An Interview with Robert Antoni, author of As Flies to Whatless Boys

Robert Antoni is the author of five books: Divina Trace, Blessed is the Fruit, My Grandmother’s Erotic Folktales, Carnival, and As Flies to Whatless Boys. He earned an MA from the Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. Among his honors are Guggenheim Fellowship, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the NALIS Lifetime Literary Award from the Trinidad and Tobago National Library.

Antoni lives in Manhattan and teaches in the graduate writing program at The New School University. We recently had an opportunity to talk about his latest book, As Flies to Whatless Boys (Akashic Books, 2013).

EB:What prompted you to write this book?

RA: I was leafing through an old Trinidadian memoir, and in the Appendix I came across three paragraphs on John Adolphus Etzler, his machines, and his Tropical Emigration Society (TES). I was fascinated. But what struck me as still more amazing was a footnote to the description of Etzler: that despite the tragedy that ensued with his experiment, several well-known families were established in Trinidad. And last among the list was my mother’s surname, Tucker. Yet my mother had never heard of Etzler or the TES. The only story she knew was that our first relative to arrive from England in Trinidad, William Sanger Tucker, settled the rest of his family in Port of Spain, and left immediately with his fifteen-year-old son, Willy, into the jungle—she had no idea why. And six weeks later young Willy brought his father back to his family in a makeshift stretcher carried by himself, an African, and two Warrahoon Indians. He was dying of yellow fever, to which he succumbed following morning. That was all my mother knew. But suddenly I realized that my mother’s bizarre and horrific story made sense if the Tuckers had been part of Etzler’s experiment. I was determined to find out. So I went to the National Archives in Trinidad, and to the British Library in London, and I gathered together everything I could find about Etzler and his society—including his own published treatises, complete with mechanical drawings of his machines. And I began to pour through the mountain of photocopies, looking for the surname, Tucker. Eventually, I stumbled across it, again and again, and I realized that the Tuckers were indeed counted among Etzler’s first group of Pioneers to land in Trinidad. Not only that, William Sanger had been instrumental to building the Satellite, Etzler’s agrarian mechanism powered by the wind that would have planted the crops and performed all the labor upon the land. But the culmination of my research was the discovery of a letter, fished out of William Sanger’s pocket on his deathbed, and addressed to the editor of The Morning Star—the journal published in London that followed the progress of Etzler’s society, where the letter was mailed and eventually appeared. That letter is the only description we have of the settlement where Etzler’s great plan for humanity came to fruition, and met with its tragic end in a matter of weeks. Once I’d fond that letter, I was hooked. No turning back.

EB:I was fascinated by Willy’s language. How did you fashion Willy’s voice, with its particular cadence and creole-like grammar?

RA: That’s the language I grew up with. It’s the language of my grandfather on my mother’s side, who in his last years, lived with us in our home. He was also named William (a popular Tucker name—my own middle name, too). Having said that, Willy’s language is also an invention, a fabrication, including the grammar. It is an attempt to get that spoken language down on the page, in a way that is both readable and convincing—hopefully, even for readers who have never traveled to the West Indies. It’s the most agonizing and enjoyable aspect of my writing. And all of my books, to greater or lesser extent, are written in some form of West Indian vernacular—or vernaculars. It’s what I live for, as a writer anyway.

EB:Willy also used a lot on wonderful expressions like “What the arse” and terms like “to mongoose” “boobooloops” and “cockspraddle.” Are they authentic or a product of literary license?

RA: They’re both: a combination of well-known Trinidadian colloquialisms and invented words (which Trinis do as a matter of habit). “What the arse” comes from the contemporary “what the ass”—my attempt to make it feel both slightly archaic and British. A mongoose is of course that small rodent common in India (there are lots of East Indians in Trinidad who were brought initially as indentured laborers, and have contributed substantially to the culture and language). So a “mongoose” is commonly used by Trinis to mean a sly, shrewd, conniving, and artful scamp—like Etzler. The calypsonian, Lord Invader, had a popular song called “Sly Mongoose”. But as far as I know I’m the first person to use it as a verb. “Boobooloops” is a popular expression for an over-weight, ungainly, clumsy person—it’s one of those wonderful words that looks like its meaning. Finally “cockspraddle” should really be “catspraddle”, and anyone who has ever owned a cat will know exactly what that means. The thing is, I had already used two cat metaphors in that same paragraph, so I had to think of something else: I half-invented “cockspraddle”.

EB:The theme of language is all through the work. What did you have in mind by having Marguerete born without vocal cords? What is it she is unable to say?

RA: There is nothing she is unable to say in her silence. And in her curt notes to Willy, she says it more succinctly, perceptively, and profoundly than anybody else. But that’s precisely the point. That’s how she knocks Willy off his feet. Etzler and everybody else is all talk. But one of the reasons I wanted to make Marguerite mute was to have her contrast Miss Ramsol, the Director of the Trinidad National Archives who, in the contemporary strand of the story, is assisting the “author” (named Mr Robot, her pronunciation of Robert) with his research—which also turns into a romance. Miss Ramsol communicates to Mr Robot via emails written in what I call a “Trini-vernacular-cellphone-textspeak” (meaning that it contains lots of numerals, abbreviations, and not a single full stop). Miss Ramsol’s emails spill off the page, just like Etzler’s speeches and his own writing. But Miss Ramsol was the easiest character I have every written, and Marguerite was definitely the most difficult. For so long she felt contrived. I just couldn’t make her believable. Eventually my partner and first editor, Ali—an amazing writer herself—told me that Willy has to fall in love with Marguerite not in spite of the fact that she is mute, but because of it. That was exactly what I need to hear. It was the key to bringing her to life.

EB:The parallel love story between the writer Mr Robot and the archivist Ms. Ramsol, who lets him “subjuice” her. That seems to have been a lot of fun to write and an interesting commentary on evolution of language. What did you have in mind?

RA: The only thing I had in mind was to have fun.

EB:Is “subjuice” a real usage?” If not it should be.

RA: All mine, and thanks.

EB:The title alludes to the line from King Lear “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.” Why “whatless”?

RA: It’s a fairly well known West Indian colloquialism meaning worthless, useless, eagerly destructive—basically without what. Contemporary spellings are wotless and wutless. But I wanted to go back to the origins of the word, almost as a way to suggest in that word the evolution of language (even though I knew that to spell it that way would piss some Trinis off—they’d say I got it wrong). But I wanted the word to appear familiar and at the same time a little strange to all of my readers, including my fellow Trinidadians. Also, I wanted to let my readers know, right from the title, what they were in for—language-wise at least. It’s like saying, right from the title, read at your own risk! Nobody who picks up the book can tell me I didn’t warn them! Of course, there are a million reasons for using the quote from Lear in my title, one being that there are parallels to Shakespeare’s play throughout the novel—including Gloucester’s blinding, the character who speaks the line of the title. I’m also, somewhat underhandedly, attempting to elevate the stature of my own story simply by association with the master. But Lear is Shakespeare’s history play that is also a family saga, and it is a tragedy, with ample comedy (thanks to the Fool and others), just like my own story. Last, I am constantly rewriting Shakespeare, and Walcott, and all of my mentor-masters-and mistresses, just as they did. What else can a writer do?

EB:What is your next project?

RA:R & R.

EB:Thanks for talking with us.

RA: Pleasure.

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Amy MacLennan’s Things to do this Poetry Month

Amy MacLennan’s has put together a great list of readings to help you celebrate National Poetry Month. Thanks, Amy.

** Jackson County Library Poetry Events

    April 1, 5:00p-6:30p, Shady Cove Library: Lawson Inada leads discussion on poetry

    April 5, 2:00p-3:30p, Rogue River Library: Lawson Inada provides a poetry discussion and writing workshop

    April 6 (SUNDAY), 1:00p-3:00p, Ashland Library: Linda Barnes, Angela Howe Decker, Amy MacLennan, and Amy Miller read from their works (some of my favorite poets to steal from)

    April 12, 2:00p-4:00p, Medford Library: Poetry and Pie (read a poem and eat pie)

    April 12, 12:00n-3:00p, Eagle Point Liibrary: Explore Haiku and write your own or decorate a famous haiku poem

    April 13, 1:00p-3:00p, Ashland Library: Elizabeth Hallett hosts a showing and discussion on Stafford’s “Every War has Two Losers” (people can read their favorite Stafford poem)

    April 16, 1:00p-2:30p, Ashland Library: Lawson Inada will provide a poetry discussion and writing workshop

    April 22, 5:00p-7:00p, Rogue River Library: Film showing of Stafford Documentaries, “William Staffford: Life and Poems” and “Every War has two Losers”

    April 30, 12:00n-1:30p, Medford Library: William Stafford Tea and showing of “Every War Has Two Losers”

** OSF Hip Hop Open MIke

    Monday, April 7, 7:00p
    Black Swan Theatre, Ashland

** Last Illahe Event of the Season!!

    Shaindel Beers, John C. Morrison, Vince Wixon
    Thursday, April 17, 7:00p
    Illahe Gallery, 215 Fourth St., Ashland

** Bloomsbury Books, Ashland

    Dawn Diez Willis, Donna Henderson
    Thursday, April 3, 7:00p

    Pepper Trail, Gary Lark, Michael Spring
    Thursday, April 10, 7:00p

    Jeff Alessandrelli, Lisa Ciccarello
    Monday, April 14, 7:00p

    Steve Dieffenbacher, Jenny Root, Kathryn Ridall
    Thursday, April 24, 7:00p

    Angela Decker, Don Colburn
    Tuesday, April 29, 7:00p

** Gallerie Karon

    Wednesday, April 23, 7:00p
    Amy MacLennan, Dori Appel, Bruce Barton, Joyce Epstein, Rebecca Gabriel
    500 A Street, Ashland

** Julia Connor Workshop (Straw into Gold)

    Friday, April 25 through Sunday, April 27
    GEOS Institute, 84 Fourth Street, Ashland
    $150 for 12-participant workshop with 10 hours of instruction
    Deadline: April 1

Amy MacLennan makes her home in Oregon’s Rogue Valley. She is the author of two chapbooks, Weathering (Uttered Chaos Press, 2012) and The Fragile Day (Spire Press, 2011), and many other terrific poems.

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Aviation English, a guest post by Brenda Shelton

Aviation English

The most common bridge language in the world is English. Whether the implemented communication is online, in business, or soaring above ground through the friendly skies, English is the chosen language of use and connection. After the end of World War II, English became and remained the official language of aviation. However, the English used in aviation is not entirely traditional. Instead, Aviation English, the restricted register of simplified yet structured English used by pilots and air traffic controllers, is the true official language of air travel. Swift, simple, and systematic, this form of English is a scripted, and in many cases highly dangerous, form of verbal communication. Therefore, while individuals within the aviation profession must have a solid understanding of the English language, Aviation English itself is a specialized and unique form of English that cannot be found anywhere else. Aviation English is the plain yet intricate trade language of the skies.

Since Aviation English is a global language, yet simultaneously a language used solely for the profession of aviation, it may be classified as a bridge or trade language. While native English speakers must learn Aviation English, non-native speakers learn English as well as Aviation English in order to fly. As a result, Aviation English exists as a mutation of traditional English, used to allow for all pilots and air traffic controllers to communicate with one another, ensuring safe flight patterns and operation. It is “a language for specific purposes,” or “a code that is used in a very restricted context” (Alderson 169). It contains the addition of specific grammar alterations for the sake of succinct, brief communication and clarity, as well as a unique vocabulary and certain abbreviations due to the distinctive parts of an airplane and the specific protocol of flying. Thus, Aviation English exists as a “restricted register” (Ragan 26) or a situational, limited language confined to a predetermined script and rhythm.

While no exact tally exists of how many people speak Aviation English, undoubtedly you cannot become a pilot or work in the airline business without a firm grasp of Basic English. The official establishment of English as the primary language of aviation took place after World War II, when commercial airlines began to boom in popularity and the primary manufacturer and supplier of airplanes was the English-speaking United States. As a result, American gained more influence in Europe, and worldwide, leading to “English terms and word translations of English words” taking dominance in the colloquial and professional lingo of the global aviation trade (Sauter-Bailliet 76). Additionally, it was during this time that international, and even specifically European, airline conferences began operating entirely in English. While members of ATLAS (Alitalia, Lufthansa, Air France, Sabena and Iberia consortion), specifically Air France, may feel inclined to still converse in their native languages when within the boundaries of their country of origin, all pilots and air traffic controllers are required to speak English and to be familiar with Aviation English grammar and terminology (77).
With many non-native English speakers conforming to Aviation English as a trade language, there can be a reflection of “the speech peculiarities of the mother tongues” (77) within their pronunciations and wordings. Thus, courses and aptitude tests regarding Aviation English vocabulary and structure are required before an individual may become a pilot. Such courses may be taken through various aviation and online academies after an individual acquires a firm grasp on the basics of the English language through previous learning channels.

The goal of Aviation English textbooks and classes is to prepare an individual for compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Language Proficiency requirements for Aviation English at the operational level 4. Operational level 4 ensures that an individual’s pronunciation, structure, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and interactions are at a satisfactory level to be able to converse with native and non-native traditional English speakers within time-sensitive and restrictive settings. For example, the operational 4 Language Proficiency qualifications for pronunciation list that for a sufficient speaker: “pronunciation, stress, rhythm, and intonation are influenced by the first language or regional variation but only sometimes interfere with ease of understanding” (ICAO Rating Scale). Thus, one does not need to speak English perfectly to pass an Aviation English test, but must be fluent enough to be accurately understood. Additionally, interaction is important when it comes to Aviation English, and according to the ICAO’s operational 4 standards, an individual must provide responses that are “usually immediate, appropriate, and informative,” and must deal “adequately with apparent misunderstandings by checking, confirming, or clarifying” (ICAP Rating Scale).

Additionally, there are various textbooks that provide the basics for pilots and air traffic controllers regarding aviation-specific terms and the scripting of language within Aviation English. Henry Emery et al.’s textbook and CDROM Aviation English for ICAO Compliance and Philip Shawcross’ Flightpath are good textual sources for introducing and practicing Aviation English structure and vocabulary. There are also specialized methodology courses for Aviation English available through online organizations such as Jeppesen, which is a Boeing company. While Aviation English is not a literary or extremely expansive form of communication, it is important that all pilots have a firm grasp on the grammar and vocabulary involved in order to perform their job efficiently and prevent the endangerment of lives. Therefore, Aviation English is a prestigious and internationally accepted standard language for the commercial aviation profession, despite the fact that it may not be entirely proper in terms of the Standard English language.

Before examining the structure of Aviation English, it is important to understand the terminology involved in speaking the language. Much of the vocabulary used to describe airplane parts is based on the language used in maritime professions. For example, when it comes to the prominent parts of the craft, the main areas are known as the “deck” and “cabin,” while the cargo or luggage is carried in the “holds” (Murphy 1). Abbreviations are also a common feature in regard to plane parts within Aviation English. Some examples of written abbreviations on plane parts are: “valve assy (for assembly)” and “qty (for quantity)” (Sauter-Bailliet 78). These abbreviations exist in the vernacular of all airlines, due to the United State’s dominance regarding plane production and promotion and the ICAO’s establishment of English as the dominant airline language.

The unique vocabulary and signification system of Aviation English is most important, and most frequently found, within the communication between pilots and air traffic controllers—a practice also referred to as radiotelephony (Alderson 169). Often, the word choice in radiotelephony is brief and many simplistic vocabulary words are left out. For instance, when an air traffic controller is commanding a flight crew to perform a specific task, they will often omit many helping words, leaving only the nouns and action verbs. For example, within the sentence: “Avianca 052 climb and maintain 3000” (Ragan 28), it is vital that a pilot understands that “climb and maintain 3000” is referring to 3000 feet and that “Avianca 052” is the air traffic controller addressing his plane. Additionally, there are many terms that can be found within sources like The Dictionary of Aviation or Flightpath’s “Glossary of Aviation Terms.” Some examples of vocabulary found within Aviation English dictionaries are: the phrase “active runway” in reference to a runway in use, and “DA,” meaning a dangerous area (Crocker 5; 64). Additionally, if a bird hits an aircraft, it will be referred to as a “bird strike” (Shawcross 4). There are also various words that are known as “aviation jargon,” and are therefore not considered acceptable Aviation English. For example, if a plane is “buttoned up” then the doors and panels are closed, or more properly, the cabin is secure (Shawcross 5). These distinct phraseologies are vital for a pilot or aviation professional to know in order to be able to communicate properly with other members of the profession during flights and other professional routines.

Coupled with the unique vocabulary of Aviation English, there is a structural and grammatical pattern to radiotelephony interactions prior to, during, and after flight. All radiotelephonic interactions are structured and scripted for clarity and efficiency. Throughout the course of a flight, policies ensure that “pilots are provided with official wordings they are legally required to follow, and which specify who says what to whom, and when. Pilot’s talk is therefore highly predictable and projectable” (Nevile, “Talking Without Overlap” 226). Therefore, the speech pattern within a flight follows a set sequence of call and response, and pilots complete specific tasks and goals in a sequential, swift manner. However, pilots in their work are not advised to speak at the same time in order to avoid miscommunication and error. As a result, pilots use “nonscripted responses, such as okay or thanks, to establish joint awareness that a task has been completed” (228). While completing checklists, pilots also utilize “and-prefacing” to mark the beginning of a new sequence and the ending of an old, and to initiate a shared awareness of a completion of or arrival at a goal (Nevile, “Making Sequentiality Salient” 383; 284; 295). Therefore, in order to clearly showcase that a task in a sequence has been completed, and re-affirm that all tasks before it have been completed as well, a pilot will begin their sentence with and. The following is an example of typical speech used while checking to make sure a runway is clear on both sides before taxing:

    First Officer: clear left.
    Captain: and clear right (Nevile 284).

Here, and-prefacing is vital in maintaining clarity in terms of following sequences or checklists while ensuring that all necessary protocol is completed. The and in this instance “prefaces the talk, after the activity, that claims the activity has been performed and claims therefore that the state of the plane, and so the plane, are as required” (Nevile 284). Thus, the and signals that both the left and right sides are clear. Sentences will also begin with and when a goal is met and there is a shared awareness of achievement. For instance, when a crew is aware that they are to meet a certain altitude during a flight, the pilot will announce “and at altitude” (297), when such a target is reached. And-prefacing is a result of the sequential nature of aviation work and therefore a necessary grammatical element within Aviation English to ensure clarity when performing listed tasks with minimal word usage.

In conclusion, Aviation English is not only a simplistic modification of the Standard English language, but also a very structure and internationally recognized language. In order to speak this succinct style of English, an individual must have knowledge of Standard English and familiarity with traditional English sentence structure to accurately be able to understand and construct shortened sentences and maintain quick word-flow. Aviation English also possesses a set of phraseologies and vocabulary words specific to the practice of aviation. With its simple, scripted structure Aviation English exists as a restricted and specialized connecting global language with the common goal of safe travel and organized, accessible communication.

Works Cited

    Alderson, Charles J. “Air Safety, Language Assessment Policy, and Policy Implementation: the Case of Aviation English.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 29 (2009): 168-187. Print.

    Crocker, David. Dictionary of Aviation. 2nd ed. London: A & C Black, 2007. Print.

    Nevile, Maurice. “Making Sequentiality Salient: and-prefacing in the talk of airline pilots.” Discourse Studies, 8.2 (2006): 279-302. Print.

    Nevile, Maurice. “Talking Without Overlap in the Airline Cockpit: Precision Timing at Work.” Text & Talk: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies, 27.2 (2007): 225-249. Print.

    Murphy, Cullen. “Airline English.” Slate. The Slate Group, 2014. Web. 9 March. 2014.

    Ragan, Peter H. “Aviation English: An Introduction.” The Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research, 7.2 (1997): 25-36. Print.

    Sauter-Bailliet, Theresia. “English, The Vernacular of the Airline Industry.” American Speech: A Quarterly of Linguistic Usage, 51.1-2 (1976): 17-84. Print.

    Shawcross, Philip. “Glossary of Aviation Terms” in Flightpath: Aviation English for Pilots and ATCOs, Student’s Book. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.

    “About Aviation English.” MacMillan English. MacMillan, 2008. Web. 9 March. 2014.

    “ICAO Rating Scale.” MacMillan English. MacMillan, 2008. Web. 9 March. 2014.

Brenda Shelton is studying English at Southern Oregon University and hopes to become a librarian.

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An Interview with Kate Lebo, author of A Commonplace Book of Pie

Kate Lebo‘s writing has appeared in Best New Poets, Gastronomica, The Rumpus, and Poetry Northwest among other places. She holds an MFA from the University of Washington, has been a recipient of a Nelson Bentley Fellowship and of the Joan Grayston Poetry Prize, and she is a baker and a devotee of zines. Her book A Commonplace Book of Pie was published by Chin Music Press in 2013 and she is currently at work on a cookbook called Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour and Butter, forthcoming from Sasquatch Books in fall 2014.

She lives near Portland.

EB: I loved A Commonplace Book of Pie, which I found at the Chin Music Press exhibit at Wordstock. Why pie? Why not cake?

KL: I like to eat cake. But I don’t really care about it. Pie, on the other hand, can be mysterious, temperamental. A good pie can be hard to find. Pie has more symbols and clichés attached to it, so even those who don’t have personal experience with pie-making know how pie demands reverence that a cake does not. Also, pie is a sensory experience. I handmake every part of my pie crust. You can’t mix a cake with your hands.

EB: The pies, along with the wonderful illustrations by Jessica Lynn Bonin, are not in alphabetical order. You start with Pumpkin Pie and end with Peach Ginger Pie, with some great ones in between—Cranberry, Chocolate Cream, Rhubarb Custard, Mud, Mumbleberry, and more. How did you decide the order of presentation?

KL: The collection had to start with Pumpkin Pie because, as the very first poem I wrote in this series, it sets the tone and defines the conceit of the rest of the book. It’s a poem that tells you we’re going to use pies to describe and define a personality, we’re going to keep our tongue firmly in cheek, but there’s also some serious matters to attend to here. This poem wants you to pay attention to the possibility of materials (the pumpkin in a can of Libby’s “could be a porchlight or a smear on the street, or this can of future pie”), and to start to think about those materials as a metaphor. From there, I ordered the poems so they could build on and undercut each other and the reader’s expectation of where the book was going. Then comes the recipe portion of the book that gathers axioms, clichés, bits of wisdom, and recipe to invite the reader to finish the book by making a pie.

EB: Are recipes poetry? Or science. Or both?

KL: Depends on who’s writing them. Cook’s Illustrated recipes are closer to science, and proudly so. Mark Bittman’s recipes, with the way they leave themselves open to interpretation, are closer to poetry. As I’ve written Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour & Butter, I’ve gotten completely obsessed with the balancing act of lyric writing and technical writing that’s present in my favorite recipes. The recipe must work. That’s the technical part. If you want the reader to crack an egg, you need state that with words that create clear action. But if you don’t want to bore yourself to tears, and if you’re interested in practice of cooking over the product of cooking, as I am, you long for lyricism, the invitation to feel and sense and interpret. I’m starting work on a new book that will take that tension as one of its themes.

EB: You teach both poetry and pie-making. How do the students compare?

KL: All my students are eager to make something they enjoy, that they can give to other people. Many come to class feeling mystified about how to do that with a pie or a poem. Their motivations—why they’re making pie or poems—are so diverse. I find that exciting and affirming.

EB: Was lemon meringue really invented in Portland? Wow!
KL: The poem Lemon Meringue Pie was invented in Portland. It’s a great example of what I mean when I call A Commonplace Book of Pie “a collection of facts, both real and imagined, about pie.”

EB: You are working on a recipe book called Pie School. Tell us about that project.

KL: Pie School is a collection of recipes and essays about fruit pie. I teach you how to make a pie from flour sack to cooling rack while using poetry and cultural critique to frame the domestic art of pie making. I hope the book will encourage readers to make what they can with what they have, trust their senses, and approach pie as the folk art and deep tradition it is.

EB: I read that you judged a pie contest. How do you do that?

KL: Start by eating the tip of the pie, then break off a bit of the crust and munch on that. Repeat for another 30 pies. Take notes. Remember which pies you didn’t want to stop eating. This will be a very strong feeling, hard to describe but easy to identify. That one wins. As with a lot of contests, it’s all a matter of taste.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

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10 Things to Love about the 2014 Oregon Book Awards — a guest post by Robert Arellano

10 Things to Love about the 2014 Oregon Book Awards (Southern Oregonian edition)

    Seeing Ashlanders Vince and Patty Wixon surrounded by their six children and a gaggle of grandkids to accept the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award in Portland.

    Master of Ceremonies Luis Alberto Urrea turning a tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin into a fabulist opportunity.

    Jelly Helm sitting next to me at the Armory saying, “There’s a lot to be proud of, being part of this community.”

    Awards sponsors Literary Arts fortifying finalists with free drink tickets.

    Presenting the Readers’ Choice Award, Jeff Baker of the Oregonian saying, “This settles the question of whether people who log on to OregonLive can read. They just can’t spell.”

    Bumping into my new Ashland friends Anjie Seewer Reynolds, winner of the 2014 Edna L. Holmes Fellowship in Young Readers Literature, and Mick Reynolds, and talking about 7th graders.

    Taking 5 minutes out to watch SOU Media Movement’s new Out of Control music video for the Oregon Opportunity Movement and saying to myself, “Whoa, our students can write (and rap, and film, and edit… #sparkthechange #OROM2014)!”

    Ursula K. Le Guin accepting the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction: “I came to Oregon by luck, which has lasted 55 years.”

    Presenting the Literary Legacy Award, Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen waving the ticket stubs (Admission: $3) from a 1986 reading at Southern Oregon State College by poet Denise Levertov—a Wixons production.

    Now that a couple of southern Oregonians have won the Literary Legacy Award, the Wixons say we no longer need to secede.


Among other things, Robert Arellano is a recipient of a 2014 Literary Arts Fellowship.

PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Arellano

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An Interview with E R Brown, author of Almost Criminal

E.R. Brown is the Edgar-nominated author of Almost Criminal, published in spring of 2013.

E. R. Brown (whose first name is Eric) grew up near Montreal and now lives in Vancouver, where he writes and works as a freelance copywriter and communication strategist. His short stories have been published in nationwide magazines and dramatized by the CBC and he was won numerous awards for advertising and technical writing.

We sat down recently to talk about Almost Criminal.

EB: Almost Criminal is your first novel. Have you always been a writer?

ERB: I’ve always written, but I haven’t always considered myself a writer. For years I was involved in theater, media and music. Ultimately, though, writing is the only thing I’ve had real success with. I’ve been a technical writer, an ad copywriter and an editor. I’ve written speeches and video scripts. Storytelling has always been in the back of my mind. Prior to Almost Criminal, I had some literary short stories published, and the CBC (Canada’s public broadcaster) turned one story into an online drama.

EB: Among the accolades was an Edgar nomination. How did that feel?

ERB: I could not believe it. In fact, I didn’t believe it. One morning I did my daily Facebook check-in and saw a post from a writer friend, saying ‘WOO HOO for ER Brown this morning!’ and so on. I had to go to the Edgar website. I was certain she’d made an embarrassing mistake. I mean, really… I’m a first-time novelist with an independent publisher from Canada. Every other Edgar contender is an international success. Most are blockbusters. It was, and still is, amazing. I’m still pinching myself.

EB: I thought the book was both a coming-of-age story and a morality tale, with some social criticism and family comedy mixed in as well. Did you have a particular aim in mind in writing the novel?

ERB: When I began this project, I thought I was writing a family drama, and a coming-of-age tale of a young man struggling to find his direction. Crime was just one element of the story. But the character Randle Kennedy took on a life of his own, and the crime kept becoming bigger and bigger. Then the bikers showed up, and a boy’s struggles with his mother had to take a back seat.

I’m so glad you saw the aspects of social and family comedy. As a reader, I love stories that are grounded in the real day-to-day fabric of families, jobs and how we struggle to get by, and that’s what I wanted to do here.

EB: I enjoyed your lead character, Tate MacLane, the prodigy/dropout/barista who gets recruited to sell boutique marijuana. How do you put yourself in the mind of a teenager?

ERB: I have three children, and one of them was still a teen while I was writing the novel. Two of my kids worked as baristas in high-end coffee shops. But really, I just channeled that part of me that hasn’t fully grown up. That mouthy, opinionated teen who makes bad decisions is just under the surface.

EB: The story was quite suspenseful. I never quite knew what was going to happen to Tate next. What did you manage to build that suspense?

ERB: Thanks! I worked very hard on building the suspense. I’d never written a novel before, and I can honestly say I did not get it right in the first draft. The story went through several end-to-end rewrites as I worked on tone, voice and, more than anything, the narrative arc. All along, I wanted to create a gradual build-up of tension, as the smart-but-naive Tate digs himself in deeper and deeper.

EB: I’m also curious how you research the marijuana business, which has both underground and semi-legalized aspects?

ERB: You don’t have to look very far. There are a lot of people involved in B.C. Bud, and it’s not hard to find someone who knows someone. As Tate reflects in the book, who gives a damn about a grow op? On the block where I live today, there were three grow ops at one time, or so a neighbor tells me.

I did a lot of book research, of course. I spoke to people (indirectly, because no one would meet me face to face) and I visited the areas of BC and Washington State where the book is located. Every grow op described in the book is based on a real place. And some of the subplots, like the mayor of Vancouver telling police not to interfere with storefront cannabis businesses—and the provincial police taking down hippie-run shops with SWAT teams—are true stories, taken straight out of the newspaper.

EB: Tate’s family relations were also quite complex—his mother is an artist who has cancer, his sister is going to the wild side, and Tate is the anchor of the family. Is the chic drug dealer Randle a father figure for Tate?

ERB: A central aspect of the story is Tate’s struggle to navigate his way through to manhood. His father is out of the picture, and Tate takes better care of the family, especially his sister, than his mother does. But he desperately wants a role model, a mentor—a father. Randle is charismatic and wealthy. He challenges Tate’s intellect, pumps up his ego, and sees potential that no one else does. Anatole, one of the coffeeshop owners, is Randle’s opposite: he’s big-hearted and supportive, but he’s a bit of a doofus. They’re two possible father figures, and Tate’s need to choose between them or find a third path, is what drives the story.

EB: Almost Criminal is a wonderful concept. It’s strikingly original I think in the themes it explores—both of growing up and of the middle class drug culture. Some readers will inevitably compare it to the television series Breaking Bad. Were you influenced by that show at all?

ERB: As a huge fan, I find the comparison very flattering. But when the novel was first conceived, I’d never heard of Breaking Bad. I don’t watch much TV, especially when I’m in the thick of writing. After I had finished the first draft, an early reader mentioned it—but then I avoided the show, to be sure I wasn’t going to be influenced. Since finishing the book, I’ve seen the entire series.

EB: What’s your next project? Do you have a second novel in the works? Or something different altogether?

ERB: My second novel is about three-quarters done. It’s not a sequel, but it is a crime novel, based in both Canada and the US. Since it’s unfinished and doesn’t have a publisher yet, I’m not going to say anything more.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

ERB: Thank you for your interest. It’s really rewarding to hear from people who’ve read this story. For years there was just me and a computer screen, and very little hope of even getting it published. It’s been a remarkable journey.

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Ashland at the AWP

Several literary Ashlanders attended the Association of Writers & Writing Program meeting in Seattle, February 26 – March 1, 2014. Here are their six-word summaries.

    Angela Howe Decker, author of Splendid Catastrophe: “Hordes of writers talking, reading, hip-hopping.”

    Amy MacLennan, author of Weathering and The Fragile Day: “Fabulous. Overwhelming. Inspiring. FRIENDS. Hip-Hop-Panel-Awesomeness. Suitcase.”

    Kasey Mohammad, Professor of Creative Writing at SOU: “A guy in a Sleestak costume.”

    Lindsay Rose Moore, editor of 2014 The West Wind Review: “Forgot to eat, because of books.”

    Midge Raymond, Ashland Creek Press: “a lively session on book marketing.”

    Craig Wright, Professor of Creative Writing at SOU: “Mythical land where books still matter.”

    Mallory Young, West Wind Review staff, “Excited, overstimulated, interested, but also malnourished.”

    John Yunker, Ashland Creek Press: “eco-lit, with Ann Pancake, JoeAnn Hart, Mindy Mejia, and Gretchen Primack.”

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Who Needs Newspapers? An Interview with Paul Steinle and Sara Brown

Paul Steinle is a veteran journalist and news media manager who has been teaching journalism since 1991. From 1991-2001, he launched graduate journalism programs at the University of Miami and Quinnipiac University; from 2001-2010, he taught journalism and served as associate provost, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, Ore. From 1961-1990, Steinle was a broadcast journalist and news manager. He was the president of UPI and the Financial News Network; TV news director, KING-TV, Seattle, and WIXT-TV, Syracuse; he reported from Saigon and Hong Kong for Group–W radio news; and he was a reporter and producer for WBZ-TV and WCVB-TV, Boston. Steinle has an M.B.A. from Harvard, a M.S. from Syracuse University and a baccalaureate from Amherst College. He is also the co-author of Commune: Life in Rural China.

Sara Brown has over 30 years experience as a human resource professional, management trainer, columnist and educator in the newspaper business. She was vice president of human resources at The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.), and manager of organizational development at the Los Angeles Times. Brown has a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco and a doctorate in human and organization systems from the Fielding Graduate Institute. She is also the author of How to Create the Life You Want After 50.

In 2010 and 2011, Steinle and Brown founded the nonprofit organization Valid Sources and launched the Who Needs Newspapers? project, a fifty-state snapshot reporting how American newspapers are recasting themselves in the digital age. Their research is reported in the soon-to-be re-released book Practicing Journalism: The Power and Purpose of the Fourth Estate (Marion Street Press, 2014).*

EB: What made you decide to embark on this project?

PS & SB: Professionally, we were intrigued by the constant proclamations that “newspapers are dead or dying.” This is a concern since experience and surveys have proven that newspaper journalists provide most of the independent reporting generated in the USA, and, should newspapers disappear or shrink significantly, we were fearful that citizens would lose a key information source about life in their communities.

So, we decided to go see for ourselves by visiting one newspaper in each state, interviewing their publishers and editors and reporting our findings on a website for everyone to read. Personally, Paul was retiring from his position as associate provost at Southern University in June 2010, and we had been contemplating getting an RV and touring the USA. So, by combining these two goals, we were able, simultaneously, to see the USA, at ground level, and fulfill a reporting mission.

EB: What was the reaction when you set up interviews?

PS & SB: We ultimately visited 50 newspapers in 50 states. We selected each one, working about six weeks in advance, in consultation with the relevant state’s press association.

We were seeking newspapers that had won statewide general excellence awards and/or were innovative. We also selected among a mix of ownership categories – usually family or corporate – and among a balanced range of circulation sizes. We also sought three ethnic newspapers, and one alternative weekly.

Using those criteria, two major market newspapers – The New York Times and The Washington Post – turned down our request for interviews, and one small newspaper that was engaged in buying another newspaper also said no. Otherwise, we found 50 newspapers that were intrigued in our project, and, when they understood it, were all willing to set aside time to meet us and tell their stories.

EB: What is in more danger, newspapers or journalism? Are the two separable?

PS & SB: First, newspapers and journalism are separable – there are plenty of good examples of fine journalism from magazines, NPR, the PBS Newshour, “Frontline,” the commercial TV networks, the cable TV networks, and many Internet-only publications. There are also examples of faulty journalism from all these news media organizations.

Newspapers are in danger because their traditional business model, which had produced high profit margins of 20-40 percent until about 2000-2005, has been squeezed for dollars by advertising competition – such as Craig’s List, which undermined newspapers’ classified ad revenue.

Newspapers have been squeezed for readers by competition from alternative news and information sources – many of them on Internet platforms – that have driven down newspaper readership and circulation figures.

Newspapers have responded by embracing the Internet to deliver news through digital channels and by devising new sources of revenue – online ads, online subscription fees and various direct sales techniques — to earn revenue. On the whole – when you combine newsprint readers and online readers — newspapers have probably increased their readership. But the new digital revenue sources have not been as lucrative as the display ads they could previously sell when they dominated the news market. There are too many alternative Internet news channels that keep ad rates, online, relatively low.

So, if local and national advertisers can achieve the sales impact they are seeking on the Internet alone, newspapers are going to be constricted further as their revenues shrink.

But, some advertising seems to work better via newsprint – like supermarkets with multiple items and those weekend inserts that newspapers drop on readers’ doorsteps along with the news. So newspapers have some unique selling properties.

The same seems true for newspaper readership. If the reading-a-newspaper habit dies, newspapers are similarly unlikely to last beyond the current generation of baby-boomers many of whom who still practice the newspaper reading habit.

Reading a newspaper and discovering the news on each page is a unique experience and perhaps that experience may endure, but the digital generation is not being nurtured on that phenomenon. So unless reading habits change, newspapers could have a limited shelf-life — hence the danger to their future.

As for the dangers to journalism, journalism has always been, and presumably will always be, a mixed bag of Pulitzer Prize winners and fish wrappers.

It seems reasonable to expect that some citizens will always want to be informed well. That there will always be a market for pertinent, accurate, compelling information. And the people who gather that information – the journalists — need to learn certain skills and certain ethical standards to ensure that the news they deliver is timely, relevant and comprehensible.

But journalism, per se, has lately been swamped by a tsunami of information-style products. They have arrived like a thousand food vans, driving up to your front door and trying to sell you dinner.

It’s easy to become inundated with so-called news. So perhaps finding valid journalism is a harder chore than it used to be.

Journalism would be in mortal danger if nobody continued to seek it any more, but it’s still in demand and is capable of being produced by the cadre of journalists this country has produced.

If you doubt they exist, listen to some of the journalists whom we interviewed on our website — www.WhoNeedsNewspapers.org. Or please read our book, Practicing Journalism: The Power and Purpose of the Fourth Estate, and meet some of them there.

EB: As you traveled did you get a sense of how newspaper readers felt as well?

PS & SB: We did not set aside time to talk in depth to newspaper readers on our journey.

EB: The Oregonian recently announced it was cutting jobs and reducing home delivery. What do you make of that?

PS & SB: That’s a strategic move by Advance Publications, a newspaper firm owned by the S.I. Newhouse family, which controls The Oregonian. Advance is seeking to develop a new business model that can support a local newspaper.

In 2009, Advance shut down the print-side of The Ann Arbor (Mich.) News and replaced it with an all-digital online newspaper. Then Advance started publishing a several-times-a-week print edition, again in Ann Arbor.

Advance also owns the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, which since June 2013 is now printed and delivered three-days-a-week, and supplemented with a newsstand-sales-only tabloid on the remaining days.

Advance has come up with a similar formula for Portland. In October 2013, the Oregonian reduced its delivery cycle – this time to four days a week – and laid off personnel.

So Advance has cut its overhead and reduced its delivery cycle, hoping to find a business formula that will allow it to survive with one foot in the newsprint world and one foot in the digital world. In the process it has reduced its reporting staff, constrained its reporting prowess, and tampered with its relationship with the community by reducing its community leadership role.

Newsprint readers in Portland have lost three days of local news delivery, and, unfortunately, since Advance is a private company and its financial results are held privately, there is no way to tell from the outside whether these distribution experiments can help their newsprint business.

Bottom-line, the community is getting a newspaper produced with fewer journalism resources, fewer days a week. The reduced Oregonian still has an important role in reflecting life in Portland back to its citizens, but it’s a more passive role since its newsprint edition is no longer landing on the community’s doorsteps seven days a week.

EB: If you were starting a newspaper today, what would it look like?

PS & SB: It would emphasize compelling stories (so people would read them) – of success and failure — about life in whatever community it served. It would try to tell the story of what it is like to live in our community. It would reflect the community’s priorities, it would attempt to offer a news agenda that reflects those priorities, and it would celebrate the positive aspects of that community’s life.

It would attempt to be “the first draft of history” about life in our town.

EB: I appreciate the way that the book was focused on individual stories? Did you come to any conclusions about what motivates people to become journalists? And about what makes a good one? Why do people become journalists?

PS & SB: What motivates people to become journalists: Curiosity, a desire to tell stories, and a desire to make their communities better places to live.

What makes a good journalist: Honesty, empathy, curiosity, persistence, industry, ethical balance and the skill to tell a compelling story.

Why do people become journalists: A rabidly curious nature, a desire to tell stories and a concern for the well being of the world in which we live and the people who populate it.

EB: What’s next for WNN?

PS & SB: We’re going to take an extended look at Canada and see what newspapers are like there. Stay tuned.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

*The title of the first edition was The Power and Purpose of Journalism: Journalists’ Epiphanies.

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An Interview with Molly Best Tinsley

Molly Best Tinsley has written a novels, short fiction, plays, a memoir, a textbook and thrillers She is the author of My Life with Darwin (Houghton Mifflin) and Throwing Knives (Ohio State University Press), as well as The Creative Process (St. Martin’s) and Entering the Blue Stone Fuze Publishing, May 2012), Her work has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award.

She also co-authored Satan’s Chamber (Fuze Publishing), which introduced CIA agent Victoria Pierce. We talked about the recently released sequel to Satan’s Chamber titled Broken Angels.

EB: Tell our readers a little bit about the plot and setting of Broken Angels?

MT: Broken Angels splits its time between the centers of power in and around Washington, DC, and locations in Ukraine. Case Officer Victoria Pierce has been assigned to Odessa under deep cover, so she’s operating without a net, tracking the disappearance of highly enriched uranium from the country’s stockpiles. When she stumbles on a ring of sex-traffickers, she has a tough choice–getting involved in rescuing girls will draw her off-task. Or will it? Another plot thread unspooling stateside may be tangled in the Ukrainian web, and perhaps it is only in battling all evil that you get to its heart.

EB: You’ve written textbooks, literary fiction, journalism, criticism, award-winning plays, short stories, and now thrillers. Does each genre require a different approach? Are their some things you learn to turn on and off? How do the genres come together for you? Or is it all just writing to you?

MT: I do love to write–I start to go bonkers if too many days pass without writing–and I do like new challenges. When I was working on short fiction, I began to sense that I was shaping the same story over and over again–the same epiphany. I expanded to writing a literary novel, but when it saw only modest success, and my agent couldn’t interest a publisher in my second attempt, I couldn’t muster the inspiration to try again. I wrote my first play on a whim. Then it was produced in a summer festival of one-acts in DC, and I assumed it was easier to reach an audience through playwriting than through writing fiction. It sounds like I keep seeking the path of least resistance. Yet I’ve always been a theatre nut, and writing plays has led to amazing journeys, even if the terrain of theatre, now that I see it from the inside, has turned out to be as difficult and problematic as that of mainstream publishing. From playwriting, I finally began to understand the dynamics and value of plot. And I’d always wanted to write a “big” novel with an intricate plot and plenty of action, but also a deeper theme. Since moving away from Washington, DC, I follow geopolitics much more closely, and the spy thriller genre, flavored with conspiracy theory, has seemed perfectly suited to the world I’ve begun to discover. The two Victoria Pierce novels are the result.

EB: In the earlier book Satan’s Chamber your protagonist Victoria Pierce was a junior CIA operative and still a bit of a novice. How has she grown in this book?

<MT: I hope she’s grown. She’s also rebounding from a failed romance, and carrying some trauma from the events in Sudan. She still tends to leap into things without an exit plan, relying on her ability to improvise. I think she’s less fallible and more skeptical now, but she’s still not the female Jason Bourne. Never will be.

EB: How do you go about researching the CIA in your books? Do you know some spies?

MT: I’ve read lots of books about the Agency and its history. One that should be a must-read for every U.S. citizen is Legacy of Ashes, by Tim Weiner. Most books by former operatives are by men, and they are totally gung-ho CIA, spouting patriotic slogans when they aren’t narcissistically chest-thumping. I did come across a fascinating account by a young woman of her five or six years as a Case Officer. Can’t remember the title. She focused more on the contradictions she had to juggle–stationed in eastern Europe, she was discouraged from cultivating one asset because he had a criminal record–and her sense that the whole enterprise was one big game.

I did live next door to an undercover CIA type for several years in the “new town” of Reston, Virginia. He “worked for the State Department.” One day in 1970, a phalanx of men in overcoats came marching down our street. One was the visiting president of Roumania, known for his murderous, repressive regime in the Stalinist mold. (He was taken down by a revolution in 1989, tried, and shot by a firing squad.) The spy’s wife came running out to greet them wearing an apron and carrying a cookie sheet of chocolate chip cookies. It had all been staged–sounds like a worse than silly game to me.

EB: I notice you’ve titled the books Satan’s Chamber and now Broken Angels. What’s the significance of the title Broken Angels?

MT: The title was almost Hotel Limbo, the name of a club in Odessa–so I seem to be getting stuck on religious motifs. Religious fanaticism is exposed in Broken Angels, so in a way the title is ironic. In the simplest sense, the young women trafficked for sex are broken angels.

EB: Who would you like to see play Tory in a movie version?

MT: Someone small and athletic. Reese Witherspoon is a bit old, but an actress of her type.

EB: What’s next for Victoria Pierce?

MT: South Africa. She will probably have resigned from the CIA, and her story will be more of a mystery than a spy thriller.

EB: You handle the editorial duties for Fuze Pubilshing. Did you edit yourself?

MT: I had four readers who gave me notes at different stages of the process, but I was the overall editor. I don’t recommend the arrangement, but Fuze barely gets by on our shoestring, and I couldn’t afford to hire someone with my experience!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

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An Interview with Ben H. Winters, author of The Last Policeman and Countdown City

Ben H. Winters is the author of seven books, including his recent novels The Last Policeman, an Edgar Award winner, and its sequel Countdown City.

He is also the author of several books for young readers, including Literally Disturbed, (a book of scary poems), Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (a New York Times bestseller), The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman (Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2011 and an Edgar Nominee). Ben Winters has also written for the theater, and was a 2009-2010 Fellow of the Dramatists Guild. His plays include ones for young audiences (The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere , A (Tooth) Fairy Tale and Uncle Pirate), and for adults (the Off-Broadway musical Slut and the jukebox musical Breaking Up Is Hard to Do). Ben Winters lives in Indianapolis.

We sat down on the internet to talk about his Last Policemen trilogy.

EB: Congratulations on all the awards for The Last Policeman, which not only received the 2012 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America but was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate. How does that make you feel as a writer?

BW: Well, thank you. It makes me feel slightly less anxious about having chosen (or stumbled into) this as my profession. The question is always how much do that kind of recognition translate into interest from the general readership, but I try not to think about it, or I get a stomachache. But there’s no way it can be bad, you know?

EB: This is a wonderful concept. How did you come up with the idea of a pre-apocalyptic detective series?

BW: Thanks. I wish I knew, but I think good ideas are like Earth-destroying asteroids: you never know when one will come, right? I had wanted to do a detective novel for a long time, and I was trying to come at this well-worn genre with something we haven’t seen before.

EB: The detail -— both scientific and sociological -— is very convincing. How did you go about researching what might happen if an asteroid were about to hit the earth?

BW: By talking to a people who are smarter than me, basically. One astronomer in particular, a guy named Tim Spahr at the Harvard-Smithsonian Minor Planet Center, was extremely generous with his time. But I talked to tons of folks — economists, sociologists, detectives, beat cops, forensic pathologists — you name it. I am a real proponent of research in the writing of fiction; the fire of one’s imagination must be fed by the fuel gathered from reality. Or something like that.

EB: Why the Concord, New Hampshire setting? Are New York and Los Angeles already too pre-apolcalyptic?

BW: Actually, my first thought was to set this series in Brooklyn, which is probably the place I know best. But a New York crime novel often becomes about New York, and I had other fish to fry. Concord was perfect: small but not too small. smart but not ivory-tower smart. A real place where real people live and work.

EB: Let me ask you about the characters. I like Henry Palace, but I can’t quite explain his commitment to his work? Why does he do it? What drives him?

BW: Well there’s some backstory in there that I think probably informs the kind of cop he is, and the kind of man. But I think if you asked Hank, he wouldn’t quite get the question—he took an oath, you know? He has a job to do. He doesn’t understand the idea that the asteroid should in any way diminish people’s commitment to things (their jobs, their wives, their country, etc.) and as the series progresses that puzzlement at times becomes real anger.

EB: Henry’s sister Nico seems to have grown since the first book, and in Countdown City she plays an important role. It’s almost as if some people on the margins will become more responsible as the world ends. Is that what’s happening? Can you put us inside Nico’s head?

BW: Nico, like Henry, is doing her best to cope with the asteroid—it’s just that her means (joining a shadowy conspiracy-minded antigovernment organization) are opposite to his. She certainly would say that her actions are responsible; she thinks that she’s got the key to saving civilization, after all. Hank would say she’s being irresponsible and obnoxious, and she would say he’s being obtuse and square. The same things they’ve been saying about each other their whole lives.

EB: What do you enjoy most about writing this series?

BW: Probably the two (two!) separate marriage proposals people have sent—not for me, for Hank. The idea that people believe in him, and are rooting for him, might even be falling in love with him…incredible.

EB: You also write plays and books for young people. How do you keep your different writerly personas separate? Do you need to focus on certain things more in different genres?

BW: I mean, sure, you can’t use the word “fuck” as much writing, say, a play for kids about Paul Revere. But the basic idea of good storytelling is always the same: what’s the goal, what’s the obstacle? What are the hero’s flaws? Where are the conflicts, where are the resolutions? Good writing is good writing, you know—you can see it in an episode of The Wire or an episode of Sesame Street.

EB: The third—and final—installment is out in the summer of 2014. Anything you can tell us about what’s in story for Henry and Nico? And the world?

BW: Basically the set-up for the third book (titled World of Trouble, by the way) is that I wanted to get us right up to the end—it’s set two weeks before impact day—and push Henry way, way outside his comfort zone. So most of it takes place outside of Concord, where he’s spent his whole life, and he has none of his usual resources available to him. And (as they say in the biz) it’s his toughest case yet…

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

BW: Of course! Thanks for your thoughtful questions, and I’m glad you like the books.

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