(Jane Ciabattari, Lily King, Anthony Marra, Jayne Anne Phillips) Three National Book Critics Circle Award honorees—Jayne Anne Phillips, a winner for her novel Machine Dreams, Lily King, a 2014 fiction finalist, and Anthony Marra, winner of the NBCC’s inaugural John Leonard Award for first book—read from their work and discuss the challenges of writing novels—especially first novels—in a moderated conversation with critic Jane Ciabattari, NBCC Vice President/Online.

Published Date: September 9, 2015


Speaker 1 (00:00:01):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2015 A W P conference in Minneapolis. The recording features Jane Chaya, Ari, Lily King, Anthony Mara, and Jane Anne Phillips. You will now hear Pamela Mills AWPs, director of Development and Jane Chiari, vice President of the National Book Critic Circle provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:33):

My name is Pamela Mills. I'm the director of development with a w p. Thank you all for coming. I would like to first do a little bit of housekeeping. Please turn off your cell phones and also remember no flash photography and give the artists and the writers a few moments after the featured presentation to get to the book signing table before you go out and buy your book and ask 'em to sign it. And now I would also like to acknowledge the National Book Critic Circle for sponsoring this event and I would like to now introduce Jane ChAARI critic and wonderful person.

Speaker 3 (00:01:18):

Give me a second. I'm going to have to pull this down slightly. I'm a vice president of the National Book Critic Circle. I handle the online and social media for the organization and I'm a former president so I know what it's like to be in the shoes of the people who have to worry about everything, including ordering lunch. I also have an enduring passion for books. That's why I got involved in the National Book Critic Circle. It was founded 40 years ago by a literary folk who wanted to expand the literary conversation of the Algonquin round table in New York to a national conversation. We're delighted because today we are facing our ninth year as literary partners with A W P. I just spent the morning down at our booth number 1201 in the book fair with a lot of N B C C members and board members and we were helping people play the name that author quiz.

Speaker 3 (00:02:16):

You may have been handed a quiz clue sheet by one of our board members or members. Play the game and bring us your answers by noon on Saturday and we'll have a drawing at that point and see if we have some winners. I wanted to say just for a moment, it would be nice if we could have a round of applause for our A W P hosts, Dave Za and Christian Teresa, Cynthia Sherman, Pamela Mills and all the other hardworking A W P staffers. They make this conference happen every year and we arrive and take part in it, but they make it happen. So thank you to all of them. How many of you have never been to an A W P conference before? Are newcomers out there? I hope you have a great time. I'll never forget my first A W P and hearing authors who I dreamt about who were so inspiring and seeing them read in person.

Speaker 3 (00:03:10):

It was great. I hope you'll come to our book Fair Booth 1201. You can say hello. You can sign up for our free critical notes. It comes out weekly. You might join us if you would like. We have student memberships for $15, friends of and if you're a critic, a working critic, we have memberships. You can play the name that author game. It's really clues of quotes from 40 years of winning authors. We're perhaps the most intensively vetted literary award around. We don't give our awards based on publisher entries. We give them based on a year long conversation among 24 members of our board. After we nominate books, we have conversations about them in person and through a password protected right board and on list serves, we winnow things down to a long list at the end of the year and then everybody reads all the books and we have a discussion.

Speaker 3 (00:04:09):

We create our finalists and then finally we meet on the day of the announcement and we fight through who will be our winners. So as you know, critics are critical opinionated. We don't always agree, but by the time we narrow down our choices, our 30 finalists, we consider the best writers publishing today, which is why it's such a pleasure to be able to sit here and introduce three of our wonderful, wonderful award honored novelists. From the far right we have Lily King whose book Euphoria was a finalist this past year. Anthony Mera whose book A Constellation hang on a constellation of Vital Phenomena was the very first winner of our John Leonard first book award last year. And Jane Ann Phillips who has the distinction of having been a novelist, a finalist twice for two different novels. Each will read from their work for to 15 minutes. Then we'll have a conversation and then they will sign your books in the back.

Speaker 3 (00:05:16):

First up is going to be Lily King. Lily grew up in Massachusetts, studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her master's in creative writing is from Syracuse. Her first novel, the Pleasing Hour, which came out in 1999, was a New York Times notable book and an alternate for the Pan Hemingway award. Her second book, the English teacher won the main fiction award as did her third father of the Reign. Her latest novel Euphoria won the Kiis award for fiction, the New England Book Award for fiction and was a finalist in our book Critic Circle Awards. Last month I reviewed euphoria for N P R and I concluded that it was atmospheric and sensual with startling images throughout. Euphoria is an intellectually stimulating tour de force. Our book critics board member Colette Bancroft, reviewed euphoria for critical mass, our book critics blog, which is@wwwbookcritics.org. We have a series where each of the finalists is reviewed by a board member every year. She ended. The last dozen pages of euphoria are filled with searing shocks and the book's final image as an anthropologist acute observation of a tiny scrap of material culture that breaks the heart. I am delighted to introduce to you Lily King reading from euphoria.

Speaker 4 (00:06:50):

Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here. Thank you to Jane and to the N B C C for inviting me. It's really such a great honor to be here with Jane Anne and Tony. I think I'm going to read from the first chapter of euphoria my fourth novel. Before I do, I thought I would just say that I really didn't mean to write a novel loosely, loosely based on a four month period in the life of Margaret Mead. I just stumbled on a biography about her years ago and I got to this chapter when she was way up the CEC River of Papua New Guinea with her second husband and she got into this situation where she was having this wild malal intellectual love triangle with her husband and another anthropologist that they meet there and I thought, wow, someone's got to write a novel about that, but I really didn't think it would be me.

Speaker 4 (00:07:50):

I was so curious though about this situation that I really couldn't stop myself from learning more and learning more. I was writing another novel at the time, but I kept on taking breaks from that novel because it was a hard novel to write and going back and just finding out a little bit more about that situation in Papua New Guinea. And in the end, I didn't end up telling her story, the story of Margaret Mead, but I definitely borrowed a lot from it. So this beginning chapter, you have a female anthropologist named Nell. She's 31 nail stone. She's with her husband Fen and they're leaving one tribe and they're going to another. As they were leaving the ano, someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe, a pale brown thing. Another dead baby Fen said he had broken her glasses by then, so she didn't know if he was joking ahead, lay the bright break in the curve of dark green land where the boat would go.

Speaker 4 (00:08:49):

She concentrated on that. She did not turn around again. The few bannu on the beach were singing and the death gong for them, but she did not look at them a last time. Every now and then when the four rowers all standing, calling back to their people or out to other canoes pulled at the same time, a small gust of wind struck her damp skin, her lesions prickled and tightened as if hurrying to heal In the brief dry air, the wind stopped and started, stopped and started. She could feel the gap between sensation and recognition of it and knew that the fever was coming on again. The rowers ceased rowing to stab a snake neck turtle and hauled into the boat still writhing behind her. Fen hummed a dirge for the turtle, too low for anyone but her to hear. A motorboat was waiting for them.

Speaker 4 (00:09:37):

Where the U at met the cec. There were two white couples on board with the driver, a man named Minton whom Fen knew from Carns. The women wore stiff dresses and silk stockings, the men dinner jackets. They did not complain about the heat, which meant they lived here. The men overseeing either plantations or mines or enforcing the laws that protected them. At least they weren't missionaries. She couldn't have tolerated a missionary. Today one woman had bright gold hair. The other eyelashes like black ferns, both carried beaded purses. The smooth white of their arms looked fake. She wanted to touch the one closer to her, push up her sleeve and see how far up the white went. The way all her tribes, wherever she went, needed to touch her. When she first arrived, she saw pity in the women's gazes as she is and fend boarded with their dirty duffles and their malaria eyes.

Speaker 4 (00:10:28):

The engine when it started up was so loud, so startling that her hands rose to her ears like a child's. She saw F flinch to do the same and she smiled reflexively, but he did not like that she'd noticed and moved away from her to talk to mitten. She took a seat at the bench at the stern with the women. What's the occasion? She asked Tilly, the gold haired one. If she'd had hair like that, the natives never would've stopped touching. You couldn't go into the field with hair like that. They both managed to hear her over the engine and laughed. It's Christmas Eve silly. They had been drinking already though it couldn't have been much past noon and it would've been easier to be called silly if she hadn't been wearing a filthy cotton shift over friend's pajamas. She had the lesions, a fresh gash on her hand from a sego palm thorn, a weakness in her right ankle, the old Solomon neuritis in her arms and an itchy sting between her toes that she hoped wasn't another batch of ringworm.

Speaker 4 (00:11:22):

She could normally keep the discomfort at bay while she was working, but it kicked in hard watching these women in their silks and pearls. Do you think Lieutenant Boswell would be there? Tilly asked the other woman, she thinks he's divine. This one Eva was taller, stately, bare fingered. I do not and so do you. Tilly said, but you are a married woman, my dear. We can't expect someone to stop noticing people the minute the ring goes on until he said, I don't, but your husband certainly does. In her mind, Nell was writing ornamentation of neck wrists, fingers, paint on face, only emphasis on lips, dark red and eyes black hips emphasized by cinching of waist conversation. Competitive. The valued thing is the man not having one necessarily but having the ability to attract one. She couldn't stop herself. Have you been studying the natives till he asked her?

Speaker 4 (00:12:13):

No. She's come from the twilight ball at the floating palai. I have since July. I mean the July before last one a year and a half up that little tributary somewhere until he said, good God. Eva said a year first in the mountains north of here with the Napa now said and then another five and a half months with the Banno up the U at. We left early. I didn't like them like them. Eva said, I would think keeping your head attached to your neck might be a more reasonable goal. Were they cannibals? Tilly said it was not safe to give them an honest answer. She did not know who their men were. No. They fully understand and abide by the new laws. They're not new. Eva said they were issued four years ago. I think to an ancient tribe, it all feels new but they obey and blame all their bad luck on the lack of homicide.

Speaker 4 (00:13:01):

Do they talk about it till they said? She wondered why every white asked about cannibalism. She thought of Fen when he returned from the 10 day hunt. His sad attempt to keep it from her. I tasted it. He finally blurted out and they're right. It does taste like old pig. It was a joke the bannu had that the missionaries had tasted like old pig. They speak of it with great longing. The two women, even long brazen Eva shrank a bit and then Tilly asked, did you read the book about the Solomon Islands where all the children were fornicating in the bushes? Eva? I did. And then Nell couldn't help herself. Did you like it? Oh, I don't know. Tilly said, I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Is there fuss? Nell said she'd heard nothing about its reception in Australia. I'll say she wanted to ask by whom and about what, but one of the men was coming around with an enormous bottle of gin refilling glasses.

Speaker 4 (00:13:54):

Your husband said you wouldn't want any. He said to her apologetically for he didn't have a glass for her F had his back to her, but she could see the expression on his face just from the way he was standing with his back arched and his heels slightly lifted. He would be compensating for his wrinkled clothing and his odd profession with a hard masculine glare. He would allow himself a small smile. Only if he himself had made the joke fortified by several sips till he continued her inquiry. And will you write about these tribes? It's all a jumble in my head still. I never know anything until I get back to my desk in New York. She was aware of her own impulse to compete to establish dominance over these clean pretty women by conjuring up a desk in New York. Is that where you're headed now?

Speaker 4 (00:14:35):

Back to your desk, her desk, her office. The diagonal window that looked out onto Amsterdam and a hundred and 18th distance could feel like a terrible claustrophobia at times. No, we're going to Victoria next to study the Aborigines. Tilly pulled aout. You poor thing. You look beat up enough as it is. We can tell you right here. All you need to know about the ABOs. Eva said it was just this last five months, this last tribe, she couldn't think how to describe them. She and Fen had not agreed on one thing about the Banno. He had stripped her of her opinions. She marveled now at the blankness. Tilly was looking at her with a drunk depthless concern. Sometimes you just find a culture that breaks your heart. She said. Finally Nelly Fen called to her. Mitten says Bankston still here. He waved his hand upriver.

Speaker 4 (00:15:25):

Of course he is she thought but said the one who stole your butterfly net. She was trying to be playful. He didn't steal anything. What had he said exactly? It had been on the ship coming home from the Solomons in one of their first conversations. They'd been gossiping about their old professors. Hadn't Lake me F had said, but he gave banks and his butterfly net. Bankson had ruined their plans. They'd come in 31 to study two new Guinea tribes. But because Bankston was on the CEC River, they'd gone north up the mountains to the an Napa with the hope that when they came back down in a year he'd be gone and they'd have their pick of the river. Tribes whose less isolated culture were rich with artistic economic and spiritual traditions. But he was still there so they'd gone in the opposite direction from him and the Keone.

Speaker 4 (00:16:09):

He studied south down a tributary of the EC called the U at where they'd found the banano. She had known that tribe was a mistake after the first week, but it took her five months to convince Fen to leave. Fen stood beside her. We should go and see him. Really? He'd never suggested this before. Why now? And they'd already made arrangements for Australia. He had been with Hadden Bankson and the butterfly net in Sydney four years ago and she didn't think they'd liked each other much. Bankson Keona were warriors. The rulers of the CEC before the Australian government and cracked down, separating villages, allotting them parcels of land. They did not want throwing resistors in jail. The Banno fierce warriors themselves told tales of the kona's prowess. This was why he wanted to visit Bankson. The tribe is always greener on the other side of the river.

Speaker 4 (00:16:56):

She often tried to tell him, but it was impossible not to be envious of other people's people until you laid it out neatly on the page. Your own tribe looked a mess. Do you think we'll see him in an gorum? She asked. They couldn't go traipsing after banks and they'd made the decision to go to Australia. Their money wouldn't last much more than a half a year and it would take several weeks to get settled among the aborigines. Doubt it. I'm sure he steers clear of the government station. The speed of the boat was disorienting. We need to get that pist to Port Moresby tomorrow. Finn Ligan I are a good choice for us. You thought the Bannu were a good choice for us too. When we headed there, he rattled the ice of his empty glass. He looked like he had more to say, but he walked back to Minton than the other men.

Speaker 4 (00:17:38):

Been married long said Tilly two years in May now said we had the ceremony the day before we came out here, swish honeymoon. They the bottle of gin came round again for the next four and a half hours. Nel watched the dressed up couples drink, tease, flirt, wound, laugh, apologize. Separate reintegrate. She washed their young uneasy faces. Saw how thin the layer of self-confidence was, how easily it slipped off when they thought no one was looking. Occasionally Tilly's husband would raise his arm to point out something on land. Two boys with a net, a qual hanging like a melting sack from a tree, an osprey coasting to its nest. A red parrott mocking their engine. She tried not to think about the villages they were passing, the raised houses and the fire pits and the children hunting for snakes in the thatch with spears. All the people she was missing the tribes she would never know and words.

Speaker 4 (00:18:35):

She would never hear the worry they might right now be passing the one people. She was meant to study a people whose genius she would unlock and who would unlock hers. A people who had a way of life that made sense to her. Instead, she watched these westerners and she watched Finn speaking his hard talk to the men, aggressively pressing them about their work defensively responding when they asked about his coming to seek her out, then punishing her with a few cutting words in an abrupt retreat. He did this four or five times dumping his frustration on her unaware of his own pattern. He was not through punishing her for wanting to leave the Banno. He's handsome. Your husband Eva said when no one else could hear. I bet he cleans up. Well, I'll stop there. Thank you very much.

Speaker 5 (00:19:23):

Thank you.

Speaker 3 (00:19:30):

Thank you Lily. I hope you have a chance to read the rest of the book. It's a stunner. Our next reader is Anthony Mera. He's a winner of a Whiting Award, a Pushkar prize and the Narrative Prize. His novel, a constellation of vital phenomena won the National Book Critic Circle inaugural John Leonard Award for best first book and also the Anis Field Wolf Book award in fiction. He studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop where he got an M F A and was a Stegner fellow at Stanford University where he teaches as the Jones Lecture in fiction. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe and now resides in Oakland. As pointed out, a constellation of vital phenomenon was a first novel and that's why we've created the John Leonard Award to give honor to a very first book of any genre in this case, it was a novel.

Speaker 3 (00:20:31):

A constellation of vital phenomenon is set from 1994 to 2004, a decade during which Chechnya sustained a series of devastating wars, occupations and insurgencies. In the course of researching his novel, Mera spent time in Chechnya and on his website you can see photos of him wearing traditional Chechnya dress grilling and eating lik and doing various other things and it shows the countryside as well. What interested me among other things, is the authors whose books he turned to as sources included Anna Politz Gaia, a courageous journalist who was assassinated in October, 2006 for her stance on the second Chechnyan war. Pulitz Gaia's book, A Russian diary, which is completed shortly before her death was a finalist for the National Book Critic Circle Award in autobiography. Mera, by the way, has a new book coming in October. It's a story collection called Dara of Love and Techno with Stories said Yes in the Soviet Union, Russia and Chechnya as well. So welcome Anthony Mera.

Speaker 6 (00:21:48):

Thank you so much. It's a real privilege and an honor to be here. Thank you Jane for inviting me and a w p for hosting this. I'm going to read a few pages from my novel in terms of background, I suppose all I should say is that this section is about a surgeon named Sonia who is trying to figure out how to run a hospital in an environment where running water is in short supply and in order to procure medical supplies, she decides to go into business with a local smuggler. Sonia contacted the brother of a man whose life she'd saved when a landmine lodged eight ball bearings, four screws and three 10 copak coins into his left leg. The brother met her in the backseat of a Mercedes that drove in tight circles on a tennis court sized slab of asphalt just outside its garage, the only unbroken stretch of road that could accommodate such a fine western automobile.

Speaker 6 (00:22:50):

He pinched a Marlboro filter between manicured fingernails. She knee didn't look past his first knuckle to verify his access to smuggling roots snaking through the southern mountains like veins through marble. You saved Ali's life. The brother said setting the cigarette between his delicate lips. For that I owe you a favor, a small one because of my six brothers, I like alu the least. She handed him a list limited to easily curable medical supplies, absorbent, compressed dressings, adhesive bandages, antiseptic ointment, breathing barriers and so on. It's basic stuff. She said any medical distributor will have it. You can find most of it inside the average for aid kit. I just need a lot of it. Ali spoke highly of you, the brother lamented. I should have known we wouldn't get along anything else I thought I only had one favor. Sonia asked the Let me tell you a story.

Speaker 6 (00:23:47):

The brother said holding his cigarette like a conductor's baton. When I was a child, I had a pet turtle whom I named after Ali because they shared a certain, how can I put it? Intelligence. Once I went to Groene with my father and five brothers for the funeral of my father's uncle and we left so quickly, I hadn't the time to prepare food for alu the turtle. My brother Alu the idiot, had a fever and stayed home with my mother. He caught grubs and crickets feeding them to my beloved crustacean. Since then, alu, the idiot has grown into a Gibraltar sized hemorrhoid, but when he was a child, he used the one good idea. This life has allotted him to remember to feed my turtle and because of it, you get a second favor, turtles aren't crustacean. Sonia said, excuse me, half crustacean. The brother corrected himself.

Speaker 6 (00:24:41):

They're full-blooded reptiles. The brother gaped at her. You should hear yourself. You sound ridiculous. A turtle is 100% reptile. She said, I imagine even Alu knows that. Don't insult me. The brother said, everyone knows a turtle is crustacean on its mother's side. Explain that to me. She said shifting in the seat As the car spun in circles, the brother smiled, a lizard fucks a crab and nine months later a turtle pops out. It's called evolution. I hope your biology teacher was sent to the gulag. She said she caught the driver's eyes in the rear view. The driver had grown up in a mountain hamlet where more people believed in trolls than in automobiles. The first war had catapulted him from the back of a mule to the inside of a Mercedes and he would look back at that war as the one stroke of good fortune in a life otherwise riddled with disappointment.

Speaker 6 (00:25:38):

What's the second favor the brother asked? Sony wrote several titles on the list and passed it back. My God, he said, you're worse than I could have ever imagined. No wonder you and alu got on famously modes of modern psychological inquiry. Post-traumatic stress disorder causes symptoms and treatment. You want textbooks? I was thinking cocaine in a prostitute. Can you get them or not? Sonia asked. We'll see, he said, guns, drugs, uranium, hostages. No problem, but I've never been asked to find books or medical supplies. These will be a challenge. The Mercedes drove in dizzying circles and Sonia wanted out of this spinning nauseating contraption, but what could she do? Those who had the bullets also had the bandages. Can you get them or not? She asked. Don't insult me. He said, I can steal the spots off a snow leopard after work the next day, Sonia visited her next door neighbor Laina Laina never looked particularly pleased to see Sonia, but never looked particularly pleased about anything these days and Sonia did not take it personally.

Speaker 6 (00:26:48):

The old woman received daily visitations from ghosts, angels, prophets and monsters. In some evenings, Sonia wondered if she was to this old woman, a trivial hallucination. I saw an ice machine at the bazaar the other day. Sonia said Lana didn't look up from the scarf. She was knitting, afraid to raise her eyes with so many visions crowding the air, it once cooled the glasses of the bee. Gees or so said the freezer merchant. You can tell by the way I use my walk. I'm a woman's man, Lana said without lifting her eyes from the needle tips feel the city breaking and everyone's shaking and we're staying alive. You know that song Sonia asked? Of course, Lana said People used to recite it during the war. For the longest time I thought it was a poem. For the next hour, Lana described the abounding supernatural phenomena.

Speaker 6 (00:27:43):

The angel Gabriel had fluttered into a rooster less henhouse in zebra yurt and the next morning a farmer found eight immaculately conceived chicks. A boy in grozny defeated his grandfather a chess master. Third class after a game lasting 39 sleepless days and nights that left the grandfather so bewildered, proud and exhausted. He promptly died. A band of corpse devils rose from the earth at the stan border to hijack three red cross cargo trucks leaving the driver's hog tied and blindfolded and magically suspended three meters in the air. Stalin has been resurrected. Lana said. I know Sonia replied, he's the prime minister Now. A week later when the black Mercedes found her, Sonia was sure she'd wandered into one of Lana's deliriums. The Mercedes braked sharply drawing a curtain of dust along the street. The tires before so dainty they could only drive in circles on a tennis court were replaced with those of an armored jeep raising the body of the car by a half meter Swedish license plates she noted were still attached.

Speaker 6 (00:28:52):

The window descended in those gorgeous fingernails beckoned her. I thought we wouldn't be seeing each other again. She said pulling close the door and I keep saying I'll never see alu again and he keeps on being my brother. You intriguing me, Sonya. You lived in London for several years. Had you stayed, you'd be eligible for citizenship by now even I can't get my name into one of those beautiful maroon passports and yet you returned. I have family here. She said uneasily. The brother frowned. I hide the toilet paper when my family visits so they won't stay too long. They reached the garage knee garage. Two hours later, two dower faced men met them at the door holding kalashnikovs. One still three weeks from killing the other in an argument that would begin over driving directions. Three trucks sat at the end of the concrete tarmac.

Speaker 6 (00:29:44):

The brother led her to the first truck who shot off lock clung by a half broken glimmering grip. He lifted the door and shined a flashlight into the trailer. A red cross first aid kit sat in the circle of yellowed light. The circle spread to illuminate torn cardboard boxes and hundreds, no thousands of first aid kits. These were stolen, she said. Of course they were. The brother replied. I had to hijack three red cross cargo trucks. But as you said, nearly all of what you asked for can be found inside a first aid kit. What happened to the drivers? Sonia asked, why do you care? She could feel him testing her ready to blunt the slightest edge of moral outrage with a lecture on relativism and war or maybe with another example of his contempt for alu. She unsnapped the first aid kit and surveyed the contents for compress absorbent, compress dressings eight adhesive bandages, a tube of antiseptic ointment, a breathing barrier, latex gloves, gauze rule, thermometer, aspirin, packet and scissors.

Speaker 6 (00:30:51):

For all she cared, she closed the lid were fastened the clips and had nothing but gratitude to give him for all she cared. The drivers could be hogtied and beaten. Since now she had the ointment to disinfect their cuts, the gauze to bandage their wounds, the scissors to cut them free. What about the morphine? She asked. I nearly forgot, he said and pulled a black nylon duffel bag from the front seat, set it on the bumper and unzipped it. A plastic wrapped brick of white powder lay at the bottom. Morphine is too expensive, he said handing it to her. What is this? She asked heroine. He said the word alone weighed 10 kilograms. This was what her sister Natasha had shot into her veins every day for eight months. My God, she thought, my God, is it unadulterated? She asked not enough sugar in there to sweeten a cup of tea.

Speaker 6 (00:31:49):

The brother beamed. I asked for morphine and even if you had done me the favor of lobotomizing alu while he was under your care, I wouldn't get you morphine. Heroin is much cheaper than I want something else. Sonia said an ice machine. The hospital has been without one for several months. There's a mustache man at the bazaar selling a nice one from the in tourist hotel. And where are the books I asked for? You've chosen the wrong profession. He said enjoying her stubbornness. You're a natural swindler. I've had difficulty finding them, but they should come in shortly. I have a nephew in the west. He bought them from amazon.com. He's sending them by DHL Express. What's amazon.com? Sonia asked a brutal organized crime syndicate. He said, they will put me out of business N D H L. They're like mailmen. He said, only they deliver mail.

Speaker 6 (00:32:46):

They'll run me out of business too. The brother gave a soul deflating sigh. The whole world is conspiring to run me out of business. Two weeks later, Sony returned from the hospital with the textbooks straining the rucksack straps against her shoulder. Her left hand wrapped around a glass of ice was numb at the kitchen table. She examined the glass of ice. Each cube was rounded by room temperature, dissolving in its own remains and belatedly. She understood that this was how a loved one disappears despite the shock of walking into an empty flat. The absence is an immediate more fade from the present tense. You shared a melting into the past, not an erasure, but a conversion in form from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin now in sheets, down your back and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your hands cannot hold it. She raised the glass to her lips. The water was clean and cold and then it was gone. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (00:34:07):

Our third reader is Jane Ann Phillips, who's currently distinguished professor of English and director of the Rutgers Newark m F A program. Jane Ann was born and raised in West Virginia. Her first book of stories, black thickest was published in 1979 when she was 26, won the prestigious Sue Kaufman Prize, her first fiction, which was a award by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Her first novel Machine Dreams came out in 1984. It elegantly and astutely observes one American family from the turn of the century through the Vietnam War. It was a finalist for the National Book Critic Circle Award, Lark and Termite set in the 1950s in West Virginia and Korea was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic Circle Award. It also won the Heartland Prize. In my review for critical mass, I describe Larkin Termite as an electrifying novel, A story of love, longing and consequences.

Speaker 3 (00:35:06):

So intense and sensually vivid. It feels as real as memory. Jane Ann has that ability. She's a really like all of our finalists and winners over the years. She's been an extraordinary stylist who's able to give empathy to the human existence. She'll be reread today from her fifth novel, which is called Quiet Dell. It's based on this true story of an infamous 1931 serial murderer who acted around her hometown in West Virginia and she first heard about him as a girl. Toward the end of the novel she writes, life was merciless. Then briefly miraculous. I concluded my review of this book was saying her artful fusion of fact and fiction, she pulls off a rare sense of lightness and grace. At the end of the novel, the relationships and deep love developing among the people drawn to the tragedy represent a counterpart to the darkness. It's a pleasure for us to include in our reading today, Jane and Phillips. She's reading from Quiet Ville.

Speaker 2 (00:36:27):

Well, thank you so much for coming today. Everyone hear me. I'm so happy to be here with these wonderful writers and thanks to the N B C C for all you do for writers all the time. I'm reading from ELE today from the very beginning of the book in which Annabelle Eker speaks directly to the reader. Annabel is a precocious nine-year-old. This takes place on Christmas Eve 1930. She's very recently lost her beloved grandmother who encouraged her and her writing and her drawing. Anabel doesn't realize that she sees images that will come to pass in the future because she sees them without context, but in fact, the trial of her murderer will take place in an opera house in Clarksburg, West Virginia about six months from the time that she speaks these words to you. Christmas Eve, 1930, park Ridge, Illinois. Annabelle begins when the year turns.

Speaker 2 (00:37:28):

There are bells on the wind. All the old years fall on the ground in lights. When you walk across those lights, it sounds like walking on all the piled up leaves of giant trees, but up high the bells are ringing for everyone alive. There are silver and gold and glass bells you can see through and slay bells. A hundred years old, my grandmother said there was a whisper for each one dead that year and a feather drifting for each one waiting to be born. My mother says that's just a story, but I always do hear the bells even in my sleep and everything in front of me is all white and open like a field. Then I start dreaming the trees in my dreams sparkle. It's quiet in the dark and I'm indoors on a stage. The trees are behind me, but they're alive touching limbs and stirred just so a silent spirit seems to move among them and the light is found me.

Speaker 2 (00:38:23):

It's a large theater, rows and rose and a balcony. I glimpse through the gleam. The audience is quiet waiting for me to speak. Perhaps they're watching a play, my play or a play in which I perform. I can't make out faces beyond the footlights, but I see the tilt of heads and the shapes of ladies' hats and the glow seems to float amongst them. There's a hum of admiration or excitement and a swell of whisper like applause. Then the lights on the stage darken. I hear people weeping, so moved. Are they by their production? Grandmother used to say, I might find myself upon a stage one day as an actor or the author of a play Duty is our Boston Terrier that follows heart everywhere and sleeps on our beds by turns and duty is in my dream. I stand on the stage before the trees and duty is there sitting just at the edge of the light.

Speaker 2 (00:39:18):

His little legs are stubby and his chest is broad and his short brown coat shines like a mirror. Duty's eyes are wide apart and he can seem to gaze in two directions, but he only looks off toward the stage to the wings where no one can see. Grandmother always told me that our dreams, our wishes or fancies gifts of the dream fairies that guide and care for us in our sleep. She said that poems and stories of the whisperings of angels, we cannot see beings once like you and me who know more than we can know. While we are here, address me in your mind when I'm gone. Grandmother told me I will hear you always and we'll send a reply in the sounds of the grass and the wind and other little signs. We no longer speak in words when we have slipped away.

Speaker 2 (00:40:06):

I fed her with a teaspoon. She could not hold the cup. She talked about the silken cord that binds her soul to mine. She slept and woke and slept and woke. The cord is a real cord and I keep it under my pillow, not all of it. Once it was very long the last the silk braid mother used on the sofa pillows, grandmother made a game of it for walking through the park, which children went afternoons with grandmother. Single file holding to the cord. She used to say there was one of her and three of us which children must hold to the cord just so she fashioned one large knot for each right hand and I was first behind her. We held the cord in silence for grandmother liked us to hear small sounds, the cricket, the mantis, the grass moving in the meadow. Sound travels even in the cord we hold.

Speaker 2 (00:40:57):

Grandmother said for the heartbeats in the hand, you were not like others. Grandmother liked to tell me your dreams. See past us. The trees in my dream shine like trees on a glittery valentine, the sparkle looks like snow, catching light or drops of rain held fast. It's a wonderful effect. Living trees could stand on a stage and pots of earth and the limbs might move on wires gently as though stirred by a breath. Grandmother told me when she was still up and sitting in her chair that she would sleep longer and longer and then not wake up. She said her death would be a blessed death and one she wished for me. When I'm very old, grandmother can hear me. I do believe so and I hear her voice and words that come to me. Perhaps she has sent me the dream about the trees. I could hear a sigh in the branches, a bear whisper. No doubt there was a fan off stage blowing a breath of motion. Grandmother used to say so little can move so much.

Speaker 2 (00:42:05):

I'm skipping now to July of 1931. Harry Powers has murdered a widow and her three children, one of them being Annabelle and a divorcee, all of whom came to West Virginia willingly. Emily Thornhill is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune who's driven all night to arrive at Quiet del West Virginia. Just after the bodies of Annabel, her sister and brother and her mother have been removed. Emily has adopted duty the dog because she considers him a material witness to the crime and in fact, she arrives with duty in the car. Emily breathed in the crushed green smells of earth, wild mustard, honeysuckle and then a darker scent. They pulled carefully onto an open dirt road before the garage, which was rude and small square flat roof with wooden doors in front. The crowd perhaps 200 or more stood quietly, all looked toward the back of the building. Emily heard then the pounding of pickaxes and the slough of dirt shoveled and thrown.

Speaker 2 (00:43:18):

The smell was the ditch uncovered. They're gone now. She told herself they're not here, not even their bodies, but the men were still digging and the crowd was waiting. A quiet restlessness moved among them. Few spoke and only in lowered voices. The ditch. A deep gash ran straight some 40, 50 feet from the murder garage to the back of the lot. Duty struggled forward on the leash, dragging Emily to the very edge of the ditch. It seemed he might jump in and the thought horrified her. The ditch was muddy and wet for it opened into a little creek whose dark green water laid nearly, still barely visible through towering weeds, scrub trees, and purple stocky blooms taller than the men who stood near them was that Queen. Anne's lace grown to such a height. The white flowers were the size of parasols, a smaller ditch.

Speaker 2 (00:44:12):

The uncovered gas line bisected the large one. The two indentions formed a shape very like a cross that emptied into the water. Emily turned pulling the dog with her peering past the disturbed ground. As far as the horizon. The creek looked no more than 15 feet across and she could see the water move a glowing lip against the opposite shore and gently ascending meadow. Heavy limb trees stood silhouetted in the field. Their canopies moving. The sky was pale blue against the darker earth and the creek seemed to mark a line between one world and another. She imagined walking across the water, leading duty on the leash to that other empty meadow that lay bathed in the softest pearled light. But none of them on this side were worthy of that place. I'm going to end with a very short section from Annabel's point of view because in fact, her point of view moves through this novel even after her death.

Speaker 2 (00:45:14):

Annabel can dream when she's awake and awaken in her sleep where she's never asleep but always dreaming. She moves above or through the urgency of people moving and doing. She turns away at will and bridges great distances in the breadth of a thought. She's here in the place grandmother called below narrow dirt roads thread through the mountains drawn closer. She sees throngs of people crowded near the hunched garage, lines of metal glint in angled curves. The tops of many black cars. The glass of the windscreen sparkles and catches the sun. She sees the long bright car that pulls up last. A woman gets out with duty on the leash. Annabelle hears the click of the leash moving and smells the trampled grass, dung and earth, so many shoes and boots and mingled bodies. She knows she smells what duty smells. She cannot feel the weight of him or the warmth, but senses him intensely for nothing separates her now from those for whom she longs so deeply.

Speaker 2 (00:46:24):

Duty turns his head confused. His long mournful search is over. He has found them. Emily stands beside the dark slash in the ground, de smells some remnant mixed in the earth and pulls her to the dirt edge. He would leap into the dark, rolling it and taste it as with dead things at home, a squashed bird, a rabbit torn by cats. Annabelle waits in the meadow across the creek. There is no death here, no danger. Birds take wing like glimmers rising up rabbits where their closed wounds like flowers. She knows the gash across the creek is dense and black, deepening, tugging at the crouched garage. The people standing near her quiet as though gathered for a meeting of great import across the way. Light flashes from the roof of the garage like an eye that opens while the ground is sifted and pulled deep in the gash. A globe begins. They found something, they murmur that something is found. Annabel hears duty barking as he used to bark at home. The crowd is shifting and moving and she sees duty pull Emily toward her straining at the leash. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (00:47:47):

I'm going to ask some questions of our readers, but first I want to say thank you. It was very moving and transporting and it's works of the imagination that we need today to quiet us down in these busy times. I want to ask each of you, because each of you read from work that draws from real life. Anthony from the Chechnyan War, Lily from Margaret Mead's life, Jane Anne from her historical crime, a serial killer who really existed. What's the hardest thing about researching your fiction? And let's start with Lily and go, 1, 2, 3, Lily market meet euphoria.

Speaker 4 (00:48:29):

I think the hardest thing was knowing what to do with the research after I had it in a big notebook. As I said, I was researching this book over the course of five or six years while I was writing another novel and I had this green notebook, and at first I didn't really know what I was doing with it. I really had not committed to writing a novel. I was too daunted by the idea of writing that novel, but I had to take notes about this situation. I was just curious about it. And so I read a number of books and I had this green notebook and I would write details that kind of struck me down in the notebook. And then it was a strange kind of research because I really kind of tried to keep my imagination open so that every time I got a good detail, I might see a scene or a line of dialogue and I'd write that down too.

Speaker 4 (00:49:22):

And so by the end of it, I had not only my research, but also just a lot of ideas for scenes and possibilities of what could happen in this sort of fictional account. And then I was done with my other novel and it was time for me to start writing this one. And I just looked at that notebook and I'm like, well, what am I going to do with that? I've always written novels just from my head, and I wasn't really sure what to do with all this research. And so I thought, oh, well, what researchers do, what biographers I imagine do is they get index cards. And so I went to my pharmacy and I got a stack of index cards and I wrote out all of my ideas and all of the research and everything, and it took me weeks. It was such a great distraction.

Speaker 4 (00:50:04):

And then I had this huge stack of index cards and I got out my notebook that I write in fiction. I looked at the stack of index cards and I'm like, what am I going to do with that? And I kind of stared at it for a while. I wanted it in my head. I didn't know how to work with that. And so then a friend of mine, I went running with her and she said, you have to get Scrivener, which is, I'm sure you all know it's a writing program on the computer. So I got Scrivener and then I put it all, I wrote it all out onto Scrivener. And that was good because then I could search. I had a little search in it. So when I remembered, okay, what was I going to do with the crocodile leg? I could type in crocodile leg and boom, it would come up with me. But the great thing about that was I had written it out so many times by then that it was all in my head and I didn't need it in any form anymore. So I think that was probably the most challenging.

Speaker 3 (00:50:53):

Anthony, you've been to Chechnya and read about it. What was the hardest thing researching, I

Speaker 6 (00:50:59):

Suppose maybe I suppose that finding in all of the books of history and political theory and all of that, finding those small really minute sort of authenticating details that because so few journalists were allowed into cheo during this time period, there are far more research materials on sort of strategy and politics and these overarching themes about what the insurgent commanders were thinking, what Putin was thinking and far less about what was a school teacher in a small village thinking. And on a politico scale was one of those people that I went to again and again. There's a really tremendous memoirist named Hassan Bav that I went to. And I did something similar in terms of creating this massive list of just small little details that made me rethink a particular scene. So for instance, in a small corner of hell, bipolar Koska, there's this small little scene, it's maybe a paragraph about a newly married couple moving into an apartment. And the first thing they do is start unpacking their clothes and they put them in the oven and in the refrigerator because the power is out and they know that it won't come back on anytime soon. And it's just this small little moment that seems to hint at what it truly felt like in a way that these larger political treatises can't quite capture.

Speaker 3 (00:52:33):

And the morphine heroin detail in your check section you

Speaker 6 (00:52:37):

Read well, there was a shortage of morphine across that region, and there were all of these sort of fantastically inventive ways that surgeons would discover in order to treat their patients. So people would use, use dental floss, the golden threads in jeans if they could find a pair of jeans. Those were particularly strong to use for stitches. And those small little pieces of information were the hardest to come by. And the ones that I think make maybe the book feel at it liveliest,

Speaker 3 (00:53:12):

Truthful and authentic. Jane Ann with Quiet Dell, you were dealing with a real murder out there from a historic point of view. What was the toughest part for you?

Speaker 2 (00:53:26):

Well, I remember 31 years ago when Machine Dreams came out using for research my father's own letters from World War ii and then answering them with invented letters from Billy the Boy who goes missing in Vietnam. But so research has always been a part of everything I've done, but Quiet Dell was different in that I was writing an imaginative rendering of something that really occurred. All of the characters with the exception of very tiny secretive few revealed in the afterward were real people. And of course, because they lived 83 years ago, I was inventing them based on very few real details that I found. I studied the newspapers of the era exhaustively to really kind of take in the voice of the thirties and the way that people spoke and the way that people wrote. And I think one of the most difficult things was to inhabit this world and to be inside a story that had an inevitable conclusion and yet to transform it into something that was a spiritual victory or a way of saving the children in my own mind. Anyway,

Speaker 3 (00:54:48):

I want to ask each of you, it may seem like a funny question, but I think we may have in our audience some M F A students or people who might be working on first novels. Each of you had critical claim with your first books and quite a bit of attention. Anthony and Jean Ann both were honored by the National Book Critic Circle. Lily, you went of Barnes and Noble Discover Award. How did the acclaim from your first novels transform your lives or your first books? Jane Ann, you want to start? Oh, start with you and go back the other way.

Speaker 2 (00:55:24):

Well, it was different then. No, my first book actually was more of an adjustment because Black Tickets was a book of stories that sort of was published by a major publisher at a time when stories weren't being published. And after that, there were great many fantastic books of American short stories that sort of came along almost in a group. But I think that my way of healing with was to completely ignore it. I sort of considered it to be happening to someone else. It certainly wasn't me. And when Machine Dreams was published, it was about four or five years later. It takes me a very long time to write anything, and it was just incredibly gratifying and supportive. At the same time, I think the writer in me simply just tried to ignore it because the real process is one's own process, and that has to always be the thing that keeps one going

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