So, thanks to the wonderful Theresa Beckhusen, I read at Indy Reads Books, a lovely bookstore in Indianapolis, and also led a WordLab session there. The bookstore itself is lovely–the photos below don’t really do it justice–and I can’t say enough about how kind and accommodating the staff was.
The reading and WordLab session went well (to read a summary of the character-mapping exercise I led, click here). We had a good crowd, and they were game for just about anything, which is a fantastic energy for a teacher to work with. It’s been a while since I’ve done a reading, and I was happy to learn that I wasn’t as rusty as I’d feared.
Sal and Theresa gave me a whirlwind tour of Indianapolis. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I visited Purdue’s campus back in 1998 (for Triennium, for those of you who know what that is), but that’s about it. I must say that Indianapolis is one of the cleanest and most progressive cities I’ve ever visited. By “progressive,” I mean that things are improving steadily there. They have an active literary scene. There are a number of new restaurants featuring locally sourced beer and meats. There’s a huge brewing scene in Indianapolis, which means every restaurant has 12-300 craft beers on tap. There’s also a healthy cycling and outdoorsy community there. Being from Pittsburgh, I couldn’t help but marvel at all the space they have. Also, since the city’s laid out on a grid, you can just look at something in the distance and directly drive there. Try that anywhere in Allegheny County and you’ll end up in a river.
Suntory Whiskey actually exists. Sal built a fire and we drank about a gallon of it. It was magical.
Visiting Hero House, a great comics store in downtown. I bought Issue #1 of Outcast and a copy of Don Lomax’s Gulf War Journal.
The Indiana State Fair. They had a number of “selfie stations” set up. I got one in front of a hog farm, and also took one with the Soybean mascot. It took several tries, considering the sheer size of the costume.
At Fat Dan’s restaurant, eating a rack of ribs off a sheet of butcher paper, with thick brown high school-cafeteria paper towels as napkins.
We didn’t have time to visit the Kurt Vonnegut museum downtown. So it goes.
Every time a character swore in the new Dragonball Z movie (“That talking purple cat is a real bastard”), you could hear everyone in the theater clucking in disapproval.
The new Dragonball Z movie features a talking purple cat.
If you’re in the Indianapolis area next Monday, I’ll be reading at Indy WordLab.
Indy Wordlab is a monthly reading series/open writing workshop. I’ll read some stories, take questions, and offer a writing experiment. Attendees take 30-40 minutes to write on the prompt, and then reconvene in small groups to share their work.
I’m really pumped about this. I’ll be busting out some new material (including a flash piece I just finished called “The Tides of Alderaan”), and as for the writing experiment, I’m thinking about expanding on a character mapping exercise that’s been a crowd favorite in the past. Hope to see you there!
First, I’d like to thank my good friend Rosebud Ben-Oni for inviting me on this blog tour. Rosebud is a talented writer and does so much good for the literary community (and the world at large). I’ve loved reading everyone’s entries. In some cases, you pick up tips and tricks–in other cases, it’s comforting to realize you’re not the only person with a weird habit or ritual.
1) What are you working on?
I’m busy revising my second novel and writing a YA novel this summer. I think it’s going to be challenging, but I’m excited.
I think reading is a huge (and probably underrated) experience, and it’s been great reading (or re-reading) YA novels this summer. The past few I read were The Giver, Looking for Alaska, and The Book Thief.
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
This is such a “deer in the headlights” question. Susan Orlean once said that having a unique worldview is more important than the ability to write interesting sentences. To some extent, she has a point: with competent instructors and enough experience, everyone’s writing abilities should pretty much even out. Regarding my worldview, I think it’s been skewed by the fact that my father was in the US Navy for 26 years. I moved 11 times by age 18. I’ve seen a lot of the US, and I was one of 5 minority students at a very rural high school. Spending your life constantly on the move creates a sort of restlessness, I suppose, that’s reflected in my work. Although I think of my writing as literary fiction, I often wander into other genres, especially thrillers, science fiction, and satire.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I get bored easily. I wish I had a more noble answer.
Stories are how we make sense of the world. On the surface, it seems like a lot of today’s stories have simple characters or predictable motives, but what happens if you move past them? Once upon a time, a couple hired a live-in nanny to watch their kids and clean their house. Then, one day, that nanny quit and refused to move out. The courts said that they all have the share the same house until the eviction process runs its course. It could be up to a month. So at this very moment, they’e all living together, like some warped sitcom. Central American immigrants are sending their children unaccompanied to the States. Then there’s that soccer player who apparently bites people.
Good stories, to my mind, are entertaining and engaging, but also help shed light on who we are and how we got like this.
4) How does your writing process work?
It varies pretty wildly. I tell my students, “Just like people come into the world in different ways, stories come into the world in different ways.” I mean, some people were born on pool tables or in birthing pools or cabs.
I don’t have a specific writing process, and I’d be hard pressed to say exactly where a story starts in my mind. Sometimes, I see an interesting person on the bus or obsess about a news article. I do think it’s important to feed one’s subconscious, though. I follow the news obsessively, but I rarely write about current events. Everything I read and notice gets churned around in my brain for awhile and something comes out. For example, that live-in nanny seems to have a poor understanding of consequence plus a remarkable level of stubbornness. I mean, it’s gotta be awkward forcing your former employers to live with you. The discomfort must echo through the walls. Figuring out the physics of that actual experience, or how someone gets like that, or putting that character in another situation–that’s the seed of a great story.
Up next is Jeffrey Condran, author of the collection A Fingerprint Repeated (Press 53) and Prague Summer (Counterpoint), and co-publisher of Braddock Avenue Books.
Last but not least, Matthew Salesses has joined the blog tour! Salesses is the author of several books, most recently the novel I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying and the ebook Different Racisms.
I’m thrilled to be hosting this session with my friend Lori Jakiela. Hope you can make it.
1. This song.
Do you like Bon Iver? Same lead singer.
2. I’ve liked Jeff LeMire since Sweet Tooth. Just finished The Underwater Welder. A smartly written, beautifully illustrated graphic novel about, yes, an underwater welder. But it’s also about one’s obligation to family, family secrets, and redemption in a lonely seaside town.
3. Remember Braddock, PA? There are a number of good people working to rebuild the struggling postindustrial town, and Braddock Avenue Books is working hard to publish bold and urgent new voices. I’d recommend stopping by their website, which has interviews and blogs featuring writers such as Ian McEwan, Allison Amend, Christine Schutt, and Caitlin Horrocks.
Photo from Top Shelf Productions.