12-14-12 UPDATE:Podcast Update:Time to Read Episode 78: Lee Child 'A Wanted Man'
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Here's the seventy-eighth 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.
The seventy-eighth episode is a look at Lee Child, 'A Wanted Man.'
12-14-12: A 2012 Interview with Tad Williams at SF in SF on October 12, 2012
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"...he has to be a hero just to be there..."
Tad Williams is having too much fun. When Bobby Dollar walks 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' only to end up at 'Happy Hour in Hell,' you can hear Tad Williams chortling in glee. His reading from the second book in the Bobby Dollar series is acting class, and his conversation about the book is as entertaining as his version of Hell. This assumes that you believe Hell can be entertaining.
When we sat down to talk at the SF in SF for LitQuake back in October, it was like getting on a roller coaster; really fast, filled with twists and turns and the kind of mordant wit that you hear in the reading. Tad and I had already talked about 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' earlier in the year, and must say that I did not expect to hear him read from the sequel. He's clearly writing these much faster than we might expect. But time flies when a writer is having fun, as do his fingers on the keyboard.
For me, it was interesting to talk about the monster aspects of the reading. As horrific as the things we hear are, Williams told me that there were worse things in the novel, to which I can only say hooray! I'm a total monster hound; I love a good monster story, and Williams delivers big-time because he knows the key to creating a great monster.
You can hear this in the reading, as Williams manages to combine the grotesquerie that is essential to any monster with deep and disturbing characterization. For me, any truly satisfying monster has to have both halves of the equation. There are all too many examples of novels that want to play the "human monster" card. Thomas Harris perfected this in 'Silence of the Lambs,' and it is the gift that keeps on giving. On the other side of the spectrum, Peter Benchley gave us the shark in 'Jaws,' a grotesque monster with no characterization. It just wanted to eat you. Between the two, Clive Barker gave us his Cenobites in 'The Hellbound Heart,' monsters with character that just wanted to eat your soul.
"I like offering the stories of these midlands people..."
Late in 2004, I had the pleasure of speaking with Graham Joyce about 'The Limits of Enchantment' as he made a stop in Northern California after attending the World Fantasy Convention. He was in town for a reading at Borderlands Books, and happily had enough time to speak to me at KQED. Since the San Francisco NPR station is in the midst of what seems to be a multi-year upgrade to all digital facilities, we ended up in a studio booth that was barely large enough to hold both chairs.
When I first showed up at KQED, they were still using huge reel-to-reel tape decks and cutting tape with razor blades. It seemed so quaint! Now, each booth is equipped with a ready to reboot workstation, and a Windows-based application that when Graham and I were recording managed to hang in the midst of the session.
Fortunately, the engineers at KQED are top-notch guys, and (like me) they record a backup copy on DAT and on CD. My readers (and listeners) can reap the rewards. And, of course, you can learn all about him and read some pretty great biographical stuff over at his website.
Graham's one of those great interviews whom you can simply hand a single line, and he'll spin it into a fascinating tale. In the interview, Graham and I talked about the traditions of the hedgerow witches and even about hedgerows themselves. Now my UK listeners will be likely to know what a hedgerow is, but I was really quite glad I asked. Graham's answer was a fascinating discussion of carving up the land and micro-ecologies. We also talked about the Freemasons, always a fertile topic.
Graham has a bit of fun with them in 'The Limits of Enchantment'. Readers will as well. We talked about his previous titles, including 'Smoking Poppy' and 'The Facts of Life'. Turns out, Graham is from a mining town near Coventry, whose destruction he described so well in 'The Facts of Life'. Readers can find a look at his life in a mining town in the novella 'Black Dust'.
Like many of the writers you'll find featured here, Joyce's work is hard to categorize. Sometimes he ends up in amidst the horror fiction, and sometimes he ends up with the literary fiction. So when you go to your independent, locally owned bookstore, be patient, ask for help, and if they don't stock his work, order it up. This is precisely the type of book that will sell quite well for the independents. He'll appeal to the independent reader, and, I'm quite certain, to anyone who follows this link to the MP3 audio file.
12-10-12:A 2012 Interview with Susannah Cahalan
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"I remember them like dream-like states."
— Susannah Cahalan
Susannah Cahalan is every bit as intense as her book, 'Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.' When she arrives at KQED, she is smiling, happy to be in their wonderful studio, filled with verve and excitement. She's back in her own story, and she's clearly enjoying the aftermath.
When we sit down in the studio to talk about her book, Cahalan is lively and quick. The reading you'll hear is the very beginning of the book, because to my mind, this is a book readers should read themselves, with as little pre-knowledge as possible. To that end, I wanted to talk with Cahalan about how she put the book together and some of what actually happened without simply re-hashing the vents chronicled in the book. That made the interview challenging from my perspective.
Cahalan, happily, had plenty to say about writing the book and the detective work involved in doing so. She essentially had to investigate her own life, to see her own story as an object, a story that had happened to someone else. This is an interesting writing challenge.
If you look at the non-fiction shelves, and reviews of non-fiction books, you'll often find it said that a work of non-fiction "reads like a novel." I could easily find this in my own reviews. This is not quite the case with Cahalan's book. It's as tense as a novel, and a very quick book to read. It's a memoir, though, and retains that :"personal story" feeling. But Cahalan had to approach the writing of her own story as if she were researching a work in the non-fiction novel format. That discussion put a really fascinating twist on the conversation.
I do admit that I put to her some questions on her hallucinations, as I was bouncing off the recent Oliver Sacks book on this subject. And I had to think very quickly, because Cahalan, a reporter herself, knows how to conduct an interview, and as a corollary, how to be interviewed. She knows how to pace her answers, which kept the hamster wheel in my own tiny brain spinning at a dangerously fast rate.