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Tom-McAllister-Young-Widowers-Handbook

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Tom McAllister . His debut novel The Young Widower’s Handbook is available now from Algonquin Books. It is the official January pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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51kgifio8wL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Nobody walks in L.A. This is a well-known fact. Everything spread too distantly, too arrogantly—the city, the county, the Southland, however you want to categorize it all. The only connection the great roaring freeways, like clogged ancient rivers, carrying commerce and travelers, people making their way in the world, industrious and air-conditioned and unaware, but not walking, no, never.

Nonetheless, Father Jim Hinshaw isn’t going to let the limitations of his adopted hometown—three years and running, still genuinely flummoxed to be among what he used to think of as the chosen of Southern California—ruin his lifelong love of a good, brisk walk.

Jonathan_Evison_This_Is_Your_Life_Harriet_Chance

Listen to this interview with Jonathan Evison, whose new novel, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, is now available from Algonquin Books. It was the official August pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

Find-the-GoodRecently, I was asked to write a short essay describing one piece of wisdom to live by. I thought about it but did not have a brief, easy answer. I have made enough mistakes in my life to fill a whole bookshelf of dos and don’ts. My friend John works as an investigator in the public defender’s office but is a poet. That is probably why he managed to distill all his fatherly hopes and dreams into two rules for his only child: “Be nice to the dog and don’t do meth.” His son turned out kind, clear-eyed, and he graduated from a good college.

Lende, HeatherHow does one get to be an obituary writer in a small Alaskan town?

If the local newspaper editor hires a new reporter who rubs some folks the wrong way, and one of them is old and dying and says she won’t let him write her obituary, but suggests the nice woman—me—who writes the Duly Noted column (as in Bev Jones traveled to Hawaii to spend a week with daughter Ashley…And yes, the names are in bold face) could do it, and she does, that’s as good a way as any. That’s how I began writing obituaries, and I still do them.

Roorbach_CMYK_HR (c) Sarah A. SloaneI happen to know that you love stories of maroonment, if that’s a word, and that you read Robinson Crusoe and the Bounty Trilogy multiple times as a kid.  Oh, and Swiss Family Robinson, which was made into a Disney movie back in the day, this family shipwrecked and alone, all those trips back out to the wreck to collect the stuff they’d need to make their new life in a tree house.  And that book Sand you loved in college, from Japan.  So claustrophobic, that guy who lived in a house at the bottom of a sand pit?  And that girl falls in one day, no great improvement for him?  Were any of these in the back of your head as you approached The Remedy for Love?

Bill: Yes, yes, I do love those stories.  That moment Crusoe sees the footprint in the sand and realizes he’s not alone.  And that story “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad.  I think you’d call it a novella now, a long story based on the author’s own experience. This kid goes to sea on a coal boat and somewhere in the far southern ocean the coal in the hold catches fire, and eventually the boat.  But that’s just half the adventure—the rest is getting back to England, which the protagonist manages, much as Conrad did.  You can’t rest for a second reading that thing.  And that’s just what I was going for, but boiled down to a simple snowstorm situation—nothing unusual for Maine—that spirals out of control. 

Roorbach_RemedyforLove_jkt_HC_HRThe young woman ahead of him in line at the Hannaford Superstore was unusually fragrant, smelled like wood smoke and dirty clothes and cough drops or maybe Ben Gay, eucalyptus anyway. She was all but mummified in an enormous coat leaking feathers, some kind of army-issue garment from another era, huge hood pulled over her head. Homeless, obviously, or as homeless as people were in this frosty part of the world—maybe living in an aunt’s garage or on her old roommate’s couch, common around Woodchuck (actually Woodchurch, though the nickname was used more often), population six thousand, more when the college was in session, just your average Maine town, rural and self-sufficient.

Kris D’Agostino’s debut novel, The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, captures perfectly that anxious time after college graduation — the time when you realize everything you’ve been told about your education is wrong. Many of us, especially among the middle class, are raised to believe that with a college degree in hand the world is yours. For the majority of us, it doesn’t quite work out that way.

The book jacket for Panther Baby reads: “Activist, Urban Guerilla, Drug Addict, Poet, Convict, Filmmaker, Professor, Youth Advocate, Oscar Nominee.” Is there any life experience you haven’t had?

I’m not a very good cook, except for breakfast, and that’s because the Black Panthers had a free breakfast program that I worked in. I should probably take a cooking course with Chef Ramsey.

 

What is the biggest misconception about the Black Panther Party?

That the Panthers were racist and hated white people. In fact, the Panthers believed in class struggle and created the slogan “All Power to the People,” which meant Black power to Black people, White power to White people, Brown power to Brown people, Red power to Red people, and Yellow power to Yellow people.

I went into the Panther office as a fifteen-year-old thinking they would give me a gun and send me out to kill a white guy. Instead they gave me a stack of books and told me to study and to report for duty the next morning serving breakfast to schoolchildren.

 

Why did you join the Panthers?

I joined the NAACP Youth Council when I was thirteen years old. I was fifteen when Dr. King was killed and was furious that a white racist killed our Prince of Peace. The Panthers were the most militant group around, so two of my older friends and I found the location of a Panther office and went there without knowing what the organization was really about.

I also grew up without a father and was seeking the path to manhood. The Panthers were brave, strong, and “super bad,” all qualities that appeal to young men searching for identity. Kids join gangs, sports teams, and the military for the same reason — the search for belonging and identity.

 

How did you become a writer?

I spent nine-and-a-half years in prison. When I first arrived at Leavenworth Federal Prison an old convict told me, “Young blood, you can serve this time, or you can let this time serve you.” His advice became my daily mantra. I earned two college degrees, started a theater company, and wrote volumes of plays, poetry and essays. When I was released from prison, I studied film, and received a fellowship to the Sundance Film Institute. That was the beginning of my career as a screenwriter and filmmaker. I also kept writing and directing plays.

 

Why did you write Panther Baby?

Partially because friends and family kept pushing me to write a memoir, but mainly because the teenagers whom I mentor through my youth program IMPACT, and teens and students whom I speak to when I travel around the country always ask the question: “What was it like?”

So I tried to tell a story through the curious eyes and passionate heart of a fifteen-year-old manchild trying to find his place in the world during the Civil Rights/Black Power era. It’s a story that I hope will resonate with all of us who have a dream and with all young people who are trying to make their way to the mountaintop.

 

 

*Listen to Jamal Joseph in conversation with TNB founding editor Brad Listi on the Other People with Brad Listi podcast.

 

For publishers, authors, and agents, coming up with the perfect book title causes great consternation. In some cases, hundreds of titles are suggested, batted about, and batted down months before a book’s official publication date. The highly volatile selection process often results in finger-pointing, idle threats, lollygagging, and, in some rare cases, irritable bowl syndrome. Sadly, like many of my colleagues in publishing, I’ve experienced this aggravating process firsthand.

My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother. In 1968, she was working at the gift-wrap counter in Davison’s downtown when my father asked her to wrap the carving knife he had bought his wife for their wedding anniversary. Mother said she knew that something wasn’t right between a man and a woman when the gift was a blade. I said that maybe it means there was a kind of trust between them. I love my mother, but we tend to see things a little bit differently. The point is that James’s marriage was never hidden from us. James is what I call him. His other daughter, Chaurisse, the one who grew up in the house with him, she calls him Daddy, even now.

How much of this is autobiography? Is your father really a bigamist?

The dedication to my book is: “To my parents, who, to the best of my knowledge, are married only to each other.”  It’s funny—when it comes to memoir, we want to catch the author in a lie.  For fiction, we want to catch the author telling the truth.

 

 

This month, the TNB Book Club features Exley, the new novel by Brock Clarke, author of the critically acclaimed An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New EnglandExley is published by the fine people of Algonquin Books in Chapel Hill.  You can keep up with all of their great titles over at the official Algonquin blog.

Members of The Club who are working their way through Exley are encouraged to use the comment board below as an open discussion thread.  Talk about the book.  Talk about its characters.  Talk about the late-great Frederick Exley.

Talk!

 

 

 

The TNB Book Club is proud to offer its members the first FREE bonus book of the year — Our Noise:  The Story of Merge Records, by John Cook, Mac McCaughan, and Laura Ballance — which comes to us courtesy of the fine people at Algonquin Books, easily one of the most badass presses in all of publishing.

Our Noise tells the exuberant story — in words and pictures — of Merge Records, the little indie label that defied the odds to become one of the music industry’s biggest success stories.  This, folks, is the label that brings you music from bands like Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields, Spoon, Superchunk, and Lambchop.

A truly inspiring story of great art being made the right way in the 21st century.

Needless to say, we hope you enjoy it — and huge thanks again to Algonquin.

Figured we should open up a discussion thread here on The Feed.  For those of you who’d like to discuss Our Noise…the comment board is yours.

Have at it!