first novel, Abbott turned her PhD dissertation into a provocative book-length study of gender stereotypes within the genre: The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir.)

With her new book, however, Abbott has made a seemingly sharp turn. The End of Everything shifts to a more recent era — the 1980s — and a suburban Midwestern milieu, and the book’s narrator, Lizzie Hood, is only 13 years old. But darkness waits on the edges of her young life, and when her neighbor and best friend, Evie Verver, disappears, Lizzie becomes a key component of the investigation — and ultimately finds herself at the heart of mysteries even more profound than simply discovering where Evie went.

On the eve of the book’s publication, Abbott indulged a few questions about The End of Everything.

Art Taylor: After your first four novels, what were the challenges you faced — or the benefits you found — in setting this new book in a more recent time and in a suburban setting?

Megan Abbott: It was very scary at first. I didn’t know if I could adapt my style — which is so influenced by crime fiction and film noir from the midcentury, that heightened style, that glamorous milieu — to this new setting and time period. But I felt I had to try it, to knock myself out of possible ruts. And this particular story had been knocking around my head for more than ten years.

A big help in the transition was the fact that my narrator is 13 years old. As I wrote, I just had this revelation that, for most 13-year-old girls, life is “noir.” It’s all sex and terror and longing and confusion. Everything feels big and frightening and thrilling. The stakes feel dramatically high and everything feels precarious — it’s a time of heightened everything. That enabled me to see the suburbs too — a place I grew up, thus rendering it mundane to me for so many years — as a much more exotic place, a place of secrets, mystery, enchantment, darkness. And to draw on my own experience for the first time, which I hadn’t really done before.

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