11-11-12 UPDATE:Podcast Update: Time to Read Episode 73: Louise Erdrich, 'The Round House'
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Here's the seventy-third episode of my 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 try to post a new episode every week.
The seventy-third episode is a look at Louise Erdrich, and 'The Round House.'
11-09-12:A 2012 Interview with Michael Marshall Smith
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"It's about the release of information ..."
— Michael Marshall Smith
Yes, they're the same man; Michael Marshall and Michael Marshall Smith. Michael Marshall Smith is the name you'll find on 'Only Forward'; Michael Marshall is the name you'll find on 'Killer Move.' In all of his work, you'll find superb prose, great characters and intense tension.
These books will literally knock you off your feet, mainly because you'll want to sit down and read them. So it makes sense that Michael Marshall SMith might have some valuable words for readers who want to write themselves.
Anyone who wanted to learn how to write a book, like, for example, Michael Marshall's 'Killer Move' need only give up the hourish of this podcast — and then spend the time the author suggests in the actual writing. The audience consensus was that Smith and I managed to pretty much cover the ground of Writing 101, with the great added grace of Smith's entertaining voice making the evening utterly enjoyable.
This is spite of a turnout that was admittedly on the dire side. Apparently there was a World Series in progress. My goal in any of these shows is to at least record a good conversation, to get the equivalent of what I get in s studio up in front of whoever is willing to show up. In that sense, it was a total triumph, and all of it is down to just how damn smart Michael Marshall Smith is.
We started out with a tense, ten-minute reading from the beginning of the novel 'Killer Move' ; the entire prologue. Then I just dove in and started asking at least the first questions that have been on my mind in the last, what is it 18 years of reading his work. Smith was quite eloquent no matter what the subject was. It was almost as if he had curriculum notes ready to go.
The evening's class included his disquisition on the element of noir that runs through all his work, and his means of incorporating it. He had a really unique idea as to how to use the elements of noir, one I've not heard from any other author, but one that seems to inform a lot of writer's work. He's clearly thought about a lot of what he is doing in his writing.
Of course, since we were being recorded with our knowledge and consent, we had to talk about his way with paranoia and conspiracy theory, and here again, he had a unique view of just what constitutes the appeal in these categories. He has an interesting manner of breaking down the elements of the fiction he writes and building stories out.
As readers might imagine, writing plots as intense and as intricate as Smith does, he has a method that involves a large measure of creativity and not knowing combined with a hard center of utterly knowing. As you listen, you'll hear a man who works both sides of the writing aisle, the surfer side and the planner side.
SF in SF is not necessarily a perfect place to perform one-on-one interviews. There are a lot of people talking in the background, and sometimes, if I it at the front of the auditorium when I do the interview, folks think I'm part of the show and want me to amplify the sound. All of this really means that it is a perfect place to perform one-on-one interviews; if I can do one these, the thinking is, I can get a good interview under any circumstances.
Pon's reading that night was intense and detailed, filled with historical effects and monsters that were genuinely creepy, but as well, personally drawn, in that they played off the personalities of the characters they tried to lure to their deaths. The combination of historical veracity and elements of the fantastic gave the scene she read real heft.
But for a writer whose work sounded rather dire and horrific, Pon herself was a delight, friendly, funny and very up-front about her working methods. She had the audacity to confess that her go-to book for all matters monsterfic and oriental had been obtained from the DeathStar; in fact she (understandably) argued the praises of the DeathStar as a source of research materials, given the used-book vendors' willingness to sell to them. And the book itself, which she describes well, sounds absolutely fascinating.
I'd suggest that readers might want to look at her website, since she mentioned Chinese Brush Art in the interview, and you can find spectacular examples there. When you look at the art the simultaneously detailed and yet light feel of her prose will seem quite understandable. It all works out in the visual art as well.
Pon's approach to fiction is pretty unique. Combining research into the historical setting to provide a realistic backdrop, and realistic into the beliefs of those who lived in that historical setting, she creates a sort of historical magic realism, so that readers can get a feel for the way those back in the historical setting perceived reality. What we see as shadows or waves, were back then seen as demons or ghosts. And though we'd like to think we've come a long way, I find that I'd prefer to think of those waves I hear crashing on the beach at 4:30 AM as ghosts or demons, trying to make their way into this world.
I'm going at this in reverse order, and given the nature of 'Back to Blood,' by Tom Wolfe, that seems about right to me. I first met Mr. Wolfe the day before, at Google, where we did an event for Authors @ Google. That event went swimmingly well, enough so that I was a bit perplexed about where to go the next day at KQED.
I needn't have worried. Mr. Wolfe kindly agreed to read for me, and that reading started off an easy-going conversation that lasted well past the usual finish-time. Wolfe was clearly ready to have fun talking about his new book, and there are a lot of fun things to talk about.
First and foremost for me were the characters, who are so entertainingly despicable, and I asked him first about creating these men. He talked about his WASP avatars and the Protestant work ethic. As I type this on a Sunday morning instead of reading a good book, I feel myself under the precise compulsions he describes.
Wolfe is well known for both his non-fiction and his use of non-fiction in fiction. He's refreshingly honest about his preferences for journalistic writing and an eternal champion of the benefits of a writer's apprenticeship, so to speak in the world of newspapers. His first rule, he told me, was, "Leave the house."
And while I can't imagine at this point in his career he can really achieve "fly on the wall" status, I did get a great example of his steely will. "I deserve this information!" As ever, Tom Wolfe is ahead of his time, and his ability to get the story is inarguable.
We talked quite a bit about what is to come, in terms of his next magazine article and his next book. There's a nice reversal of course you'll hear him talk about with regards to how he decides to write fiction versus non-fiction.
In the server room at KQED.
To be honest, I mostly just had a hell of a good time hanging out and listening to Mr. Wolfe. After the interview we talked about internet servers, and the immense server rooms required to power data warehouses like the stock exchange. He said he'd like to see one. Fortunately, I happened to know that there was a nice little server room just behind the studio, and we took him there to his delight. I like it as well, but back in the day, I used to help manage Quotron servers and the earliest computer trading systems.
05-04-13: Commentary : Reasons Not to Leave the House, Reality Check : The Truth Hurts Edition: 'Down the Up Escalator' by Barbara Garson, 'The Wolf and the Watchman' by Scott C. Johnson,'The Book of Woe' by Gary Greenberg, 'Confessions of a Sociopath' by M. E. Thomas