Even though my conversation with Diana Paxson at SF in SF ran long, I knew that there was a lot more to talk about. Our talk was all too brief. I took it upon myself to book her for my "sister show," Talk of the Bay, and in the interim, read about her life and work. Alas, on the day of the show, Santa Cruz was drenched in rain, and I was worried whether she'd be able to make the journey here, since it involves travelling over Highway "Red Asphalt" 17. (I actually saw this film in one of my many stints in traffic school. Not a happy ending.) The funny thing was that the studio had just been a beehive of activity for pledge break.
They cleared themselves out pretty promptly when I showed up. But that was well and good, because I had Charles Kruger coming in as well to video the discussion. Of course, Diana, a true professional made it in early and after we got a raft of gear set up, Diana and I sat down at KUSP and had one hell of a great conversation.
There's a lot to talk about with this amazing creator. She was there at the beginning of the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism. She fond herself drawn into the Marion Zimmer Bradley family, and spent years "learning to write." It's so interesting to me, as a reader, to hear writers who have many, many books to their name talk about their long struggle to get published. The general press like to talk about overnight success, the writer who has one story published that gets optioned for a screenplay before the novel is even completed. That swift rise suits our impatient fantasies.
But I don't think I've ever talked to one of those writers. The people I talk to tend to have a story similar to Diana's, one that involves ten years learning to write to the point where the rejection letters are no longer discouraging. Of course, those long years tend to lead to long careers. The input tends to equal the output.
E. L. Doctorow : All the Time in the World, Kevin Brockmeir : The Illumination, Tea Obreht : The Tiger's Wife, Leslie Daniels : Cleaning Nabokov's House
All you have to do to combat the blues you might feel as a result of any report of falling book sales is to look at the current crop of really fine books out; and Alan Cheuse is the man who will find those books for NPR. This week was particularly fruitful, so we went a bit beyond our usual limit, and discussed four books.
E. L. Doctorow's 'All the Time in the World' is a collection of short stories from one of America's best authors, and it is wonderful. It's also full of some rather unexpected turns, as Doctorow is more prone to experimentation than readers might suspect. You really cannot go wrong with this writer, and this collection of short stories is a great reading experience.
I've been reading Kevin Brockmeier for a while now, but 'The Illumination' was Alan's first experience. Not surprisingly, he enjoyed it immensely. I really liked the Twilight Zone vibe that Brockmeier manages to achieve. He manages to write fiction with genre elements that never feels like genre fiction.
When I interviewed T. C. Boyle last week, as we were leaving one of the Bookshop Santa Cruz staff asked him what he was reading, what new books he would recommend. He pointed to a huge poster for 'The Tiger's Wife' by Tea Obreht and said "Her! She was a student of mine." I suppose I should not be surprised. Alan liked this book enough to read a passage.
And we also added, at my request, 'Cleaning Nabokov's House' by Leslie Daniels, which I really enjoyed as a sort of small town tall tale. Daniels doesn't really work with elements of the fantastic, but she does have this sort of exaggerated but believable voice; almost like a smart town gossip.
03-15-11:Gail Carriger Interviewed at SF in SF on March 3, 2011
"I do things like character design boards..."
Gail Carriger does indeed look quite a bit like one of her characters. This means she'd be equally at home in a supernaturally-overrun 19th century England or 21st century San Francisco that can only hope to be overrun by the supernatural. As much as I'd like to visit the former, this time around, at least, I spoke with Gail at the packed-to-the-rafters first incarnation of SF in SF for March of 2011. When I type that date, I sort of expect spacesuit, not steampunk.
Carriger is a refreshingly fun writer who goes for the smart laughs in her novels that detail the travails of The Parasol Protectorate.' This is a very interesting world, one in which the creatures of supernatural myth meet the science of the day. She combines the intellectual rigor of science fiction with the imaginative swagger of the supernatural horror, but leaves the hand-waving magic at home. Her creatures are rationally explained, by the wonky science of their time.
T. C. Boyle is a wily guy. He's a smart, superb writer and a quick-witted conversationalist. He an assiduous researcher and an improvisational artist. Setting up the interview with him was an exercise in farce itself, much like something from one of his novels. First I wanted to speak to him at KUSP, until I realized that I was competing with Pledge Drive. Then I moved the location to Bookshop Santa Cruz, 5 PM. Then I had to move the interview back a couple of hours. The final result had nothing in common with the original plan.
Once we got ourselves situated in front of the microphones, however, it was as if we were resuming a conversation we had just left off a few minutes before. And in a sense, that was true, because reading Boyle's work — and this novel in particular — is very much like a conversation with the writer himself. Even as he is telling a compelling story, whether on the page or upstairs at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Boyle is adept at bringing you in to the discussion.
I admit that I was rather struck by how harsh Boyle was with boats in this novel, which really take a literal pounding. Of course, when you bring up that, or pretty much any subject, you're going to get an unexpected answer. Boyle is a writer who wants to let his readers interpret his work. But he's as much fun to talk and listen to as he is to read. It's great fun to talk around his novels without cutting them open and leaving them lying dead on the autopsy table. You can hear the verbal pirouettes by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
New to the Agony Column
09-05-15: Commentary : Susan Casey Listens to 'Voices in the Ocean' : Science, Empathy and Self
08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]
Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]