Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Tom Vater



Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....


Today's ink story comes from Tom Vater, co-owner of Crime Wave Press.









My Rumble In The Jungle – Getting Tattooed In An Iban Village in Borneo





I was in the jungle in Borneo, somewhere, a day’s travel from Kuching - first by car, then by boat up a Conradian river, to an Iban longhouse community. I was on assignment with two French journalists to write and photograph a story on the tattoo traditions of the Iban.

The Iban are an ethnic minority living in Sarawak, Brunei and West Kalimantan on Borneo, former head hunters, but long socially check-mated by national politics, loggers and oil palm companies. And by cheap alcohol.

The young men in the villages we visited knew little about their grandfathers’ tattoos, but they did know a thing or two about getting so drunk in the mornings that the communal space in front of the private long house sections had turned into alcohol graveyards by mid-day. They called the stuff they drank langkau. It was made from rice, and perhaps lighter fuel, judging by its taste.

Well, they say that if you can’t fight them, join them, but I am not a drinker and don’t like having a glass shoved into my face for days on end. Other problems, the usual casualties of alcohol abuse in remote areas, soon manifested. Dark stuff. The booze really was doing damage to this community.
To complicate things, Obama friend and master TV chef Anthony Bourdain, the Donald Trump of cooking, had been to the village the previous year and had given every villager a fistful of cash in return for their cooperation while he shot his culinary reality apocalypse. This had created significant and unrealistic expectations of our little group of poor-ass, underpaid freelance journalists who needed to get the story on the cheap.

Sadly, the local boys had not picked up any cooking skills from Mr Bourdain and focused instead on barbecued snake and grilled bits of chicken, only the best bits – feet, necks and unidentified grizzly parts. A rare river turtle languished in a plastic bucket, but we didn’t get around to sampling it. Even the community dogs looked depressed.

Luckily, we had Captain Alex with us, a south American tattooist with a penchant for excess, not least in his personal collection of body art, which crawled across his entire magnificently tortured torso up to his chin and beyond, right up to his roguish eyes – Alex was the very personification of an inebriated Jack Sparrow who’d lost his boat, but not his calling.

Alex was the soul of the party. And he saved my life in the jungle. I would have died of sadness and boredom in the face of the never-ending drink fest, if he hadn’t offered to take the edge off time and tattoo me while my friends wrote and shot the story of the last of the tattooed Iban.

Fine by me and a minute later I was on the rattan floor, looking up at the ceiling. Alex sat cross-legged next to me, piss-drunk and bare-chested, his chest covered in Buddhist amulets, his wild hair flying around as he went through his gear to find a need. A monkey skull grinned up from the floor to his right acting the perfect pirate trope. Alex was glowing in the darkness. It was a perfect moment.
“It’s like psychiatric ward in here,” he laughed under his poisoned breath. Ezra, a miraculously sober Iban boy, assisted the old pirate in his ambitious plans. The village boys crowded around us, plastic receptacles swinging in the air.

Without much fanfare, they wiped my arm, stuck a cigarette in my mouth, and laughed fiendishly. But then Alex stopped in his tracks. He had decided to bless me. Bless me he did, half catholic, half Buddhist, all Alex. That made me feel better. He had the ink pots lined up and a needle out of its wrapper. He had a camping torch taped around his head. This was going to be a late night manual job, fast and dirty, like in the movies. And so Alex took a swig of whatever was going, lit another nail, watched the smoke rise into the darkness and got to work on my arm, plunging the needle inelegantly into my inner biceps.

There wasn’t much more to it than that. He poked and drank and smoked and the longhouse boys did much the same, grazing through one cig packet after another, drinking one plastic bottle of langkau after another while I looked at the silhouettes of heads blocking the distance between me and the weakly flickering neon strip above me. The dogs barked, the toads croaked, mosquitoes buzzed around us, and the ghosts of history, old men whose chests and backs were covered in beautiful fading flower patterns loomed over us every now and then. Half-way through the poking festival, Alex started to pass out and delegated the completion of the mission to Ezra who, not being as smashed, did a commendable job finishing me off.

Time has passed, the trip has faded. An anchor and a tiny fishhook below it now grace my arm. The lines have bled because the needle went in too deep, the tattoo is weeping. I looked up the meaning of anchor tattoos– apparently I will be blessed with loyalty, honour, stability and security, hope, protection, salvation and enlightenment and will engage in dedication to the greater good.
Experiencing serious societal dysfunction is sobering, so much so that one needs to be drunk to tolerate it. But as I said, I don’t drink and I couldn’t handle the passive-aggressive vibe, typical amongst young male champion drinkers anywhere in the world. I couldn’t leave, so getting tattooed seemed a good way to pass the moment. Every time I look at the tattoo now, I feel... nothing. It’s always about the moment.



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Tom Vater is a writer working predominantly in Asia. He is the co-owner of Crime Wave Press, a Hong Kong based crime fiction imprint.

Tom has written for The Asia Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Guardian, The Nikkei Asian Review, Th Daily Telegraph, Penthouse and other publications and has published a dozen non-fiction books and co-authored several documentary screenplays.

Tom has also published three crime novels. His two detective thrillers, featuring former conflict journalist turned PI Maier, The Cambodian Book of the Dead and The Man with the Golden Mind take place against a meticulously researched historical background in Southeast Asia.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Melanie Reviews: This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record

Pages: 183 
Publisher: featherproof books
Released: 2008



Reviewed by Melanie Page



This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record is a story about Vaughn, a sixteen-year-old girl who decides to dump her trio of popular best friends right before school lets out for summer. She has a camera and is excited about her fall photography class, so she shoots pictures regularly. Then, Vaughn sees Sophie, a small, dramatic-looking fifteen-year-old girl sitting on the porch across the street. New neighbor from another state! After Sophie drops hints that she hates her mom and has possibly been sexually abused by her uncle, Sophie is permitted to stay with Vaughn’s family when her mother moves away. The story follows the typical coming-of-age novel: Sophie upsets Vaughn’s life by peer pressuring her into trying pot, starting smoking, and hanging out a Dragon Park with two teenage boys. Occasionally, Sophie doesn’t come home when she’s supposed to, and it’s clear she’s the “faster” of the two girls. The novel is set in the summer of 1989, so no cell phones or computers.

There was nothing particularly 1989 about the story. Cassettes are mentioned a couple of times, and we get a description of a Flock of Seagulls-inspired hairstyle, but Felts makes the mistake many other writers these days do: she sets the novel in a time before personal electronic devices simply to avoid the complication of text messages, social media, and Google. Think about it. How many books have you read lately that are set just before the widespread use of personal tech? I actually discuss this topic in a class I teach about technology and literature, and students can only come up with one book that uses current tech: the Fifty Shades series. So, E.L. James has that going for her.

While the story actually is predictable, there were many times I thought it was going to head into unusual territory. How many times does Sophie seem way too “familiar” around Vaughn’s dad? And isn’t Vaughn’s mom practically out of the picture? She creates handmade jewelry in a shed out in the yard. The mother seemed depressed or neglectful and doesn’t even come in for dinner, leaving room for another person to jump in. I was on the edge of my seat during these sections, predicting the weirdness that would ensue when Mom came out of her jewelry cave and found a teen in bed with her husband. But that never happens.

The characters lack complexity. Sometimes, they lack motivation. Why did Vaughn dump her trio of friends? Why are they so popular when she seems so non-descript? That’s not typically how teen girl group dynamics work. Even though Vaughn was independent enough to dump her popular friends, she’s enough of a pushover for Sophie to talk her into smoking, pot, and getting into cars with strangers with almost no effort.

The title is inspired by the damning potential of a photo printed and kept as evidence. Sophie is Vaughn’s model all summer; she has a unique defiant yet poverty-stricken look. But when Sophie gets the camera in her hands, she catches Vaughn in incriminating situations. The power of the camera is never fully explored, as the potential to control someone through blackmail, even the high school kind, is left untouched. Overall, This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record cracks open doors but never explores what’s in the room.




Melanie Page has an MFA from the University of Notre Dame and is an adjunct instructor in Indiana. She is the creator of Grab the Lapels, a site that publishes book reviews and interviews of folks who identify as women at grabthelapels.com.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#AuthoReadeR Discussion with Cynan Jones



Back in November, TNBBC had the opportunity to host a week-long discussion with Cynan Jones about his novel Everything I Found on the Beach

During that time, we discussed plot and character development, how he assigns his protagonists jobs, the settings of Whales and the sea, and some of Cynan's favorite books, 

This is the week-long conversation, in its entirety:




TNBBC: Hi Cynan! I had fallen in love immediately with your style of writing. It had this wonderful way of just sucking me right in. 

EVERYTHING I FOUND ON THE BEACH begins with the discovery of the body. Was this always the beginning or did the idea of having that as the prologue come about in the later stages of novel revision? 

Cynan Jones: A body, on a beach, found at the start of the book was an early decision. But - avoiding spoilers for those that might not have read it - the device as a means of creating an ellipse in the narrative was something that grew during the plotting of the book, in structural terms, over time. 
SPOILER ALERT!
It's quite often the case to find a body at the beginning of a mystery, the story then becoming one which pursues the reasons that body came to be where it is. In "Everything", I wanted to lead readers to different bodies - 'who is it? Which of these men?' - to load the narrative with a little less certainty throughout. 

Tabitha: Hey Cynan,

Thank you for the opportunity to read your novel. 

Would you talk a bit about the ending. It felt as though there could only be one possible end, and the latter half of the novel was an exploration into the journey towards that particular end. I found myself saying to Hold "Idiot. What did you expect would happen!" Haha, I don't know if that's fair. 

What was your thought process for Hold, as a character, I guess is what I'm asking :) 

CJ: A lot of my writing uses a central allegory that glues the whole together - the narrative, the human situation and so on. In 'Everything' I wanted to explore exactly what you recognised: the inevitable outcome of some chosen action. Bluntly put, if a fish chooses to swim in a particular direction and there's a net there, they will hit it. 
When Hold decides to do what he does, we fear there's only one way it's going to go. When what happens at the end happens, we know it was the only outcome, even if, during the story, there have been moments when we've felt he'll get round it.

What is his reason for doing the thing he does? That's a key question of the book. Would you? Take a chance to change everything, despite the risk? Against inevitability? What if you beat the odds? 


Rhonda: Your novel was one of my top reads of the year. The scene after the birth of the baby when Perogi made a red string tied around the baby is a tradition we still follow. We now tie a red string around the baby's crib to ward off the evil eye.  

CJ: Great to hear the book worked for you, Rhonda. The first draft of 'Everything' focused much more on Hold's narrative. I had a few weeks clear to write that, and made notes on how I would look at widening the stories of the others in the book. 
When Parthian - the original publishers - linked me with an editor, they very much wanted the word count to increase from the original draft around 25,000 words. The colouring in, if you like, the details that were brought to Gregor, and the Irishmen, really needed to feel authentic. I'm glad they do, to you. 


Eric: Cynan, I'd like to hear you talk a bit about how story mandates voice (or vice versa), and which is the primogenitor for you. Meaning, do you generally come at an idea formed with character and plot, then create the voice, or is it some other combination thereof? Some authors have a rather rote style, but I found yours married to Everything I Found just superbly, and I'm curious about how that voice formed. 

CJ: I try to let the book build in my mind before I go anywhere near the desk. Then I sit down and write as if I'm remembering. Or watching. 
As implied in one of the answers above, the first draft of 'Everything' focused on Hold's story, and that is what I had foremost in my mind - pictured, plotted, ready - when I wrote. The voice comes from the story, if that makes sense. And that story should be heavily tested before you try and pen it. I don't work out how to say a thing during the process of writing, but before. It can take a long time for the tone to grow strong enough to know it's the right moment to put the story on paper. 


Rhonda(1): You wrote the dark ruthless world of drug dealers perfectly. Hold was an innocent in their world. Sadly he thought he was making the big score but he was just a patsy. Curious to what genre of books you read? Favorites this year?

CJ:  I read all sorts. (Though, nowadays I find it a little more tricky to get through books where the nuts and bolts of the writing are too obvious.)
Some stand-out books I've read recently: "Fen" by Daisy Johnson; Brautigan's "So the Wind Won't Blow it All Away"; "Trilobites and other stories" by Breece d'j Pancake; and currently, "Hawkfall" by George Mackay Brown 


Rhonda(2): Hi cynan. I loved everything about this book. As I was reading the beginning I wondered how you came about all your knowledge of fishing ? Was it something you had to research for this book or something you yourself knew about before writing this story? You made the setting come alive with your great way of describing what was going on. 

Also I loved the way some of the writing spoke to me. One section in particular that I noted was this one on page 64. "It's what we feel something is that makes it important. In a fire, someone might grab the most worthless thing, a smooth pebble, a seashell, a dried old rose if their lover had given it to them. If they still had the energy to believe. It's what a thing is capable of being that matters." 

CJ: That comes from first hand experience. I grew up (and still live) by the coast, in West Wales. The idea for the book first hit me walking the beach to set nets myself. 
I've been out on boats, and kayaks - basis for my latest novel 'Cove', just published here in the UK - and worked in an aquarium as a teenager which meant being on the water quite a lot.
When it comes to writing setting, I try to give just enough to trigger the picture in the reader, so they go on to fill in much of the detail themselves. That can create a strong relationship between reader and story, I think. 

Tabitha:  (in follow up to his answer to her previous question) Very thought-provoking questions. I think your novel speaks to the idea of instant gratification that Western civilization can currently relate to; people looking for that easy way out. However, you do a superb job of characterizing these men as ones who HAVE worked hard and who--through no fault of their own--seem trapped by circumstances beyond their control. Like they can't rise above the glass ceiling of their social class. Or perhaps being born into poverty or loyalty to family have thrown them into their George Bailey existence. 

They stand then as sort of modern, archetypal, "common man" tragic heroes; doomed yet cathartic. 
Sorry, I guess there wasn't a question in there, haha. 
Did you want your audience to view them as representations of tragedy? 

CJ: I try to write in a way that allows the reader to make judgments as to the position of the characters. In 'Everything', are those characters representations of tragedy? Or do they represent hope, within the boundaries of their own worlds? People who believe it's possible to be more? 

Tabitha: Haha, those rhetorical questions would make a good book club debate :) And your questions raise other good questions, such as whether true hope can be found through criminal means? Or whether people who find themselves challenged with a particular set of circumstances can only "be more" if they are willing to sacrifice conscience and integrity by doing something they know is both wrong and potentially deadly, let alone the risk they run of being caught and prosecuted. And to do all this at the risk of abandoning one's family, as both these men do, are they not doing more harm than good by trying to attain that "being more"? 

CJ: I guess that depends on the mindset of a person. We justify many of our acts by determining them to be of significance to others. If someone truly believes they have a duty to better the situation of the people they care about, could they accept themselves not taking steps to improve things? Fear of consequence can be a great checking mechanism, (more so, perhaps, than pure morality). But in this story, we're examining characters who are in the minority. Who do take steps, despite evident risk.
Tabitha: This was a great discussion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


Deanna: I am so excited reading this book! I like to read authors works from different regions of the world, because you really get a feel for a place through an author who lives and breathes the setting, that being said, how did you decide on the main characters? Is there much diversity in Wales? I only ask, because when I think of Wales I picture a place that is still 16th century, Tudor England type place, all crumbling castles and windswept cliffs. Would your characters be the norm for modern coastal living? And if so, were they based on a particular person or persons in your life, past or present?  

CJ: Wales is an extraordinary place. On the one hand you're right. It's empty, windswept, timeless; crumbled castles and bleak coasts. But parts of Wales are historically heavily industrial. Now that industry is more or less gone, the communities in those previously busy areas are under massive economic pressure. You can find a quaint, affluent town formed mostly of second homes and holiday accommodation within a few miles of council estates filled with unemployed families and boarded up buildings. This is a strange tension. On the one hand Wales could be viewed as a tourist idyll, seemingly picturesque and problem free. On the other, a trap. A place with its stomach fallen out.
The characters I write about are very much products of this dichotomy, and certainly representative of people here today. While no character is a based directly on any individual, they are built from the real types around me. 

TNBBC: Guys, I am loving the conversation so far. Such great questions and I, too, love the rhetorical questions and additional layers it adds to the way we interpret the novel...

Cynan, My heart really went out to our main man, working so hard to convince himself that everything was going to turn out ok in the end. 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you knew the outcome was inevitable but you were determined to ride it out and hope for the best or influence the outcome to no avail? 

CJ: I've been there. Haven't all of us? To a greater or lesser degree? Nothing as dramatic as the situation Hold faces, (or won't face, perhaps?...) But the thing is to try. To do something rather than nothing. Not curl up in a ball. And not to blame yourself when you haven't changed the inevitable. 
 
TNBBC: Clever answer. I suppose when you put it that way, we most certainly all have : )

But that last sentence really hits home, right? Because most of us, being our own worst enemies, can't help but blame ourselves. It's human nature. 

EVERYTHING was my first experience with your writing, and has convinced me that I need to read everything else you have published! I'm curious, if you could influence a new reader's approach to your novels, in which order would you recommend they go about it? 

CJ: 'Everything' was my second published novel, after 'The Long Dry' - which Coffee House will publish in the US next year. 'The Long Dry' came out in the UK 10 years ago, and 'Everything' followed in 2011. After that, 'Bird, Blood, Snow' ( - a rewriting of a Welsh myth, and something very different from the other books - ) in 2012, and 'The Dig', in 2014. 'Cove', the latest book, is just out this side of the pond. 
Ideally, I'd do them in order! But that will mean waiting until next year for the US edition of 'The Long Dry'... (and you probably wouldn't get 'Bird, Blood, Snow' over there...) so... Go read 'The Dig' And, meanwhile, if you want something else, a short story drawn from 'Cove' was in The New Yorker recently -http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201... 


Carol: Cynan, just wanted to say, thanks so much for making yourself available for this discussion as well as for your thoughtful answers. I'm enjoying your book immensely (am approx 80% of the way). I haven't thought of any questions to ask, but didn't want to miss the opportunity to express my appreciation and congratulations on creating Everything and Hold. 

CJ: Carol, that's much appreciated. If you do have a question, just fire it on. 


Lori: The initial draft of the book - mainly because of the time I had to write, in between work commitments - focused on Hold's story. Gregor's world grew later, during further drafts. The details of his work, where he lived, the people around him. 

I find that structure is always the thing that takes the most work in any narrative. How to balance it. How to feed story out the right way. How to deliver alternating viewpoints and so on. 
'Everything' was quite a challenge, in that there are also the Irish characters, and glimpses into the world of the crime boss, for example. But then, that's what we often get in life. Only glimpses of people. Only some detail, from which we draw our assumptions about them.  


Rhonda(1): Gregors story broke my heart coming to a strange country seeking a better life for him his wife&then the baby.&seeing it all falling apart.His desperation his attempt to save his family &the tragic outcome seems ripped from today's headlines.

CJ: It might seem ripped from today's headlines, but I started writing this book around 2009. People try to better their lot. There are fairy tales, of lands of milk and honey... Human beings are built to push outward. Hasn't this always been the case? 

Rhonda(1): I agree there has always been the dreams of streets paved in gold today it just seems more desperate more necessary to escape the horror,so sorry I just noticed I butchered Grzegorz, name, 


Norris: Hi Cynan, One of the aspects I most enjoy in both "Everything I Found on the Beach" and in your other fiction is how important employment is to revealing character. I'm thinking of Grzegorz and the slaughterhouse, Hold and his fishing and rabbit hunting, in "The Dig" Daniel's work on the farm and how his wife's absence there breaks him down, the boy's pride and fear that his dog will embarrass him on the dig. Is giving jobs to your characters a deliberate decision when you begin a new story?

Also, while I haven't read "Hawkfall," George Mackay Brown's novel "Greenvoe" is one of my favorites for how each character's section builds the novel into a picture of a community. You mentioned that structuring and finding the balance between multiple narratives is a particularly difficult part of writing; are there any novels that you consider as doing this well?

CJ: Other than those we're very close to, we generally understand people through what they do. I tend to write about people who work physically, rather than - for example - a psychiatrist, or a lawyer. Character, then, can be revealed through action. I'm interested in how we're defined to an extent by the jobs we do, sometimes even for the few hours we do them, our character altering to navigate the task at hand. The juxtaposition between what we want to do and what we have to do, and how we develop strategies to deal with that compromise. And sometimes how we have to persuade ourselves that what we are doing is utterly vital.
I've not read "Greenvoe", having only just come to George Mackay Brown, but it's straight on my list! Interestingly, when structure works right, you're often less aware of it, so you've got me thinking now.
One book - not a novel but a collection of short stories - that blew me away, in terms of the structural (eliptically narrative) magic trick it pulls off, is Paweł Huelle's "Cold Sea Stories". Amazing. 

TNBBC: Congrats Cynan! EIFotB is a Top 10 Critics Choice for the year over at the Star Tribune! How exciting.. and perfectly timed : )

http://www.startribune.com/the-50-bes... 

CJ: Great to know a book I wrote (what seems like such) a while ago is still making friends. I tend to move on from the things I write quickly, so it's quite an exercise, this: trying to answer questions in a way true to the time of writing!
You're going to have to excuse me for a while now, though. Rugby: Wales v. South Africa is about to kick off. Back after the game! 

TNBBC: Hey everyone, it's the final few hours of the discussion. If you have any lingering last minute questions, now's the time to get them in. 

Cynan, I want to thank you so much for hanging out with us all week long, taking on our questions and even posing a few of your own. I loved being able to get a little deeper into the novel and your overall writing process! 

A true heartfelt thanks, too, for having an interest in our little group and in working with your publisher to make the copies available for our members! 

CJ: It was a pleasure. Thanks to all who joined in. Let's do it again when The Long Dry comes out, next Spring!
Meanwhile, all the best from Wales. 

TNBBC: Sounds like a plan, Cynan! 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Page 69: I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....








In this installment of Page 69, 







Set up page 69 for us (what are we about to read):

Page 69 of occurs about three-fourths of the way through a story called “End Times,” which is told from the perspective of a woman who can see into the future, past her own death (of natural causes at an early age), to the year 2033 when the world comes to an end. Her vision of the future focuses on her husband, Aaron, and teenage son, Cole, and how they will cope with the environmental catastrophes leading up to the apocalypse, as well as their shared grief of the protagonist’s absence.  On page 69 itself, Aaron visits the protagonist’s gravesite while struggling to function under the weight of a change in Earth’s gravity (one of the signs the end of the world is approaching).





What’s the book about?

I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking is a collection of short stories that twins the mundane with the bizarre in a variety of different settings. The stories aren’t linked and the characters do not all occupy the same universe, but they all share the common thread of something being very off in an otherwise very normal situation. For example, in “End Times” Aaron and Cole continue on with their domestic routines (school, clubs, homework, work, meals, shopping, etc.) while the world literally crumbles around them. These juxtapositions were a lot of fun to write. And I hope they’re fun to read. Most of the stories are pretty dark, but there’s humor to that darkness, and absurdity. 





Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking about? Does it align itself with the books overall theme?

Very much so! Page 69 begins with this sentence “As Cole gets out of the car, Aaron will hand him his book bag, then his octopus bucket, and wish him good luck in his international negotiations.” That’s pretty typical. Cole is on his way to a Model United Nations meeting at his high school, but he’s also got a baby octopus with him, which he rescues earlier in the story and then keeps with him in a bucket for the duration. That’s the way it is for the rest of the book, too. Pretty much every primary character in each story has their own octopus in a bucket, so to speak – something that’s evidence of them being pulled out of their normal, everyday routine. But they don’t ever want to acknowledge it. Cole just goes along, acting as if having an octopus in a bucket is totally normal. It’s just like the title of the collection. These are characters, throughout, who can see that others around them are in trouble, but refuse to acknowledge the trouble that knocks at their own door. 





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PAGE 69 
I'M FINE BUT YOU APPEAR TO BE SINKING





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Leyna Krow lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband and daughter. I'm Fine, But You Appear toBe Sinking is her first book. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

#AuthoReadeR Discussion with James Boice


Back in January, TNBBC had the opportunity to host a week-long discussion with James Boice about his latest novel, The Shooting

During that time, we discussed the book's relevance to the gun violence and media madness that was running rampant through the country, the use of certain vulgarities in literature and how readers respond to it, and the influence our parenting styles have in shaping who our children are.

This is the week-long, in its entirety:



TNBBC: First, welcome James! We're thrilled to have you here and really appreciate the time you're taking out of your schedule to hang with us all week long. 

The Shooting could not have been released at a more relevant time. It has all the hot topics - Caucasian man vs African American youth, gun culture and the "media spin" on gun violence - it could have been ripped right from today's news. 

But it also comes five years after your last novel The Good and the Ghastly: A Novel. Were you writing The Shooting throughout that entire time frame? Did our current crazytimes influence any rewrites or edits to more accurately reflect what's happening? 

James Boice: Hi Lori and TNBBC, thanks for having me here and for reading The Shooting. I'm excited to talk to you all about it. 
I started The Shooting in January 2013, which was a few weeks after Newtown. Before then, after the other horrible gun massacres over the previous 15 or 20 years I had thought about our guns vaguely but never really intensely. Newtown changed that immediately, and I could not think of anything else. That nightmare revealed, at last, what a pathology we live with in this culture. And I wanted to explore it. I had to, in order to be able to function in a society where sudden, spectacular death and violence were becoming the norm in the most unexpected places. 
So between my previous novel, The Good and the Ghastly, which was published in 2011 and starting this book in January 2013, I was sketching out other projects. I even wrote a few novel-length manuscripts. None really came to life for me, though. I knew this one was different as soon as I started it. It felt serious and rich and meaningful. 
And, most surprising, I was shocked to learn that no one had written a literary fiction novel against the landscape of our gun violence and gun culture before. That seemed inexplicable, as guns are such a huge chunk of how we Americans see ourselves and their effect on our lives is immense. And their existence in our culture is such a source of division. Guns force death on us. That's literature right there. So I wanted to be the first to write about this in a novel. 

Diane: I live in Denver where we have had more than our share of horrific shootings with Columbine, Platt Canyon and Aurora. Going into this I was worried that this would be more than familiar. You Sir, had me at cunt and didn't let me go until after I turned the last page. This story resonated with me on many different levels. Thank you for starting off my 2017 with a bang.

One thing I am wondering is why you chose not to disclose the area where Lee grew up (the Mountain) or where the Doctor was originally from. All other locations seemed very specific. 

JB: Little known Hollywood film fact: "You had me at cunt" was actually what was in the first draft of the script of Jerry Maguire. Test audience were a little confused, I guess, so they changed it to hello. 
I think the locations had to be left unspecified (though they are hinted at indirectly). In the case of the Mountain, for Lee the Mountain is the past. Its exact real location being left unspecified makes it that much more blurry, that much more unreliable of a memory. And therefore, for Lee, the subject of reinterpretation, and misinterpretation. He bases his life and who he is on a past he misremembers -- a myth. So the vagueness helps with that. 
In the Doctor's case, that "blurring" of his home country's location serves to show how tunnel-visioned and almost narcissistic our American perspective of the world can be. As far as we're concerned, there is us and then there is everyone else. There is us, and then there is the world. The Other. We don't like the Other much. They're not America, they're not worth knowing about, we probably don't even have to both knowing the names of their countries. Until we're forced to. 


Deanna: Hi James, first off this is a great book and I am already letting an office mate borrow it, because it really moved me. first question, it seems like 'To kill a Mockingbird ' was an inspiration for you Was that as a writer in general? Or just an inspiration for this particular novel? Secondly, was there a reason the parents fate was left unfinished? 

JB: That's very kind, thank you. I love To Kill a Mockingbird and think it probably was an inspiration in that it sets it story in the landscape of an ugly, deep seated facet of American culture. And its characters are all portrayed as complicated, fully formed human beings, rather than archetypes. It is a story about the human heart as much as the social issues it involves. Therefore it transcends its time, though it involves timely things. So that was certainly the very high bar I was trying to reach. 
I'm not sure if I interpreted the parents' fate as being unfinished. I think we can project into the future a little bit and see how they have lived their lives might help them after we leave them. 


Chris: Good morning James. I want to thank you for the opportunity to read The Shooting and discuss it with you. 

Obviously it is not a feel good book. Also, there are no good "good"- or ""bad" characters. I find them all "displaced, traumatized " characters. I thought calling the chapters Steeple 1, 2 - was exactly correct. (I learned a new word which I will definitely use. )

I do sense you are not pro Second Amendemment. I was also the same, but I am waive ring. I was raised in California where having a gun was not mentioned and not approved. We moved to Arkansas- not because of any gun laws or restrictions. Gun safety is a very high concern here. More important than guns, however, is family. The family here is still more important than anything. That is what the characters all seemed to be missing. That is except for Clayton. I think that is the shame of our country - the lose of family love and support. 

Lee wanted family and grasped whatever he could to create his family. Too bad it was a false value of a gun. Jenny wanted her family back and blamed it on guns rather than people. Clayton's parents still had each other. They could survive.

I think you did a very good job covering all three sides. I felt they all made mistakes and had to pay for them.

Did I understand it correctly?

JB: Thanks for a very insightful take. I wanted to write a story about people, about humans -- and I wanted to avoid writing an essay or diatribe disguised as a story. Writing an essay about guns was different from writing a story about people with guns, which is what this book is. People are very complicated, with complicated reasons for doing what they do and believing what they believe -- and for hurting one another. That's human nature. So, as far as fiction is concerned, the gun debate is a nice little stage for human nature to play out. 

Rhonda: Good morning James ,I was drawn in from the first pages.Your descriptive writing the horror we are facing with the ease of gun acquisition.Reading your book was similar to reading newspaper headlines daily. 

While writing on a really dark subject how do you get away from it.what type of books do you read while writing? 

JB: This did take a lot out of me -- I think I'm still recovering. In the early stages of working on it, I was reading a lot about the history of the Second Amendment and of guns in America. Two especially useful ones were Gun Fight by Adam Winkler and Gunning of America by Pamela Haag. And then as for fiction I was reading a lot of American noir -- from Raymond Chandler up through Richard Price. The first book of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard was influential with regard to Lee's relationship with his father. I reread some Stephen Dixon, who I admire and steal from always. I also remember reading Lolita and Crime and Punishment. I am sure those had their influence somehow. So, no, not a lot of light material to give me a break from the intensity of what I was working on. It's hard to get away from the material, especially when it is so prevalent in real life -- I guess I have gotten fairly good over the years at just turning it off when I'm not working and focusing on other pressing concerns, like family, day jobs, other practical matters. 

Chris: The Shooting does a very good job in showing that not everyone handles situations, grief, or even joy the same. For every situation you can look back and say "well he could have or should have done it this way". But that is what makes us all different, because we see it differently. We all have different luggage we carry with us. 

Is there any true events that influenced the story? 

JB: Some true events that influenced the story are George Zimmerman's shooting of Travyon Martin and also another particular shooting: A friend of a friend lost his teenage son when the neighborhood mistook him for a home invader. The neighbor was white. The son was black. The son had snuck out of the house to go to a party, and when he came home he was drunk and confused and he snuck back into the wrong house -- the neighbor's. It was a neighborhood where the homes are similar. At the very sight of him, the neighbor, who was a big gun rights proponent, shot him several times, even in the back, until he was dead. He recognized the kid, but that didn't matter to him. And there was no fall out from it. He never even felt the need to apologize. The only consequence was a dead, good kid. The guy was within his rights, our society decided. Our society said what happened was okay. He was a good kid who made a mistake and it cost him and his family everything. 

This was a uniquely American tragedy, an incongruent aspect to what we like to think of as the greatest country in the world. It's something we just don't like to talk about or think about, because it does not gibe with the myths we tell ourselves about who we are. 



Chris: If you don't mind me getting a little off the book- I think it is not the gun that is the poison in our society - it is the lust for violence. Movies, commercials, television, commuters, games all intice the watchers to violence under the guise of entertainment. It becomes the cool way of life. What popular game is not blowing someone up or killing.? I had written a lot more but it really had nothing to do with the book. 


Deanna: Thank you, I just felt up in the air with Clayton's parents as far as would they be able to stay or not, but I see your point, as long as they have each other, they will make it through. Another question for you, did you start out with Jenny feeling the need to "martyr" herself? Also, Jenny was all for the ammo tax as a solution, is this an idea that has been brought up in the fight for gun control, or is it fiction? The whole book felt so real, I kept forgetting it was a work of fiction and not reality. 

JB: I did not know what would happen to Jenny when I started out -- in fact it took a few drafts before I realized the right end to her story. That was the missing piece to the novel for some time. I don't typically know where I'm going when I'm working on something. I might have a vague notion but I don't outline or anything like that. I feel my way along, allowing for revelations and happy accidents. 
As far as I know there has not been a serious effort to instill an ammo tax. Maybe in some localities like New York City there have been. Would it work? Conventional wisdom says no, that the only thing more politically treacherous in this country than trying to introduce gun control legislation is trying to introduce a new tax. Trying to enact gun control via taxation would be like Lena Dunham trying to become governor of Mississippi. But we live in mindblowing, inexplicable times, so who can say for sure where popular support will do, especially as the mass shootings not only continue but worsen, with the no one else interested or capable of doing anything about it? 


Book Concierge: Hi, James .. thanks for the opportunity to read and discuss your book with you.

I notice in the author blurb that you've previously published three novel with Scribner. What made you decide to go with an independent press this time around? 

JB: Unnamed Press was really passionate about the book and really got it and I really connect with my editor there, Chris. That was what I wanted and needed for The Shooting -- passion and attention from someone capable of helping me make the book as good as it could be. That's all you can ask for from a publisher. It's hard to find that. So when you do find it, you hold on to it and don't let go. 

TNBBC: Great conversation going on here! What a cool thing to come home to!

James, I enjoyed hearing the story behind the events that influenced your novel, though it's such a shame to hear it was someone close enough to you to have had such an impact. And also upsetting to know that you are correct in how our culture perceives right and wrong and where the "right" falls in the eyes of the gun wielder as well. 

I think one of the things I liked the most about The Shooting is how you give us the wider, ripple-effect perspective of that particular act of gun violence. It's the stuff we never hear about in the media, the painful part of what events led us up to the shooting and how that shooting's aftermath moves through the families and communities. 

It was devastating at times, and incredibly eye opening. 

JB: The ripple-effect thing was something that really broke the book open for me when I finally stumbled upon it. I was thinking a lot about how we misunderstand each other, or ourselves. And the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. We live in our own versions of realities. Something happens and one person's version of what happened is completely different from the next person's. That feels more and more true today. 
Also, I was interested in the bigger scheme of things -- the cosmic mechanism of the universe, to get all hippie about it. We might think we understand cause and effect, but we often do not, because we cannot see beyond our limited perspective. So it's interesting we think we have enough information to make fatal decisions about who's a bad guy and who's a good guy. I was interested in what "bad guy" truly means. And what "good guy" truly means. They are not as simple as some would like it to be. 

Rhonda: Clayton his parents stay with me.Everytime an innocent child is killed especially the slaughter in Chicago the sadness of parents hysterical in front of the cameras.also the fact that Claytons father was a physician but do to our bureaucratic laws could not practice.This family seems to have jumped off the front pages. 

The good guy bad guy concept the label is something I do think about.My husband has been a prosecutor &Then a criminal defense attorney.When you see both sides when you meet victims ,defendants things are not quite as easy to judge.My husband is often faced with the question how can you defend criminals which shows how society judges anyone charged with a crime. 


Chris: I am maybe going out on a ledge here, but I did not find a definitive bad guy. The closest I could come to bad guy was Lee's father. I saw how each other character could have done something different to change the outcome. Lee was processing thoughts as he was taught. Clayton's family should have made sure every tenant knew about his sleepwalking. Lee should have realized he was in need of help and if not there were people he dealt with that knew. 

I think Jenny went to far telling her workers to check Clayton's family papers. That was blackmail.

As I said before everyone has a flaw. That was the beauty of this story. I don't think you could really hate anyone - except for those that raped Clayton's mom. It was a well balanced story. 

Thank you James for an almost unbiased novel on a very important issue. I say almost unbiased because we all have biases and they are not necessarily bad. 


Book Concierge: She more than had them check ... she forced them to state they were illegal when the attorneys told her - TWICE - that the papers were in good order. She just out and out wanted revenge. 


Chris: I think she wanted to have her way and did not really care about the hurt the family was feeling. She used them for her own devices - which she justified to herself that was best for them 


Tiffany: Hi James! I enjoyed the story you presented. To delve so deep into such a current controversial topic right now takes a lot of guts. I did find one issue (that I obviously got over it). Do you not like quotation marks? In the beginning of the story I struggled to figure out what was being said and what was being thought. If forced me to read with much more thought. 

In the first section of the book, the use of the "c word" surprised me. I am not at all offended by that word. It is just so taboo. Did you plan on using this word from the beginning and if so, did you ever get negative reactions about this word? 

Other than the aforementioned To Kill A Mockingbird, do you have any other influences in your writing? In your off time who do you like to read? 

JB: I started doing that with the m-dash instead of quotation marks way early on when I first started writing. I found quotes really messed me up, they threw me off my rhythm or took me out of what I was doing. Whatever the reason, I found m-dashes to be the solution. So I've always done that. I forget it's unusual. Some others do it. A lot of Irish writers, I think. And I think Marlon James does it too sometimes. And Rick Moody. 
The use of the c-word was intentional -- it's so insulting and nasty and hideous and offensive and denigrating that it was exactly what Jenny's misogynistic male enemies would use against her to try and shut her up. I did not enjoy typing it over and over, of course. It still makes me wince to see it on the page. No one's yet to give me guff about it, probably because they understand how I'm using it and what it serves. 

TNBBC: James, earlier in the conversation, Book Concierge poised the question about the switch from a larger publisher to a smaller one. 

As a huge fan of the small press community, and of NYC, I have to ask... what are some of your favorite readings or events to hit up in the city? Do you do the 'literary scene' thing very often? 


JB: Franklin Park Reading Series out in Crown Heights, Brooklyn is great -- as is its sister series called Manhattanville Reading Series. That's my old neighborhood, where I wrote The Shooting. Penina Roth runs both and she's impressive, she literally walks up and down the main drag there handing out flyers and talking up authors and books to anyone who will listen. From almost literally nothing she has created very fun events with A-list writers. She's a soldier of literature. 
I don't really do the literary scene -- I'll do readings and store events when I have a book out, but otherwise I lay low and try to focus on the work at hand because it can all be very distracting. 


TNBBC: I keep meaning to get out to one of Penina's events. She does have some very impressive line ups for her series. I'm also a fan of the KGB bar as a lit space. I've gone to a few of their fiction readings.

Where do you find you do most of your writing? Is it at home in a particular space? Do you write on the go? Do the 'environmentals' matter much to you (quiet, white noise, music)? 


JB: Mostly at home. In Brooklyn I had a little space in our apartment to work. I'd write in the morning then head off to a day job in an office. That's how I wrote The Shooting. But now we're in Jersey City which lets me have an entire room with a door, which is luxurious.
Though the challenge these days is finding the time -- we have a 14 month old, and I've been home full time with her for the past year. She just started walking, which means I'm doing much more chasing after her than writing lately. 

Book Concierge: I have to tell you, James, if it were not for my having made a commitment to read and comment in this discussion, I would have stopped reading. Using it in the opening for effect was fine ... jarring and disturbing, yes, but understandable. Using it so often in the first few pages was really off-putting. I participate in six (yes, 6) F2F book discussion groups and I would not be able to recommend your book to any of them. Sorry ... 


Diane: I personally, have recommended this book to several people already. Yes, the use of the word cunt was excessive in the first chapter but I got it. It took a lot of grit as an author to do that because there are a lot of people that will stop reading and miss out on the point of the whole book. I do not particularly like the word but it wouldn't keep me from reading. I think the excessivness was like a slap in the face but I think that was the point and people like Jenny would grab on to something like that and use it like a mask. I am glad in subsequent chapters to was toned down so the reader could dive into the story. 


Chris: I don't like obscenity as a rule. However, when it is necessary for the development of character and not done out of context with the story I don't mind it. We all hear it in daily lives and to not use it in literature would be lessening the impact it the story. I do not think it was excessive , just descriptive. 


Rhonda: As shocking as the word is it was used not only to shock but also to establish character to get you right into the story.No denying that it is an extremely ugly word.Literature is not for the meek& if anyone finds something makes them uncomfortable it can lead to interesting discussions like we are having or you can choose to move on to another book. 


Diane: This is the quote that most resonated with me. I really love how beautifully put this is and feel it is how I try to live my life.

"...you see a thousand faces a day yet know nothing about the people they belong to; there is an entire universe behind each one and so you must have faith in all people, you are forced to, the only other choice is to build walls around yourself and live afraid - what a fool is one who decides what is in another man's heart, what a vulgarian is one who ever presumes anything about anyone." 

JB: Diane, I'm glad to hear that resonated with you. That's Clayton's father, whose worldview I found myself really admiring. What I had in mind when I was working on the book was that he and Lee have two polar opposite worldviews. His is faith. Lee's is fear. I think the novel lives in the tension between the two. 

Book Concierge: I absolutely DO understand what James was going for in using the c-word. It was a brave choice and definitely fit the context and the theme of the book. We SHOULD be uncomfortable with violence in our society. But ...

It IS off-putting ... and I think there are many readers who will stop reading because of its use. That's too bad, because what James is saying in the book needs to be said and people need to read about and understand what is going on in the world. 


TNBBC: Wow, so much conversation around the word "cunt". I love it! I love it for its shock value and because any book that contains multiple vulgar, crass language instantly pulls me in. (Ian McGuire's The North Water had a ridiculous amount of f-bombs in the first few pages and it was awesome!)

I do agree, James' novel says the things that needs to be said, and does so in a way that is meant to make you gasp, and then immediately reflect. It's a wake up call. He's holding a mirror to America's face and saying "we have an issue. this is an issue. it can't be allowed to continue". 


Book Concierge: One thing that sort of caught me off guard was Lee's response to becoming a father. He was such a recluse and my impression was that he was mentally ill; certainly his version of reality was very different from other people's, and it seemed he had audio and visual hallucinations. Yet, he appeared to be taking care of his son adequately. We never hear any allegations that the child was not fed, or kept clean and warm. (Of course, I worry that the cycle Lee endured in his own childhood will be repeated...) 

Anyway ... for me, this served to "humanize" Lee ... to make him less of a monster ... less of a "crazy man." 

Bravo, James, for adding this level of complexity to your character. 

JB: Thanks! I think of Lee as being motivated by the same things most of us are. One of those is keeping his child safe. Being a good father is very important to him. He wants to try and correct what he missed out on in the relationship with his own father. But also, being a good father gibes with how he sees himself, the kind of man he thinks he is. He protects his child -- that's the kind of man he is. He protects himself and his community. He takes on that burden, in his view. He's noble and heroic, in his mind. Which is what leads to the tragedy at the center of the story. So that tension between how he sees himself and how his life actually is and the effects on others is interesting and meaningful to me. 


Diane: I agree, it was like he wanted to be everything for his son that his father was not for him. 


Chris: I heard one time that children are a reflection of the values of their parents. Lee would give that saying some validity. His only connection to the world was a mentally sick man. He did not understand compassion, or any value that his father did not have the capability to teach. I least understood Lee's fathers character. He seemed to be drugged up and drunk. I couldn't get where he was coming from. I did not now what the mountain of trash was. Was that actually where they lived or was that what he was? If it was where they lived then it doesn't fit with the money they had. If it was a state of mind, I understand it more


Diane: One thing I found interesting was how one person's memory of an event was so different from another's memory of the same event. (such as the relationship between Maureen and Lee) It really shows that our memories are tainted and biased with our own thoughts and experiences. What is reality? If 3 people experience the same thing, and all remember it slightly different, who has the most reliable account of the experience?  You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself Really speaks to this phenomenon and is an interesting look at the human mind and how it perceives things. 


JB: I hadn't heard of that book, it definitely looks interesting. 
I like narratives in which we get more than one version of the same event, and I also like when we follow unexpected side characters to see the fallout of what we've seen, or the surprising reasons for what we've just seen. I think that serves empathy, which is a good thing to strive for in fiction and which we all could use larger reserves of. 

Diane: Well you were successful in that matter. I enjoyed that aspect of your story. I felt it made your writing style different from the things I usually read. O have not read anything else you have written, is this technique something you incorporate in your other books? 

JB: Hi Diane, I have incorporated that technique into previous books and stories, though not all of them. It is certainly something I keep returning to, form-wise. My first novel MVP is one example that comes to mind. 
Diane: I will check it out soon. Thanks, it has been interesting participating in the discussion this week. I appreciate you candor and insight. 


Danita L: Hello James -

I apologize for being, what may seem, late to the party. I've had one of those mind- and body-leveling colds which threatens sanity and has you hoping for another existence on a separate plane of reality. 
Although I have been absent in the comments, I have been at the party, just hiding in the wings watching and reading.

Congratulations on the book! It rattled my comfortable reading pattern and except for sleep, I carried it everywhere and was not prepared for the feeling that I could not put it down when finished but actually had to return to various points and chapters. Not because I was confused on any issue but just to soak in a few of the passages and make notes.

A few of my questions were answered along the way here in our discussions but I still have a couple of items to chime in on and hope that it isn't 'too late in the day'.

I'll phrase them separately for convenience in discussion for yourself and for the other members of the group. Thanks so much for joining us. :) 

Danita L: I feel that I must return to your frequent and BOLD use of the word CUNT! in the beginning pages. I realize your intent in using the word. I am not much offended by profanity as I completed a 2-year dissertation studying profanity and slang language and can sound as bad as ‘a sailor’. Nonetheless, I find this word the most offensive word in the English language. And as Book Concierge pointed out previously, I would not have persevered in reading had I not made a commitment to do so. I simply perceive those pages as being written for shock-value as neither the language nor the opponents’ extreme perception of her in this way are repeated in other places in the book except for one brief mention towards the end.

I did work through those pages, however, and was glad that I did so. Nonetheless, I need to make a few observations. As authors, we are inherently driven to write, you might say. Prior to publication, there is a need to express ourselves and thus, the act of writing can be cathartic. But then, the bottom-line is that there are two results expected by the writer upon publication. One is the hope and expectation of sales. An author lays bare their talents and emotions to the public much as a visual artist. Rejection is not wanted; positive reviews and successful sales are a prime motive.

Secondly, in writing on such a passionate subject as you have, you obviously wish to expose to the audience your views and reveal the madness beneath our gun culture. As a former bookstore owner, I know that many readers will peruse the first few pages of a book prior to purchase, whether it is a printed book or e-book. By opening in the way that you have, I feel that a very large proportion of the reading public will discard the book and not purchase or read it - thus halting not only reviews and sales but also the intent to get readers involved.

The Shooting was originally published in March, 2016 and yet from Amazon and Goodreads the number of reviews are extremely low with few ratings as well. Do you ever feel that The Shooting would have more success in all those areas, had the pages of Jenny Sander’s reflections on her opponents’ view of her come just a bit later in the book, giving the readers momentum to continue?

And should you have another printing, WOULD you consider making that change as the author's license to do so? 

JB: No, I would not change what I have written to increase sales. I stand by my work.
Danita L: I had hoped you would answer my question with a 'no' regarding a change in the opening of The Shooting. The question was a 'slider' which is why I capitalized the word 'WOULD' in the wording. Although I do feel the opening will put off many individuals, it is important for authors to believe in their work with integrity. Thank you for confirming that. 

I saw the title of The Shooting as not just encompassing Lee and Clayton but also that of the shooting of Michelle and the shooting of Jenny. It was ordained from the beginning that Jenny would die.

There is nothing Jenny Sanders would not do to save us. Nothing at all.

It seems that Jenny may also suffer from guilt the way many people do when they lose a loved one - as if their being at the scene might have saved the deceased - even though it is an irrational guilt. Is her enfolding of the term 'cunt' a part of her own view of herself in that irrational guilt? 

And was Jenny's death at the end also a sign of that - in order to return to the arms of Michelle as a 'good mother'? 

JB: Yeah, I think those are good assessments. I can agree with those. 


Danita L: I live in Montana and except for a 10-15 year time frame when I lived in the Seattle area, I was born and raised here and have lived here all my life.

Montana was the final home of the 'UNaBOMber', Ted Kaczynski and also the setting for the kidnapping of Kari Swenson by the survivalists, Don and Dan Nichols. My father was a 30-year policeman during those years. And Ryan Zinke, our in-coming new Interior Secretary, campaigned for Senator on his 20 + year career as a Navy Seal Commander and won with an overwhelming victory. (As though that is a necessary trait to understanding and representation in government.)

I was raised in the presence of guns, used to shoot with such a high precision that I was considered for the US Olympic shooting team. But that was not my direction. My father was embarrassed to realize that I was a hippy loving, make peace not war, tree-hugging environmentalist, lol

Montana is definitely a gun culture state. And I grew up here. I am not a proponent of repealing the second amendment. That amendment was based on a similar British law at the time and at this time, is part of our legacy. The resistance to a direct repeal would be overwhelming. But I am however, a strong advocate of gun control, licensing, regulations and strict background checks.

The second amendment did not allow for AK-47s and 50-round 9mm Glocks. Those guns' sole purpose is to kill fellow beings. At the time the constitution was written, we were using single shot muzzle-loading musket-ball rifles. (Well, I’m off on a gun-control tear now.)

My point is that your book is an excellent portrayal of how ingrained violence is to the American people. How accepting we are of weekly “mass shootings, accidental shootings, gang shootings, police shootings” and how common they are becoming. A new book is coming out in May titled Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth by Holger Hoock. It looks directly at our revolution for independence, not the sanitized version that we are taught, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere on his horse racing through the night ‘the British are coming’, nor the glorious stance and pristine uniform of George Washington crossing a river untouched by the brutal violence of war; but instead facing the realities of our revolution, acts that would be considered war crimes today, of torture and starvation of the British.

I know you read much history of guns and violence in America. Did you find other books that looked so far back in our beginnings as the revolution and if so, was our heritage part of the development of The Shooting

JB: Yes, I did read a lot about the Revolution. One interesting revelation is that back then we not the gun culture we like to believe we were. When it came time to take up arms against the British, not enough people owned guns or knew how to use them. So they had to import them from France and hire Swedes to come show them how to use them. (I don't know why Swedes -- I guess back then they were the most proficient.) 

Rhonda: James,thanks for this terrific open discussion.  

Chris: As I mentioned before the profanity did not bother me. I was bothered by the characterization of Lee's father. I thought it too stereotypical of what people call red necks. I cannot imagine anyone not taking their child to the doctor or acting that it would toughen him up. I also can't imagine the school not dealing with it. Was that all in Lee' mind? 

Danita L: When Lee confronts his father at the end of the book, he sees several photos of himself in which he did not have the eye problem. There was no swelling or oozing. Additionally, there is information showing that other remembrances of Lee's may have been false including any conceptions that we may have of the father due to Lee's false memories i.e. having pigs at their place when according to the father, they never owned any pigs.

~ Pigs are too much trouble. They root around, dig their way out, eat anything and anybody. We didn't have them. We had a dairy cow. Some chickens. No pigs.

As Lee tries to argue about this, his father chuckles and points to another picture, one of Lee poking his head out the door of the barn and grinning from ear to ear. ~ I love this one. Lee peers close at it. His face is not swollen, there is nothing oozing. His eye is completely white and healthy. Lee feels dizzy. 


I even view the photograph of Lee looking out the barn door into the sunlight as being the same incident he 'remembers' as being trapped by his father in the barn and then stepping into the light thus suggesting that much of what he recalls of his father may be wrong, including the history of 'the' gun. 


TNBBC: James, I want to thank you so much for hanging with us all week. It was really cool to get behind the book and uncover the influences for the novel! You were an amazing guest!! 

JB: It's been a pleasure!