• 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

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


Q and A with Michelle Falkoff about her novel Playlist for the Dead 

Tell us a little about your book. 

Playlist for the Dead is about a boy named Sam whose best friend Hayden commits suicide and leaves behind a playlist of songs to help him understand what happened. While Sam is delving into the playlist, he learns that Hayden had secrets and meets a girl who helps him uncover some of them.

You divide the book into 27 chapters, each paired with a song that's a part of Hayden Stevens' playlist for his friend Sam Goldsmith, who is the person who finds Hayden, after Hayden has taken his life.  (A very sad story but at the same time, also a witty, romantic, unsentimental, and wise one).  Did you know from the beginning that you would structure the novel this way?

Yes, that was kind of the central conceit from the beginning. But the playlist originally was going to be a little more straightforward--it was initially all about suicide in a much more literal way, and eventually I decided it would be more interesting if the songs themselves hinted at some of the things going on with Hayden. Of course, the playlist ultimately doesn't have the answers Sam is looking for--he has to find them by actually talking to people, and that was always the plan.


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Q & A with Ken Kalfus about his new story collection Coup de Foudre

1. The title story is a riveting feat of imagination.  What initially drew you to the story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the alleged events at the Sofitel of a few years ago?  What are some of the sources you used while writing and researching this story?

I was fascinated by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, as was much of the world in May 2011. Some of that interest was the product of simple prurience and curiosity about what actually happened in the hotel room. In fictionalizing the story, however, I was drawn to the familiar specter of the progressive politician brought to ruin by personal actions that seem to run counter to his beliefs and life work. I'm thinking of course of Bill Clinton and Elliot Spitzer, men sensitive to gender, poverty and race. Which shows, to me at least, that good political sentiments don't guarantee the goodness of the people who adhere to them. It's not a matter of hypocrisy; it's weakness and the fact that life is more complicated than ideology.

Again, I wish to stress that this novella is fiction, but I obviously drew from events reported in the press. Particularly useful was Edward Jay Epstein's Three Days in May and John Solomon's DSK. I also visited the lobby of the Sofitel on 44th Street in New York to get a sense of the layout, and in Washington I looked down from the roof of the W hotel into the garden of the Treasury building. I studied the macroeconomics of the European debt crisis and checked that month's price of a New York City taxi ride.

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Q & A with Suzanne Clores about Memoirs of a Spiritual Outsider

Tell us a little about Memoirs of a Spiritual Outsider.

It's a book about my personal quest as a twenty-something to bring spiritual connection and sacredness into my life. Like many members of Generations X, Y, and particularly of the Millennials, I wasn't willing to whole-heartedly embrace my religious upbringing, but still felt a longing for some divine connection that I couldn't quite articulate. The book is my pilgrimage through various "outsider" spiritual traditions, such as Wicca, Shamanism, Voodoo and Sufism, in hope of finding my own path that felt more authentic and experiential than what I knew. It's a universal story.

You wrote this book when you were still in your 20s and I've heard you say that you view it from your present vantage as the work of a young writer who is quite different from the writer and person you are now.  How has your relationship to this book and to who you were while writing it changed since its publication in 2000? 

Every writer I know cringes a bit when asked about their first published book, and while that used to be me, I think I've softened a lot and have come to love and embrace the 25 year old who wrote MOASO. I love that the book is a memoir from such a curious, vulnerable, and undaunted narrator. The interviews, research, and other field work I performed to accompany the personal narrative are still solid. Most of all, I'm grateful to the many incredible people who were willing to help with my pursuit of such earnest questions: how do we live without a religion but with a sense of the spiritual, and a greater wisdom and understanding of our world and ourselves? I think the question of the book is still relevant, maybe even more so now. The quest for meaning and connection in an increasingly disconnected life has become a familiar theme to just about everyone. It has also become a billion dollar marketplace, from ten minute guided meditations in the cubicle to soul-inspiring home decor. Ironically, I think the marketplace helped the conversation along.  I think people are more willing to engage with the question of their own spiritual needs, and examine their own lives for evidence of sacred things.

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Q & A with Casey Gray about his debut novel DISCOUNT

Discount, Casey Gray’s debut novel, is set in the American Southwest, forty miles north of Juárez.  This ambitious, tragicomic, and ultimately redemptive novel follows a group of customers and employees through the twenty-four hour work cycle as they seek comfort and sustenance inside of the cinderblock walls of a classic American institution—The Superstore. 

On the eve of the company president’s visit to the store, a manager’s drunk text to a coworker leads to a series of consequences as brutal as they are wide-ranging: Everyone around him will be affected. 

With a cast of characters featuring Ernesto, a local gang member struggling to choose a job pushing carts over a desultory life as a drug dealer; Wilma, a grandmother working double shifts to support her family; and Keith, a high school student with a penchant for filmmaking, Gray offers a startlingly humane, utterly contemporary portrait of life on the suburban fringe. 

A vision of an America barely getting by and assaulted by crime, corruption, and exploitation in all of its manifestations, Discount is nevertheless a triumphant and big-hearted novel that marks the arrival of a new voice we won’t soon forget.

You did a lot of hands-on research and I heard that you spent years writing DISCOUNT.  Tell us a little about the experience of working in a big box store and how you used these experiences in the novel. 

I was an adjunct professor for years, which is its own kind of exploitative racket. I didn’t get any classes one semester because of some FTE bullshit, so I got a job in the Wal-Mart Deli. I had already begun the novel, and I needed a job. I desperately wanted to work at a Wal-Mart, but I kept failing the personality tests they give you. A student I used to help in the writing center, a really great guy, finally got me on. He was a model employee and an incredibly hard worker that everyone (including me) respected immensely. When he vouched for me, I was in.  

Working at Wal-Mart is exhausting. I was determined to do a good job. Because this guy vouched for me, because I didn’t want to approach it like an interloper, and because everything you fail to do affects someone else, someone tired, someone working a shitty job just like you are. If you leave the dishes in the sink, someone’s got to do them in the morning. If you leave the grease in the fryer, someone has to drain it. If you don’t wrap the cold salads correctly, someone has to remake them. It’s like living in a family, or, maybe more correctly, a really intense roommate situation. I never wanted to be the lazy asshole that people had to pick up after. I can honestly say that I was a hard worker and a model Wal-Mart employee during my time there. 

I learned a lot about being tired, just dog tired every day. I had had shitty jobs before, and I went to school on an athletic scholarship, so I knew something about hard work. But working at Wal-Mart is different. It’s hard to explain. It’s not like working your way through college waiting tables or a summer landscaping job. It’s hard to see your way out of it. I had a terminal degree, and there were still days I thought that I would be stuck there forever. It was much more real for a lot of the people I worked with. Those feeling, I guess––I hope they bled into the novel. 

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Q & A with Maggie Mitchell about her debut novel PRETTY IS


Tell us a little about your novel:

Pretty Is is the story of two girls who are abducted together the summer they are twelve. Carly May Smith is a twelve-year-old beauty pageant queen from a farm in Nebraska, and when a polite, handsome young man stops her on Main Street and offers her a ride, she hops in his car without hesitation. Two days later she helps him talk Lois Lonsdale, a shy spelling bee champion from Connecticut, into joining them. The man takes them to an old hunting lodge in the Adirondacks, where they spend six summer weeks—not quite guests and not quite prisoners. Reading mysteries by day and playing outside at night, they fall under the spell of their captor and their surroundings; they are shattered when this interlude comes to a shocking end. The novel picks up years later, when they are nearly thirty, each in her own way haunted by their shared history. Seduced from the start by the knowledge that they were chosen and must therefore be somehow extraordinary, as adults they are still trapped in their sense of who Zed thought they were, and who he wanted them to become.

In the present, Lois is an English professor and also the author of a successful pseudonymous thriller, Deep in the Woods, which is a loose fictionalization of the abduction. She has sold the movie rights. In a coincidence worthy of the eighteenth-century novels she teaches, Lois is deeply shaken when she learns that the actress cast to star in the film is Chloe Savage, formerly Carly May Smith.

The novel is really about the two women and their relationship—to each other, to their past, and to the mysterious man who has shaped their lives.

PRETTY IS is told from a few different points of view and all of them are so deftly executed. Did your early drafts also feature these different voices/POVs?

The idea of alternating between Lois’s voice and Chloe’s was central to the novel from the very start. Both voices existed pretty clearly in my mind before I even began to write. It felt natural to begin with analytical, academic Lois and move on to the brasher, more aggressive, slightly vulgar Chloe. Both characters evolved in unpredictable ways as I wrote, of course, but the basic structure remained intact. I did make one significant change along the way, however: Part Two, which is an excerpt from Lois’s novel, was originally narrated by Hannah, who is the Lois stand-in. Eventually it became clear that her voice and Lois’s were too indistinguishable, and I decided to substitute instead a sort of loose third person narrator, with primary access to Hannah’s thoughts, considerable access to Callie’s, and an occasional flash of Zed’s consciousness. This allowed me to play with the illusion of objectivity—an illusion because the reader is aware that in fact Lois, as Lucy Ledger, is the one imagining (and dictating) all of these points of view. I didn’t want any one perspective to be blatantly unreliable, but I wanted it to become gradually clear that the truth lies somewhere in the space between the different voices.


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