Monthly Archives: January 2016

Author Interview: Jane Smiley (Exclusive)

Pulitzer-Prize winner Jane Smiley graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about writing, the creative process, and the life of an artist.
–When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder?

Writing is part of my regular day, which means that I also ride horses, do business, cook, do errands, travel, teach, socialize, read books, go on Facebook, talk to my husband and children, read the New York Times and the Guardian, etc.
When I am involved in a project, the things I do during the day are lightly filtered through my thoughts about the project, and vice versa, but I am not obsessive, I am mostly curious—would such and such an insight or image fit into the project? If I get a little stuck in what I am writing, which is mostly a failure of energy, I do something else, and almost always, the issue is resolved or I get an idea. If I really get stuck, then I travel to the place where the project is set, or I do some more research, or I go on Google maps and look around.

–How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

My advice is always the same—keep at it—novelists are tortoises rather than hares. But also read a lot and analyse, for yourself, why other authors’ books that you like work or don’t work. You have to be able to immerse yourself in your own project, but also to step back from it and understand how it is working or not. And then you have to please yourself most of all. Attempting to please others is frustrating and causes you to lose interest in your work—it becomes a job. The advice I would give would depend on the individual writer. I don’t think there are generalizations.

–From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

Publishing is constantly changing, so in that sense, I don’t think the challenges are greater. In some ways, it is easier to get you work to a reader today, though it may not be easier to get paid for it. I am not sure what to advise, because there are so many different audiences. I think you just have to keep trying to get in the door, knowing that doors close and other doors open.

–What books are you currently reading?

Books for a course I am teaching: Queen Sugar, by Natalie Baszile, Station 11, by Emily St. John Mandel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, and The Sign of the Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle (because Doyle and Wilde met at a dinner party when they were, apparently, working on these two books, and I am wondering if they traded any ideas.)

–Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why?

I always promote Miklos Banffy’s The Transylvanian Trilogy, because I read it two years ago and loved it for the landscape, the politics, and the psychological insights.

–Finding the discipline to keep writing can be tough. Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

Taking a can of Diet Coke out the the refrigerator and looking into the candy closet.

–Can you offer a sneak peek into your current project?

Not yet.

Check back tomorrow for a review of Smiley’s Pulitzer-Prize winner, A Thousand Acres.

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No Harm Can Come to a Good Man by James Smythe

No Harm Can Come to a Good Man by James Smythe

HarperCollins, Avail Jun 9, 2015

This novel works on so many levels: suspenseful without losing touch with the internal lives of the primary characters, conceptually significant, and very well written. I wasn’t familiar with this author before being provided with an ARC from the publisher but you can bet he’s on my permanent radar now.

No Harm presents a future that seems not so far away. The internet has been harnessed to provide predictions about common life events ranging from what type of rental car someone will prefer to whether they’ll get a promotion. Since every one of us encounters these algorithms while browsing…always a bit creepy when a news site hands me an ad for a shirt I browsed on some other site because it’s so out of touch with where my mind is while reading news articles…the novel’s concept feels real enough.

This is the backdrop of our everyday lives. And for a time, it seems to only be the backdrop of this novel. A man, a good man, decides to run for president only a year after his son drowned in the lake at the family’s second home. His wife and two daughters go along with his plans, supporting him as only a political family can—by tamping down their personalities with more PR-friendly activities. When Laurence’s campaign advisor Amit encourages him to apply for prediction results through ClearVista’s algorithm, his already somewhat difficult race turns tragic.

There’s the fact that ClearVista returns a 0% chance of success…and then there’s the video. Nightmarish for any father, the video shows the country’s worst terror, that of a war veteran who has finally cracked. While Laurence struggles to prove the video’s prediction wrong, Amit takes a twofold path that shores up his own career while trying to shove his candidate back on track. Laurence’s wife works quietly yet with a strength that cannot be questioned to help her husband and save her two remaining children.

The arc follows Laurence down his increasingly fractured decline along with the wife’s staunch support. Only in the final moments is Deanna forced to turn against him. Amit, meanwhile, is the only one to truly take all their fates into his hands and actively work against the prediction and the social machinery that believes in ClearVista with such evangelical fever.

Emotionally gripping and a true novel for our times.

5 stars!