The Future of Books

Magazine sales are down, newspaper sales are down, and book sales are down. Sure we all buy less in a recession and with the price of books (and magazines, sheesh) they definitely are a luxury item that gets listed lower on our shopping list. But the recession is not the only factor affecting book sales.

In the last five years technology has become the biggest factor. I’ve mentioned e-book numerous times over the last year either in the form of readers or online shops featuring them. I honestly believe this is where the future of books will be. We can deny it all we want but the facts can’t be ignored: ebook sales are on the rise (as are ebook readers); ebook readers can hold libraries of books that the average person could not possibly effectively store in their home; they don’t collect dust, don’t need proper humidity, don’t smell over time; and if you want to go with the environmental factor–don’t use valuable resources like trees.

There is a generation of people who remain true to the sound of pages turning and having bindings on the shelf. Heck, I can’t walk past a bookstore without going in and coming out with a new book (or a reprint of an old book). But in the next decade or so many avid “bookies” are going to be… well, gone; or at least converted.

Myself, I come from an age that is a combination of old ways and technology. But the ones coming up behind up behind me, they are pure techies. They have their laptops, mP3 players, ipods, Blackberrys, cellphones, Wiis, Nintendos etc. I can’t see the use for books, even for nostalgia being high on their list. Books are cumbersome, they take up space and they are more expensive then downloading the latest novel or text book from online. And they don’t have to move from wherever they happen to be sitting to get one.

As I mentioned earlier books are not alone in this decline. The same holds true for newspapers and magazines. Most are now available online in some form and can be downloaded into an ebook reader.

It is no longer a matter of “if” it will happen. It is only a matter of when. I expect to see it my lifetime; so in the next forty to sixty years (I plan on staying around for a while). It’s going to be interesting to see albeit a bit sad too.

This piece was first published on 8/11/2009 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Barnes and Noble Online

The first walk-in store opened in New York City in 1917. The Barnes & Noble website is owned by Barnes & Noble, Inc and they have over 800 walk-in stores which can offer “over 1 million titles” of books, music DVDs, video games, and gifts. Because of this they are widely considered “the largest book retailer” in the United States. In 1997 the website went live helping to increase their customer base to those who would have normally been out of reach. There’s really so much that the Barnes and Noble’s website has to offer that this short article can not possibly cover them all. Here are the highlights.

The basic browsing headings include books, DVDs, music, textbooks, magazines, B&N Jr. (kids books), toys and games, home and gift, and see all. The book area can be searched with the book browser by title, author, or keyword or via further categories for bestsellers, new releases, coming soon, recommended, audio books, children’s books, used and out of print, bargain books. The browse books features divides the books into literary categories which are further divided into genre. This system is actually a lot easier than it sounds and I found I was able to whip into each area with no problem.

Barnes and Noble has a membership for loyal regular visitors to their stores and sites (Canada has a similar concept in their large Chapters stores – one of the things that annoy me). The membership card entitles bearers to 40% off hardcover list prices, 20% off adult hardcover list prices, and 10 % off almost everything else. If you sign up to their email notices you can also learn about weekly specials that could offer 30-40% savings. The B&N membership costs $25 a year and requires you to give your name, mailing address, phone number, and email address. You can of course still order books and take advantage of the site’s wish lists system without a membership. Each book shows a price comparison of list price, online price and member price.

In the United States, readers can get “fast & free delivery” when they order a minimum of $25. Barnes & Noble ships to Canada and internationally at reasonable rates. They accept payment from traditional credit cards, the B&N card/gift certificate and from PayPal.

If you are feeling interactive, there are online book clubs for every genre and category of books which readers correspond through Barnes & Noble’s a forum system. Readers can join to post messages on any of the threads and have conversations with other interested readers about their favourite (or not so favorite) books. Each forum environment is moderated by a highly motivated person with a love for the topic.

One of the best features of the Barnes & Noble website doesn’t cost anything at all. There’s an online studio and magazine where readers can watch and listen to exclusive interviews with popular authors, read biographies, and witness performances. And if you are more traditional there are lots of print reviews in magazine format.

One of my favourite aspects of the site is the wish list. It allows readers to add products they might want to purchase at a later date (with no obligation to buy). It’s a handy memory tool for shopping for others too. More than one wish list can be created so if you hear about a book a loved one would like you can save it to a list to refer to when special occasions arise. Kind of takes the worry out of last minute shopping.

Visit Barnes and Noble.

Orange Prize for Fiction

The Orange Prize for Fiction celebrates the literary talent of women authors who produce the best full-length novels in English that are published for the first time in the United Kingdom. This prize is also one of the few prizes to be judged exclusively by women.

This literary award is fairly young having only been formed in 1996. Winners are announced annually in June with a prize award of 30,000 pounds (equivalent to $60,345 US) and a bronze figurine affectionately called “Bessie”. This is one of my favorite awards because it’s for and by women. And even though it is a UK award, the winners are global. Long and short list nominees have come from America, Britain, Australia, and Tahiti; just to give you an idea of the diversity involved.

Choosing the best writer for the award is a three step process. First in March a long list is created and released to the public with approximately twenty potential winners, then in April a short list with six potential winners and in June the final winner is announced at an awards ceremony in the United Kingdom. In 2005 a new award was added, the Orange Award for New Writers, in honor of the Orange Prize’s 10th anniversary. This new award also has its short list announced in April and final winner in June.

Notable previous winners include Andrea Levy (Small Island), Valerie Martin (Property), Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Carol Shields (Larry’s Party) and Zadie Smith (On Beauty). A complete winners list can be found in the Orange Prize Reading List in the related links below.

Update 2014: Orange is no longer a sponsor of this fiction prize. The new sponsor is Bailey’s. Learn more about the Bailey’s Prize from the official website.

I, Richard Audio Book Review

Elizabeth George is best known for her psychological crime novels. She has 15 books published. This is her first short story collection.

The review of I, Richard was first published at 1/5/2008 at Literary Fiction BellaOnline. The full review of this audio book can now be read at SquidLit.

Stephanie Gayle – Author Interview

My Summer of Southern Discomfort is Stephanie Gayle’s first novel. This Somerville, Massachusetts native is a MIT Administrative Assistant at Massachusetts Institute of Technology by day and a writer by night; although she likes to think of writing as her full-time job. Stephanie has a great sense of humor, my guess, without even trying. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her interview as much as I did.

Moe: Looking back, did you choose the writing profession or did the profession choose you?

Stephanie Gayle: I don’t believe any profession chooses you. I always had a facility for words and loved to tell stories. I started telling people I was a writer once my novel was bought. That felt great, being able to say, “Oh me? I’m a writer.”

Moe: What inspires you?

Stephanie Gayle: Nature. Good books. Observing people. Reading something I wrote and thinking “not half bad.”

Moe: Every writer has a method to their writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Stephanie Gayle: On a good weekday I get in three hours of writing: one hour at lunch and two hours in the evening after I’ve eaten dinner. On weekends I write first thing in the morning for about two hours. Then I’ll go back and write more throughout the day, depending on what else I have planned.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Stephanie Gayle: At least nine months for one of my writer/editor readers, but for regular folks, closer to three years. My agent had to tell me, “Stephanie, let your mother read the galley of your novel.” I wanted things perfect before anyone saw my story, even my mother, who thinks everything I write is perfect. I revised more as I wrote with my first novel. With my current work in progress I wrote right through and am now editing, scalpel in hand.

Moe: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?

Stephanie Gayle: No. I find those thoughts restrictive. I tell myself a story. That’s how it starts.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Stephanie Gayle: I’m a terrible plotter. I prefer to create strong characters, stick pins in them, and see how they react. In those rare instances where I have plotted at length, the story almost always veers off course. Events evolve and circumstance change, just like life.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Stephanie Gayle: I do rigorous research before and during the writing of my books. Lots of reading of legal cases, code books, and papers on law. I didn’t visit Macon, a fact that surprises most people who have read My Summer of Southern Discomfort. I couldn’t afford the airfare, so I did loads of research. It’s amazing what good stuff you can find if you look hard enough.

Moe: Where do your characters come from? How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?

Stephanie Gayle: My characters usually have a trait or two that comes from people I know, but I don’t ever think “let’s rewrite so and so.” Instead I decide that my character, Natalie, is freakishly organized. I think, who do I know like that? I might include a specific trait or detail of that person in Natalie’s make up. For the most part my characters are brand new and I look forward to figuring them out.

Moe: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If yes, what measures do you take to get past it?

Stephanie Gayle: No, but admitting this makes me nervous. As if some god of writing is going to see this and go “Aha! We missed one!” and then smite me with writer’s block.

Moe: What do you hope readers gain, feel or experience when they read one of your books for the first time?

Stephanie Gayle: I hope they find something true, something they recognize, even if it’s only a tiny detail. I love when an author encapsulates something I’ve seen thousands of times in a new way or in peerless prose. That moment of recognition is powerful. I want to be able to make my readers feel that.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Stephanie Gayle: It is a business. Rejection is well and truly not personal. It just feels that way. Have alternate titles for your work prepared in case someone in the publishing house chucks your original title. Scrambling for a new title is not fun at all. Writers are generous people willing to share what they know.

Moe: What is your latest release about?

Stephanie Gayle: My Summer of Southern Discomfort is about Natalie Goldberg, a liberal lawyer from the northeast who impetuously moves to Macon, Georgia and becomes a public prosecutor. She alienates her family, becomes a complete fish out of water, and is then assigned a death penalty case. She’s in trouble because she opposes the death penalty. It’s about her coming to terms with the decisions she’s made and those she plans to make.

The original novel idea was a three part narrative, and Natalie was just the first narrator, but that changed during the writing. The third “main” character as originally conceived isn’t in the book at all.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Stephanie Gayle: Fiction and quirky non-fiction. I’ve been reading lots of contemporary fiction lately though the last book I read was a biography of famed Australian wallpaper designer, Florence Broadhurst.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Stephanie Gayle: I read, I watch movies, I bake, I travel (I’d like to do more of this), I visit museums (the more off-beat the better). I also like to spend time with the friends I don’t see nearly enough of when I’m embroiled in novel writing.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Stephanie Gayle: Read widely. Ask questions of other writers. Take a writing class or join a good critique group. Keep a notebook by your bed because there is nothing worse than losing those precious 2:00 A.M. bursts of genius. Trust me, you won’t remember them in the morning.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Stephanie Gayle: Less happy. In terms of career, I don’t know. Ambition has never been my strong suit.

Moe: What is your favorite word?

Stephanie Gayle: I’m pretty fond of deciduous and homunculus.

My interview with Stephanie Gayle originally published 11/25/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Stephanie Gayle’s official website.

Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is the author of ten novels. Some of his works include: All the Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994), Cities of the Plain (1998), No Country for Old Men (2005), and The Road (2006). He won the National Book Award for All the Pretty Horses in 1992 and The Road was chosen this Spring by Oprah Winfrey as her 57th Book Club Pick. The novel was moderately successful before Oprah. It’s sure to be sent into all-time-favourite status because of her recommendation.

The-Road-Book-CoverThe Road is a post-apocalyptic novel about the journey of an American man and his son trying to make their way to the coast. Of course, they are fraught with misfortune, danger and their own psychological demons. It’s a story about hope, love, devastation, and survival that is still relevant for our time and to many generations of readers.

If you want more information on this private author and his history steer clear of the publisher created site which has very little to offer other than a few hard to read blurbs from reviews. The best place to visit is The Official Website of The Cormac McCarthy Society. It is a non-profit organization with a yearly membership that was founded in October 1993 by a group of “scholars and interested lay readers of McCarthy’s works”. According to their website the purpose of the society is “to further the scholarship and general appreciation of Cormac McCarthy’s writing and to facilitate the gathering of scholars and enthusiastic lay readers alike who share a common interest in Cormac McCarthy and his work.”

The society has no personal connection to Cormac McCarthy but you’ll find a wealth of information all in one spot like a full biography, reviews of his books, resources on translations, bibliographies, relevant links to other websites and special information for book collectors. There is a simple forum with current discussions about his works. A yearly journal called The Cormac McCarthy Journal which you can read online for free or receive in the mail when you purchase a membership. You don’t have to join to have access to their website but if you decide you want more, membership dues are a reasonable $35 annually.

Visit The Official Website of The Cormac McCarthy Society.

This piece was originally published 3/28/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Tom Wolfe

Who is Tom Wolfe? Not to be confused with the other novelist Thomas Wolfe (You Can’t Go Home Again). I have to admit I didn’t know much about him, other than from an episode of the Simpson’s where he’s white suit personality has been forever immortalized in reruns, until I watched an interview recently. In regard to the white suits (he’s the only man who looks good in them besides Don Johnson), he says they have been “worth their weight in gold”. I imagine so. It’s almost like company branding.

If you’re like me, having more knowledge of Woolf over Wolfe, you may be more familiar with such books-to-films as The Right Stuff (1979) and Bonfire of the Vanities (1987). Both were written by Wolfe. Tom, not Thomas.

His white suits are not his only distinguishing feature. If you were to be a fly on a wall in his office you’d see him working away at a typewriter before you were squashed for peeping on his next work in progress. Is it me or has working from a typewriter become cliché? I remember when I learned typing in the early 80s we had to use the old clangers which would certainly cause tears of pain in any carpel tunnel sufferers of today.

I-am-charlotte-simmons-book-cover-tom-wolfeThis reporter and novelist could have very well taken another turn in life. A little know fact about Wolfe was his talent and enjoyment for playing baseball, he was semi pro in Richmond Virginia where he was born. What young man wouldn’t want the fame and fortune of what the Sports Hall of Fame brings? Wolfe would have liked to have played pro rather than graduate from school but instead he’s the author in the white suit.

Do you need personality to be a writer? Tom Wolfe thinks his personality comes from his suits and while that may be the case, this notable writer who currently lives in New York with his wife and two kids can enjoy it all the way to the bank. I’m sure Tom Wolfe will be remembered for his body of work, white suit or not.

Tom Wolfe’s latest book is I Am Charlotte Simmons : A Novel. The story is about a sheltered 18 year genius from the Blue Ridge Mountains who’s accepted on scholarship to the best university in America where she hopes to “expand her mind”. She learns college really has a life and culture of its own. In Wolfe’s journalistic tradition he researched this book by visiting many colleges hoping to provide realism to this fictional story.

This piece was published 3/6/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Tom Wolfe’s official website.

Kate Braverman – Author Interview

She likes it HOT. She can take eight hours of August Tucson sun and still want more. Me, I’d be a stain on the cement within thirty minutes. Born in Philadelphia, raised in Los Angeles, Kate Braverman is currently at home in San Francisco where she cohabits with her husband. She has spent the last 40 years producing poetry, short fiction, essays and novels. Her most recent creation, “Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir,” will be released in February. In her spare time she teaches and hosts a monthly literary talk show. Crab your tea and prepare to learn about the addiction of Kate Braverman.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer?

kate-braverman-authorKate Braverman: Growing up as a marginalized girl child of the secret dirty city of Los Angeles, as slippage deep within a colossus of yellow hibiscus, in a region that didn’t exist in literature, I was, in complex ways, as described in my new “Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir” alienated and only comfortable alone and writing. I knew words were sacred and books revered. I was writing at college workshops when I was 13. I never wasn’t a writer.

Moe: Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Kate Braverman: You can’t choose to be a writer anymore than you can choose to be a gymnast or painter. It isn’t a choice, but an ineluctable inevitability. You can attempt to choose to be a writer, but if it doesn’t open in an act of alchemy, you will fail. There is a process where the page reveals its infinite complexity. It’s not a flat surface but three-dimensional, with an audio track, scents, seasons, an entire substrata of sound and cadence. The page is a unique kingdom, vast, mysterious and eccentrically indigenous. It’s like a dance, you do some and it does some. To have the page open itself, to shed its skin and allow you to autopsy the living and the dead is an inexplicable experience. Most writers do not have this experience, this star-hewn brassy vertigo, and their writing feels like work rather than elation and communion, discovery and revelation. Most inflict themselves on the page, without recognizing it is the embrace and caress that must occur for acts of passion and abandon, for books that matter, for blood books, built from your own molecular structure.

Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer? Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager?

Kate Braverman: Particularly because I was living in Los Angeles, imprisoned by narcissism, writing seemed a pure form, inviolate, ancient, the antithesis of the conventionally perceived Los Angeles, that bitch of surface beauty and commercial pursuits, which I knew, at 10, vulgar and oppressive. I thought I could use words as a bridge or highway to cross into another world entirely. There are entire levels of knowing, it continues to evolve. Once, because one has published a poem in a national poetry magazine. Or a book, or been translated, awarded. The kinetics of reading to an audience and seeing them cry. The knowing that keeps you writing for 3 decades of solitude, in service to the word, I call that grace.

Moe: What inspires you?

Kate Braverman: I’m always at performance level with my writing. I have trained myself, on a neural level, to observe and examine the world, cities, regions, landscapes, people and circumstance as a writer. It’s not the inspiration, but the technique brought to bear on the matter. There are no great stories or locales. It is the writer’s job to take anything and make it spectacular, make it indelible. In this, I work as many painters do, landscapes, portraits, collages, still life’s. I also work on multiple aspects of a long project or sequences of shorter pieces, so there is always an area I’m working on. I learned this living with a painter, something always on the walls drying or not finished or fully realized, some reason why a brush was always required. Inspiration and motivation are entirely different issues.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Kate Braverman: Typically, I take my first cup of coffee at my desk and begin writing. I will write for 16, 18, 20 hours. There have been stretches of my life where people would leave groceries at my door, when I did not leave my house for weeks or months. I need complete immersion and unlimited acres of time and space. By my early 20’s, my apartments had two bedrooms, one for writing, a study. Sometimes it takes 8 hours to get in or 8 hours to get back where you were. I will write a piece until I’m physically too exhausted, try to leave it on life-support, hope it survives the night, and try to get it into intensive care from life support the next day or in 3 days or 3 weeks or sometimes 3 years. Some stories or parts of longer fictions are born. Mostly, they are composed, layered, though I now know all the DNA is in the initial draft. It’s just decoding it, but if you are using the blood stuff, what Lorca called the “dark sounds” then the entire novel is on the first page, like DNA and fingerprints.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?

Kate Braverman: Books vary. I tend to write fast and rewrite relentlessly. That’s a real problem with finding stories in my computer. I have 20 drafts of a story with the same title because I was so certain at the time that this is the draft, I’ll never forget this one, but then I’ve got 20 of them and have to read through all of them to see which was the real one, the one that glows in the dark, the one you can know in this life and all others.

Moe: Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Kate Braverman: I revised when I was a young writer. Now my techniques and strategies are fully developed, so that sort of revision is no longer necessary. I push for a first draft. Once you have a first draft, technique, writing and strategy alone will finish the book. But there is the aspect of motivation.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Kate Braverman: No, I never consider the outside world in terms of the work at hand. I have no idea what I’m writing, if it’s a short story or novel, a poem or essay. I like to make love to the mutating subtext. The alchemy of the spinning is intoxicating, the newly born fabric, the strands and possibilities. You have to interact with the materials, which move like pieces, like sculpture and collage. A blood work speaks with a multiplicity of dialects, there are many options. In fiction, it’s like the evolution of a planet, ecosystems rise and vanish, climates change, accidents. The page exerts its own Darwinian process of natural selection, but you must put your ear to the earth, the sea, rain, bells, hyenas, the passing peanut crunching crowd to hear. You must trust your instincts, you’ve honed and refined them atom by atom for this ability, but error is probable.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Kate Braverman: Plot is not a strong suit for me. No writer does it all, possesses a full repertoire of tools. Description. Style. Dialogue. Architecture. One identifies one’s strengths as a writer and uses them extravagantly, recognize weaknesses and avoid them. My gift is innovation, experimentation, accessing my emotions, my internal intellectual dialogue and language, the sound and rhythm of words. I can also write dialogue. I’m a poet who can write dialogue and I want to inhabit the page as a female. I want grandeur and elegance, danger and chaos. I can make words ignite. That’s what’s in my toolbox.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?

Kate Braverman: I’m a method writer, like a method actor. I do the research on myself, as if I was a lab experiment. I’m not interested in conventional research, which is a structure I don’t want, artistically. I travel a great deal, often in character. I live it, basically. I also experiment with my biochemistry. That’s another tool I’ve used throughout my writing life. I will take substances that provide clarity and stamina. A writer is always doing research, even when they’re sleeping. I sleep badly. Being a writer is like being a martial arts expert, there’s a certain stance and alertness always present.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Kate Braverman: Most of my characters are composites in which at least one of my identities is present. I’ve written about my mother and daughter extensively in this composite emotional collage form. I don’t draw any lines. I’m a guerilla fighter on the barricades of the male dominion of literature and I am prepared to engage the enemy with ruthless force. I don’t take prisoners and I don’t have a Geneva Code. By the time the page has had its say, and technique transforms the ordinary into the luminescent indelible, what was real and the fiction that emerges are separate entities. Women who draw lines will find themselves painting by the numbers and filling in the outlined spaces of coloring books. That is not how to make art.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Kate Braverman: Writers block is not a problem for me, ever. It comes from being diverted from the page work by outside considerations, such as self-censoring, fear, and accepting the dictates of others, particularly the grotesque mockery they call the marketplace. The cure is to do exercises. For the first decade, I advise this as an apprenticeship, I thought I was writing, but I would have spent the years better by doing exercises. The view of your garden or street at every hour, half-hour, the sounds, scents, textures, suggestions. They are not just insinuations, but glyphs you must decipher. Take a photograph and assign yourself 15 pages on it. Collect sounds, landscapes, sketch faces with words. Take your favorite piece of music and describe it to a deaf person you love. Exercises are liberating. My current class is called “Experimental Writing: Improvisation and Related Outlaw Activities.” Writing and crime are quite similar. Women should be more comfortable with their criminality, they should celebrate it.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Kate Braverman: My students and readers have told me I gave them permission to enter their femaleness. That they have learned the entire schematics of how to be lean and tough enough to enter into mortal combat with the mutating subtext, to not be afraid they are violating family, or the rules of law and order which are different for men then women. Men are given inviolate protection. We say they cannot but etch lives of chaos; they are the embodiment of the mythic artist. The intensity of their passion absolves them. When women dare live like this, they are locked in institutions. I am very careful. I write for revolution and subversion, I dare live the mythic artist’s life as a woman. You know, Kathy Acker had to pretend to be a lesbian to get over. How long before a woman can get over as she is, authentically, whatever her sexuality.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Kate Braverman: Now that I’ve got my web up, people I knew in junior high are coming by. My fans have generally read one of my novels, Lithium for Media or Wonders of the West, say, or a book of my short stories, and they can recite pages, it changed their life. They got divorced, went to Nepal, worked in a brothel in Budapest, got their PhDs or whatever, and they cherish this book. Their copy was either loaned to them or they loaned it to somebody. They haven’t had it in years but the memory burns. I must point out that if a book meant that much to me, I’d damn well buy another copy and if “Tall Tales From the Mekong Delta” and “Pagan Night” touched me so profoundly, I’d want to read the other books by this author. My gentle reader, if you don’t buy the books of the outlaw princess of darkness now, 25 years later (the book they said I should be put in jail for writing) I feel that bespeaks a laziness of purpose that rather surprises. In fact, when my fans write in, I personally point this out to them, explain the corporate deleting apparatus, and ask for them to do something. Post a review of one of my 11 books or 4 or 7 of my books on Amazon. On their blogs. My old students know this; I don’t ask more than I give. I encourage engaging the page as much as possible, I should save my emails, I treat them as letters, confidences, another possible mutating fiction. There is so little real critical work on me, cumulatively, it’s shocking. I know I’m being taught at Stanford, SFU, SF State, UC Davis, Riverside, Mills, St.Mary’s, Pratt, Iowa, New School and universities in MN, CO, TX, FL. I assume this is merely representative of the actual colleges where I am on the required reading list. You can’t get an MFA without reading me. And yet——

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Kate Braverman: O, it’s a divine (as in the gates, the choir sang, free fall by starlight with Mars like a lamp, making you glow like your mother looking at Marilyn Monroe) experiment, what they call in science a quick and dirty. It’s an informed intuition you follow with an improvised protocol. It’s real history, impressionist collective cultural history, gender studies essays, still life’s, ridges of pure poetry, plateaus of stand-up comedy routines. This is less a painterly book and more sculptural.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Kate Braverman: I tend to reread the same books for decades. Current writers, Bill Vollmann. The Royal Family in particular. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridan. Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. Underworld by Delillo. I’ve been reading 70’s writers for an essay. Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Didion’s novel Democracy, her White Album. Bob Stone’s Dog Soldier. Kate Moses wrote a beautiful novel about Sylvia Plath called Wintering. The Making of the Atom Bomb by Richard Rhodes is a masterpiece. Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior. I read Gibson’s Neuromancer every few months. Elizabeth Block’s A Gesture in Time. One reaches for a stratum of books for various research projects.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Kate Braverman: I love the sun. I love Rome in August when tourists are fainting and that’s good, you can step over them, it makes the lines shorter. I like Maui and Mexico in August when it’s steaming. I can take 8 hours of August Tucson sun and want more. I like water, sailing, cruise ships, rafts. I do yoga. I’m a certified California pot smoker, so I like to come down from a day or two run of writing, of doing mortal combat with the universe and smoke and eat pot, particularly when doing my email. I find it relaxing. I do a bit of visual art, print making, graphics built around text or text as a visual element. I find it relaxing the way normal people must feel about TV. I’m in a band now so I’m listening to lots of music and rehearsing. That’s fun. I have a conceptual reality TV show, we’re so real we refuse the camera. That’s every second Monday in San Francisco; it’s called Fusion City. I’ve been playing at least 3 hours of ping-pong a day whenever it is possible.

I love being read to at night. My partner is reading the John LaCarre trilogy out loud for the 7th or 8th time. I enjoy film. Since we don’t have a disgusting toxic mind control device like a real TV, we are further encouraged to go out, musical and literary events, performance art, one man shows, a bit of dance. I collect seashells and bodies of water; I have all the oceans and many of the seas now. The Thames, Seine, Ganges, Nile, Mississippi, Danube. I love travel of all kinds. My only rule is no goats the first two weeks. I like to begin in a Four Seasons, then move to a lesser hotel, then still less and by two weeks, I’m ready to sleep on a stone floor with goats and other non-urban mammals. I tend to go native wherever I am. I hang out with my partner. We’ve been together 15 years now and when we’re in celestial alliance, we’re like a single entity. We amuse each other endlessly. We talk until our throats are hoarse.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Kate Braverman: Don’t go there, honestly. The chances of success are like winning a lottery ticket. The system is corrupt and disintegrating. Writing is a vicious profession and a life of more rigor then anyone should endure. In fact, a writer’s life is cruel and unusual punishment and it should be entirely outlawed. The Constitution does not permit this. The world does not need your shoddy mediocrity. The planet demands dedicated, life long readers. The memoir and new kid phase will burn it outside (be no longer financially attractive to the collective consensual corporate apparatus) and you will see your ambitions for celebrity will never be fulfilled. So many rush to the light, yet so few are called. Duchamp said if you’re 20 and write poetry, you’re 20. If you’re 40 and write poetry, you’re a poet. But a post-historical analysis should be undertaken.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Kate Braverman: Prague.

Originally published 1/30/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Kate Braverman’s official website.

Moe’s Picks for 2005

Here are some of my picks for 2005. I tried to limit myself to ten but ended up with fifteen. Happy Reading!

An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance

A story about a woman living in the age of the perfect wife is expected except she isn’t so perfect with her fits and addictions. Her husband takes her to a doctor to aid her woes but he has his own agenda.

Purchase from An Inconvenient Wife
Purchase from An Inconvenient Wife


A Girl like Che Guevara by Teresa de la Caridad Doval

In Havana, Cuba during 1982 high school students were required to put in time in the Tobacco fields as part of their learning and as service to the communist regime. This is the summer for sixteen year old Lourdes Torres to experience Pinar del Rio camp. She learns her dreams of being part of the young Communist League and trying to be like her hero Che Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary and Cuban guerrilla leader, are not as easy as she thought they would be. Author Q & A with Teresa Doval.

Purchase from A Girl like Che Guevara
Purchase from A Girl like Che Guevara


The Icarus Girl: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi

The story of an eight-year-old caught between two worlds of her mixed family. When she acts up her parents send her Nigeria for a change of pace. During her time there she develops an invisible friend named Tilly who is a comfort at first but soon develops quirks which disturb everyone.

Purchase from The Icarus Girl
Purchase from The Icarus Girl


The Ice Queen: a Novel by Alice Hoffman

The story of a small-town librarian who gets struck by lightning and lives to tell about it. With her new lease on life she begins to notice things aren’t like they use to be. If she didn’t fit in before she really doesn’t now. She begins looking for other lightening survivors for companionship and perhaps knowledge and acceptance. Thought provoking novel with a different kind of magic.

Purchase from The Ice Queen
Purchase from The Ice Queen


Matches: A Novel by Alan Kaufman

The story about the emotional toll of contemporary warfare as seen through the eyes of Nathan Falk a young American member of the Israeli Defense Force. Nathan enjoys the game of roulette that is his life: Gaza at night, cheating fellow soldiers, seducing his best friend’s wife. All have consequences. This is an intimate look at betrayal, guilt, love and survival on the battlefield.

Purchase from Matches
Purchase from Matches


Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is the 1982 Nobel Prize winner, Columbian author’s first work of fiction in ten years. It is the story of an aged journalist who commissions a virgin prostitute for a night but finds himself in a year-long obsession that brings forth a lifetime of memories of paid loveless sex. What remains to be seen is what he is going to do with this revelation.

Purchase from Memories of My Melancholy Whores
Purchase from Memories of My Melancholy Whores


Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Re-released in time for the release of the movie. It is an epic tale following the life of Sayuri, a Japanese Geisha, from childhood when she is first purchased to her unprecedented success. A unique look into 1930s Japan when slavery was an art and one blue-eyed woman’s rise to the status of goddess.

Purchase from Memoirs of a Geisha
Purchase from Memoirs of a Geisha


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

From the author of The Remains of the Day comes the story of a secluded English boarding school. The well-schooled students are taught from an exemplary curriculum except it includes nothing about the world off campus. Kathy has spent her life growing up here but it’s only when she and her friends leave the safe grounds they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Purchase from Never Let Me Go
Purchase from Never Let Me Go


On Beauty by Zadie Smith

An English scholar with three children has a midlife crisis about the time one of his son’s finds love on the other side of the globe. A book that asks a lot of questions and then forces the characters to look for the answers but it won’t drive you to tears.

Purchase from On Beauty
Purchase from On Beauty


Runaway by Alice Munro

A collection of stories about women from all walks of life and the people they love. Like the titled story about a wife who doesn’t think she has the strength and will to leave her husband or the story of Juliet and her tarnished relationships.

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Purchase from Runaway


Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

From the best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Eleven Americans on a voyage to Burma become separated from their designated Island Resort and end up in a jungle, lost and without their original guide. At least she isn’t with them in body. Misfortune after misfortune begets these travellers including running into a primitive tribe that has its own problems with the military.

Purchase from Saving Fish from Drowning
Purchase from Saving Fish from Drowning


Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Recently short listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Drawing from her own experiences from her fieldwork in Ethiopia for her Ph.D. in social anthropology Gibb has detailed a story about a young, white, Muslim woman named Lilly who falls in love with a man she works with. When their relationship is torn apart by the surrounding political and religious upheaval she searches for both understanding in the world and in herself.

Purchase from Sweetness in the Belly
Purchase from Sweetness in the Belly


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Amir comes from a wealthy family in Kabul. As a child he spent most of his time with a servant’s son Hassan. Many days were spent telling tales and running kites. Events occur that effect the nature of the boy’s friendship from the time they meet until the country is taken over by the Taliban.

Purchase from The Kite Runner
Purchase from The Kite Runner


The Sweet Edge by Alison Pick

It’s summer. Ellen is working in an art gallery. Her boyfriend Adam is going on a canoe trip in the Arctic. Told from both of their point-of-views. Alison takes the reader through both of their perspectives on their relationship with one another and the world around them.

Purchase from The Sweet Edge
Purchase from The Sweet Edge


Veronica: A Novel by Mary Gaitskill

2005 National Book Award finalist. Alison, devastated by the life of fashion-modeling moves from Paris to New York City where she befriends Veronica an eccentric proof-reader with AIDS. The unlikely duo suffer through the hardships of illness, loss and all the other emotions attached to the people we love.

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Purchase from Veronica

This piece was originally published 12/22/2005 at BellaOnline.

Laura Elise Taylor – Author Interview

Creative talent usually comes with more than one outlet. In the case of Laura Elise Taylor, she divides her time between writing in the winter and photography during the “wedding season”. This Canadian author slash photographer was born in Port Credit, Ontario: Mississauga’s Village on the Lake. Being twenty minutes West of Toronto, a well known creative hub for Canadians, it’s no wonder she hasn’t settled on just one outlet. Laura earned a M.A. from the University of Alberta and currently lives in Guelph, Ontario. Although she has had a number of photo shows, A Taste for Paprika is her first published book. I hope you enjoy getting to know this creative adventure seeker.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Laura-TaylorLaura Elise Taylor: After my master’s degree (in English Lit and Creative Writing), I went off and became a photographer. I made a conscious decision to not write for a living; I was afraid that the addition of the money element would ruin my most precious creative outlet. I quickly discovered that when writing is not a part of my work life, I don’t do it very much…so here I am, a writer after all.

Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Laura Elise Taylor: When someone paid me for something I’d written. I call myself a writer simply because I make half of my living by stringing words together; writing is something I do, rather than something I am. I shy away from the more mystical, glamorous interpretations of the designation. Maybe some day I’ll believe that they apply to me.

Moe: Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.

Laura Elise Taylor: As are most children, I was completely unselfconscious in my writing. Even though a lot of it is endearingly silly and decidedly precocious, it’s inspiring to re-read my very old journals and see how free I was with ideas and words.

Moe: What inspires you?

Laura Elise Taylor: Stories. The complexity and quirkiness of human beings. People who have the guts and confidence to know their dreams and follow them.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Laura Elise Taylor: My ideal writing day begins with a half-hour meditation followed by a bit of journaling. This automatic writing warms me up and lets me clear my brain of busy-life clutter. I write until lunch time, after which my brain turns to mush, so I run errands, do correspondence, etc. for the afternoon. Amazing how the ideas develop during the non-writing hours, especially during exercise or house cleaning. My favourite writing hours are from 9pm to midnight. The still, dark, undisturbed night opens my concentration and imagination.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Laura Elise Taylor: It depends on the project. The seeds for my first book were planted in a creative writing class in high school. I completed the book during my master’s year, six years later. However, the text as it now stands was completed in a calendar year, and the chapters were work-shopped as I wrote them. I’ve just started working on a novel, the idea of which again has come from life. At the rate I’m going, it should be done in six months.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Laura Elise Taylor: Absolutely. All art is all about communication. If I didn’t consider the readers, I would be writing into a void. As much as I need to write for personal processing, what I write for publication I write to the readers in the hope that through the stories we connect.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m a structure kind of gal. Once I have the story (and that’s the most difficult, most excruciating phase, hands down), I plan how that story will unfold. No details, just general sections. In the writing of those scenes or sections, the overall structure often changes, and that’s exciting. But to jump in without a plan? Couldn’t do it.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Laura Elise Taylor: Much of my writing comes from personal experience. When I need to research something, I have to set up boundaries, because I often get sucked in by the unexpected things I am learning and look up from the computer six hours later completely disoriented and unsure of what I originally needed. I wouldn’t want to write about a place I hadn’t been to. Besides, choosing a far off place is a great excuse to travel.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Laura Elise Taylor: My first book was creative non-fiction, a family memoir that reads like a novel. What can I say? The people around me are wonderful characters, more complex and fascinating than any I could conjure up. That being said, my family would kill me if I wrote about them directly again. Fictionalizing the people and events of my life does allow for the themes to broaden, and to become relevant to more of our lives (that’s the plan, anyway).

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m starting to recognize the difference between writer’s block, procrastination, and the natural period of distillation before the writing can begin. For me, writer’s block is just another word for insecurity. Once I have faith in my story, any lulls in the process are either procrastination or a necessary pause.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Laura Elise Taylor: I hope they find themselves nodding in recognition. I hope they connect with the characters and their experiences in the world. It would be nice if something in the book were useful in casting new light on something in their lives.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Laura Elise Taylor: Never, ever sign a contract without legal advice. Don’t send your manuscript to the smallest press first, send it to the biggest; you never know what might happen. Talk to as many writers as you can to find out how they are making the business of writing work; have no illusions of wealth-by-the-pen.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m thrilled by each and every email, and respond to them all. Most readers share personal stories about their own grandmothers, their own family history, and thank me for telling a story that needed to be told.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Laura Elise Taylor: A Taste for Paprika is the story of my Austrian-Hungarian Oma and her experiences before and during the Second World War. She tells those stories—sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often terrifying–to me as we cook and bake the foods of her homeland. The book is also the story of my struggle to connect with my mother, who never speaks of her experiences of immigration to Canada as a teenager and the tragedies that followed, tragedies that shaped all of our lives.

The book I am currently working on chronicles the funny and not-so-funny experiences of a “third wheel,” a woman whose partner is going through a long, drawn-out divorce.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Laura Elise Taylor: My shelves appear to be full of fairly recent Canadian fiction, books by South Asian writers like Gita Mehta, a whole range of stuff. I’m currently laughing and crying my way through Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Laura Elise Taylor: Read, go salsa dancing, get away on canoe and kayak trips into our gorgeous, renewing wilderness, ride my horse, travel whenever I can…

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Laura Elise Taylor: Join a supportive writer’s group or workshop. Be kind to yourself. Try to let go of the need to write something amazing and profound; whatever you need to write is what you should focus on, not what you think you should write. Write something every day.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Laura Elise Taylor: A biologist, an Outward Bound leader, a musician, a therapist, rich.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Laura Elise Taylor: Rambunctious. My partner just taught the word to his two-year-old nephew who ran around the house yelling it for the rest of the day.

Originally published 9/15/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Laura Elise Taylor’s official website.