1. And, of course, it’s fear that makes us reject art, both individually and in its grand project. In a sense, I think, there’s a way in which Els comes to the realization that close listening, the embrace of things that seem dangerous and troubling and unlikeable, is a way past fear into freedom. You know, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago makes a T-shirt that says, “Fear no art.” Of course they’re right. If we can get to the point where even the scariest art is exciting to us, because it allows us to reflect on the safety that we’ve pulled like blankets and shawls around us, to reassure ourselves about the capacities of our lives, if we can let those go and use the danger and the strangeness and the provocation and the scariness of art to open us up again to experience and to make us hear things that we thought were ugly or noisy or strange or troubling, we don’t lose what we loved already, we’ve expanded our love. We’ve found a kind of freedom to take all kinds of things on the spectrum that we initially were protecting ourselves from and to use them as love.

    —Richard Powers, from our interview about his upcoming novel, Orfeo. Read the entire interview here — he’s one of our favorite people to talk to.

  2. Our latest Indiespensable author is here signing books!

    Read an interview with Anthony Marra about the book that made several Powell’s staffers cry (no small feat) on our blog: http://powells.us/11xvdcH


  3. In celebration of Geek Week, Powells.com presents a special Dungeons and Dragons–themed Q&A with Patton Oswalt.

    What’s the most epic character you’ve ever created?
    A half-orc assassin named Ulvaak through which I channeled all of my frustrations about being a fat eighth grader. Apparently I wanted to split everything in half with a sword.

    What alignment do you most closely identify with: Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic?
    Lawful, but only because of my OCD. There’s no good or evil to it.

    Describe your longest campaign.
    Oh man. Probably this epic, Béla Tarr–style slog through a continent called Gamotia, where the fabric of reality was ripping open and different demons were vying for dominance of the material plane. You know, everyday stuff like that.

    Personal question: Did you let anyone touch your lucky d20?
    Not only did no one touch it, but I would use an El Marko to color the 10-and-up numbers black, then I’d scrape away the permanent marker ink but leave the indented numbers still filled in with ink. OCD is a hell of a thing.

    Eberron, Vanadorn, or a campaign of your own creation?
    I’d want to create it. From the ground up. A too-ambitious part of me would also want to create the gods of this new universe.

    Name your most expensive miniature.
    Something from Ral Partha, I’m sure. Good Lord, I owned so many. Had a tacklebox full of ‘em. Probably one of those big-ass dragons.

    Are you familiar with THACO? Can you explain its origins?
    Vaguely. It was a little bit after my time, but it was a way to speed up game play, and save everyone time consulting hit dice and armor class charts. Very popular, as far as I understand.

    Describe your experience when the first character you’d created died.
    It was a thief named Raphael. I remember being weirdly relieved — I’d just learned about the assassin class and I was eager to get into that. Less stealing, more stabbing.

    What snacks and drinks are crucial to your gaming?
    Red Vines, Snyder’s of Hanover hard pretzels, and ginger ale. THE HOLY TRIUMVIRATE.

    How has D&D impacted your work today?
    I always roll to save against collision before I merge into traffic.

  4. Saunders: I love doing it. It’s really enjoyable. And I think those stories really cracked open my thinking and led to this book — being out in the world and having to describe things. So in my mind, I’m thinking, If I ever get a little bit sedentary in my fiction, then I’ll definitely take one of those trips, because it busts open the world and makes things seem fresh again.

    Jill: Here at Powell’s, you’ve had lots of die-hard fans for years, but I was talking to two different people in publishing last night about you who said, “Where did he come from?” They hadn’t heard of you until this last book. How does it feel to suddenly be topping bestseller lists?

    Saunders: Well, Powell’s has always been so good to me, since the very, very beginning, so I hope to convey some of that appreciation when I come out there. But it’s been a really interesting month, basically, since the book came out. I don’t quite get it. [Laughter] It’s really fun, and I’m thinking about it, for sure. Probably too much, but I don’t really understand what happened.

    I mean, that New York Times piece was so incredible, with that headline that was such an ornery throwdown. That was great. But my wife thought that if you look at it as a line, maybe one end is dark, edgy, weird, and the other is the opposite of that. She thought maybe the culture moved towards acceptance of weird, dark, edgy, and I maybe moved a little bit in the other direction — a little more accessible, a little less hesitant to be realistic. So maybe there’s some kind of happy moment where those things crossed.

    But I’m really enjoying it and trying to treat it a little bit like a science experiment, like: What is it like to actually get more attention? It’s very interesting when you think about the fact that most of the people in our country who run shit are people who have had 10 times more attention for a long, long time — our politicians and musicians and actors and directors. They operate in a zone that’s a much more exaggerated version of this all the time. That’s interesting anthropologically because what I’m noticing, just in my baby way here, is that when you get a lot of attention, your mind does this thing. It turns towards you and your phenomenon. Whereas a fiction writer’s mind should be turned outward. It’s kind of like a birthday syndrome. On your birthday, you’re so happy because everyone’s bringing you cake and stuff. And then the next day, you’re like, Hey! Where’s the fucking cake? [Laughter]

    So I’m taking this as a hopefully brief opportunity to see how the other half lives and maybe write some stories about it. I understand narcissism better than I did a month ago. It’s almost a natural human tendency if you’re getting approval that you want more, and you become a little full of shit. It’s like if you eat a lot of beans, you’re going to get farty. [Laughter] It’s not a character flaw; it’s just what your body does in the presence of too many beans. But it’s been a lot of fun so far.

    Read the rest of the Powells.com interview with George Saunders.

    (Source: powells)




    In 1993, an interview with Toni Morrison appeared in The Paris Review—and it feels just as relevant and immediate twenty years later.

    Morrison covers vast ground: what makes a good editor, how white writers get black characters wrong (or right), the importance of teaching undergraduate students, and a million other marvelous things.

    Bonus: The interviewer is Elissa Schappell, an excellent writer in her own right whom we interviewed in 2011.

  6. (Source: powells)

  7. theparisreview:

    Happy birthday to you, as well, Mr. William Gass.

    As a writer you are, of course, aware of the arbitrary relationship of symbol-sounds to their meanings; but no real writer wants it that way. In doing On Being Blue, I was struck by the way in which meanings are historically attached to words: it is so accidental, so remote, so twisted. A word is like a schoolgirl’s room—a complete mess—so the great thing is to make out a way of seeing it all as ordered, as right, as inferred and following. Now, when you take language out of the realm in which it is produced and put it in poetry and fiction, you transform it completely. Maybe that is the least understood aesthetic phenomenon. That process of transformation is perhaps the essence of creative activity.

    Self-Portrait by William Gass.


  8. "There has got to be a reason why a person becomes a novelist instead of an artist of haiku. The reason has something to do with the music of words through time, of deep words through time. There is a place for haiku, and I admire it, but there’s also a place for Mahler’s symphonies. You cannot just take the greatest eight measures out of a Mahler symphony and say, ‘Isn’t Mahler great?’ [Laughter] You have to have the whole thing. It has to unfold through time, and it becomes more wonderful and more mysterious, not the longer it is — it isn’t a question of length — but the more complexity it has. Indeed, the less coherence you find in something, the more possible it is that there’s a significant secret embedded in it."
    — Gregory Maguire, author of Out of Oz, in the Powells.com interview

  9. "I think what takes me a long time is that the events that are happening to the characters almost have to happen to me. I’m living the book out as they’re experiencing it. When I’m writing a section, sometimes I’m trying it 5, 10, or 15 different ways until I find the one that feels right. The language might be right, but the kinds of things they say or the decisions they make might not be right. It’s not always easy to predict what they should do that quickly. I have to bathe in what’s going on in the book to figure out what’s right. Also, I’m a little uncertain about my decisions. So, sometimes I’ll have the right strategy for a scene on the second draft, but I won’t trust that, and I’ll write 10 other drafts in order to convince myself that number two was the right solution. There’s a lot of one step forward, two steps back, at least in my writing."
    — Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Marriage Plot, in the Powells.com interview
  10. Josh Ritter wrote a novel. And it’s good! Jill at Powells.com talked to him about his unusual, darkly funny book, titled Bright’s Passage. Read the interview.