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Archive for the 'Interviews' Category

Josh Weil: The Powells.com Interview

Dima and Yarik are twin brothers in a Russia set in a slightly alternate universe, in the city of Petroplavilsk. The city is in perpetual daylight, thanks to the Oranzheria — a "sea of glass" greenhouse built over farmlands lit by mirrors in space. Though inseparable in childhood, Dima and Yarik begin to take radically different paths as they navigate adulthood, family, responsibility, and ideology. The Great Glass Sea, the first novel by "5 Under 35" winner Josh Weil, is steeped in Russian folklore and fable, and is a moving and ingenious tale of familial love. Library Journal calls it "resplendent and incandescent," and Lauren Groff exclaims, "The Great Glass Sea is our world made uncanny: the Russian countryside of folktale and literature turned darkly luminous, menacing, and brittle. I was intoxicated by this novel's brains and I fell hopelessly in love with its heart. Josh Weil is a spectacular talent." We were so impressed with it, we chose it for our Indiespensable Volume 48.

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Jill Owens: In your first book, The New Valley, you write very movingly about rural Virginia; it plays a huge part in those novellas. ...


Lorrie Moore: The Powells.com Interview

More than most writers, Lorrie Moore has devoted readers who fervently await each of her new publications with something approaching reverence. With the release of her last novel, A Gate at the Stairs, Jonathan Lethem declared himself one of those fans: "Moore may be the most irresistible contemporary American writer....On finishing A Gate at the Stairs, I turned to the reader nearest to me and made her swear to read it immediately." Bark, Moore's latest work and first book of short stories in 15 years, showcases her razor-edged humor, her dazzling skill with language, and her incredible psychological precision. Reading Bark, I realized that as much as I love her novels, I'd been missing the irresistible pull of her stories terribly without knowing it. Kirkus agreed in a starred review: "One of the best short story writers in America resumes her remarkable balancing act, with a collection that is both hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same paragraph....In stories both dark and wry, Moore wields a scalpel with surgical precision."

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Jill Owens: How did this new collection, Bark, come together? Had you been working on some of the stories while writing other things?

Lorrie Moore: Bark is a collection of stories written over 10 years, from the period of 2003 to 2013. They are arranged more or less in chronological order. During that time I was also working on a novel, A Gate at the Stairs, which was published in 2009. Though there has been some commentary that this is a slim collection, it is my second longest. I think the bound galley made it look smaller than it was. There are eight stories, as there were in my second collection, Like Life. Do I sound sufficiently defensive?

Jill: Did you know that the longer stories — "Wings" and "Debarked" — would remain stories rather than become novels?

Moore: Actually I imagined "Debarking" would be shorter and that "Wings" would be longer, perhaps a novella. But they were never destined to become novels.

Jill: What do you like about working in those different forms (short stories and novels)?


Anthony Doerr: The Powells.com Interview

For months before I read it, coworkers would rave during meetings, send me glowing emails, or stop me in the hall to tell me how much they loved All the Light We Cannot See. We couldn't keep advance reader copies in the office for more than a few hours. I had long been a fan of Anthony Doerr, for his extraordinary short stories in The Shell Collector and Memory Wall and his previous novel, About Grace. His newest novel, set during World War II, tells the parallel stories of Marie-Laure, a 16-year-old blind girl living in occupied France, and Werner, an 18-year-old German soldier who was conscripted from an orphanage due to his extraordinary mechanical abilities. A missing, possibly cursed jewel known as the Sea of Flames; scale-models of neighborhoods in Paris and Saint-Malo made by Marie's father to teach her how to navigate; a secret ocean cove with snails and mussels — Doerr's remarkable story is filled with gorgeous, almost magical imagery you might not expect in a war novel.

Jess Walter gushes, "All the Light We Cannot See is a dazzling, epic work of fiction. Anthony Doerr writes beautifully about the ...


Gabrielle Zevin: The Powells.com Interview

The American Booksellers Association collects nominations from bookstores all over the country for favorite forthcoming titles. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry not only received the most votes for April's Indie Next list, it received the most votes ever in the history of the program. You don't, however, need to work in a bookstore to fall in love with this book. The story is an affirmation of the important role books play in our lives and the ability they have to transform us all.

In a starred review, Library Journal commends The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: "Funny, tender, and moving, it reminds us all exactly why we read and why we love." Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, raves, "Gabrielle Zevin has written a wonderful, moving, endearing story of redemption and transformation that will sing in your heart for a very, very long time."

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Shawn Donley: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a bit of a departure from your previous books. What inspired you to write about a small independent bookstore?

Gabrielle Zevin: You can't avoid it these days. Ten years ago when I published my first book, it was like publishing in a completely different universe. There was no Twitter, no Facebook. In a way, publishing in 2005 was similar to publishing in 1950. Nobody kept blogs; that was still optional. I didn't even have a website then.

This is my eighth book in about a decade. I've published during a time of enormous change in the industry. I wanted to write a book that reflected a bit on issues of why we should shop locally versus online, the rise of ebooks versus print. But even more than that, I think the book is about the pleasures of a reading life.

Shawn: As a longtime bookseller, let me say that you did a wonderful job of capturing all the joys and challenges of working at a bookstore. What type of research did you do while writing this book?

Zevin: I'm like a unicorn; I'm a midlist writer who hasn't done anything else but write. But because I wasn't amazingly famous, I didn't become Stephanie Meyer, or even a huge literary name like a Jonathan Franzen or a Joshua Ferris.

I'm very privy to the way bookstores work, and I think a lot about the ecosystem that my books have been published in. I think it's great to be aware of how publishing works.


Jen Van Meter: The Powells.com Interview

Jen Van Meter writes comic books, which is quite possibly one of the most amazingly cool jobs that anyone can have. Her multi-volume hit series Hopeless Savages, from Oni Press, was nominated for an Eisner Award, otherwise known as the Comics Industry's equivalent of the Oscars. She also writes for Marvel, has a deeply hidden desire to write for the Hulk, and brought new life to a little character you might have heard of named Black Lightning (DC Comics).

In honor of the second annual International TableTop Day and Geek Week, I caught up with Jen to talk about geeks, geeky stuff, and what being a geek means to her.

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Heidi: What's the geekiest thing you've ever done or participated in?

Jen Van Meter: It's such a funny word, "geeky," because — given what it meant around me when I was growing up — I can't think of anything I've done that's geekier than becoming a professional comics writer.

But I think it's come to mean different things in different communities and contexts; what's sticky about it for me is the sense of having a driving personalized passion for some aspect of pop/sci-fi/fantasy/gaming culture that extends somehow past casual consumption or enjoyment. It's hard to pin down because there are so many ways to be that passionate and to express it, I think.

But here's my gut answer to your actual question: When I started graduate school, I was thrown into the teaching pool pretty quickly. I wasn't much older than many of my students, I was very shy about public speaking, and I didn't feel a great claim to much authority up in front of the room at first — I was intimidated. At the time, the role-playing game we were spending the most time with was White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade; my character was all tough and mean and wore leather and got into bar fights and wasn't intimidated by anybody. So on teaching days, I dressed like her. I didn't tell anyone, but for about a year, I worked up the nerve to go teach by secretly cosplaying this fictional character.

Heidi: I love that. I used to play an elf named Selenium. I spent a month crafting a magic bow with a +2 to hit.


Peter Stark: The Powells.com Interview

It's hard to believe that 200 years ago, the Pacific Northwest was one of the most remote and isolated regions in the world. In 1810, four years after Lewis and Clark's successful crossing of the continent, New York businessman John Jacob Astor organized and financed an expedition to establish the first commercial settlement on the West Coast. Two advance parties made up of 140 members set out on the long, arduous journey to the Pacific Coast. Three years later, nearly half of them had died. In Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire, author Peter Stark recounts this captivating tale of madness, starvation, and survival under extreme hardship.

In a Starred Review, Kirkus calls Astoria, "a fast-paced, riveting account of exploration and settlement, suffering and survival, treachery and death." Laurence Gonzalez (author of Deep Survival) raves, "Peter Stark weaves a spellbinding tale from this lost chapter of American history. Astoria gave me the sense all readers long for: that nothing exists but the riveting narrative unfolding in your head."

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Shawn Donley: This attempt to establish the first commercial settlement on the West Coast is a fascinating part of American history. How did you first become aware of this story?

Peter Stark: My previous book is called The Last Empty Places. It profiles four really unpopulated areas of the country. Five or six or seven years ago, I happened to be driving my car through Eastern Oregon down a long, lonely road. There was no habitation for miles and miles around. I pulled into a town after dark called John Day. You Oregonians are probably familiar with that town. I spent the night there. The next morning I got up and said, "Why is this town called John Day?" I started doing some research.

It turns out John Day was one of the original Astorians on the huge Overland Party sent from New York by John Jacob Astor. He endured incredible trials: starvation, being left behind, being accidently poisoned. He was helped by some Indians but then stripped and sent naked out into the wilderness by others. He was traumatized by the experience.


Tessa Hadley: The Powells.com Interview

Tessa Hadley is a British novelist and short story writer who is highly praised by critics, frequently published in the New Yorker, and regularly compared to Alice Munro and Colm Tóibín. But I am convinced she remains underread in this country. Hadley quietly and brilliantly illuminates seemingly ordinary lives in stories that shine with emotional depth, psychological wisdom, and understated wit. Her prose is masterful and precise, and her characters linger in the mind long after the books have ended.

Her latest novel, Clever Girl, follows Stella throughout her life in Bristol, England, from when she is born in 1956 to age 50. She becomes a young single mother; has various love affairs, friendships, and careers; tries on identities and freedoms as historical eras change around her — in other words, lives her life. But Hadley's novel ignites that single life until it blazes.

We agree with London's Literary Review: "This is Hadley's extraordinary skill as a novelist: to navigate and narrate the fleeting moments in an individual's life when the future crystallises, by choice and circumstance, for good or for bad....Clever Girl is a remarkable novel by one of this country's finest, if ...


Siri Hustvedt: The Powells.com Interview

Siri Hustvedt's latest novel, The Blazing World, is aptly titled; it is a tour de force about a larger-than-life artist, Harriet "Harry" Burden, whose three great works used "masks" — male artists who claimed the works as their own. Hustvedt frames the book as an anthology of Harry's life and work after her death, including excerpts from Harry's many journals, interviews and critical essays (both positive and negative) from members of the art world, and reminiscences from Harry's children, friends, and lover.

The Blazing World warmly and thoroughly depicts an intelligent, fierce life well lived and tackles feminism, creativity, and definitions of identity. It is Hustvedt's most masterful, page-turning novel yet, and we are proud to feature it as Volume 46 of Indiespensable.

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Jill Owens: What made you want to go back to writing about the art world? Your last novel, The Summer without Men, had this hidden, subversive visual art in it, but it wasn't the main focus of the story the way it is in this book and in What I Loved.

Hustvedt: I have a longstanding fascination with visual art. I do, in fact, draw as well, as I did in The Summer without Men. I also write essays about visual art. It's a natural tendency for me to return to that.

It's hard to absolutely restore the genesis of a book. But I think for me, this one began with the idea of masks and a woman hiding behind a masculine mask. The notion of having living pseudonyms do this for her in the art world just seemed natural. I love making up visual works of art in language. I get to be an artist without actually being an artist in that sense. This is a wonderful pleasure for me, so I did it again, in a different way.

Jill: All of the art in this book and in What I Loved sounds like art that I wish existed, that I would love to see. How does that process work with fiction? How do you imagine it?

Hustvedt: These are works that I would like to make if I were a visual artist. Often, they grow in my mind as visual images, and then I describe what I see. They're really mental images. I suppose many artists begin their own work that way. They see something. Unless it's really representational and they're trying to do a portrait, for example, and represent a real person, they must be working from mental images. Rather than creating works of art themselves, I describe them in the text.


Richard Powers: The Powells.com Interview

If everyone got to talk to Richard Powers for 45 minutes, humanity might go ahead and evolve to its next level. Unfailingly kind and generous, passionate and fiercely intelligent, Powers is as remarkable to speak with as he is a writer. The San Francisco Chronicle has said that Powers "may be America's most ambitious novelist," and The Echo Maker, for which we last interviewed him, won the National Book Award.

Orfeo, his latest novel, centers on Peter Els — a composer who, because of his experiments in microbiology in his retirement, finds himself on the run from the authorities; in so doing, he revisits the people, music, and memories that have shaped his life and his composition. Powers returns to some familiar subjects — notably music, genetics, and the surveillance state — with lyrical and beautiful prose, a moving and relatable story, and an eloquent and fascinating look back at the music of the 20th century. We are incredibly proud to present Orfeo as our choice for Indiespensable Vol. 45.

Jill Owens: You've written about music in many of your books, but in some ways this one feels the most focused on it as ...


Donna Tartt: The Powells.com Interview

Donna Tartt has a lot of devoted fans among the Powell's staff; I think I got more requests for advance copies of The Goldfinch than any other upcoming book. And for those lucky enough to get one, the reviews were unanimous: we loved it, and it was well worth the wait. The Goldfinch is a masterful novel. An epic coming-of-age story written in brilliant, illuminated prose, and a mesmerizing portrait of friendships and unconventional families, Tartt's third novel has been rightly called Dickensian for its sweeping themes, colorful characters, and extraordinary attention to detail. Stephen King raved, "The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction." We absolutely agree, which is why we chose it as Volume 43 of Indiespensable.

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Jill Owens: How did you choose the painting, Fabritius's The Goldfinch? What about that particular image resonated with you, and what's your history with the painting?

Donna Tartt: Actually, I did consider a couple of other paintings, briefly, though I always knew it was the one. I first saw it as a copy at Christie's Amsterdam — I loved the painting the instant I saw it, and the more I found out about it, the more enthralled I became. The Goldfinch is a tiny painting — not much bigger than a child's school notebook — and a greatly beloved and unique little work; in all the Golden Age of Dutch art, there's nothing quite like it, and it also has a fascinating history that plays into the plot of the novel. The painter who made it, Carel Fabritius — who was the pupil of Rembrandt and the teacher of Vermeer, and who was greatly celebrated in his own day — died very young in a tragic accident, the explosion of a gunpowder factory in Delft that destroyed most of the town. This little painting is one of Fabritius's very few works that survive.


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