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Megan Abbott Interviewed by Sara Gran

Megan Abbott’s much-praised novel THE END OF EVERYTHING (Reagan Arthur Books) which Gillian Flynn calls “a freight train of a mystery…bold, unnerving, poignant, and full of yearning” is in bookstores now. Here, we present an interview between Sara Gran, author of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Dope and Come Closer, and Megan, “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation” (Laura Lippman). 

(Read this post on the Reagan Arthur Books blog here.)

Sara: The End of Everything shares common themes with your previous four novels, yet stands out as a departure—it takes place in the 1980s (your other novels took place before you were born), the narrator is 13 years old (your previous narrators were adult women), and it takes place in the suburbs (as opposed to the urban settings of your other books). How is The End of Everything the same? How is it different?

Megan: I wanted to try something new, to shake things up for myself. To move out of the world of nightclubs, racetracks, movie studios and, most of all, to move out of the past, worlds I never knew. When I first started writing, though, everything felt foreign, puzzling. I didn’t know if I could adapt my style to this new setting and time period. My past books were so influenced by Golden Age Hollywood movies and that heightened style. And I’d done this foolish thing, giving myself a 13-year-old girl as my narrator. But as I wrote, I just had this revelation that, for most 13-year-old girls, life is dramatic and the stakes feel dramatically high. It’s all desire and fear and longing and disillusion. Everything feels big and terrifying and thrilling. And my past books, I see now, are so much about women feeling trapped and seeking a way out, at any cost. And feeling trapped, and wanting out, is very much the state of being 13. Continue reading “Megan Abbott Interviewed by Sara Gran”

A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part II

Two months ago, Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg met in San Francisco for an epic conversation that spanned nearly every topic imaginable…and far more. Mulholland Books has transcribed the dialogue between these two masters of storytelling and will present it to you in two parts.

(Read Part I here.)

LB: Should we take questions from some of these people?

RS: Yeah.  They don’t want to hear about our ancient pulp stuff.  They want to know about the Playboy stories.

Audience Question: When did the two of you first meet?  And what was the nature of that meeting?

LB: It was quite recent.  It was three or four years ago…

RS: He’s getting old.  Actually, we met in the 60s at a Science Fiction party.  He doesn’t remember it.  You and Westlake came to the Hydra club somewhere in Manhattan.

LB: It must be somebody else.  I never went to the Hydra club.  <singing> “Oh yes, I remember it well…” <singing>  Continue reading “A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part II”

A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I

Two months ago, Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg met in San Francisco for an epic conversation that spanned nearly every topic imaginable…and far more. Mulholland Books has transcribed the dialogue between these two masters of storytelling and will present it to you in two parts.

Lawrence Block: How did a nice fellow like you get into this business?

Robert Silverberg: When I went to college, I went to Columbia.  I lived in Brooklyn and my first year at Columbia, I had to commute to Upper Manhattan to get to college and I saw working people on the subway with me, riding, riding, riding.  And I thought if I get into this business, I can stay home when I work.  I don’t have to do that.

LB: That does incentivize a person, you know.

RS: And I’ve never worked for anyone else.  I worked at home as a professional writer for the last (When did I graduate? 1956) for the last 54 1/2 years and that’s because I didn’t want to be riding the subway.  What’s your excuse?

LB: Well, I had the good sense to get tossed out of college, so I didn’t have anything to fall back on.  And you know, that’s just as well.  Because there were some times when if I had had something to fall back on, I would have.

RS: What college did you get tossed out of?

LB: Antioch.

RS: Oh, very classy.

LB: It’s tough to get tossed out of Antioch.

RS: It’s one of the best to get tossed out of.

LB: What happened was I went down there for two years.  And after the second year, they have a work study program there and instead of taking one of the jobs that the school had on offer for that semester, that term I went off and found a job. And the job I found was at Scott Meredith.

RS: You better explain.  Tell them who Scott Meredith-

LB: He was a literary agent.  Well—

RS: My literary agent.

LB: A sort of literary agent. Um-

RS: He wasn’t very literary, but he sure was an agent.

LB: Yes, yes, he had that part covered.  And I got a job there as an editor and my job was to read the manuscripts submitted by hopeful writers who paid a fee to have their manuscript read by Scott personally and get a response from him.  And I would write the letter and it would be one-and-a-half single-spaced pages, a long letter they got for their money, and it would come with their manuscript, which was returned, and it would say, essentially, “There were things wrong with this story which cannot be fixed because it is the plot that is at fault, but you are actually a superb writer and we hope you’ll be sending future stories to us, each, of course, accompanied by a fee.”  And it was the best school for a young writer that there could possibly be.  You can’t learn that much by reading wonderful work.  You can learn a tremendous amount by reading things that don’t work.  So it was a great education.  Aside from that the only honest work I’ve ever done was a couple of years later when I took an editorial job in Wisconsin because I had had a falling out with Scott and a lot my markets suddenly were closed to me.

RS: He did control a lot of markets.

LB: Indeed.  But you started out writing science fiction from the very beginning?

Continue reading “A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I”

Blow It Up Better: Thomas Mullen interviews Paul Malmont on Pulp Fiction, Imagination, History, and Comics

Paul Malmont is the author of three novels re-imaging the lives of early 20th century pulp writers to thrilling effect: his first, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, placed ‘30s authors Walter Gibson (The Shadow) and Lester Dent (Doc Savage) in their own pulp adventure, complete with zombies and phantom freighters, and his second, Jack London in Paradise, took a look at that author’s mysterious later years in Hawaii. Malmont’s new novel, The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown, takes us into the mad laboratory of the early sci-fi writers who were enlisted by the U.S. Navy during World War II to use their imaginative brawn and scientific know-how to create military super-weapons. (Loosely based on fact, amazingly. Or astoundingly).

I met Paul at a book conference a few years back, and we’ll both be at Comic Con next month. And because I’ve been increasingly interested in the interconnections between what his characters call “what’s real and what’s pulp,” I tossed him a few questions.

Thomas Mullen:  While I was reading your book I happened to see X-Men: First Class and I couldn’t help but think of some odd similarities. The movie is a sort of prequel, showing the origins of mutant superheroes that we’ve come to know and love, with the occasional cameo from someone like Wolverine at a bar, and placing the story in a historical context (the Cold War). Your book traces the early lives of writing legends (like Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard), explaining their motivations and dreams, again with some cool cameos (like Ray Bradbury and even Einstein), and placing it in a historical context (World War II).

Paul Malmont: I love the literary mash-up form.  I love when something you’re familiar with collides with something you aren’t. That’s my favorite kind of illusion. I’m a big fan of pop-culture shout-outs, and references and allusions. I think they work in things like X-Men and our books because they validate our love of these geeky things. If you look Alan Moore’s work, especially League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it’s just one huge geek-out. But at the same time, he’s trying to get down to the essence of why we still love these characters and these stories.

Philip Jose Farmer was a master of this, too, and he had such a huge influence on me.  He created a family tree that linked all sorts of great fictional characters from Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan to James Bond and Nero Wolfe—the Wold-Newton Family. Win Scott Eckert and other fans had Farmer’s blessing to build onto the tree, so now its branches extend to Steve Austen, Buckaroo Banzai, Peter Venkman, and Buffy Summers.  But Farmer was the first one to do the mash-up.

TM: Your book plays with the idea of imagination and how it can influence the real world. In this very unique writers’ workshop, sci-fi authors are conducting research for the Navy; on a chalkboard someone has written the following inspirational bullet points:

CAN WE MAKE IT FLY HIGHER OR FASTER OR BY ITSELF?

CAN WE MAKE IT VANISH?

CAN WE BLOW IT UP BETTER?

CAN WE CONFUSE OUR ENEMIES?”

One character even explains that sci-fi writers, by imagining a future, actually do bring that world into being, by putting their visions on paper to catalyze their readers (mechanics and inventors and engineers), who will take that imaginary baton and run with it. I loved that motif.

PM: My first book was really about the redemptive power of the imagination–how the writers could always use theirs to pull them back from whatever brink they stood upon. My second was about the destructive power of the imagination–how it could turn to obsession and despair. So the theme of this one is what are the limits to imagination? How far can you take an idea before it breaks? Or breaks you? All these guys are so in love with different visions of the future and they really want to bring it about. But reality intrudes in the form of bureaucracy, relationships, an entire planet at war.

Something from Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ that made a big impression on me was the sense he created that the coming of the Messiah was so imminent, it could happen at any moment.  It seemed to be in the air and it was what everyone was talking about. I tried to capture some of that sense for these writers. I think they felt that they were part of something so huge that they got swept up in it–creating the future.

By writing it out on that board, I’m trying to show what the stakes are. Can these guys, who put such faith in their imaginations, bend reality to their will. Writers try to convince you that what the world you’re reading about is, in some sense, real, and I’m using the Philadelphia Lab as the analogy for the creative process of a writer. That part introduces the brainstorming process when every idea seems glittering and golden. Then, throughout the book, we kind of track the progress of those ideas as they are written out, so to speak.

Continue reading “Blow It Up Better: Thomas Mullen interviews Paul Malmont on Pulp Fiction, Imagination, History, and Comics”

A Conversation with Mark Billingham and Lee Child: Part II

This week we salute BLOODLINE by Mark Billingham as it hits bookstores. TheReviewBroads.com rave that “BLOODLINE by Mark Billingham provides the best serial killer punch since THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Here, we present Part II of Mark’s conversation with Lee Child, the #1 bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series. If you missed Part I, read it first.

MB: I think a lot of writers make a mistake – even if they do see a character that is going to have a decent shelf life – by laying it all out there in book one. By saying, this is who this person is. This is where he goes to school. This is what he has for dinner. This is who his family are.  I remember making the decision that I wouldn’t do any of that, that I was not going to have this dossier of facts and figures.  That I would simply try to peel away a different layer of the onion with each book and see what happened, so that the reader knew as much about Thorne, book on book, as I did. I’m not even sure that in the first book he was even the main character actually.  He had the most amount of ‘onstage’ time if you like, but the character I got all the reaction about in that first book was the victim, actually.

LC: Let’s mention what a great first book that was.  Your first book was just tremendous. A fantastic first book.

MB: I never actually got a chance to thank you because I know you picked it in your 40 Books of All Time list.  I don’t think I ever bought you the beers I owe you for that…

LC: I love accidental discoveries and I can’t remember how I got it or why.  In that first book, the “Wow” moment was very early on.  There was that fantastic line, “No, this was not a mistake.  This was what he wanted to do all along.” And I just thought, “Wow.” I knew straight away that this was a book that was going to be major and it was going to be a career that was going to be worth following.  I had luck with Killing Floor too.  I just think everything in the first book of mine worked very well, even the jacket.  The jacket in America especially was iconic.  We were both very lucky I think at the beginning.  Then the question becomes, “How do you deal with this?”

Continue reading “A Conversation with Mark Billingham and Lee Child: Part II”

Ten Books, Plus a Few More

I’m dreadful at lists. I know it’s something that boys are supposed to be good at — semi-autistically drawn toward, even — but I’m hopeless at remembering what I ought to put in and always too aware of what I’m leaving out. It’s like colors. Does anyone have a favorite color after the age of about twelve? I don’t. There are *types* of colors I like, and a revolving cast of hues that most often please my eye, but I can’t just say “Blue. Oh, and purple”. Similarly I keep making playlists in iTunes, and then spend half my time skipping over songs or wishing I’d included others. It’s the same with books and films. I recall one deeply embarrassing occasion in Hollywood about fifteen years ago, after my agent secured me a sit-down with someone really very senior in a studio. I should have turned up with a list of projects I wanted to pitch. I didn’t. I should have come across as a go-getting man of action. I probably instead came across as sleepy, or hungover. I should at least have been able to respond perkily to the woman’s inquiry as to my favorite movies, but I suspect I left her office having given the impression that I’d never actually seen any films at all. It was a waste of a meeting, and I apologize to all those writers who would have made a far better job of it.

Oh well. Here’s a list of ten books which I’ve loved and still loved, and which have made a significant difference to my life and work… Continue reading “Ten Books, Plus a Few More”

Noir in the Sunshine

IMG_8815So some years ago I was writing this series of P.I. novels about a detective in St. Louis. He wasn’t exactly your classic shamus but he did have Sam Spade DNA and he did walk some pretty mean streets in a gritty industrial city. But what I wanted to do was a second series, something different from what I’d been writing. More of a classic P.I. instead of my St. Louis guy who, while having some of the classic P.I. characteristics, was also a star-crossed schlemiel with a nervous stomach and a suicidal girlfriend. He also had his office over a doughnut shop, and smelled like a doughnut. This turned some women on, some off. Not classic. But the book market being what it was (is), I was going to write another series more in the classic vein, yet in some ways different.

Immediately I thought of California. I’d always enjoyed the California P.I. novel and its great practitioners, Hammett, Chandler, Lyons, Pronzini, Macdonald.

Wait a sec.

Continue reading “Noir in the Sunshine”

Any questions?

This past spring the filmed version of Alan Glynn’s novel Limitless took theaters by storm.  Last week, Picador’s paperback edition of Glynn’s novel Winterland hit the shelves, a book George Pelecanos called  “A terrific read”, and John Connolly characterized as “timely, topical and thrilling.”  Here, Alan discusses the genesis of Winterland, architecture as metaphor, and the real life heart of darkness that informs his next novel, Bloodland.

“Where did you get the idea for your book?”

Whenever I’m asked this question I try hard to give an honest answer but I generally end up feeling like a bit of a fraud, as though I’ve come up with something on the spot just to keep the conversation moving. Because the thing is, by the time I arrive at the end of a book I usually find I’ve forgotten how it got started, its origins obscured somewhere in memory and almost inaccessible now through thickets of notes, outlines, obsessive but often unnecessary research and a seemingly endless process of re-writing.

Thinking back on answers I’ve given in the past, though, I do see a pattern emerging. The account I offer will either be fine-sounding and rational, or slightly random and intuitive – left brain, right brain stuff. Both do the job, and neither, I suspect, is actually untrue. It’s just that I can never be sure which came first . . .

For example, when asked about my first novel, The Dark Fields (now republished as Limitless) I would say either one of two things. I would say that it arose from an interest in the scandals of the late 90s regarding performance-enhancing drugs in sport, and that it was a sort of ‘what if . . .’ story – what if there existed a performance-enhancing drug for lawyers or businessmen or politicians? Out of which came questions about that very American theme of the perfectability of man and the notion of a latter-day Gatsby whose impulse for self-improvement has been reduced to a pharmaceutical commodity.

Or I would say that it arose from . . . not much at all, from a desperate scrambling around inside my own brain for SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT. So . . . a situation. Maybe two guys who bump into each other on the street. One is a bit desperate (like I am at the time) and he meets . . . who? His ex-brother-in-law? Someone he hasn’t seen in nearly ten years? Yeah, that’s the ticket. But now that I have them together what are they going to talk about? “What have you been up to? Still dealing?” “Not exactly. How about you? Still a loser?” One thing leads to another and before you know it they’re having a conversation, and possibilities are opening up.

Continue reading “Any questions?”

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part II

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of Fun & Games we matched Duane Swierczynski up with Josh Bazell, author of the acclaimed novel Beat the Reaper. When we last saw our heroes (see Part I), Duane had asked Josh how far he had gotten with his plan to become a comic book artist.

JB: Not far. When I was about ten I realized I didn’t have the talent.  All I had was How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which in retrospect was useless.  But until them my goal in life was to go to the Joe Kubert School, because it ran advertisements in comic books. It may be the saddest story ever told that’s not about a Boston terrier. What was your first idea of yourself as a writer?

DS: As a kid, I was inspired by comic books. I’d try to draw comic strips, but I realized at a young age that I wasn’t good at drawing. So instead, I remember cutting up an old Iron Man comic and using the art to make my own story. New captions, new dialogue. I knew I couldn’t draw for shit, but I could use someone else’s art to make my own story. I guess I was that kind of kid, who grew that interest in writing. Since I couldn’t draw, I decided that maybe a short story would be fun. I’m very inspired by comics, but also by movies, I caught the storytelling bug early. I’m not even sure I was aware of it, but it’s what I was doing.

JB: Was this your first job?

DS: Well, my VERY first job was, I was a keyboard player in a bar band when I was ten. My dad’s bar band, a wedding band. So my first paying job was playing Doors cover songs in dive bars in Philadelphia.

JB: Can you play the keyboard intro to “Light my Fire?”

DS: I can still do that! It took hours to learn, but it was worth it. It impresses the chicks.

JB: That’s badass!

DS: My dad actually made me spend a whole afternoon learning the organ solo for “In-A-GaddaDa-Vida”. Playing it over and over again. So, actually, I’m a frustrated musician too. You talk about wanting to do one art and sliding back into something else. I wanted to be a famous musician or a rockstar and I don’t have a good singing voice and I’m not very good at playing. So, I knew I couldn’t do it professionally. So, I fell back on writing.

JB: Do you still do it for fun?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part II”

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part I

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of Fun & Games we matched Duane Swierczynski up with Josh Bazell, author of the acclaimed novel Beat the Reaper. Josh called Fun & Games “Insanely Entertaining.” Here is Part I of the result of their conversation which touches on entertainment, series material, Aquaman and Die Hard.

Josh Bazell: Duane. Fun & Games. Awesome book. I think that when they first gave it to me to blurb, I said something about it continuing your experiment, as I saw it, as to how far you can push the entertainment value of a novel. I don’t know how you feel about public discussion of technical stuff. But what I’m curious about, as a writer, is how conscious of that are you? How much of your career is about coming up with a book that is a perfectly pure action novel?

Duane Swiercynski: Good question! I mostly try not to bore people. That’s my goal. Get them turning pages no matter what.

JB: That’s actually my philosophy also. It’s probably the #1 thing I think about as a writer.

DS: I feel like, if I’m bored writing it, I should cut it or move on quickly. I also really focus on voice as a writer. That greases the skids for people and keeps things going. I’ve done both, but I want to ask you if you plot in advance or outline, or just explore the plot and figure it out as you go?

JB: I am an obsessive outliner. Of the Harry Wittington school, that I would rather build a house without a blue print than write a novel without an outline. I find in my own work that I have plenty of room to be creative on the page without having to worry about whether the scene is going to end up where I want it to. That said, there are people who I respect, Thomas Perry and Elmore Leonard come to mind, who say that they don’t outline and that outlining would remove a lot of the fun they have. On the other hand, both of those people have developed plotting techniques that make it easier to plot on the fly, like Thomas Perry when he uses a cat-and-mouse format. And both of those guys have been in this game for long enough that they are clearly doing a good amount of planning subconsciously that a lot of us are doing on paper. I don’t really know how to do it without outlining. But it has occurred to me to try.

DS: What you say rings true. When I do plot, with guideposts to leave enough room to have fun on the page. And you can always change the guideposts. You’re not locked into it. But I do like having a plan.

JB: You always can change the goalposts and you always have to. So, Charlie Hardie is a series character and you do a masterful job of leaving some things unexplained in the book. I wondered if this had something to do, possibly, with your work in comic books.  The book succeeds as a book, at the same time that it feels like it is going to succeed in a larger series. The issues that are left hanging are not even things you realize until you’ve thought about the book for a while. You clearly have an idea of where this series is going.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part I”