This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Kristin Dombek, author of The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, available now from FSG Originals. 

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This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Michelle Tea . Her new novel, Black Wave, is available now from Feminist Press.

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This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Margaret Wappler, author of the debut novel Neon Green, available now from The Unnamed Press.


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So Claire, why did you decide to write a memoir?

I don’t know. I mean, I’ve been working on this project forever. I’ve always felt like it was really important and meaningful despite a number of obstacles. But now, on the eve of its publication, I can’t help but think of all the other things I could have done with my time.  Why didn’t I use all that grit and perseverance on something…bigger?


Like what?

I could’ve gone to medical school.  That’s just like one thing that comes to mind.  Or, you know, written a novel. Or been a better mother.  Or become an international newspaper correspondent.  Or maybe all of those things—I could have become a medical doctor who wrote a novel on the side while also being a much better parent and also doing some dispatches from war zone.

michaell098300Michael Landweber’s debut novel, We, which will be released on September 1 by Seattle-based Coffeetown Press, has already gotten wonderful blurbs from writers such as Jessica Anya Blau (“a family story…wrapped in a suspenseful, gripping, and totally original sci-fi narrative”), Dave Housley (“a captivating, genre-bending psychological mystery”), and Jen Michalski (“a suspenseful and emotionally engaging novel”). We follow 40-year-old Ben Arnold as he regains consciousness following an accident, only to discover that he is inside his seven-year-old self—and his younger self, whom everyone calls Binky, is not happy about it. Ben would just as soon not be there either, until he realizes he is three days away from the worst day of his childhood—the day his sister Sara was raped, setting into motion the slow, painful unraveling of his family. Somehow, he has to figure out how to get Binky to save Sara.

Jeff Selingo’s new book, College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students (New Harvest, 2013), finds the editor at large for the Chronicle of Higher Education articulating the challenges to contemporary higher education. He also explores possible new directions for a future in which learning may well be unbundled from many of its traditional structures.

I interviewed Selingo and published a short version of our conversation at the Huffington Post under the title “When the Jobs of Tomorrow Don’t Exist Today: Jeff Selingo on College, Liberal Arts, and the Possible Future.” Here, I let the conversation expand to its full flowering, and then move at its close to issues of contemporary publishing.

9780986010903Alice Rosenthal grew up in the Bronx, in the 1950s, with parents who were (unbeknownst to many of their colleagues, and some friends) card-carrying Communists. I know this because Alice’s older sister, Barbara, is my mother.

When I discovered that Alice was writing a novel, loosely based on her own childhood, I was eager to read it. I’ve long been fascinated by the extremes of American paranoia. What I had not expected when I picked up Take the D Train was how piercingly it would explore the complexity of the Fifties, especially for women with independent minds and inconvenient political views.

The novel focuses on the cautious, married Frima and her more impulsive sister-in-law Beth. The trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage provides a harrowing backdrop to much of the action, which is conveyed in prose that is thrilling both for its restraint and precision.

I was curious to know more about how Alice produced such a riveting novel, after years of writing.

If you’re comfortable, we can start.

I thought we started already. In fact, it seems like you’ve always been here.


I’m very familiar with your new novel, PANORAMA CITY, but how would you describe it to a random person in a bar?

It’s about a village idiot who wants to become a man of the world.

Didn’t you just get married?

I did! Thank you for remembering.


How’s newlywed life going?

So far, so good. We went through a phase of calling each other Husband and Wife instead of our names, but that’s stopped for the most part. It’s nice to be settling back into normality.

Imagine that Cinderella’s been murdered, distracted by a bluebird and run over by a truck in New Never City. Now imagine her stepsister calling on Rumpelstiltskin (stripped of his villainy as punishment for rage issues) to investigate. This is the premise of  J.A. Kazimer’s Curses!: A F**cked Up Fairy Tale.

Cinderella’s stepsister Asia, believing her sister’s death to be a case of foul play, shows up at what she thinks is Sherlock Holmes’s door. Only, he hasn’t lived there for a while, not since RJ, as Rumpel prefers to be called, stuffed him into the chimney and took over the residence. Asia, much better-looking then the original story had led us to believe, convinces RJ to help, but really he’s just doing it in hopes that she’ll sleep with him.

At the beginning of 2011 I bought five literary magazines off the rack at Powell’s. I did this for all the self-involved reasons we buy literary magazines: I wanted to know which ones might publish my work. I read all of the fiction in these magazines and some nonfiction, 25 pieces total. I liked most of what I read, but I loved one story in particular, “Reed and Dinerstein Moving” by Patrick deWitt in Electric Literature No. 3. I liked the story so much I vowed to buy deWitt’s novel when it came out, and lo and behold, The Sisters Brothers started getting the big push shortly after this.

The Sisters Brothers is actually deWitt’s second novel. His first, Ablutions, came out last year, accompanied by the rave reviews that produced both admiration and jealousy in me in equal measure. Upon devouring Ablutions and The Sisters Brothers, I found both feelings warranted.

I bum-rushed deWitt at his Powell’s reading in May, asking for the chance to do this interview. He was too polite to say no, and you, lucky readers, are the beneficiaries of my bravado.

It is easier to figure out cold fusion than it is to discuss rock and roll journalism without mentioning Mick Wall. He is to music writing what Keith Richards is to the guitar — he didn’t invent it, but he sure as hell made it his own.

Mick Wall began his career writing for a weekly music paper in the late Seventies and a few years later he jumped into a grass roots heavy metal magazine called Kerrang!. He quickly became its most popular writer and now thirty years later, Kerrang! is the biggest music periodical in circulation in the UK, with its own television and radio stations, branded tours, and massive annual awards ceremony.

Like Kerrang!, Mick Wall has also exploded as a force in the arena of rock journalism. He has penned nearly twenty music biographies, tackling a diverse range of subjects from immortal record producer John Peel to the howling tornado that is Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose. Rose was so unsettled by Wall’s book that he called him out by name in the song, “Get in the Ring,” from the Use Your Illusion II album.

*This is a transcript of the conversation we had with Caroline Leavitt, author of The TNB Book Club‘s January selection, Pictures of You.  It happened on Sunday, January 30, 2011.



BRAD LISTI (BL): Alright, everybody. We’re back. Welcome. Really pleased to have Caroline Leavitt here with us this month. Her latest novel, Pictures of You, is receiving all kinds of praise and good ink. Its story focuses on the aftermath of a car crash that leaves one woman dead — a survivor’s tale that hits on a variety of compelling themes, including grief, guilt, secrets, and the limits of human forgiveness. Please feel free to offer up questions for Caroline throughout. As always, I’ll be moderating as we go.

Welcome, Caroline!

CAROLINE LEAVITT (CL): Thanks for coming everyone, and thank you, Brad.  Remember: no question is too embarrassing to ask me.

Jason Rice: For those of you who don’t know about it yet, read my review of The Fates Will Find Their Wayhere.  I came across this book earlier this fall and absolutely fell in love with it. This is a wonderful debut novel that goes on sale at the end of January 2011. I’m sure everyone at Ecco is tired of hearing about it from me…meanwhile; Hannah Pittard has been kind enough to answer a few questions.

JR: Fates has a really unique narrator, can you describe it for us?

Hannah Pittard: It’s an intimate first person plural, and the idea is that either it’s the collective subconscious of this specific group of boys or it’s simply an unidentified member of the group. What appealed to me about the voice was that I would get to speak anecdotally to my audience; I would get to speak intimately, as if the people reading were already familiar with the events.

JR: Is there really a Nora Lindell? I mean there is, but is she really there? Or is she just something that is simply conjured by your narrator? Everyone in the book talks about her, and she has a sister, the spooky Sissy, but is this just a story of how a town is affected by a lost teenager? Some of the mothers in the book repeat over and over that she’s dead, and no one needs to worry about her…so what’s the reality?

HP: So many people have asked me about what really happened? Which is funny. What happened is what’s on the page. The point is, what actually happened doesn’t matter because what matters is the boys and what the boys believe happened. What matters is that this group of boys focused their entire lives on someone else rather than on themselves…

JR: I’m sure this book has been compared to The Virgin Suicides, which is also an equally impressive debut novel, but with Fates you take it to a much higher level and reveal all of the characters, slowly, sliding back and forth across time, over the course of their lives, but you never really solve the main themes of the book. What were your initial intentions with this story? Where did it set out to be, and how did you get to where it is now?

HP: I’m not sure I agree that The Fates reaches a higher level than The Virgin Suicides, though I thank you for the compliment. That book, to me, is absolute perfection. It was one of those books where I just kept thinking, Oh man, I didn’t know you could do that…

It’s hard to talk about what my initial intentions were with The Fates. I write without ever really knowing where anything is going. More, there is a feeling, an essence that I’m usually after, or there’s a line that’s triggered the entire event. But I do think I’ve mostly captured what I was initially after, albeit an amorphous feeling. That said, I also remember there was a day when I looked up – some where close to halfway through – and I thought, oh, it’s a love story. And once I’d made that realization, things got a lot easier. I will also say that when I first sat down, the voice was meant to be bi-gender. I’d originally thought to tell it from the perspective of all the kids who had grown up with Nora – the boys and the girls. But somewhere very early on – page ten or so – the boys just took over. I think it was when they were in Trey Stephens’ basement trying to imagine Nora Lindell shaving. I don’t know why, but that image was like a gift to me, and I knew after that that it had to be about the boys’ longings, because so much of what I wanted to write about was going to deal with sexuality, which I also didn’t fully realize until I got to that moment in the basement.

JR: You capture small town life and small town aspirations quite well with almost all of the cast, but in some respects your characters long to be well traveled, read, and well spoken.  But somehow they all stay put.  What do you think is holding them back? And which characters did you love the most, and which ones did you hate?

HP: What holds them back is what holds anyone back, maybe: Comfort, contentedness, familiarity. I don’t want these men to be thought of as having pointless lives. More it’s that I want them not to see that they have perfectly wonderful lives, it’s just that nothing is ever enough – whether you get away from where you started or not. In which case, maybe one of the points I’m making is that we’re all always being held back to a certain degree. Or there’s always the argument to be made. Because as long as we aren’t moving forward or doing something different, then it’s hard to stop ourselves from imagining – even if we don’t want to, even if we believe we’re really happy – something a little bit more, a little bit better. Ugh, it’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Well, I love Mundo, the Mexican, because what’s not to love? Sissy and Danny were also favorites. That’s probably obvious. I don’t know really how to answer this question, because there’s a soft spot for everyone of the them. That’s why I wish I could just make a career writing about these characters for the rest of my life. In some ways, they are all my Rabbit. Except that I’m not Updike, and I’m not ever going to write about these boys again…

JR: Sex plays a focal point for everyone in the book. It’s either a rite of passage that must be achieved, or it’s a pot hole that some characters wished they’d avoided.  The parents of Nora and Sissy are normal, until one day they’re not. The main events of the story conspire against them.  At the same time you describe the extra marital affairs going among the parents, presenting a series of character flaws that embellish to story.  How difficult was it to etch these characters? They all seem like they could walk out into the world, or I would run into them at the corner store.

HP: I think quite a few of my characters originated as stereotypes – you know, the hot mom, the crazy mom, the charming dad that doesn’t know when to quit – but the exercise was to take the stereotype and make it unique, make it believable, like maybe here could be the person who started the stereotype.

I’m glad these characters seem real. They became very real in my head, and after a while, their attitudes just presented themselves to me – especially with regard to the boys. When I first started writing the book, I didn’t necessarily understand that the boys would each have personalities of their own. More, I assumed that they would stay a sort of gelatinous mass with the occasional individual name thrown out here and there for good measure. But after awhile – and after I thought I’d maxed out how many different names a reader could possibly keep up with – I started going back, finding a name I’d already used, and saying Okay, the kid who picks his face is probably also the kid who takes pills, maybe he’s also the kid with the suicidal mom. And once I’d done this enough times, I suddenly realized that I had these very distinct personalities on the page. And then, once I realized that, I realized that the story – in some ways – was about the individuating of these boys all along.

JR:  While you were writing Fates was there a favorite novel you kept on your desk that you gleaned inspiration from?

HP: I can tell you that I deliberately stayed far away from The Virgin Suicides. Like I said earlier, I adore that book. But it had been years since I read it, and I wanted it to remain an idea rather than something to be imitated. Once, when I hit a particularly dry spell, I picked up a Donald Antrim novel. Then I had to read them all. Another time I picked up Bright Lights, Big City, and I swear to god I was so inspired by that book that I finished my own probably within a month of finishing McInerny. I also read Gate at the Stairs while I was working on The Fates. And from this book I realized that occasionally the ending is what makes everything worth it. I think I wrote the ending to my book the same day I finished Moore’s book, and I was only halfway through mine at the time. Sometimes just touching Lolita or Anagrams or The Sun Also Rises is enough to get me writing again. Sometimes listening to John Prine or Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits. Sometimes I walk around the room like a character from a Whit Stillman movie and read poems from the Norton Anthology of Poetry aloud, but this is as much about wasting time and listening to my own voice as it is about anything else. Sometimes I need my brain to go dead in order to write my way through a scene, so I’ll sit with my boyfriend while he’s watching a basketball game, which drives him crazy, but provides enough of a distraction for me to get through the hard parts.

JR: Are you writing anything new?

HP: Yes, and I’m really in with love the narrator, and also very terrified to talk about it. When I finished The Fates, all I wanted to do was write another book in the same vein. Maybe The Fates Are Still Waiting to Find Their Way. But it’s probably good that I go away from that voice – or that style – for a little while; it’s probably good that I not get comfortable in my small town and forget that there’s more to be had.

JR: Do you think what happens to everyone in your story is fate? Or it just happened? And it happened to happen to them? You and I have talked about the ending, and how perfect it is. When did you decide that was how you were going to end it? At the end of the day its all about telling a good story, one that you want to think about for a long time, and Fates achieves that in spades.

HP: So, right, I think I’m going to intentionally ignore certain parts of this question! I wrote the ending when I was about halfway through with the book. I’d been reading Lorrie Moore’s new book – not that they have anything in common – and I think I was stalled about where to go with some integral plot point, and so I decided to write the end. In some ways, this shows my hand as a writer. I get bored or I get intimidated by writing, and the only way for me to keep going is to know that there’s an end in sight. Once I had the ending, that would mean all I had to do was match up two points. At least that’s how I sold it to myself. I remember one afternoon just looking up from my computer and saying to my boyfriend, “Well, I’ve just written the ending,” and I think he shook his head, half in disgust and half in amusement. He’s always telling me that I can’t just sit down and make things up. And I’m always saying, but that’s exactly what I can do. At any rate, once I had that ending, things did just sort of fall into place. It’s like I finally understood what the book was about – it’s about regret, adulthood, childhood; it’s about the choices we make as children, the choices that will inform the rest of our lives, and how unfair, but also how inescapable, that is. It’s also about that terrible ability we all have to imagine that what we don’t have, what we didn’t get, must be better than what we do have or what we did get. I’ve heard so many people reminisce about a woman or a man they once saw on an escalator, in a bar, at the tennis court. And how there was this insanely intimate moment shared between them, and how if only they could go back and be with that person. But, of course, what makes that person perfect is precisely the fact that they are relegated to memory. If they were alive, in front of us, for real, they would be disappointing. Everything is always disappointing, or rather, nothing is ever as good as we think we deserve. God, I sound like such a pessimist! I’m not. I swear it. That’s why this subject fascinates me. I see so many people living vicariously through their fantasies or at least coping with life by tapping into their memories on a daily basis, and I think, How can they possibly go on? It’s too much.

JR: Thank you for the time Hannah.

HP: Thank you, Jason. You are officially my first interview regarding The Fates. Now watch as my answers change over time!

Most of us are starving for success, but there are some people who take their obsessions to a whole other level. Training a carefully-honed eye on the secret world of eating disorders, author Lisa deNikolits delves into the sensitive topic of beauty in her well-received novel, THE HUNGRY MIRROR.

WordHustler sat down with deNikolits to talk fame, fashion, and being famished. This savvy South-African-turned-Canadian author has done an amazing job of churning out many projects while still maintaining her other career as an art director for top fashion magazines. Read on to find out how this talented writer is taking the fashion world- and the world at large- by storm!

WordHustler: You have an amazing and eclectic background from growing up in multiple countries, working as a writer and an art director in the fashion magazine world…what do you consider your first big break, writing-wise?

Lisa deNikolits: My first big break came, oddly enough, in the form of a rejection letter from Carolyn Jackson, the managing editor of a publishing house in Toronto. With characteristic generosity of spirit, she pointed me in the direction of Inanna, and The Hungry Mirror came to be as a result. My second big break would of course be the offer by Luciana Ricciutelli and Inanna to publish the book.

WH: You’ve written a few short story collections and some other novels- what made you decide you HAD to write this book in particular?

LD: If anything, it was The Hungry Mirror who made the decision for me! The Hungry Mirror wanted to be written and it was insistent. There were times when I wished it hadn’t “chosen” me as its conduit, because it was a tough book to write and the writing spanned a very long time. But I feel the book explores a number of important and controversial social and mental  health issues, and I am very pleased to be the author.


WH: When drawing from your experiences in the fashion world, do you find it difficult to disguise people you actually know? Or do you make the characters amalgams of many people?

LD: All amalgams, absolutely! I borrow bits and pieces shamelessly from everywhere, from everyone and I create character collages. And in return, I am quite happy for anyone to borrow anything from me! The only real difficulty I have encountered so far is when people misinterpreting themselves to be the basis for a fictional character. Then it’s awkward to have to say well actually that character originated from my imaginings – meanwhile a lot has been revealed that might better have been left unsaid.

WH: What for you is the most challenging part of writing? Realistic-sounding dialogue? Educating/getting your message across without sacrificing story?

LD: I struggle with tenses. I start off writing in the past tense, I swing into the present, then veer into the future. When I go back and tackle a first draft, I am dismayed by the mess I have created. It can be hard to untangle mixed up tenses, like trying to fix bad knitting. I also need to learn more about the intricacies and rules of punctuation.

WH: You are doing a fantastic job of marketing yourself and your book. What advice can you give other writers looking to promote and market themselves?

LD: Thank you for the kind words! Yes, the marketing is going very well and while I would love to take credit, all kudos go to my publisher, friends and family. The support and generosity of their time, their enthusiasm, their help and encouragement have just been incredible.

For my part, I worked hard to set up a number of social networking infrastructures but that was really just like mailing out a lot of invites; the party is a great success because people show up and bring their passion and energy.

Other key points to successful marketing would be; start thinking about this early on in the process, leave no stone unturned, do a lot of research, make a lot of lists, keep knocking on doors.

WH: What are a few of your favorite books out there today (besides your own, of course! 😉 )?

LD: Two of my favourite women authors are Edeet Ravel: Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth, Ten Thousand Lovers, Wall of Light, Look for Me, and Annie Proulx: Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Bad Dirt, and of course, The Shipping News.

I love Harry Crews: Body, The Gospel Singer, Feast of Snakes. In terms of recently published books, I’ve been enjoying a number of Inanna’s books – Butterfly Tears by Zoë S Roy, Women’s Spirituality by Johanna S. Stuckey, First Voices (An Aboriginal Womens’ Reader), edited by Patricia A. Monture and Patricia D. McGuire, Truth and Other Fictions by Eva Tihanyi. I thoroughly enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and I am halfway through Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man.

WH: What is your preferred writing method? Do you have a certain writing spot/technique?

LD: I used to write longhand but then I got tired of inputting all the copy. So I switched to writing on my iMac, and I sit at my Hungarian grandfather’s old dining table which is set high on wooden blocks, to accommodate my red retro step chair stool with polished red vinyl seat. It is an unusual setup but one that works for me! It’s all quite elevated and precarious!

WH: How do you best balance your fiction writing with your art direction commitments?

LD: I squeeze time! I can fit a lot into a day! And when I feel start to feel a bit sorry for myself, trying to do all these things, I remind myself of all the mothers out there who have to juggle more than I could even imagine, and it’s not like they can take a break whenever they feel like it. So, it’s all a matter of perspective.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to do?

LD: Read style manuals. Attend writing workshops. Print your work out and read it a aloud.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to NEVER do?

LD: Never give up.  Never stop reading with the intent to learn. Never write an entire 220,000 word manuscript as internal narrative (I learned this one the hard way!).

WH: Do you think WordHustler is a valuable resource in helping writers successfully get their work out there, professionally and effectively?

LD: Yes I do think WordHustler is a valuable resource. Finding one’s way through the maze of agents and publishers can be much more daunting than writing the book. So when you say: “Bottom line: you’re a writer. You should be spending your time writing.” Well, I just love that!

She’s a savvy writer, indeed. Saving time with all the paperwork so you can get back to writing is WordHustler‘s goal for you. Use our helpful Advanced Search Wizard in the Markets section to help you target the perfect agents, publications, and publishers for your work, or submit your wonderful writing to any of our thousands of writing contests!

WordHustler wants to help you get your work out to the world quickly, efficiently, and successfully. So what are you waiting for! Destiny is only a click away!