Monday, November 30, 2015

Harriet Wolf's 7th Book of Wonders a NYTimes Notable Book of 2015

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW has chosen their 100 NOTABLE BOOKS of 2015 and HARRIET WOLF'S SEVENTH BOOK is on the list! 

To be honest, I didn't write it for shelves or lists. I wrote it for you -- the hearts that aren't rind-tough, for those whose minds are still a frothy terrarium, who still conjure entire oceans in their dreams. 
I wrote it because each of us carries our own stories -- beautiful and tragic and stunning, all sunlit steam as our engines labor within us.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Inside the pages of PEOPLE magazine -- God bless you, sexy David Beckham -- you'll find my new novel in BEST NEW BOOKS! Mitch Albom's looking a little tall, casting a shadow, sure, but I'm there, my head in a little circle, ALL OF US AND EVERYTHING all big and bright behind me.
Some days, to be honest, it's better to be Bridget Asher than Baggott. Today is one of those days, but so were the days while writing this novel. I loved writing about this odd family (all families are odd), in particular about three sisters.
At the start, one sister is trying to understand the language of elephants while living in a longhouse in Vietnam; one's a self-proclaimed marriage-profiteer (who's come from a long line of profiteers) having a breakdown in her ex's apartment in the Caledonia in West Chelsea; and another has just found out through the headmaster that her husband's fallen in love while chaperoning a boarding-school trip to Europe; her 15-year-old daughter's instinct is to live-tweet the dissolution of her family.
And then there's Augusta, their anti-establishment mother, and Nick who is, in fact, a spy. To create Nick, I had the pleasure of talking to someone who'd worked in intelligence all his life; I was looking for the toll the job takes on love, family.
This review uses the word sexy and in a magazine with Beckham on the cover, that's one fine compliment. But what I love is that this novel is an indulgence. I was unrestrained while writing it with the hope that readers would feel unrestrained while reading it.
To my fellow writers, I'll confess -- there's nothing quite like the moment when you take off the literary handcuffs and tear into writing story -- rip-snorting story. In the end, my literary leanings are all there. Nothing I can do to really shake them from the page, but it's dreamy to let fly like this. Completely dreamy.
You know what else is dreamy? Clare Anne Darragh, once upon a time, my college roommate and one of the most bad-ass people I know -- and I know a lot of bad asses.
This novel is for my sisters -- I adore you all, the ones who were chosen for me and the ones I got to choose.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Reading about DC in DC ...

When I was a kid, my father told me the story of the snowstorm that hit DC on the eve of JFK's inauguration -- all the empty dance halls inviting people off the streets, the abandoned cars, the motorcade driving through the park -- lights swirling as it rocketed by. A young patent attorney at the time, my father was trapped on a bus and finally got out and walked home, for miles. I never forgot it and thought it'd be a great night for two people's lives to be tied together. It's now part of ALL OF US & EVERYTHING. 

So, DC, I'll be reading in DC about DC next Monday at the PEN/Faulkner Hardison series at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Click the pic below for more info. 

(Delighted to be reading alongside the amazing Laura Kasischke.) 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My great grandmother's genes...

We just unearthed this photograph of my great grandmother, a madam of a house of prostitution in Raleigh, NC. Here she is during that period of her life, 1929 or 1930, in a silky kimono-like jacket, wearing pants on her front porch. 
I thought of her today while reading this article on genetics and how they're handed down. It reads, "Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding." 
I'm thankful for her resilience.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

1/2 Dozen for Kathy Flann

I got to know Kathy Flann early on and have become a fan of her work. It is so wonderfully odd, so brilliantly wonderfully odd and it feels so true and precise and real and yet otherworldly. 

With the recent publication of her new story collection GET A GRIP, it is especially my pleasure to have her here to answer a half dozen questions about her creative process, bad habits, obsessions, and her story about wanting to time-travel in order to beat a certain Scottish poet with a spatula. 

Here goes: 

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

I’m writing a series called How to Survive a Human Attack, advice pieces for different movie monsters, like zombies, swamp monsters, and mummies. I find myself thinking about it all the time – these poor wretches always get bludgeoned, beheaded, set ablaze, or tricked into wells. They may have tried to eat people’s brains or something. That’s a fair cop. But they were hungry (or lonely or low on fuel or looking for a place to call home). I mean, who hasn’t gotten cranky after a long day of dieting or gestating?

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

There’s inspiration, often, in the genesis of a story, coming up with the idea for it. The rest – at least for me – is hard work and determination. The notion that a person sits down and just sort of channels a story onto the page in one sitting is  -- in my experience – misguided. But what I would say is that those initial moments of inspiration are so compelling that they give fuel to the process. With some stories, it even takes several years to finish, but I care about the idea enough to come back to it over and over. If I don’t have that commitment, then the story wasn’t really worth pursuing.

One moment of inspiration came when I read a newspaper story about the first meteorite fall in Maryland since 1923. Meteorite hunters were flying to the area, competing to get to the object first. I learned that meteorites are worth more money if people witness the fall, or if the fall is captured on camera, or if the meteorites don’t land on the ground. They lose their value the longer they touch earth. All of this got my imagination going. I wrote draft upon draft. I researched like crazy, learning about the different metals that can be in a meteorite, about telescopes, about the cut-throat nature of meteorite hunting, the need for speed and secrecy. The story that resulted, “Heaven’s Door,” about a veteran meteorite hunter nearing the end of his career, speaks to the race against time in which we are all engaged. Our time is limited. How will we spend it?

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer? 

Tip #1: Don’t buy flowers for your beloved every time she gets a rejection because while it is true that she is bummed out and making overwrought comments about her worth as a human being,  A) you will go broke and B) she really is going to be fine after a few hours of cursing under her breath. I had to tell my husband this when we first met four years ago.

Tip #2: Consider whether you want to spend your life with someone who curses under her breath.

People always talk about the writers they aspired to emulate. I’d love to know the writers you most hated as you were coming up and how those tastes shaped you.

In one of my first workshops, I wrote a story in which a character traveled back in time and beat to death Hugh MacDiarmid, the Scottish poet, with a spatula. We’d been reading him in a literature course, and I couldn’t parse the Scots dialect. The instructor commented that the story I’d submitted was reminiscent of Woody Allen’s work. “Do you know ‘The Kugelmass Episode?’” she said.  It was a piece I had read about twenty times. She may or may not have meant the comparison as a compliment, but I felt so light, as if I’d won something.

If I’d been able to travel forward in time, I’d surely have been shocked to discover that I would grow to love Scots literature later, when I lived in the UK for five years. Probably that spatula-wielding hatred had been a sign of engagement – of wanting to engage, anyway. MacDiarmid still isn’t my favorite Scots writer, but he is credited for starting a Scottish renaissance, using Scots dialect when it was stigmatized, and I have to be grateful to him for that. As much as it’s challenging to make a connection, I suppose he and Woody Allen both spoke in registers that people hadn’t heard in writing before, and I think that’s an important thing for a beginning writer to see is possible. Below is MacDiarmid’s “The Bonnie Broukit Bairn,” which does not make me want to bludgeon him with a kitchen utensil -- and that’s always relaxing, not to feel murderous.

Mars is braw in crammasy,/ Venus in a green silk goun,/ The auld mune shak's her gowden feathers, / Their starry talk's a wheen o' blethers, / Nane for thee a thochtie sparin'/ Earth, thou bonnie broukit bairn! / - But greet, an' in your tears ye'll drown / The haill clanjamfrie!

What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

One summer, I worked at a moving company as a packer. This was in DC, and a lot of the moves were government workers – our days were spent wrapping wine glasses, picture frames, etc. in paper and sealing them into boxes. I was always surprised that people would not sort through their things much before we arrived. We packed junk drawers, and I’d think, You really want this hairy button? Or this price tag? This one time, we went to a nice ranch house in the suburbs to pack for a middle-aged couple, very ordinary-looking, indistinguishable from other customers we’d had. The woman wore no makeup and had shoulder-length dark stringy hair, and the man might have been in khakis, might have been the military. When I packed their night stand, I found myself holding a giant tub with the words Orgy Butter on the label.

That moment was like graduating from an extra MFA program -- people may seem a certain way, but what’s in the nightstand? What’s in the glove compartment?

Was there an extremely influential writing teacher who had a great impact on your writing life?

In my MA program at Auburn, I was lucky enough to be mentored by Judy Troy, who used to have me over to her house. We’d sit on the shaded front porch and talk about fiction all through the Alabama summer. When you’re living in a dumpy place full of roommates and termites, the invitation to spend time at a nice house and drink lemonade is, in itself, nurturing. But on top of that, she offered me insights about stories and characters that I still draw on everyday. I hear her saying, “What’s the ongoing tension here – the problems that this character has had for a long time? And why is today the day of the story?” Whenever I’d explain, she’d say, “Just say that. Right at the beginning.” I hear that still, too. It was a revelation to me – that being very clear would build tension.

What's your worst writerly habit?

For a while I would eat candy or chew Big Red while I wrote, as a way to burn off nervous energy. I suppose it was like all those writers you’d see in old black and white photos, sitting at typewriters with cigarettes burning in their fingers. There was a need to do something physical while writing, something to keep me there in the chair. Maybe it was also a way of creating a ritual, of tricking my mind into associating writing with something as normal as chewing. But I worried about my teeth. So then I started chewing sugarless gum, absently unwrapping piece after piece. One night, my husband and I went to a party and I had to go home early because I had a stomach ache. He’s a doctor, so he went into that mode. “What did you eat today?” I listed off some stuff, mentioning the gum only as an afterthought. “You did what?” he said. Then he gave a very technical description of what the chemicals in the gum were doing to my “gut.” He kept checking up on my habits later.  “Are you still chewing that gum?” Oh no, I assured him, you persuaded me at “gut.” Now I drink herbal tea.

Kathy Flann’s fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, The North American Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, New Stories from the South, and other publications. A short story collection entitled Get a Grip won the George Garrett Award and was released by Texas Review Press in the fall of 2015. A previous collection, Smoky Ordinary, won the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award and was published by Snake Nation Press. For five years, she taught creative writing at the University of Cumbria in England, where she created mini-courses for the BBC’s Get Writing website and served on the board of the National Association of Writers in Education. She has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Sozopol Fiction Seminars in Bulgaria, and Le Moulin à Nef in France. She is an associate professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Boston Globe piece with lotso shout-outs...

So a shout-out here to my mother, Glenda Baggott "a helicopter parent before there were helicopter parents" and one of my all-time favorite storytellers in the BOSTON GLOBE. Also a shout-out to my son Finn, when he was in utero, the Worcester Public Library, Harriet Wolf, Holy Cross, and the new book coming out this month ALL OF US & EVERYTHING, under my pen name Bridget Asher. A catch-all in 300 words or less and my face as cartoon, which my face appreciates.

In fact .... I think I'd actually prefer to be a cartoon for a while -- at least try it out. It's like a little painless facelift -- like MOONLIGHTING's blurred rendering of Cybill Shepherd.