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Best Books 2016

So in 2016 I read a couple hundred books (not including books I didn’t finish, books I reread, literary journals, newspapers, articles, magazines, etc). As usual, it was not nearly enough. Now, I’ve narrowed it down to the twenty books that most made me go “WHOA.” As usual, these were books read in 2016 (so not necessarily only ones published in 2016) and as usual the order is meaningless.

Some things I noted about my overall reading: 52% were written by men and 48% by women. And 39% were authors from the US, while the other 61% were authors from outside the US. I don’t usually break my reading down into statistics, but I thought it would be interesting to see these two in particular.

In a few places, I’ve reviewed or written about the book elsewhere and I’ve included those links.

 

  • The Ballad of Black Tom by: Victor LaValle. I love LaValle. His writing is beautiful and his pacing is stunning. This novella is no different. I reviewed it at Nerds of a Feather and I wrote a column on it at Ploughshares.
  • The Regional Office is Under Attack! by: Manuel Gonzalez. Fun and dizzingly pced and also achingly smart and well written. I reviewed it here!

3-4.) System of Ghosts by: Lindsay Tigue and Blood Song by: Michael Schmeltzer. These were the two best poetry collections I read last year. Each is exquisitely written and the language feels so precise and yet so natural. I wrote about both of these poets at Ploughshares: here and here!

  • Happiness, Like Water by: Chinelo Okperanta. Whoa. That’s what I said after reading the first story in this collection. Okperanta’s writing is so tender and so lyrical.
  • What is Not Yours is Not Yours by: Helen Oyeyemi. Oyeyemi makes me seethe with jealousy, she’s so damn good. These strange stories are wondrous and gorgeous and filled with sharp edges. I reviewed it here!
  • The Underground Railroad by: Colson Whitehead. If you’ve been a reader of this blog, you might know that Whitehead is my favorite author and that I’ve read his other novels over and over and over. This one is just as beautiful and powerful and heartbreaking as the rest. YES AND IT WON THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD AS WAS JUST AND GOOD AND NOW I CAN FINALLY BE QUIET ABOUT HIM NEEDING TO WIN. I reviewed it here!
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by: Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s essays are as generous as one would imagine they might be and his storytelling makes everything he’s passionate about practically leap off the page. I reviewed it here.
    • Damned if I Do by: Percival Everett and Big Picture by: Percival Everett. One of my goals this year was to read every Everett that I hadn’t yet read. I did and I was not disappointed. WHY IS HE SO FRAKKING GOOD?
  • Where We Go When All We Were is Gone by: Sequoia Nagamatsu. I loved these stories. Each one is a gem. Lovely writing and dazzlingly strange plots.
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by: Anthony Marra. Another “whoa” after each section. It’s also an interlinked story collection, so come on, it basically showed up at my door with chocolate and a coffee.
  • The Hidden Keys by: Andre Alexis. How do I love Alexis? Let me count the ways: HE IS PERFECT AND I DON’T NEED TO COUNT THE WAYS. This novel is funny, and weird, and wonderfully written, and there were some passages that were so good I thought I might have forgotten how to breathe while reading them. I reviewed it here.
  • Under the Harrow by: Flynn Berry. Smart and well written and talking about women and violence in ways both intelligent and emotionally true.
  • The Calling by: Inger Ash Wolfe. I can’t resist a good mystery. This was a really, really good mystery with sharp, evocative writing, an excellent protagonist, and, FYI, it was made into an actually well done movie (with Topher Grace in it!).
  • The Private Lives of Trees by: Alejandro Zambra. I’ll basically read anything Zambra writes. His writing makes me feel like I’m in a fugue state after I’m done with it. He’s basically just doing magic and putting it on the page somehow.
  • Known and Strange Things by: Teju Cole. What I love about Cole’s writing is that it always surprises me. He thinks about things in a way that makes me rethink them as well. Particularly, I loved his essays on photography.
  • Why Did You Lie? by: Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Even when it’s not top-line Yrsa, she still manages to write a mystery that keeps one so engrossed that “oh look, its one am, and the books done and didn’t I just started reading at ten??”
  • Scholarship in the Digital Age by: Christine L. Borgman. This book is on here for two reasons: one it made me think about scholarship and the collecting of knowledge in new ways (which on its own is a pretty cool thing) and two I think it solved a problem for a novel I’ve been trying to write for over ten years. So I’m now like indebted to this book forever.
  • End of Watch by: Stephen King. I debated including this one. It was solid but it took this series in a direction that I thought was unnecessary. But, ultimately, I think it did right by its protagonists to complete the trilogy and they were damn fine characters.

 

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Best Books of 2015

Well, hello, Dear Readers,

It is time now for my list of my favorite books that I read in 2015. I read a good amount of books (*by good, I may mean an extremely large number of books). Some were published in 2015 and some were not. The only books I deemed ineligible were ones which I reread in 2015 but had read for the first time in a previous year. I also decided to only select one book per author in cases where I read multiple books by the same author over the course of the year.

The numerical order is (as always) irrelevant. I just really enjoy putting numbers in front of things.

1.) Lock In by: John Scalzi. This book not only does something brilliant with narrative voice and a reader’s perceptions, but also is a clever and fun mystery that also has an extremely brilliant sci-fi premise.

2.) Trigger Warning by: Neil Gaiman. This isn’t my favorite overall Gaiman story collection, but there are some stunning gems in here and, honestly, even just “good” Gaiman is still pretty awesome.

3.) Voices in the Night by: Steven Millhauser. Now, yes, I love Millhauser. I love Millhauser times one million. But, I REALLY loved this collection. Millhauser might be getting even better as a writer, which is somewhat mind blowing that that is even possible.

4.) Ways of Going Home by: Alejandro Zambra. This is a slim book. Yet, it seems like it was overflowing with pages (in a good way). Nine months after reading it, I’m still thinking about how beautiful this book was.

5.) Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of the Afterlife by: Deborah Blum. Yes, this subject matter is to me what catnip is to a cat. However, Blum’s writing makes this also an excellent and compelling read for anyone.

6.)  The Skeleton Road by: Val McDermid. I’d never read McDermid before and went in expecting a good, but maybe light mystery. What I got was an extremely well-written novel about the weight of guilt and the lasting effects of violence.

7.) Ghosts: A Natural History by: Roger Clarke. Enjoyable and expansive. Just what I was looking for.

8.) Unbecoming by: Rebecca Scherm. I have some qualms with the end of this novel, but up to that point this was a brilliant and unsettling character study.

9.) Baba Yaga by: Toby Barlow. This book is perfect. I need say no more.

10.) Finders Keepers and Bazaar of Bad Dreams by: Stephen King. Neither of these Kings were perfect, or even top-King, but each had some parts that were top-King and, dammit, I love Stephen King. So, I’m including both, because together the excellent parts added up to some quality reading.

11.) There’s Something I Want You to Do by: Charles Baxter. Man. Man. This writing was exquisite. One of my favorite collections I’ve read in a long time.

12.) Wallflowers by: Eliza Robertson. If you haven’t read a story by Robertson, I suggest you do so RIGHT NOW. If she’s not on best young writers lists soon, soon, soon, then I will be appalled.

13.) Three Moments of an Explosion by: China Mieville. Let me count the ways I love Mieville. Or, maybe, I shouldn’t because there are thousands. He is all that is perfect.

14.) Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by: Marina Warner. It is short, but it’s also dense. And, as always with Warner, the writing and scholarship are excellent.

15.) Windows on the World: 50 Writers, 50 Views by: Matteo Pericoli. Just lovely little snapshots into writers.

16.) Wonders of the Invisible World by: Christopher Barzak. Barzak just keeps on impressing me. His writing is lovely and filled with heart in  a way that many writers can’t accomplish without feeling treacly.

17.) Slade House by: David Mitchell. I’ve had Mitchell issues before. But I loved this one: creepy, evocative, and a read in one sitting book.

18.) Fifteen Dogs by: Andre Alexis. Alexis writes so beautifully that I often feel intensely jealous. And then I just feel happy that I get to read his work. Warning: I’m not someone who cries during reading (except for rare moments. JK Rowling, YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID), but I had to put this book down several times because I was actually shaking from how heartbreaking some of it is.

19.) Half an Inch of Water by: Percival Everett. Everett’s writing always shines and in these short stories that shine comes through even more. Lovely.

20.) The Buried Giant by: Kazuo Ishiguro. I debated including this title. It was wonderfully written (which shouldn’t be a surprise with Ishiguro at the helm) but it was by no means my favorite of his works. It’s flawed, in many ways, and yet, months later I continue to go back to some of the ideas and images.

 

And here’s to a hopefully equally brilliant 2016 in books!

 

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A Winter Reading List

I recently put together the list of books I plan to read over winter break. As always, it is a long list. I have three weeks or so and so it seems doable, though.

If you’ve read any of these and want to say: “Oh, yes, make sure to read that one!”  or “Oh, no, do NOT read that one!” let me know. or, most importantly, if there are any titles I must add to the list immediately!

(I also am planning to reread Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil. One of my favorite novels of all time!)

Welcome to Braggsville by: T. Geronimo Johnson

The Shapeshifters by: Stefan Spjut

The Library at Mount Char by: Scott Hawkins

The Poser by: Jacob Rubin

Songs of a Dead Dreamer by: Thomas Ligotti

Undermajordomo Minor by: Patrick DeWitt

The Blondes by: Emily Schultz

A Head Full of Ghosts by: Paul Tremblay

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by: Stephen King

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by: Claire North

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by: Stacy Schiff

The Undesired by: Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Pudding: A Global History by: Jeri Quinzio

And, of course, as always, I’m sure I’ll end up rereading a few other beloveds and/or find some other titles that I’d forgotten on this list!

Happy winter reading!

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M. Brett Gaffney: The Interview

Dear Readers, Pints is very lucky in that I have been able to meet and become friends with some amazing artists (especially writers, because, well, I go towards what I love, what can I say?). And, so I like to share the bounty of my good luck with you dear Readers and introduce you to some of these incredibly talented people and so I bring you another EBCP interview!

M. Brett Gaffney writes in a way that hovers between the beautiful and strange, the haunting and real. Her characters are often at the edges of things or states of being. As a writer, Gaffney brings empathy to all that she portrays. I’m lucky to have an interview with her for this latest installment of EBCP (Extremely Brilliant Creative People)!

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1.) When did you begin writing? And why?

I started writing sometime in middle school. My first love was drawing and it wasn’t until I started drawing Pokémon that I wanted to make stories for them. So really, my first explorations were in fan-fiction (a practice I still advocate to writers today). This led to poetry when I tried to understand my victimization from bullying and subsequent depression through writing. Pretty dark soul broken heart type stuff, but it opened doors so a belated thanks to Pokémon and bullies.

2.) Describe how you approach an idea for something to write.

I either get an image in my head (out of the ether or influenced by art), in which case I chase the imagery of it before the story. Or, I have a concept, an idea, or story first. Like my poem, “Zombie Girl,” started out as an idea, a want to write about body image and eating disorders through the lens of a zombie. Lately I’ve been very driven by music. I tackled a poem the other day about my time as a haunted house actor, but it mostly came about because I was listening to some fierce female vocals from rock band In This Moment.

3.) One of the things I’ve been very drawn to in your writing is that you have a great grasp of the line that can be toed between the eerie and beautiful. What draws you to this? And, how do you accomplish this tone?

First, thank you! That’s exactly what I strive for in my poetry. I write along that line because it’s honestly how I see the world. Most of my favorite artists’ work (music, film, writing, sculpture, etc.) is fairly disturbing in content but that’s what makes it beautiful. I’m bored by fields of flowers, but add a dark figure lurking by the tree in that field and then you have something that holds me there. The hidden menace. Underlying fear. And I believe fear is so inherently tied to love as emotions go, so really the eerie and beautiful combo makes sense. The ghost is both terrifying and beautiful because we fear death, and we fear death, because we love life (I had a sort of epiphany about this while re-watching Poltergeist at an airport in New Orleans).

Also I just find a lot of gross stuff interesting. And I want my readers to like it too. If they do, win, if they don’t, still win, because I probably freaked them out and then hopefully they’ll ask themselves why. I think I accomplish this tone largely through word choice, mixing up an ugly image with a lovely simile so that it’s this whole new thing.

4.) You’ve worked on a series of poems about Waverly Hills Sanitarium. What at first made you go towards this subject? Can you tell me about the writing process of these poems?

I first learned about Waverly Hills on a double feature Sy-Fy channel program, Ghost Hunters and Spooked, the Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanatorium. I love these paranormal shows but that night something about the history of Waverly really pulled me in. Initially terrified me. Tales of a tunnel used to cart dead bodies to waiting hearses, painful treatments to cure tuberculosis, which at that time was still a mysterious disease, and of course the idea that spirits may still haunt the old hospital. Though the history is tragic, it’s not simple, and that more than anything is what made me start writing. In Kentucky, Waverly was a beacon of hope for so many TB sufferers and when the doors closed in 1961, many patients were reluctant to leave, as they had spent much of their life here, formed a family with other patients and staff (who mostly lived on the grounds). Programs like Spooked painted Waverly as a hopeless and terrifying place, and while I do believe it was for many (the body count well into the thousands), I also know that the stories of the people there are more rich and complicated than a cheap horror tale. And I want to give them a voice.

Writing the poems has been and continues to be a challenge. There are so many aspects of Waverly that I want to address and yet I don’t want to just regurgitate history. I’ve relied heavily on C.C. Thomas’ book With Their Last Dying Breath as a guide to the actual events of the Sanatorium, and from there fill in the blanks with images and memories. My grandmother suffered illness for many years and so I pull from those experiences as well to try and understand what it must have been like, not only to be a patient at Waverly, but to visit loved ones there, tend as a nurse, etc. Half of the poems are rooted in history while the other half involve the ghosts (literal and metaphorical) and hauntings of the building. I’ve been to three different tours on location and I intend to visit Louisville many more times while writing these poems. It’s a project I’m still working on and I would very much like to turn it into a full-length collection.

5.) Could you describe what you consider your overall style?

Still trying to figure this one out. But I try to write what I know I like to read. Narrative. Imagistic. Weird.

6.) I know that you’re a fellow horror fan. In what ways has horror influenced your writing style (if it has)? What are some of your favorite works of horror?

I used to be terrified of horror. I remember Michael Jackson’s music video Thriller gave me nightmares for weeks. My grandmother had books on unexplained mysteries (in the bathroom of all places) and reading about phenomena like the Bermuda triangle really freaked me out. And yet I kept going back to these things, even though they scared me, because they were also fascinating. Until I watched Poltergeist in seventh grade (at a Catholic school Halloween party mind you). That movie scarred me for years. I avoided everything horror until late in high school when I picked up the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Then I was back in the game, and asking myself why Carol Anne and her abduction frightened me so much. In college I started binging all the horror movies I’d missed out on growing up. And now I’m pretty much obsessed.

Horror (film and literature) has taught me a great deal about how to use fear to get at the heart of certain subjects, how to use monsters as metaphor, among many other invaluable lessons. When I watch horror movies with friends that are not fans of the genre, I like to ask them why they react the way they do. Why does this or that scene gross you out? What about the monster made you leave your light on that night? I think fear is one of our most powerful emotions and goes a long way to characterize each of us.

Some (emphasis on ‘some’) of my favorite horror authors are: Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Emily Carroll, Anne Rice, Rick Yancey, Toby Barlow, Charlaine Harris, Joe R. Lansdale, and Henry James (because Turn of the Screw still gives me chills).

Some (again with the emphasis) of my favorite horror films are: Poltergeist, The Shining, REC, Grave Encounters, Cabin in the Woods, Shaun of the Dead, Let the Right One In, Evil Dead franchise, Absentia, The Exorcist, The Exorcist III, High Tension, Rosemary’s Baby, Hellraiser franchise, Yellowbrickroad, The Devil’s Backbone, The Innocents (again, damn you Henry James), The Haunting in Connecticut, Shutter (2004), The Wicker Man (1973), Paranormal Activity franchise, The Descent, Last House on the Left (1972 version which I can’t watch again), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Phantasm franchise, It Follows, The Blair Witch Project, American Horror Story (Season 1), The People Under the Stairs, Black Swan, Exorcism of Emily Rose, Them (Ils), Martyrs, and I suppose I have to stop somewhere.

7.) What is one thing you think every writer should know?

Write what YOU want to write. Be open to criticism and growth, but don’t change for others. The publishing market will always evolve, popular styles and subjects will come and go, but you are the only you. Write you.

8.) Writer or writers you’d most like to meet

Patricia Smith, Mark Doty, Stewart O’Nan, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Toby Barlow, Suzanne Collins, Kouta Hirano, and so many more.

9.) Thing you are most proud of in your writing?

I love freaking people out. Recently I read some poems at a literary reading and out of all the people I talked to afterwards, a writer friend told me she would have a hard time sleeping that night because my stuff bothered her (in a good way I think). I’m pretty proud when my work frightens people because that means I’ve hit a nerve somewhere, made a connection.

Also, another friend told me she would write fan-fiction about my characters. That might be the most flattering comment I’ve ever received.

10.) You also act as an editor at Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. What do you most love about doing that kind of work? In what ways does editing, shape your own writing?

Being a part of Gingerbread House has been, and continues to be, the most rewarding experience. Somewhere around the third issue or so, I also fell into the role of Art Director as well as Editor, soliciting artists for work to match up with our poems and short stories. I love finding the right image for our publications, and it’s such a great feeling when it all fits.

I love seeing it come together the week before the release of a new issue. Our staff is made up of some truly remarkable and talented people, and we’re all very proud of our publication, our contributors, writers and artists both.

Reading through submissions, proofing the issues, I’m continually reminded of why I myself write, why I submit to journals. As an editor, I’m so excited to show others what we publish, for them to share in what we think is the essence of magic and story. It’s a daily inspiration to work on this magazine.

11.) The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.

Revision.

12.) What is up next in the world of M. Brett Gaffney?

Pizza. My boyfriend (and fellow writer), Dan Paul, just ordered us some Mio’s, so I’m pretty excited about that.

M. Brett Gaffney, born in Houston, Texas, holds a BA in English from Stephen F. Austin University and an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is an associate editor / art director of Gingerbread House literary magazine, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Stone Highway Review, Slipstream, Wind, Penduline, Cactus Heart, Exit 7, REAL, Still: the Journal, Licking River Review, Permafrost, Scapegoat Review, Zone 3, and Rogue Agent among others.

And don’t forget to check out Gingerbread House Magazine or her poem “Zombie Girl” (links above), check out more of her work such as these great poems ,or to follow her on Twitter @MBrettGaffney

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Best Books of 2014

Well, hello, Dear Readers, (whoa, “dear” is “read” spelled backwards! A coincidence?? I think not!). I just remembered that I haven’t yet put up my best books of 2014 list yet! I read a “some” (*laugh of pure insanity*) books in 2014 and have come up with a list of my 15 favorites. Some were published in 2014 and some were not. The only books I deemed ineligible were ones which I reread in 2014 but had read for the first time in a previous year. I also decided to only select one book per author in cases where I read multiple books by the same author over the course of the year.

The numerical order is (as always) irrelevant. I just really enjoy putting numbers in front of things.

1.) Before and Afterlives by: Christopher Barzak. This collection of short stories didn’t have a single flawed one in the bunch. Each story was beautifully written—Barzak’s use of language always stuns me—and the stories were sometimes funny, often heartbreaking, and always perfect.

2.) The Gamal by: Ciaran Collins. The voice of this novel stayed with me long after I finished reading it. Collins does a brilliant job with a truly memorable character.

3.) Visitation Street by: Ivy Pochoda. Tense and evocative. The neighborhood of this mystery came so fully to life in Pochoda’s writing that the reader truly feels as if they are involved in the story.

4.) All the Light We Cannot See by: Anthony Doerr. I had mixed feelings after reading this book (preferring other Doerr works), but the more I thought about it the more I was impressed with Doerr’s precision of language and the complex webs of the novel.

5.) Bird Box by: Josh Malerman. One of the most original horror concepts I’ve read in years. The fact that Malerman also writes with great skill and makes the reader care deeply about his characters makes this a pretty fantastic debut novel.

6.) Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert by: Michael Krondl. Not only is this books filled with delicious and delightful facts about dessert (which is basically I’d have asked for), but his writing is also compelling and the descriptions are lovely.

7.) Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books by: Wendy Lesser.  I feel like the title says it all. I love books about reading and Lesser writes wonderfully. Enough said.

8.) Siege 13 by: Tamas Dobozy. Each story in this collection feels like it’s been chiseled to its absolute purest, most perfect state. What a stunning group!

9.) Elizabeth is Missing by: Emma Healey. Save for an epilogue that I felt took away slightly from the beauty of the ending, this was a skillfully written book—sorrowful in just the right ways, an elegy for the still living.

10.) Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by: Diana Wynne Jones. Because DWJ forever.

11.) Station Eleven by: Emily St. John Mandel. Mandel is fast becoming a favorite author and this book further pushed me into fangirl mode. Mandel does dazzling things with the apocalypse—making it thoroughly original.

12.) The Cold Song by: Linn Ullmann. Gorgeous prose and a tightly wound story makes this a striking read.

13.) At Night, We Walk in Circles by: Daniel Alarcon. Lovely writing and a strangely layered story.

14.) Pastoral by: Andre Alexis. Alexis tackles faith and the natural world, writing about both with a tender humor and precisely lovely prose.

15.) The Silkworm by: Robert Galbraith and Mr Mercedes by: Stephen King. Yes, a bit of a cheat on my part. Yet, I feel these two connected in my head. In both cases, they are writers not necessarily known for the genre tackling more traditional detective novels. And, in both cases, the results are thoroughly enjoyable.

 

And, already looking ahead to 2015’s list, there are new books coming out this year by some of my absolute favorite authors: Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Kazuo Ishiguro, Andre Alexis, Daniel O’ Malley, and more. EXCITEMENT!

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Tony Quick: The Interview

I promised you, dear readers, more EBCP (my series of interviews with Extremely Brilliant Creative People) and now we’re back with an awesome bang! Tony Quick is an amazing writer who I’ve been lucky enough to work with, read the work of, and talk to about writing. His writing excites me because it feels like he’s doing something new and never standing still—I’ve yet to read a piece by him that feels the same. Also, and more importantly, he manages to create worlds that feel both excitingly new as well as completely lived in.

I think his answers to these questions help to reveal just why exactly he is such a gifted writer. And I hope you, Dear Readers, will check out the links to his work and website which can be found below the interview so that you, too, can become quick fans of Quick (I apologize, but there was no way I wasn’t saying it).

Tony Quick

  1. When did you begin writing and why?

I started writing when I was six or seven years old. I’d take sheets of paper, fold and staple them to make little booklets, then write stories heavily inspired by the Arthur and Magic School Bus series. I’ve never wanted to be anything but a writer and thankfully, as I’ve grown older my writing has matured with me.

Now why exactly I started writing is a harder question to answer. I was just as awkward as a child as I am as an adult so I suppose writing was a release valve on my imagination and a way to use up the mental space most people set aside for social cues and remembering people’s names.

  1. Describe how you approach an idea for something to write.

Often, I’ll get a visual in my head that won’t leave me alone—a character, a setting, a situation playing out—and let that churn in my mind. That means daydreaming, spinning out scenarios, and letting the idea grow until I have something to harvest. From there, it’s a matter of sketching and outlining (I’m a firm believer of plotting on paper before writing the actual prose. Even if I veer off script, having a road map saves me a lot of time that would otherwise be spent wandering in the boondocks).

Music also plays a role in transitioning from idea to narrative. When I find a soundtrack that suits a story, it acts as an emotional primer that sets me in the scene and I can use it to return to a similar state of mind to the one I possessed during my daydreams or planning process.

  1. You’re currently working on a novel. What has that experience been like? Can you tell us a little about the book?

I’ve been working on a novel titled Scarecrow and Locust about three young people—Hugo, Phoebe, and Demetre—who live in a famine-ravished world after a plague decimates the planet’s crops. Desperate to survive, the three decide to assemble a team and pull heists against Scarecrow, the private military corporation that traffics what little food there is through Baltimore’s ports. As you might imagine, the situation quickly gets out of hand. Their group gets caught up in a war between the Scarecrows and the Ravens criminal gang in a struggle for Baltimore’s future.

Writing a novel is an arduous, backbreaking ordeal. Scarecrow and Locust began as a terrible short story that Rick Bass politely described as “Confederacy of Dunces-esque.” Not quite what I was going for. Renovating that original botched story into a serious first draft, then rewriting that from scratch took persistence, faith, and sixteen months of my life. That’s what writing a novel takes: tenacity, trust, and time.

Support also helps. I’m fortunate enough to have fantastic first readers such as yourself and Stefanie Brook Trout (a remarkable writer who I’m convinced will become a future favorite to scores of readers when she makes her debut). Having two talented writers tell me I’m not crazy for playing Ahab with this particular whale has been instrumental in keeping me afloat.

  1. You also write poetry. Did you come to one genre before the other? What sort of differences do you find between your writing process for these two forms? Do you prefer one over the other?

When I first came to study at Iowa State University, I kept a yellow post-it note over my desk that read “Fiction First” because I wanted to remember that my commitment to story came above all else. But poetry has always been lurking in my background. I had the opportunity to study with poets Karen Anderson and Jeff Coleman as an undergraduate at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and during my brief stint at Iowa State, I took a poetry workshop that grew my appreciation for the form.

Studying with Debra Marquart, I realized how useful examining the minutiae of language and the constraints of writing poems on such a small canvas helped my prose. I also realized how much I enjoy engaging in wordplay and manipulating structure in ways that wouldn’t quite fly with straightforward prose. And they can cross feed one another. All my poems have a narrative weaved into them and my short story “The Dictator’s Daughter” was first written as a sci-fi poem.

I’d highly recommend anyone that’s interested in strengthening their prose seriously consider studying and writing poetry. Trust me.

  1. Could you describe what you consider your overall style?

Honestly, I’m not sure yet myself. I’m early enough in my writing career that I’m still experimenting with different approaches and molding my style. The problem with evaluating one’s own writing is that you’re likely to project what you hope your style is rather than what it actually is. (You’ve read more of my writing than most. I’m curious to hear your description of my style.)

  1. We’ve had a few conversations about “Genre” vs. “Literature.” Can you talk about your feelings on that debate?

There are some writers and editors who prefer to segregate between capital “L” literature and small “g” genre. And there are some on the other side of the fence who love their genre fiction but won’t read any works that lack speculative elements. But I think it’s important to remember these prejudices, like most, are constructions without any real bearing. Many literary classics—Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Hamlet—have speculative elements. This need to divide and subdivide seems to speak more about those who take part than the content of the work itself.  The quality of writing is what matters in the end, regardless of whether the protagonist is a 19th century ghost in Louisiana, a middle aged academic battling alcoholism and age, or a 22nd century detective locked in orbit.

  1. What is one thing you think every writer should know?

Persistence. Persistence. Persistence. Returning to the keyboard day after day, soldiering forward when the words aren’t flowing, and then honestly assessing what can be used in the next iteration and what must go requires tenacity. Especially when it comes to novels. Short stories are flings—fun, exciting, and meant to come to an end after a few weeks or months. Novels are relationships, commitments that last for years. That means work, adaptability, and compromise.

Don’t quit. Soldier on. To me, the difference between a capital “W” writer and someone who just likes to write is the willingness to continue putting down words even when it doesn’t seem fun, even when rejection letters are piling up. There’s this line in John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire that I always come back to. “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.”

Stay obsessed.

  1. Things you’d most like people to get out of your writing.

Entertainment, above all else. I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember and my favorite books are those that I have to put down while I’m reading them to say “Holy shit!” and digest the latest development before continuing on. I feel like a shill for Big Library saying this but reading should be fun! And I don’t necessarily believe that entertainment comes at the expense of character development, theme, or any other element of craft.

Prose writers are competing with the golden age of television, so-so cinema, and the omnipresent world wide web. Rather than complain about potential readers opting into these diversions, we need to make sure we’re creating content worthy of competition with these entertainment juggernauts. In a non-stop world we’re asking people to set aside time to read our words and it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re giving them a good time in exchange. When someone reads a Tony Quick story, I want them to take their next steps barefoot because I’ve knocked their proverbial socks off.

9. In some of the writing of yours that I’ve read, there has been some dealings with ecology and environmental issues. When/how did this become a part of your work?

Ecological issues began to feature in my writing after I began to study at Iowa State University. The MFA program has an environmental focus and though I decided to leave the program, I was still interested in writing about some of the potential challenges that come when man clashes (or cooperates) with the nature.

That said, I’m not interested in using my fiction as a soap box or political treatise. The pandemic in Scarecrow and Locust, for example, is the result of a mutating version of modern day wheat stem rust. As a fiction writer, I’m less interested in writing about how mono-cropping and the lack of diversity in agriculture makes us more susceptible to this particular brand of ecological devastation than speculating on how characters might react and adapt in the midst of that disaster. I trust my readers to negotiate their own interpretations.

10. Writer or writers you’d most like to meet.

John Irving

Stephen King

Lauren Beukes

Karen Russell

Jonathan Lethem

William Gibson

11. Things you are most proud of in your writing?

“When your characters are stuck in a tree, start throwing rocks.”

I don’t know which writer is responsible for that line but it’s advice I try to follow as best I can. The problem is that my characters become more tangible and dear to me the longer I’m with them and scuffing them up mentally and physically as the story progresses wrenches my heart.

Hard as that can be, there is something gratifying in sculpting characters that feel—to me at least—like real people that I worry for and fret over even as I’m putting them in harm’s way. Kind of a bizarre thing to be most proud of, huh?

12. Questions you wished I would have asked?

I’m actually impressed by how thorough you’ve been so this is a hard question. Maybe a question about what I’m reading right now. I’m cycling between Plot & Structure, a craft book by James Scott Bell and Women Destroy Science Fiction, a gargantuan 400 page special issue of Lightspeed Magazine featuring female authors. I’d particularly recommend “A Burglary, Addressed By A Young lady” by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall and “A Guide to Grief” by Emily Fox.

13. The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.

Can I answer in haiku form?

The hardest part of

Writing words on the keyboard

Is the lack of ducks.

14. What is up next in the world of Tony Quick?

I’m planning on writing some new short stories and editing this second draft of Scarecrow and Locust. I’m beginning to research literary agents for later down the road when I’m ready to send out queries. I’ve also marked out a couple of days for crossing my fingers and picking four leaf clovers because, you know, better to be lucky than good.

Check out some of Tony’s writing here: “The Dictator’s Daughter” (in Devilfish Review)

To find out more about Tony, visit his website here

Tony Quick is an African American fiction writer and poet, born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in nearby Prince George’s County. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and has held various positions, from undergraduate English instructor, to accounting assistant, to fiction editor for Iowa State University’s literary magazine, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. His fiction has appeared in the quarterly speculative online magazine, Devilfish Review and his poetry is featured in Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland.

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Every Other Word Should Be Thank You

As the stress of filling out MFA applications continues to mount and mount and mount, I thought that one way to get my mind into a happier, more peaceful plane of existence would be to go over some wonderful things.
The first few are REDzine related:
We are almost ready to send our second (Winter) issue to the printers. It is chock-full (has anyone else ever wondered where that saying comes from…What is a chock/ why is it full?) of awesome with interviews with Nathan Englander, Patrick Rothfuss, Kelly Cherry, and Valerie Laken. Plus interviews and writing by our two “Fresh faces”: the amazing David Steinmetz and the wonderful Christopher Grubb. There is also tons of great art, poetry, and a positive slew of lovely prose.
The REDzine release party is also getting finessed into the final details: we have booked several excellent local bands Hewn http://www.reverbnation.com/hewn, Newport Jam http://www.reverbnation.com/newportjam , and Marc LaMere http://www.myspace.com/marclamere .The first hour of the release party will be comprised of readings by such amazing writers as: Adam Loferski, Marie Bacigalupo, Noah Whitford, Cynthia J. Long, and David Steinmetz. So, really everyone should set your calendars for December tenth, from 7-midnight, because this will be epic (is that word over used yet? I think it’s probably over-used, but I can totally get away with it because I am epically awesome!).
Yet, REDzine isn’t the only thing that has me happy. So here is a wee list of the things which keep me sane in the face of MFA applications and their horrifying, stress inducing, mind bogglingly ahhhhhness.
1.) Having a nice weekend with my family which involved, among other things: pierogis stuffed with mushrooms and cheese, pumpkin pie, cauliflower in rofumo sauce, pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting, and lovely (delicately flavored with orange zest and aniset) La Befana cookies, and seeing The Great Yokai War ( a children’s film directed by Takashi Miike—strange and awesome).
2.) Three weeks of classes left and then an entire month in which I will have time to make cakes from my world of cakes book, write, catch up on my reading (new Stephen King, Justin Taylor’s first novel, new collection of Jonathan Lethem essays, new Haruki Murakami, etc, etc).
3.) The Muppets movie is now out. I will be seeing it in the very not too distant future.
4.) A recent visit from two of my beloveds, one of whom I haven’t seen in forever (quite literally, or at least 8 years, whatever)!
5.) Limoncello, a gift from my favorite fellow pint thief, from the wonderful distillery 45th Parallel.
6.) My plan to reread my favorite ghost stories over winter break: MR James and Alvin Schwartz, we have some reminiscing to do! Plus, following this up with some good old magician rereading: Jean-Robert Houdin’s autobiography, Hiding the Elephant, maybe some Ricky Jay. This is happening. And, perhaps, a visit to the Houdini museum!!!
7.) Writing ghost stories and horror stories and using those as my MFA writing sample. Thus, being myself.
8.) Holiday deliciousness being out: egg nog, mint M&Ms, yum yum yum.
9.) Having a great creative writing advisor who still puts up with me though I am no longer his student. The man is a god.
10.) Knowing that there are people in this world who I can always count on, who will eat pie with me, be awesome, and who I can always trust and that just by seeing/ talking with I feel a thousand times less stressed/ less terrified/ less wanting to race away to my future cave home. You know who you are and I love you all!

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