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You’ve been working on this book for five years. Presumably, then, you’ve bored several hundred people at holidays and cocktail parties, talking about your novel that’s “almost” done.

Czeslaw Milosz once said that when a writer is born into a family, the family is finished. The same could be said of writers and parties.

 

images (1)She thinks I approached her out of the blue. She thinks I wanted to interview her out of the kindness of my heart. The truth is this: ulterior motives.  I must confess that I’m interested in the convergence of several elements in her work (emphasis on several): exotic locale (China, in this case), the thematic rubbing up against each other of missionary zeal (whether secular missionary zeal as found in Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder or sacred missionary zeal which you’ll find in Virginia’s book) with contemporary mores, and the fact that both Virginia and I showed up a little later than usual on the publishing field, despite our lengthy, lengthy, lengthy histories in writing without an audience. And Virginia and I have the same publisher (Unbridled Books). She sounded pretty interesting to me!

HamidIn the summer of 2011, for a review marking the tenth anniversary of the attacks, I read thirteen novels with 9/11 plots, from Jonathan Safran Foer to  Julia Glass, from Jess Walter to Claire Messud. My favorite was Mohsin Hamid’s Booker-nominated contribution, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a slim, clever allegory with a large ambition — it wants to make you understand something about the experience of Islamic people in the Middle East and in the United States. Like Hamid, its narrator is a Pakistani who has lived in the U.S. but is now back in Lahore. This speaker delivers the entire story as a monologue over dinner to an American visitor whose voice is never heard but who may have a gun.

 

If there’s a more generous writer in America than Jonathan Evison, I haven’t heard of him. (Full disclosure: Evison was kind enough to blurb two of my novels. This ain’t about that.) This son of Washington, a New York Times bestseller for his sweeping epic West of Here has engendered good will the old-fashioned way: by working damn hard at what he does, being thankful for the opportunities, using his time and talent to promote other writers and being a beacon of optimism in a business that breaks hearts as a matter of course.

With his latest, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (Algonquin), set to drop on Aug. 28, Evison unspooled for a wide-ranging, multi-day email interview about the new book, writing a smaller, more intimate story after the ambitious West of Here, working through the darkness, and what he might say to the 15-years-younger version of himself.

 

Hey there!

Ahoy, Kimberlee!

 

I don’t know how to ease into this, so I’m just going to jump in!

Appropriate enough for a gspot, or is this gchat?

Jennifer Spiegel is a way bigger freak than me. I base this solely on her excellent debut story collection, The Freak Chronicles, a suite of stories that includes among its retinue the tale of college girl stalking Mickey Rourke and a coed indulging in some extracurricular international relations with a Russian street artist. Spiegel’s stories are sexy but never salacious, and deeply humane. Her heroines spend a lot of time traveling the world and grappling with the complicated moral terrain they encounter.

She seems to have a big mouth, so I was wanted to toss a few provocations her way. Here’s what happened…

Douglas Light: Thanks for taking the time to read my story collection, Girls in Trouble.

 

Roy Kesey: A total pleasure! Now, full disclosure: correct me if I’m wrong, but I think our first contact was back in 2005 when you published a story of mine in Epiphany.

That’s right. I’d forgotten about that. Back in the day when I was working on literary magazines.

I’m not going to waste precious time blabbing about how awesome the stories in Cul De Sac are. (You’re busy. I get it.) I’ll only say that I never intended to read the fucking thing. Why? Because I’ve got two small children at home and, like, six other books I’m supposed to read. I only read the thing because I couldn’t not read it. Which is annoying. And also kind of awesome.

Rhonda Hughes is the powerhouse behind indie publishing sensation Hawthorne Books.  More than a decade old and located in the Pacific Northwest, I had heard of Hawthorne only vaguely until a couple of years ago, when suddenly they seemed to burst as a force to be reckoned with onto the publishing scene, with highly assertive and competent marketing, beautifully designed books, and the kind of wider distribution that seems, to many small indie presses, only a tantalizing dream.  They’ve also developed a stable of writers from whom they put out more than one title in fairly close succession, in an old-school publishing model that favors loyalty and cultivating talent/brand above constantly trying to throw All Things New against a wall to see what sticks.  Plus, they have a whiff of Chuck Palahniuk cool about them, which doesn’t hurt!  Amidst her busy schedule, Rhonda was able to talk with me about what makes Hawthorne tick—and thrive—and some future exciting projects on their list.

DeWitt Henry is the author of the novel The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts (winner of the inaugural Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel), and a mid-life memoir-in-essays, Safe Suicide: Narratives, Essays, and Meditations.  Both are sequels to his latest memoir, Sweet Dreams, about growing up on Philadelphia’s Main Line.  The founding editor of Ploughshares literary magazine, he is a Professor at Emerson College in Boston.  (For more details, please visit www.dewitthenry.com.)

Bradford Morrow is the author of six novels, including The Diviner’s Tale, Giovanni’s Gift, and Trinity Fields, and co-edited with David Shields The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death. The recipient of numerous awards, he founded and edits the literary journal Conjunctions and is a professor of literature at Bard College. Morrow lives in New York City.

Kristin Thiel has been one of the great surprises of publishing Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience.  An avid writer, reader and editor working out of the Pacific Northwest, she has emerged as a dream to work with, and one of the most enthusiastic champions of the book, pitching in to help book our national tour and mentioning the book in her freelance journalism.  Kristin’s beautifully elliptical piece is about a man whose wife suffers from what seems to be vaginismus, and her patient protagonist admittedly stands in some stark contrast to many of the more impulsive or selfish characters likely to populate any anthology “about sex,” reminding readers of the great variance of sexual experience, and among men themselves, fictional or otherwise.  Here, Kristin reveals several more surprises, including her ability to insert Anne of Green Gables into a sex interview!

Elizabeth Searle’s short story, “And a Dead American,” was one of the earliest submissions accepted to Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. In fact, it would not be far-fetched to say that this story—an excerpt of Searle’s new novel, GIRL HELD IN HOME —sometimes served as a reassurance that we were on the right track, back in the early days when so many of the submissions we received . . . well, didn’t actually have any sex in them, despite our blatant pleas for “explicit” material on our call for submissions. “And a Dead American” ended up exemplifying precisely the kind of risky, challenging literary work we sought, while also dealing overtly with bodies and desires. Searle is also the author of the books A FOUR-SIDED BED (new paperback edition in 2011), CELEBRITIES IN DISGRACE (produced as a short film in 2010) and MY BODY TO YOU, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize.  Her theater work, TONYA & NANCY: THE ROCK OPERA, has been performed on both coasts and has drawn national media attention.

If you email Dan Wickett and don’t hear back in fifteen minutes, you immediately assume he’s dead in a ditch.  This guy—founder of one of the early online literary communities, The Emerging Writers Network, and co-founder of the vibrant and multi-pronged Dzanc Books—has got his fingers in so many literary pots that he has to put out an automated reply if he’ll be away from his computer long enough to attend a soccer game or waves of desperation start to ripple across a growing faction of the indie publishing community.  (Full disclaimer: I’m guilty of emailing Dan pretty much daily with some minor emergency or urgent brainstorm.)  Dzanc now even has its own literary conference abroad, the Portugal-based DISQUIET, run by Jeff Parker.  In short, this little indie publisher that could has taken the world by storm, and this shows no signs of stopping now.

If you have any interest in publishing, you’ve heard of Richard Nash—you may count yourself among his more than 70,000 Twitter followers . . . which can at times make him seem more like a popular guitarist or actor than, you know, an indie publishing dude.  In fact, giving an account of Richard’s career—most notably his distinguished stint running Soft Skull Press, during which time he transformed it from a small cult-fave to one of the most formidable indie presses in the country—can’t really begin to address what it is about this guy that has the entire publishing world sitting at attention.  By his own admission, he doesn’t tend to be where the big money’s at—Soft Skull had infamous financial difficulties that partially led to its acquisition by Counterpoint (a move that failed to solve the problem), and now Nash is involved in a highly ambitious start-up company, Cursor, at a time when most people are crying Armageddon in terms of the literary economy.  Yet when Nash talks, people listen—perhaps precisely because of the fact that he is one of the few in the publishing industry to embrace change and upheaval with an unbridled enthusiasm rather than with fear.  Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Richard about Cursor’s pioneering “community based” publishing arm, Red Lemonade, which is currently an invitation-only site, not viewable by the general public.  If Nash’s popularity—and enthusiasm for lit-based community—are any indications, however, Red Lemonade will not be under cover for very long, and soon everyone will be talking about its visionary role in the Brave New Publishing World.