An Interview with Cara Black, author of Three Hours in Paris.

Cara BlackCara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 19 books in the Aimée Leduc series, which is set in Paris.

From the California’s Bay Area, she travelled widely in Europe and Asia, studying Buddhism in Dharamsala in Northern India and studying Chinese history at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Her love of all things French was kindled by the French-speaking nuns at her Catholic high school, where Cara first encountered French literature She has been to Paris many, many times entrenching herself in it secret history.

Her 20th book is the standalone thriller Three Hours in Paris, published in April 2020 by Soho Press, which the Washington Post put on its Best Thrillers and Mystery Books of 2020 list.

You can visit Cara Black’s website here:

Ed Battistella: This is your first standalone novel. How did it feel to venture away from your Aimée Leduc Investigation series?

Cara Black: Quite scary at first. I’ve written Aimée Leduc for a long time and at first felt I was being ‘unfaithful’ but once I got writing it was a wonderful challenge. A great chance to write something new about a story that I became passionate about.

Three Hours in ParisEB: Where did the idea for the novel come from? What are the three hours in the title?

CB: The idea came from a historical footnote. Doing research I came across a footnote that detailed Hitler’s brief, one and only visit to Paris. It struck me as strange that he never returned or had a big victory parade on the Champs Elysées. It was only for three hours. Hence the title

EB: Were there really female snipers in World War II?

CB: Yes, the Russians had a whole unit of female snipers. The story of Ludmilla, who got 309 kills, inspired my idea for an American, like Kate, to also be a sniper.

EB: I enjoyed the way that the two main characters, the assassin Kate Rees and the policeman Gunter were both doing their part, as they saw, it and staying true to themselves. What’s the larger message?

CB: War is complex and so is the truth. I wanted to show a German man, a family man who is good at his job like Kate who is good at hers, doing his best. Gunter didn’t like his boss, the Fuhrer, and it was important he not be a cliché Nazi.

EB: What was the research like for this novel? There was a lot of spycraft, firearms, and military history.

CB: Research is the best part of writing. I started with the idea for this book about ten years ago, so research along the way was in fits and starts. Four years ago when I got the contract then I concentrated of going through 20 years of notes I took in Paris to do with the war, began purposefully visiting french Archives and war collections. I interviewed several female Résistants, now sadly who’ve gone, but felt very lucky to have spoken with them. Also in London, I went to the Churchill war rooms underground and the Imperial war museum. Stanford University has the Hoover Institute where I found WW2 spycraft gadgets – treasure trove.

EB: Can we expect more stories about Kate Rees in the future? The ending is open?

CB: I’m certainly thinking there’s a whole rest of the war for her to possibly work in.

EB: Perhaps an older Kate Rees might someday be a client of Aimée Leduc?

CB: Who knows?

EB: It was nice to see a protagonist who was a cowgirl from Oregon. Is ranching good training for being a spy?

CB: Definitely. Ranching fosters resilience, self-reliance and thinking on your feet. Three qualities a good spy needs.

EB: This is your 20th book. What’s next?

CB: I’m just working on the edits for the next Aimée Leduc novel – title TBA – set after 9/11 in Paris. This will come out in November 2021.

EB: Thanks for taking with us.

CB: Thank you.

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Grad School: An Interview with Dante Fumagalli

Dante Fumagalli is a 2017 summa cum laude graduate of Southern Oregon University, with a double major in English and Art History. A member of the founding class of SOU’s Honors College, he was the 2017 student commencement speaker. 

Ed Battistella: What is your graduate school experience like so far, both in New York and now in Eugene?

Dante Fumagalli: I’ve had very different experiences in New York and in Eugene! I only made it through one semester in New York attending the Art History master’s program at Hunter College. It was a very academic program and I enjoyed all of my classes a lot, but I came to the realization that I rushed into graduate school without giving more thought to my long-term goals. I wasn’t sure what I planned to do with my Master’s so I came to the difficult decision to put off graduate school after that first semester.

Ultimately, I’m very glad I did that! I spent the next two years living and working in New York and realized that what I appreciated most about my work in museum education was the connections I would make with students with disabilities. This prompted me to check out the Master’s program in Special Education at the University of Oregon, where I’m now in my second year. I love the mixture of application and theory that a program like this provides – it’s really fulfilling to be able to use concepts we discuss in my graduate courses practically in my practicum site!

EB: What’s are your long-term plans?

DF: I went into this program with the idea that I would work specifically on reading interventions with students with reading disabilities. I think that this would be a great way to combine the skills I acquired during undergrad studying English with my current studies in special education. However, this term my practicum site is with a functional skills classroom at a local high school and I’ve been really loving it. I’m teaching a unit on functional reading skills which has me considering whether a life skills or functional skills setting might be a better fit for me. I want to make sure I keep my options open because I know that I will be graduating with this degree and entering into a field with great need so there is room for flexibility in where I go from here.

EB: What has been the most interesting part of your studies so far?

DF: My favorite thing about my program has been applying course content into my practice with my students. I’m currently taking a course called Design of Instruction and I feel like each week I’ve learned about a new principle of design that I can use to improve the instruction I am providing my students. It feels really gratifying to be able to apply the things I’m learning and see results with my students.

EB: What courses have you taking?

DF: During my first year, I took: Foundations of Disabilities, Behavior Management, Assessment in SPED, SPED Law, Diversity in SPED, Supporting Students with Low-Incidence Disabilities, SPED Math and a year long sequence on literacy. This year, I have taken Advanced Behavior Management, Design of Instruction, Practicum, and Professional Practices. Over the next two terms I will be taking a two-course sequence on transition programming which I’m very excited for!

EB: What’s been the best thing you’ve read as a grad student?

DF: We recently read some very interesting articles by Lisa Delpit regarding intersections between equity, access, and inclusion with traditional skill-based teaching methods and the liberal ethos of fluency-based instruction. She argues that many students of color already exhibit fluency but within different dialectical contexts than their white peers and that this liberal mindset does not address the skill gaps between these students properly, leaving students of color at a deficit. I would highly recommend that educators read Delpit’s writing!

EB: What has been the hardest part of grad school?

DF: The hardest part has definitely been time management and finding time for self-care. Especially now that school is all done remotely, I find myself sitting at my desk for hours upon hours each day and have a hard time pulling myself away to take mental health breaks.

EB: What’s next for you?

DF: I would love to find a job within the 4J school district here in Eugene at the end of this year when I graduate. I’ve grown to really like this city and I would like to continue to foster the community relations that I’ve been able to establish through my practicum here so far.

EB: What do you know now that you wished you knew earlier?

DF: You don’t need to rush into graduate school! It’s okay to take the time to figure out exactly what you want before applying.

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

DF: Thank you!

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Grad School: An Interview with Kendall Meador

Born in Lewiston, Idaho, Kendall Meador moved up and down the west coast before completing her BA in English at Southern Oregon University. She is currently pursuing a PhD in American literature at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry and cooking.

Ed Battistella: What is your graduate experience like so far?

Kendall Meador: It’s difficult to describe very succinctly, but I’ll try. It’s been at once thrilling, disheartening, emboldening, devastating, inspiring, and excruciating.

EB: What’s been your intellectual focus and how has grad school changed that?

KM: I initially went in wanting to do Chicanx lit, especially focusing on what I think of as “messy” bodies — feminine bodies, wounded or disabled ones, queer ones, fat ones, etc. I am still very interested in working with representations of those bodies, but not specifically in Chicanx lit. The questions that drive my interests have shifted and are now really questions of citizenship. That is, whose body do we think of when we think of a citizen? And I’m interested in how our conceptions of citizenship impact reproductive rights and choices about sex and sexuality.

EB: What courses are you taking and what sorts of things were you reading?

KM: This term I am taking an archival research course and a Chicanx literature course. For the former, we’ve read a lot of interesting texts like Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages (much better than her recent op-ed), and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale. I enjoy reading the fruits of these long research projects that reconstruct the lives of historical women. In the latter class we are reading texts from Caballero by Jovita González and Eve Raleigh, to Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, to Salvador Plascencia’s People of Paper. We’re really tracking the development of Chicanx identity and culture over the term, and it has been a lot of fun.

EB: What has been the most fun so far?

KM: I just love talking about books in seminars. I love it when something a colleague says transforms my understanding of a passage, or when I have a moment of realization in class and get to share this thing that I’ve just seen that’s really exciting to me.

EB: What has been the weirdest?

KM: This year, it’s been working remotely. When I do go to campus occasionally it’s practically deserted, and that feels very peculiar and a little eerie.

EB: What’s next for you?

KM: Wrapping up my first term as an instructor, writing a couple of long papers, and celebrating a year with my partner, who is also in my program.

EB: Any advice for students considering going on for more school?

KM: First off, apply for a GRE waiver! That waiver will qualify you for graduate program application fee waivers and those bad boys add up. A less cheery piece of advice is that if you’re interested in going to grad school because you want to work in academia, you need to recognize early on that the job market is dismal. COVID may make it much worse for the foreseeable future. So, if you do go to graduate school, go to a program that will not require you to take on any additional debt, and do it to enjoy every available opportunity to develop and indulge your interests. Make the program a worthy end in and of itself, because that’s what you can control. Last, I would also advise new grad students to make friendships with their cohort mates and other peers as soon as possible. You have no idea how crucial those relationships can be, especially when imposter syndrome and multiple deadlines conspire to crush you. Just knowing other people are feeling or have felt as you do can make all the difference. Good luck!

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

KM: Thanks for the opportunity.

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Grad School: An Interview with Alexis Noel Brooks

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Alexis Noel Brooks is a fiercely feminist learner, dog mom, graduate student, coffee addict, “novel in progress”ian, wannabe chef, t-crosser, i-dotter, and lover of all things writerly. After graduating from Southern Oregon University in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Alexis went on to pursue a Master of Arts in English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Ed Battistella: What has your graduate school experience been like so far?

Alexis Noel Brooks: Grad school has been exhilarating, stressful, exhausting, challenging (in the best possible sense of the word), and deeply rewarding. Honestly, I am just trying to soak it all up, to learn everything I possibly can from anyone who is kind enough to teach me. I feel really lucky to have ended up at UNLV. When I left SOU, I was terrified that I’d show up to grad school only to discover I had inadvertently chosen a program where my professors and colleagues didn’t really care like the people I studied with through undergrad. What I found instead, though, was a community of scholars who are excited about what they do and excited to learn along with me. Grad school is endless labor, but a welcoming, warm environment makes it exponentially more pleasant to do good work and be human in.

EB: What is your focus as a scholar?

AB: Maybe I am reading into this question too much, but my scholarly focus and my focus as a scholar are actually two different things to me. That said, they definitely inform one another. Let me explain. My scholarly focus—as in, my research area—is in Black women’s literature and Black feminist theory. My research has been centered around the ways that Black women writers negotiate and reimagine spaces of literary fictionality. My focus as a scholar, on the other hand, is this: how can I amplify the perspectives, voices, and feelings of Black women as they continue to work toward equality in a culture that actively works against their freedom, joy, and very existence? The difference between these two definitions, to me, is that the first is the product of my research and the second is the undercurrent, the driving force, behind my research.

EB: What sorts of things are you reading and writing?

AB: I am currently reading so much amazing stuff, and a lot of it all at once (because that is grad school for you). I am almost done reading Morgan Jerkins’ beautiful new release, Wandering in Strange Lands. It is fantastic. Most of my reading is thesis research these days. I love it. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have the flexibility to choose what I read. In academia, reading loses some of its magic. When your reading choices are dictated by packed syllabi––even if they’re packed with great material––it simply does not leave much room for literary exploration. Now, I can read that random monograph or sci-fi novel I’ve been dying to read, all in the name of possibly using it in my thesis. As for my writing, most of it is academic writing right now. I spend most of my time working on my master’s thesis, which explores how Hannah Crafts reimagines fictionality in The Bondwoman’s Narrative and situates Crafts within a long tradition of Black women writers who use creativity as a tool for subverting the master narrative. I do set aside small batches of time for creative writing, which is one way I practice self-care.

EB: What has been the most interesting of graduate work so far?

AB: I work for the UNLV Honors College as a writing consultant, which essentially means I tutor students one-on-one, teach writing workshops, and guest lecture in Honors classes. One of the most interesting things about my job is the variety of students I get to work with. In a given day, I read first-year students’ papers on anything from mythical cosmogonies, to exposés on “home,” to education reform. I love getting to read and discuss their personal takes on life. They have so many interesting things to say and ways of expressing their unique styles.

EB: How has your graduate study experience changed you?

AB: I am a first-generation college student, which I think is part of why I felt relatively lost and self-doubting entering into graduate school. In my head, it was the most formidable of intellectual spheres. I didn’t know what to expect or whether my ideas would “measure up.” My graduate study experience has made me a far more confident person, not because I haven’t made mistakes but because I’ve been supported along the way. I think it was my first semester, when I sat silently afraid that I’d be asked to read “Goethe” out loud and a fellow student admitted to not knowing the pronunciation either, that I realized we are all in this learning journey together. “Imposter syndrome is real” is something I’ve heard regularly from grad students and professors alike. We all live it. I’ve learned to be okay with this and to put myself out there anyways.

EB: Is there anything you know now that you wished you knew earlier?

AB: That it is okay to not know and to admit to not knowing. I re-learn this constantly.

EB: Can you share any long-range plans?

AB: What are “plans” even, in the middle of a pandemic. It is so hard to know. What I know for sure: I will graduate with my MA in English in May 2021. What I hope for: a career that allows me to put my unique skillset and interests to positive use, and eventual international travel again.

EB: Do you have any advice for undergraduate students considering going on for more school?

AB: Do what makes you happy. This cannot be said enough. Practical tips: If you don’t get accepted into any grad schools the first time around (which I didn’t), try again (which I did, successfully). By the way, if you still want to go to grad school after this, that’s a pretty clear indicator that it is where you need to be. Don’t just research schools’ and professors’ credentials; it is equally important to research the environment. Talk to professors you think you might want to work with and to current graduate students. Ask what they think of their department. Ask whether they feel supported. Ask whether they feel they’re given the tools to thrive. Trust me, it makes all the difference.

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

AB: Absolutely! Thank you!

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Grad School: An Interview with Sabrina Sherman

Sabrina Sherman is a 2016 cum laude graduate of Southern Oregon University with a BA in English. A native of Grants Pass, she is completing a PhD in English at the University of Oregon, where she teaches college composition.

Ed Battistella: What has your graduate school experience been like so far?

Sabrina Sherman: It has been challenging, but most of my challenges are outside of coursework and academics. It’s important to recognize the toll it takes on a person’s finances to be in school for so long; alongside the financial sacrifice is the sheer amount of time spent enduring academic gatekeeping. On that note, I should point out that most of my graduate school experience has consisted of heaps of imposter syndrome in which I constantly question if I deserve to be in a program that has awarded me a six year tuition waver, a stable income, and many other career opportunities. So, obviously, someone thinks I deserve to be here.

EB: What’s been your focus as a scholar?

SS: I am an African Americanist with a focus in theories of passing, mixed race identities, and black feminisms. I am particularly interested in early 20th century US ideas about colorism and its role in mixed race or white passing women. The texts I look at mostly deal with black women who pass for white or are mixed race. The time period I focus on is 20th century, mostly, or the Harlem Renaissance to present. So, I am looking at the narrative echoes of Nella Larsen’s novella Passing.

EB: What sorts of things are you reading and writing about?

SS: Well, I started my grad school career reading lots of post-structuralist theory such as Foucault and Derrida. Now that I’m getting more specialized, I’ve moved into reading Black Feminist theorists and writers such as Morrison, Walker, Spillers, Davis, and Christian, to name a few. I’m in my final year of coursework and my third year of a six-year PhD program. I am currently (in fall 2020) taking a class/seminar on nonfiction comics (which is totally out of my wheelhouse) and I am working on revising a term paper into an article for a publication course. I am also teaching a first-year writing composition course, and I do the readings I assign for my students. I write stuff for my classes, both as a student and instructor. So, lots of writing, always!

EB: What has been the most interesting aspect so far?

SS: Interesting for me is such a loaded term, but then again I learned to question the word “interesting” in a seminar. Go figure. So, I find it interesting (and frustrating) how what I consume on a cultural level—so, Netflix shows, memes, Instagram posts, YouTube videos, etc.—gets circulated into my academic life as relevant material. Everything you do seems to matter, but that also means that it can be hard to compartmentalize personal and academic/work lives. I tend to establish boundaries in good faith and spend a good amount of time trying to enforce “fun” time that is purely inconsequential to my graduate work.

EB: Has graduate school changed you?

SS: Yes, beyond what I can see or notice right now. It has changed everything for me. I can’t emphasize enough how much “grad school” sort of attempts to consume your entire identity such that you often refer to yourself as “just a grad student.” But, actually, grad school just emphasizes the ways in which you can ask better, more specific, and consequential questions. Maybe I’m oversimplifying that idea, but I’m sticking with it. Also, I’m convinced that grad school makes you second guess everything.

EB: Not to be nosy, but what’s are your long-range plans?

SS: I’m assuming you’re referring to my career goals. If so, to answer your question, I will attempt to apply for and attain a tenure track position somewhere. I plan to finish my PhD in the allotted time of six years from entering my program at UO. So, hopefully, by 2023, I’ll be able to call myself a PhD holder. At that point, I will try to get a job to whatever extent that is possible in whatever way that is the most mentally and financially viable. In other words, I don’t want to take a job (mostly, I’m thinking adjunct professorships) that requires me to teach 5-6 sections of 30 students per section and in which I am barely scraping by. Being a professor isn’t that important to me; however, mental, physical, emotional, and financial stability, are.

EB: Do you have any advice for undergraduate students considering going on for more schooling?

SS: My biggest piece of advice is to take a gap year between undergrad and grad school. Especially if you’re considering applying for a PhD program like I did, take a long, hard look at why you want to go to grad school and what you think it’ll offer you. I have never regretted my decision to wait to apply to graduate schools after a gap year. Especially if you’re a Writing or English major, it might be intimidating to take a break from writing, and you might worry that you’ll lose those skills. I’m convinced that life experience guides a more focused statement of purpose and that is precisely what application committees love to see. They want to know why you want to be in their graduate program, which for me took a year or so to figure out.

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

SS: No problem. I am proud to represent Southern Oregon University, and I am grateful for my experiences there. Seriously. I don’t know how I could’ve done grad school well without SOU English instructors’ teaching me the foundational strategies that I still use today! So thank YOU!

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An Interview with Melanie Stormm

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Melanie Stormm is a poet and writer of short-fiction. Her novella, Last Poet of Wyrld’s End is available through Candlemark & Gleam. Her short story “A Mohawk Place for Souls” was a finalist for the Hamlin Garland Award for Short Fiction in 2018 and published by Beloit Fiction Journal. She is also a singer and spoken word performer and is the editor for a special issue of Star*Line, the magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association. She lives in New Hampshire, where she works in marketing.

Ed Battistella: Welcome Melanie. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your background?

Melanie Stormm:  Thanks, Ed! Glad to be here. I’m a multiracial writer of both speculative poetry and fiction. I’m also the marketing coordinator for the SFPA and the current guest-editor for a historic issue of Star*Line magazine centered on Black speculative poetry.

EB: When did you first begin writing?

MS: I grew up in a household that didn’t have a television and only limited access to radio. We told each other stories so I began writing when I was six. By the time I was about ten, I was writing in earnest: poetry, genre fiction, essays on weird things I had no business writing essays about.

EB:  Where does your poetry come from?

MS: That’s a very interesting question as I also write fiction. I think I reach for poetry when I need to explore the multidimensionality of something without having an agenda. I think my poetry has always come from a place that needs to be as faithful as possible to what I see, to not offer judgement, and to explore the way language can cast shadows. Also, sometimes I write poetry because a line pops into my head, makes me snicker, and so I write it down with some perverse glee. I love language.

EB: Who are your poetic influences? Or your literary influences generally?

MS: I studied as a teen with Shari Jean Brown and she’s the one who really drew me more deeply into poetry. She made sure to put Sherman Alexie and Joy Harjo into my hands which was incredibly insightful because I got to read poetry with accents and hues drawn from my own life. Both are poets that pull zero punches and I think that shapes some of what I do. As for content and approach, my favorite poets are John Ashbery and William Trowbridge. Both have their own sense of humor, absurdity, speculation, and mastery of language. Trowbridge’s mastery of narrative is the bar I try to jump up and touch (but let’s face it, I need a step stool and a bunch of phone books on top of that.)

EB: I notice that you have a fascination with Tom Petty. Can you elaborate on that?

MS:  His music speaks to people and reads like good poetry. Be specific, let the language do the work, leave room for the reader. But it’s a little more than that.

Years ago, when I was stressed and life was taking more out of me than I could refill, I found myself throwing myself and my kids in the car, picking a direction that offered long roads and few people. I would drive for hours through rolling countryside, dilapidated farmhouses and ones that had been painted bright red, past remote nuclear power plants, people’s hideaway cottages on flooded coasts, under wide open sky. Tom Petty’s music sounds like those drives, feels like them, too. I think that’s the easiest way to explain it. It sounds like America and like the 50s and 60s rock and roll that I used to sometimes listen to when my parents gave me a chance. It sounds like longing, grit, and sunshine on sugarcane. Even now, he is a giant, and an underdog, and it’s a very American juxtaposition, it’s the nature of American magic.

EB: You are also a vocalist yourself. Is there a difference for you between performing as a singer and performing as a poet?

MS: I don’t mind performing as a singer. I hate performing as a poet and tend to avoid the spotlight. I think it has to do with the way I prefer to consume poetry: it has more dimension for me on the page and hearing it from the author is sort of supplemental. It’s very hard to give a sound to line breaks and form that sounds natural and not like “poet voice.”

EB: Tell us about Star*Line and the issue of Star*Line you are editing.

MS: Star*Line magazine is actually one of the oldest speculative poetry publications out there, if not the oldest. It’s the flagship publication of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association which is a global, member-supported organization. It’s been in print now for 42 years. This issue of Star*Line is completely dedicated to giving voice to Black speculative poets as we are drastically underrepresented in the field. The decision from the SFPA executive committee to go in this direction is a historic one. It’s the first themed issue they’ve done with Star*Line. I’m super excited about the issue as it comes out in just a couple short weeks. I think readers will be blown away by the diversity of subgenre, style, and subject matter, not to mention the skill present. I can’t wait because Star*Line has diverse readers and both they and SFPA members have really wanted to see and hear from Black poets.

EB: As a poetry editor of an issue on Black speculative poetry, what do you look for in work?

MS: I look for things I haven’t read before, voices and approaches to the genre that will offer something different but important and expand the genre. I’m looking for skill and for a sense of wholeness to the poem. Bringing Black pantheons, cultural heroes, and culture to the page is also desirable.

EB: What do you do when you are not editing poetry?

MS: I’m a marketer, a mum, and I write fiction in a bunch of different forms. I sometimes write and create fiction where it’s not supposed to be, but that’s fun.

EB: There are also a lot of trees in your poetry, it seems to me. Is that a recurring theme for you?

MS: I think Environment is always a character for me. I have a slew of speculative poems that are about cities. Woods are important to me and I spent a lot of time in them growing up. I always felt a friendship toward trees, lol. I have a worldview, I think, that sees them as their own ambivalent consciousness or entity and so there’s always that thread in my work. I’m naturally drawn to juxtaposition and, now that you point it out, it seems fitting that I reach for both cities and trees.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

MS: It’s an honor. Thanks again, Ed.

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Summer Reading 2020

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What Fresh Hell is This? by Marion Meade

I’ve been wanted to tackle this for a while – and Parker has been a fascination since I learned about the Algonquin Round Table. Meade brings DP alive in all her glory and got me interested enough in the period of publishing history to restart Thomas Kunkel’s Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker.

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova

A readable exploration of why we fall for things – and why con artists do what they do and get away with it—the mark, the put up, the play, the rope, the tale, and more.

The Girl Who Lived Twice: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series Kindle Edition

The Girl Who Lived Twice, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, and The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

Propulsive page turners with workmanlike plots that don’t disappoint. But Lagercrantz is turning Lisbeth Salander into Jack Reacher. Or maybe she always was.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series (Millennium Series Book 5) Kindle Edition

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Zone One by Colson Whitehead

One of the things I love about Colson Whitehead is his range—everything from woo woo to and history–this was a real stretch. Engagingly weird and metaphorical—a plague generates a zombie apocalypse we follow a protagonist—a sweeper clearing the city of zombies– who consider himself overwhelmingly average.

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The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

A true history horror story of racism and brutality in the not-so-old south. The main character finds redemption and truth but with a twist.

Paperback The Best I Saw in Chess : Games, Stories and Instruction from an Alabama Prodigy Who Became U. S. Champion Book

The Best I Saw in Chess by Stuart Rachels

A multifaceted memoir by the youngest American every to become a chess master. Part instruction manual and part memoir in the narrative tradition of Korchnoi and Tal, but better written.

The Flanders Panel

The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Revert

Art restoration meets chess analysis. Tedious characters and disappointing in lots of ways but the chess problem was interesting if you like retrograde analysis.

How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide

How to Have Impossible Conversations by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay

A philosopher and a mathematician offer useful conversational techniques necessary for opening minds and navigating controversies. Useful material but the style if kind of self-helpy.

Understanding Beliefs

Understanding Beliefs by Nils Nilsson

I reviewed Roger Kreuz’s excellent book Irony and Sarcasm for Choice, which prompted me to reread Nils Nilsson’s Understanding Beliefs, which is a terrific and readable book on epistemology, the scientific method and problems of thinking by a computer scientist. I feel like working through the entire MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2044. A dystopian future with a nostalgia for the 1980s and combined with a fantasy quest. Better than the film version, which was also good, so it’s worth reading.

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

More dystopia, this time in an alternate reality 1962 in which the allies had lost world War II; lots of interesting features, but the story seems to flag at the end. It would be interest to teach this book though.,204,203,200_.jpg

Making Sense of “Bad English” by Elizabeth Peterson

Clear and excellent textbook on language ideology and world Englishes and probably not too expensive to assign in a class.

Mutual Misunderstanding: Scepticism and the Theorizing of Language and Interpretation (Post-Contemporary Interventions)

Mutual Misunderstandings by Talbot Taylor

A deep dive into common sense and technical understanding of understanding. It turned me into more a of communication skeptic. Academic and historical, covering Locke, Saussure and more

The Wrong Case by James Crumley

1970s Montana noir. Crumley is a great writer but the story has an old school tough guy and doesn’t age well. Stick with James Lee Burke.


A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carré

Le Carré’s thought provoking espionage thriller—packed with possible terrorists, bankers, lawyers, and agents–of works especially well as an audiobook, which has the right pace for all the intricacies. Now to watch the movie.

The Night Fire

The Night Fire Jonathan by Michael Connelly and The Wedding Guest by Jonathan Kellerman 

Two great police procedurals and listening to them was like begin with old friends. I prefer Harry Bosch to Alex Delaware as a character but the solve in The Wedding Guest was neater.

The Wedding Guest: An Alex Delaware Novel

1984: New Classic Edition

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

I’ll be talking about this in class so it seemed like time to reread it; great performance by Simon Prebble and the audio brings out some new aspects of the book, including some flaws.

. Three Hours in Paris

Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

This is the wonderful Cara Black’s 20th novel—and first stand alone?—featuring a female sharpshooter from Oregon who becomes an assassin in World War II. Her mission stalls and she must escape from France. Fast paced, intricate and sharply written

What Rose Forgot: A Novel

What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr

An intergenerational thriller in which a women breaks out of a corrupt memory care facility and enlists her granddaughter in helping her on the run. Started out a little slow but ended up a fun romp.

Educated: A Memoir

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

A colleague recommended this and I’m glad I read it. A harrowing tale of the effects of trauma, family dysfunction, gaslighting and conspiracy ideology—and the power of education. It gave me a new appreciation for some of the aspects of students’ lives.

Still working on Jonathan Lethem’s Men and Comics and Stephen Greenleaf’s Strawberry Sunday.

What was on your list?

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An Interview with Tea Krulos, author of American Madness

Tea Krulos is a freelance journalist and author from Milwaukee, WI. He writes about art and entertainment, lifestyle, and food/drink for publications like Milwaukee Magazine, Shepherd Express, and Milwaukee Record. Other publications he’s contributed to include Fortean Times, The Guardian, Boston Phoenix, Scandinavian Traveler, Doctor Who Magazine, and Pop Mythology. You can find his a weekly column, “Tea’s Weird Week,” on

Tea Krulos - Wikipedia
Megan Berendt Photography

His books include Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement ( 2013, Chicago Review Press), Monster Hunters: On the Trail With Ghost Hunters, Bigfooters, Ufologists, and Other Paranormal Investigators (2015, Chicago Review Press), and Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers (2019, Chicago Review Press).

His most recent book is American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness (2020, Feral House).

Ed Battistella: American Madness is a bio of sorts of Richard McCaslin. Who was he?

Tea Krulos: Back in 2010, I was working on my first book, Heroes in the Night, which is about a subculture of people who adopt their own “Real-Life Superhero” persona. Richard had seen that I was working on the book and contacted me, saying he was one of these Real-Life Superheroes and called himself the “Phantom Patriot” and that he had been arrested in 2002 when he started a fire in a secret retreat in northern California called the Bohemian Grove. It quickly became clear that he was a hardcore conspiracy theorist. I was interested in his life story and how he got there and began a long process of interviewing and researching.

EB: What’s your goal in the book?

TK: I think the first thing that really appealed to me was that Richard’s story hadn’t been told and I was in a unique position to be the one to tell it. As time went on, though, I found there was a bigger picture to this story. I found that Richard wasn’t alone in his views and that some of his beliefs and inspirations were becoming more prevalent. When I first started working on this book, people like Richard were really fringe and isolated. Now you have big social movements like QAnon that follow these ideas.

EB: I wanted to ask about your earlier book Heroes in the Night. Is there a connection between what you call the real life superhero movement and conspiracy theories.

TK: Real-life Superheroes (or RLSH) are a really eclectic group of people that share the desire to invent superhero personas and do good in the world. Most of them aren’t into conspiracy theory, but a couple of them are willing to entertain the ideas. Richard had a tough time breaking into the RLSH community, at first most of them didn’t want to be associated with him because of his beliefs. Eventually he did make a few RLSH friends and joined them on some meet-ups. But he really was, as he himself described it, “the black sheep of the RLSH.”

EB: Is there a particular type of person who is attracted to conspiracy theories?

TK: I think a lot of people have conspiracies they believe in, they’re just usually much more small scale– a conspiracy against you at your workplace, for example. I think people that get in deeper are really looking for meaning and order in this crazy world. There’s some appeal in thinking that a satanic network of Illuminati or “Deep State” is causing everything bad to happen. The Internet has really caused the widespread of some of these ideas. I quote a study in my book that found that almost 100% of flat earthers got sucked into the idea via YouTube. In Richard’s case, and other stories I examined I found that conspiracy believers had gone through a rough time in their life and conspiracy kind of filled the void they were feeling, almost like taking solace in a religious faith.

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EB: You also talk about super conspiracies theories, where various conspiracies connect together, like Q-Anon.

TK: Yes, I think this is something that’s evolved. You used to find more theorists that had a conspiracy they focused on– “Assassinologists” are mostly interested in the JFK assassination. But most conspiracists now are super-conspiracists which means they’re likely to believe most conspiracy ideas they’re exposed to and believe that all of them are connected together, all perpetrated by this evil Deep State league.

EB: Is it possible to engage with someone who believes in conspiracies? What’s the best strategy?

TK: Sadly, it’s difficult to engage with someone after they make the conspiracy plunge. Almost anything you present to them– legit journalism or even photos or video will be dismissed as “fake news” or a “hoax.” It’s frustrating because how can you argue a point with someone like that? I think the best strategy is to not mock the person or get angry, but to listen and present why you think that they are wrong and point out the credibility issues with their sources. Hope for the best, but don’t expect them to budge in their thinking.

EB: Is the US more prone to conspiracy thinking that other countries or is this a world-wide phenomenon?

TK: It is world-wide. I just read a report about how QAnon has started to get a foothold in the UK, Germany, and other European countries. Other countries have long used conspiracy as a form of propaganda. That being said, conspiracy is very American. It’s gotten to be prevalent here, especially in this Trump era. From Bohemian Grove to Area 51 to Dealey Plaza, it’s part of our landscape.

EB: How do politicians respond to conspiracy theories? What should they be doing?

TK: Well, some conspiracy theorists are getting elected to office! Trump himself knows very well the power of using these theories as a weapon, whether it’s Birtherism, alleged voter fraud, or blaming his orange skin tone on energy efficient lightbulbs. The Trump effect has led to a number of QAnon inspired candidates to run– Marjorie Greene, a QAnon believer, is poised to win a seat in Congress this year and others look like they have a chance of winning, too.

That’s why I think it’s important to look at your local elections. It’s exhausting to keep up with all the misinformation, but I think media and politicians should be calling out Trump and other politicians spreading conspiracy every time. There is a war on reality about politics and the pandemic, and that should concern us all.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

TK: Great talking with you, thank you!

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An Interview with Stuart Rachels, author of The Best I Saw in Chess

Born in 1969, Stuart Rachels grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and began playing chess when he was 8. At 11 he became a chess master and was the US Junior Champion in 1988 and the US co-champion in 1989. At the age of 23, he retired from competitive chess.

A former Marshall Scholar, he has a PhD in Philosophy from Syracuse University and teaches at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. This year he published The Best I Saw in Chess (New in Chess, 2020).


Ed Battistella: When you were not quite 12,  you became the youngest chess master in US history. How did you learn to play and how did you get so good so fast?

Stuart Rachels: My brother David taught me the rules. I have no idea how I got good. It was just something my brain took to. It was also my most enjoyable period as a player. Getting good is more fun than being good.

EB: Reading The Best I Saw in Chess, it occurred to me that good chess books are equal parts narrative and analysis. Did you think about this balance as you were writing the book? Or think about the memoir genre more generally?

SR: Yes and yes. Here are some tips I gave myself. (i) In telling stories, just say what happened. Don’t give commentary. Commentary is boring, and anyway your readers will prefer their own interpretations, so don’t waste their time giving them yours. (ii) In writing your life story, don’t start with your birth and end with you sitting there writing your life story. Skip around in time. (iii) Autobiographical writing is about taming one’s ego. Write a lot of drafts; take a lot of time to gain perspective. (iv) Chessplayers don’t want to hear your life story. They want to see cool moves. Make it less about you. Every story you tell, you must earn with cool chess moves. (v) Don’t make yourself look good; let yourself look human. Aside from Bobby Fischer, Mikhail Tal was the best blitz player in the world during the 1960’s. Yet when Tal recounts a blitz tournament in his autobiography, the only position he gives is one in which he made a silly blunder. Does this make you think less of Tal? Not at all; just the opposite. (vi) Your main obligation is to your reader, not to yourself. Don’t suppress uncomfortable truths. They’re uncomfortable for you, not for your reader. And though you hate it, include games that you lost. Guess what? Some of the coolest moves you’ve ever seen were ones that kicked your butt.

EB: What was the toughest part of writing The Best I Saw in Chess?

SR: Finding the right title. Stuart Rachels’ Chess Career is too conceited. Also, the book is primarily about chess, not about me; it is a book of instruction, where the lessons come from my games. So the title should not cry out “autobiography.” Yet it shouldn’t ignore that element; How to Think about Chess Positions isn’t right, either. And the title should contain the word ‘chess.’ Also, it should say something about me, because, who am I?—I haven’t played chess in 25 years. (I covered that desideratum with a self-promoting subtitle.) It took me months to find a title I was happy with.

EB: This is one of the few chess books I’ve seen that has footnotes, which I think is great. What does your chess library look like?

SR: Disorganized. I’ve acquired so many chess books in the last few years that they’ve outgrown their bookshelf, and now that I’m writing another book (about fortresses), my books tend to wind up in stacks, relating to some theme. Footnotes are important. I use them for references and for jokes.

EB: Who are some of the best chess writers out there? Do they have anything in common?

SR: I was trying to combine the virtues of John Nunn and Mikhail Tal. Nunn explains chess ideas perfectly (accurately, succinctly, insightfully), but he displays no personality—no humor and nothing too personal. Meanwhile, Tal has never edited a sentence in his life (he dictated his books, and it shows), but his wit, affable nature and lack of pretension are manifested on every page.

EB: You mention that you don’t always calculate a lot of variations, but also that you sometimes run into time trouble. Can you say anything about your thought process during a game?

SR: My trainer once told me that I would get into time trouble even if I began the game with five hours on my clock. There’s always lots to think about, but my time mismanagement probably derived from my neuroses—a useful neurosis. I was always motivated by the fear that I was about to make a bad move. This anxiety helped me focus, but it also slowed me down. … As for my thought process, I’ll just mention the only thing which (I think) was unusual. Often, there would be the move I wanted to play (the move I was most comfortable with) and then this different move, which I didn’t want to play, but it might be best. At those moments, I would silently give myself a speech, arguing that the move I wanted to play was best—and then I’d see whether I found the speech convincing.

EB: You’ve played several former world champions—Kasparov, Anand, and Spassky. Who was the toughest?

SR: Kasparov is the greatest player ever, in my opinion. However, I can’t say who was toughest for me, because I played these players at different strengths, under different conditions. When I played Anand, we were both 14; when I played Spassky, I was 16 and was too nervous and starstruck to think clearly; and then I played Kasparov in two clock simuls. I will say that my most awesome experience was playing blitz with Anand. He thinks several times faster than most GMs. “Touched by God” is an apt phrase.

EB: You have a day job, as a professor of philosophy. Do you still find time to play chess?

SR: I play a little on the internet, but not much. It isn’t about time. I prefer in-person play, and the nearest grandmaster is 150 miles away—my friend Ben Finegold, who runs a great club in Atlanta.

EB: Thanks for talking. Good luck with The Best I Saw in Chess.

SR: Thank you!

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An Interview with Neil Nakadate, author of Looking After Minidoka

Neil Nakadate is a graduate of Stanford and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at Indiana University.  He is University Professor Emeritus from Iowa State University, where he received the Iowa State Foundation Award for Career Achievement in Teaching. He is a past president of the Board of Directors of Humanities Iowa.  His writing has appeared in various publications, including Aethlon, Cottonwood, ISLE, and Annals of Internal Medicine; he has co-authored two books on rhetoric and writing and has written a critical study of novelist Jane Smiley (2010).  His most recent book is Looking After Minidoka:  An American Memoir (Indiana University Press, 2013), which links his Portland family and Japanese American experience from immigration through the 20th century. 

Ed Battistella: Tell us a little about yourself and your career.

Neil Nakadate: I went to high school in Portland, then to Stanford. After that it was Indiana University for my M.A. and Ph.D. I taught American literature, courses on fiction, and various nonfiction writing courses, first at Texas and then at Iowa State.

EB: Your father was a doctor. I’m curious how you chose to become an English professor.

NN: My father wanted me to follow him into medicine, but in high school my affinity was for English and history—an inclination that was reinforced by some excellent teachers. In college I was pre-med until the second quarter of my sophomore year, when I gave up lab reports for writing papers on poetry and fiction. I eventually concluded that my family’s economic stability, established by two preceding generations, enabled me to make that choice.

EB: What prompted you to write Looking After Minidoka?

NN: I had been trying for years to write about my family, with a focus on the World War II years. But it became clear to me that my family embodied many of the key aspects of the larger Japanese American story—and that explaining “internment” would require discussing what preceded it and what came after. Meanwhile, I had become impatient with superficial historical accounts of the incarceration that reduced the experience to dates and statistics. I knew that the stories of individuals could provide texture and depth for the collective story. So I interviewed family members, engaged in research, read new material as it became available, and wrote and otherwise contributed in support of Redress. I organized my files. I wrote a few of the poems that would appear in the book. But I was preoccupied with teaching and writing about American literature—including multicultural American literature(s)—and rhetoric and writing. So my progress on Looking After Minidoka was fitful; more than half of it was written in the two years after I retired.

EB: What was the process of research like for a memoir spanning three generations?

NN: It was challenging but rewarding. For example, the family record included anecdotes, letters, memorabilia, interviews, ephemera, and photographs. The public record included census data and immigration records, maps, city directories, military history, and so on. I had to figure out how to sort through, organize, and present what was most valuable in all this without getting distracted and sidetracked. This was a challenge because I would periodically encounter a subtopic or detail that required me to modify my initial understanding.

EB: You were born in the Midwest and your family returned to Oregon after World War II. What are your recollections of growing up in Portland? Was the racism different than in the Midwest?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Mindoka_smallpostcard.-cover-copy.jpgNN: When I was a boy growing up in Northwest Indiana, it was ethnically diverse and the fathers typically worked in the refineries, steel mill, or shipyard. My father had gone there because that’s where he was offered an internship upon completing medical school in Portland. The diversity of East Chicago was largely Central and Eastern European in origin. Ours was one of the few Asian families, but (according to my parents) we were accepted as part of the general mix. My memory of elementary school in Hammond is of a brief race-related incident but no ongoing problems. This was in the decade after World War II. On the post-war West Coast the “unwelcome mat” had been put out for Japanese Americans returning from the camps, and that made returning to Oregon a challenge for many, even by 1956. My parents were able to buy a house in Southwest Portland, but only after having some offers wither under the objections of potential neighbors and vacillation on the part of realtors.

EB: In your book, you include a lot of your own poetry. What’s the role of poetry in a memoir like this one?

NN: The poems convey my personal connection to and feelings about elements of the larger story, and they help explain what inspired me to juxtapose my family’s story and the larger Japanese American story. Early on I knew I wanted to include the poetry, but I was also aware that publishers were resistant to mixed-genre books. Interestingly enough, by the time I finished writing, that resistance had diminished.

EB: What did you learn about yourself while writing the book?

NN: Who I am in relation to other Japanese Americans who are strangers, yet related.

EB: Today, as in the 1960’s, we are seeing a surge of civil rights protests and anti-racism. Do you see current controversies and struggles as coming out of 1960s activism or was something else at work. Or both? Are there lessons for today’s struggles against racism?

NN: What’s happening today seems in part a legacy of 1960’s protests and activism against war in Southeast Asia, for civil rights, in support of women’s rights. And both then and now what we see and say is amplified by mass media. During the 1968 Democratic Convention one salient chant heard on TV was, “The whole world is watching!” Today we have social media as part of the mix. At the core of Japanese American experience, 1960’s civil rights unrest and activism, and current issues and protests (regarding immigration, displacement and dispossession, citizenship, voting rights. . .) are some basic, ongoing questions: “Who gets to be an American?” and “Does everyone here have an opportunity to pursue the American Dream?” and “Who gets to decide, and on what grounds?”

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

NN: Thanks for asking.

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