All I Want For Christmas ~ Books I Will Buy For Myself If I Have To

My Christmas gift exchange list gets shorter every year, but still I dream of the presents I would like to receive. (I am a bit of a present baby, truth be told.) So below I am making a short list of the books I would like for Christmas–and if I don’t receive them from anyone, I will buy them for myself. Because I am an adult. I can do that.

So, in no particular order:

A VISIT FROM THE GOOD SQUAD by Jennifer Egan (Yes, I am the only person in America–in the world maybe–who has not yet read this book.)

EVERYONE REMAIN CALM by Megan Stielstra (I know I should already own this one, too, but I don’t yet have a convenient electronic reading device.)

 

THE LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta (I had my name in for a book giveaway, and I was unrealistically hopeful like I am when I buy a lottery ticket; I didn’t win.)

 

 

 

THIS BURNS MY HEART  by Samuel Park (Sam teaches at Columbia College Chicago where I teach, and I have heard nothing but great things about this book.)

 

PORTRAITS OF A FEW PEOPLE I’VE MADE CRY by Christine Sneed (A Chicago writer who has won all sorts of praise with this book; I get to share the stage with her at Story Week Festival of Writers in March 2012.)

 

 

ONCE YOU BREAK A KNUCKLE by DW Wilson (Winner of BBC Short Story Award, DW has a way with words, sentences, stories.)

 

DROWNING IN GRUEL by George Singleton (because how could you not want to read a book with this title?)

 

 

And I am certain there are many, many more titles I would like to add to my collection, but this will get me through January, at least.

2011 brought a number of good new(ish) books my way as well, some I have released into the world with love (passed on to friends), some I have kept on my bedside table, some I am still savoring. Among these: As If We Were Prey by Michael Delp; Volt by Alan Heathcock; Small as a Mustard Seed by Shelli Johnson; Carry Each His Burden by James Goertel; Birch Hills at World’s End by Geoff Hyatt; The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie; Windy City Queer, edited by Kathie Bergquist; many poetry books from Fleda Brown; The Whale Chaser by Tony Ardizzone; What You Don’t Know About Men by Michael Burke; and and and…..

Looking forward to new books in 2012 from Michael Downs (The Greatest Show), and Stacy Bierlein (A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends), and Bill Roorbach (Life Among Giants). 

So many books, so little time.

Happiest of holidays to you all. May you spend them on the couch with a book in hand and a cat on your knee. Thanks for reading! -PMc←

They Talk, We Listen ~ A Brief Collection of Author Interviews

Author interviews. I have to admit, I like them quite a lot. A glimpse into what makes them think, write, rewrite, enjoy life, and so on and so on. When I read of their concerns, their vulnerabilities, their insecurities, I recognize that the authors I admire are just people, people like me, maybe. And sometimes the interviews can remind me that these authors are also something else, something sort of super-human…or if not SUPER, maybe EXTRA. Extra-human. Their lives, while filled with the daily considerations we all have (doing the dishes, finding socks that match, cleaning the litter box, watching our salt intake,) there lives are often spent looking deeply into these things, searching for story moments not just to imagine (because we all do that, right? Imagine little stories as we go on with their our days?) but to write down and making meaning of and from.

And so, I provide here a list of a few author interviews you can find on the internet. Some of the links will lead you to writers you have known and loved for quite sometime (Ray Bradbury, Thomas McGuane,) and others will lead you to discover someone new and emerging (Katey Schultz, Alan Heathcock.) And if you feel so inclined, I invite you to add any links you might have as well.

David Abrams speaks with Thomas McGuane for New West 

Katey Schultz answers Philip Hartigan‘s questions for Preterita 

Ray Bradbury‘s official biographer (and friend of mine) Sam Weller interviews the literary legend for Paris Review 

Another Chicago Magazine: A Conversation with Dinty W. Moore by Neil Stern

Alan Heathcock answers my questions here

Salt Publishing Blog conversation between Vanessa Gebbie and Jonathan Pinnock

 

Mike Pride interviews Maine’s Poet Laureate Wesley McNair

 

 

Bonnie Jo Campbell interviews Bonnie Jo Campbell in on
e of The Nervous Breakdown‘s Self-Interview series

Carrie Margolis interviews Anne-Marie Oomen 

Bookgroup talks with Gerard Woodward 

The Paris Review talks with Toni Morrison

Leah Tallon talks withGina Frangello for Knee-Jerk Magazine 

Jhumpa Lahiri talks with The Spectrum 

Andrea Waterfield interviews Dennis McFadden for The Missouri Review 

A transcript of NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon‘s recent interview with Roddy Doyle

A. Manette Ansay talks with K C Culver

And I could go on. Perhaps I will. Another time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Loneliness, Friends, Tweets, Circles, and THE BOOK

I heard on NPR the other day that you can buy yourself followers on Twitter. True story. There is speculation that some of our “popular” politicians are doing just that. Stuffing the ballot box, in a way. And you know, I’d be lying if I said I don’t look at the following/followers numbers when I hook up with a new TweetBud (I don’t know what the current, cool slang is for these people; forgive me,) as if it matters how many friends my friends have.

It is a version of the cafeteria, really. You know. You don’t want to be the only kid at one of those long tables, your tray of impossibly red spaghetti and carton of milk the only thing to keep you company. And you don’t really want to be at the table with the misfits, either: the girl who eats paste still at 14, the boy who has a patch over one of the lenses of his glasses to strengthen his lazy eye, the albino boy, the girl who wears a helmet all day long. (As an adult I’ve come to realize that these kids grow up to be the most interesting, by the way, but the stigma of being among the losers is hard to outgrow.) Where you want to sit is with the cool kids. And if you can’t get into that elite circle, then you want to at least be in a huge circle. A vivacious collection of friends and acquaintances who know things, do things, are things.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about this social media stuff lately. Especially as I have just joined Google+ (why? because I was invited) and been blogging for a few months and I tweet, for godssakes. My brother Wesley McNair (poet laureate of Maine, you know. Yes, I am bragging.) talks about the internet being anti-poetry. And I guess I believe it is as well. A distraction. A place to write without nearly as much consideration or conviction or revision as one might put into a fully-realized poem, a short story, a novel. And yet, even as I know that, here I am on the internet, on all the sites, chattering with my “friends” and my “followers” and my “circles.”

Mostly because of the book. I want people to know about my collection of stories, The Temple of Air, and so I reach out this way. Yet this isn’t just about my book, it is about THE BOOK. (No, not the bible, silly.) THE BOOK. The thing that holds words and stories and lives and wisdom and dreams and fantasies. I turn to these media now to stump for THE BOOK. For writers. For publications. For the on-going struggle of sharing our work and our ideas. Yesterday The Guardian had a piece about publishing houses making record profits these days, partly due to the ease of ebooks. And we were all worried, remember? What will happen to the future of the book without Borders, without “real” books, without pages and dust jackets and paper cuts? Who would have guessed that maybe, just maybe, people are actually reading more…

Yes, all of this attention I have been paying to social media lately has much to do with THE BOOK. But here’s another thing. It is also about friendship. I am one with many friends, but rather few close ones. The closest are a couple of women in Mount Carroll where I have my house; Anne-Marie Oomen, the fabulous Michigan writer; Dennis McFadden, the wonderful upstate New York writer; Jana and Gail; my niece; my husband; a handful of colleagues at Columbia. I don’t call any of these people very often; we don’t chat on the phone like I used to with my high school girlfriends or boyfriends. Like I used to with my mother every day before she died. Like I did with my brother Roger before he did (one year ago today.) We send emails and thumbs-up over Facebook; we try to get together for dinner or drinks now and again.

And still, this matters. And so do my new “friends.” I know that I cannot consider people I only know through Facebook (Maxine Hong Kingston–who sent me a music video her son made, Alan Heathcock–who allowed me to interview him for my blog, Melissa Luznicky-Garrett–who is doing all she can to support independent publishers and authors) my true friends, but I am grateful for their Facebook friendship nonetheless. We share ideas and gripes, we share good news and political grievances. I am grateful, too, that through these social networks I am able to keep “talking” with people I’ve met for just a few days: Lucricia, Rachel, Chuck, Kathie. In the past when you met someone at a conference, say, or a reading in another state and you said “let’s keep in touch,” maybe you would. The occasional letter, perhaps; but usually these people who often meant so much for a brief period of time would just slip away, out of your life. It still happens, yes, but it doesn’t always have to, and sometimes it takes a little longer than it used to.

And maybe I am thinking about this because this is the anniversary of my brother Roger’s passing. I feel very lonely in that place I held in my heart for him and him alone. As my book launch comes up and I try on the dress I bought especially for it, I remember how he would whistle at me when he liked what I was wearing, would simply say “yeah, cool,” to let me know he didn’t without flat out insulting me. I know he would be proud of this phase in my life; that he would be passing out postcards for the book from the front seat of his cab. That he would be there to give me rides to bookstores and bars for my readings, to the airport when I was lucky enough to get gigs a flight away.

We–those of us still here–sometimes keep our loneliness at bay with these distractions, just as we can keep our real work away. But sometimes, too, these distractions–our followers, our friends, our circles–can remind us that there are still interesting, kind, people out there who are delighted and disappointed with life just as we are, who are filled with wonder and compassion and spirit and even rage when necessary. As I grow older, my closest real circle loses members now and then, and they cannot be replaced. Mom, Roger, Robyn, my Uncle Miller. But I’ve reconnected with people from my past (Gayle, Dale, Helen, my cousins) through this wide web, and I am glad for that. Things shift and tilt and there are empty spots that cannot be filled; and yet, life goes on. A cliché of the worst kind, but true, too. I am glad of the ever widening circles I find as my life goes on, and I thank you for your part.

Alan Heathcock’s VOLT-mobile ~ Another View From the Keyboard

Here’s what Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply had to say about Volt, Alan Heathcock’s short story collection debut: “The stories in VOLT are intense, suspenseful, and utterly compelling. Heathcock writes about violence and bad luck and bad choices with a cool, grim eye that recalls Cormac McCarthy, yet he also approaches the hard lives of his stoic Westerners with great empathy and compassion and heart–a kind of miraculous combination.  By turns hair-raising and tender, the tales in this collection draw you into a tough, bleak, beautiful world that you won’t soon forget.”

Some very high praise, I’d say. Not really a surprise, though, when you think about it. Alan has had fiction published all over the place, and his stories have been selected as part of The Best Mystery Stories anthology. Volt is published by the very fine Graywolf Press, and has received favorable and even starred reviews from a number of those periodicals we all wish would review us so well. Originally from Chicago, Alan now teaches at Boise State University and is Writer-in-Residence for the city of Boise and a Literature Fellow for the state of Idaho.

Beyond all of this, Alan has one of the coolest writing spaces I’ve ever seen. Below is his description.

Alan:  My writing studio is a 1967  Roadrunner travel trailer that for most of its life was an Idaho State Police surveillance vehicle, and is now packed with books and trophies and random oddities–in style, it’s urban-redneck-gypsy-writer chic.  Having a wife and three kids, it’s perfect in that I can actually leave the house to go to work, to be out of earshot, to be away from someone asking me to open something or find something or wipe something, but also be close enough to come in to have lunch with the family, and get wifi from the house.  Inside, there’s old beautiful wood paneling, which smells like woods and feels like wood and feels cozy and connects me with the past.  With my wife’s help, I took pages from my favorite books and decoupaged them over the kitchenette area, so every time I get a drink of water, or heat up some tea, Hemingway and Joyce and James Dickey and Joyce Carol Oates stare me right in the face, daring me to bring my A-game.  I’ve hung framed letters I received from authors I admire, my prize being a type-written letter Joy Williams wrote me after she’d read my book.  Another favorite piece is a picture of “The Preacher” from the Charles Laughton movie, The Night of the Hunter.  The Preacher hangs over my head, glowering down over me, H-A-T-E tattooed across one hand, L-O-V-E across the other, him always watching, always making sure I’m writing what’s right and righteous.  In short, the VOLT-mobile (what my kids call it) is a magical place, a space that transports me from my side-driveway and deep into the recesses of my imagination, into all its fear and whimsy, its questions and concerns.

Excerpt from the story, “Peacekeeper”

At the back of the house, Helen entered the master bedroom.  A canopy bed with mahogany posts filled most of the room.  Helen gazed out the bedside window at the flooded world, the dark roofs of houses spread wide like barges on a big river.  Everything smelled of soil and fish.  So much water, so much washed over, but perhaps when they’d start anew everything could be better, everything forgiven.  Perhaps God would allow the girl to be dredged up by the flood and found, her parents granted their closure, yet the unrighteous cause of her death kept a gracious unknown.

Helen walked to a bureau and searched the drawers, one filled with scarves and nylons, the next with panties neatly folded and separated by color.  She moved to the closet and shone her light over the clothes; pants at one end, then blouses, then dresses.  Sweaters were on a shelf above the hanging clothes.  She pulled the red sweater from the middle of a stack, unfolded it to be sure it was the right one.  The silver thread of the embroidered snowflakes twinkled in Helen’s spotlight.  She held the sweater to her face; it smelled faintly of Connie’s perfume.  It was an impulse, and Helen could not explain why she needed it other than to say it was something clean and lovely in a world of mud.  She hugged the sweater to her throat and lay down on the bed, the mattress soft and pulling her in, her boot heels flat and heavy on the water-logged carpet.

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→Find out more about Alan Heathcock, read reviews of his stellar, award-winning collection Volt, get information about upcoming events and readings where you can hear from the author himself; visit his website: alanheathcock.com. Thanks so much, Alan. Writing readers, don’t forget, you, too, can submit your work and workspace for inclusion in View From the Keyboard. Guidelines to the right. PMc.←