11-04-12 UPDATE:Podcast Update:Time to Read Episode 72: Tom Wolfe 'Back to Blood'
Click image for audio link.
Here's the seventy-second episode of my new series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read. The podcasts/radio broadcasts will be of books worth your valuable reading time. I'll try to keep the reports under four minutes, for a radio-friendly format. If you want to run them on your show or podcast, let me know.
My hope is that in under four minutes I can offer readers a concise review and an opportunity to hear the author read from or speak about the work. I'm hoping to offer a new one every week.
Editor's Note: Here's what I wrote about this interview in 2003, along with an observation that Coupland was decorating his hotel room with little bits of paper. I remember this quite vividly now that I re-read it, and look back wishing I'd had the camera back then. Ah, hindsight, so perfect. You would think you could predict the past with perfect accuracy, but as history show us, that is rarely the case!
I talked to Douglas Coupland early last week in San Francisco. It took me a few days to get round to pulling the interview off the DAT; I'm spoiled by what I do in the studio, where I can just record directly onto the laptop. He was a fascinating guy, and his interview is now [re-]posted MP3 format. Listen to find his thoughts on 9/11, the afterlife, spirituality and spooky Ouija boards.
"I quite enjoyed writing fan fiction, I found it very liberating."
Roz Kaveney is something of a legend. She's spent eons (in the time scale of the publishing world) reading over-the-transom manuscripts, and in so doing, she's had a huge impact on reading culture. As Mistress of the Headwaters, she's the first to read the works we eventually find on our shelves.
Setting up these solo interviews in the midst of the SF in SF program is an enjoyable challenge; more sop when there are three guests to talk to. If I can I talk to one guest before the show and one during the break. In this way, I can pack up and leave after the show, which gets me home a bit earlier. I also have to make sure that my recorder settings are correct, and be able to hold that microphone steady. It's not as easy as it looks on TV.
It was a rare and fabulous event to host SF in SF with Roz Kaveney in attendance. For reasons that remained obscure to me, she just happened to be in town, but we'll count our pennies and thank our lucky stars that was the case. Having heard her read from her new novel, I was anxious to talk with her about it, but also about her work as an editor and reader, and, of course, a noted author of speculative fiction criticism.
In this latter role, she's worked with John Clute on The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, and authored more books on a variety of topics than can easily fit in one page of *.* author search results. In themselves, these books comprise an important body of work.
Kaveney's solo critical writings cover a fascinating range of topics, from superheroes to science fiction movies, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Heathers and Veronica Mars. She's also edited anthologies, including 'Tales from the Forbidden Planet' – that is, the famous bookstore in London. (Where, incidentally, I found my second copy of Jeffrey Barlough's 'The House in the High Wood.')
"...there's something to be said for staying in your imagination."
— Debra Dean
When you sit down to speak with an author whose work you've truly enjoyed, the treat is having the access to the thoughts of the creator. The trick is finding a way to craft a conversation so that a writer like Debra Dean, whose novel 'The Mirrored World' is a model of fragile magic, can talk about a process that had best remain mysterious.
Of course, it helps when the author is the aforementioned Debra Dean, who was so easygoing and such a delight to speak with at KQED. 'The Mirrored World' is not a big book, and the real magic is that Dean packs it chock full of historical details, characters, surreal prose and events and a lovely plot without the resulting work seeming in any way overstuffed. In fact, there's a real transparency to the novel, one that makes reading it very easy and delightful.
One of the matters we discussed off-tape that bears mentioning is that some readers have suggested that the dust jacket gives away too much of the plot. I often find that this is the case, and rarely read DJ copy, but having done so after reading the book, I'd have to say that I agree. In our conversation, we carefully avoided talking too much about the plot turns that are better read than revealed. If you're going to buy the book, and you should, consider reading the DJ copy after you've read the novel.
What we did get to discuss, at some length, is the balance between research and imagination when writing a historical novel. I have to admit that I had a bit of a head start when reading 'The Mirrored World.' I might suggest that readers who want to have an understanding of the historical backdrop should reading Robert K. Massie's 'Catherine: Portrait of a Woman,' a superb and detailed overview of the stretch of history that essentially bounds this novel; I spoke with Massie about the book last year. That said, Dean's work hits the highlights in a manner that makes everything clear.
But the feel of Dean's novel is very light in that we get just the right level of detail to make it feel real, but not like a data-dump of "what I learned about 18th century Russia from the library and the Internet." This is because Dean was smart enough to get all the basics down and then rebuild the world in her own imagination. This gives the book that organic, and almost visionary feel.
It's also interesting to note, and Dean is the first writer to mention this, that the Internet is not just a place where you can find websites with information. She offers a variety of smart writer's tips in terms of exploring a place you might not get a chance to visit until after the book is written. And for all that there is some truth to the "write what you know" rule, it is also important to see that rule inverted with results as impressive as 'The Mirrored World."