SarahAnnA little over a year ago, an article headlined Los Angeles and Its Booming Creative Class Lures New Yorkers was published in the New York Times style section. Seemingly written solely to troll LA residents, the piece name-dropped “in-season Zambian coffee,” the downtown Ace Hotel, and Moby’s house here as evidence that LA was finally suitable for New York tastes. “Los Angeles is widely acknowledged to have become strikingly more cosmopolitan in recent years,” the author noted, going on to list brioche tarts and barrel-aged rye cocktails as proof that Southern California was a region on the rise.

The bemused furor that arose on social media died down, but not before journalist, podcaster, and famed caftan enthusiast Ann Friedman wrote a parody for the LA Times. In her take, Friedman expresses shock and delight at the idea that Angelenos are “reversing the American directive to go west…finding that New York is more than a capitalist prison that runs on the fumes of the finance industry and nostalgia for CBGB.” “In fact,” she writes, “it now offers many of the lifestyle amenities that their hometown has boasted for decades.” (Friedman’s listed amenities include green juice, raw meals and “an In-N-Out Burger replacement called Shake Shack.”)

Luce three scenariosKelly Luce’s debut collection, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail—the first book from Austin small press A Strange Object—is garnering attention, something that’s difficult for short story collections to do. But it’s no surprise that this one is making waves. This lovely book is a joy to read. Luce’s stories show the kind of attention to the human spirit that makes short stories fun to read and makes the form special: there’s just a hint at magic and the fact that something otherworldly might be possible. Luce uses her stories to examine moments of grief, joy, love and the connections between people. And did I mention? Her writing is just damn good.

PHOTO-CRIS-MAZZA-CROPPEDWhen my graduate school mentor and longtime friend, Cris Mazza, first told me over dinner that she was writing a memoir about—among other things but pretty front-and-center—her lifelong inability to reach orgasm, my reaction can only be described as…well, pretty much begging her not to.  Despite some fairly personal short essays on TNB, I am, bluntly, chickenshit as a nonfiction writer: I have never attempted a book length memoir, and the mere thought of divulging any of the ugly, raw kinds of truths that would make any memoir worth reading fills me with enough terror that I might rather become the author of Harlequin Romances rather than “go there.”  My god, I told Cris, do you really want your new students in every workshop knowing these details about your physical being—do you really want to have to deal with all your male colleagues knowing this crap in faculty meetings?  I needed an extra glass of wine on Cris’ behalf, and when she later sent me an excerpt of the book, I believe I urged her all over again to rethink the endeavor…

 

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.

 

 

 

Dothan, Alabama.

I love Dothan.  I’ve got family – got kin down there.

 

I grew up in the South too, listening to those same old black gospel records as you. Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, Mahalia Jackson.  I used to sing that high part on “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (attempts chorus.) Um, that was before my voice dropped.

Those records are incredible.

 

So, I learned something about interviews from your new book. 

Oh yeah?

 

Who was that guy you were just talking to?

Nobody.

 

I could have sworn he just gave you money, a stack of money rubber-banded together. Nobody just gave you a stack of money?

I dropped that. He gave it back to me. Besides, it wasn’t a stack of money. Only the top of the stack was money, and that was only a $2 bill.

Charles Blackstone is the still-fairly-new Managing Editor of the now-iconic Bookslut, a pioneer of online literary culture.  I was interviewed by Bookslut in 2004, after its founder and curator, Jessa Crispin, had recently moved from Austin to Chicago.  Jessa, who has always struck me as a sexier version of a young Virginia Woolf, soon became a well-known figure in the Chicago literary scene—but Bookslut’s flavor has always been an international one.  When your book is mentioned on the Bookslut blog, you get emails from everyone from Richard Nash to random non-writer friends teaching English in Japan.  In a culture simply glutted with information, it still seems true that when Bookslut talks, people listen.

Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen is destined to be an auspicious debut. When my former editor, Richard Nash, asked me to read Zazen in manuscript and told me it would be his first debut at Red Lemonade, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew it would be good. I quickly devoured it, and this is what I had to say (I love quoting myself!): “At turns hilarious, unsettling, and improbably sweet, Veselka’s debut is, above all, a highly engaging, and totally unique experience, which will have you re-reading passages and dog-earing pages. But best of all, in the end, Zazen is that rare novel which dares to be hopeful in the face of despair, and succeeds.”

Being a literary publicist is no task for slouches.  When you’re paid to buzz a book, the inherent dilemma seems simple enough: why should people believe you about how great something is, when they know you’ve been hired to say so?  The task, then, seems to be a combination of developing a reputation for impeccable integrity when it comes to working only with products you truly adore, combined with cultivating a public persona so that your tastes are themselves trendsetting.  In an industry where most publicists at the corporate publishing houses are bubbly, young and enthusiastic, but too often faceless and with little control over which projects they take on, freelance public relations representative Lauren Cerand is a singular powerhouse of vision and personality.  If there’s a hotter freelance publicist in the country . . . well, there isn’t a hotter freelance publicist in the country.  Specializing in “strategic consultation,” Lauren’s clients range from Barnes & Noble to the Authors Guild to writers as diverse as Meg Cabot and Tayari JonesTime Out New York called her one of the “cultural gatekeepers in the literary world,” and indeed, she is so much in demand that she only takes on approximately one in sixty writers who query her.  She regularly speaks to audiences, from the big boys and girls at Book Expo America in New York, to small-and-intimate local forums like the Pilcrow Literary Festival in Chicago where I first met her—and regardless of the venue she knows how to rock a house.  She also knows how to dress like a cat, what music you should be listening to, and is generally too fabulous to even be called fabulous.