Archive for category Books
MONTANA by Gwen Florio. Publisher: The Permanent Press (October 2013). Suspense/Thriller. cloth. 256 pages. ISBN 978-1-57962-336-4.
“She couldn’t remember the last time she tried to sleep on a plane. She’d spent too many years trying to get to the sorts of places that sane people sought to leave, traveling there on rusting prop planes of questionable pedigree flown by pilots of dodgy backgrounds under conditions that made her wonder why she’d ever fretted over an assignment of window versus aisle; each new trip a gut-liquefying opportunity to wonder when luck would turn on her, demanding payment for past excesses of hubris.”
Foreign correspondent Lola Wicks gets called back to Baltimore for a local reassignment and she’s furious. Her editor insists she take a vacation. When she arrives in Magpie, Montana at her friend’s cabin, she finds her friend, a local reporter, shot dead. Lola stays to discover why someone killed her even when she finds herself in danger.
Dauntless, free-spirited and a truly independent woman, Lola knows what she wants to do professionally and what makes her happy. At this time, that’s being in a war zone covering international conflicts. Author Gwen Florio writes: “She heard her editor yet again, essentially suggesting that it was time for her to be more like other people. Ignoring the fact that the thing that made her different was the reason she’d presumably been hired in the first place.”
Coming back from Afghanistan, Lola Wicks finds herself a bit paranoid— “She cast sidelong glances at her fellow passengers, retrieving an array of towering backpacks and cylindrical cases that looked as though they could contain grenade launchers.” Into this small, seemingly idyllic town in the midst of America, Lola brings her wary foreign correspondent mindset. But does that become a hindrance or help in determining what happened to her friend?
MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery: “ahead, bare foothills bunched like fists, knuckled ridges pressing back against the weight of sky. The road arced around the hills in lazy swooping curves, then without warning hair-pinned through cliffs that leaned in above her, slicing the sky in manageable size.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from The Permanent Press.
This time around, PI Sasha Jackson is investigating the murder of a porn star…
The drug addicted girl was a worthless nobody, so the cops aren’t putting much effort into finding out who killed her. Sasha takes on the case, and learns that the dirty picture business is way dirtier than it seems. She discovers surprising motives and even more surprising secrets, and just when she thinks she’s solved the case, another dead body turns up.
Meanwhile, Sasha’s private life is a shambles. Her brother is pissing her off, Sasha’s love-life is on the rocks, and her BFF has her nose out of joint over Sasha’s latest revelations. And then there’s the driving instructor, the locksmith and the glazier. Let’s just say it’s a good thing that Sasha has a credit card.
Why can’t everyone just chill out long enough for Sasha to get in a good jam session, or have a good night’s sleep?
Oh, for crying out loud, pass the Scotch…
Amy Steele: Jill, it’s been two years since the last Sasha Jackson mystery and since I interviewed you. What have you been up to in Toronto?
Jill Edmondson: Two years! Where did the time go? Let’s see, well, I ignored writing for a while and just did other things. I moved homes (what a pain), I traveled a bit (Italy, Peru, Bahamas, etc….), I got a dog, and then another dog (smartest thing I’ve ever done!), and I took my time writing Frisky Business. The three previous books came out in rapid succession; there was no need to rush with the next one. There were a few stretches of three or four or five months at a time when I didn’t look at Frisky Business at all.
Amy Steele: In Frisky Business you’re tackling the Canadian adult film industry. Why did you decide to focus on that?
Jill Edmondson: The book was totally inspired by chapter two of Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges. Hedges is one of my favourite writers, and Empire of Illusion is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time.
Amy Steele: What were the hardest aspects to write?
Jill Edmondson: For me, the hard part always seems to have less to do with subject matter, than with plot and clues and playing fair with the reader. Like, I could know that it’s Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Rope, but how in the name of Pete do I pen that without making it super-obvious, super early on in the book? Yikes, it’s hard to pepper in just enough clues, and to keep them just subtle enough.
Amy Steele: How did you research this novel?
Jill Edmondson: Mainly by reading the Hedges book, but anytime I noticed a newspaper or magazine article on the topic (or a related topic), I filed it away. Also, a wee bit of it was leftover from when I wrote a paper on Human Rights and the Sex Trade when I was doing my MA. The paper wasn’t on quite the same topic, but there was some overlap.
Amy Steele: What attracts Sasha to the sex cases as her brother pointed out? She’s almost an SVU PI.
Jill Edmondson: I’m not sure… I’m intrigued by themes of marginalization and I don’t like assumptions. In Frisky Business (and Dead Light District) the victims were victims even before the murder. People scoff at certain types of (or classes of) people and that makes me angry. Human beings deserve dignity. Who knows what circumstances led to a person (or character) being in such and such a place? Yet, because of their “lot in life” some people are easily dismissed. That’s bullshit. There but for the grace of Gawd…
Amy Steele: Sasha is my favorite feminist PI. Probably because she’s outspoken and she’s an advocate for women and women’s issues by taking the cases that she does. Though she never uses the word feminist. [She needs to be in a scene with a “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt or better yet a “I Stood with Wendy” shirt.] Was this your plan all along or has this just developed from the first book?
Jill Edmondson: I think it just is. Or she just is. Sasha sees something wrong and wants to right it. She appreciates freedom, autonomy, and fairness. Those things, or actually a lack of them, are common in the sex trade, and have been a part of women’s issues in general. Sasha’s values are very much my own.
Amy Steele: How do you think Sasha’s developing as a character? Do you have any particular goals set for her? How do you plan out character development?
Jill Edmondson: Goals? Yes and no. I had certain goals back in book one that I have since shelved or changed, but of course there are other things I have held on to. There has to be a logical progression, whether that means love life, or professional life, or what have you. For instance, in Blood and Groom (book #1) she was pretty broke, so it wouldn’t have made sense for her to be thinking about buying a house in Dead Light District (book #2).
One aspect of character development that I will have to start to address is her mother. I’ve pointedly not said much about mom so far, other than mom took off when Sasha was a toddler. But there is a bit of an abandonment issue that Sasha has kept buried, and at some point her natural PI instincts and curiosity will take over. I figure this will happen by book six or seven.
Amy Steele: Sasha balks when her boyfriend of only a few months wants her to move in. Why do you think Sasha doesn’t want to commit to any guy as a partner or live-in situation but yet she always seems to have a boyfriend?
Jill Edmondson: Sasha has a joie de vivre, and part of that includes romantic interest(s), but she won’t be able to commit until she is truly satisfied with other aspects of her life.
Ah, if only she could throw Mick, Derek and Houghton in a blender…
Each guy fills a need (music, friendship, stimulating conversation, etc.) but none of them hits the mark on all three things. Also, she’s known Houghton since high school, Mick from her early twenties band days, and Derek has been a professional acquaintance for a couple years. The three guys she has been involved with were all friends before they were ever romantic interests, and they remain friends. In a way maybe these guys are part of her extended family? Her “inner circle” is pretty tight, with close, cherished, long-standing relationships all around. Even her two BFFs, Jessica and Lindsey, have been around since they were in training bras.
Amy Steele: Sasha’s quite independent yet lives with her father and brother. She never explains that to the guys she dates. And no one ever asks. She thought about moving out this time around but it seemed she’s pretty comfortable still. How does she manage feeling independent even while living with her father?
Jill Edmondson: Before I began writing the first book, I had read a few articles and had seen a few news pieces about the growing trend of adult children returning home – much to the chagrin of their (wannabe empty-nest) parents. So, writing her home life as such seemed like a realistic thing to do.
I guess the dynamic of comfort and independence partly rests on the fact that there’s just one parent around instead of two. As well, her dad goes away a fair bit on his gambling trips. And Shane is hardly ever home because of the restaurant. So, there is a home life and bonds with family but they’re not in each other faces all the time.
There one more subtle point to her home life, I think, and that is that Sasha is confident enough and secure enough to know she’s a big girl. She’s not clinging to the apron strings because she has to or needs to. If a guy ever called her on her living situation, Sasha’s response would be: “Yeah, and? What’s your point?”
Also: Toronto is a bloody expensive city to live in!
Amy Steele: We’ve talked about your fondness for traveling, particularly to South and Central America. What are the top three places you want to visit?
Jill Edmondson: Just three?!?! So hard to choose… I am dying to visit Italy again. I spent a month there (~two years ago) and loved every minute of it, especially Sicily. There’s so much more to see!
I need to travel around South America. All of it! I’m happy to go any place where I can practice Spanish. I very stupidly DIDN’T zip over to Lake Titicaca while I was in Peru. Must rectify that…
And Scandinavia has long been on my wish-list… Expensive though. Note to self: Buy lottery tickets.
Amy Steele: You’re already at work on the fifth Sasha book. What can you tell me about it?
Jill Edmondson: You know, this is a funny accident, but it seems that the Sasha books alternate between “light” and “heavy” themes or tones (wedding, prostitution, fetish, adult films). As it happens, Odd Lang Syne will be a “light” book. It’s about Gina Gervais, a former teen idol. Gina is at the peak of her comeback, and she’s back on the top of the charts. Everything should be golden, but it’s not. She’s going through a nasty divorce, she’s got a stalker, and, oh shit, someone’s just released a sex tape of her. If that’s not bad enough, her estranged husband is murdered, and guess who’s the number one suspect?
Jill Edmondson is the author of the Sasha Jackson Mysteries. Frisky Business is the latest novel featuring PI Sasha Jackson. Purchase it at Amazon: Frisky Business (A Sasha Jackson Mystery)
For more info on Jill:
Follow her on Twitter
In this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age. Navigating various dating sites, creating a real or fabricated profile, various internet flirtations, anticipating actual meetings. In the opening story “Animal Dancing,” Cohen writes: “I am a giver. I am fun. I am interesting and I have spectacular eyes. Someone will find me. Someone will love me.” Would you take a chance on a potential long-distance relationship as described in “People Who Live Far, Far Away”: “A cool Icelandic dude who likes nature and animals might be the ticket, she thought, coming across Miko’s profiles on Matchhearts.com. He would be exotic enough to impress her friends, who, after college, had all so promptly given birth.” Should you take a chance? Should you dive in and risk exposing yourself online? In “Love, Really” Cohen writes: “When he kisses you and you kiss him back it is like you are home. Home being the man himself. This is ridiculous, you think, as you hardly know this man. But there it is: home.”
Elizabeth Cohen is an assistant professor of English at Plattsburgh State University. Her articles, stories and poetry have appeared in Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, Salon, Tablet and the Yale Review. Her memoir, The Family on Beartown Road (Random House, 2003), was a New York Times Notable Book.
Amy Steele: How long did it take you to write this collection of stories?
Elizabeth Cohen: In all about three years. I started them while living in Connecticut and finished up in my current home in upstate New York. They followed the trajectory of my own thoughts about trying and then, later, actually trying online dating.
Amy Steele: What attracted you to writing about online dating/ dating in the digital age?
Elizabeth Cohen: The realization that love and courtship, millennia old, have actually changed, due to technology and an interest in how that might be. Is love forever different now? I watched a friend meet three men in succession online (this is a smart and reasonable fifty year old woman) and then believe each time she was in love, the third time actually initiating what looks to be a lifelong relationship! These were all people she never met. That is just not how love has worked before. This idea of the mediation of emotion, the technology-enhanced ways of finding and courting and growing into the idea of love– it is all new. And that fascinated me. Plus, it is often just so funny.
Amy Steele: How did you gather information to work from? Personal experience? Research?
Elizabeth Cohen: Articles I read, stories I have heard, people I canvassed for information, things I have experienced and things I just dreamed up. Pure wild imagination let loose in this realm.
Amy Steele: What do you like about writing stories?
Elizabeth Cohen: The fact that you, the author, can create a world. You can make it any way you want. You make the rules, you create the scenery. You pick the soundtrack. There is no right or wrong way to do it, aside from using basic grammar and solid writing constructs. You can create characters who do things you would never do or have opportunities you would never have. It is a way to live outside your own life.
Amy Steele: You wrote a memoir. How does writing fiction compare to writing a memoir and was it a huge leap to start writing fiction after writing a memoir?
Elizabeth Cohen: In a memoir you are married to truth. You can choose what pieces or slices of truth you want to tell, how you want to shape truth or organize it but there is always that truth requirement that underlies and in fact directs all you write. In fiction, you have no such requirements. What a relief! You can do whatever you want. And it becomes a question of the skill and artistry in which you have done it, in the end. Nobody will call you out for lying. Because you are supposed to lie – fiction is all about lying. As Albert Camus said, “fiction is the lie that tells the truth.” It is about creating really interesting, involved and imagined alternate realities. Memoir, in the other hand, is about finding beautiful and unique ways to tell a story while being faithful to life, and accuracy. Says Stephanie Klein, author of Straight Up and Dirty: A Memoir: “Tell the truth, or someone will tell it for you.”
Amy Steele: In “The Opposite of Love” you write: “Rita had always thought happiness was overrated anyway, the emotion for the masses. Something advertised daily on national television.” This is fantastic. She tries to keep her cancer a secret, even from her mother, for the longest time. And when it does come out she handles it in a truly sardonic manner. How did you come up with Rita and this story?
Elizabeth Cohen: She just popped into my head. I have no explanation for it. After they read that story, people are constantly asking me if I have breast cancer. No, I do not. And I hope I never do. I was just interested in exploring the idea of irony and this character appeared with a strategy for doing it.
Amy Steele: Allison has a sponge-filing system and develops one for her love strategy in “Boat Man.” Why do you think this didn’t work for her?
Elizabeth Cohen: Because love is more complicated than sponges. Further, people on the internet are not who you think they are; they have dimensionality and features. On the internet they are merely ideas of people, they are hypothetical. You cannot make a surefire strategy out of something that may not exist. That would be like trying to catch mist, put it in a bottle.
Amy Steele: “Life Underground” speaks to potential and societal expectations. How did you come up with this story?
Elizabeth Cohen: That story, unlike most of the others here, is actually rooted in some things that actually happened. It is, in the end, about sibling rivalry, about fear of failure and settling. These are topics I am obsessed with, the way fear and competition can just shut us down.
Plus, I love caves. I just do. I think I might have been a spelunker in a past life.
Seven Deadlies by Gigi Levangie. Publisher: Blue Rider Press (October 2013). Fiction. Hardcover. 256 pages. ISBN 978-0-399-16673-0.
Seven Reasons to Read Seven Deadlies:
1. Love the cover. Prep school meets seven deadly sins. It’s sublime.
2. Dark humor. Gigi Levangie uses an elite Los Angeles prep school for the novel’s setting. Being an insider, she knows that scene. A clever, devilishly refreshing read.
From GREED— “Picture Dick Cheney as a kid, Herman Cain as a kid, Rupert Murdoch as a kid. Now combine them—and you have little Rodney Bartholomew (pronounced “BART-olomewe”). Little Rodney loved one thing: money. What did he love more than money? Quick money.”
From SLOTH— “A figure, a boy I took to be Timmy Turkle, was reclining on a sectional couch, the only one in the house, 3-D glasses glued to his head, hands attached to his video game controller. From what I could see, he appeared to be all limb and no torso, like an insect.”
3. Narrated by a savvy Latina scholarship student Perry Gonzales, a freshman at Mark Frost Academy with lofty goals. This serves as her Bennington College admissions essay. Perry handles herself extremely well. She clearly has plans and no intention to let anything derail them.
“So, I’m not one to brag, but I’m pretty much the smartest girl in my class. There are about sixty kids per class, from seventh to twelfth grade. My grades are excellent. My motivation is high. I don’t drink or do drugs or hang out with the bad kids. I’m pretty much all business. My life is not going to end here, in this part of Los Angeles, or even at Bennington.”
4. Perry runs an ingenious business: she “babysits” teenagers [a.k.a. her peers] for which she gets paid $40 an hour. Apparently other parents think Perry’s such a role model that they want Perry to spend time with their children in hope she might transform them into better students.
5. Perry’s awesome mom. Hard-working, reasonable, supportive.
“As you know, my mother, the estimable Yelena Maria Gonzales, is a registered nurse. In other words, Mama ain’t no dummy. She is the four-foot-ten distillation of the Mayan culture; her people created chocolate and the number zero—imagine a world without chocolate or zero. Let’s give the Mayans some props.”
6. Levangie can be spot-on about so many things. And provides such amusing imagery.
“The Turkles wouldn’t listen—they didn’t have time. They led “crazy-busy” lives. (I’ve learned this term from some of “my parents—what it means is, “I make myself ‘crazy’ by staying ‘busy’ with things I don’t need.”)
“I saw a boy who looked safe. He was wearing glasses, and when he opened his mouth to breathe (be still my heart!), I could see a mouth full of metal. All he needed was a squeaky voice and he would score the nerd trifecta.”
7. Sometimes Perry’s just like any other teenager.
“My mother and I were experiencing an occurrence that is rare as a red moon: We were having an argument. I wanted to spend some of the money I made babysitting and tutoring on something frivolous—so maybe, for once, I could be like all the other kids at Mark Frost Academy.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Blue Rider Press.
Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye. Publisher: Amy Einhorn Book/Putnam (September 2013). Mystery/Thriller. Hardcover. 444 pages. ISBN 978-0-399-15838-4.
“In the North, blacks are a free but steadily trod-upon race. And in the South, they are livestock.”
Second in a series which follows the newly formed NYPD and idealistic police officer Timothy Wilde. He’s clean cut. Follows the rules. Respects everyone and makes few judgments. A beguiling woman, Lucy Adams, arrives at Timothy’s office to declare her family missing. They’ve been kidnapped. She’s black and it’s a dangerous time even in the North. It’s 1846 and free blacks often were kidnapped as runaway slaves and brought down to the South. When I started this, I couldn’t help thinking of 12 Years a Slave and Solomon Northrup, a free black man from upstate New York captured while on a trip to Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery. Lyndsay Faye clearly researched this topic before she wrote the mystery. She features numerous quotes before each chapter [including Solomon Northrup]. Something happened when she sat down to put her ideas to the page. All that potential lost its impact.
Faye takes too long getting into this case and its emotional nature. I didn’t get attached to Lucy Adams. She doesn’t develop her character at all. If we’d learned more about her family and who she was it would’ve been an added bonus. Perhaps because this is the second in her mystery series, she barely allows the reader to learn about her hero Timothy Wilde and his daredevil, rebel rousing brother Valentine. Big mistake. Any strong mystery author knows that people should be able to pick up their books at any point in a series and comprehend what’s going on and follow the characters like a solid, entertaining procedural. There’s one strong scene where a free man fights a court when he’s been captured by slave catchers. Black men cannot testify in court. It’s heart wrenching. As far as a thriller goes and Lucy’s case? The prose could’ve been truly powerful in addition to delivering a worthwhile read.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Amy Einhorn Books.
em> We are Water by Wally Lamb. Publisher: Harper (October 2013). Fiction. Hardcover. 576 pages. ISBN 9780061941023.
After nearly three decades of marriage, Annie and Orion Oh separate because Annie intends to marry a woman. Annie’s a talented, successful modern artist who makes sculpture from found objects. Orion works as a psychologist. The woman Annie plans to marry, the wealthy and powerful gallery owner art dealer Viveca, was instrumental to Annie’s current success. The couple’s three adult children deal with their parents’ divorce and the impending nuptials in various ways and novelist Wally Lamb spends momentous time parsing that out for the reader. We are Water tends toward too long, too verbose and too wayward. It’s not a page-turner like The Hour I First Believed. [I’m one of the only people yet to read She’s Come Undone.]
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.
In Case We Die by Danny Bland: audiobook features Aimee Mann, Duff McKagan (Guns & Roses), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Steve Earle
presented by LOCAL 638 RECORDS AND FANTAGRAPHICS
**a portion of the proceeds to benefit MusiCares
Coming Clean: a Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller. Publisher: Amazon Publishing/ New Harvest (2013). Memoir. Hardcover. 272 pages. ISBN 978-0-544-02583-7.
In the press release that accompanies the review copy: “An immaculately put-together woman with a great career, a loving boyfriend, and a beautifully tidy apartment in Manhattan, you would never guess that Kimberly spent her childhood hiding in the squalor of her parent’s Long Island home.” Fear not, she’s got it all. Like many a functioning alcoholic her hoarder father managed to work and pay the bills for the most part. There are moments when there’s no electricity or heat but I had moments like that in my early childhood with a deadbeat dad and I ended up with a master’s degree. Unfortunately either she can’t write very well, she chose to leave out essential details or she remains extremely detached from the full extent of her experiences because this lacks true emotions. I didn’t feel the urgency, pain or suffering one expects from such a memoir. There’s not particular journey here. It’s just a shitty childhood and there are plenty of those. This pretty woman managed to get a book deal because hoarding’s a hot topic right now.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Amazon Publishing.
Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman. Publisher: Algonquin (October 2013). Memoir. Hardcover. 96 pages. ISBN 978-1-61620-314-6.
“In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other.”
Survival Lessons isn’t a memoir but a manual for surviving illness and grief. Alice Hoffman said that it took her 15 years to write this little book. When she had breast cancer 15 years ago she read lots of books but found they lacked what she needed and wrote this one to help others who find themselves in the same situation she found herself in. Hoffman begins each section with “Choose” as in “Choose Your Heroes” or “Choose Your Friends” or “Choose to Make Things Beautiful.” I didn’t adore it and felt that some aspects seemed rather obvious. Wouldn’t you do what you wanted to do—eat chocolate, watch movies, read tons of books, and learn to do something you’ve always wanted to try? Some of the other advice she gives—choose your friends and forgive, for instance—I feel I’ve read before in similar tomes. She includes details about her writing career and her family, making this a special little book. Only strong writers can make a major impact in such a concise manner.
“We are all responsible for our actions, and our reactions. We are responsible for how we respond to situations we cannot control. I could not run away from my circumstances, or control the path of my disease, but I could control what I did with my experience of that illness.”
This is Alice Hoffman’s first work of nonfiction. She’s written 21 novels, eight children’s books and three story collections in her 40 year writing career. Hoffman’s advance for Survival Lessons will be donated to the Hoffman Breast Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin Books.
Dirty Love– a collection of novellas– focuses on what draws people toward one another and what pulls people apart in the name of love. What happens when fear, ego, power, desire and raw feelings influence our decisions? Beautifully written, evocative, emotionally wrought with layered characters and impossible situations. Love isn’t always what one expects it to be. Love can be emotional or physical. Love can be a bit of both. The writing never hides anything but peels away ugliness like a sunburn sloughs away one’s skin. There’s a wonderful sense of place and setting. Dark, gritty hideouts described with intricate detail. These characters and stories remains with you after the last page.
I recently spoke with Andre Dubus III by phone during a stop on his current book tour.
Amy Steele: Garden of Last Days is one of my favorite 9/11 novels, one of the best novels I’ve read. I loved it so much. And it’s being adapted into a film?
Andre Dubus III: Well James Franco pulled out of directing it but it’s still optioned by Gerard Butler’s production company. I think it’s still going to get made. I really appreciate you saying that because I don’t think enough people talk about it and I think it’s a better novel than anything I’ve ever written.
Amy Steele: Did you do a lot of research for (the novel)?
Andre Dubus III: Oh yeah I did a ton of research for it. I actually had to start writing just to read. I read the Koran twice. I read about the history of Saudi Arabia and Islam. I think some people see those three numbers 9/ 11 and they walk away. That might be changing now. People are more willing to step into an artistic exploration of that subject. All you can do is let it go.
Amy Steele: How did you come up with the latest idea for Dirty Love?
Andre Dubus III: The honest answer is I’m not sure. There’s a difference between making something up and imagining it. “The Bartender” and “Marla” came from longer stories that didn’t work. I realized they came from the same town. I realized I was writing deeply from an emotional center. I see a lot of marriages crash and burn around me and my wife. I’ve always been curious about how hard it is to love well and be loved.
Amy Steele: I saw comments on Goodreads that people think Dirty Love is depressing and some people consider the characters unlikeable. I’ve discussed reading and writing unlikeable characters in a writing group. How do you feel about writing unlikeable characters?
Andre Dubus III: I’m so glad you asked. Are we writing fucking sitcoms here? I’ll refute the whole notion of antagonist and protagonist. There’s not good guy and bad guy. To me they’re not cartoons. I rarely give a thought that characters have to be likeable. What am I here to fucking amuse you? I think the writer’s job is to paint the gray because no life is clearly defined. We are all living this dance and it is clearly fraught with making choices. Lots of my choices are bad and that’s normal. None of us are attractive at all times. What is attractive to me is authenticity. You know what a turn on is? Truth. You know what a turn off is? Perfume and smiling through fear.
Amy Steele: I like this quote from “Listen Carefully As Our Options Have Changed:” “Other women, women like Anna Harrison, seemed to smile on reflex, as if this were something they were taught to do as young girls—be nice, be pretty, nice is pretty—and so you never knew if a woman was genuinely please with something you’d said or done, or not. But Laura only smiled when she felt like it, her eyes turning down at the corners, so it was gift to them all when she did, a gift to Frank Harrison Jr. too, who must have charmed her into doing that at the gym, the place he drove his Audi coupe to every Monday, Wednesday and Friday . . .”
Andre Dubus III: I hope there’s not harsh judgment from me in that passage. I have empathy for mainly women who are taught to do that especially in the South.
Amy Steele: How does writing affect your teaching and teaching affect your writing?
Andre Dubus III: I really like teaching at UMass Lowell because they are the type of kids I grew up with in Merrimack Valley. I really speak their language and I’m moved by the experience. I know I learn a lot from the students in my class and I’m not just saying that to sound like some generous teacher. Teaching well draws from the same well that writing draws from: the reserves of compassion and ability to listen and concentrate on another. So I have to have fine line between teaching and writing. I try not to ever think of career. I just try to go to the dream world every day.
Amy Steele: Back to Dirty Love again, one part up at Hampton Beach you got that so well. I can talk this way because I’m the snob. Hampton Beach is kinda scummy.
Andre Dubus III: Hampton compared to Salisbury is Paris to Detroit.
Amy Steele: There was a moment where she said that she felt he thought he was too good for her.
Andre Dubus III: He admits to himself that maybe his wife drifted away from him for some decent reasons.
Amy Steele: I can’t stand the term slut-shaming. [we discuss it a bit]
Andre Dubus III: It’s offensive. Your larger point is language is important and word choice is important. You can talk about promiscuity without saying slut.
Amy Steele: What do you think are the qualities of good writing?
Andre Dubus III: I can isolate what I find to be negative qualities. I’m not a fan of a lot of post-modern work that I think is self-indulgent, wordy and showing the vocabulary of the writer and the hip world-weariness of the writer. That kinda work leaves me cold. As a reader– generosity of the writer, humility where it’s about the subject and where it’s character-driven in a service of what’s trying to be captured. I read poetry every day. I love the boiled down essence of poetry. I look for poetry in prose. In a way that evocative.
Amy Steele: What do you like best about writing?
Andre Dubus III: I like trying to be other people. I really do. Eudora Welty has a lovely preface to her collected stories. She says the creative that she holds most high is trying to enter into another human being. People fascinate the hell out of me. I never get tired of watching people, listening to people. The best part is not getting up in front of people but meeting people. I like trying to find the right word that captures the thing I’m trying to describe. It’s very pleasurable when you feel like you’ve done it and very frustrating when you feel like you haven’t. It inspires you to work harder and that’s why I do it five or six days a week.