Saturday, June 30, 2018

Six Hundred Pounds of Butter, Please


It's tourist season in Seattle, which means the boats are back.  An industry that was a trickle when it started in 1999, and is now a flood in 2018, the cruise industry employs 4,000 people in our area and brings in $500 million dollars of revenue each cruise season.  This year, fifteen boats will be in and out of the port, varying in size from approximately 200 passengers to 3,100 passengers and a crew of 1,100.

Regardless of how you feel about cruising, it's hard to deny the engineering and logistical feats that are these massive ships.  My husband and I live in walking distance of one of the cruise ships docks (there are three total) and we often venture down midday on Saturday, have some lunch, and watch them load the supplies required for a week-long cruise to Alaska.  What are some of those supplies?  Here's a list courtesy of Princess Cruise Lines for the Royal Princess, a boat that carries 500 more passengers than the largest boat that visits Seattle.  Still.  The amounts are staggering!

  • 600 pounds of butter used each day
  • 1,500 pounds of flour is used each day to create the ship’s fresh-baked bread, homemade pasta and pastry shop treats
  • 18,000 bottles of wine and champagne in the wine cellars
  • 54,600 napkins washed per week
  • 4,000 pieces of art on board

  • 21,200 bath towels washed per week
  • 250,000 eggs used per week
  • 3 tons of ice -- used to carve 20 sculptures per cruise
  • 170,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed per cruise
  • 900,000 pounds (about 20 truckloads) of supplies loaded every 10 days

A ship that recently made its Seattle debut was the Norwegian Bliss.  We were able to get some photos of this behemoth, which includes a go-kart track on the top deck and a water slide that ventures off the side of the boat over the open ocean.

The Norwegian Bliss as seen from 39 stories up.

See the go-kart track right behind the stack?  The water slide hangs off the boat on the right.

So Reds and readers, are you ready to come aboard?  How about that water slide?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Our (not) Fantasy Books


"Is there a wannabe book lurking in the back of your brain, something you would write if you didn’t have to consider agents, editors, and fans?  A romance?  Non-fiction?  Cookbook?"

This is a question I always ask my guests on Jungle Red, and it occurred to me that I’ve never asked my fellow Reds!  Although readers generally get to know writers for one kind of book, in my experience, writers noddle around with a variety of books ideas that they'd like to write "someday."  It’s the book they’d write in an ideal world where time and money were copious, and the only reader they'd have to satisfy is themselves.

Obviously, I love reading and writing mysteries, but I also love the work of Elinor Lipman, Stephen McCauley, Emma Straub, Maria Semple, and Curtis Sittenfeld, to name just a few.  Their books are funny, contemporary fiction that focus on relationships, and families, in particular.  One of these days, I might try my hand at that genre.

Reds?  Tell us about the book brewing in the far reaches of your brain. 

LUCY BURDETTE: Of course, if we told you what we wanted to write, it wouldn’t be secret would it? Ha ha, just kidding. I love Elinor Lipman also, have read all of her novels, starting from the very beginning. I also love the novels of Joshilyn Jackson. And I think I’ve confessed before that if I could write a book like The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, I surely would. As it happens, I am inching along on something that is not a mystery, more women’s fiction. The problem, as always, is that you have a built-in structure for writing a mystery. And so without that, the plotting is not so easy.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Yes, exactly, Lucy! Someone once asked me if I could write a romance without a mystery. I was baffled. "What would the people DO?" I asked.  So I guess that explains why I don't write romance. That said, I know I could do a voicey contemporary fiction, I really do. And I do have a YA plot, but again, a thrillerish thing. I'd adore to do a big family saga, and even have an idea of when it would take place. (In the US, Rhys, in the US :-) ) And I'd love love love to do a narrative non-fiction true crime. LOVE to. But....

JENN McKINLAY: Such a great question! I had a fascinating talk with Liz Berry (the powerhouse beside Steve Berry) in Reno, NV. We talked about how important it is for an author to stick to their brand and how when Steve wanted to write about a whale, she just looked at him and said, "No." LOL. While I get it from a business stand point, it makes the artist in me shrivel up and cry.

So, that being said, I'd love to write a sweeping fantasy saga with a Robin Hoodesque female, who kicks butt and rights wrongs and all that jazz, but it is definitely off brand for me, and I have zero time at the present. That being said, I have a writer friend who wrote "Sunday books" for years. They were her off-brand books that she worked on just on Sundays for fun (writers are weird, I know) and now she's out there publishing those, too. So, never say never.

RHYS BOWEN:  In a way I'm doing this right now. My stand alone novels are moving out beyond the mystery genre. The Tuscan Child was set in two time periods, which was an experiment for me. Next year's book really doesn't have much mystery. It's straight historical. However, I love to read travel books and secretly yearn to be another Bill Bryson.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I would love to write contemporary womens' fiction in the vein of Jennifer Crusiecomedic, but realwith great characters and small towns and loads of plot. I already have ideasand by ideas, I mean notes, outlines and researchfor a science fiction series and an historical fiction series, both genres I LOVE to read. However, everything I think of, even the fun, small town comedy ideas, center around crime. No matter what the genre, My creative imagination runs straight to SOMEONE getting murdered.

The other impediment to branching out (besides Jenn's very wise words about brand) is that I write so slowly, I wouldn't be able to get to any of these until I was 94.

HALLIE EPHRON: Great question. For me it would be a book about food. Eating it. Shopping for it. And of course, cooking. Definitely nonfiction. Something for the person who wants to become a shoot-from-the-hip kind of cook. Easy recipes. Start with what are the basics every larder needs. What basic skills the agile cook needs (chopping, blanching...) Move on to building from basics. So, basic stew... plus. Basic Basic pan roasted... plus. Options that include vegetarian, fish, and meat. Something like Cooking: The Basics Plus.

And can I just say while I love the idea behind meal kits, I'm horrified by the amount of plastic and cardboard it comes wrapped in. The waste weighs more than the food.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, if you write that cookbook, I will buy it!! 

I've toyed with the idea of writing historical fiction (quite a few of my novels have historical story lines woven into the contemporary one, and I love writing the historical bits.) For years, I've said I wanted to write a novel with a Victorian female naturalist as the main character--sort of a cross between Beatrix Potter and Charles Darwin.  But I've never been able to get past the basic concept, because if it wasn't a mystery, what would people DO? 

Besides, knowing me, I'd fall down the research rabbit hole and never come out...

Do you writers out there have a fantasy book of your own?  Or is there a book you'd like to see a Red write?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Carla Buckley Talks Domestic Suspense


I'm so excited to welcome my wonderful friend and writer Carla Buckley to Jungle Red.  Carla and I have been conference buddies since my first book came out, and it's always a treat to spot her across the hotel lobby and spend time catching up.  Carla's latest book, The Good Goodbye, was just released in paperback, and it's a perfect summer read.  It's suspenseful and nuanced, but I'll let her tell you all about it!

INGRID THOFTThe Good Goodbye is the story about two young women who are cousins and the way their families intersect, both good and bad.  A theme running throughout the story is how well can you know another person, even your own child?  What prompted you to write this particular story?

CARLA BUCKLEY:  First of all, thank you, Ingrid, for inviting me to appear on Jungle Red. It’s a true honor.

IPT: It really is my pleasure!

CB:  As for your question: I’m endlessly fascinated by the secrets people keep from one another, especially from those they love the most. One of the biggest surprises I’ve had as a parent is the realization that around the age of eleven or twelve, children really do start to lead separate lives. They keep secrets. They experiment and push boundaries. For better or for worse, they make their own choices. All you can do is hope they remember the lessons you taught them back when they were little and (maybe) paying attention.

The inspiration for The Good Goodbye was actually twofold. I’d been in the middle of writing my previous novel when it suddenly struck me to structure my next novel around a key event, told from three points of view. One narrator would tell her story from a point in the past leading up to and stopping at the key event. The second narrator would tell her story from the moment of the event onward. And the third would skip back and forth in time. Together, they’d end up painting a full and complete picture of what really had happened in these families’ lives. 

But what should the key event be?

Several years ago, a dramatic story played out in headlines across the nation. The two families involved ended up writing a memoir about what had happened to them. Their horrifying experience raised haunting questions in my mind, and I tucked it away for a time when I might be able to explore what it might be like to walk in their shoes.

IPT:  You’ve been featured on conference panels about the “domestic suspense” genre.  Is that how you’ve always thought about your work?  Do you think that’s an apt description of the stories you tell?

CB:  When I sold my first novel back in 2007 (The Things That Keep Us Here) the question that cropped up between my agent and my publisher was, what is this book and how do we categorize it? Back then, there was no such thing as a domestic thriller, or at least, there was no such term.  The Things That Keep Us Here talked about a deadly flu pandemic but played out in the setting of one family’s living room, and that’s pretty much what all my stories do.

I take families in crisis and make things worse. I don’t tell you what the President is doing, or what the terrorists are up to. I just talk about real people facing real dilemmas. I want my readers to be able to put themselves in my characters’ shoes; I want them to ask themselves the same, hard questions. I don’t know why domestic thrillers are on the rise—but I’m glad they are! 

IPT:  Two of the characters own a restaurant in the book, and I love your descriptions of the food, but also the specifics of running a restaurant.  What kind of research did you do?

CB:  Okay, I confess. I picked a restaurant because I thought the research would be fun. I mean, I’d have to go to a restaurant. I’d probably have to eat there, too. I watch Food Network. I love "Top Chef." I wanted to find my own top chef and ask this burning question: how is it possible to be passionate about working so hard to make something that lasts so briefly?

I knew what kind of restaurant I wanted to write about—beautiful, intimate, with one-of-a-kind menu items, and a devotion to locally sourced foods. Most importantly, it had to be run by a female chef. I was lucky to find it in real life just a few miles away: [One] restaurant in Chapel Hill. I showed up one morning before the restaurant was open for lunch and introduced myself to the executive chef, Kim Floresca. Over the course of several weeks, she showed me around her restaurant, and answered a million questions. I watched her prepare food, interact with her staff and customers, and then one magical night, I and my husband had an incredible meal comprised of items she’d specially selected. 

And Kim gave me the answer to my burning question: the joy in being a chef is all about bringing people together.
Being interviewed by your friends is always more fun!

IPT:  That's one of the perks of being a writer!  You get to chose your subject matter!  So what has surprised you most about being a published author?

CB:  I never imagined, when I was growing up and dreaming of one day being published that I would end up writing about family life in the suburbs. I wrote eight novels about everything else, and every single one was rejected. It wasn’t until I turned to my own life to talk about the things that truly mattered the most to me—discovering who you are and what you’re made of when you’re driven to your knees by circumstances outside your control—that I finally broke through. My hope is that my readers see themselves in my stories and ask themselves: what would I do if something like that happened to me?

IPT:  Is there a wannabe book lurking in the back of your brain, something you would write if you didn’t have to consider agents, editors, and fans?  A romance?  Essays?  Cookbook?

CB:  There is! There are two of them, actually. One’s a young adult novel, and the other’s set in North Dakota in the middle of winter. They’re both dystopian and somewhat bleak, so I’m a little afraid of what that says about what’s lurking in the back of my brain. 

IPT:  It says you're a writer!

Carla will be joining us today, and two lucky readers will get copies of The Good Goodbye.  Comment to enter!

The Good Goodbye
The first thing you should know is that everyone lies. The second thing is that it matters. 

On her way to her nineteenth wedding anniversary celebration, Natalie Falcone leaves the struggling restaurant she owns with her brother-in-law, Vince. She doesn't speak to him on her way out; they haven't spoken in months. But out on the sidewalk, she gets a phone call every mother dreads: It's from the emergency room where her daughter, Arden, attends college. Arden's been in a fire, along with Natalie's niece, Rory—Vince's daughter and Arden's best friend.

Natalie rushes to the hospital and learns that both Arden and Rory lie unconscious, and that another student has died in the blaze. The police suspect arson.

As the investigation mounts, Natalie struggles to piece together the elusive details of Arden's and Rory's freshman year. Growing up, Rory was charming, popular, and charismatic, while Arden was artistic, perceptive, and reserved. They were different yet inseparable, more like sisters than cousins. But the case unearths a different portrait—of a complex friendship, a love triangle, a fight, and a girl who was struggling more than anyone realized. To discover what really happened that tragic night, Natalie's and Vince's families must confront the one truth that ultimately emerges: Nothing is ever exactly what it seems.

Carla Buckley was born in Washington, D.C. She has worked as an assistant press secretary for a U.S. senator, an analyst with the Smithsonian Institution, and a technical writer for a defense contractor. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband, an environmental scientist, and their three children. She is the author of The Good Goodbye, The Deepest Secret, Invisible, and The Things That Keep Us Here, which was nominated for a Thriller Award as a Best First novel and the Ohioana Book Award for fiction. She is currently at work on her next novel. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My Name is Ingrid...

"My name is Ingrid, and I'm addicted to Target."

I did not say those words!

They were spoken to me by the sweet concierge who greets me when I enter my hi-rise home in Seattle.  I wish I could deny this assertion, but it's true.  I may have a Target problem, but let me explain.

Living in the heart of Seattle, I do my grocery/housewares shopping in two locations.  The first is the phenomenal Pike Place Market where I get produce, meat, fish, flowers and a host of other items like thick balsamic vinegar and interesting spice mixes.  But the bounty doesn't end there!  Thankfully, a few years ago, a City Target opened half a block away, and I can't imagine life without it.  Anything I can't get in the Market, I can find in Target.

This is kind of my Target motto
City Targets are a slightly different breed than the superstore you may be used to way out in the sticks.  The stores are much smaller, and in an existing building.  They tend to sell items that in smaller packaging to fit in smaller urban households.  They don't play musicdo they play music in the suburban stores?

We have lots of colorful shoplifters!  Just the other day, I witnessed a man heading for the exit with a large bottle of Johnny Walker protruding from his sweatshirt.  It looked as if he were suffering from an unusually-shaped goiter, which did not fool Security, as you can imagine.

Where else can I find workout shirts for my husband, pork loins, candles, and ear buds.  In the market for a pool float?  I can't imagine why you would be in the downtown shopping district, but Target's got you covered.

Feeling virtuous?  Pick up a yoga mat and some steel cut oats.  Feel like breaking some dietary guidelines?  Look no further than aisle three on the first floor.

Another reason to revel in the warm glow of Target?  The store is inclusive (after some rough patches in the early years), both in its merchandise and in its hiring practices.  Want to know what America really looks like?  Come to my Target where the employees span races, ethnicities, religions, and gender.  We're all together, getting along!

My one bone to pick:  The book section of my store keeps shrinking, and I suspect this is true across the country.  It's tucked away in a corner on the third floor, where there is no foot traffic.  If you're looking for a padlock or a fishing lure, you might stumble upon it, but otherwise, it's a sad little spot with few visitors.  Come on, Target!  More books!

So I've admitted my addiction in a very public way, and I already feel better.  So good, in fact, that I may just have to wander over to Target later today and pick out a new nail polish.  Or a bottle of wine.  Or a shower caddy...

What about you, Reds and Readers?  Do you have a store that is your happy place?

And a little housekeeping: Brian Vincent, you've won a copy of David Joy's book!  Denise Ann, you've won a copy of Christine Carbo's latest since the first winner was a no-show!  Please send your mailing addresses to

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Casting a Line with David Joy


It's not unusual these days for publishers to schedule joint events for their writers.  For readers, two for one is a good deal!  But for the writers, it's always a roll of the dice: Will you hit it off?  Will you have good chemistry?  I've been extraordinarily fortunate to be paired with wonderful writers who have become good friends.

One of those writers is Edgar Award nominee David Joy, the critically-acclaimed author of Where All Light Tends To Go, The Weight of This World, and the The Line That Held Us, which will be released on August 14th.  David was born, raised and still lives in Appalachia, the setting of all of his books, and today we're discussing his second novel, The Weight of This World, which is now out in paperback.  His books do not offer escape from the real world, but rather, a poetic appreciation of the struggles that challenge people on a daily basis, be it poverty, addiction, or heartbreak.  I always feel smarter after I read David's work and usually have to go look things up!  He was kind enough to answer my questions (and offer a book to a lucky reader,) and as always, I walked away from our conversation both enriched and educated.

INGRID THOFT:  One of the main threads in The Weight of This World is the main character’s experience fighting in Afghanistan and his catastrophic re-entry into life back home in North Carolina.  What prompted you to feature that and were there challenges writing about war and its effects?

DAVID JOY:  I think a large part of that came from some things I was dealing with personally. That book is dedicated to a dear friend of mine who was a combat Marine and who served multiple deployments in Iraq, but anyhow, one day after he’d come home he walked into his house, shot his brother, shot his father, and killed himself. I don’t know what led him to do that, and I don’t know how his military service may have played into that, but I remember how he was portrayed on the news and just remember feeling like they stripped him of his humanity. So I think a lot of what I was doing in this book, maybe even subconsciously, was trying to make sense of all that.
Writer David Joy
This novel is very much an examination of trauma and violence. The three main characters’ decision-making processes are driven almost solely by trauma, each uniquely his/her own. For Thad Broom it was things he witnessed at war that led him to do the things that he does. With the violence, I think I became really interested in trying to imagine what can push seemingly normal people to do horrible things.

IPT:  I'm always fascinated by the notion of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

DJ:  I was also really interested in how we, as a society, engage with violence, how for instance, we’re disgusted when someone murders another person but when it comes time for punishment, so many of us answer with blood thirst, with this sort of primal, murderous want for vengeance and justice. So with that book, I think there are moments when readers will turn away from the violence, and moments when they may potentially embrace it. I’m very interested in where that line is drawn. I think it’s important for us to think about.

As far as writing about a veteran and about the impact of war, I spent a lot of time reading books by veterans, watching documentaries, listening to interviews. I think the hard part for me was trying not to let Thad’s story become the sort of stereotypical story of the shattered veteran. I tried to make his time in the service seem like one of the places where he felt valued. I tried to make the damage he came home with something that hadn’t affected everyone he served with in the same way. That was difficult in a lot of ways because none of those other people are in the story aside from anecdotally, small glimpse in flashbacks. This is very much Thad’s story, and his story is one of severe trauma, but it was important to me to at least provide that other side even if it was only in the background, only sort of in passing, in the periphery. Hopefully, I got it halfway right.
The view from David's backyard

IPT:  The mountains of North Carolina are essentially another character in your books.  They've been referred to as “Appalachian Noir,” largely because the sense of place is so paramount to the stories.  In fact, the "Huffington Post" called Weight "Darkly stunning Appalachian noir."  Do you think that category is a fair description of your work?

DJ:  When you come from an area like this, people and place is sort of this inseparable thing. You can’t really separate or discern one from the other. For me, characters just sort of claw their way out of this landscape. So there’s that. But I think this idea of noir is something I hadn’t really thought about early on. I wasn’t coming out of a crime fiction tradition. That’s not the stuff I read. I didn’t grow up reading Elmore Leonard or Jim Thompson. I was coming out of writers like Larry Brown and William Gay and Harry Crews and Ron Rash and Daniel Woodrell.

But looking back, when I think about the traditional sense of noir, the French idea, the idea of the black novel or the black film, just this sort of inescapable mood that takes over a work of art, I think all of those writers that I loved could easily fit into that definition. You think about a novel like Daniel Woodrell’s The Death Of Sweet Mister, the last line of that, one of the most beautiful last lines I’ve ever read, is also just one of the most noir sentences ever constructed. So when I think about it like this, I think my work fits into that idea of noir, at least in the traditional sense. With a novel like The Weight Of This World, that novel has a pall cast over it from the opening sentence to the last broken breath. That’s something I’m very conscious of, and I think it’s indicative of the types of stories I’ve always loved most.

IPT:  I’ve had a number of interesting conversations about the huge bestseller Hillbilly Elegy thanks to the pieces you’ve written about the book and its erroneous characterization of Appalachia.  You clearly think the book has done a disservice to the region and its inhabitants.  Can you tell our readers a bit about that, a perspective that seems to be lacking in the mainstream press?

Appalachia is huge
DJ:  I think the two greatest failures of Hillbilly Elegy are that, one, J.D. Vance offers a pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps solution to systematic poverty, and, two, he uses an individual experience to try and offer a perspective about a region that stretches from the hill country of Mississippi to New York, an area covering 205,000 square miles across 420 counties in 13 states. 

Going back centuries, the history of this place is one of outside interests coming into the region and exploiting the land and its people of its resources and leaving when there was nothing left but ashes. First it was lumber, then it was coal, now its tourism, unrestricted land development, and gentrification. Everyone’s familiar with the Flint, Michigan water crisis, but how many people in America know that there are countless towns in coal country where folks haven’t been able to drink the water for decades? What’s so despicable about Hillbilly Elegy is that Vance’s answer isn’t to point the finger at those who did the robbing, but rather to tell the folks who’ve had their pockets picked to stop complaining and get back to work. He and I fundamentally disagree when it comes to who’s to blame and how we fix it.

So the other issue with the book is painting the entire region under a singular paradigm. I don’t have any issue with the stories Vance tells about his upbringing, the people he describes. That’s his truth. Those people exist. But to define a region as vast as Appalachia under any one truth is an absurdity. We’re talking about a place that’s more than 40,000 square miles larger than the state of California. Think about that. Let that sink in. So what happens is that everyone who reads this walks away with a singular image of what Appalachia is, and it’s false. Time and time and time again, we’re painted as uneducated, poverty-stricken, shoeless, toothless, white trash looking for a handout. Never mind the fact that we’re not all white, the fact that we have large black and latinx populations. Never mind the fact that large industrial cities like Pittsburgh are Appalachian. Never mind the number of incredible universities and community colleges spread throughout the region. Never mind the culture, the strong sense of family, the strength of Appalachian women. Never mind all of it. We’re one thing and one thing alone to outsiders. That stereotype has been made disgustingly clear.

I think the saddest part for me isn’t that Vance’s book is just another horrible misrepresentation, we’re used to that by now, but rather, it’s the fact that his book is the only thing anyone outside this region has read about this place in decades. There’s so so so much beautiful, beautiful art coming out of these mountains, and no one is paying any attention to it.

David, what is this creature?!

IPT:  I’m so excited to be included in the fishing anthology that you’ve pulled together.  Thank you for broadening the category of fishing to include lobstering!  What inspired you to take on this project?

DJ:  The name of the book is Gather At The River, and it will come out some time early next spring from Hub City Press. I think one of the most incredible things about it is the talent I was able to pull together. I’m lucky to have some incredibly talented friends, people like you and Ace Atkins and C.J. Box and Natalie Baszile and Ron Rash. We’ve got 25 authors and a third of them are New York Times Bestsellers. The rest are all award-winning, best-selling writers with multiple books on the shelf. That’s pretty astounding. All the royalties are going to a nonprofit called CAST For Kids, which has a lot of different projects going, but ultimately, is just an organization that tries to get more kids into fishing. The publisher is also a nonprofit, promoting art and literature in the upstate of South Carolina, so technically, all the money is going to charity. 

As far as how I came up with the idea, I’ve just always been obsessed with fishing. Anybody who knows me knows that. I can’t sit by water and not fish it. I think that’s really the one thing I’m best at. It’s what I’m most passionate about. But anyways, I was sitting around one day, and I was thinking about how I wish I could do something for charity. I don’t have any money, so donations were pretty much out of the question. Then I just got to thinking about what my talents are and what I can do with that, and so I came up with the idea of editing an anthology of fishing essays, calling on the help of my friends. After that it all just sort of lined itself up. I got the authors together, and I sold the idea to Hub City. It turned out amazing. I’ve read about every outdoor-related book in print, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best fishing related books ever put together. 

IPT:  Okay, a couple of questions I always like to ask:  First, what has surprised you most about being a published author?

DJ:  I think just the simple fact that people read the work and that they connect with it. It’s strange to go into a bookstore and see your books on the shelves. It’s strange to go into an airport and see a novel you wrote sitting next to the thirty-dollar bag of Fritos. I remember the first time I went to France for a festival in Vincennes, and a woman ran up to me on the street having recognized me and she wanted to tell me how much she loved my first novel. For someone who’d never left North Carolina before the book stuff started, who’d never been on an airplane before he flew to New York City to sign a contract, that’s pretty incredible. There was someone the other day who commented on an Instagram post of mine about reading one of my novels for a book club in China. That type of thing just boggles my mind.

IPT:  Second favorite question:  Is there a wannabe book lurking in the back of your brain, something you would write if you didn’t have to consider agents, editors, and fans?  A romance?  Non-fiction?  Cookbook?

DJ:  The first book I ever wrote was a memoir called Growing Gills. It came out with a really small press and is out of print now, but early on, all I was writing was creative nonfiction, and more specifically, nature writing. I think I wanted to be like John Gierach, maybe Rick Bass or something like that.

Eventually, I just sort of gravitated toward fiction and that’s mostly what I write nowadays, but I think one day, it’s likely I’ll pull together a collection of essays. I’m still writing a lot of essays. I had that essay earlier this year with "New York Times Magazine," and I’ve got another coming out later in the year with "Garden & Gun." So I still do a good bit of that. But as far as something that might be surprising, I’d like to write a children’s book one day. I do a lot of painting in between novels. I use it as a way to sort of pull my brain out of whatever darkness I’ve created in the fiction, a sort of meditation. But anyways, those paintings are always really bright, child-like, almost Seussian pictures of fish and birds and raccoons, whatever. I’d like to try and put a story together with some paintings one day.

IPT:  I didn't know that!  I look forward to seeing some of those paintings!  

David will be joining us today to answer your questions, and one lucky reader who comments will get a copy of The Weight of This World.

The Weight of This World
Critically acclaimed author David Joy, whose debut, Where All Light Tends to Go, was hailed as “a savagely moving novel that will likely become an important addition to the great body of Southern literature” - the "Huffington Post," returns to the mountains of North Carolina with a powerful story about the inescapable weight of the past.

A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can’t leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he forgive himself for what he saw there. His mother, April, is haunted by her own demons, a secret trauma she has carried for years. Between them is Aiden McCall, loyal to both but unable to hold them together. Connected by bonds of circumstance and duty, friendship and love, these three lives are blown apart when Aiden and Thad witness the accidental death of their drug dealer and a riot of dope and cash drops in their laps. On a meth-fueled journey to nowhere, they will either find the grit to overcome the darkness or be consumed by it. The Weight Of This World is available now in paperback from Putnam Books.

David Joy is the author of the Edgar-nominated novel Where All Light Tends to Go (Putnam, 2015), as well as the novels The Weight Of This World (Putnam, 2017) and The Line That Held Us (Putnam, 2018). He is also the author of the memoir Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's Journey (Bright Mountain Books, 2011), which was a finalist for the Reed Environmental Writing Award and the Ragan Old North State Award.

Joy is the recipient of an artist fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council. His latest short stories and essays have appeared in the "New York Times Magazine", "Garden & Gun," and "The Bitter Southerner."

Joy lives in the North Carolina mountains.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Middle Name Game

My standard email sign off is “IPT.”  I always include my middle initial because I don’t want to be the title of a Stephen King novel.  Recipients sometimes try to guess what the “P” stands for, and they are never successful.  Pamela?  Patricia?  Polly?  Nope.

In my family, we were all given family surnames for our middle names, which didn’t seem to be the norm among our friends.  So what does the “P” stand for?

Porter, and its origin is as unorthodox as the name itself.  My father had two middle names, one of which was Porter.  Family lore is that when his mother was being wheeled into the delivery room to give birth to him in their tiny Montana town, Dr. Porter happened to walk by.  He wasn’t my grandmother’s doctor, but she promised if it was a boy, she would name the child after him.  She wasn’t even under the influence of any narcotics!  I suppose she liked the name, and that’s how I became a Porter.

What about you, Reds?  What is your middle name?  Is it your maiden name?  Do you like it or do you wish a different middle name had been bestowed upon you?

RHYS BOWEN: My middle name is Elizabeth. I love the name and was planning to switch to it when I went to college, but chickened out at the last minute . Always regretted that!
My father's middle name was Newcombe, and I wish he'd passed that on to me. Or named me after my fabulous French great-grandmother Josephine who married at 17, had 14 children, still looked like a teenager at 40 and crossed the globe alone at 80 to join her daughter in Australia.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Rhys, one of the couples who run the farm we get our CSA from had a baby Josephine this winter! I was delighted to see the name reappear after a long time in abeyance.

My middle name is Jeanne, which I've always loved, since "Julia Jeanne" has a pleasing resonance to it. My first name is in honor of my father's mother, Jewel Spencer, and my father wanted to give me the same middle name as my mom, Jean. She demurred, until they came up with a compromise: same name, French spelling. Now the Smithie's middle name is Jean. We'll see if it turns up with a different spelling in the next generation.

As near as I can tell, middle names are primarily a way for your mother to signal something is REALLY important. As in, "Julia Jeanne, don't tell me you missed the bus again this morning!" Oddly enough, I say this to myself now, when I forget something or make a boneheaded move. "Julia Jeanne, I can't believe you forgot your shopping bags again." It's true, we do become our mothers.

JENN MCKINLAY: Julia, yes! When we were naming the Hooligans, I said to the Hub, "I have to shout it so that I know it sounds like I mean business." He thought I was crazy, so maybe it's a mom thing. I also shoved my maiden name in there so they both have four names, which driver license and passport issuers just love - not. My middle name is Adelia after my maternal grandmother. I love it since "Jennifers" populated the 80's pretty hard and this was a nice change from all of the other Jennifers who inexplicably all had Marie for a middle name. Plus, my initials were JAM - how can you beat that?

HALLIE EPHRON: I always wanted my middle name to be my first name. Elizabeth. Like, you know, Elizabeth Taylor. And yes, Hallie Elizabeth is what my parents called me when they were issuing orders. What I hated were my initials. HE or HEE. Hee hee hee.

Our daughters are Naomi Samantha and Molly Kate. LOVE the names. When Naomi went to summer camp for the first time, she told everyone her name was Samantha. "Call me Sam." And they did, for two weeks. 

I just had to include this baby.  What a great start to the week!
LUCY BURDETTE: When you have a first name like Roberta (a mouthful, right?), it's good to have an easy middle name. Hence, Ann. One syllable, plain, no mix-ups when you tell someone (except for the pesky question of whether there's an "e" at the end or not.) This name was borrowed from my mother's sister, Barbara Ann, so we always bonded over that. When our daughter was pregnant with her second child, there was a lot of jockeying over prospective names. (They chose not to know the sex until birth.) Ann was popular for a while because both grandmothers have it as middle names, so they could have pleased everyone at once! Didn't need it when Henry was born...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Of course nothing is simple. Roberta, my middle name is Ann, too. My first name is Harriet. A completely perfect name now, Harriet, and I wish I had kept it.  But when you are 8 and all the cool girls are Debbie and Linda, you do NOT want to be geeky-already without-the-baggage-of-a-terrible-name Harriet. 

So I went by Ann. Or, when I realized about Princess Anne, Anne. OR when I was cool at 16, An. Yes, like the article. It was SO sad.

My parents last name was Landman, so to make things even more terrible,  Ann Landman sounded way too much like--right. Ann Landers. Ha ha ha. Gah.  So when they gave me Hank in college, whoever did, that stuck. 

But I know a good name when I hear one, so I named my characters the names I wished for myself: Charlotte Jane (McNally) and  Jane Elizabeth (Ryland.)  (Now, thinking about that, those names don't fit me at all. I just wish they did.)

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, I am SO boring. All the DEBORAHs in my generation seemed to have been either Deborah Lynn or Deborah Ann, and I am, you guessed it, a Lynn. In my early teen days, when I hated Debbie with a passion, I wanted to be called Lynn. Fortunately, it never stuck. But I still hate Debbie, so unless you are my aunt, my cousins, or my mother-in-law (who's known me since I was a teen) please don't call me Debbie. (Or cupcakes...) Plus, I was a DD, as in Debbie Darden. Ouch. I named my daughter Katharine Claire, and, so far, at least, she's never complained about either.

Your turn, Readers!  What's your middle moniker?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday Dinner: Couscous with chicken and kale

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: We're down to three people at Casa Hugo-Vidal; me, Youngest (until the end of August) and my delightful temporary lodger, the Very Smart Girlfriend (of the Smithie.) The VSG found a job here in Portland, and had to move fairly quickly to start, but finding an apartment in this overheated market is hard. She's staying with me for a while as she gets her feet under her and gets oriented to southern Maine.

What this means, culinarily speaking, is that I'm getting a bit more adventurous in what I'm cooking these days.  I stocked up on quinoa, rice noodles, bean noodles and couscous, which were NOT pantry staples in the days of three kids plus husband. And this summer, as in the past several years, I'm getting a CSA box every Wednesday loaded with fresh organic veggies I need to figure out some way to use. And by veggies, I mean kale, which will be a staple here until October.

This is an adaptation of a recipe I found on Spark, which I guess is for people who want to lose weight? I don't believe in fat-free, myself, so this dinner has loads of delicious olive and sesame oil. As usual, you can cook it like I do, and substitute anything for anything else. You're a grown-up, right? Don't let a recipe boss you around.

Chicken, couscous and kale salad

1 chicken breast, diced into bite-sized pieces
flour, salt and pepper to coat
Olive oil and sesame oil (I love the flavor of the latter, but you can do all olive oil if you prefer)
1/2 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves OR 3 t pre-minced garlic (I love this stuff!)
1 c pearl (or Israeli) couscous
1 1/4 c chicken broth (I followed the directions for liquid on the container of couscous.)
6-8 leaves of kale cut into thin strips OR a half bag of spinach 
1 T cumin
Juice of 1/2 a lemon OR 2-3 t bottled lemon juice
1 c shredded or flaked parmesan cheese

Toss the chicken bites in the seasoned flour mix and saute them in oil until golden. Set aside and keep warm.

Add more oil to the pan in which you sauted the chicken; add couscous and let it brown for a couple minutes. Add onions, garlic, chopped kale, and cumin. Cook, stirring, until the kale wilts, You may need more oil as you go.

Add chicken broth, cover and bring to a boil. Cook 10-15 minutes, or whatever your couscous container directs.

When the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, squeeze in the lemon juice and toss with the parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

I'm sorry to say I took several photos with Youngest's iphone, and could not get them to load. So you're getting stock photos instead of my actual ingredients. Just as in cooking, we improvise.

What are you making for Sunday dinner, dear readers?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Wedding Whoopsies

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As I mentioned in Monday's chat and yesterday's video compilation, this is the month for graduations and weddings. Today is a beautiful Saturday in June, and some of you reading this may be getting ready for someone's nuptials!

Like the run-up to graduation (but X100,) preparations for a wedding can consume first the participants, then their family, then friends, and finally a whole community.  I was married thirty-one years ago (in May, not June) and what was then a long checklist of appointments, reservations, to-dos, dates and menu items has become, for many couples, a task approaching the Allied invasion of the continent on D-Day. I blame Pinterest, and I thank God I tied the knot before the era of social media, Because, you know, no matter how organized the bride is, no matter how firmly her mother has things in hand, no matter the pristine reputation of the hotel/wedding planner/limo service, something is going to go wrong.
I was listening to the founders of THE wedding website The Knot on NPR, and they described their own wedding - on a rooftop in DC in July. When the temperature was 111F. Can you imagine? I was at a wedding with a similar, though not as drastic problem: the bride and groom were getting married on a terrace outside a hotel. Things were running late, then later, until finally it was a genuine delay. Never explained, but I suspect, from the frantic activity in the nearest function room, that the hotel had goofed and forgotten to set up the small party's reception. The sun got higher and higher, the guests got hotter and hotter, and there was no liquid of any sort on hand. Naturally, people began trekking back to the venue's main bar, and once you've gotten a glass of water, may as well get the party started with a cocktail or chilled Rose.
Needless to say, by the time the violinist began playing the processional, most of the guests were either flirting with sunstroke or half in the bag. On the plus side, it was a very lively reception, and everyone danced!

My own wedding had a notorious "whoops" moment. Ross and I had a small noontime ceremony - only about 45 people - on the front porch of my grandmother's Greek Revival house in the small town where my family had lived for over 200 years. You would think after all those years of residence, someone would have remembered that the town fire whistle blew - deafeningly - every day at 12pm. But we didn't. The priest had just said, "Dearly beloved," when the whistle went off to a chorus of my family's giggles. When the noise finally died away, the priest began again. 

"We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony." He paused. There was another noise, growing closer and louder. Chugga-chugga-chugga CHUGGA-chugga chugga. We had also forgotten Saturday was garbage collection day. Our guests, seated on the front lawn beneath graceful old maple trees, turned around to see the garbage truck idling at the foot of my grandmother's drive, its occupants evidently debating whether to wait for someone to break away from the wedding in progress and bring the can down to the road, or to move on.

At that point, my Uncle Ron, may his name be a blessing, entered into family lore. "Lois," he said to my mother, his usually mild voice rising above the sound of the truck engine. "The caterers are here."

How about you, Reds? Have you experienced any matrimonial mishaps?

INGRID THOFT: I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing when there’s a wedding mishap:  It’s good training for life cause things go wrong!  My own wedding was 70 guests, and since we’re not big dancers (and sensitive to others who don’t like to dance or yell over loud music) we planned the event to be a dinner party at which we got married.  We hired two guitarists to play during the ceremony and cocktail hour, and then another musician to play during dinner.  Except the second musician never showed.  I don’t even remember the reason/excuse, just that the guitarists graciously offered to stay the rest of the evening.  The music was wonderful, and the poor guitarists left with bloody fingers and an enormous tip.  Good thing we really like guitar music!  

RHYS BOWEN : My own wedding was a very small affair as we were getting married in Australia with almost no friends or family. But my former roommate from Australian broadcasting had promised to record the ceremony for me as a wedding present. It turned out afterward that the equipment had malfunctioned! We had no record of the day. And she was one of their premier reporters..... Also we were leaving Australia on a ship the next day, sailing to the US and the American consul wouldn't give me my entry visa until I was officially Mrs. John. So after a quick toast and slice of cake we had to drive to his home in the hills beyond Sydney to get my passport with the visa in it.

My own daughters both had dream weddings: gorgeous dresses, lots of people, good food and dancing into the night, which certainly made up for my own sparse celebration.

JENN MCKINLAY: Julia, your Uncle Ron! Serious belly laughs here! As for me, I was blessed with no mishaps. Crazy, right? We had a church wedding with 150 people, with just my mom standing up for me and Hub's dad standing up for him, and then a reception in a fireman's hall up in the desert hills of north Phoenix. Hub's bands (yes, plural) played. Everyone danced and ate and drank and made merry. It was a perfect day. Or maybe, I was just so surprised that I was actually getting married (it was not really in my life plan at that point) that I was oblivious to any screw ups. I delegated most of the wedding chores because i wasn't really interested, so the cake, the centerpieces, the flowers, and the music played were all a lovely surprise!

HALLIE EPHRON: My wedding was pretty small - 40 people at my parents fairly roomy NYC apartment. The rabbi had gotten fired that morning (he was the Columbia University rabbi and he'd been demonstrating with the students) and arrived drunk. Wearing cowboy boot and a purple graduation robe. He was supposed to talk for 3 minutes, read a bit from Kahlil Gibran (it was 1969!), and pronounce us wed. He went on. And on. Finally my father piped up NOT sotto voce: "Is he trying to marry them or talk them out of it?"

My daughter's wedding on Peaks Island overlooking Casco Bay was perfect. Her older sister and the groom's best friend officiated. Everyone was on their best behavior. If anything went wrong, I did not notice.

LUCY BURDETTE: First of all, Jenn, I cannot believe that you of all people didn't care about the CAKE! Meanwhile, at my first wedding, the photographer, a relative of the groom, did not show. So, no pictures other than a few snapshots. (Oh, and the porto-potty in the back of the pickup truck tipped over. But I can see that story is too convoluted to report.)


However, a few years later, when my best friend from grad school got married to a man she'd been living with, it was also very low key. No attendants and a green dress with a white lace dickey. And they had me act as photographer. This was back in the day when you sent your roll of film off to be developed and printed and the photos came back in the mail. Only they didn't. The torn envelope came back but the negatives were never recovered. No photos, not one.

And two divorces ensued. Moral of the story? No photos, just stop the presses right then and there!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I will skip the first couple of weddings, stories for another day. Jonathan and I got married in a little ceremony and a gorgeous suite at the four seasons. Family only. Everything was perfect, and beautiful (except the flowers, oh I almost forgot this, which I had SLAVED over, but were nothing like the florist and I had discussed. NOTHING! When I inquired a few days later about the PURPLE, (they were supposed to be all white and pale cream) he apologized, telling me he had been too hung over to do them the way he'd promised. Can you BELIEVE it?)

Anyway, the rabbi did not arrive. Did not arrive did not arrive did not arrive. We had no idea what to do, so we opened the champagne early, and everyone started drinking. Turned out the rabbi had been caught in some road race traffic. And because those were the days pre-cell phone, he had no way to tell us. It all turned out fine, and he showed up, and everybody was delighted.

The other thing: at the reception, which was at a glamorous and wonderful restaurant called Salamander. It was glorious party and everyone we knew was invited. (One couple brought THREE college age children saying they'd assumed they were invited too. They weren't.) But  at the end, after all the dancing and a cake made of cream puffs, when we stood up to say thank you, Jonathan‘s mom came to the front and said she had a couple of things to say.

I still have a picture of Jonathan‘s terrified face at that moment—his mother was famously unpredictable. Turns out, she read a poem she had written for her husband, Jonathan‘s father, at their wedding. There was not a dry eye.

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What are the wedding whoopsies you've experienced?