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The second summer of conversations recorded at the Sewanee Writers' Conference continues with playwright Rachel Bonds, who tells James about finding her voice in a one-act, using jealousy as a job coach, being on the writing treadmill, and recognizing the struggles of those close to us. Plus, actor and Performing Prose co-founder Sean McIntyre. htt…
 
The second summer of conversations recorded at the Sewanee Writers' Conference continues with Tim O'Brien, who tells James about winning the National Book Award, writing THE THINGS THEY CARRIED while on a break from another book, not leaving a sentence until it's finished, being a father, knowing death, and recognizing the maybeness of it all. Plus…
 
The second summer of conversations recorded at the Sewanee Writers' Conference begins with James speaking with Marilyn Nelson, who has written poetry in many forms and for many audiences. Marilyn tells James about her fears of being pigeonholed as well as her love of musicality, embodying voices, and finding a way forward. Plus, Copper Canyon Execu…
 
Kevin Wilson's fifth book, the novel NOTHING TO SEE HERE, is a perfect combination of everything that made his previous work so singular: the humor and edge of THE FAMILY FANG, the intensity of his short fiction, and the heart and earnestness of PERFECT LITTLE WORLD. He and James talk depicting basketball, writing being fun and versatile, keeping i…
 
Calvin Hennick jokingly calls his memoir, ONCE MORE TO THE RODEO, "every thought I've ever had," and the book touches on fatherhood, manhood, race, family, alcohol, baseball, and countless other topics, all considered on a road trip to his childhood hometown with his young son. He talks to James about having the memoir roundly rejected until it won…
 
Two incredible authors discuss their debuts. First, Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne tells James about her Tennessee-set HOLDING ON TO NOTHING (Blair), reading while driving (?), Dolly Parton, time machines, and two beer guitars. Then Amy Kurzweil on her depiction of three generations, including her grandmother surviving the Holocaust, in FLYING COUCH: A…
 
Between his work as an ad writer and software developer, Mark Barr worked on a classic tale set in 1930s Tennessee that would become his debut novel, WATERSHED. He talks to James about being a Southern voice, identifying as a meat-and-potatoes stylist, setting quotas for his writing, breaking problems down into their smallest components, and fudgin…
 
The latest novel from Alix Ohlin, DUAL CITIZENS, depicts the lives of two sisters as they navigate family, art, love, and life. She tells James about the depicting the whoosh of time, rewatching Hitchcock's VERTIGO, recommitting yourself, establishing patterns, putting things into your basket, and missing wolf licenses. Plus, Alix's friend and agen…
 
It started as a short story in grad school, but Gabriel Urza kept coming back to what would eventually be his novella THE WHITE DEATH: AN ILLUSION. He talks to James about feeling like a child in the face of magic, having trouble extricating past from present, portraying the ambiguity of the supernatural, working through your problems when writing,…
 
It took Amanda Goldblatt eight years to write her debut novel, HARD MOUTH. The result is a brilliantly inventive work combining style with emotional impact and classic storytelling. She and James talk about their long friendship, cutting the apocalypse, summoning (or not) imaginary beings, making rules for novels, and remembering the books they rea…
 
The debut novel by Miciah Bay Gault, GOODNIGHT STRANGER, is an intoxicating mix of mystery and grief set in a sandy, salty place. And sexy triplets. She tells James about adjusting the level of magic, breaking the rules, sagging middles, writing as an act of faith, and facing the threat of writing something new. Plus, publicist Laura Gianino. - Mic…
 
In reporting several food articles, Kevin Alexander found the same stories coming up again and again: genius chefs opened one-of-a-kind restaurants in places like Portland and San Francisco, and in the on-rush of attention struggled to maintain their excellence. In short, we lived through a golden age of American cuisine that is now already over. T…
 
A random sign for free dogs inspired Mary Miller to drop a manuscript she'd been researching and create the character of Louis McDonald, Jr. for her hilarious and heartbreaking novel, BILOXI. She tells James about feeling indebted to her characters, teaching herself to write, looking in holes with her dog, needing to find joy, and reading with John…
 
Christian Kiefer had great reservations about writing his beautiful new book, PHANTOMS. He tells James how he found the story, and the steps he took to tell it. They also talk about capturing bear consciousness, being haunted by one's own work, finding joy in music and writing, and those troublesome flugelhornists. And then our old friend Christoph…
 
A night spent drinking and writing about his parents' divorce uncovered an urgent need in Stanford professor Jamil Zaki to author THE WAR FOR KINDNESS: BUILDING EMPATHY IN A FRACTURED WORLD. He and James talk about how empathy can literally grow parts of the brain, hating the term hard-wired, facing the problems of the world today, and (sigh) STAR …
 
Satire can be the last, best way to critique difficult topics, and Ryan Chapman's blistering novel, RIOTS I HAVE KNOWN, takes on, among other things, incarceration, literature's standing in the culture, and intellectual pretension. He and James talk novellas, using contemporary cultural references, writing to a melody, and publishing a book after w…
 
With the long road of a novel ahead of her, Julia Phillips mined her obsessions, and based her debut, DISAPPEARING EARTH, on her love of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula and her desire to portray the effects of violent acts on women. She and James talk about the cost of being horrified, the surprising realization that not everyone loves Soviet architec…
 
The dazzling, drunken, dirty (in an elegant, literary way) debut by Chip Cheek, CAPE MAY, is the result of a feverish writing spree and a measured revision process. Old friends Chip and James discuss learning to let go, having fun at the desk, selecting the right words in sex scenes, discovering characters through their dialogue, and changing ice c…
 
At first, she wrote essays as a distraction from her fiction, but over time, Grace Talusan felt the pull of the experiences that would form the foundation of her memoir, THE BODY PAPERS. From immigration to cancer to sexual abuse, the book depicts a life marked by trauma, and yet through it all there is humor, family, and hope. Grace tells James ho…
 
Back in episode 47, Whitney Scharer discussed the incredible sale of her debut, THE AGE OF LIGHT, and now, she and James discuss the actual novel, which depicts the relationship between Lee Miller and May Ray. They talk about creating fictional characters from real people, when she had her "Aha!" insight into Lee's psyche, cultural movements, Bosto…
 
In our final episode of our Sewanee Writers' Conference series recorded in the summer of 2018, James is joined by Christine Schutt, one of our greatest authors, to discuss her career from FLORIDA to her latest, PURE HOLLYWOOD. They cover a lot of books, and a lot of ground, from nerves about reading to insecurity about writing, in an honest and ill…
 
The third in a series of conversations recorded at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in the summer of 2018 finds James sitting down with Randall Kenan, who talks about the books that made him feel less alone, the art of writing about food, and the legacy of James Baldwin. Plus, Anna Lena Phillips Bell, editor at Ecotone Magazine. - Randall Kenan: htt…
 
In the second in a series of conversations recorded at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in the summer of 2018, James spoke to three people from the world of playwriting: old friend and playwright Dan O'Brien, agent Beth Blickers, and actor Emily Shain. They discuss what draws them to work, how the written word earns its space, and the great value of…
 
In the first in a series of Sewanee Writers' Conversations, recorded at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in July 2018, James sat down with poet Maurice Manning to talk about his latest collection, ONE MAN'S DARK, as well as a beautiful story about a gift from Claudia Emerson, challenging himself with each book, and how his poetry has changed. Plus, …
 
Lydia Kiesling tricked herself into writing a novel by starting with small vignettes about her feelings as a new parent and setting them in a northern California that's rarely explored in literature. The result of tying those scenes together is her excellent debut, THE GOLDEN STATE. She and James talk about her work as editor of THE MILLIONS, sprea…
 
The realization that distance will always be present in even the most connected of people is one of the recurring themes in Rita Bullwinkel's spectacular debut story collection, BELLY UP (out now from A STRANGE OBJECT). Rita and James talk about spanning the real and the unreal, finding balance in sequencing, and loving stories where characters hav…
 
Daniel Torday makes a triumphant return to talk about his new novel, BOOMER1. He and James chat about creating the world around the book, reinventing like Dylan, aspiring to anti-lyricism, and getting excited about liking stuff. They try to parse out a comic novel vs. a funny one and what constitutes satire. Plus, Emory Harkins discusses the mobile…
 
Laura van den Berg returns to discuss her brilliantly unsettling new novel, THE THIRD HOTEL. She and James discuss her three research trips to Havana, film adaptations, women in horror, crucial details, and her thought log, which is exactly what it sounds like. Then Marya Brennan talks about a Writing Blood Oath and her work as the NaNoWriMo Young …
 
Caleb Johnson claims he could score nine points in an NBA Finals game. Other fictions he's spun include his fantastic debut novel, TREEBORNE, which is set in his native Alabama. He and James talk about staying true to the storytelling tradition, writing in dialect, giving characters autonomy, and reading the right book at the right time. Then, Just…
 
The grief over the sudden death of his wife Joy compelled novelist Jonathan Santlofer to begin writing, and those scribbled thoughts and memories became his beautiful memoir, THE WIDOWER'S NOTEBOOK. He and James discuss losing the first person you want to share stories with, not letting yourself off the hook, falling in love with a cat, relying on …
 
Though SOUTHERNMOST, the story of preacher Asher Sharp, took a while to take shape, it's a tale Silas House was born to tell. He and James discuss writing about LGBTQ issues, finding the right angle for a novel, putting characters in trouble, working with your reader, and grieving the loss of conversation. Plus, a great talk with Algonquin Books ex…
 
In the most clarifying conversation James has had about the process of learning to be a writer, Sarah Ann Strickley discusses her story collection, FALL TOGETHER, as well as the dangers of the Muse, the joys of plot and structure, finding your voice, giving up your heroes, and being Superman's neighbor. Plus, they nerd out over Marilynne Robinson's…
 
Despite their easy descriptions-- a book about small town baseball, a memoir of grief and addiction, a discussion of reality television-- Lucas Mann's books are unlike anything else, with each page revealing a fresh perspective or a surprising insight. He tells James about writing weird books in a way that feels normal, throwing subjects off-kilter…
 
In her debut novel, THE ENSEMBLE, Aja Gabel beautifully captures the shifting dynamics of a string quartet. She and James talk about boxing, prodigies, losing yourself in art, and capturing joy versus describing pain. Plus, Aja's cover designer from Riverhead Books, Grace Han. - Aja Gabel: http://www.ajagabel.com/ Aja and James discuss: WHAT I TALK…
 
Of all the terrible just-out-of-college jobs that have been described on TK, Julia Fine probably had the worst. Later, she ended up leaving a good position to pursue an MFA, and the result is WHAT SHOULD BE WILD, a (wild) combination of fairy tale, folklore, mystery, road trip, and countless other inspirations. She and James talk about how she mana…
 
When her mother suffers a stroke, Tessa Fontaine joins the traveling circus sideshow. She recounts this unique time in her life in her incredible new memoir, THE ELECTRIC WOMAN. She and James talk about being okay with not knowing what you're writing about, how first books are like teenagers, and finding the untold story. And, she is the first gues…
 
Patrick Crerand started off trying to write blue-collar factory stories, but he eventually discovered his voice writing the more surreal and magical stories contained in his new collection, THE PAPER LIFE THEY LEAD. He tells James about how a story about kidnapping Amish people led him to success, learning to write what he loves, and The Boss's "Gl…
 
In her second novel, BURY WHAT WE CANNOT TAKE, Kirstin Chen depicts a family in China under the tightening rule of Mao. She tells James about her choice to tell the story when and how she did, along with trying to make people happy, learning to craft endings from short stories, dealing with cultural tourism, and, of course, writing in a cave in a m…
 
One of James's favorite books of 2018 inspires one of his favorite conversations. Jon Pineda, author of LET'S NO ONE GET HURT, joins the show to talk about being worried for your characters, maintaining a sense of wonder, fooling yourself into writing, inventing the Voltron of fathers, becoming a cobbler (!) and living a life with fewer disclaimers…
 
Over the course of eleven books, including his latest novel, THE UNMADE WORLD, Steve Yarbrough has established himself as a master of language and place. But James knows him as the leader of the greatest workshop ever. They discuss that class at Sewanee, as well as being a Southern writer with a British aesthetic, structuring novels based on the fo…
 
Ever since reading an early copy of Michael Nye's first novel, ALL THE CASTLES BURNED, James has wanted to talk to the author of such an engaging and thought-provoking book. They discuss knowing good books from page one, declaring a new read dead, and writing sports scenes. Thankfully, they save their Celtics talk for off the air. Plus, poet Lauren…
 
In his first essay collection, UP UP DOWN DOWN, Cheston Knapp attends skateboarding camp for adults, recalls his fraternity days, looks for UFOs, and checks out the local wrestling circuit, all in the name of learning more about himself. He and James talk about the art of the essay, the search for community, editing at Tin House, and the difficulty…
 
BRASS, the excellent first novel by Xhenet Aliu, mixes voice, humor, and simmering rage into the tale of a family that keeps ending up in the same rut. She and James talk about what they're going to do when they grow up, not porn-ifying poverty, editing vs. new pages, and then give credit to the proofreaders out there. Plus, the wondrous Chip Cheek…
 
Claire Fuller started writing to compete in a local short story slam. Then she started to win. Soon after, she earned an MA and has since written two novels, OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS and SWIMMING LESSONS. She and James talk about the torture of writing new material, the joy of editing, the reader response theory, and the practice of listening to m…
 
In order to learn to write, Frank Bill broke down the fiction that he loved. The lessons those books taught him have served him through a collection of short stories and two novels, the latest of which is THE SAVAGE. He and James talk about universe building, skipping the middle, and the film adaptation of DONNYBROOK. Plus, Jesse Donaldson on his t…
 
In her day job, Amy P. Knight is a lawyer specializing in death penalty cases. She has also written a fascinating and wholly original novel, LOST, ALMOST, which depicts the life of a physicist who works on nuclear weapons. She and James talk about the intricate structure of the novel, the warmth of her descriptions of science and math, and the virt…
 
After studying Spanish literature and embarking on a career as a lawyer, Matthew Lansburgh found fulfillment in writing. He won the Iowa Short Fiction Award for his linked short short story collection, OUTSIDE IS THE OCEAN. He and James discuss the spiritual fulfillment of writing, the need for dissatisfaction, the joys of close reading, and their …
 
Robert Repino had a couple of false start novels before setting out on The War With No Name series, which was inspired by a dream (really) and now includes three books: MORT(E), CUL-DE-SAC, and D'ARC. He and James discuss their MFA memories, learning to write, 80s nostalgia, and fans getting MORT(E) tattoos. Plus, Urban Waite and James talk about M…
 
HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES, the dazzling debut by Carmen Maria Machado has garnered tremendous acclaim, including being named a finalist for the National Book Award. Carmen and James discuss never being done editing, her enviable file of images, and being thrown out of a plane. Plus, Editorial Director at Graywolf Press, Ethan Nosowsky. - Carmen Ma…
 
The legends of Josh Weil's unique writing process precede him, but he and James try to get to the bottom of it, including how he comes up with his ideas, how he challenges himself, and whether his lucky slippers and mug travel with him. They touch on Josh's award-winning books THE NEW VALLEY and THE GREAT GLASS SEA, but dive deep into his new colle…
 
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