Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Su Smallen is the Minnesota Author in the Spotlight for the month of February and she is giving away 5 copies of her beautiful book of poems to lucky Booksnob followers. Su writes beautifully and you will love, You This Close.
Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:
Poetry. llustrations by Jessica Zeglin. YOU THIS CLOSE is a rippling work encompassing love and water, longing and the natural world. Su Smallen wrote these poems during a residency with the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, where she learned about aquifers and diatoms from the scientists there, kindred in their curiosity about the elegant ways nature works. With imagery from the river and its creatures, the poems of YOU THIS CLOSE are linked together with the last line of one becoming the first line of the next, making a structure that matches a kind of diatom chain. The poems are also about hope for love, addressing a beloved not yet met.
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Monday, February 13, 2017
Charlie is the Minnesota Author in the Spotlight for the month of January and he has graciously agreed to answer some questions about this writing life and career, his favorite books and authors and so much more. I hope you read on to discover more about this interesting author and his books Inhabited and Monument Road.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Western Colorado and got away as soon as I could because I didn’t see a future for myself there as a writer. I went to Carleton College and have lived in Minnesota since, always making my living from writing, with a few odd jobs thrown in during those early days of selling book, music and theater reviews for $25 apiece.
Since then, I’ve had a historical play commissioned, worked in corporate communications, founded (and retired from) a marketing communications agency, taught information design, written about community planning, transportation, education and tax policy, helped nonprofits raise capital, kept a blog going for a dozen years and published two novels.
For the last decade, I’ve gone back to writing full-time versus running a business. This allows me the freedom to still live in Minnesota but spend the winters (and the disappointing part of spring) in Colorado.
Maybe best of all, I’m still married to the woman I first met at Carleton back in 1968.
2. What is the inspiration behind Inhabited?
For eight years I’ve volunteered for organizations that serve homeless people in Minneapolis and Grand Junction. Being granted access to the lives of the very poor in America inspired me to share what I’ve learned—not just about the conditions of homelessness but about the ways the rest of us
Also, the culture, landscape and struggles of the hometown I fled are essential to the stories I tell. As a relatively isolated western community with an ambition to do more than tumble through boom-and-bust cycles, Grand Junction shrinks down to size the challenges facing many American cities.
The types of conflicts that arise in the novel are real everywhere. But writing about them in the country where I grew up takes me to my “bone place”—where emotion and sense of time are deep and palpable.
3. Tell us about your first book, Monument Road. How do Inhabited and Monument Road connect?
Both books are set in the Grand Valley and both concern how people survive grievous loss and its accompanying regret.
Monument Road focuses on a seventy-something rancher who has spent the year after his wife’s death preparing to fulfill a promise to her—and to end his life at the same time. Leonard Self is a decent but taciturn type who appreciates too late how much of the world he had walled off with his rectitude. His story intertwines with two young people who died along the road he will travel on his final day. One, a foster boy who once lived with Leonard and his wife. Another, a high school girl named Helen whose passionate nature took her too close to the edge.
Memories and encounters on his drive seem like obstacles but they may also be signs redemption waits at the end of the road.
Inhabited continues a theme that runs through Monument Road—how being at home involves feeling comfortable in a place, a set of a relationships and in one’s own skin. It also picks up a loose thread related to Helen’s death in Monument Road.
Inhabited is primarily the story of Meg, Helen’s sister. A successful realtor, Meg's involved with good causes, including serving on the town’s homeless coalition and bringing a promising development to town, and she helps homebuyers find the “lifestyle of their dreams.” But she carries an unresolved guilt that keeps her from fully being herself and from being intimately known by others.
And then she encounters a homeless man named Isaac, whose decency shines through his life's disrepair and whose desire for order could unmask Meg’s carefully constructed image.
4. Usually an author includes some of their life experiences in their books. Did you do that? Do you have anything in common with your characters?
It’s inevitable that something of a writer’s nature ends up in the blender. For example, in both books characters arrive at perilous heights, which reflects my real-life experience of being drawn and repelled by such places.
I write about the country where I grew up but it’s more as an observer than as a participant. My father took his life in 1984, a period when the community hit bottom economically. Every suicide reflects, in a sense, the sufferer’s distorted view of oneself and poses a mystery that can never be solved. There’s nothing like my father’s death in my novels, but I’m sure my deeper themes flow in part from his life.
I hate characters who are the author in costume. In the few instances where I tried that, I either stopped writing or shrank the guy and moved him away from the center of the story. I already knew him and he wasn’t able to surprise me.
Unfamiliar characters and situations force me to go somewhere new or fearsome, to employ empathy more than memory. That’s what I find stimulating as a writer and as a reader. So I’ve written about an agnostic rancher and his very Christian wife, adventurous high school girls, homeless people with mental illness, a man in denial that he’s a serial killer, an enterprising nun, an alcoholic who finds his center late in life, a semi-redneck businessman, etc.
5. What are some of the issues in Inhabited that are integral to your story?
Your question makes me want to get on my soapbox, something I tried hard avoid in the book itself. I’ll just say the story’s focus on homelessness and economic development invites people of good will to ask themselves some fundamental questions about self-interest versus the interests of others.
For example, last night a book club reader identified a key question in the story: whether it’s possible to distinguish the “undeserving” homeless in order to help only the “deserving.”
Are economic outcomes the proper measure of mankind? Is wealth truly virtue’s reward, and if so, what does that say about the poor? Should we leave society’s toughest problems up to the market since diverse communities can’t seem to agree on solutions?
We tend to judge other human beings based largely upon how alike they are to us. That’s the core issue in Inhabited and at the center of our national discourse.
6. Do you like to read? What are some of your favorite books and authors?
Reading is an essential part of the writing life. I tend to look for a book that is right for me at a particular moment, rather than pursue greats or favorites, because what concerns and influences me changes.
Life is short and even Pantheons go out of date. For example, writers as different as Edmund Wilson, Harry Crews, Wright Morris and Margaret Atwood once inspired me to acquire all their works. I still haven’t read all of them.
Not to totally dodge the question, here are some of my all-time favorite reading experiences. All of George Orwell, including the four-volume Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Loren Eiseley, an anthropologist and natural science writer, especially The Immense Journey and The Night Country. Wallace Stegner for his writing about the culture, history and environment of the west. And Joe Sacco for his use of the graphic novel form to give an intimate focus to the big subject of war.
7. What is one book that you think should be part of the school curriculum or a part of the great books canon?
1984 should be taught forever. Unlike many books in the canon, people will read it anyway.
8. How do you carve time out of your busy day to write? Do you write full-time or do you also have a “day” job?
I have always written full-time, though only in the last seven years as a writer of fiction. I am very fortunate to have reached a point in life where my livelihood does not depend on being a novelist.
My first move each day is to fill my coffee cup and sit down to work on something—a novel-in-progress, a blog post, a letter to the editor. I don’t set goals or deadlines, such as words per day or number of hours. If I hit my desk and don’t write anything, that’s very unusual, but I don’t beat myself up over it because I’ll be back at it tomorrow.
9. Have you begun working on a new book? Can you tell us about it?
I’m in the early stages of working on a third novel that is also set in Western Colorado. The story centers on a very wealthy patriarch who has made his fortune by exploiting the earth and is now building a trophy retreat in the mountains that he hopes will cement his legacy. I expect a lot will go wrong with his plan.
10. In one sentence tell readers why they should read Inhabited.
Inhabited will open your eyes to strangers, tune your ear to their voices, and perhaps change your mind about the boundaries of kinship and the meaning of home.
If you would like to win a copy of Charlie's book Inhabited please enter here: Inhabited Giveaway
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Su Smallen is the Minnesota Author in the spotlight here on Booksnob for the month of February and she and her publisher, Green Writers Press are generously giving away 15 copies to international followers. This is an excellent book of poetry and Su was long-longlisted for the Minnesota Book Award this year.
The cover is stunning. If you are not into poetry, give it a try. Read a poem a day and it will change your life.
Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:
Nature provides the lexicon ofde Kooning Snow. The poems indeKooningSnow negotiate many kinds of loss, metaphorically represented as kinds of snow. Classifications of snow, such as prisms, cups, columns, dendrites, and scrolls, mark places among the poems as when, in a weaving, the warp becomes visible. The title poem frames presence, meaning, memory, and erasure. Several of the poems are contained in panels like Rauschenberg sWhite Paintings. As the poem Glacier reflects, the arc of the book is lyrical rather than narrative, from point A to point A, no point at all. The poem The Last of placed second for the Joy Harjo Poetry Award judged by Dorianne Laux. Three of the poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize; ten have been anthologized.
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Friday, February 10, 2017
Charlie is the Minnesota Author of the month for January and he has written a guest post about homelessness. He volunteers at a family shelter and his latest book, Inhabited, does a great job covering many of the issues surrounding homelessness. Read on to learn more.
Since 2009 I’ve been a volunteer with organizations serving people who are unsheltered or in danger of slipping back into homelessness. In the process, I’ve met hundreds of homeless adults and children in two states.
My blog reports stories and observations from this involvement, but it’s limited in scope. To explore homelessness in a larger social context, inside minds and away from the shelters, I turned to fiction.
My novel Inhabited follows two characters whose lives become disrupted by a developer’s proposal to transform a boom-and-bust Colorado town. The plans to reclaim a forsaken riverfront dislodge a homeless camp, sending an unstable man in search of shelter and unsettling an upscale realtor’s seemingly perfect life. The book asks readers to consider the border between doing the right thing for yourself or for others.
Since Inhabited came out last fall, some readers have told me: “I’m not sure I want to read that much about homelessness.”
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.
The term “homelessness” pushes a shopping cart full of stereotypes. The insistent panhandler. The pathetic
This visible presence of the poor in our communities challenges our assumptions about society’s safety net and our own compassion and generosity.
We tend to look away from such figures on the street, and in popular entertainment, view them through the comforting filter of stereotypes, where they deliver comedy, menace or pathos in walk-on roles. They appear as anonymous victims of serial killers and wilding teens. They share scraps with pigeons and sleep in cardboard squalor. They are scary and dangerous or noble and wise. They are fallen angels or agents of redemption.
Rarely are they presented as fully realized human beings, so these stereotypes reinforce our distanced perceptions.
We know that reading literature encourages empathy. Fiction grants a safe entre to the perceptions and experiences of others and helps us appreciate people very different from ourselves.
A novel doesn’t have to be “about homelessness” to illuminate some of its many dimensions. Consider the rebels and wanderers in Huckleberry Finn, On the Road, Train Dreams, American Rust and The Unnamed. Their protagonists seek independence, fun, meaning, justice and healing—all essential pursuits of the uprooted in America.
In dystopian novels, entire populations are upended by catastrophe. Wiping out the old rules and systems dampens personal culpability for being down-and-out and casts light on the importance of society. Characters in The Road, Station Eleven and The Dog Stars must toil individually, question morality and try to reestablish community. These are also very real struggles of homeless individuals.
It can be revealing to see how people who share a place experience it very differently. A key reality of homeless life is the sense of exclusion from the mainstream, of being simultaneously untouchable, unworthy and dangerous. In Inhabited, they are compared to the invasive tamarisk that has overgrown the riverbank.
A venerable strain of American literature shows readers the economic, social, family and personal dimensions of poverty’s shadow world. Think of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, William Kennedy’s Ironweed, Colum McCann’s This Side of Brightness, Russell Banks’ The Lost Memory of Skin, Peter Hoffmeister’s Graphic the Valley, Jess Walter’s We Live in Water and Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek.
Non-fiction offers other, safe ways into places we might fear. Big city shelters (Jonathan Kozol’s Rachel and Her Children and Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City); fragile families (the Jeannette Walls memoir The Glass Castle); mental illness on Skid Row (Steve Lopez’s The Soloist); and the conscious rejection of material culture (Mark Sundeen’s The Man Who Quit Money).
Exposure to such lives has made me less judgmental and more attuned to my privilege. Most acutely, I’m aware that what we define as a struggle between right and wrong most often plays out in choices between self and others.
You can visit Charlie's blog at http://greatdivide.typepad.com/
Enter to win a copy of Charlie's book, Inhabited here: Inhabited Giveaway
Friday, February 3, 2017
Oh Yeah! Happy February.
The groundhog is in the house,
love is in the air and
there are a lot of really good
books out there.
Bam. I made a short poem rhyme. Can you tell I'm feeling silly?
Let me add that this month, on Sunday, Feb 5th, marks my blogging anniversary and I have been blogging for a full 7 years. Crazy!!
Plus I have been featuring amazing Minnesota Authors on Booksnob for 6 and a half years now, that is like 12 authors a month for over 6 years which equals= a LOT of authors. And there are so many MN authors I love and met through writing this blog and so many authors from Minnesota that I haven't read yet.
This month's author is Su Smallen. She is an amazing poet with two new books out by two different presses and you are going to love them.
Here are the synopsis from Goodreads:
Kinds of Snow
Nature provides the lexicon of de Kooning Snow. The poems inde Kooning Snow negotiate many kinds of loss, metaphorically represented as kinds of snow. Classifications of snow, such as prisms, cups, columns, dendrites, and scrolls, mark places among the poems as when, in a weaving, the warp becomes visible. The title poem frames presence, meaning, memory, and erasure. Several of the poems are contained in panels like Rauschenberg sWhite Paintings. As the poem Glacier reflects, the arc of the book is lyrical rather than narrative, from point A to point A, no point at all. The poem The Last of placed second for the Joy Harjo Poetry Award judged by Dorianne Laux. Three of the poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize; ten have been anthologized.
You This Close
Poetry. illustrations by Jessica Zeglin. YOU THIS CLOSE is a rippling work encompassing love and water, longing and the natural world. Su Smallen wrote these poems during a residency with the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, where she learned about aquifers and diatoms from the scientists there, kindred in their curiosity about the elegant ways nature works. With imagery from the river and its creatures, the poems of YOU THIS CLOSE are linked together with the last line of one becoming the first line of the next, making a structure that matches a kind of diatom chain. The poems are also about hope for love, addressing a beloved not yet met.
This month you can expect a book review, a giveaway, an author interview and hopefully a guest post.
You can find Su Smallen on her website at https://susmallen.com/