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


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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Q and A with Elizabeth McKenzie, author of the new novel THE PORTABLE VEBLEN


From the publisher:  The Portable Veblen is a dazzlingly original novel that’s as big-hearted as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (antiestablishment) values, and with the specter of our current wars looming across its pages, The Portable Veblen is an unforgettable look at the way we live now. A young couple on the brink of marriage—the charming Veblen and her fiancé Paul, a brilliant neurologist—find their engagement in danger of collapse. Along the way they weather everything from each other’s dysfunctional families, to the attentions of a seductive pharmaceutical heiress, to an intimate tête-à-tête with a very charismatic squirrel. 

1. You take on a number of serious themes in The Portable Veblen: mortality, the global pharmaceutical industry, warfare, dysfunctional families, mental illness.  Was one or more of these themes what propelled you to begin this novel?

I think they were converging at various subliminal levels, some more pressing than others. A close family member was sick and so I was really preoccupied with hospitals and spending weeks and weeks in one, full of dread and feeling very critical of institutions of all kinds. It was 2007, and there was also a strong anti-war sentiment in the mix. 

2. You move between different points of view throughout the narrative – did you start with one POV character or did you always know that the story would be told from multiple POVs?  

There was hardly anything I knew for sure at the beginning. But in early drafts I did go back and forth naturally between Veblen and Paul. There are several short parts in the novel where neither Paul nor Veblen are present, and I wondered if would be jarring, but it didn’t seem to be. And there’s a longer section from the point of view of Warren Smith, a veteran with TBI in Paul’s trial… which was indefensible structurally but felt essential to have as genuine testimony considering all the satirical stuff surrounding the trial and the VA and the FDA and so on. It wasn’t until things began to line up near the end that I could stand back and figure out if I could justify these detours into other points of view, and I think it’s the elasticity and inclusiveness of Veblen’s imagination that allows it.

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