A Word About Writing


An Interview with Norman Lock, by Celia Johnson

Imagine: Mark Twain’s classic characters Huck and Jim get swept through time, into the future, on the raft they share. They witness and, like curious tourists, explore the changes on shore. And they experience all sorts of tragedy and revelations on their journey. It’s an unusual concept for a novel, but Norman Lock is a master of the unusual. Cast through his inimitable creative lens, this novel is much more than a unique concept. It’s a rich, textured story that’ll leave you unsteady on your feet, as any great water adventure should. I spoke with Lock about the inspiration behind his novel, his research (an old job as a yacht builder copywriter comes into play), and how his characters negotiate different periods in time. There’s an excerpt from the novel after the interview, too.

Boy in His Winter Cover
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An Interview with Brendan Kiely, by Celia Johnson

New York Times bestselling author Colum McCann describes The Gospel of Winter as “both unflinching and redemptive.” Unflinching is a word that often came to my mind as I read Brendan Kiely’s debut novel. His protagonist, Aidan Donovan, is the victim of sexual abuse. And there are other problems. He dabbles in drugs and is, like most teens, clumsily trying to figure out his own sexuality. Donovan isn’t the only flawed character in Kiely’s book. In fact, none are simply heroes. But therein lies the beauty, at those points when some of his most troubled characters commit truly heroic acts. The Gospel of Winter was published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, a Young Adult imprint at Simon & Schuster, but as I discussed with Kiely, among other things, this book, in its unflinching sophistication, is clearly for adults, too.

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An Interview with Peter Levine, by Celia Johnson

Years ago we published a story called “Havasu” by Peter Levine. I distinctly remember accepting it because it was one of those rare cases when the entire editorial team roots for a piece. “Havasu” is a comical tale about a visit to a masseuse. The protagonist, Cody, is led astray by his own assumptions about Tom Mahoney, who, it seems, can do no wrong. The Appearance of a Hero, Levine’s debut book, is a collection of stories about Tom Mahoney. These tales are as much about a man who soars most tragically into myth, as they are about his influence on the people around him. Levine spoke to me candidly about being a writer, from his creative process to the business of getting published.

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An Interview with Vanessa Blakeslee, by Celia Johnson

There isn’t one unifying factor to tie together the stories in Vanessa Blakeslee’s Train Shots, and therein lies its appeal. Each story is its own universe, a vivid and sometimes graphic arena, where characters deal with break-ups, violence, suicide, and more. Blakeslee, a Slice alum,  doesn’t shy away from the gritty underbelly of life, though she also pinpoints in dark moments elements of hope. I spoke to Blakeslee about her superb endings (you’ll carry them with you), her disparate subject matter, and her creative process.

A train driver who hits a woman on the tracks, a mother dealing with a violent son, a man who has lost his lung… Your stories are broad-spanning, and yet you offer intimate details about each character. Which characters do you feel closest to in this collection, and which were the most difficult to capture?

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An Interview with Clifford Chase, by Celia Johnson

It’s impossible to simply assign a category to Clifford Chase’s work. His prose is undeniably groundbreaking. And even that description doesn’t seem enough. Chase’s new memoir, The Tooth Fairy, was composed with staccato flair. Each sentence, each paragraph offers a brief snippet, of memories, observations, emotions, and more. And Chase brings it all together for a text that is at once universal and yet completely his own. Readers should follow writer Lisa Cohen’s advice: “Read this book out loud.” Chase spoke to me about being a misfit, writing and grief, and why his next book feels like a flying roller coaster.

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An Interview with Lynne Tillman, by Brian Gresko

Sentence connoisseurs hold Lynne Tillman in high regard. A virtuosic stylist, Tillman writes sentences that weave and twist, sometimes telescoping upon themselves such that a reader ends up in unexpected territory or finds that the end of the construction somehow contradicts the beginning. They come so close to capturing the quick pulse and spiraling nature of thought that they seem to lift off the page and speak—and what stories they tell. Tillman’s inquisitive, neurotic characters hold forth on music, politics, art, and culture while dropping hints about frustrated desires and past traumas, and these clues gradually congeal into a narrative. In Tillman’s most recent novel, American Genius, A Comedy, as the protagonist ruminates at length on topics from the Manson murders to skin diseases, a mystery of sorts unfolds regarding her setting—an ashram, an artists’ retreat, or a mental institution, it’s not entirely clear—her companions, and past wounds caused by her mother and a cat. From her first novel, Haunted Houses—reissued by Red Lemonade along with four of her other novels—to last year’s collection, Someday This Will Be Funny, Tillman has explored how the mind creates and understands history both personal and cultural. Slice spoke to Tillman in hopes of uncovering the seeds of inspiration for her unique work. It turns out that the author’s tastes—from Marilyn Monroe to Michel Foucault—are as wide-ranging as those of her characters.

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