Author Spotlight

Author Spotlight: Grady Hendrix

Grady Hendrix is a writer and journalist and one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival. A former film critic for the New York Sun, Grady has written for Slate, theVillage Voice, Time Out New York, Playboy, and Variety.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

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Grady Hendrix: Horrorstör is about a haunted Ikea.

TPP: What inspired you to write Horrorstör?

GH: I spent a long time working for a non-profit that studied paranormal phenomena and I was fascinated by the research on haunted houses. They’re a lot more interesting in real life than they are in the movies, and there’s some interesting, although hardly conclusive, research about hauntings being physical phenomena involving architecture and geologic anomalies. I always thought there was room to update the haunted house story, and when I was talking to my editor he threw out the idea of a haunted big box retail store, and we both instantly realized that we had stumbled across fried gold.

TPP: What inspired the format of your book? It is very reminiscent of a certain store’s catalog.

GH: That’s all Quirk. They design books that you want to own, and the idea of making Horrorstör look like an Ikea catalogue was their stroke of genius. I insisted on writing all the copy myself (including the fine print on the order form) partly because I’m a control freak but mostly because I’ve written marketing copy like that before for a living and it was fun to blast it with weird radiation and watch it mutate. Ultimately Horrorstör is a gorgeous object that I think solves the whole eBook vs. physical book problem: want people to buy a physical book? Then design an awesome one.

TPP: Were there any fun moments in creating Horrorstör? Any difficult moments?

GH: The whole thing was a blast. I’ve had real jobs before and compared to those the most difficult moment writing a book is like a sitting on a beach with trained monkeys bringing your mai tais on a silver platter whenever you snap your fingers. And, actually, snapping your fingers is too much work so you have a monkey specifically trained to snap its fingers whenever want. When I hear writers talk about how hard it is to write a book I wonder if they’ve ever changed the oil in a deep fat fryer or sold fake jewelry over the phone or hung sheetrock.

That said, I did get a mental hangnail trying to keep the geography of Orsk straight in my head. Today, I could draw you a map from memory, but trying to memorize every twist and turn of an imaginary location did require some mental effort. So shed a tiny teardrop for the effort that took me.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would have been given?

GH: I don’t think you can give people advice. They never listen. But I will say, if you want to write books, then start writing books and publishing them yourself. Use your second book to fix the mistakes in your first. Keep working. Be lucky. And don’t expect to get anywhere much before you’re 30.

TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on a soundtrack to your book?

GH: SUSPIRIA by Goblin – Italian prog rockers doing the score to Dario Argento’s witchy fairy tale, it sounds like an entire symphony orchestra thrown down a flight of concrete stairs while crazy old women crouch on your shoulder screaming, “Witch!” into your ears. Once you stop flinching, it’s great music to write to.

“if u cAn dR3Am – pRinc3ss3s” by GR†LLGR†LL – the most exciting horror today is in music, specifically witch house, which is basically hipster goth electro. Full of sonic damage, samples, tape hiss, static snarls, and some kind of deep Casio beat over the sound of distant screaming, it’s music that’s designed to get your skin crawling and your eyeballs vibrating with fear.

“De Natura Sonoris No. 1” by Krzysztof Penserecki – want to destroy your soul, one second of sonic insanity at a time? Penserecki’s got you covered. Anything by him is capable of causing your bones to melt from pure anxiety and tension, but “De Natura Sonoris” is the one that really punches me in the fear gland.

Author Spotlight: Scott Westerfeld

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Scott Westerfeld is the author of the Leviathan series, the first book of which was the winner of the 2010 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Fiction. His other novels include The Leviathan series, The Uglies series (which has over 4 million books in print and has been translated into 28 languages), The Last Days, Peeps, So Yesterday, and the Midnighters trilogy. AFTERWORLDS is his newest book.

The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Scott Westerfeld: One girl travels the afterworlds, another writes her story.

TPP: What inspired you to write AFTERWORLDS?

SW: I’ve had such a great time in the world of YA, I wanted to write something about this community. About touring, working on novels, and about the ways that we writers talk to each other when it’s just us in the room. And I didn’t think it was fair to write about a novelist without letting the reader know what she was working on, so I decided to include the complete text of her novel as well.

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TPP: Was is difficult to write the novel from these two different perspectives/plots while still keeping it cohesive and easy to follow?

SW: The two threads interact, each giving you more information about the other. For example, when my writer character, Darcy, discovers something new, that knowledge works its way into the world of her novel. She gets her ideas from the same place all novelists do, the real world around her. So hopefully the two stories make each other easier to understand, rather than getting muddled up. To know the writer is to know her work.

TPP: What was the process like behind developing the cover art for your novel?

SW: When we shot the video, we took a lot of photos of the actors, thinking to use them on the cover. But nothing quite worked right, because it was hard to strike a balance between the fictional characters and the people in the “real world.” In the end, designer Regina Flath realized that tears played a very important role in both stories, so we went for something simpler—a teardrop and spilled ink.

Link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zrQG_5av18

TPP: If AFTERWORLDS was optioned for a film, who could you see cast as Darcy and Lizzie?

SW: It has been optioned, and partly cast, so I really shouldn’t say. But at least one of them should be an unknown.

TPP: Name three songs that could be on a soundtrack for AFTERWORLDS.

SW: “Dancing with Mister D” by the Rolling Stones, “Meet Me in the Sky” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and “Party for the Fight to Write” by Atmosphere.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you had been given?

SW: Genius, honesty, and intelligence are all lovely things to have, but persistence is the only consistently rewarded virtue.

TPP: What do you get out of writing?

SW: I get to build worlds, and to destroy them. I get to commit terrible wrongs, and then right them. I get to watch people go through the most trying and exciting challenges of their lives, and then reach in and make it harder on them. In other words, I get to tell stories.

TPP: What’s your writing process like? Do you listen to music, have the TV on, or complete silence? Can you write anytime, anywhere or do you have to be alone?

SW: I write at the same time every day (right after caffeine) and in the same chair, so my butt knows that it’s writing time. Nothing will make your brain cooperate better than being trained that NOW is the time to write, and that it doesn’t get to do anything else. Make habits your ally.

TPP: What’s the most recent thing you’ve read?

SW:”What If?” by Randall Munroe. It’s a set of seriously scientific answers to really odd questions, like, “If all your DNA suddenly vanished, how long would you live?”

To learn more about Scott Westerfeld, visit his website where you can find links to his social media accounts and tour information as well as frequent updates and blog posts from the author himself!

 

Author Spotlight: Tyler Knott Gregson

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Tyler Knott Gregson is a poet, author, professional photographer, and artist who lives in the mountains of Helena, Montana. When he is not writing, he operates his photography company, Treehouse Photography, with his talented partner, Sarah Linden.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your collection in ten words or less.

Tyler Knott Gregson: Making big things feel little, and little things feel giant.

TPP: What inspired you to write the pieces in Chasers of the Light?

TKG: Inspiration is one thing I have never, ever found in short supply. I am inspired by absolutely everything, but I am drawn most towards love, longing, and that ache that comes when you just cannot seem to grab onto what it is you need. I’ve always tried to write of the beautiful things I find, notice, and observe about this crazy world, and of all the things I know I want, but just haven’t been able to have yet.

Author Spotlight: Sandy Hall

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Sandy Hall is a teen librarian from New Jersey where she was born and raised. She has a BA in Communication and a Master of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University. When she isn’t writing, or teen librarian-ing, she enjoys reading, slot machines, marathoning TV shows, and long scrolls through Tumblr. A Little Something Different is her first novel.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Sandy Hall: A girl meets boy story told from everyone else’s perspective.

TPP: What inspired you to write A Little Something Different?

SH: I was inspired by the Swoon Reads website. I’d been working on a completely different book, that had no romance in it. Then I saw an article about Swoon and I decided to try my hand at writing teen romance.

TPP: What was the most difficult aspect of writing your novel?

SH: Editing! Without a doubt. The writing comes easy, it’s the re-writing and editing that’s tough for me.

Author Spotlight: Stephan Eirik Clark

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Stephan Eirik Clark was born in West Germany and raised in England and the United States. He is the author of the short story collection Vladimir’s Mustache. A former Fulbright fellow to Ukraine, he teaches at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Stephan Eirik Clark: A flavor chemist’s secret past tears his family apart.

TPP: What inspired you to write Sweetness #9?

SEC: Before reading Fast Food Nation, I hadn’t paid attention to the flavorings in my food. They were just there, like gravity or electricity. But after reading Eric Schlosser’s book, I couldn’t stop thinking about flavorings. It amazed me that a certain molecule smelled like cut grass, or barbecued brisket, and knowing that molecules like this were being added to my food, I had to stop and ask myself, Am I eating food? Or just the illusion of food? It was like going down a rabbit hole. Pretty soon I was looking at everything through the prism of food, and realizing I had enough questions to write a novel.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?

SEC: First and foremost, I want them to be entertained by the story of a man who has to face the mistakes he made in the past. It’s a story we can all relate to. Can you make things right years after failing to do what’s right? If in addition to that readers would think about processed foods in a way they haven’t done before — that would make the novel a success in my mind.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

SEC: Don’t become a writer unless you absolutely have to be one. Try to quit. If you are okay without writing, do something else. If you can’t help but tell stories, commit yourself to the craft completely and give it as much time as possible when you’re young and serving your apprenticeship. With the exception of a few stray prodigies, you only improve by spending years in the chair.

TPP: Name two to three songs that would be on a soundtrack for Sweetness #9.

SEC: Three time periods figure heavily into Sweetness #9: World War II, the early-70s, and the late-90s. The character who emerges from the rubble of Nazi Berlin, Hitler’s personal flavor chemist, Ernst Eberhardt, is nicknamed “Sonny Boy,” after the Al Jolson song (at least until the singer’s Jewish heritage made that moniker problematic). The main character, David Leveraux, comes of age in the sixties and seventies, but is in many ways a child of the fifties. For that reason, the song that defines him in young adulthood is “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” as performed by Mantovani. “World music” appears in the final time period, this being the music of choice of David’s vegan daughter, Priscilla.

To learn more about Stephan Eirik Clark, visit his website!

Author Spotlight: Jess Row

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Jess Row is the author of the story collections The Train to Lo Wu and Nobody Ever Gets Lost. Named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007, he has won two Pushcart Prizes and a PEN/O. Henry Prize and has appeared in The Best American Short Stories three times. He lives in New York and teaches at the College of New Jersey.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Jess Row: A novel about what happens when race becomes a choice.

TPP: Was there any difficulty writing about the topics that are central to your novel (race, identity, etc.)?

JR: Absolutely. It was a long process of self-discovery and reflection for me, and that process continues to unfold as I get to talk to readers about the book.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?

JR: I hope that anyone who reads the novel can take a moment to meditate on the  question: “Who would I choose to be?” It can be a funny, but also very revealing, experience. It certainly was for me. While I would not choose to have racial reassignment surgery myself, I’ve often wished I could “disappear” into another identity—and thinking about the possibility of a permanent, irreversible change made me see those desires in a new way.

Author Spotlight: Radhika Sanghani

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Radhika Sanghani is a twenty-four-year-old journalist.  She works full-time for the Daily Telegraph’s Women’s section, where she writes about politics, health and women’s trends. She grew up in London but spent time working in Chile and Barcelona. She studied English Literature at University College London, followed it up with a master’s in journalism at City University London and now spends all of her time writing.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Radhika Sanghani: Virginity, vaginas, pubes and some feminism.

TPP: What inspired you to write VIRGIN?

RS: Real life. So much of it is based on what I saw around me when I was at university, and hilarious stories my very honest friends have told me. The plot itself is completely fiction, but the feelings, the pressures and the sexual expectations are all things that young women face today.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?

RS: I want them to laugh. My one goal is to entertain my readers – but I do think there’s a message in there about ignoring everyone else and living your life for you. These social pressures do exist, but at the end of the day, it’s about doing what makes you happy – even if that means getting your pubes waxed in a back alley.

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TPP: There are two covers for your novel. What was the decision making behind that? Did you have any say when it came to the cover art?

RS My publishers and I thought that the different covers would appeal to all the different readers that Virgin could have. Age-wise, I think younger readers would relate to the sexual pressures, but older women could also look back at their own lives and maybe remember their own similar experiences. We also thought that the ‘girl’ one might appeal to men – if they’re brave enough to read it!

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would have been given?

RS: I think my main advice is to just do it. Stop planning – or making excuses – and write the damn thing. You can deal with everything else once it’s written. Also, make sure you’re writing for yourself. If you start thinking of who your audience are and target markets, it won’t feel natural. Ignore all that and just write whatever you want to.

I wish I’d just known more practical info! I ended up learning how to get an agent and start the whole process just by googling ‘what to do when you’ve written a book.’ I did eventually figure out what to do, but it would have been amazing if someone had just explained what an initial submission looked like.

TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on a soundtrack to VIRGIN?

RS: I’d have ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’ by Lana Del Rey, ‘Watch Me Shine’ from Legally Blonde just because Ellie does get her shine on and ‘F*** You’ by Lily Allen. Incidentally, these are all on my Feminist Playlist on my iTunes.

To learn more about Radhika Sanghani, visit her website!

Author Spotlight: Mark Chiusano

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Mark Chiusano is a graduate of Harvard University, where he was the recipient of a Hoopes Prize for outstanding undergraduate fiction. His stories have appeared in Guernica, Narrative MagazineThe Harvard Review, and online at Tin House and The Paris Review Daily. He was born and raised in Brooklyn.

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TPP: Describe your collection is ten words or less.

Mark Chiusano: Far out in Brooklyn, growing up, sometimes shoveling snow.

TPP: What inspired you to write the stories in Marine Park?

MC: Plenty of books have been written in or about Brooklyn, but Marine Park is basically invisible in all that literary productivity. I wanted to show a different side of the borough from the land of popular publishing imagination.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your collection?

MC: A picture of a lesser-known neighborhood, and the best way to get kicked off a Brooklyn basketball court (don’t try at home!). If it’s possible to give away slices of pizza from Pronto’s on Avenue R that would be great too.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you were given?

MC: I once heard Denis Johnson say that he writes three minutes a day, at least, which I’ve tried to do since then—usually you write more but at least you’re sitting down and doing it no matter what.

TPP: Name two to three songs that would be on a soundtrack for Marine Park.

MC: Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” Black Star’s “Definition,” and Z100’s morning mix.

To learn more about Mark Chiusano, visit his website!

Author Spotlight: Adi Alsaid

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Adi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City, then studied at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While in class, he mostly read fiction and continuously failed to fill out crossword puzzles, so it’s no surprise that after graduating, he did not go into business world but rather packed up his apartment into his car and escaped to the California coastline to become a writer. He’s now back in his hometown, where he writes, coaches high school and elementary basketball, and has perfected the art of making every dish he eats or cooks as spicy as possible. In addition to Mexico, he’s lived in Tel Aviv, Las Vegas, and Monterey, California. A tingly feeling in his feet tells him more places will eventually be added to the list. Let’s Get Lost is his YA debut.

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The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.
Adi Alsaid: Leila, mysterious girl, crashes into four teens’ lives.

TPP: What inspired you to write Let’s Get Lost?
AA: It was partially inspired by my own travels and road tripping. It aims to be more than just a road trip novel, told through the points of view of different characters along the way, so it’s about more than just traveling. Each character’s section is imbued with its own inspirations, large or small, mostly stemming from my interest in the idea of a story about how we affect the strangers around us, my almost life-long interest in what’s going on in other people’s thoughts.

TPP: What was the most difficult aspect of writing your novel?
AA: Probably in finding the right balance of internal moments and external action. I wanted the book to be both emotional and yet fun, and so it took a few drafts (and my editors’ smarts/talents/etc) to strike the right balance.

Author Spotlight: Celeste Ng

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Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You (June 2014, Penguin Press). She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Currently she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son, where she teaches fiction writing at Grub Street and is at work on a second novel and a collection of short stories.

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TPP: Describe your novel in ten words or less.

Celeste Ng: A favorite daughter’s sudden death reveals her mixed-race family’s secrets.

TPP: What inspired you to write Everything I Never Told You?

CN: The specifics: my husband told me an anecdote about seeing a girl fall into a lake when he was a kid, and that image stuck with me.  I started writing to explore who she was, what her family was like, and how she ended up in the water, and this troubled family emerged.

More generally, though, I’ve always been fascinated by secrets, how they can erode you from within. I wanted to look at what that could do to a family, especially in the wake of a tragedy. When you lose someone, there are often so many unanswered questions—all these unintentional secrets, large and small. You think of all the things you want to ask them, and all the answers they’ll never be able to give you.  My father died ten years ago, and I’m still thinking of things I wish I could ask him.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?

CN: I hope readers will close the book thinking about what it’s like to be an outsider, to feel different from other people around you in any way. Every character in this book is an outsider in some way, and that can be so isolating.  What is fiction for if not to help you imagine your way into someone else’s experience and find connection there?

And I hope readers will leave with an appreciation of how difficult it can be to really communicate with someone, even if—maybe particularly if—you’re very close to them. Sometimes there’s more risk in being honest with the people you care about most; there’s so much more at stake. The title, Everything I Never Told You, works two ways: it refers to the secrets we keep on purpose— the things we hide because we’re frightened or ashamed—but it also speaks to the things we leave unsaid because we don’t realize other people are waiting to hear them.  I love you. I miss you. You’re important. It sounds a little cheesy, but those are things we often leave implicit and yet long to hear explicitly.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?