Amy Steele

feminist. vegan. Simmons College B.A. Boston University M.S. in journalism. likes: indie film; documentaries, foreign films; art museums; tea; vegan cooking; literature; alternative music/goth/ Americana/ electro-pop/ folk.

Homepage: http://entertainmentrealm.com

film review: I Am Battle Comic

When the USO offered writer/director Jordan Brady [I Am Comic and I Am Road Comic]  an opportunity to perform stand-up comedy to the troops in the Middle East, he decided to take his camera along on the tour which included stops in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Bahrain. The result is a heartwarming, funny and honest glimpse into a USO tour. Brady intersperses tour footage with interviews with various comics including George Lopez, George Wallace, Jennifer Rawlings and Shawn Halpin [a U.S. Marines veteran].

It can get lonely in these desert countries so remote from the American experience [there is a tiny Dunkin’ Donuts in Kuwait and a Pizza Hut in Afghanistan!] and troops savor entertainment. The USO distributes care packages and letters from school children. The comedians hold meet and greets and hang out in mess halls with troops. Jennifer Rawlings explains: “It’s really about sitting down in the chow hall listening to the soldiers like a mom, like a sister, like a friend and hearing their stories.” An emotional Slade Ham recalls that Sgt. Jose Valez became a fan in 2003 and gave new people arriving on base copies of his CD. After Valez was killed in action, Ham received a package with the unit coin and the patch off Valez’s jacket. He says: “If I get to take that kid away from that situation … why not? How many chances do you get to do something that cool?”An officer sums it up quite well: “being so far away from America it takes us back to America for a few hours.”

It’s such a rewarding experience that many comedians return repeatedly to entertain the troops. I Am Battle Comic provides tremendous insight into this experience as well as showcasing entertainment’s powerful ability to connect and inspire.

Here’s the link to screenings for I Am Battle Comic. 100% of tickets sales to these screenings support military charities. On June 2 I Am Battle Comic will be available worldwide on VOD.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: singer/songwriter Kathryn Claire

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The songs on the latest album, Bones Will Last, from Portland singer/songwriter Kathryn Claire exude gorgeous melancholia through violin and strings-based arrangements. Lovely, bold chamber/folk music. The opening track reminded me of the heartbreaking violin melodies played by a character on the television show Treme.  Meaningful, profound lyrics delve into existentialism and our place in the world. Just the type of songs to which I most connect. Claire’s deep vocals combine with exquisite layered orchestrations. These dark, provocative, thoughtful songs engage the listener and elicit deep emotions. Claire collaborated with Portland musicians Zak Borden (mandolin), Allen Hunter (upright bass), and Don Henson (piano) on this album.

I spoke with Kathryn Claire by phone last week.

Amy Steele: What do you like about the Portland music community?

Kathryn Claire: So many people are playing music. A lot of people are based out of here and touring extensively. It’s great when I am home because it’s such a thriving scene. It’s a great place to write, perform and record. and be inspired. I love it when I’m out in the world because people are aware of Portland and in the last ten years it has become a popular well-known city. It’s cool to be from Portland. I’m proud of the scene we have here.

Amy Steele: When did you develop an interest in playing music and in songwriting?  I think you had some classical training when you were younger

Kathryn Claire: I’ve always been drawn to music and have been very musical from a young age. There was a lot of music in my family growing up. I’m the first person in my family to be a professional musician. My mom was a public school music teacher. My father was a gypsy jazz violinist as a hobby so that is what got me into that instrument. I started studying violin at the age of seven and singing in choirs. I taught myself guitar as a teenager and I started writing. I’ve always been a journal writer and a creative writer. I can’t remember my life without music in it. It is always a vital part of my life. It developed into something that I now do as a career.

Amy Steele: Have you always been a solo artist?

Kathryn Claire: I’ve always enjoyed collaborating. My career has been interesting. Part of what has allowed me to do this full time, to make a living, is that I’ve worked as a side person a lot. The violin is a versatile instrument in that way. I read music. I also have a really strong background in harmony singing. I’ve been hired by a lot of groups and to sing with other singer/songwriters. I like playing solo but I love having a few different instruments and sounds to work with and the energy for collaborating has always been inspiring to me.

Amy Steele: How did the (music) experience you had, working on other people’s projects, help with your own?

Kathryn Claire: I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve put out solo albums but this album has been huge for me. It really is my own. I’m totally fronting it. I wrote everything on it. It was my vision. I made all the decisions. I didn’t even work with a producer. I had this vision that evolved. It was my own and my own voice. I feel that the way I arrived at such a clear place was from working as a side-person for so long because I really have developed an ear in how to accompany other people. I have developed my own clear voice as far as being a side-person and I’ve developed a good ear for listening. I took a lot from other people and I’ve been influenced by my classical upbringing. I’ve played a ton of Celtic music. I’ve played with amazing songwriters. I’ve played in a rock band. I think that gave me an eclectic base and I synthesized that into this album. I feel like it’s a unique sound, totally my own, but inspired by all this work I’ve done with other people.

Amy Steele: What do you think makes a good song?

Kathryn Claire: Lyrically I tend to like it when you have a personal connection to the imagery and poetry of the connection. You’re writing from something that’s touched your heart but you’re not overly explicit so it allows the listener to make their own connection to the words and images that’s completely their own. I tried to be specific and close to me but letting there be openness to it so there can be some universality.

I think over time I’ve learned how to edit. Not trying to cram in so many words. Editing down so there’s a bit more simplicity in it. I’ve come to value that in a song.

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Amy Steele: It seems that a lot of the songs are sad and a bit darker. Is it an outlet or your general mood and temperament? I listen to a lot of dark music but I think I’m very dark and gravitate towards that music. I was wondering what draws you to make that type of music.

Kathryn Claire: I definitely do have a darkness or a pensive side to me but as a performer I have a lot of energy and joy on stage and I really do feel that in my own life. I have a more positive and joyful energy. This music has been a way for me to express sadness and melancholy. The world is really beautiful and really sad. I tend to be compelled especially on this album in tapping into that darker nature in myself and in the world. I put the violin at the center of the album in the sound –it’s a violin/strings-centric album—and the violin has a deep sad melancholy to it as well. I tend toward darker music. I like minor keys. I like haunting melodies. I can get behind a major up-tempo song but my heart is really with the darker music.

Amy Steele: The song “Bones Will Last” you wrote about thinking about death and dying. How did you write that?

Kathryn Claire: It’s a really personal song that I initially wrote reflecting upon a loved one. The chorus got written a little bit later. I was just thinking of that image –“we’ll be gone but our bones will last.” The passing of timed. The ephemeral nature of life. That was central to what I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been thinking about death a lot and trying to be present while I’m here. I’ve had a lot of people pass away. Not just grandmas and grandpas but people my own age. You never know when it’s our time. In holding that and looking at that I think what are those things that last? That we leave behind? What are the bones of who we are? It became the theme of the album overall.

Amy Steele: What about the song “Sweet Chariot?” What inspired that song?

Kathryn Claire: One of the famous cemeteries in Paris where Jim Morrison was buried [Père Lachaise Cemetery]. I was in Paris in the fall of 2013 walking through that cemetery just reflecting on all these people that have gone before us. In the end that’s where we all go. The first verse of “Sweet Chariot came”—when I was imagining Jim Morrison. What would it look like to see his skeleton? Just ruminating on our bones. I wrote that first verse there and worked on that song for over a couple of years. I got to be in India doing some work [artist-in-residence at the American School of Chennai in 2015] there and I finished some more there. I wrote it in my journal and I’d sit with it and find a melody for it. I’m also grateful for our iPhones because I can collect these little pieces. That first verse felt like it came though me. It’s an interesting song and people have responded to it on such a deep level.

Amy Steele: What about the song “Never Be?”

Kathryn Claire: That is such a heartbreaking song. That was a breakup song. That one I wrote super fast. I was looking at this person I’d gone through a difficult breakup with. I’d seen some stuff on social media. You see images you don’t want to see. Unfortunately these are aspects of our time. Breaking up is even harder because you have all this access to people’s lives. I wrote the whole thing in a sitting.

I started playing around with my violin and a little loop pedal and that’s where I came up with the actual orchestration of that song. It starts with the pizzicato. It’s so strings-central. That was built on this loop pedal. Everything on that track is me. I’m playing the guitar and the violin and there’s no other person on that track. In the end I love that song so much.

Amy Steele: Over the years how has your music evolved?

Kathryn Claire: As a writer I have become a better editor. I went to Boston University for my freshman year and that’s when I got into writing and going to Club Passim and hearing singer/songwriters. I wrote a lot that year in Boston but I never edited. The songs were like journal entries. I’m now able to write a lot more universally. My voice is deeper and relaxed. My voice sounds like is has dropped into itself. It’s settled. The orchestration of the violin has evolved and grown and changed. I’ve just gotten to be such a better musician by playing with other people.

Amy Steele: Aren’t there fewer music programs in schools now? I played the violin and then I played flute. I didn’t continue it because in my high school it was required that you play in the marching band and I rode horses and it conflicted and also I just didn’t want to play in the marching band. Music and arts are so important in public schools.

Kathryn Claire: I will continue to do work in that direction throughout the course of my career. I believe in music education. We had such a killer music program in Eugene, Oregon. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. In that era you could join orchestra in fourth grade and by the time you’re in high school you’re playing symphonies with your friends. That was normal.

It becomes this elitist thing. Portland is cool to have these alternative programs. I’m grateful to have done that basic classical training.

Amy Steele: What type of challenges have you faced as being a woman in the music industry? I listen to a lot of female artists. I try to support women in music and all arts. women are still not the majority.

Kathryn Claire: It is challenging. The thing is like any work environment is still very male-centered. I get to collaborate with women but when I started out I played in a band and didn’t know how to set up a PA. It has been so important to me to work a PA, to know how to speak the lingo when you go into Guitar Center and there are all these dudes and they make you feel stupid because you don’t know what an XLR cord is. I went through the time to learn all the technological jargon to function. It was important to me to know it. I was talking to a female musician friend and I asked her if she knew of any well-known female music producers. In the studio I’ve never worked with a female engineer. These things make you realize that the music industry is really still male-dominated.

Amy Steele: I’m curious how many women study the business side of music/ the production side of music at Berklee or other schools. [note: Fader piece: Why Aren’t More Women Becoming Music Producers?]

Kathryn Claire: I’m in my late 30s. There probably is a lot of movement forward. I’m basing this on my experience as coming up in this 15 or 16 yrs ago. In that time it is changing but it is also women being able to shred and own it and front-women and to speak the language of music. I know for me in high school so many guys were in bands.

It can be intimidating and that’s where Girls Rock Bandcamp and other programs can get girls past that. I would have loved to have played in a rock band but I was intimidated. Where does that come from?

Amy Steele: our patriarchal society and assumed gender roles.

Bones Will Last is available now.

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book review: societal expectations and the 40something woman in the novels who you think i am and All Grown Up

who you think i am

who you think i am by Camille Laurens. Other Press| March 2017| 208 pages | $14.95| ISBN: 978-1-59051-832-8

RATING: ****/5*

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

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All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg. Houghton Mifflin| March 2017| 208 pages | $25.00| ISBN: 978-0-544-82424-9

RATING: *****/5*

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I decided to review these books together as they focus on how society makes 40something women about their life choices. Both characters in who you think I am and All Grown Up question their place in a patriarchal society where they choose not to check off the boxes like most people. These women aren’t embracing motherhood and being partnered up. They question their value and place in society. Both novels read as feminist meditations on how unmarried women over 40 contribute to society and where they might fit in when societal standards dictate woman over 40 aren’t supposed to be living independent and solitary lives.

In reading these novels I found both characters possessed qualities to which I could completely relate: the odd woman out who chooses that less-traveled path. Perhaps these women aren’t completely satisfied with their imperfect lives but they’re doing their best and they’re fighting stereotypes along the way. Both women aren’t quite sure where they belong. Both women strive to be comfortable in their bodies. By literary standards one would define these characters as unlikable.  Both are easily relatable in varied ways. I’ve never been married and don’t have children and don’t always feel grown up despite being in my 40s just like Andrea Bern in All Grown Up. Like Claire Millecam in who you think I am I often feel undervalued, unwanted and misunderstood. Also I’ve done a considerable amount of online dating/ meeting men online. Both women approach their circumstances in different manners. Authors Camille Laurens and Jami Attenberg utilize  a sharp, witty tone to make these immensely readable and provocative novels. Both novels, although short, are packed with insight and intelligence.

“I wasn’t interested in being seen, or even seen in a good light. I wanted to be recognized. For someone to say: there she is!” – who you think i am

In who you think I am, Claire Millecam, a 48-year-old divorced teacher, poses as a 20something online in order to befriend a younger man who happens to be her boyfriend’s friend. They end up having a relationship and later on her catfishing, I guess you could call it, gets exposed. Claire flipped the switch on what someone expected of her and created the woman that she felt she needed to be at that time.

The beginning of the novel opens with Claire speaking to a therapist in a mental health facility. Claire’s quite angry and frustrated that women over 40 aren’t seen or heard or valued by society. At one point Claire tells her therapist: “women are condemned—by force or by contempt, to die. That’s a fact, everywhere, all the time: men teach women to die. From north to south, fundamentalist or pornographic, it’s the sole same tyranny. Existing only in their eyes, and dying when they close their eyes.”

This intriguing, intelligent, unique novel is a meditation on age, beauty standards, relationships and mental illness from a feminist perspective. It’s also an examination of online dating. Writer Camille Laurens allows Claire’s story unfold through the eyes of Claire, her therapist and her younger lover. About her lover, Claire shares: “I was used to more intellectual connection with me, I was one of those people who wonder how anyone can live without reading Proust.” Claire’s psychiatrist falls in love with her and this is what he reveals: “She touches me and captivates me, yes, I’m a captive. I want to see her. . . And I like being there for her. I’d like to bandage her wounds. She may be mad after all, in the way we understand the word. Certainly. But it’s the mad who heal us, isn’t it?”

“But most days I can’t see through the pain to the truth.”—All Grown Up

In All Grown Up, Andrea Bern gave up her dreams to be an artist to take a salaried position in advertising. She lives in an apartment in New York. Her friends are getting married and having children. She rotates through lovers. She does drugs. She feels pain while living somewhat messily and unapologetically. She’s in a safe spot professionally and socially which fits her goals and interests. Her work isn’t challenging but it’s steady and consistent. She isn’t committed to any one man and maintains her independence. She’s coping and she’s living a life that makes sense to her. In the meantime, everyone she knows seems to be changing their lives or moving around and doing new things while she remains in the same place doing what she’s pretty much always done.  Her brother and sister-in-law move to rural New Hampshire to care for their terminally ill child. Andrea’s mother moves up there to help them leaving Andrea feeling abandoned. This brilliantly written novel features deft characterizations and dark humor.

“I don’t see myself as having anything conventional. But still I date. I fuck. I see.” She adds: “People architect new lives all the time. I know this because I never see them again or they move to new cities or even just to new neighborhoods or you hate their spouse or their spouse hates you or they start working the night shift or they start training for a marathon or they stop going to bars or they start going to therapy or they realize they don’t like you anymore or they die. It happens constantly. It’s just me. I haven’t built anything new. I’m the one getting left behind.” When Andrea’s friend goes through a divorce: “Then she calls me and she’s crying and we talk for a while about her marriage and while I am sad that my friend is sad, it makes me happier than ever that I’ve never been married and never will be, because marriage sounds like a goddamn job and why would I want another one of those?” And of her sister-in-law in New Hampshire: “Gun racks, Trump lawn signs, and no bookstores. She has to get into a car and drive everywhere.” Andrea also recognizes an alternate reality: “sometimes I cry, too, for who I was as an artist and what my life could have been like if only I had kept going. I weep for my lost identities. I weep for my possibilities.”

 

 

 

 

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music review: The Light Gathering Lens EP

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There’s a bit of comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our despair, sadness or frustration. Meditative Shoegaze-y instrumentation and layered arrangements safely engulf you and transport you into a beautiful aural solace. The Light Gathering Lens is the music project of singer/songwriter and wildlife scientist Eric Burnham. He was in the 80s/90s bands Weather Theater and Ministry of Love. 24 years ago he recorded these songs and re-discovered them and decided to release the EP which comes out on April 21, 2017.

“Shenandoah” with its humming base and relaxing tone reminds me of some music that accompanies guided meditations. Overlapping vocal rounds on “Seeing Stars Part One” harmonizes like Buddhist chanting. That blends into the psychedelic tinged instrumental of “Seeing Stars Part Two.” Beautiful murky vocals and Middle Eastern elements gorgeously blend on “The Terror Time” which is Burnham’s stunning interpretation of a folk song first written by Ewan MacColl. I’m positive I could mediate to this. The songs on the EP provide the soothing, meditative timbre that we sometimes (or often) crave and that possibly will connect with your chakras [if you dig that sort of thing].

Eric Burnham explained:

 I started playing the trombone when I was seven years old, but I didn’t pick up a guitar until my freshman year in college. I first learned to play classical guitar, and a little bit of flamenco. Flamenco music still is an influence for me, along with near and middle eastern traditional music. I have always loved psychedelic music, and the first album I bought was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when I was 10 years old.

I have struggled with clinical depression for all of my adult life, and this has affected my art. I believe that my music is about all of the struggles with mental illness, and about finally finding redemption after many years of bleak desolation.

I had been a wildlife scientist and my research had been aimed at conserving gray wolves in the western U.S. I had spent much time alone in the wilderness tracking wolf movements, and analyzing their kill sites, and I think that this experience also inspires my art.

 

 

 

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National Women’s Soccer League Game of the Week to be broadcast live on Lifetime on Saturdays beginning April 15

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Lifetime cements its commitment to women and women’s television and entertaining by airing National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) games on Saturdays. Supporting and showcasing women’s sports strengthens Lifetime’s position as a television station focused on women and airing programming by women, about women. I played soccer in my youth and it’s an empowering team sport.  I look forward to watching the games. Honestly I’ve always wanted to watch women’s soccer but it’s often difficult to find the games on cable. Knowing that there will be a NWSL game every Saturday makes it easy to support NWSL.

The NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime will air Saturdays beginning at 3:30pm ET with a 30-minute pregame show leading up to kickoff at 4pm ET. The season opener on Lifetime will be Portland Thorns FC hosting the Orlando Pride, The schedule includes 22 regular-season matches as well as playoff semifinal games and the NWSL Championship.

DATE PREGAME KICKOFF HOME TEAM VISITING TEAM
April 15th 2:30PM 3:00PM Portland Thorns FC Orlando Pride
April 22nd 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Washington Spirit
April 29th 3:30PM 4:00PM Portland Thorns FC Chicago Red Stars
May 6th 3:30PM 4:00PM Chicago Red Stars Houston Dash
May 13th 3:30PM 4:00PM Houston Dash Sky Blue FC
May 20th 3:30PM 4:00PM Sky Blue FC Houston Dash
May 27th 3:30PM 4:00PM Houston Dash Seattle Reign FC
June 3rd 3:30PM 4:00PM North Carolina Courage FC Kansas City
June 17th 3:30PM 4:00PM Chicago Red Stars Washington Spirit
June 24th 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Houston Dash
July 1st 3:30PM 4:00PM North Carolina Courage Sky Blue FC
July 8th 3:30PM 4:00PM North Carolina Courage Seattle Reign FC
July 15th 3:30PM 4:00PM Portland Thorns FC North Carolina Courage
July 22nd 3:30PM 4:00PM Chicago Red Stars Orlando Pride
August 5th 3:30PM 4:00PM Portland Thorns FC Houston Dash
August 12th 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Sky Blue FC
August 19th 3:30PM 4:00PM North Carolina Courage Washington Spirit
August 26th 3:30PM 4:00PM Seattle Reign FC Portland Thorns FC
September 2nd 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Boston Breakers
September 9th 3:30PM 4:00PM Orlando Pride Seattle Reign FC
September 23rd 3:30PM 4:00PM Houston Dash Chigaco Red Stars
September 30th 3:30PM 4:00PM Portland Thorns FC Chigaco Red Stars

The NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime will be available for live and on-demand streaming via the Lifetime iOS and Android apps and online at MyLifetime.com. Use #NWSLonLIFETIME to discuss on social media.

About NWSL

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is a ten-team Division-I women’s professional soccer league featuring national team players from around the world. The clubs are the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, FC Kansas City, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, and the Washington Spirit. Based in Chicago, the NWSL is supported by the Canadian Soccer Association and the United States Soccer Federation. For more information about the NWSL, log on to the league’s official website at www.NWSLsoccer.com.

About Lifetime

Lifetime is a premier entertainment destination for women dedicated to offering the highest quality original programming spanning scripted series, non-fiction series and movies. The critically acclaimed UnREAL, Project Runway, Dance Moms, Bring It!, The Rap Game and Little Women franchises anchor the network’s programming, in addition to its over 25 original movies annually that continue to define the TV movie genre. In 2015, Lifetime launched Broad Focus, a major global initiative dedicated to supporting and hiring female directors, writers and producers to make its content which totals over 450 original hours. Lifetime’s Fempire positions the network as a curator of feminist content and conversations, as well as a place where women connect, learn and are entertained. Lifetime Television®, LMN®, Lifetime Real Women® and Lifetime Digital™ are part of Lifetime Entertainment Services, LLC, a subsidiary of A+E Networks. A+E Networks is a joint venture of the Disney-ABC Television Group and Hearst Corporation.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Dan Chaon

Reasonably settled in Cleveland, Ohio, psychologist Dustin Tillman learns that his adopted brother, Rusty, will imminently be released from prison. DNA evidence cleared Rusty, who received a life sentence for the murder of Dustin’s parents and aunt and uncle. While mentally preparing himself for Rusty’s release, a patient draws Dustin into a potential serial murder case involving the drowning of drunk area college students. Dustin becomes progressively focused on this case as memories churn from that evening he violently lost his parents. What does Dustin remember and how accurate are his memories? How did this sensational murder and trial in the 1980s affect Dustin and his surviving family members? Ill Will is a riveting, contemplative thriller about memory and deception. Past and present collide in a dark, disturbing and creepy manner.

Dan Chaon is the author of Stay Awake, Await Your Reply, You Remind Me of Me, Fitting Ends and Among the Missing.  He teaches creative writing at Oberlin College.

We recently spoke by phone about Ill Will.

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Amy Steele: Where did you get the idea for this novel?

Dan Chaon: There was an urban legend in Minnesota and Wisconsin. My brother-in-law went to school at the University of Wisconsin and he told me the there were all of these mysterious drownings of these drunken bros and the college kids all thought it was a serial killer. I thought it was cool. I put it on the back burner. It was the early 2000s that I heard that story. It got tangled up in this other story I was writing—this  brother that gets out of prison. Then I thought: ‘can I have two murders in the same book or not/’ and they start to knit together after a while.

Amy Steele: You write from different points of view. Is that difficult and why did you decide to write in that way?

Dan Chaon: I have always liked novels that do that. Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories or Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. It’s a really good technique and for someone who came to the novel having started out as a story writer, that makes sense to me because it helps me to compartmentalize. Thematically because this book is so much about deception and multi-bookends of the same story, it made sense that we saw the story from different eyes.

Amy Steele: You went from writing short stories to writing novels and you also teach writing. How did that influence you? It’s a long novel but a page-turner. I read it quickly and I read it on the Kindle which I don’t like that much.

Dan Chaon: And it looked okay on the Kindle with the weird things. The typographical things. Random House put a front note on the Kindle edition so people know the Kindle isn’t glitching.

Amy Steele: I still don’t understand the columns. I don’t understand why you did that.

Dan Chaon: I wanted to create this effect where multiple things were happening at once. I liked that idea of having almost a split-screen thing. The sophomore in college in me was really thrilled by it. I thought it looked cool. It has parallels across and down. I feel good about it. I know some readers will be like: ‘Hmm. Pretentious. Weird.” But I don’t care.

Amy Steele: It provides more information. You have the text messages and all this other stuff.

Dan Chaon: That felt organic. It’s part of our daily life. Sometimes you shouldn’t do things that are too contemporary and date the book and make it less universal. It’s true to some extent that texting maybe in five years won’t be a thing or people won’t use Facebook as much any more. If you leave it out you’re leaving out a big chunk of what it’s like to be alive today.

Amy Steele: You have to stay true to the time period and be representing whatever time it is.

Dan Chaon: I also feel like there’s something about that mode of communication that fits with the elliptical quality of the book. It feels like it fits with the mood of the book. All those ghostly floating balloons on the page.

Amy Steele: It’s really dark. How did you get to that point? [note: asks the woman who is extremely dark in mood and interests]. I feel like your other work wasn’t as dark.

Dan Chaon: Oh really. You think this is the darkest?

Amy Steele: It’s pretty dark. Have you read David Vann?  I really like David Vann. Very dark.

Dan Chaon: David Vann’s dark feels heavier and more serious in some ways. There’s an element here that’s a little more playful. I think Aaron is often funny and Rusty’s funny. There’s still a more playful quality to this than any of my other novels. It’s both darker and a little more comic in some weird way.

Amy Steele: How do you keep track of different characters and flipping back and forth with the time? Did you know how it would end up?

Dan Chaon: There were definitely surprises along the way. I did a timeline for when everybody was born and different stuff happened because it’s covering 30 years. I knew I wanted to have multiple points of view so I blocked it out so each character would have their own section. And then I started to write the different sections and see how they rubbed up against each other. The second section with Dustin as a kid was the first section I wrote. Aaron came late in a weird way and I wasn’t expecting him to be such a huge part of the story until I feel in love with his voice.

I also felt really compelled to write about heroin addiction. It’s really been a scourge here. My students have friends that are overdosing and it seems like it suddenly has become this middle-class thing and it wasn’t when I was growing up it– like Kurt Cobain but not college kids. Something about Aaron’s voice and the way he was dealing with grief was really compelling to me. In the end I ended up giving him half the book when I was originally just planning on him having one section.

Amy Steele: You came up with the idea and dropped the characters into the situation.

Dan Chaon: The premise or idea is there and then the characters grow up around that. The twins–Kate and Wave–there’s a lot of various places that they come from and to some extent my family makes fun of me because there are avatars or parallels. I am a widower. I was raising two teenage boys. My sister said, “You just did this weird thing where you killed your whole family and turned yourself into this creepy sucker.” And I said, “Yeah that’s how fiction works.”

Amy Steele: You based a lot of this on people you know?

Dan Chaon: I wouldn’t say it’s based on their personalities. If you’ve been to my house, Dustin clearly lives in my house. Aaron clearly lives in my younger son’s bedroom. Dustin is not me and Aaron and Dennis aren’t my sons in terms of personality. Kate is definitely not my sister in terms of personality. There’s an element of me and my family in this even though the whole thing is fictional. You always have to have a touchstone of some sort.

Amy Steele: What did you like best about writing this novel?

Dan Chaon: I always wanted to write a straight up crime novel. I read a lot of serial killer books when I was in college. It was during that time that every other book was a serial killer book. I thought I really want to do this. It was fun to take that form and mess around with it and play in that playground. That was exciting and fun for me.

ill will

Ill Will by Dan Chaon. Ballantine Books | March 2017| 480 pages | $14.99| ISBN: 9780345476043

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book review: A Piece of the World

piece-of-the-world

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. William Morrow| February 2017| 309 pages | $27.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-235626-0

RATING: 4.5/5*

“Do our natures dictate the choices we make, I wonder, or do we choose to live a certain way because of circumstances beyond our control? Perhaps these questions are impossible to tease apart because, like a tangle of seaweed on a rock, they are connected at the root. I think of those long-ago Hathorns, determined beyond all reason to leave the past behind—and we, their descendants, inheritors of their contrarian tenacity, sticking it out, one generation after the next, until every last one of us ends up in the graveyard at the bottom of the field.”

In the gorgeous and mysterious 1948 masterpiece Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth depicts a woman crouching on a hill looking toward a weathered farm house. Looking at the painting, one might wonder whether the woman is coming or going. She seems far away and in such a twisted, crouching position with her hair blowing a bit in the wind. I never knew that Wyeth painted this on a farm in Maine. Author Christina Baker Kline creates a riveting story of the artist’s muse. Christina Olson lives a rather solitary, quiet and isolated existence in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine on her family’s farm with her brother. Christina lived at a particular time in particular circumstances and suffered an illness as a child which led to increasingly physical debility. At school she develops an affinity for Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Her father insists she quit school after eighth grade to help on the farm. Christina wanted to be a teacher. When young painter Andrew Wyeth asks if he can paint the farm, Christina and her brother welcome the distraction and attention.

This masterful work of historical fiction—told through first-person narrative– allows readers to feel Christina’s pain, disappointment and glimmers of hope throughout. In her youth, Christina dates a young man who summers nearby. But after several years he becomes engaged to another woman. He never intended to foray into a serious relationship with Christina. She’s devastated as she’s looking to be understood and accepted and just seen by somebody. Something many people seek. Readers feel empathy for Christina but not pity. She’s resilient and resourceful. She’s managing her situation.  Writing with exquisite detail, Kline transports us to Maine and effectively moves from 1940 to the early 1900s to reveal the personal history of the woman immortalized by a classic American work of art.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.

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