Sometimes I get lucky. Such was the case, when Susan Henderson emailed me, wondering if I wanted to discuss her 2010 novel, Up From the Blue (the story of “a 1970s bi-polar housewife who goes missing and her daughter who won’t give up the search for her”). As described at her site: “Susan Henderson is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award, and her work has — twice — been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her debut novel, UP FROM THE BLUE, was published by HarperCollins in 2010 and is now in its fourth printing. Rights have been sold to five other countries, and it’s currently being translated into Norwegian and Dutch. UP FROM THE BLUE has been selected as a Great Group Reads pick (by the Women’s National Book Association), an outstanding softcover release (by NPR), a Best Bets Pick (by BookReporter), Editor’s Pick (by BookMovement), Editor’s Choice (by BookBrowse), a Prime Reads pick (by HarperCollins New Zealand), and a Top 10 of 2010 (by Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness). She blogs at LitPark.com and The Nervous Breakdown. Her husband is a costume designer, filmmaker, and tenured drama professor. They live in NY with their two boys.” (In one of those happy coincidences, this interview is my 500th post for the blog. Seeing as I started the blog [back in late 2007] as an outlet for my pop culture/interview interests, I think it apt that the 500th post would to be an interview.) My thanks to Henderson for her time. Please be sure to read to the very end, as Henderson’s detailing the roads taken by first-time novelists is eye opening.
Tim O’Shea: How challenging is it emotionally/psychologically/physically to write a novel that delves on some level with depression?
Susan Henderson: You know, it’s funny. It’s not hard for me to write emotional material. I find that freeing. And it’s a little backwards from my real life, where I’m fairly guarded. The things that are challenging for me on paper have to do with plot, with trying to take my kind of circular way of seeing the world and make it into something linear, or trying to take intuitions and philosophies and translate them into characters’ actions.
Very rarely a great interview opportunity lands in my comments section. Such was the case when StephenBattaglio, author of David Susskind: A Televised Life, posted a comment in a recent Susskind post of mine. From there, I contacted Battaglio and he agreed to do an email interview about the book (here’s its official description): “David Susskind was the first TV producer to become a TV star. His freewheeling discussion program, Open End, later known as The David Susskind Show, brought the turbulent issues of the 1960s and the wild and often wacky social trends of the 1970s into the nation’s living rooms at a time when viewing choices were scant. Susskind grilled everyone from a Mafia hit man to transsexuals to a famously hilarious Mel Brooks. His legendary interview with Nikita Khrushchev at the height of the Cold War inflamed both the political and media establishments and would have made his name if nothing else did … David Susskind: A Televised Life is as much a chronicle of a glamorous time in the entertainment industry as it is a biography of one of its most colorful, important and influential players.” My thanks to Battaglio for an immensely enjoyable and insightful discussion about Susskind.
Tim O’Shea: This book grew out of a piece you wrote for the NY Times back in 2001, what motivated you to grow it into a book?
Stephen Battaglio: I had wanted to write a book about the history of television. When I researched the story about Susskind, I realized that he was a great vehicle to tell the story of the medium in its early years. What I didn’t realize until I researched the book, was that his personal story was so dramatic. I think it will surprise readers who thought they knew him.
Caroline Leavitt‘s latest novel, Pictures of You, is already in its third printing. So I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have recently email interviewed her about the book. As detailed at her site, the book can best be described as: “A mysterious car crash on a deserted, foggy road brings three people together in a collision of their own: A photographer fleeing her philandering husband and consumed with guilt. An asthmatic boy with a terrible secret. A husband who realizes that he never really knew his wife.”
Tim O’Shea: After reading your recent essay for The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, I am left with one question. Had you ever regarded writing as a form of therapy prior to writing your latest novel–and would you agree that to some extent it is a form of therapy?
Caroline Leavitt: Great question. I absolutely agree. I think I knew early on that writing made me feel better. I was a tense, moody, unsettled kid with terrible asthma, and I started out writing when I was most unhappy or felt most alone. I could lose myself and my problems in the work, and I quickly became addicted. I also quickly learned that to be any good, I had to write when I was happy, too—every day, in fact. I also knew somehow that I could be a happy, silly person in everyday life IF I got out all my demons in my work.
Greg Rucka is a person who I have wanted to interview for a very long time. And thanks to some help from folks (you know who you are!) it finally came to pass. Last year saw the release of Rucka’s latest installment in his Queen & Country universe–the prose novel, The Last Run. Rucka is an intelligent, as well as fun, fellow (who else would offer both a media-focused bio and a fan-focused bio) and, of course, a talented as hell writer. In addition to delving into The Last Run (partially described as “For nearly a decade Tara Chace has been Britain’s top covert agent. But Chace is past her expiration date. Her body hurts. Her nerves are scrambled. She’s ready for a desk job, the quiet role of mentor to a new generation of special operations officers. But before her replacement can be chosen, there’s one last job for Queen and country . . . and it may be the last thing she does. Ever.”), Rucka was kind enough to discuss his new three-book deal with Mulholland Books (he is currently doing research for the deal’s first book, Alpha). Given Rucka’s busy schedule, I appreciated his willingness to break his normal policy and grant me an email interview.
Tim O’Shea: Your fiction is imbued with a strong world view/grasp of current geopolitics. What are some of the non-mainstream/unique news sources you consult on a regular basis?
Greg Rucka: Yeesh, that’s not the easiest thing to answer, actually. I don’t really have RSS feeds set up or anything like that. A lot of what gets me going tends to be mainstream news, honestly, in particular NPR, and then I tend to chase things down from there. But there are some more…esoteric sites I tend to visit. Stratfor (www.stratfor.com) is one. I visit the Janes Resource Group relatively frequently, and I have a subscription to Highbeam Research, which I’ve found invaluable over the years.
Tim O’Shea: I love book dedications for the stories potentially behind them. What’s the story behind this “Dedicated to PENELOPE SPHEERIS and JON GRIES for inspiring this project and countless others.”
Zack Carlson: Spheeris’ 1984 film SUBURBIA is by far the best movie I’ve ever seen, and Jon Gries’ performance in JOYSTICKS is a true display of subhuman wildness. Bryan and I watched both of these movies in a short span, and the realization of their sheer power planted the seed for this book that would devour our lives for seven years. We should sue!
Longtime pal of mine and great critic/pop culture pundit Curt Holman introduces me to many fascinating creative folks through his writing–and he has for years. And every once in awhile he literally introduces me to talented people. The latter is the case with this week’s interview subject: Alonso Duralde, the author of Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas. Duralde and Holman are old friends–and while he and I have exchanged pop culture email exchanges in the past, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to discuss Duralde’s pop culture work with him. His latest book (published by Limelight) aims to be “the first film guide written specifically for holiday film viewing, including traditional classics alongside more unusual choices of films that are set at Yuletide without being thought of as ‘Christmas movies.’ The guide will spotlight Christmas-themed adult comedies, dramas, action thrillers, foreign films, and horror films—even a documentary—as well as movies for the whole family.” My thanks to Duralde for the interview (and Jamie Scot for his assistance in making this interview happen [as well as my pal Holman]). As a longtime Frank Capra fan (my late father had me watch It’s A Wonderful Life when I was seven), it’s an early Christmas present for me to encounter a critic who appreciates Capra as much as I do. After reading this interview, be sure to check out this preview of the book.
Tim O’Shea: In considering these holiday films are there certain ones you grew to see in a different light, be it more positive or negative?
Alonso Duralde: I was really surprised how politically progressive and bold the two Frank Capra films are. Both “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Meet John Doe” have things to say about corporate greed (and control of the media) and the disparity between rich and poor that are amazingly relevant to 2010 audiences. Capra gets a bad rap for being corny and sentimental, but I think he was making very incisive movies about what was going on in Depression-era America, and his messages remain very timely.
Back in the late 1980s, when I was studying Irish Folklore in college, I distinctly remember my fascination with the subject of Irish Travellers. So when Ron Hogantweeted about Jeanine Cummins‘ debut novel,The Outside Boy, and I found out it touched upon the life of Travellers, I was immediately interested in finding out more. Thus, this email interview. Cummins describes her debut novel in this informational video (posted above).
Tim O’Shea: How much research did you have to do about Irish Travellers before embarking on the book?
Jeanine Cummins: A lot. I already had a basic knowledge of the travelling community, just from living in Ireland, but most of my ideas about them were informed by the stereotypes that exist in the mainstream Irish culture. I didn’t actually know any travellers. So when I first began my research, I read everything I could find by, and about, travellers. And then, after tons of reading, I went to Ireland, and met lots of travellers and spoke with them about their experiences. They were fascinating people, and for the most part, very warm and welcoming.
As part of my day job, I periodically have to create flowcharts. None of my flowcharts, however, are as amusing or engaging as the ones that appear in Doogie Horner‘s brand new book, Everything Explained Through Flowcharts, which goes on saletoday (October 26) from Harper Paperbacks. Here’s a snippet of what the book offers: “What if all of life’s greatest mysteries could be explained through ingeniously designed flowcharts? The afterlife, the quickest way to gain a supernatural power, even the ultimate guide for things to say during sex, all broken down into charts even your sixth grade English teacher (the one who made you do all those brainstorming diagrams) would be impressed by. Fortunately for humanity, comedian and graphic designer Doogie Horner has done just that” with this new book. You may recognize Horner from his recent appearance on NBC’s America’s Got Talent where he was the only comedian in the show’s final 48 contestants. My apologies to Horner for a typo in one of the questions (I meant to type “designing book covers” and inexplicably typed “designing comic books”), but fortunately enough Horner answered my “mistake” question (delightfully I might add) and my “proper” question (equally as delightfully). To get an idea of the flowcharts, here a few excerpted pages on superpowers and fears.
Tim O’Shea: You concede at one point in the book that this book required a great deal of research. Which of the features required the most research or was the most absurd to research?
Doogie Horner: Yeah, I tried to ground all the charts in solid research. So even charts like Alien Sex, where I’m obviously talking about 100% make believe, I researched depictions of aliens in television, film, and of course the numerous nutball testimonials.
Designer Paint Names required a ton of research, and I probably got a little carried away with that one. After I handed in the sixth page of paint name charts, my editor said, “If you hand in one more page of paint names, I will murder you.” WWF Finishing Moves was challenging as well, because even after I figured out what moves to include, I then had to find video or photos of each wrestler executing the move so I could diagram them accurately. However the Heroes and Villains chart definitely required the most research, because I had to find out how many people each hero and villain had killed in each of their films, and that covered 48 characters in 187 films. The numbers still aren’t 100% accurate for that chart, because I found different sources citing different numbers, and there were some kills that were ambiguous (for instance when Chuck Norris just mows down a whole crowd of bad guys with a machine gun), but I tried to be as accurate as possible. I had to use an equation to figure out Godzilla‘s kill count.
Tim O’Shea: Would you say with the 24/7 news cycle mixed with the fact PR people can no longer sweep heavy drinking under the table as easily, is the era of celebrity hellraising done to a certain extent?
Robert Sellers: I think so. Our hellraisers were lucky in that their misbehaviour was only witnessed by a select few, so tales of their debauchery have become almost mythologized. Today celebrities’ every involuntary movement is recorded on some tosser’s mobile phone and then put on You Tube in a time span that’s shorter than their dick.
O’Shea: What attracted you to documenting the partying ways of these four actors (Burton, O’Toole, Harris & Reed) in particular?
Sellers: These guy’s bad behaviour was laced with a bit of style and humour. Take the time O’Toole was refused a drink after hours so he simply pulled out his cheque book and bought the pub. There was a jaw dropping audacity about their pranks and a twinkle in their eyes that made the public forgive them almost anything, which you just don’t have with today’s celebrity yobs. Also, back in those wilder and better days drinking was very much a macho culture; a chap could hold his booze and all of these hellraisers could drink each other under the table. Today it’s almost a prerequisite to appear everywhere completely out of your head and hopeless. The new breed of bad boy is not terribly sophisticated. Burton et al could always turn on the charm, pissed or not; this new lot can hardly string a sentence together.