Tag Archives: author interview

Greg Renoff on Van Halen Rising

Van Halen Rising
Van Halen Rising

Once a band achieves fame, it becomes fairly easy to read a variety of articles about the members, or the music. If a band’s early days gets addressed, often those details are relegated to two to three paragraphs of a profile. So a while back comics creator Cully Hamner intrigued me, when he made folks aware that Greg Renoff‘s upcoming book, Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal, was to be released in October 2015. Renoff’s book title makes clear part of what he sets out to reveal, but the aspect that really hooked me into learning more was the author’s decision to focus on Van Halen’s pre-1978 days (aka before they were famous and successful). To get a glimpse of Renoff’s writing style (as well as a taste of his post-1978 Van Halen knowledge) be sure to read his recent Medium piece, which also features legendary photographer Helmut Newton. If that is not enough fun for you after reading this interview, please be sure to peruse Renoff’s Van Halen Rising website.

Tim O’Shea: This book was researched partially by 230 interviews you conducted. How long did it take to conduct all of them?

Greg Renoff: I did my first interviews in 2008. When I first started, I was spurred on by curiosity about Van Halen’s early days more than the idea I’d write a book. I talked to a LA nightclub owner who’d booked Van Halen in 1976 and then to a Pasadena drummer who’d seen the Van Halen brothers perform live long before David Lee Roth joined the band. Then about a year later, I had a break from teaching and decided to dig into the topic some more by doing more interviews. After I started hearing more tales of the band members’ wild days before they were famous, I saw that there was a great story here that needed to be told in book form.

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Kevin Avery on The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson and Conversations with Clint

Article first published as Kevin Avery on The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson on Technorati.

The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson

From the 1960s to the early 1980s, Paul Nelson was known for writing passionate, insightful criticism of folk and rock music that showed a partiality for singer-songwriters. He, and his record collection, was of great importance to Bob Dylan early in his career. As an editor at Rolling Stone, he influenced many great critics, such as Charles M. Young and Mikal Gilmore. But suddenly, in the early 1980s, when editorial decisions at Rolling Stone ran contrary to his thinking, Nelson walked away from music criticism. In fact, he dropped out of criticism entirely, choosing to spend his remaining years in relative obscurity, working at a video rental store. He died in 2006, but not before writer Kevin Avery contacted him about a potential biography. After Nelson’s death, Avery was tapped to compile this new Fantagraphics book, Everything Is An Afterthought: The Life And Writings Of Paul Nelson, in which Avery documented Nelson’s career as well as collecting his writing. In addition to discussing this book, Avery also discussed his other Nelson-related book that he edited, Conversations with Clint: Paul Nelson’s Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood, 1979-1983 (Continuum Books). To mark the release of both books, Avery recently allowed me to interview him via email.

Not to toss a large question your way, but how did Paul Nelson help to shape present day rock criticism?

I’m probably the wrong person to ask. As a result of immersing myself in the music and criticism of the Seventies and Eighties, I really don’t follow rock criticism much anymore, but what I do read bears very little resemblance to the kind of writing that Paul did. Paul’s writing was more contemplative and expansive—in contrast to some of what I read today, which is dictated by time and space constraints (some of the very things that brought Paul’s tenure at Rolling Stone to an end in 1982).

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Stephen Battaglio on From Yesterday to Today


Article first published as Stephen Battaglio on From Yesterday to TODAY on Technorati.

From Yesterday to Today

In 2012, the U.S. national TV broadcast network NBC will celebrate that Today, its morning news and talk show, first went on the air 60 years ago in January of 1952. Indeed, NBC’s celebration started a little early in mid-November, with the release of From Yesterday to Today: Six Decades of America’s Favorite Morning Show, a book written by Stephen Battaglio (TV Guide‘s business editor) and published by Running Press. Battaglio, who was granted access to the TODAY show’s archives in order to fully document the rich history of the show, was kind enough to take part in a recent email interview about his 272-page book. The book features a variety of information and photos covering the show’s 60-year history as well as an introduction by current Today show host Matt Lauer.

Did NBC give you full access to its show archives?

Yes. We were able to use their photos. I was able to review past episodes of Today – a lot of fun – and interviews with the personalities that NBC News producers had done over the years. I combined that with my own research and reporting on the show done over my career as a journalist covering the TV industry. I also did a few dozen fresh interviews with the current and past Today producers and cast members.

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Novelist Diana Abu-Jaber on Birds of Paradise: A Novel

Birds of Paradise: A Novel

Article first published as Interview: Novelist Diana Abu-Jaber on Birds of Paradise: A Novel on Blogcritics.

If you are a regular listener to NPR, you likely have heard one of novelist Diana Abu-Jaber‘s frequent essays. Next week (September 6, to be exact) marks the release of the award-winning author’s newest novel, Birds of Paradise [Editor’s note: Of course, the book is out as of this past Tuesday]. While I was already aware of Abu-Jaber, thanks to NPR, I did not realize she had finished her new book until an early July tweet by Bethanne Patrick (aka @thebookmaven). Soon after learning of the new novel, I reached out to Abu-Jaber for an email interview–and she was more than happy to entertain my queries. As described by her publisher (W. W. Norton & Company): “In the tropical paradise that is Miami, Avis and Brian Muir are still haunted by the disappearance of their ineffably beautiful daughter, Felice, who ran away when she was thirteen. Now, after five years of modeling tattoos, skateboarding, clubbing, and sleeping in a squat house or on the beach, Felice is about to turn eighteen. Her family—Avis, an exquisitely talented pastry chef; Brian, a corporate real estate attorney; and her brother, Stanley, the proprietor of Freshly Grown, a trendy food market—will each be forced to confront their anguish, loss, and sense of betrayal. Meanwhile, Felice must reckon with the guilty secret that drove her away, and must face her fear of losing her family and her sense of self forever.” In addition to the book, we also delve into her recent mention in a New York Times piece on email manners.

How early in the development of Birds of Paradise did you realize it had to be set in Miami–and what appealed to you in terms of setting it there?

Miami was present from the very first page. My husband and I moved to Miami eight years ago and I knew I wanted to use it as a setting. Ever since my second novel, Crescent, I’ve been very inspired by sunlight and water and I always like to use a strong setting for my stories– like the city of Syracuse and the blizzard that seems to keep blowing throughout Origin, my third novel. Birds of Paradise is a reflection of Miami’s many layers– its outward dazzling tropical colors and beauty, its racial and cultural collisions. I’m fascinated by that complexity and challenged by it. Setting my new novel here gave me a way to reflect on my adopted city and to push myself to learn more about it.

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Baron Wolman on The Rolling Stone Years

Article first published as Interview: Photographer BaronWolman on The Rolling Stone Years on Blogcritics.

Baron Wolman: The Rolling Stone Years

Only one person can lay claim to being Rolling Stone magazine’s first chief photographer–and his name is Baron Wolman. From 1967 to 1970, Wolman captured some of the most iconic images of musicians that graced the magazine’s pages. This August marks the release of The Rolling Stone Years, a collection of Wolman’s photographs from those three years, described by publisher Omnibus Press as consisting of “many … images from the late sixties and early seventies [that] have become iconic shots from rock’s most fertile era.” In addition to his amazing photos, Wolman writes a substantial amount about the early days of the influential magazine as well as his experiences photographing musical greats of the late 1960s/early 1970s.

At one point in the book, you express your preference to shoot in natural light. What is the appeal of using that kind of light for your photos? 

Natural light is just that.  “Natural.”  Nothing artificial about it.  What you see in the photo is what I saw when I took the picture.  For the most part, flash disturbs the subject and ruins the intimacy of the moment…

What was more challenging to do, decide which pictures to run in the book or writing the text to accompany the pictures? 

Both were challenging in the best sense of the word, not to mention the locales where the challenge was met: Paris, Santa Fe, Bangkok.  I wanted to add some international “spice” to the process.

Some of your subjects died far too young, how hard was it to look at those pictures? 

Not easy, of course.  Wondering how their lives would have evolved had they had the opportunity, sad for such talent ended before it had a chance to soar, remembering the moments we shared.

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Mike Doughty on Yes and Also Yes

Article first published as Interview: Musician Mike Doughty on Yes and Also Yes on Blogcritics.

Mike Doughty (be sure to click the pic for a closer look at the Clayton Moore portrait behind him)

My appreciation of Mike Doughty‘s music started much later than most fans, as I first became aware of his work with his 2005 album, Haughty Melodic. When I found he had a new album, Yes and Also Yes, set for release on August 30, I immediately set up an email interview to find out what was in store for fans of his work. If you’ve never seen Doughty live, take a spin around YouTube for a bit and you quickly will realize that you should see him live as soon as possible. To best frame the album in proper context, I quote Doughty himself: “I recorded it in a studio in Koreatown, Manhattan, from July ’10 to April ’11. Produced by Pat Dillett. Notable musicians included my trusty factotum Andrew ‘Scrap’ Livingston on bass, and the pianist Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman, who basically plays with everybody who’s groovy (Justin Bond, Antony and the Johnsons, Glen Hansard, The National, David Byrne, Yoko Ono). I’m releasing it on my own label, Snack Bar, through Megaforce. I split with Dave Matthews’ label ATO so I could run my own shop and have more control, business-wise.”

I had a chance to listen to the album in preparation for this interview, and I was pleased to find there’s not a bad cut among any of the 14 songs. One song that I hope will garner a lot of attention is “Holiday”, a Christmas duet with singer/songwriter great Rosanne Cash. About Cash, Doughty said: ” I did a show with her, and she said, onstage, ‘I feel nervous playing my new songs, because Mike Doughty is here, and he’s such a great songwriter.’ That blew my mind.” Honestly, to borrow a phrase from Doughty, their duet blows my mind. I am the kind of person that hates hearing Christmas music anytime other than December. But this song has such an amazing hook (as most of Doughty’s songs do), I ended up playing it seven times in a row the first time I heard it. The whole album pulled me in just as much and it was a pleasure to interview Doughty. We also get to discuss another recent Doughty musical project, Dubious Luxury, released earlier this month. My thanks to Doughty for his time and thoughts, as well as Rob Moore for facilitating the interview.

You’re an artist who clearly loves to play live. In developing Yes and Also Yes, how much did you play some of these songs before an audience prior to entering the studio? And did any of the cuts change drastically from how it was initially conceived compared to the final version?

I’ve been playing a lot of comedy shows, around Brooklyn and Manhattan, as a musical guest, and I played “Na Na Nothing”, and “Day By Day By” at nearly every one of them, plus, maybe, “27 Jennifers”. If I play something a lot, before or after recording it, the phrasing will change ever so slightly, so there’ll be a cumulative evolution that I barely notice, unless I listen to a five-year-old version, and then it’s kind of startling. So, I don’t really know.

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Novelist Kevin Wilson on The Family Fang

The Family Fang

So last week, I ran across an NPR review of Kevin Wilson‘s debut novel, The Family Fang. The premise of the book (adult children returning to the scene of an absurd childhood where they were unwilling stars in their performance artist parents’ pieces) fascinated me. So I contacted Wilson to see if he was game for an email interview, fortunately he was. As longtime readers know, I really enjoy interviewing novelists–to get a better understanding of their craft. In this instance, when I started researching Wilson, there was an added bonus fun factor. I discovered Wilson’s wife is respected poet, Leigh Anne Couch. Couch and I went to high school together–and in fact she was one of the kind classmates who supported me in our senior year, when my father died. In fact, a few years back, Couch and I almost did an interview about her work for this blog, but family commitments (aka the birth of their child) delayed the interview. Hopefully one of these days, we’ll get back to that interview. In the meantime, I am pleased as hell to discuss The Family Fang with Wilson–I get the feeling this is the first of many creative successes for Wilson.

Tim O’Shea: Frequently I talk to authors that speak highly of the cover design for their book, but you are the first author I know to get the cover tattooed on your arm. When did you realize you wanted to commit the piece to flesh?

Kevin Wilson: I knew pretty much the minute that I saw Julie Morstad’s artwork for the cover that I wanted to get the tattoo. I thought it would be cool to get a tattoo that was connected to the novel. Before Allison Saltzman, Ecco’s book designer, showed me the cover design, I thought I might get four sets of fangs on my forearm, but when I saw Annie and Buster, I knew I wanted that on my arm.

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Susan Straight on Take One Candle Light a Room: A novel

Article first published as Interview: Susan Straight, Author of Take One Candle Light a Room: A novel on Blogcritics.

Novelist Susan Straight was born in Riverside, California, and it is the city she still calls home. It is also the place that informed and influenced the city in all seven of her novels, the fictional Rio Seco. Her most recent work, Take One Candle Light a Room: A novel, was released in October 2010.

In this interview, we cover a great deal of ground, mostly her latest work. Her newest novel sets out to tell the tale of Fantine Antoine, who “is a travel writer, a profession that keeps her happily away from her Southern California home. When she returns to mark the fifth anniversary of the murder of her closest childhood friend, Glorette, she finds herself pulled into the tumultuous life of Glorette’s twenty-two-year-old son—and Fantine’s godson—Victor. After getting involved in a shooting, Victor has fled to New Orleans. Together with her father, Fantine follows Victor, determined to help him avoid the criminal future that he suddenly seems destined for.”

Straight was kind enough to work with me on this email interview and, as the mark of any good writer, tried to be economic with her words. In that spirit, she chose to compile her thoughts on my final five questions into one engaging and in-depth answer. I was more than happy to adjust my questions (and chose to drop one) accordingly in the final editing, and appreciate the opportunity to interview Straight. Also my thanks to author Caroline Leavitt for putting me in contact with Straight.

After reading the interview, please be sure to avail yourself of Amazon’s Take A Look feature for the book.

Of your most recent novel, Ayelet Waldman wrote “Susan Straight is the Meryl Streep of novelists…” How does one take a compliment of that caliber?

Ayelet’s line about Meryl Streep was hilarious, because I’m a short white woman who writes about communities filled with black men from the South, teenagers selling drugs, Oaxacan immigrants trying to survive, and yes, even blonde foster moms who are raising other people’s children.  So I don’t know about Meryl Streep – I’ve been told variously that I “look like” Sissy Spacek, Mia Farrow, and Reese Witherspoon.  It’s a compliment based on chameleon qualities, I think.

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Rochelle Jewel Shapiro on Her Writing

Miriam the Medium

When writer Rochelle Jewel Shapiro and I first started discussing the possibility of doing this email interview, she was still in the midst of writing her sequel to her 2004 novel, Miriam the Medium. I am happy to note, as she acknowledges in the opening of our discussion–that she has put the new novel, Kaylee’s Ghost, in her agent’s hands. I greatly appreciated the range of questions she endured from me–and I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. My thanks to Rochelle, for her time and thoughts–and hopefully before we know it, her new novel will soon be on the market.

Tim O’Shea: You are currently at work on a sequel to your first autobiographical novel. Will the sequel stay in the autobio vein?

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro: As in my first novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster), Kaylee’s Ghost, which is now in my agent’s hands, also features Miriam Kaminsky who is a phone psychic from Great Neck like I am, Funny how people know call me Miriam and I have grown so tired of correcting them that I answer to the name of my character now. People always ask me, with sympathy, “What did you really do when Cara ran away?” My own daughter never ran away (phew) and her name isn’t Cara. But, just as I now answer to Miriam, I accept when people to refer to my non-fictional daughter as Cara. In Kaylee’s Ghost, Miriam has a granddaughter just as I do. I will be honored if readers begin to refer to my own granddaughter as Violet. It will mean that the story I’ve written is real to them, and that’s my goal.

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