• Little Known Facts: A Novel
    Little Known Facts: A Novel
    by Christine Sneed
  • Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories
    Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories
    by Christine Sneed
  • Paris, He Said: A Novel
    Paris, He Said: A Novel
    by Christine Sneed
  • The Virginity of Famous Men: Stories
    The Virginity of Famous Men: Stories
    by Christine Sneed

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


Q and A with Rebecca Entel about her debut novel FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS

1. Tell us a little about your novel.

Here’s the jacket copy:  At a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation, Myrna works as a maid by day; by night she trespasses on the resort’s overgrown inland property, secretly excavating the plantation ruins the locals refuse to acknowledge. Myrna's mother has stopped speaking and her friends are focused on surviving the present, but Myrna is drawn to Cruffey Island's violent past. With the arrival of Mrs. Manion, a wealthy African-American, also comes new information about the history of the slave-owner’s estate and tensions finally erupt between the resort and the local island community. Suffused with the sun-drenched beauty of the Caribbean, Fingerprints of Previous Owners is a powerful novel of hope and recovery in the wake of devastating trauma. In her soulful and timely debut, Entel explores what it means to colonize and be colonized, to trespass and be trespassed upon, to be wounded and to heal.

2. You mentioned at a recent book event that you originally wrote half the novel from the POV of a white college girl from Wisconsin and half from Myrna's, a Bahamian woman, but eventually realized that the story needed to be told mostly through Myrna’s POV.  How did you come too this decision?  

I’d known for a while that Myrna’s portion of the book was stronger overall than the other narrator’s, but I’d started with that narrator and hadn’t thought about giving her up. I’d just been revising with an eye to strengthen that half of the book. The idea to let Myrna tell the whole story originally came from a conversation with my editor, and was supported by some other readers. It seemed impossible at first to make such a drastic revision – especially after so many years of writing – but within a few hours of tackling the opening of the book from Myrna’s point of view, I knew it was the right decision. And it’s been educational for me to recognize that even more than five years into a project, there might still be a totally new way to view it.

3. Related to the above - how did you settle on the structure of Fingerprints? You have short “bench story” sections in the voices many of the islanders your main character Myrna knows, along with chapters told in Myrna’s voice.  

I’m a slow writer, and the structure took a while as well. When I first worked on the bench stories, they were grouped together in one chapter toward the end of the book. That didn’t quite work, though, since the chapter became really dense and threw too much at the reader late in the game, I think. Some of the material from those stories ended up integrated into the main narrative, and then I worked on choosing a few stories that could be scattered throughout the book. I changed my mind about which stories should go where too many times to count. I have some strange notes from when I was trying out different orders that almost look like sudoku boards.


Click to read more ...


Q and A with Ada Calhoun about her new book WEDDING TOASTS I'LL NEVER GIVE

Tell us a little about Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give. 

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give is a memoir structured as seven “toasts” about marriage that I wouldn’t actually give at a wedding because they’re too much information about what it’s really like. I write, for instance, about how marriage can be boring, how too much or too little change can feel like a threat, how soul mates aren’t real, and how it’s still likely that at some point one of you may want other people.

Three of the chapters in this book were also published as New York Times Modern Love columns and were extremely popular with readers.  Which one was the catalyst for this book's eventual writing and publication? 

The second one, “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give,” which I wrote while going to a lot of weddings while fighting with my husband, was the one that really took off and made my editor want me to do this book. My Modern Love from 2012, from which I just took a little bit for the book, was about how to navigate lust for other people while you’re married. And the one from a couple weeks back was an excerpt from the book called “To Stay Married, Embrace Change.” 

You interviewed so many people about marriage while writing and researching this book. What was something that you surprised in one or more of these interviews?

So many of these adorable couples married 30, 40, 50 years talked about what they’d survived as a couple and the lists were harrowing. Many had almost divorced at various points. It put the lie to the fairytale idea that if it’s a good marriage, or a good match, you won’t still suffer along the way. 

Click to read more ...


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.

Click to read more ...


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.

Click to read more ...


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.   

Click to read more ...