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Posts Tagged ‘novelist’

A Week in Culture: Tom Nissley, Writer and Game-Show Contestant

May 18, 2011 | by

DAY ONE

I am, in theory, living the dream: I made a lot of money on a game show and quit my job to write. In December1, I won eight times on Jeopardy! and suddenly found myself the third-leading money winner in the history of the show (aside from tournaments and John Henry–style man-versus-machine battles). I left my job (as an editor on the Amazon.com Books store) in March, and ever since I’ve been trying to sort out how to get all the things done for which there still aren’t enough hours in the day: reading, working on a novel every day instead of once a week, blogging, umpiring Little League, writing another book that the world might want more than a weird novel about silent movies, saying hi to my wife more than I used to, and, crucially, preparing for the next Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, which hasn’t been announced yet and which I haven’t yet been invited to, though it seems like a safe bet. For better or worse (better!), being a game-show contestant is now one of my jobs.

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  1. Well, actually in September, but I had to keep quiet about it for three months until it aired.

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Vendela Vida

August 19, 2010 | by

Vendela Vida’s new novel, The Lovers, follows a middle-aged Vermont woman, recently widowed, as she vacations in the unfamiliar territory of Turkey in an attempt to re-examine her life. Among these new surroundings, her initial numbness about her bereavement gives way to doubt over whether her marriage was even happy, and she has to face up to a pain she never anticipated. Vendela Vida recently answered my questions over lunch during her book tour’s stop-over in New York City.

What drew you to set this novel in Turkey?

It was completely an accident. I went there for a month in June of 2005 when I was trying to finish my second novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, and wanted to be far away from the Arctic Circle in winter—the setting of that novel—and free from the day-to-day distractions of my life in San Francisco. I found a rental house by typing “Turkey,” “rental,” “cheap,” and “beach” into a search engine. I had no intention of setting a novel there, but a year later, this house and this town I stayed in kept appearing in my mind. I couldn’t get rid of the idea of writing about Turkey, so I did.

Did the house you stayed in have any of the unusual contents of the vacation house in the book?

Yes. I usually don’t like to take details from life, but, in this case, I couldn’t resist. The owners left out things that people typically wouldn’t leave out—sex swings, pornographic photos of the wife, books on sexual positions. My husband and I would leave the house to swim, or eat, or explore, and when we returned we would want to be in a neutral, uncomplicated place to relax and absorb everything new we’d seen and experienced beyond the walls of the house, but we were continually affronted by some new and intimate discovery about the owners’ lives. I wanted to put Yvonne, the protagonist of The Lovers, in a discomfiting situation like that.

Lionel Shriver has said she writes partly as catharsis-in-advance. So she wrote about death to experience bereavement. Was this a motive for you in exploring the character of Yvonne?

I write a lot from a place of fear. My friend, the writer Amanda Davis, who was killed in a plane crash in 2003, said that every day you should write about something that scares you. I was finishing this book just after the birth of my second child and the notion that this newborn could one day be estranged and the source of pain for me was also something I feared—and so I made Yvonne’s relationship with her daughter an especially fraught and challenging one. Even the vague idea of my husband dying is something that devastates me. So I was tapping into that fear when creating Yvonne, who’s fifty-three and a widow, and trying to imagine what it would be like to lose someone after spending half your life with them.

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Katherine Dunn

June 14, 2010 | by

It took seventeen years to get from my second novel, Truck, to my third, Geek Love.

Katherine Dunn’s novel, Geek Love, is the most singular, evocative, twisted, hilarious book I have ever read. Every sentence contains a surprise. There is nothing else like it. I’ve given a copy of Geek Love as a gift at least once a year for the last decade. A while ago, I wrote Katherine Dunn a fan letter. In reaction to my heaps of heartfelt praise, she said simply, “I’m so grateful that you found it funny. Not everyone gets the jokes.”

Our correspondence ranged from marriage to Mike Tyson’s pigeons, but there was one steady thread—my repeated nagging for a short story or piece of fiction to read and consider for the magazine. I learned from Katherine that I was not her only fan among Paris Review editors. “Shortly before George Plimpton died, he phoned me out of the blue—he was a legendary figure for my generation so this blew my pulse rate to ecstatic shreds—asking to include one of my pieces in a volume of boxing stories he was planning to edit. It would have been a great honor.” A new Katherine Dunn story in The Paris Review, the issue’s printed, and my pulse has not yet returned to normal.

Since Geek Love was published in 1989, you've published many articles, essays, even poetry, but not much fiction. Does fiction take longer to simmer?

Yes, I’ve only published a few short stories in anthologies. Some projects do take longer to gel. But nonfiction is done on a deadline so somebody snatches it away and prints it.

Twenty years is a long time for something to gel, what has happened?

I don’t want to be glib here, but twenty years worth of life and work happened. Some might say I’m right on schedule by my lights. It took seventeen years to get from my second novel, Truck, to my third, Geek Love. And Cut Man is still in progress but it’s a longer book. Fortunately there’s no shortage of wonderful novelists to keep us all engaged. And, lucky for me, the Magi at Alfred A. Knopf are possessed of patience.

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A Week in Culture: Maud Newton, Part 2

June 10, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Maud Newton’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

8:07 A.M. I don’t work on Wednesdays, but I’m up early anyway, mildly hungover and with tea in hand, to write. The dinner scene looks clunkier now; commence line-edits.

9:30 A.M. Online grazing: Garrison Keillor publishes an infuriating death-of-publishing op-ed. Kingsley Amis argues that Keats isn’t a great poet. Graydon Carter says that Kingsley Amis was “an accomplished womanizer, drinker, and conversationalist” who was “funny and raffishly rude, and had the thinnest, whitest skin I’ve ever seen on a man—like a condom filled with skim milk.” The NYPL and the Brooklyn and Queens library systems are beginning major layoffs; protest by joining the postcard campaign.

10:30 A.M. More writing, further consultation of Memento Mori.

12:30 P.M. For lunch: bagel with tomato, onion, lox, and cream cheese. I’ve set aside a little time here because I’m excited to take a look at the galley for my friend Amitava Kumar’s A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, about the U.S. terrorism-detection machine/industry.

2:00 P.M. Back to work on my novel draft.

8:12 P.M. After six hours’ work, I’m feeling more optimistic about the way all the hullabaloo with the dogs leads into the dinner scene.

8:45 P.M. Sushi and drinks with Max. Lately when I drink gin, I’ve been doing it Kingsley Amis’s preferred way, with a little ice, lemon, and water. It’s growing on me. I don’t know why I’m drinking the things he and Muriel Spark did.

11:00 P.M. Time for another episode of Damages (second of Season Two).

1:23 A.M. Amis on owing to/due to: Never say “Due to lack of interest, the carol service has been cancelled"—only “Owing to...”  

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