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




1. Tell us a little about Making Friends with Death.  

This book is simply a how-to/guide book on how to die well (or at least try!). I wanted it to be funny (because difficult conversations could always use a bit of humor). I wanted to look at all the uncertainty that precedes this certain final act. Most of all, I wanted it to be a mix of practical how-to advice and lists and wisdoms and research, all in one spot—so that basically, if you do the activities in the book, and handed it to someone, they’d have a pretty darn good idea of what you want. And I mean this practically (the technical and medical stuff); logistically (the type of ceremony, what should be done with your body), and heart-stuff (who you were as a person, what you stood for, what you’re most proud of), and everything in between.

2. What inspired you to write this book, which I'd describe as a guide to preparing for a good death? 

Two things happened at once: One, I was helping friends and family die, and what I witnessed was pretty lousy. I’m just being honest—but man, they were bitter affairs, with families torn apart and the dying person suffering in all sorts of ways. On top  of that, I was in a health care crisis of my own. I was in extreme pain all the time, the doctors couldn’t figure it out, and then at one point, it ceased to matter. It just felt like I was going to die. And I didn’t have any good examples of what a good death looked like. I didn’t know what was wrong with me—and wouldn’t for several years—but I kept thinking ut-oh, I better get ready here. Of course, I didn’t want to die. I had young children, a writing career that was just taking off, a good life.  I found myself suddenly seeking some wisdoms, and fast. But there was no help. At least, not that I could find that were really practical and applicable.

That whole mess is better now, but one thing it taught me was this: It’s absolutely contingent upon us to prepare while we are healthy and calm. That way, when the shit hits the fan, we are better prepared to work with it all—and to have a good death.


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Q and A with Don Tassone about his debut novel DRIVE 

1. Tell us a little about your novel: 

Drive is a story about Nick Reynolds, a highly successful food company executive who’s also a bully — feared by his employees and estranged from his wife and children.  After his latest blow-up at work, Nick’s boss orders him to take the summer off and sort himself out.  Angry and despondent, Nick sets off, alone, from his home in Chicago for Bar Harbor, Maine.  This is the story of what Nick experiences, learns and chooses along the way.  It is a portrait of a man who must rediscover who he is and decide whether he can go on.

2. Nick Reynolds is having what I'd have to say is a mid-life crisis: leaving his high-powered job, hitting the road, trying to come to terms with aspects of his life and personality that trouble him--what inspired you to create this character and tell this particular story? 

In my career, I saw hundreds of men like Nick Reynolds.  Seemingly successful men who struggled with society’s expectations of them and their own self-identity, who were burned out, who lost their way.  These men are everywhere.  Yet there are few contemporary novels devoted to such men and those who care about them.  So I wrote this book.  I hope it will speak to a lot of people and serve as a reminder that, no matter our challenges, there is always an opportunity for renewal.

3. You've published a collection of short stories and now are publishing a novel--what were some of the challenges of writing long-form fiction, as opposed to the short story?  

One challenge was simply devoting the time required.  This book took me a year and a half to write.  I’ve written short stories in a day.  Another challenge was the complexity — subplots, conflicts, flashbacks, location changes and many more characters.  Drive is much more layered than any of my short stories.

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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.


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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. 

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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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