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  • Paris, He Said: A Novel
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BLOG-O-RAMA (not to be confused with Illinois's disgraced governor)


Q & A with Laura Pritchett about her new novel, Red Lightning 

Please tell us a little about your new novel.

Red Lightning is the story of Tess Cross, a coyote who has been running immigrants across the American West. The novel opens with a true catastrophe: she’s failed to pick up a particular group of pollos, who are left in the mountains of Colorado. Dying of thirst, they start a signal fire to be found, but the wind whips it into a raging wildfire. Desperate and confused, Tess heads home to the plains of eastern Colorado to see her sister and her child, who she abandoned 10 years ago. The weight of her actions—along with PTSD from a childhood filled with abuse—are cracking her apart. While the wildfire rages and the smoke drifts across the plains, she embarks on a last-ditch effort to make some peace and clean up the mess she’s made. She rediscovers her 10-year old daughter, her dying mother, a reluctant sister---and most importantly, herself. 

Point of view is so creative and innovative in this novel.  How did you determine that you'd move between first-person and the close third-person sections where Tess is speaking in a kind of poetry-prose hybrid? 

I love that you call it a poetry-prose hybrid, because that was my intent. Thank you! In any case, my goal was this: I wanted to render Tess’s disassociative disorder on the page. The bravest thing I could do, in fact, was to be true to the fact that my character simply could not narrate a story in a familiar way, given her state of mind and psychology.

The first drafts were tricky; I kept changing my mind on this matter. I both hated and loved the idea of messing with the narrative and I simply could not decide if introducing a nonstandard device would be disruptive or revealing. In the end, I settled on two big risks. One was an occasional device wherein the text is deeply indented only when my main character, Tess, disassociates from herself. Moreover, the novel is told in first person, but when Tess becomes disembodied, a third person omniscient self floats around and advises her. During these moments, she insists she feels too little, can’t feel any emotions at all, in fact—but the reader suspects that the opposite is true. In fact, she feels too much, and this floating directorial voice is her way of coping. Therein lies the dramatic irony. Within this device, I have small nuances. For example, after a critical scene, this third person becomes first, a signal that she is becoming “reunited” or reintegrated as one self, which is important during the climax, when she needs to disassociate in order to do something horrible—her PTSD finally comes in handy. All this was intentional and carefully constructed. I wanted form to inform content.

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Q & A with Anne-Marie Oomen about her new memoir LOVE, SEX, AND 4-H

An overview of Love, Sex, and 4-H from Wayne State University Press, Made in Michigan Writers Series:
"As the 1960s dawned in small-town Michigan, Anne-Marie Oomen was a naive farm girl whose mother was determined to keep her out of trouble— by keeping her in 4-H. In Love, Sex, and 4-H, Oomen sets the wholesomeness of her domestic lessons in 4-H club from 1959 to 1969 against the political and sexual revolution of the time. Between sewing her first dish towel and finishing the yellow dress she wears to senior prom, Oomen brings readers along as she falls in and out of love, wins her first prize, learns to kiss, survives her first heartbreak, and makes almost all of her clothes.

"Love, Sex, and 4-H begins as Oomen struggles to sew a straight seam and works hard to embody the 4-H pledge of loyalty, service, and better living. But even as she wins her first modeling competition and masters more difficult stitches and patterns, Oomen finds that she is not immune to the chaos of the outside world. After the Kennedy assassination, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and her own short stay in a convent, Oomen encounters the biggest change of all—public school. In this new world of school dances, short skirts, and raging hormones, Oomen’s orderly life will be complicated by her first kiss, first boyfriend, first store-bought dress, and finally, first love. All the while, she must negotiate her mother’s expectations, her identity as a good 4-H girl, and her awareness of growing social and political unrest.

"Oomen brings an insightful and humorous eye to her evolving sexuality, religious beliefs, and sense of self. Fans of memoir will appreciate the honest portrayal of growing up between rebellion and tradition in Love, Sex, and 4-H."

One section of this memoir I was lucky enough to hear you read last summer at the Interlochen Arts Academy - a very funny and engaging coming-of-age story about you as a teenager longing to have a first kiss.  How have your friends and family members responded to this essay and the book as a whole? 

Thanks for asking this.  Actually, they shrug and nod, as if to say, "Well, there she goes again."  But they don't object;  they've learned, because we've talked, that I'm working with my memory, and my memory is different, even when it overlaps, from theirs.  One member of my family did ask, "How can you stand having people know that much about you?" I don't think of it as people knowing me as ME because as a writer, I know that the persona on the page is me but also, not me--that persona is a version of me shaped in language (an incomplete medium), and that version is shaped with the intention of supporting the larger truth of this book. Not to get too woo-woo, but I think humans are large and varied beings; I suspect we have several, maybe infinite, "beings" in us that are related to but not necessarily a complete picture of a "self." Just compare the young speaker in Love, Sex, and 4-H to the persona I use in An American Map, a more philosophical and worldly speaker.  Those are both "me" but incomplete. So I feel both a part of and separate from the character on the page, and in this odd way, that helps keep me from feeling so vulnerable that I wouldn't be able to write about tender things.  
As to the kissing: A couple of people have hinted that if you don’t know that 4-H refers to the 4-H Clubs that thrive throughout Michigan, it sounds kinky.  But the truth is, if you are looking for sex in this book, you will be disappointed—except for the kissing—there is a lot of kissing, and that was characteristic of my youth. The love and sex of the title refers to the times, the sixties, the reputation of that era—all that free love stuff.  4-H club was the opposite; it represented the reliable solid Midwest, more reserved and stoic and reticent.  Those forces collide in a big way in the book, and that’s the story.   

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Q & A with Jessica Treadway about her new novel LACY EYE

Tell us a little about your new novel.
It's a book about (and narrated by) a woman torn between the competing values of wishing to know the truth about the crime that devastated her family, and also wishing to preserve her perceptions and feelings about her youngest daughter and their relationship.  
Critics have spoken about how you're confronting the nature of evil in this novel.  What did you find most challenging about this...I guess I'd call it a psychological exercise? 
You know, I didn't think the word "evil" as I was writing, although I do think it's an apt one.  To me, the psychological exercise that was most challenging was that of rendering, in a first person narrative, the evolving state of mind of someone who gradually comes to understand that she may be hiding things from herself, because it's easier and preferable to see reality as prettier than it might actually be.  
What are some of the books (and/or films) that inspired you as you were writing (or preparing to write) LACY EYE? 
I'm always inspired by good writing, no matter what the subject or style — it just makes me want to produce my own best work, because I want to create in someone else the effect a good story has on me as a reader.  I can't say that I actively sought out books that were like mine, but I did read Defending Jacob by William Landay when I was finishing my final draft, and it struck me that Landay and I seemed to be writing about the same thing: a variation of willful blindness.  I also enjoyed Woody Allen's depiction of the same phenomenon in Blue Jasmine.

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Q & A with Tony Ardizzone about The Whale Chaser

The Whale Chaser is now in paperback from the Chicago Review Press.

Tell us a little about The Whale Chaser.

The Whale Chaser is about Vincent Sansone, the only son in a large Italian American family, who flees from Chicago to Canada during the turbulent Vietnam era for reasons other than avoiding the draft. His father is the sort who shows his affection with his fists. Vince ends up in Tofino, a hip little fishing town on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, where he is eventually hired by Tofino’s most colorful dealer, Mr. Zig-Zag, and joins the thriving marijuana trade. Ultimately, through his friendship with Ignatius George, an Ahousaht native, Vince finds his calling as a whale guide. He tells his story in retrospect, alternating chapters between Chicago and Tofino.

Your main character, Vince Sansone, doesn't always make the best choices - romantic or career-related, but he's so compelling (and of course you need conflict to have a story.) Where did he come from?   

I drew from my own experiences, the mishaps of my friends, and my imagination. You know how you can look back at periods in your life and realize that if one or two details had changed, your life would have turned out very differently? Vince has a good heart but like a lot of us he ends up making a lot of well-intentioned mistakes. For one, he feels the need to understand his father’s brutality and rage, which relates to a secret story about the grandfather’s imprisonment during the second World War. Vince also becomes enmeshed in a complex romantic triangle. He’s the fisherman’s son who’s in love with the butcher’s daughter, but at the same time he gets close to an older girl who’s also from an abusive family. It makes for an explosive mix.

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Identity + Theft = All of Us

A different version of this essay appeared in the New York Times on April 9, 2015.  This is the original draft. 


            Identity + Theft = All of Us 

The crime is known as the grandparents scam.  It’s a type of identity theft that many people have been aware of for a while, but my grandfather, unfortunately, had not heard about it before he had a very personal encounter with it.

A young woman pretending to be me called my grandfather on his landline and asked him to bail her out of a situation she had become embroiled in while traveling in Spain.  Drugs were involved, a lost passport, the police, and the caller pleaded with my grandfather not to alert my parents to her troubles.  She began to cry and my grandfather promptly gave in to her demands, all of them.  Over the course of about a day and a half, he sent three separate wire transfers totaling a little under six thousand dollars to a Western Union office in Spain. 

I learned all of this about a week and a half after these events occurred because my grandfather called me.  I was surprised by the call because usually, I call him or we correspond with handwritten letters. 

When he asked, sounding both hurt and surprised, “When did you get home?” I initially thought he was referring to a trip I’d made to New York the previous month, and I told him that it had been a couple of weeks since my return. 

After the briefest pause, he said, “No, when did you get home from Spain?” 

I sensed almost immediately what had happened; I had read about a similar scam and received emails from friends whose accounts had been hacked, a foreign country and an urgent need for money both mentioned.  My stomach shifted queasily.  “I wasn’t in Spain,” I said. 

He asked, laughing a little, if I was kidding.

“No,” I said. “I honestly wasn’t there.  What happened?”

He told me then about the girl, about how her voice had sounded so much like mine.  He did not want to believe that he had been conned.  The girl and her helpmates had doubtless looked me up online and learned enough details about my family and my career as a fiction writer and college professor to appear convincingly to be me when they got him on the phone.  The girl knew my mother’s and stepfather’s names, a detail that still chills me.  Where had they found them?  But then I remembered – there’s a short essay on my website about my parents’ dog, and I must have mentioned their names in it. 

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