4/20/17 PAULA FOX’S NOVEL DESPERATE CHARACTERS Paula Fox died on March first, although I didn’t know it. I happened to be reading Desperate Characters at the time. I didn’t know who the author was or why I was reading Desperate Characters. My best guess was that a Goodreads friend had recommended the book and I’d downloaded it, with so many others, to my Kindle. Because Kindle doesn’t give copyright or original publication dates for books – an unforgivable sin, to my mind – I didn’t even know whether Desperate Characters was an older book or a recent one set in the sixties. What I did know, or realized as I got into the book, was the fact that I was reading not just good but great fiction. He wasn’t a seducer. He was remote. He was like a man preceded into a room by acrobats. (Continue reading)
2/20/17 WALKER PERCY’S THE MOVIEGOER AND MIKE ALBO’S HORNITO: CAN YOU TELL WHICH QUOTE IS FROM WHICH?
I often read two or three novels at once. Reading Percy’s The Moviegoer and Albo’s Hornito, I read a passage and thought I’d picked up one book rather than the other. Both present a young man chasing sex and the meaning of life while also interacting with his elders and friends and working in an office and revisiting his childhood. When I finished both books, I noticed that many passages I’d marked in each could fit either, to some extent. Which left me struck by the similarity of the quest of the protagonists, although really quite different men.
Can you tell which of the quotes below belong together? The answers are at the bottom of this post, as is a little more information about the protagonists. (Continue reading)
1/29/17 INTRODUCING OUR FEB 1 GUEST BLOGGER MIKE ALBO, NOVELIST, HUMORIST, PLAYWRIGHT, POET, STYLE COLUMNIST “…Her face screwed up into a scribble.” “I feel like I pollute when I show too much mood, so I smile, even when I ache inside.” “Each time I meet him I pretend I haven’t met him, because he doesn’t remember meeting me because we are being casual, and casual means you are waterproof and no one face soaks into you”: all in the poetic prose of the novel Hornito, My Lie Life, my introduction to Mike Albo and why I fell in love with him as a writer. An M.A. from Columbia, Albo offers two novels, two novellas, three plays, several solo stage performances, screen performances, along with contributions to, among others, the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, GQ, and The Village Voice. His work as a style columnist for the NYT inspried his novella, The Junket. We look forward to his contribution here at LLNB on Feb. 1!
8/20/16 READING MY WAY THROUGH MURIEL SPARK On Goodreads I posted the question, “Who writes like Barbara Pym, one of my favorite authors?” A friend replied that I should try Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington. There began my reading of Spark, an author who had escaped me, though she was twice short-listed for the Booker Prize and in 2008 included by The Times as among Britain’s top 50 writers since 1945. (Continue reading)
6/20/16 A TASTE OF NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST AND NYT BESTSELLER BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK BY BEN FOUNTAIN
“His [2½ -year-old] body was all spring and torque, a bundle of fast-twitched muscles that exuded faint floral whiffs of ripe pear. So much perfection in such a compact little person—Billy had to tackle him from time to time, wrestle him squealing to the ground just to get that little rascal in his hands…”
19-year-old American soldier Billy Lynn, stateside from Iraq on a two-week promotional tour because his company—Bravo Squad—made the news for its heroism, is essentially prostituted for patriotism on Thanksgiving Day as part of the halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys football game. Tomorrow, Bravo will be re-deployed to Iraq.
4/20/16 INTERVIEW WITH LOU ARONICA, AUTHOR OF THE FOREVER YEAR
In The Forever Year, Jesse, a young man, is the last child in his family, born when his father was late middle-aged. Growing up, Jesse felt that his father and older siblings lived in a world apart from him and that he didn’t know his dad as his siblings did. When his father is no longer able to live alone, Jesse surprises his siblings by arranging for Dad to live with him. During the time the two men spend together, Jesse hopes they’ll connect. What he doesn’t expect is to learn that the love of his father’s life was not Jesse’s and his siblings’ mother. Yet their mother was the only woman their dad married, a marriage that lasted most of his lifetime and lasted until their mother’s death—not an unhappy marriage. (Continue reading)
2/29/16 TAWNYSHA GREENE, AUTHOR OF A HOUSE MADE OF STARS, WILL BE OUR MARCH 1 GUEST BLOGGER.
Tawnysha Greene received her PhD from the University of Tennessee where she served as the fiction editor for Grist: The Journal for Writers. Her work has appeared in PANK, Bellingham Review, and Weave Magazine. Her first novel, A House Made of Stars, was released from Burlesque Press in 2015 and was reviewed here on Feb. 20. Cleaver Magazine described A House Made of Stars as “stunning.”
2/20/16 REVIEW OF A HOUSE MADE OF STARS, A NOVEL BY TAWNYSHA GREENE The more fascinating because of the unique narrator—a man’s 10-year-old deaf daughter—is this story of abuse committed by a manic-depressive, unemployed (and probably unemployable) father, himself the child victim of abuse by a deaf mother. The abuse he commits is allowed to continue by his helpless, complicit wife, the mother of their children and a psychological victim of fundamentalist Christianity’s tenet that wives should be submissive to their husbands. The wife’s own mother wants her daughter to bring the children and live in safety and
economic stability with her. (Continue reading)
11/20/15 STAY-AT-HOME DADS: BRAFF’S THE DADDY DIARIES AND PERROTTA’S LITTLE CHILDREN I’ve bought three books because of tweets. Joshua Braff’s The Daddy Diaries was one. I expected a stay-at-home dad with an infant or toddlers, in the vein of Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. But the children in Joshua Braff’s novel aren’t little. The protagonist’s daughter is 10, his son 13. (Continue reading)
10/20/15 NOVEL ENDINGS I don’t think this can be a spoiler because I can’t remember the name of the book or the author. It’s set in small-town Minnesota in the fall, and the protagonist teaches school. I liked it and sent it home with a friend who came for the weekend. He taught high school in New York City. The teaching year had just begun, and he was in his usual back-to-school funk. I thought he’d enjoy reading about a fellow high school teacher in a book set at the beginning of the academic year. “Thanks a lot,” he said sarcastically in our next phone conversation. (Continue reading)
9/20/15 REVIEW OF JOYCE RENWICK’S IN PRAISE OF WHAT PERSISTS “I kept finding the goat wandering in the dining room, or standing on the front room fireplace mantel just like she was wild on some mountainside… Pie Face was just an ordinary American mongrel milk goat, mostly black with white wedges under her eyes that gave her the name…[She] weighed about a hundred pounds and would chew or lick anything in sight that might contain minerals. She bit me every time I milked her so I’d gotten to expect it.”—from “The Goat” in the posthumous collection In Praise of What Persists. (Continue reading)
WE CELEBRATE LATE LAST NIGHT BOOKS’ 2-YEAR ANNIVERSARY WITH A REVIEW OF THE PAST YEAR’S GUEST BLOGGERS.
FOR LOVE AND MAGIC.
There was a time when I determined, with absolute certainty, that I would never seek publication for my novel, The Listeners.
It wasn’t always that way. I was still in eighth grade when it clicked with me that writing is something one can do for a living, and from that moment on it was more than anything else what I wanted to do. (Continue reading)
Author of the recently published serial novel A Cappella Drug Lord – sometimes described as a cross between “Glee” and “Breaking Bad” – as well as the non-fiction book, The International Student’s Guide to American Colleges.
WHAT AMAZON WON’T TELL YOU
All I wanted to do was write, but I held back.
Before spending the next two months slogging away, I needed to make sure that my story was going to be read. And in today’s competitive world of indie publishing, there are no guarantees. (Continue reading)
Author of Tracks: A Novel in Stories and Flightless Goose, a storybook for children.
BREAKING BAD DIALOGUE: BE CAREFUL WHO YOU TALK FOR
You’ve probably heard the advice before: be careful who you talk to. But when dealing with dialogue, it’s even more important to be careful who you talk for.
When putting dialogue into the mouth of a character, it is important to make sure they speak the way that sort of character would really speak. (Continue reading)
Author of In an Uncharted Country and What the Zhang Boys Know . Editor of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet and Prime Number Magazine.
MORE THAN MERE SETTING
When we first study creative writing, we’re told that the principal elements of fiction are plot, character, and setting. My sense is that teachers of writing spend a good deal more time on plot and character than they do on setting. Perhaps that’s justified. After all, the plot of a novel or short story is essential, whether it’s an action-packed thriller or a psychological drama. Without the plot there is no story. And it is widely recognized that plot and character are inextricable. Plot—a convincing plot, anyway—arises from character, and the reader learns about the characters in a work of fiction from observing how those characters react to the complications that develop in the plot.
But what about setting? It’s as hard to imagine a story without a setting as it is to imagine one without characters. (Continue reading)
TIME ON A TIGHTROPE
Imagine you are high above the crowd, walking a tightrope.
Fans are on the edges of their seats as you put one foot before the other, holding their collective breaths and waiting to see what happens next as you slowly cross the span without a net. You know what you have to do to keep them entranced is a breathtaking combination of focus and balance. One misstep, lean a little too far one way or the other—and SPLAAAT. And the big finish has to be more thrilling than the last; you want them to leave the big top panting and coming back for more. (Continue reading)
Author of The Death Contingency – Unlikely detective realtor Reagan McHenry uses keen observation, flashes of insight, and sometimes stubborn tenacity to solve murders.
Editor, Cozy Food: 128 cozy mystery authors share their favorite recipes.
THE KINDNESS CONNECTION
The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation sent out its first newsletter recently. Most of you probably haven’t heard of MM, a plasma cell cancer, because it’s not high profile, but it’s a nasty beast. Until recently, average life expectancy was two years. You can understand why I cried all night when my husband was diagnosed with the disease. (Continue reading)
Author of the novel North Dixie Highway and short fiction in Boulevard, Pleiades, and other journals
A significant turning point in my writing occurred when a fiction mentor reminded me that the simple concept of originality is a critical but often overlooked key to great writing. He said, of a story I’d just finished, “Yes, it’s good, very good. Well-written. But it sounds like Proust. Problem is, thousands of competent, contemporary writers sound like Proust.” (Continue reading)
Author of the novel Island Fog and over twenty works of short fiction in, among others,Pembroke, The Pinch, Mobius, Seattle Review, Boston Literary Magazine…
WHY DO WRITERS ACT LIKE ROBBER BARONS?
Several weeks ago, at the university where I teach, I noticed something that disturbed and confounded me. The visiting artists brought in by other departments, most notably Music, did a lot more work—both on and off campus—than our visiting writers ever do. (Continue reading)
Finalist in the 2015 Daphne duMaurier Writing Contest for the romantic suspense novel Game Face
Writing is easy. Good writing is hard. Reviewing is harder.
Learning to write, until recently, was taught in schools. Reports, essays, even poems. I’m not sure it’s still taught, which would be too bad as writing is a discipline, it makes your thinking clearer and more logical. The requirements of written communication force you to look at things, with any luck in new and different ways. It requires focus, clarity and concentration.
But writing fiction is not the same as writing a report or an essay. When you decide to write fiction – unless you write solely for your own amusement, which I understand some people actually claim to do – you enter the gauzy, glittery, treacherous world of entertainment. In this world, there is one overarching rule: do not bore your reader. The late, great Elmore Leonard put it nicely: “I try to leave out the parts people skip.”(Continue reading
Peter M. Gordon’s poems have appeared in Slipstream, 34th Parallel, the Provo Canyon Review, 5-2 Crime Poetry, Cultural Weekly, and several other magazines and websites. He’s President of the Orlando Area Poets and teaches in Full Sail University’s Film Production MFA program. His collection, Two Car Garage, was published by CHB Media and is available on Amazon.com and other bookselling sites.
08/01/15 – FIVE TIPS FOR MARKETING YOUR POETRY
“I wrote this for myself. Would you mind taking a look at it?”
One of my students at a poetry workshop asked me that recently. I asked, if she wrote it for herself, why did she care what I thought? She said, “Well, I might publish it someday.”
There are as many reasons to write poetry as there are poets. I’ve heard people say they write to express their inner feelings. Some say they write to “deal with” their depression, or understand their romantic relationships, or to heal after a loved one’s death. What I rarely, if ever, hear, is that their goal is communicate these feelings to readers.
When I started to write poetry in earnest a few years ago, I found many wonderful books filled with great advice about how to write better poetry, but none about what to do with your poetry once it was finished. After all, if we’re taking the time to write poetry in the first place, we ought to spend some time helping our poems find their audience. I’ve outlined five tips to help you get started marketing your poetry for publication. (Continue reading)
8/20/15 INTERVIEW WITH KATIE GILMARTIN, AUTHOR OF BLACKMAIL, MY LOVE In my review last month of the 2015 Lambda Award-winning mystery Blackmail, My Love, I said that as I read Gilmartin’s account of gay life under 1950s police and societal brutality, I realized she was also in effect writing about what it’s like to be a member of the wrong party under a totalitarian government, where people are persecuted for being who they are, for thinking what they think, and for wanting to meet and interact with other like-minded people. Today I have a chance to ask author Gilmartin what inspired her writing. (Continue reading)
7/20/15 REVIEW OF KATIE GILMARTIN’S BLACKMAIL, MY LOVE
Yet the San Francisco we know today—the city so embracing of gay people—is not the San Francisco that existed in the 1950s when Blackmail, My Love takes place. The book resonated for me because I remember the fear I felt when, as a teenager in the early ’60s, I realized I might be homosexual and that, as I became an adult and remained wifeless, everyone else would suspect the truth. (Continue reading)
6/20/15 Re-reading Anne Tyler: “She took the bowl of peas and brought it down on his head. It didn’t break, but peas flew everywhere.” Meet Pearl, having supper with her little girl Jenny and her two teenage sons in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: “Jenny’s face was streaming with tears, but she wasn’t making a sound and Pearl seemed unaware of her. (Continue reading)
5/20/15 INTERVIEW OF JENNIFER YACOVISSI, AUTHOR OF THE NEW HISTORICAL NOVEL UP THE HILL TO HOME
A month ago here I reviewed Up the Hill to Home, a pleasantly leisurely read scattered with gems of insight and historical interest that bring to life a Washington, DC that you don’t see in the news. Today I’m pleased to interview author Jennifer Yacovissi.
Question: Years ago I used the wonderful Washington Star archives at the Martin Luther King Public Library for some research on DC history. Did your research for Up the Hill to Home take you to the Star archives or to the Library of Congress or to other places of interest? (Continue reading)
4/20/15 REVIEW OF JENNIFER YACOVISSI’S UP THE HILL TO HOME
I have eclectic reading tastes. Up the Hill to Home differs from North Dixie Highway, which I reviewed here in February, as much as baking bread in your middle-class home with the help of all your young children differs from finishing a fifth of cheap whiskey alone in the backseat of the car you’re currently living in. No book is for everyone. Up the Hill to Home is for unhurried readers, ones who savor gentler, kinder domesticity and who don’t need a fast plot but can settle in for a long, relaxing saga with gems sprinkled here and there and with a conclusion that leaves you sad and happy at once. (Continue reading)
“Nowadays, you eye the young and remember…[h]ow it was to have smooth skin and a supple body, to be able to bend and squat and lift and run for a bus and skip down the stairs. To have this long unknowable future, in which lurked heaven knows what, and it is the mystery that is so alluring. Your own future is also unknowable, except that you can make a few shrewd guesses, and it is not particularly alluring.”
Penelope Lively is among a handful of authors who started writing when I started reading and have now progressed to writing characters at the long end of life, where I find myself. (Continue reading)
2/20/15 INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH D. HASKE, AUTHOR OF NORTH DIXIE HIGWAY
Q: Why did you choose rural poverty as the environment for your first novel? (Continue reading)
1/20/15 Review of Joseph D. Haske’s North Dixie Highway A prologue explains that no single “Dixie Highway” exists, but instead the term applies to roads south that reach as far north as Canada. Haske’s story lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Publisher Texas Review Press offers, in part: “Weaving multiple storylines with vivid description of characters and landscape, Haske’s debut novel brings new life and a unique voice to the fiction of rural America. North Dixie Highway is a story of family bonds, devolution, and elusive revenge.”
Author reviewer Larry Fondation adds (in an Amazon editorial review) “It may be fueled by alcohol and anger, but it’s based on love and loyalty: avenging the dead, defending the living.” (Continue reading)
ALL OF THE BLOGGERS AT LATE LAST NIGHT BOOKS WISH YOU HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND SAFE TRAVELS.
Scroll down for the most recent posts. We’ll be back on January 4 in the new year.
“Little girl, big date!”
For the text of this 1949 New York Central ad… (Continue reading)
11/20/14 “It is rather funny I think,” wrote Barbara Pym in 1939 of her novel-in-progress, Crampton Hodnet. The war prevented her from pursuing publishers, and after the war she felt the book was dated and turned her attention to another of her novels. As a result, Crampton Hodnet wasn’t published until 1985, among the last of her works to appear. Every now and then I re-read one of the thirteen novels of Pym, among my favorite novelists, a master of postwar English humor and ahead of her time in her views of male-female relationships. (Continue reading)
10/21/15 REVIEW OF M. L. DOYLE’S THE GENERAL’S AMBITION
Given lemons, make lemonade. M. L. Doyle is no longer a Late Last Night Books blogger, so I’m taking advantage of our loss by reviewing her latest book, something I couldn’t have done while she was one of us. Whether in or out of uniform, press corps Army Sergeant Lauren Harper faces the problems of today’s Every Woman as she is drawn into a murder investigation. Her direct superior in the press corps, now divorced and without his family, imposes his affections upon her. He wants to marry her, rather than to be her best friend. Lauren once longed for this but thought it could never be. But is she in love with him now? Or is she in love with a British front-line soldier never before willing to let a woman worry about whether he will or will not return from each of his missions? (Continue reading)