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


Q and A with Alison Umminger about her new novel AMERICAN GIRLS

1. An overview of American Girls (American title)/My Favourite Manson Girl (UK title):    Anna has had a miserable year. Everything feels wrong with her life. And rather than stay and face the mess, she steals a credit card and books herself a seat on the first flight out of town to Los Angeles, to crash with her sister. But soon after she lands, cold reality soon dawns on her: Hollywood isn't the escape she needs. She is trapped in a town full of lost souls and wannabes, with no friends, no cash and no return ticket.

    When she's offered a job researching the murderous Manson girls for a dubious film, she reluctantly accepts - she needs the money. But soon enough, among the fake smiles and glitter-fueled parties, things turn from strange, to dark, to dangerous . . .

    This is not going to be the summer Anna had in mind.

    American Girls/My Favourite Manson Girl is a chilling story about being young, lost and female. This is a story about how girls disappear.

2. Anna is a very smart and irreverent 15-year-old girl - where did she come from?

    That’s such a hard question to answer!  You always risk sounding crazy or mystical if you say the voice “comes to you”—but Anna was one of those characters.  Once she emerged, she sort of came fully formed and I felt in many parts like she was telling me her story -- like I’d caught some kind of creative wave and all I had to do was ride it.  For the record, this is not something that happens to me, as a writer, on a regular basis.  Usually I have to spend a good amount of time to get a character’s voice down.

3. I think this novel will appeal to adult readers as much as YA ones, but did you write it specifically with YA readers in mind?

    While I did have YA readers in mind, I’m one of those people who thinks more about whether a book is good or not, as opposed to where it will be shelved.  I happen to love writing teens--maybe I have a bit of the perpetual adolescent about me :)  And I love many of the same books now that I did when I was fourteen, so I figure there are probably lots of other people who feel the same.

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Q and A with Grace Tiffany about her new novel, GUNPOWDER PERCY

1. Tell us a little about your new novel.

Gunpowder Percy is a tale of early-modern intrigue, religious obsession, and Machiavellian statecraft intertwined. Shakespeare’s plays are central to the action. Performed in a seedy part of London – as they were – the plays become a focal point for an unhappy Catholic gentleman named Thomas Percy, who comes to believe Shakespeare is speaking to him through his plays, and finally, insanely, that he is the reincarnation of the dead warrior Hotspur from Henry IV, part 1. Hotspur’s called “gunpowder Percy” during the course of one of the plays, and this becomes – in this fiction – the seed of the treason that became the famous Gunpowder Plot, wherein a group of Catholic gentry attempted to blow up the House of Lords with the Protestant king in attendance.

2. You include so many impressive details about the Jacobean age in which this novel is set; I know that many are authentic (and some, interestingly, are fabricated).  What research did you do before writing Gunpowder Percy?

I read quite a bit of primary and secondary material related to the Gunpowder Plot, though I stayed away from other fictions based on it. I also immersed myself in the plays that were being performed at the time, since my premise is that the history plays – which were very popular among disaffected gentry – contributed to the zealotry of the plotters. And the plays also contain a wealth of cultural detail.

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Q and A with Jason Lee Brown about his new novella, Championship Run

Much of this Q & A originally appeared in Michiganders Post online


1. Your new book, Championship Run, takes place in rural Illinois. We certainly get a sense, a real feel, for the industrial Midwest, which plays as a backdrop to action of Championship Run. Are you writing from your own sense of place?

The setting in Championship Run is a fictionalized version of my hometown. I was born, raised, and educated in Illinois, and the Midwest setting, specifically central Illinois, pervades most of my writing. Championship Run is the anchor to my recently finished story collection, Midwest Everyman, so I think the title says enough.

2. Your previous works include a novel as well as poetry. What made you set out to write a novella as your latest work?

The “germ of the idea” for the story started with an incident that happened while I was in high school in the early ‘90s, and though this novella is fiction, the incident made me obsessed with how one moment can change the trajectory of your life, how you think, act. Most of my writing comes from real-life incidences that I can’t quite set straight in my head, so I fictionalize them to make better sense of them. I wrote this during the summer of 2011, more than twenty years after the germ of the idea. I wasn’t trying to write a novella necessarily, though I knew this would be a longer story.

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Q and A with Christopher Torockio, author of the new novel THE SOUL HUNTERS

1. Tell us a little about your novel.

The Soul Hunters is a multi-generational exploration of a family that has just lost its patriarch—the last member of his generation. Set mainly in contemporary small-town Pennsylvania, with subplots and flashbacks occurring in New York City and Verona, Italy, on the day and evening following the funeral, the narrative navigates between the perspectives of the three sons and their current wives in revealing the tensions and struggles—present and past, collective and individual—that this family is now forced to confront in the face of shifting expectations, and the demands of contemporary American society. 

2.  How did this novel begin?  Were you thinking about the effects of war and its aftermath on family? 

Actually, no. It started with my grandfather's funeral. He was the last of that generation. All of his sons and their families now lived out of state, and when we all were in town for the funeral it really felt like the end of something. As the characters to in the novel, we had a yard sale after the funeral and somehow the kitchen table was sold but not the chairs. At some point near the end of the day we all went inside and sat in the kitchen and it was so weird sitting as if around the table--only there was no table. My aunt said to me, "This should be a story." People say stuff like this to me all the time (as I'm sure you know!) but this time I thought, You know, yeah, it would. So thanks to Aunt Diane!

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Q and A with Andy Mozina, author of the new novel CONTRARY MOTION

1. Tell us a little about your book.

Contrary Motion is about a divorced harpist living in Chicago getting ready for a principal harp audition with the St. Louis Symphony. In the months leading up to the audition, he runs a gauntlet of emotionally charged situations: his father dies; his ex-wife, whom he’s still in love with, gets engaged; his current girlfriend grows distant; his daughter starts acting out. As a pick-me-up, he starts moonlighting by performing for dying people at a hospice. It’s a lot of fun! Booklist went so far as to call it “rollicking.”

2. You have a knack for writing very funny prose.  Most writers would say that it's not an easy feat.  Who are some of your influences?  And, just curious, have you ever done stand-up?

That’s very nice of you to say! I love Stanley Elkin, Colson Whitehead, Aimee Bender, Jennifer Egan, Donald Barthelme, David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, Mary Gaitskill, Flannery O’Connor, etc.

I actually have five pretty polished minutes of stand-up ready to go. I’m waiting until I master my obliviate charm, so if my set goes horribly, I can erase it from the memories of all present, including myself. I think I’m getting close because when I use the charm on my wife, she just puts two fingers to her temples and looks down until I leave the room. 

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