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BLOG-O-RAMA (not to be confused with Illinois's disgraced governor)

Tuesday
Mar142017

Q and A with Kurt Baumeister about his new novel PAX AMERICANA


1.  Tell us a little about your new novel.

First off, Christine, thank you so much for interviewing me! As a debut author at a new press, it’s not always easy to capture the interest of the media. I appreciate your generosity in giving me this opportunity. 

Pax Americana is my first novel, the beginning of a trilogy I’ve been working on for more than a decade. I began the project during the Bush administration as a response to the greed, militarism, and religious extremism I saw growing in America in the wake of 9/11. Those impulses have always been with us, I think, in America and, more broadly, humanity. But the first decade of the 21st century saw them reach what seemed to be an apex—the Great Recession born of the housing crash, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West—sadly, that hasn’t been the truth of it.

Turns out after what may well come to seem the idyllic Obama administration, we’ve doubled down on all the things that made his predecessor, Dubya, such a horrible president. The know-nothing-ism, the Christian bigotry, the militarism, the ludicrous tax cuts for the wealthy, the overspending. With Trump, it seems we’re going to get every bit of Dubya’s disastrous policies without the benefit of his “compassionate conservatism” or the experienced advisors he brought to Washington care of his father’s administration. And it’s all going to be delivered to us by a uniquely boorish neo-fascist jackass, one Donald J. Trump. Maybe the only positive I can take from the current environment is that it makes Pax Americana relevant in a way it may not have been had Clinton won.  

A literary thriller set in 2034, Pax Americana is a satirical spy novel about an America that’s run wild with Christianity and extreme capitalism; the blending of which (do unto others, turn the other cheek, the bit about the rich man and the camel) would seem impossible in the abstract. Somehow we manage. Pax Americana’s protagonist is a young government agent named Tuck Squires. Tuck’s wealthy and handsome, tall and athletic—everything you’d want if you were creating a secret agent in a lab—but he’s also an evangelical Christian and a bit of a fuck-up. Paired with a much older former super-spy (and semi-former drunk) named Ken Clarion, Tuck takes off to investigate the disappearance of Diana Scorsi, a scientist who’s developed a breakthrough spirituality program, a sort of non-denominational god software. The technology is called Symmetra and it represents an advance so disruptive it has the potential to bring about world peace on one hand, apocalypse on the other. 

2.  How did this novel begin, i.e. was there a model for Tuck Squires, for example?

Pax Americana began more than a decade ago with a short story about an inventor of “God” software and an American real estate developer trying to rebuild Jerusalem in the wake of a catastrophic terrorist attack. I won’t get too far into it, because I see a lot of the material as working into the other two books in the trilogy; but, I can say without reservation, it began in a very different place than it ended. I guess anything you work on that long is going to change a lot during construction. As to Tuck, I suppose he’s a fantasy of sorts. From the outside at least, he’s the guy I would have liked to be. But there’s plenty of self-mockery built into the fantasy. While he may seem perfect, Tuck is a victim of his own privilege, his head, like those of many Americans, filled with stereotypes about poor people, women, racial minorities, and non-Christians. He’s a bumbler, too. I mean, Tuck may look like one of those brooding Ralph Lauren models and he may think he’s James Bond; but deep down he’s more like a cross between Mitt Romney and Daffy Duck. For me, perhaps the most interesting thing about Tuck is how unaware of his own flaws he is; not to mention those of America, Christianity, and Capitalism. But that’s all going to change. This trilogy represents a kooky sort of intellectual and spiritual journey for Tuck, his very own Road to Damascus.

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Thursday
Mar092017

Q and A with Rachel Weaver about her novel POINT OF DIRECTION

1. Tell us a little about your novel.

Here’s the jacket copy:  Hitchhiking her way through Alaska, a young woman named Anna is picked up by Kyle, a fisherman. Anna and Kyle quickly fall for each other, as they are both adventurous, fiercely independent, and in love with the raw beauty and solitude of Alaska. To cement their relationship, they agree to become caretakers of a remote lighthouse perched on a small rock in the middle of a deep channel—a place that has been uninhabited since the last caretaker mysteriously disappeared two decades ago. What seems the perfect adventure for these two quickly unravels, as closely-held secrets pull them apart, and the surrounding waters threaten uncertain danger.

2. I know you spent a number of years working on this novel - did you have the basic story line down when you started or did its evolve as you redrafted? 

I had no idea how to write a novel when I started Point of Direction. I figured I would just start with chapter one and then the story would whisper its secrets to me and I would write them down and when I got to the end, the book would be finished. That’s not exactly how it went. It was fun, finding my way through the story, but there wasn’t much whispering of secrets. Mostly, I started with the idea that it would be crazy to move out to a lighthouse in the middle of a dangerous channel in Alaska and from there I wrote many, many drafts (read: 30) before I really figured out the story and how best to tell it.

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Tuesday
Feb282017

Q and A with Joel Drucker about his new memoir, DON'T BET ON IT. 

 

1. Tell us a little about your new book.

Don’t Bet on It is a portrait of my 28-year romance with my late wife, Joan Edwards. Our time together was a mix of slumber party, private joke and therapy session – flavored in ways subtle and significant, light and dark, by Joan’s precocious sense of mortality.  By age 27, she had lost both her parents and been diagnosed with lupus, a chronic illness.  Though she was quite healthy most of our time together, notions of health, well-being and the search for meaning cast our love in a certain light.  

2. It took you several years to write this memoir – what were its greatest challenges and rewards?

There was both craftsmanship and the emotional fallout.  I would work in the morning and feel good about putting these words together.  But then, hours or even days later, I would find myself feeling anxious about random things.  Did I run that red light and would I lose my driver’s license?  Was I rude to that supermarket cashier?  Had I been too pushy with a friend?  It’s a good thing I had a psychotherapist and several friends who could frequently talk me down.      

Though I’m often quite guarded about gaining input while drafting a piece, in this case I sought help.  Elizabeth Kaye – an accomplished writer who’d written many superb pieces for the likes of Esquire and Rolling Stone – is a friend who’s long understood me and the kind of writing I want to do.  I paid her twice to review the manuscript.  The first time she strongly recommended a significant restructuring, noting that it jumped back and forth across time too much.  She was right, so I had to make major changes.  Based on her input, I made 5x8 notecards summarizing all 166 scenes of the first draft – and then spread them out on my dining room table, rearranging and editing like a jigsaw puzzle.  And then, once that was done, some more revisions. The current version is now nearly half as long as it once was.

But even beyond the anxiety, coming face to face with all I’d had and lost was at times literally painful.  At one point, I put the piece aside for six months.  Even though in some ways this was a way to continue holding on to Joan, at times even that was too agonizing.

The reward is being able to share this story with others.  While I often think of myself as a loner, when I conducted a recent reading event with a lot of attendees, I realized that maybe this kind of piece is also a way of bringing people together – to commune and understand a lot about love.   

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Monday
Feb132017

Q and A with Laura Pritchett about her new novel, THE BLUE HOUR

If you had to give us an elevator speech about your new novel . . .

Eek! I’ll try: The Blue Hour is set in a contemporary fictional Colorado mountain town, and the community members find their paths twisting and colliding after a tragedy inspires a major life-force change in each of them. Basically, they are so stunned that they react by charging into their lives with new vigor—and explore the landscape of passion, obligation, love. It’s very relationship-based (hence it’s release on Valentine’s Day), and the novel really digs deep, I hope, into the hard edge of yearning and of loneliness, and the long road of desire, and the unexpected paths of mourning and lust.

Sounds like there’s lots of sex! Would you consider this novel erotica?

I consider this novel “romance for the rest of us.” Not Hallmark, not Hollywood, not porn, not erotica. Somewhere in the Land of the Real. Messy, problematic, sometimes horrible, sometimes grand. I’ve always been interested in writing about sex—my library looks like a teenager rifled through it to find all the sex scenes! I was studying how great authors wrote great sex scenes.  

I imagined every character’s sex life: What would it be like to be 80, newly single, and falling in love? What would it be like to be young, beautiful, gay, with an STD that really bothers you? What would it be like to keep searching for love and sex and simply not find it? What would it be like to be in tender love, but only be able to orgasm if there was a violent fantasy in your head?

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Tuesday
Feb072017

Q and A with Karen Brown about her new novel, THE CLAIRVOYANTS 

1. Tell us a little about your new novel. 

On the family homestead by the sea where she grew up, Martha Mary saw ghosts. As a young woman, she hopes to distance herself from those spirits by escaping to an inland college town. There, she is absorbed by a budding romance, relieved by separation from an unstable sister, and disinterested in the flyers seeking information about a young woman who’s disappeared—until one Indian summer afternoon when the missing woman appears beneath Martha’s apartment window, wearing a down coat, her hair coated with ice.

2. This is such a skillful cross between a ghost story and a coming of age story, as I see it.  What inspired you to begin The Clairvoyants

The novel started with a short story I wrote after my mother called me from Connecticut one winter to tell me it was snowing. After my move to Florida, I’d become nostalgic for snow. I’d had one brief winter living outside of Ithaca, NY in an old farmhouse on Main Street, and the memory of that winter and Ithaca became the setting for my snow story. “Galatea” was about a young woman, away at school, who impulsively marries a man she meets at a park playground. Their brief, passionate marriage disintegrates during a long winter in which items of her furniture begin disappearing from the apartment, and then her husband, too, disappears.

When I began to write the novel, it became clear that the character was in many ways similar to another character in an older story, “Apparitions.” So, aspects of that story flowed over into the novel, too. It took many drafts to transform the pieces of these stories into the novel, but what remained from “Galatea” were the snow, the erotic tension, and the eeriness that was the husband’s unexplained disappearance, and from “Apparitions” a ghost sighting in a barn. The Spiritualists camp came late in the writing, but it fit in perfectly.

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