Lily King’s most recent novel, Euphoria, is inspired by the life of Margaret Mead. The novel made many of the top book lists of 2014, including the New York Times Book Review, 10 Best Books of 2014, and NPR, Best Books of 2014. I interviewed Ms. King and her editor, Elisabeth Schmitz. They spoke about the writer and editor relationship, a childhood friendship, and the spark of inspiration.
Humanity’s end is nigh, and poet Ben Fama is here to chronicle the final battle between morality and capitalism in his latest poetry collection, Fantasy.
I first met Ben at a book party over at The New School. His wit and deadpan humor were so charming, I thought he was April Ludgate’s long lost twin brother (yes, that would make me his Leslie Knope). An established poet, he is the author of many poetry collections and chapbooks, including Mall Witch and Cool Memories.
Sharma Shields’ debut novel, The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, is about a family pulled into one man’s hunt for the elusive sasquatch. The book is populated with myths and yet it feels strikingly real. Shields’ editor, Caroline Zancan, said that, when she first received the manuscript, “I was partly reading with childlike wonder, using parts of my imagination I hadn’t used since I was a kid, but at the same time, there were forces at work that were terrifying to me even as an adult.” I spoke with Sharma and Caroline about myths, the editorial process, and unsung heroes in the publishing world.
Bill Roorbach is a lot of things: novelist, essayist, father, screenwriter, and naturalist. Most of all, he is someone who finds, writes, imagines, and tells good stories. His most recent novel, The Remedy for Love, is a love story set during an apocalyptic snowstorm. He also wrote Life Among Giants, which is in development as an HBO series; Temple Stream, winner of the Maine prize for nonfiction; and many others. I spoke with him about his blog, writing for television, and advice for new writers.
“Maybe, pilgrim,” begins the first poem in Jynne Dilling Martin’s marvelous debut collection of poems, We Mammals in Hospitable Times, “if I permit you to sleep on my floor tonight, tomorrow / every house on this block will burn to the ground except mine.”
In no more than two lines has Martin offered us shelter in her midst, only to show us come morning the neighborhood is gone. And that sets the tone and the stage for a trek of epic consequences, through Martin’s kaleidoscopic lens to scan this already fallen world, clutching “armfuls of leaves…a rare glass paperweight collection, a cat who, like you, will never die.”
The earth is screwed, scientists agree, but spin its perils into pulsing, painstaking poems like these, and you realize we—we mammals, down to the last flaring of the last polar bear’s nostril—pilgrim, we’re already over. Except Martin, who would be as if Laika, the Soviet space dog, watched overhead as all gave way to the rising tides.
Despite line after line stringing together one unforgettable image after another—“we wipe reindeer hair from our eyes, / the glaciated passages too dazzling to see quite clearly”—Martin, who has served as an Antarctica writer-in-residence, can’t just let this cosmic neighborhood smolder without answering to the sorcery with which she has begun to rebuild it in her dazzling poems. So I sat her down for a talking to.
TH: If we count the bologna that “swells into a shiny pink hill” as swine product, and if we permit the “frogman with a harpoon…eeling in the murk,” every poem in your book contains an animal. (I catalogued them: mole rats and bumblebee bats, maggots and albino locust, wolverine and arctic fox, to name a few.) Which isn’t simply incidental or adorable or to make of them figurines. Animals are central to your lyrical concern. What exactly or generally do creatures large and small bring to the worlds of your poems?
JDM: Animals are my central everything, Tom! Is it that they are our unwitting, faultless companions in our headlong rush into planetary destruction? Is it how bafflingly weird this thing we call “life” is—manifesting in a slime mold, a kitten, a narwhal? Yes, yes, and also this: they live in our midst yet we know so little about what colors, emotions, dreams, sounds, companionship, and death look and feel like for them. We all live and die in this same world, maggots and narwhals and humans alike, but their experience of it is so unknowable; and in some ways, for me, that stands in for the mystery and unknowability of other humans, too.
TH: What is your spirit animal? And where is its hand (or claw) in this collection?
JDM: I have an unusually specific spirit animal, which is Knut, the famous Berlin Zoo polar bear. He visited me on a shamanic journey years ago and, absurd as it may sound, the connection I feel with the Knut of my meditation life transcends language. But taking a stab on where he resides in the poems: rejected by his mother at birth, a childhood alone on a rock, then dead at four by drowning in the zoo pool, Knut emanated wildness and beauty and something primordial and unknowable, even while hemmed into a giant man-made diorama, artificially cooled, stared at by millions. Some element—Knut, or the rock, or the staring, or the loneliness, or the unknown, or the pool—has claws in every poem.
TH: Both the merciless hyper-realism in your poems—“the sled dog who breaks through a crevasse pulls all the rest down”—and the cosmic prognostications—“there will be no vegetables with dimpled skin, no onions at all”—transmit a visceral sense throughout this book that Things to Come have already, if we have eyes to see. Much is tied, I imagine, to your experience in and deep fascination with Antarctica. What frightened you most about your residency there?
JDM: Most frightening may be how close I feel to giving up everything to live and work in Antarctica full time. The beauty of such a vast, untouched, shimmering landscape is staggering. No photo captures even a fraction of what it looks or feels like in person. Not even the Himalayas or Sahara, both of which I’ve spent time in, can touch its scale or beauty. It was the most ecstatic and humbling experience of my life. When I got off the prop plane back in Christchurch, I sat at the airport bus stop staring at the cement and concrete, the cars and planes, the landscaped shrubbery, the flowers organized into neat rows, and felt the full, horrific weight of how epically we have fucked up this planet.
TH: You inhabit beautifully—or unsettlingly, as the case may be—the role of the meticulous observer, even an outsider, on a clamorous earth, and yet you weave yourself into lines like “I draw uncounted fugues from pianos but no consolation, / and recall the ogre who mistook hot coals for roasted nuts, / and dream of riding atop my sadness like it is a horse.” On which side of God’s one-way mirror are you most likely to be found?
JDM: As my nephews can tell you from our many games of sardines, I am most likely hiding in the shower.
TH: In a parallel life, you’re associate publisher and head of publicity of Riverhead Books, and have helmed promotional campaigns for countless books. So how are you settling into the idea now of being “the author”?
JDM: I turn bright red every time someone talks to me about this book; even all the incredibly thoughtful and warm feedback is overwhelming and makes me feel newly exposed. I already had great empathy for my authors, and how vulnerable it is to put years of your private work and creative life out into the world, but now I am newly amazed that they don’t all hide in a closet and eat cookies for the entire month of publication. That’s certainly my plan for February, anyhow.
We Mammals in Hospitable Times comes out on February 3rd. Martin will be reading and signing copies at BookCourt in Brooklyn at 7pm on Wednesday, February 25th.
Antarctica photo by Cara Sucher.
When I was fifteen years old, my dad bought me “How To Be A Gentleman” at Brooks Brothers. I didn’t appreciate the gift at the time, and snarled when he suggested I trade my JNCO jeans for a pair of wool trousers. Sacrilegious! Read more
Authors and editors offer excellent insight into the publishing world, but sometimes the best wisdom comes from deeper within the machine—the assistants who make this crazy book world go ‘round. Because while it’s the editors who find brilliant authors and help make their books even better, the assistants are often the ones who truly make the book a reality. They work closely with production departments, legal teams, and liaise with dozens of people who are part of a book in some way. Without them, our books may not ever make it to the printer with integrity and grace. I spoke with Penguin Random House editorial assistant Kary Perez, who worked her way through a series of internships and is now keeping the machine running around several bestselling nonfiction books each year. And when Kary is not busy keeping everyone’s books intact, she spearheads office coat drives and keeps her colleagues laughing with .gifs that take the tension out of any stressful day.
What made you want to work in book publishing?
Like most people that end up in this industry, I’ve loved books from a young age. Books offered me an intoxicating form of escapism and adventure. I travelled the world (and beyond), won wars, attended a certain wizarding school, and questioned the meaning of it all from a jail cell, all before I even went off to college. Once I got to college I realized that books were much more than the experiences they granted me; I realized they were also products with an industry dedicated to them, and that I could be a part of the process.
In 2011, Slice published a short story called “Night Dogs” by Sharon Erby. It is a powerful piece that, in just a few pages, will transport you to rural Pennsylvania. So, of course, we were thrilled when we heard that Erby had written Parallel, a collection of linked stories, all set in Timmons Mountain, the same backdrop as “Night Dogs.” I spoke with Erby about her characters, her creative process, and where she writes, and it all comes back to the region she calls home.
The departments involved in publishing are vast and intertwined, weaving editorial, publicity, marketing, production, operation, sales, art, and more. But what about the department that is directly responsible for what the consumer sees, for the information on a publisher’s given website? In this week’s ‘Encounter,’ I chat with Amy Brinker, a consumer engagement coordinator at Penguin Random House. She describes the fascinating personal appeal of her job, and the creativity involved in maintaining the Penguin.com site. Read more
Reading WILD for the first time, I wondered, Why can’t Cheryl Strayed be everyone’s mother? There’s a wisdom – a tough, deeply loving wisdom – in every sentence of Strayed’s book, which of course is an exploration of Strayed’s loss of her own mother. In the film by director Jean-Marc Vallee, Reese Witherspoon plays a bereaved Cheryl setting off on a life-changing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Much like in the book, the film’s protagonist confronts grief and hopelessness (not to mention danger) with a most human mix of gusto and desperation. As Strayed explains in this interview, WILD is about bearing the unbearable, which seems like an impossible task in terms of writing (not to mention surviving). Here I talk to Strayed about WILD’s transition from lived experience, to book, to the film adaptation that succeeds in paying tribute to the agony and brilliance of Strayed’s life-changing story.