Peter Pollak

PETER POLLAK

Author of The Expendable Man (2011); Making the Grade (2012); Last Stop on Desolation Ridge (2012); In the Game (2014); & House Divided (2015)

Commonwealth: A Review for Writers as well as Readers

My apology to non-writers. This review of Ann Patchett’s 2016 novel, Commonwealth, focuses primarily on the writing, but in doing so perhaps readers will come to understand some basic writing techniques and how they influence story.

Unlike many contemporary novels, Commonwealth is written from an omniscient viewpoint. That means from the very first sentence there’s an always present story narrator telling us what people are doing and thinking. “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with a bottle of gin.” That’s the narrator talking, not one of the characters.

(Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

05-20-2017: A Reader’s Reader

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
                                                          —Jorge Luis Borges

Tom Shroder, the author, and Michael Dirda at the 2017 Washington Writers Conference.

I had the distinct pleasure recently of being on a panel at the Washington Writers Conference with Tom Shroder—author, ghostwriter, journalist, and long-time editor of the Washington Post Magazine—and Michael Dirda, even longer-time book critic at the Washington Post and elsewhere. We were discussing the fuzzy lines that separate memoir, family history, and fiction.

As part of preparing for the panel, I read two of Michael’s several books: his most recent, Browsings, and his memoir of the first third of his life through college, An Open Book. (Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

5-17-2017 – Inside the Booth at Book Festivals

April-May and September-October seem to be the prime months for yard sales and book festivals. Certainly I do my share of both as vendor and buyer. On either side of the table, you can learn, enjoy the experience, and at book festivals, meet authors and publishers at all levels.

This weekend, my husband, Dr. Roger McIntire, will be one of the authors at the Gaithersburg, MD, book festival helping to staff the Maryland Writers’ Association booth. He’ll be talking about his practical books for parents and will probably be the only nonfiction author at the booth. At the same time, I’ll be at the Sisters in Crime booth at the Prince George’s (MD) Spring Book Festival in Landover, MD. Offerings at the SinC booth will, of course, be mysteries of all kinds.

Authors like us enjoy telling people about our books, sharing experiences (Continue reading)

Joseph D Haske

JOSEPH D HASKE

Author of the novel North Dixie Highway and short fiction in Boulevard, Pleiades, and other journals 

5/13/17    FICTION WRITERS AND TRANSLATION

American writers are often accused of literary insularity, so I’ve been doing my best lately to engage in more international, multi-lingual dialogue. Among other projects, I’ve been chipping away at a translation of a fantastic story collection by a very talented Chilean writer. Although I’ve done some translation work in the past, literary and otherwise, I haven’t taken on a project of this magnitude in quite a while, and it’s challenging to say the least. Literary translation can be time-consuming, stressful, and labor-intensive. If I translated more often, maybe I’d work more efficiently, but my current process often feels slow and laborious; I tend to obsess about all the minor details in much the same way as I fret about my own writing. Still, despite the many challenges, it’s a gratifying experience to translate terrific writing like the collection I’m working on now, and to serve as a literary ambassador, exposing readers in the English-speaking world to excellent new fiction. (Continue reading)

Sally Whitney

SALLY WHITNEY

Author of the novel Surface and Shadowplus short stories appearing in journals and anthologies, including Best Short Stories from The Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest 2017.

 

5/10/2017. INTERVIEW WITH LILY IONA MACKENZIE, AUTHOR OF FLING!

Lily Iona MacKenzie is a multi-talented author who follows her muse through short stories, novels, nonfiction, and poetry. In her novel Fling!, which I reviewed here last month, she explores the profound influences (good and bad) of family relationships, even after family members die, but she does it with humor and joy. Using magical realism, MacKenzie celebrates life and spiritual ties in many forms. Her own life experiences include working as a long distance telephone operator, a secretary, a longshoreman, manager of a homeless shelter, and writing teacher at the University of San Francisco. Her next novel, Curva Peligrosa, will be released by Regal House Publishing later this year. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

4/7/2017 — Remembering Derek Walcott, 1930-2017

I used to read a lot of poetry. That thought hit me on March 17, when I learned of the death of the Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott on the island of St. Lucia, where he was born.

It has been years since I’ve read Walcott, but his work was once a constant companion of mine. As I think now about the pleasures of meter, rhyme, and the soaring imagination that good poetry generates, I realize what I’ve missed.

When I heard of Derek Walcott’s death, I recalled a day in 1980 when I opened The New Yorker and excitedly read the title “Jean Rhys” above a six-stanza poem. Only a short time before had I become acquainted with the Dominica-born author Jean Rhys, but I’d been devouring her novels Wide Sargasso Sea, Good Morning, Midnight, and Voyage in the Dark and recommending them to every book lover I knew. And here was an homage to her in a poem by Walcott. I calmed myself and read: (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

05-04-17 BOOKS, TWEETS, AND POSTERITY

In a recent article about writer and photography critic Teju Cole, Norman Rush notes that Cole’s emergence as a social media superstar makes him a “kind of realm.” Beyond his fine reputation as the author of books and other print media, Cole is also an accomplished photographer and prolific “Tweeter” with a huge Facebook following.

Cole himself has observed that some of the finest “literary minds of our generation” express themselves by means other than traditional print media. Yet they often still write books. Presumably that’s because books are more serious than tweets. Books are also more likely to stick around long enough to reach posterity.

Is this valid? (Continue reading)

Katherine Pickett

KATHERINE PICKETT

Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro

5/1/17 —  What a Developmental Editor Can Do for an Author

Developmental editors are concerned with the structure and con­tent of your book. If your manuscript lacks focus, your DE will help you find the right direction to take (the “right” direction generally being the most marketable). This is where problems of inconsistent tone, an unclear audience, or an unidentified market­ing niche often surface.

Developmental editors perform many of the same editing tasks as an acquisitions editor, but unlike AEs, whose time is split between editing and the business side of pub­lishing, DEs tend to be able to give you more personal attention. If you have hired a DE on a freelance basis, this is undoubtedly true. Either way, you will find that good DEs are friendly, organized, valu­able to your endeavor. (Continue reading)

Garry Craig Powell

GARRY CRAIG POWELL

Author of  Stoning the Devil

Two Ways of Writing a Novel, April 26, 2017

Part One: The Cinematic Model

 

There are essentially two different ways to write a novel. The first is action-oriented, and usually heavy on dialogue; concerned with visible drama, above all, it works much as a film does. It observes human beings interacting and conflicting with each other. “I am a camera with its shutter open,” wrote Christopher Isherwood, in the second paragraph of Goodbye to Berlin, “quite passive, recording, not thinking.” One may argue about whether he succeeded in maintaining that objectivity, but unquestionably that was his aim, as it was of so many early twentieth century writers, among them Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Graham Greene. (Continue reading)

Gary Garth McCann

GARY GARTH MCCANN

Author of the novel The Man Who Asked To Be Killed and five stories, most recently “Incorrigible,” Erotic Review and “The Yearbook,” Mobius

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)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

4-17-2017  Transatlantic Traveling Great for Reading

I’ve just returned from a repositioning cruise with Holland America Cruise Lines as it changed its operations from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean for the season. The price was right. The cruise began in Fort Lauderdale and ended in Rome with stops in the Azores and Spain (Málaga and Aliconte).

Azores? How else were we ever going to see the Azores? Actually, we spent the day in only one of these nine Portuguese islands, the largest, named Sao Miguel. Like Hawaii, the islands are volcanic in origin and Sao Miguel is green  and mountainous. Tea and pineapple are major crops.

I looked forward to the nine sea days of this cruise as a chance to edit my latest manuscript and to begin plotting my next one. I had the best intentions, but the daily schedule at sea included lectures and port talks that were too interesting to miss and, of course, I didn’t miss one of those leisurely meals meeting people from other parts of the world. So I got very little accomplished.

Having traveled on Holland America before, I knew they had a well-stocked library of hard-bound books for borrowing, and it was also a quiet place to read. Rethink. (Continue reading)

Ron Cooper

RON COOPER

AUTHOR OF THE GOSPEL OF THE TWIN,  PURPLE JESUS AND HUME’S FORK.

April 13, 2017

Write Like Mike

I get my students to discuss creativity and the limits of human achievement through the example of basketball legend Michael Jordan. Although he retired (for the second time) in 1999, his reputation as the greatest basketball player of all time and one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century guarantees that even my freshman students know about him. His gravity-mocking leaping ability, astonishing speed, and knack of always thinking two steps ahead of his opponents may never be matched. How does one, in any field of endeavor, become highly successful, much less get to the very top? (Continue reading)

Sally Whitney

SALLY WHITNEY

Author of the novel Surface and Shadowplus short stories appearing in journals and anthologies, including Best Short Stories from The Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest 2017.

 

4-10-2017.  FLING!—A NOVEL OF MAGICAL REALISM AND REAL MAGIC

At first read, you might think Fling! by Lily Iona MacKenzie is a delightful story with endearing, charming characters—which it is. But look a little closer, and you’ll find it’s also a probing story picking at deep layers of family love and resentment. Just below the characters’ zest for life lie feelings of aloneness and abandonment. Once those feelings are laid bare, can they ever be subdued?

Fling!’s main characters are mother and daughter Bubbles and Feather. Ninety-year-old Bubbles is still full of enthusiasm and looking for laughter wherever she can find it. MacKenzie tells us Bubbles’ motto is fun. “Life was too short; you needed to have a little fun. … Money didn’t matter that much to her, as long as she could have a good time.” (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

04-04-17 IS TODAY A TIME FOR FICTION?

More and more people tell me that this is no time for fiction. Nor do they themselves have time for fiction.

Even lifetime novel lovers say they feel that today’s times call for information, not retreats into fantasyland. Serious readers say they find it hard to immerse themselves in fictional worlds.  One writer friend even admitted that she no longer has the attention span for books of any sort, including nonfiction, that don’t have immediate and obvious bearing on current events.

 


“Ever since the presidential election sticking my head in a novel feels like counting the angels on pins,” she told me. She says that now and then she does read an article in The New Yorker, but even that has to have immediate and obvious bearing on current events. And she’s a novelist herself!
(Continue reading)

Joshua Braff

JOSHUA BRAFF

AUTHOR OF THE NOVELS THE DADDY DIARIES, PEEP SHOW AND THE UNTHINKABLE THOUGHTS OF JACOB GREEN

4/1/17  PERSPECTIVE    My MFA in creative writing came from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. It was 1995 and I was positive that a short story in a literary journal for zero money would be nirvana. The Alaska Quarterly Review, a lit mag that led my friends to believe I’d written fish and hibernating stories, was first to say yes. The story was about a lonely and unheard little girl who takes a bus to a ballet class on her birthday. Not a moose for miles, and the journal wanted my human condition textures. With my only dream in life fulfilled, I set out to do it again, to feel the euphoria of the “yes”, the way it found me without warning, making me a “hitter” somehow, just by answering my phone. (Continue reading)

Garry Craig Powell

GARRY CRAIG POWELL

Author of  Stoning the Devil

3/26/17  Is This a Good Author Photograph?

Is this a good author photograph?

When University of Central Arkansas student Park Lanford took this picture of me a couple of weeks ago (for the school’s literary magazine, the Vortex), I immediately thought, “That looks like an author photograph.” My next thought was, “Why is that? What makes a good author photograph?” Do you need, if you are a man, to look somewhat craggy, earnest and intense, as I do here? Does it help to be bearded, as so many of the giants of literature in the past have been? I am being facetious, but you get my point. (Continue reading)

Peter Pollak

PETER POLLAK

Author of The Expendable Man (2011); Making the Grade (2012); Last Stop on Desolation Ridge (2012); In the Game (2014); & House Divided (2015)

3-23-17   SOME WRITERS YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE HEARD OF   I spent the week-end of March 11 & 12 at the Tucson Festival of Books, the third largest such event in the country. My goal was to learn from the best and the brightest, knowing from past experience that a number of hot, new writers come to Tucson to introduce their works to the world.

I was not disappointed and am happy to share with my LateLastNightBook followers the names of some authors you might want to give a try.
(Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

20 March 2017 – Let the Book Speak for Itself: A Review of Hillbilly Elegy

In my last posting, I discussed three books of non-fiction that touched on topics of empathy, compassion, and a shared social contract, and that together, I felt, made some illustrative commentary on the events of that day, January 20th, 2017. One book that I had hoped to include—but which landed on my reading stack a bit too late to make the cut—was another unexpectedly successful work of non-fiction. It, too, highlights some of the themes of my earlier discussion.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is a memoir by a young Yale-educated lawyer named J.D. Vance. He beats his readers to the punch in offering his own wry objection to a 31-year-old’s writing a memoir, but he has much to offer us as he relates his own experience in what is arguably the most forgotten and dismissed segment of the American population.

Elegy has variously been described as the book that explains to liberals the inexplicably successful candidacy and then election of our 45th president; a shameful sellout that feeds into the conservative myth that the poor are poor by choice; and a fresh and welcome new voice in support of right-leaning philosophies. The literary equivalent of a chameleon, Elegy is being used as a sort of shorthand by commentators of every stripe to support whichever underlying philosophy is being argued or promulgated.

That’s a lot of baggage for one slender volume to drag along with it. My recommendation is to jettison all that and read the book entirely for itself, because it is worthy and thought-provoking on its own. More than that, it is a wonderfully engaging story of a family we come to care about and wish the best.

(Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

3-17-2017:  Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
Coming up next weekend is the 2017 conference of the Maryland Writers’ Association. As president of MWA, I appreciate all of the advance planning and work that has gone into producing this conference, especially by the conference chair, Jess Williams, but all of the board members have contributed.

With well-known authors like Maria V. Snyder and Jeffery Deaver as keynote speakers and a host of local authors in attendance, conferences like this are of interest to readers as well as writers. In fact, I was surprised to learn that my local chapter of Sisters in Crime is an association of mystery writers and fans. The national mystery conferences, Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, both draw a large number of fans as well as writers. In fact, most writers’ conferences, I would guess, are open to readers and to anyone with the registration fee. Participation in these conferences guarantees a rich, rewarding, and well-spent day.

I will be presenting a workshop at the MWA conference on evening the playing field for self-published authors. (Continue reading)

Sally Whitney

SALLY WHITNEY

Author of the novel Surface and Shadowplus short stories appearing in journals and anthologies, including Best Short Stories from The Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest 2017.

 

3/10/2017.  THE INVENTION OF WINGS—EXPLORING THE SOUL OF A WOMAN WHO LEARNED TO FLY

Ever since The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd was released in 2014, I’ve heard it described as the story of the relationship between a white girl and the enslaved black girl who is given to her as her personal maid on her eleventh birthday. The novel is that story, but its deeper story is the evolution of the white girl, Sarah Grimké, into not only a leader of the abolitionist movement but also one of the first proponents of women’s rights.

Sarah Grimké was a real person who was born into Charleston aristocracy and grew up there in the years before the U.S. Civil War. Kidd used diaries, letters, newspaper accounts, and Sarah’s own writing as well as biographical material to learn the facts of Sarah’s life and many of her desires, struggles, and motivations. But the beauty of this novel comes from the rich inner life that Kidd imagines for Sarah, even as a child. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

3/7/2017 — Nobel-Prize Winner Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder

Last year when the Nobel Prize in Literature went to Bob Dylan, many people responded with the question, Why? Two years earlier when the Nobel Prize committee named Patrick Modiano the recipient of its literature prize, another question was often asked, Who?

Though Modiano had published about thirty works in his native France, he was almost unknown in this country. Only a dozen of his novels had been translated into English, and the publishing house David R. Godine, which had published three of them, sold only about 8,000 copies.

The Nobel Prize changed that, and we readers are the beneficiaries. (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

03-04-17 ARE YOU STILL READING FICTION?

“I’m not reading fiction much anymore.” “I can’t read novels these days.” “More and more, I’m restricting my reading list to non-fiction.”


Few statements can rattle a novelist like these. And I’ve been hearing a lot of them lately. (Continue reading)

Garry Craig Powell

GARRY CRAIG POWELL

Author of  Stoning the Devil

Interview with Alexander Weinstein, author of Children of the New World

My interview with Alexander Weinstein, recently published in Rain Taxi Review of Books (link at the end of post). This collection of speculative dystopian fiction has been compared to the Black Mirror TV series. It’s quite excellent.

Garry Craig Powell: In a recent interview with 0 + 1 reads, you cite the influence of filmmaker Charlie Kaufman and mention that in spite of his metaphysical concerns, he grounds his stories in a gritty world. It struck me, reading Children of the New World, that you do that too. Unlike some cerebral writers, including some that you acknowledge as influences, you create complex, well-rounded characters with whom we can empathize. In the title story, “Children of the New World”, for example, a couple has to ‘delete’ their virtual son when his program is plagued by a virus—and incredibly, we feel sorry for them. You seem to want the reader not only to consider where the future is leading us, but also to explore universal human problems. Would you agree with that?

Alexander Weinstein: Absolutely.  I think the future is intrinsically linked with our universal human problems. In fact it’s these very problems, and how we deal with them, which will determine our future.  I set many of my stories in a gritty “realist” world, but one that is plagued by an overuse of technology, which is akin to the world we find ourselves living in now.  The problems we have with our current technology often reveal our own human foibles, and it’s these new emotions of cyberspace which reveal our struggles. (Continue reading)

Peter Pollak

PETER POLLAK

Author of The Expendable Man (2011); Making the Grade (2012); Last Stop on Desolation Ridge (2012); In the Game (2014); & House Divided (2015)

Emily St. John Mandel’s Utopian Dystopia: A Review

2/23/2017: Why do I call Emily Mandel’s Station Eleven a utopian dystopia? Her story echoes the tradition of dystopian novels from 1984 and Brave New World to more recent books like McCarthy’s The Road and Veronica Roth’s Divergent by positing a pandemic that wipes out the vast majority of the earth’s population in a matter of days, but the ending, which I will get to, is more optimistic than most.

(Continue reading)

Gary Garth McCann

GARY GARTH MCCANN

Author of the novel The Man Who Asked To Be Killed and five stories, most recently “Incorrigible,” Erotic Review and “The Yearbook,” Mobius

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)