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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.'

Here's a link to the MP3 audio file of Time to Read, Episode 72: Louise Erdrich, '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.

While our audience was small, the interaction was high. We had a lot of GREAT questions from the audience, who managed to buy up all of Smith's books. It should hardly come as a surprise, though. Here you have a writer who is charming, intelligent and entertaining who writes nail-biting, imaginative thrillers. You can start your own class with Michael Marshall Smith by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

11-07-12: A 2012 Interview with Cindy Pon

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"If I dig it, I write it."

—Cindy Pon

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.

You can hear Cindy Pon talk about her writing, her research, her art, scary monsters and super creeps by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

11-05-12: A 2012 Interview with Tom Wolfe
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"This is not a how-to book."

— Tom Wolfe

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.

You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

New to the Agony Column

02-22-15: Commentary : Jennifer Senior Experiences 'All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood' : Reading Fun for the Whole Fambly!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jennifer Senior : " becomes a source of enormous tension once a baby comes along..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 197: Jennifer Senior : All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

02-09-15: Commentary : Stewart O'Nan Looks 'West of Sunset' : Twilight of the Great

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Stewart O'Nan : "...we see him as a tragedian because is life is a tragedy..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 196: Stewart O'Nan : West of Sunset

02-04-15: Commentary : Armistead Maupin Maps 'The Days of Anna Madrigal' : Swiftly Flow the Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Armistead Maupin : "I could see what silliness was going on while it was happening..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 195: Armistead Maupin : The Days of Anna Madrigal

01-31-15: Commentary : Christine Carter's Path to 'The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work' : Neurohabits

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Christine Carter, Ph.D. : "...a real tipping point..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 194: Christine Carter, Ph.D. : The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work

01-23-15: Commentary : Jake Halpern Pushes 'Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld' : Non-Fiction 21st Century Noir

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jake Halpern : "...he goes to Las Vegas to this debt-buyers' convention..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 193: Jake Halpern : Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

01-19-15: Commentary : David Shields and Caleb Powell Assert 'I Think You're Totally Wrong' : The Power to Bicker

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with David Shields and Caleb Powell : "I read no book reviews any more; the level of discussion is really pedestrian." David Shields "I'm just saying it's a conflict of interest!" Caleb Powell

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 192: David Shields and Caleb Powell : I Think You're Totally Wrong

01-17-15: Commentary : Charles Todd Expects 'A Fine Summer's Day' : We Interrupt This Program...

Commentary : Charles Todd Engages In 'A Test of Wills' : The Politics of Passion and Policing

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Charles and Caroline Todd : "...let them be themselves and sort it out..." Caroline Todd "'s more on a personal level..." Charles Todd

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 191: Charles Todd : A Fine Summer's Day

01-13-15: Commentary : Rosalie Parker Unearths 'The Old Knowledge' : The New Old World

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker : "I thought I'd write something for fun.." Ray Russell "..there was a side of me of that was interested in the strangeness..." Ros Parker

01-12-15: Commentary : Richard Ford 'Let Me Be Frank with You' : The Default Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Richard Ford : "...most of our politicians are morons..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 190: Richard Ford : Let Me Be Frank with You

01-06-15: Commentary : Bessel van der Kolk 'The Body Keeps the Score' : Human Trauma

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Bessel van der Kolk : "...being able to see what happens in the brain really helps us to understand certain things..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 189: Bessel van der Kolk : The Body Keeps the Score

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