How Marathon-Running Is Like Novel Writing

B&NBatonRouge2Novelist (and New York Giants fan) Richard Fulco, author of There Is No End to This Slope, took some time out of writing and raising twins, to interview me about Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears for Fiction Writers Review.

We talked about writing (duh), what being a “real” New Yorker means, the murder of the Tooth Fairy, and running. Among other things I said that somehow came out managing to sound smart:

“Marathons are a huge project, but you tackle it one mile at a time. That actually helped me with writing novels. It’s two hours at a time. You just do the small stuff.”

Go read the whole thing.

Can We Make Her Younger?

Mama (l.) and Aunt Delores outside the old house in Grand Prairie in 2011
Mama (l.) and Aunt Delores outside the old house in Grand Prairie in 2011

When I set out to write a novel from the point of view of a 50-year-old woman, I expected a little bit of trouble. Not so much with the writing, mind you. I’ve written from the point of view of a woman numerous times. And when I finished writing “Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears,” I was pleased with the results, in particular the main character Katie-Lee Fontenot (when I wasn’t hating myself and the book and writing in general).

But when it comes to getting a book published, the writer’s opinion on his own writing isn’t exactly relevant, especially if said writer hasn’t been anywhere near a best-seller list. I knew this. I knew there’d be some worrying about a guy’s name at the bottom of a book that can be seen as, depending on your definitions of the genres, Southern women’s lit, commercial women’s fiction or even the much-denigrated but extremely lucrative chick lit.

When it comes to selling my books I’m somewhere between a pragmatist and a shameless pimp. If someone had asked me to drop my first name and go with K. Wheaton — or hell, Liz Wheaton (remember that?!) — I would have considered it. If someone suggested I have an arm-wrestling match with Jennifer Weiner, I’d definitely do it.

Continue reading “Can We Make Her Younger?”

Waltzing Through Louisiana

B&NBatonRouge2Last week, I was down in Louisiana for a couple of readings/signings for my latest novel, Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears. Firstly, I want to offer my condolences to those people who didn’t show up. Because surely your failure to show up was due to a death in the family. I’m quite positive that after I traveled across the entire country and after you promised to show up and yet you didn’t, it wasn’t because you simply were tired or forgot (especially after my 1,653 reminders) or didn’t feel like it. So again, I’m sorry for your loss.

Instead of a sympathy card, maybe I can sign my tear-stained pillow cases or pieces of my broken heart and send that to you.

I think I handled that well.

Now, then. I would like to thank Octavia Books in New Orleans — and Veronica in particular — as well as Barnes & Noble in Baton Rouge — and Courtney at that store — for hosting me and making both events go swimmingly and putting me at ease.

I still get nervous at these things, often for different reasons. In New Orleans, I was worried that exactly four people would show up — Felicia, Eric, Kelsey and Kelley. And they did. Because they’re the best. But so did other people! Some high school friends I hadn’t seen in forever and even some people I didn’t even know. This was my very first reading ever in New Orleans, so I was pleased with the turnout. Here is a photo of the crowd, taken by me.

ReadingOctaviaCrowd

And here is a photo (taken by Veronica) of me doing god knows what. I’m not one of those people who acts out scenes or talks (a lot) with my hands. My favorite guess, from someone on Facebook: I was doing The Carlton.

ReadingOctaviatheCarlton

In Baton Rouge, where I knew it would be mostly family and friends, I was worried someone would be like, “HEY THIS CHARACTER IS BASED ON ME AND WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!?” That didn’t happen. And there were a few high school friends who showed up that I haven’t seen since the Paleozoic era. Could turnout have been better? Yes. But any reading with more than five people is a success — even for famous authors. It should also be pointed out that a) it was the most beautiful weather ever in Louisiana, so people might have been outside b) it’s college football season and c) it was the first day of squirrel-hunting season.

Here’s a photo of Nick and me. I don’t seem to be embarrassing the child. I need to work on that.

ReadingBatonRougeNick

And a photo of Mama and me. (That glowing skin and bright smile I’m sporting is from three days of fried food, including chicken from Willie May’s Scotch House.)

ReadingBatonRougeMom

Daddy and them were there. I can’t even remember if someone took a picture. These things are always a blur. But Daddy’s not on Facebook, so I couldn’t go steal pictures from his profile.

So that’s that. Both of those lovely stores now have signed copies on hand, so go over and buy one. And, if you’re an e-reader sort, the book is actually on e-sale at the moment for the low, low price of $1.99. (I’m not going to make any money off of that, but it’s a good opportunity for you to push it on your friends!)

I’m Coming to See You, Louisiana!

Thanks, Dana, for the photo!The great Ken Wheaton book tour is coming to a state near you!

As long as you live in Louisiana. Because that’s the extent of the book tour. Sorry, everyone else, but that’s the reality of publishing. I do these things on my dime and on my vacation time from work. And if it comes to a choice between spending hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to read to 15 people at the local Books a Million or going on a two-week wedding and honeymoon trip to Bora Bora — well, let’s just say you’re going to really hate my Instagram pics come November.

But I AM coming to Louisiana and I’ll be doing two events.

So bring yourself, bring your friends, bring all your coworkers. If you’re a teacher, this sounds like perfect extra-credit work to me! And also bring your fellow teachers.

NEW ORLEANS — OCTAVIA BOOKS
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2, 6 p.m.
513 Octavia St, New Orleans, LA 70115

Octavia_Books_10-09_106I’m super excited to be doing my first ever reading in New Orleans. Yes. My first. (This is the part where New Yorkers are all, “I thought you were from New Orleans. By the way, I love JazzFest.” GOD DAMN IT! FOR THE THOUSANDTH TIME, I’M NOT FROM NEW ORLEANS!)

But yes, I’m looking forward to a day in New Orleans of stuffing my face, getting an old fashioned (or seven), and then hanging out with the gang at Octavia, who have been kind enough to let me into their store — and to humor me on Instagram and Twitter and even may let me defile their blog with a guest post.

So if you’re in New Orleans or Metairie or Kenner or some of them places around there, come on out to Octavia and say hi.

BATON ROUGE — BARNES & NOBLE – CITIPLACE
Saturday, Oct. 4, 2 p.m.
2590 Citiplace Ct, Baton Rouge, La. 70808

I know for folks from the part of the state that I’m actually from, getting to New Orleans is a bit of a pain. So here’s your chance. And all yall from Baton Rouge and Lafayette and out in Cajun Country who know me personally? Yall besta be coming to this one. And everybody else too. No excuses.

Even if they make LSU play Auburn at noon or 2:30, yall can come to Baton Rouge, watch that game from one of the bars at Citiplace, then come over to Barnes & Noble and show your face, then go back to the game. I guarantee you, watching me read is going to be a hell of a lot less stressful than whatever Les Miles has in store for you that day. (Hopefully, it’s a night game and then we all win!)

I have a little list of all your names and I’m going to be taking attendance! I might even get a grade book. (Okay, I will not do this.)

AND ONE MORE THING
If you’re a New Yorker and reading this and feeling left out, I apologize. It’s not my fault Louisiana is the cultural capital of the world. But if you live in New York and have a book club — especially a boozy book club — and you read the book, I can probably come and discuss it with you.

 

Saturday May 31: Robicelli vs. Wheaton in a Literary-Cupcake Smackdown!

RobicellisCupcakes

Okay. That is not at all what is going on Saturday at the Bay Ridge branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. But it sounded like a good headline. (Also: Whatever it is, I’d lose.)

But Allison Robicelli, co-founder of Robicelli’s and co-author of Robicelli’s: A Love Story With Cupcakes, will be on a panel at the library on Saturday. And I will be on a panel as well. So please come out to Bay Ridge for the following event.

MEET THE WRITERS OF BAY RIDGE
Saturday, May 31, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
7223 Ridge Blvd. at 73rd St.

Brooklyn, NY 11209
718-748-5709

So come on out. There will be something for literary people, foodie people, history buffs, literary foodies who like history, Brooklyn people and fans of free air conditioning. A little more information.

Featuring ALLISON ROBICELLI of Robicelli’s, RAWIA BISHARA of Tanoreen Restaurant, ALLISON KAVE of Butter & Scotch, SARAH ZORN, author of Brooklyn Chef’s Table, Authors KEN WHEATON and CARA ALWILL, The L Magazine Culture Editor HENRY STEWART, and Harper-Collins Executive Editor KRISTEN PETTIT. Moderated by Folio Literary Management’s MELISSA SARVER WHITE.  With special guests Louis Coluccio Jr. from A.L.C. ITALIAN GROCERY, Katarzyna Ploszaj of Petit Oven and a surprise guest from Leske’s Bakery.

Find out more here

And afterwards, stick around and check out the neighborhood. Perhaps go to the Lockyard for some excellent hot dogs and great beer. Or get yourself some cupcakes. Or just go for a walk in one of Brooklyn’s best neighborhoods. (And if you’re a Bay Ridger reading this, leave suggestions in the comments!)

 

Now, am I from Bay Ridge? No. I’m from Louisiana. Do I live in Bay Ridge? Technically, no. But it has a Popeyes, Robicelli’s, a Century 21 not crawling with tourists, The Lockyard and all sorts of other things that make me wish I did. And I jog TO Bay Ridge from time to time. At any rate, hopefully no one will ask me any deeply rooted historical questions about the neighborhood.

 

If You’re Only Going to Read One War Book…

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the sort of book that makes another writer despair. How did Ben Fountain pull this off, that talented bastard? I’m practically sick with jealousy — and depressed that the book is over. Which is saying something considering the subject matter.

The books follows Billy Lynn and the fellow members of Bravo squad, back in the states on a “Victory Tour” after Fox News broadcast their battle with Al-Qaeda forces in Iraq. Billy Lynn and his fellow infantrymen or on the second-to-last day of the tour. After visiting family, a number of other swing-state cities and becoming minor pseudo-celebrities, they find themselves in Texas Stadium, slated to be part of the halftime show with Destiny’s Child during the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving game. All this while a Hollywood producer is trying to get them a movie deal. And they’re being shipped back to Iraq in two days.

There’s obviously a lot of symbolic potential in all of this. And a lesser writer would likely have made a heavy-handed hash of it. THINK THIS! CONSIDER THIS! But Fountain just keeps us tightly within the realm of this 19-year-old soldier with an average past, struggling to make sense of the world he inhabits. That’s not to say Fountain doesn’t get his points across. Setting this inside the throne room of the Dallas Cowboys is a strikingly effective way to say a lot about American priorities. It allows something as simple as a tour of the equipment room to sneak up and smack the reader in the back of the head.

Yes, it’s anti-war, but not the sort of anti-war sentiment that’s based in politics. Rather, it’s based in the tradition of Vonnegut and Heller–it’s anti-war in the sense that sending young men to foreign lands to kill and be killed is a horrible thing.

No matter your politics, it’s a hell of a book.

The Truth About the Business of Literature

barnesnoblesantamonicaNot a week goes by without someone mewling about independent book stores or the “plight” of the book as if some great dark age is upon us. This sort of thing drives me crazy, because it’s completely divorced from, you know, reality. There are more books available now than ever. More fiction than ever. More nonfiction than ever. More people making more money doing it than ever.

Well, except for some of those independent book stores. Two things. 1: It’s a business. And if you need to rely on donations and pledge drives to keep your business afloat, then you’re doing something wrong. 2) Barnes & Noble (and then Amazon) might have hurt your business, but don’t pretend that those two companies haven’t delivered more books to more people who couldn’t previously get them. Having lived in one of those parts of the country that doesn’t have many independent bookstores — with the exception of hard-core Christian ones — I’ll argue that Barnes & Noble is a veritable Library of Alexandria for the parts of this country.

Continue reading “The Truth About the Business of Literature”