An interview with the author of The Distance from Four Points

Margo Orlando Littell didn’t plan on life imitating fiction. But that’s exactly what happened when she became a landlord in her hometown.

In Littell’s newest novel, The Distance from Four Points (paid link), a woman, Robin Besher, inherits decrepit rental properties in the rundown town where she grew up. Robin and her daughter, Haley, work to renovate the houses quickly so Robin can get out of town before anyone discovers her secret background as a teenage prostitute. But the past catches up to the present.

Littell wasn’t a landlord when she started writing The Distance from Four Points. She was…

An interview with the author of Neutral Evil )))

Lee Klein ate some marijuana edibles and went to see the experimental metal band Sunn O))) (pronounced “sun”) in concert. Then Klein wrote a book about it.

That novel, Neutral Evil ))), is now available from Sagging Meniscus Press. You can get your copy of Neutral Evil ))) here (paid link).

Neutral Evil ))) is a piece of autofiction, a fictionalized biography, about Klein’s experience at the Sunn O))) concert in March 2017, two months after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The true story of how the CIA got into book publishing

By Christine Kingery

How do you turn down the Nobel Prize for literature? The Swedish Academy bestowed the award upon Boris Pasternak, author of books such as Doctor Zhivago, in 1958. For Pasternak, the Nobel was the ultimate recognition-as an artist, humanitarian, and Russian. But for his country, the Prize didn’t mean glory; for the Soviet Union, the award meant sedition, an embrace of Western values over the importance of nation and communism.

Pasternak was on the wrong side of the political regime. At the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917…

The true story of how the legendary author helped save Paris’s famous landmark

By Andria Kennedy

“The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is doubtless still a sublime and majestic building. But, much beauty as it may retain in its old age, it is not easy to repress a sigh, to restrain our anger, when we mark the countless defacements and mutilations to which men and Time have subjected that venerable monument, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or Philip Augustus, who laid its last.”

These words open Book Three of Notre-Dame de Paris, known to the world as The Hunchback of Notre Dame — one of the epic classics penned…

An interview with the author of Shiner

Amy Jo Burns wanted to tell a story about people who feel forgotten. For that, she turned to the hills and, yes, the hollows, of West Virginia. The result is Burns’s debut novel Shiner (paid link).

Shiner features 15-year-old Wren Bird, who’s growing up with a domineering preacher father in the backwoods of West Virginia. From Burns’s website: “Over the course of one summer, a miracle performed by Wren’s father quickly turns to tragedy. As the order of her world begins to shatter, Wren must uncover the truth of her father’s mysterious legend and her mother’s harrowing history and complex…

A true and little-known tale about Toni Morrison

By Andrew Sanger

When Random House scored the rights to Muhammad Ali’s autobiography in 1970, they knew they had struck gold. At that time, Ali held an unparalleled level of worldwide fame (or infamy, considering his conflicts with the U.S. government) and was already widely thought of as one of the greatest athletes of all time. The book was a surefire hit. All Random House had to do was find the right editor to help pull the project together.

A pair of black boxing gloves
A pair of black boxing gloves
Photo by Bogdan Yukhymchuk on Unsplash

Initially, the job fell to Charles Harris, a pioneer in publishing works by Black authors and the man who had secured Ali’s book contract…

Was Stein a Nazi sympathizer, or someone doing what they had to do to survive?

On Oct. 24, 1934, the S.S. Champlain docked in New York City. Reporters crowded the port to receive the ship’s famous passenger, Gertrude Stein. Stein hadn’t stepped foot on American soil in 31 years.

Stein moved to Paris in 1903 with her brother, Leo. After six years, she moved in with Alice B. Toklas at 27 rue de Fleurus.

Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein | Library of Congress

There, Toklas and Stein collected art and hosted salons. They engaged with artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and writers, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce.

Stein, too, was a writer. Her first book, Three Lives

Dickens went from child laborer to world-famous author in 12 years’ time

Image for post
Image for post
Bidwell Hollow © 2020

John Dickens had a good job as a clerk for the British Navy. But he wasn’t good at handling money. Plus, he and his wife, Elizabeth, had seven kids. This family size and John’s ineptness put a financial strain on the Dickens household.

To help out, their oldest son, Charles, got a job a few days after he turned 12 on Feb. 7, 1824. Charles went to work at a shoe polish factory. His job was to paste labels on bottles, for which he earned six shillings a week. That’s about £18 today, or $23.

The money Charles earned wasn’t…

How ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ went from a bestselling book to classic film

Film crew and actors on the set of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’
Film crew and actors on the set of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’
Production of “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

John Steinbeck didn’t think movie studios would be interested in the book he was writing. On Jul. 5, 1938, Steinbeck sent a letter to his agent. “I am quite sure no picture company would want this new book whole and it is not for sale any other way,” Steinbeck wrote. “It pulls no punches at all and may get us all into trouble but if so — so. That’s the way it is.”

But it turned out that Steinbeck didn’t write an ordinary book. The Grapes of Wrath came out on Apr. 14, 1939. It captivated readers with its story…

An interview with the author of ‘Days of Distraction’

Cover of “Days of Distraction” and photo of Alexandra Chang
Cover of “Days of Distraction” and photo of Alexandra Chang
Bidwell Hollow © 2020

Alexandra Chang wrote a novel about a young Asian American woman discovering herself in present-day America. The book, Days of Distraction, touches on issues such as racism and xenophobia.

Days of Distraction came out on March 31, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The timing’s not ideal for Chang, a debut novelist. But it’s also a moment when some Asian Americans describe verbal and intimidating assaults from people who blame them for the crisis.

In other words, people are witnessing in the open some of the things Chang wrote about in Days of Distraction. …

Nicholas E. Barron

Focused on writing, books, and storytelling. Newsletter for readers and writers: Pronouns: he, him, his 🏳️‍🌈

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