Jessica & Matthew

Five Beers, Five Questions

Who: Authors Matthew Norman and Jessica Anya Blau

Where: A dive bar with dangerous parking (try to get out of the lot without getting hit by oncoming cars) in North Baltimore. Three TVs played the baseball game. The pool table was in continuous use.

What: Natty Boh, a beer the locals drink.

How Much: 3 dollars a can.

Present: a nice multi-racial mix that properly represented the people of Baltimore.

But: With the exception of the bi-racial lesbian couple eating burgers, everyone looked like they could use a good long stint in rehab. Especially the guy with the open, weeping, mouth sore who asked Jessica to play pool with him.

TroubleLexie.BlondieThe problem wasn’t so much that Lexie had taken the Klonopin. And it wasn’t even that she had stolen them. At thirty generic pills for ten dollars, the theft of a handful (two down the gullet, the rest down her bra) had to be less than . . . seven bucks? The problem, as Lexie saw it, was that she had fallen asleep in the bed of the owner of the Klonopin. And the owner of the Klonopin was the wife of her lover.

“Miss James?” Jen Waite said. Her dyed hair was blonder than Lexie’s and her pale face looked prettier than Lexie remembered from their single meeting at Parents’ Weekend—brow furrowed now, head tilted with concern.

Lexie looked down at herself. Her fitted red dress was scrunched up to her hips and she wasn’t wearing underwear. A shadow of hair trailed from crotch to mid-thigh. Lexie tried to yank the dress down but her brain-hand-body coordination was off and she couldn’t manage the required butt-lift.

Photograph of Novelist Katie CrouchBestselling author Katie Crouch (Men and Dogs; Girls in Trucks) has a new book out. Abroad is a quick-moving, high-action read that plays out both our best and worst fantasies of being a young, beautiful foreigner in Italy. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, so wonderfully vivid, you might just confuse them for people you actually know (or have read about in the news!).

author-photo-lower-res-copyOf Maud Casey’s most recent book, Alice Sebold said, “The Man Who Walked Away cast a spell from which I never wished to wake.”

Indeed, this book is spellbinding. Between the mental patients, the overly-confident doctors who treat them, the women suffering from hysteria, the dazzling acrobat, and the man who simply walks across Europe, this book is like a an eerie, unsettling dream that you cannot shake from your head.

Maud and I shared a fascinating discussion about The Man Who Walked Away, in which Maud brought up “ovary belts,” the difficulty in simply being human, and a “hunger for peace.”

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Walter Kirn’s newest book, Blood Will Out: The True Story of Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, is a riveting, chilling, and sometimes funny real-life psychological thriller about Kirn’s fifteen-year friendship with a man whose life story eerily parallels Tom Ripley’s in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Kirn is a witty, sharp observer who will flay himself with the same X-Acto knife precision that he uses to flay his characters. I couldn’t stop reading Blood Will Out—it made me want to dig through my bookshelves, pluck out and reread everything Kirn has ever written.

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When Willy Vlautin’s first book, Motel Life, came out, I brought it with me to the beach house where my family (parents, siblings, spouses, kids, etc.) meet up for a week every summer. I read it in an afternoon, loved it, and passed it on. By the end of the week no less than six people across three generations were diehard Willy fans. We have all read (and loved) every Willy book since. So, when an advance copy of Willy’s new book recently landed in my hands, I felt I owed it to my family to get this guy on the phone.

Our conversation took place over two hours on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Willy has a great voice with a lot of gravel and a little bit of twang—he sounds like a really smart country boy who’s read a lot of books. We skipped the usual small talk and went straight into the heart of things: writing, love, life, family, childhood, happiness, drinking, and his latest book The Freewhich happens to be the official March selection of The TNB Book Club.

Willy said way more than is fit to print in a single interview, so here are some highlights from one of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had with a stranger:

Laura-Fraser-authorI probably don’t have to tell any reader of The Nervous Breakdown that it’s harder than ever to publish a book through traditional corporate channels. And certain categories — like collections of essays — have become virtually extinct, a situation which affects me directly. When I started out telling personal stories as a commentator on NPR in the 1990s, there was a lot of interest in the essay — publishers were looking for the next David Sedaris. These days, though venues have opened up online for individual pieces, and we continue to see themed anthologies  on various aspects of parenting, eating, divorce, travel, etc., it’s very rare to find a collection of essays between covers by anyone other than, well, David Sedaris.

Beth_Ann_BaumanBeth Ann Bauman writes about women and girls with humor, grace, insight, and unflinching honesty. Her three books mostly take place at the Jersey shore, where we meet a diverse cast of compelling female characters. Beth’s latest novel, Jersey Angel, is about 17-year-old Angel Cassonetti, who is so spot-on that it’s hard to believe she doesn’t really exist. Jersey Angel received high praise from the New York Times, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and other publications. Here are six sex questions for the irrepressible Beth Ann Bauman….

ErikaRae_2010Erika Rae knows a lot more about the Bible than most people. She was a devoted and educated Evangelical Christian for all of her childhood, adolescence, and early college years. Today she is a devoted memoirist whose writing is frank, humorous, compassionate, and tolerant of all people. Like many smart women I know, Erika writes and thinks about sex, too. If you haven’t read Erika’s hilarious and insightful memoir, DEVANGELICAL, yet, check it out soon!

 Who is the sexiest person in the Bible?

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Allie was in a fitting room with a thirty-three-year-old man named Jonas, pulling pinches of cocaine out of a Wonder Bread bag that was more than three-quarters full. It was the first time she had tried coke. Her heart was rat-a-tat-tatting and her limbs were trembling like a small poodle’s. Clearly, this had been a poor decision.

sussman2010Ellen Sussman’s last novel, French Lessons, was a national bestseller that charmed Francophiles and non-Francophiles alike. With Ellen’s new book, The Paradise Guest House, the reader is again taken away to an exotic locale. Only this book goes beyond a romantic travel story by plunging into the painful complexities of terrorism and its echoing aftermath.

Here are six questions for Ellen Sussman:

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You probably already know who Marion Winik is. She was a commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered for years. Her essays have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to The Sun to Ladies Home Journal, where she was, somewhat unbelievably, the advice columnist. Her first eight books have been featured on Oprah, The Today Show, Politically Incorrect and The New York Times Notable list. Her ninth, Highs in the Low Fifties, is a memoir of her dating life after her divorce from her second husband. Baltimoreans have been getting glimpses of these tales in her biweekly column Bohemian Rhapsody at BaltimoreFishbowl.com.

JessicaBlau“Quentin Tarantino meets HBO’s Girls.” Kirkus Review’s thumbnail description of Jessica Anya Blau’s new high-energy, crazy-fun novel, The Wonder Bread Summer, out today from Harper, struck me as perfect. (I had been thinking Pineapple Express myself, only set in the 80s and for women.) Now Nick Hornby has signed up to lead the fan club in this review in The Believer. So in honor of her publication this week, I’m turning the tables on the lady behind the Six Question Sex Interview, whom I am also proud to claim as friend, neighbor, muse and skin care advisor.

IMG_5390 FINAL-1Gina Frangello is the author of the novel My Sister’s Continent and the story collection Slut Lullabies. She is one of the most bold, fearless, unhindered writers I’ve ever read. After reading the manuscript of My Sister’s Continent, one editor was quoted as having said, “I couldn’t explain this book to a marketing rep without blushing or breaking down.” Here are six sex questions for the inimitable and amazing Gina Frangello.

It’s always a joy to sit down and talk with Michael Kimball. He’s into his cats, he plays softball (and is quite competitive!), he likes music, and he wears interesting T-shirts that make you want to scoot your chair back so you can get a good look. BIG RAY is Michael’s fourth book and, I think, his most intimate and moving. Whereas his other novels (Us, The Way the Family Got Away, Dear Everybody) all deal with loss of some sort, and are touching and powerful, BIG RAY emotionally dives down to a whole new level. You can’t help but be somewhat changed after reading this book.

Here’s what Michael Kimball has to say about BIG RAY: