Jürgen Fauth, Author of KINO

KINO was wonderful.  It’s the kind of book you wish your book club would choose to read, – one that will be a catalyst to move the discussion in dozens of different directions.  Unfortunately I’m between book clubs.  So, instead, I decided to go directly to the source.  And Jürgen Fauth was kind enough to oblige.

Thank you,  Jürgen, for answering my questions.  I read in your author bio that you were born in Germany.  While writing KINO did you consider yourself a German expatriate living in New York?  How did that perspective (if at all) influence KINO?  And  are there plans to have it translated and released in Germany?

I grew up in Germany and came to the U.S. in my twenties. Most of the book was written while I was living in New York on a Green Card, and the idea of immigration (or rather, emigration) was one of the things that interested me about Kino’s story: when and how do you decide to leave your country? How do you know things have gotten so bad that you have to get out? There were huge waves of people leaving Germany right after Hitler took power, but many more stayed, and I always wondered what that must have felt like at the time.
Now, I don’t want to equate the two at all, but like many others, I was very unhappy with the direction the U.S. was taking while George W. Bush was president. I marched against the Iraq war early on, but it was odd because I wasn’t a citizen, so I felt as if my opinion didn’t really matter. Around 2004, 2005, I remember thinking, “if this gets any worse, I’m going to leave the country.” You may remember, a lot of people were saying that kind of thing at the time, but I had a German passport and could have gone with relative ease. But I didn’t — and now I’m a citizen. In my book, the question whether or not Kino should leave Germany and why he decides to stay turns out to be central for our understanding of the character, but there isn’t a single simple answer.
And, yes, I’d love to translate the book and publish it in Germany.

There is so much going on in KINO – so many ideas in play.  I’ve been dying to know – did you start with the ideas and the story developed around them? or did you have the basic plot structure and the ideas evolved out of it?

It was a back and forth process — at first I just wrote, but as the story got more involved, I had to stop myself and attempt drafting something like an outline. I came up with a general shape for the story and a few central elements, without really knowing how it would end — it was more like a general roadmap, and it kept on changing as I filled it in. Whenever I got confused, I went back to the beginning and told the story to myself in chronological order. It was a messy process that took several years, and I was lucky enough to have some terrific early readers who helped me making sure that the way the story unfolded made sense. I wasn’t sure how it would all come together until I was done.

Rather than playing Florence Nightingale to her sick husband your heroine, Mina, chooses to go off and have an adventure.  It’s horrifying, but at the same time exhilarating.  I mean, if she hadn’t made that choice then there wouldn’t have been much of a story, would there? Mina is independent, confident, self-destructive, selfish…  she breaks all kinds of stereotypes on what it means to be feminine.  Was that your intention?  Or were you mainly developing the theme that selfishness is necessary to great art? Is Mina meant to be an example of that?

I wouldn’t say that Mina’s character grew out of any theme, and I’m not sure that I consciously made her “strong.” She certainly has her share of flaws — but if a male character acted the way she does, nobody would bat an eye. You’re right, though, we’re not used to seeing a woman leave her sick husband behind and make the kind of choices she makes. I wasn’t trying to make a point though — I just thought it fit the character, who, after all, becomes infatuated with her even more selfish and self-destructive grandfather.  It’s interesting that you bring it up, because some of the big publishers who turned the book down said they didn’t think Mina was “sympathetic” and “relatable” enough. Again, I don’t think anyone ever asks those questions of a male protagonist.

I love history.  KINO had me reaching for my copy of Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts.  During your research you immersed yourself in books and films on 1920’s-30’s Berlin – what would you recommend?

There’s a good history of the Weimar years called Before the Deluge, by Otto Friedrich, that I kept coming back to. Leni Riefenstahl’s autobiography is fascinating and entirely untrustworthy — you’ll want to follow it up with a biography, like the one by Steven Bach. My favorite art book on the period is Voluptuous Panic by Mel Gordon. The Ufa Story and Patrick McGilligan’s Lang biography were essential, but they’re not necessarily fun reading. For fiction, I’d recommend Christopher Isherwood’s books and Klaus Mann’s Mephisto. As far as movies go, there are too many to list. The recent Metropolis restoration is spectacular, especially if you can see it with live music. Die Nibelungen was also restored but hasn’t come to the U.S. yet. I’d see Murnau’s films — Nosferatu, Sunrise — and of course Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box. And something with or by Riefenstahl — her Olympia movies are gorgeous, and you should see one of her mountain films, like The White Hell of Pitz Palu. I’m keeping a tumblr where I post a lot of this material, even whole movies, so if you need more inspiration head to tulpendiebe.tumblr.com.

I discussed in my review the idea of the effect of WWII, the Nazis and the Holocaust on ordinary German people.  The ones who remained in Germany, joined the party and, like Kino, tried to get on with their lives.  Every artist creates – or is continually creating – their own, personal narratives (mythologies even).  Families do the same thing.  There are multiple versions of Kino’s “narrative” – some more and some less flattering.  Was this something you were consciously exploring?  Was it territory where you felt a need to tread lightly or the exact opposite?  Because I would think that in Germany – even all these years later – narratives are being (or have been) developed within families?  As I read KINO I kept asking myself:  are all the stories about Kino meant to true, or are they all meant to be false, or is it somewhere in between?

Growing up German, with grandparents who lived through those years, it’s a question that’s always been on my mind. You’d like to think that ordinary Germans – such as your own family – didn’t have much of a choice, couldn’t really have done anything to stop Hitler. They weren’t Nazis, but they weren’t heroes, either, and in my family, the stories were always about just getting by, keeping your head down and doing what you could. My grandfather always told us how he had disobeyed an order to shell a cloister at the end of the war. But you don’t know what kinds of things they aren’t telling you, and it’s impossible to know what you would have done in their stead. It’s something that’s always haunted me. And I’ve seen the same kind of thing in some of the biographies I’ve read — Fritz Lang’s story about when and why he left Germany, for instance, does not hold up to close scrutiny. It’s a nice myth, but it doesn’t seem to be true.
In the light of all that, it was important to me that Kino’s story should stay ambiguous as well, that readers would have room to make up their own minds.

Thank you, Jürgen, for being so generous with your time and answers.  Before we end, would you mind talking a little about the literary community you co-founded, Fictionaut , and how it works?

I’ve been involved with literary magazines for a long time, as reader, editor, and as writer submitting work, and I’ve always wondered how the Internet might reshape the litmag. When social media started appearing, I thought, “Aha! Here’s a new way to run a magazine!” Fictionaut started as an experiment to see if you could crowdsource the editing and selection process by allowing anybody to post their work and then letting favorites and comments decide what is presented on the front page. And lo and behold, it works — writers are using Fictionaut to publish work and get feedback, and our recommendation engine ensures that readers can easily find interesting writing when they come to the site. Since we launched, Fictionaut has attracted a great community of talented writers, and there are thousands and thousands of wonderful stories and poems on the site now.

Still want more KINO?  Of course you do!  Follow the link to a special invitation from the novel’s heroine, Mina Koblitz.

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Beatitude Blog Tour: Interview with Author Larry Closs

My review last week made it pretty obvious how much I loved Beatitude.  So when TNBBC’s The Next Best Book Blog asked if I wanted to take part in a book tour I said yes.  I had the opportunity to ask Larry some questions about his novel, his connection to the Beat generation, and where the hell he got not one, but TWO previously unpublished Ginsberg poems!??  Here’s what I found out…

BSR:  Larry, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview.  While I’ve always had an interest in the Beat Generation, it wasn’t until I read Beatitude that I began to see the Beats and their lives as a 20th century heroic epic. They’re so easy to romanticize:  the brilliant writing, the never-ending road trip, the camaraderie between the men. But they also did a lot of damage—to themselves and those around them. There’s a dark side to their story, filled with hubris & tragedy. Can you start by talking about that?

LC:  The Beats are, indeed, very easy to romanticize, but the reality was often otherwise—for them and for many of those associated with them. In contrast to the wide-eyed wonder, ecstasy of experience and laissez-faire liaisons were depression, addiction and loneliness that resulted in seriously damaged souls. Disaster was never far away. Jack Kerouac’s friend Bill Cannastra died at 28 when he leaned out of a subway car, drunk, and struck a pillar as the train pulled of the station. William S. Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer, in the head during a game of William Tell. Lucien Carr, a friend of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, stabbed David Kammerer to death, allegedly for aggressive, unwanted advances.

Unrequited love was a constant theme of the Beats, in a variety of configurations. Ginsberg was in love with both Kerouac and Neal Cassady, and although he had a sexual relationship with Cassady for years, it was never the romantic ideal he would have preferred. Ginsberg was also in love with Burroughs for a time—unfortunately, not at the same time that Burroughs was in love with him.

Women who traveled in the Beat orbit generally faced much of the same, in addition to particularly contrary expectations. The Beat Generation was basically a Boys’ Club, the members of which welcomed a woman’s open-minded attitude about sex and intimacy but otherwise held her to the restrictive norms of the 1940s and 1950s. Memoirs and autobiographies by Kerouac’s wives and lovers (Joyce Johnson, Joan Haverty, Edie Parker and Helen Weaver) and Cassady’s second wife (Carolyn Cassady) reveal what it was like to love someone who often was and wasn’t there, literally and figuratively.

All of this contributed to the larger-than-life quality that permeates Beat literature. Every great story traffics in extremes—extreme tragedy, extreme joy. The Beats had plenty of both to draw on and their journey is all the more fascinating for their willingness to expose how they did and sometimes didn’t deal with either.

BSR:  Who’s your favorite member of the Beat generation? I noticed that in the novel you (and your characters) focus a lot on Ginsberg, Kerouac and Cassady… but Burroughs only gets passing references. Until the end, that is, when Ginsberg explains him and his writing so beautifully.  I suppose what I really want to ask is:  what are your feelings on Burroughs?

LC:  What attracted me to the Beats was their search for truths in everyday experience. To that end, I find Kerouac and Ginsberg to be the most insightful and transparent. I like Ginsberg a lot but I lean toward Kerouac because, as a writer, I connect more with prose than poetry. So, Kerouac is my favorite.

Like all great literature, the Beats’ work stands on its own, but it is enhanced immensely by even a passing knowledge of their lives, since so much of their lives inspired their best work. Knowing that Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs were great friends, I was intrigued by all three and curious to see how they aligned or differed. I read Burroughs after I’d read Kerouac and Ginsberg and I was taken aback by how utterly opposite his writing seemed. In contract to the frankness, spirituality and hope of Kerouac and Ginsberg, there was defensiveness, horror and doom with a dose of the blackest humor I’d ever encountered.

It took me a long time to realize what Ginsberg says about Burroughs in Beatitude—that it was all just a cover for the same tremendous vulnerability displayed by Kerouac and Ginsberg. The last journal entry he ever wrote says it all: “Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. Love.”

BSR:  Beatitude tells two stories: the history of the Beats (and their relationships to each other) and Jay & Harry’s relationship. How did you make the connection between those two narratives? Did you decide you wanted to write a novel about the Beats—or did you begin with the story of Jay and Harry? Which came first—the chicken or the egg?

LC:  My original idea was to write a novel about two young men who become friends based on their shared fascination with the Beat Generation. Early drafts had very little background about the Beats but I began to realize that not everyone was as familiar with references that I considered general knowledge due to my own interest.

There was a story that recently made headlines, for example, about Jack Kerouac once suggesting to Marlon Brando that he buy the movie rights to On the Road and that the two of them should co-star: Brando as Dean Moriarty, Kerouac as Sal Paradise. That wasn’t news to me—it’s in just about every book about the Beats ever written. At one point, it was in mine. But it was news to most. Likewise, I once mentioned the story of Kerouac writing the first draft of On the Road in three weeks on a 120-foot scroll to someone—a story I was certain everyone knew—and he said he’d never heard it.

So, as Beatitude evolved, I began to include more and more information about the Beats to make it a self-contained, self-explanatory experience. At the same time, as I continued to write, Harry and Jay’s relationship grew more complex, thanks, in part, to the presence of Jay’s girlfriend, Zahra. Reading through the manuscript-in-progress at one point I was suddenly struck by the parallels between the lives of Harry, Jay and Zahra and the lives of Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg. That realization added a whole other layer and took the book in a new direction.

BSR:  I really enjoyed the interview with Ginsberg at the end of the novel. There was something very touching about this man sitting there in an apartment surrounded by photographs and talking about these people he’d loved. How did you research that conversation? Is it complete fabrication on your part or did you cherry pick from existing interviews?

LC:  Anyone who knew Ginsberg well will tell you that he was a man of many dimensions. For me, he always brings to mind the verse from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman, one of his favorite poets: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / I am large, I contain multitudes.” We all contain multitudes, but few are fearless enough to expose all of them. Part of Ginsberg’s genius was to make himself simultaneously vulnerable and unassailable by being completely open about each and every one of his idiosyncrasies. I wanted that to come through in my depiction of him.

I encountered Ginsberg several times and interviewed him once, though the interview was never published. I’ve read as many books about the Beats— collections of letters, interviews and biographies—as books by the Beats. I used all of those as the inspiration for the Ginsberg who appears in Beatitude and to write the interview with him near the end of the book. I did not use quotes from other interviews because that would have required reprint rights and fees. As for the setting, there are, luckily, a lot of photographs of the Beats—many taken by Ginsberg himself—and I studied various photographs of Ginsberg’s apartment to create a plausible fictional version.

BSR:  And those unpublished poems by Ginsberg?  How did they get to be in the book?

LC:  I had a recording of a poetry reading that Ginsberg did at MoMA in 1995, when Beatitude takes place. In the novel, Harry, Jay and Zahra attend the reading, and, to bring the scene to life, I featured excerpts from several of the poems that Ginsberg performed. To clear the rights to the excerpts, I submitted a list to Peter Hale at the Allen Ginsberg Estate. Peter discovered that two of the poems—“Like Other Guys” and “Carl Solomon Dream”—had, surprisingly, never been published (“Like Other Guys” appeared only as a 26-copy broadside). Peter directed me to Ginsberg’s literary agent at The Wylie Agency, and after the rights were sorted out, Wylie offered to let me include the full text of the poems in an Appendix. I was, of course, thrilled that two poems by Allen Ginsberg would be published for the first time in my first novel. For a Beat aficionado, it doesn’t get much better than that.

BSR:  Throughout the book Harry has a problem categorizing his love for Jay—and the fact that it could exist as anything other than romantic. I’m not trying to say that Harry isn’t in love with Jay—he obviously is. At the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to say that he loved Jay more than Jay loved him. It’s just a different kind of love—a concept which I think you deal with brilliantly through the course of the novel.

Which made me think:  Those same societal preconceptions could make it very easy to categorize Beatitude as LGBT literature – simply because it deals with romantic love and intense friendships between two men.  Do you have any thoughts on that?

LC:  As its name suggests, Rebel Satori Press, my publisher, focuses on books that explore “revolutionary personal transformation” through inspirational fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Rebel Satori’s specialty imprint, QueerMojo, is home for cutting edge works of particular interest to the LGBT community. Interestingly, the founder of Rebel Satori, Sven Davisson, felt that Beatitude belonged under the Rebel Satori imprint, not QueerMojo.

Since its publication, Beatitude has been reviewed by a multitude of mainstream and LGBT publications, websites and book-related blogs. In one of the very first mainstream reviews, the writer described the book as “gay literature” in the first paragraph. Shortly after, a reviewer on an LGBT book site wrote that she “would probably not label this novel as ‘gay’ if asked.” In your own review, you write that Beatitude “shouldn’t be pigeonholed as any one thing: as a love story; LGBT lit; a memorial to the Beats; a book about NYC. Because it’s all those things and more. There are multiple layers to the story Closs has given us, and it’d be a mistake to allow ourselves to get caught up in just one.”

I didn’t set out to write a “gay novel.” I’m not even sure what makes a novel “gay.” A gay writer? A gay narrator? Two gay characters? Three gay characters? What’s the tipping point? How many gay characters does it take to screw in a…? Is a gay novel about an experience that only an LGBT person can have? Putting prejudice, bigotry and religious nonsense aside, what experience would that be? When Brokeback Mountain came out, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were constantly asked what it felt like to kiss another guy. Ledger was so exasperated by the question that he finally snapped: “It’s kissing a human being. So fucking what!” The point is: Remove gender, sexuality, race, class and nationality from the equation and human experience is universal. I read and relate to plenty of “straight” novels but I’ve never thought of them as such. No one does. They’re just novels.

The three most famous works produced by the Beat Generation writers illustrate the issue: Kerouac’s On the Road generally isn’t considered a gay novel, although it features gay characters and gay sex. Ginsberg’s “Howl” isn’t classified as a gay poem, although there’s plenty of graphic gay imagery and Ginsberg himself was openly gay. Naked Lunch by Burroughs, who was also openly gay, is often categorized as a gay novel—nearly everyone in it is gay—but the novel is more famous (notorious) for its relentless hallucinatory psychosis and that usually trumps the gay label.

Are novels gay by virtue of who writes them or who reads them? It’s like a Zen koan. Two monks observe a flag flapping in the wind. “The flag is moving,” says one. “The wind is moving,” counters the other. Their master overhears them and says, “Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving.”

To me, Beatitude is a novel. Like it says right on the cover. But I know that readers will view it through their own preconceptions, which is entirely appropriate, because how preconceptions affect the ability to view things accurately is one of the themes Beatitude explores.

Larry Closs is the author of Beatitude, a novel, and a New Yorker who often wanders far from home. Follow him on his website, FacebookTwitter, YouTube and Instagram (larrycloss). 

Click HERE for the next (and, sadly, the final) stop on the BEATITUDE blog tour.

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Reading in OZ – An Interview with Lisa Hill from ANZ LitLovers

My knowledge of Australia includes Yoram Gross animated films, Peter Carey books and Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus – none of which makes me an expert.  But, understanding my limitations, I went out and found myself a ringer.  Lisa Hill from ANZ LitLovers graciously agreed to an interview.

BookSexy Review – Lisa, thank you so much for the interview!  I have a bunch of questions for you.

Lisa – I’m not an expert, you know, just an enthusiast, but I’d be happy to help.

BookSexy Review – You’re way too modest.  ANZ LitLovers is one of my favorite blogs. For those who haven’t discovered it yet, can you please talk about the blog and how it got started?

Lisa – Back in 2002 a friend and I started our own online book group, ANZ LitLovers, because we realised that Australian authors were only ever going to be a token presence in any international online book group and we wanted to explore the literature that is our own. I’ve read widely across other literatures: Russian, Irish, American, French, Indian, Canadian, African and British, but I feel there’s something missing in my life if I don’t read from my own history and culture.

In my other life (the day job) I set up a professional blog after doing a Web 2.0 course, and from there it was a short step to set up the ANZ LitLovers blog . My initial aim was to join other book bloggers with contributions from ANZ LitLovers group members. But they were bashful about publishing to the world, and I was not – mainly because I thought then that no one was reading it except for us! That eventually morphed into my book blog – and like Topsy, it just growed!* I’m still amazed to find that a little niche blog like mine has reached a 150,000 hit milestone and garners over 6000 visitors from all over the world each month and I am very grateful to the readers who drop by to make a quick comment. It is so encouraging, even when they don’t agree with me!

BookSexy Review – Do you only review Australian books & authors?

Lisa – I now review almost all my reading so the blog has become an adjunct to the reading journals I’ve been keeping for years and years. My focus is firmly on Australian literature but I also read a fair bit of classic and contemporary literature from around the world, because I don’t think I can comment on OzLit without placing it in context with other literary traditions, cultures and trends. In the last couple of years I’ve extended my reach to our neighbours across the Tasman and am now regularly reading and reviewing New Zealand literature as well.

I’m not a professional critic but I aim to be a well-informed amateur. I know I have to earn the respect of my readers by doing more than just putting shallow or insular opinions out there in cyber-space.

BookSexy Review – And do you run any particular series and/or features that readers interested in Australian literature might want to follow?

Lisa – I am working my way through all the Miles Franklin Award winners in my collection, I try to cover the current shortlists, and I like to review debut authors to introduce them to my readers. I also like exploring the backlists of favourite Aussie and out-of-print authors on my TBR such as Geoffrey Dutton, Vance Palmer and D’Arcy Niland. I like to give space to interesting writers of experimental, more elusive kinds of writing such as that of Gerald Murnane and Brian Castro and I try not be intimidated by things I don’t understand. In the time-honoured Aussie tradition, I ‘have a go’ and hope that my readers will start a conversation in the comments box to set me straight if I’ve misunderstood an author’s intent.  I love making contact with Aussie authors for my Meet an Aussie Author series and am grateful to them for making time to contribute to it.

BookSexy Review – Would you say Australia has a strong literary tradition?

Lisa – Australia took a while to develop its own tradition; much of what was written here was derivative of the British tradition even after Federation in 1901. We don’t have a Thomas Hardy or an Anthony Trollope, a Jane Austen or a George Eliot, probably because it could hardly be expected of a convict settlement to produce social commentary! The short story collections of Henry Lawson (1867-1922) and Barbara Baynton (1857-1929) are the most well-known of early Australian writers but (For the Term of) His Natural Life by Marcus Clark (1846-1991) is still popular today after all these years.  But even in the 20th century Aussie authors struggled to be published and had to go offshore; and authors and other creative artists were still fleeing to the UK in the 1960s.

However, in my opinion, by doing so they lost the opportunity to shape the contemporary Australian literary tradition which is exemplified by writers of my own time such as David Malouf, Jessica Anderson, Thea Astley, Xavier Herbert, David Foster, Thomas Keneally, Elizabeth Jolley, Amy Witting, Olga Masters, Ruth Park, Rodney Hall, Marion Halligan, Christopher Koch and Alex Miller. There are many more I could name, but these are my favourites who write as only Australians can. These – and Patrick White – were the writers who developed the identity and shaped the reputation of Australian writing here and overseas.

BookSexy Review – And how would you describe the identity Australian writing?  Latin America has “magical realism”, the American South has Southern Gothic (along with a morbid fascination with run-on sentences) and the British seem to be attached to really thick novels with implausible plot twists (I blame Dickens & Wilkie Collins). So, please, feel free to stereotype an entire continent’s literature when answering this question. If you had to name a defining characteristic of Australian lit, what would it be? Your time starts…. now!

Lisa – Oh dear, I know I’m going to get myself into trouble with this answer …
I’m going to go out on a limb anyway and suggest that one defining characteristic is the character in extremis. From Henry Handel Richardson’s Richard Mahoney going mad in the Australian heat in her The Fortunes of Richard Mahony trilogy (1930) to the bizarre psychological state of Brian Castro’s Redvers in The Bath Fugues (2009), Australian authors like playing around with the characters in extreme situations. Indeed in a memorable Miles Franklin Award shortlist in 2009 the judges chose five novels featuring characters in extremis: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, Breath by Tim Winton, Ice by Louis Nowra, The Pages by Murray Bail and Wanting by Richard Flanagan.
Leslie Cannold has just produced The Book of Rachel (2011) (featuring a sister of Jesus); Susan Johnson’s Life in Seven Mistakes (2008) features a creative artist at the end of her tether; Gone by Jennifer Mills is about a man on the road after release from prison, Snake by Kate Jennings dissects a lacerating divorce, and Glenys Osborne’s Come Inside is the story of a woman who survives an 1887 shipwreck with no memory of anything except her name. Eliot Perlman brought us to tears with his portrait of the victims of economic rationalism in Three Dollars; and Joan London’s characters get sucked into the seedy side of Melbourne in The Good Parents.

BookSexy Review“In extremis” is a Latin phrase. It means “in the farthest reaches” or “at the point of death” (thanks Wikipedia!). I obviously don’t need to ask you for examples. 🙂  So why do you think there’s this fascination with characters pushed to their limits?

Lisa – Perhaps it has something to do with our in extremis history: a bunch of settlers trying to make sense of a hostile landscape like no other juxtaposed with our indigenous stone age people trying to survive an invasion that threatened their very existence. In The Secret River and its successor The Lieutenant, one of my favourite authors, Kate Grenville explicitly focuses on crucial moments in this clash between the interloper and the Aborigine; and Kim Scott, an indigenous author from Western Australia has explored the same issue of First Contact in his brilliant new novel That Deadman Dance, (which has just won the 2011 Miles Franklin Award).

Perhaps it’s our geography too: despite a powerful love of home, we have a strong sense of that home being stranded on the edge of the world and being a long way from cultures we identify with. We romanticise the beauty and majesty of the wilderness and the arid inland but most of us are afraid of it, and so we huddle along the coastal environment in cities. Characterisation often features urbanites not at home in the bush: David Musgrave plays with the Age of Exploration in Glissando and Cate Kennedy’s characters risk all in the wilderness of Tasmania in The World Beneath. Roger McDonald explores this from an interesting new angle in When Colts Ran because it suggests that the ANZAC myth and the rugged Aussie Bush Male myth has passed its use-by date and that searching for a new 21st century male identity in the bush is problematic.

BookSexy Review – Who, in your opinion, is the most influential – your must read – Australian author?

Lisa – This one’s easy: it’s Patrick White, our only Nobel prize-winning author. My favourite is Voss, which satirizes the Age of Exploration with White’s trademark scorn, but I recommend The Twyborn Affair to start with because it was a bestseller in his day and the curious life of the gender-bending Eddie Twyborn is fascinating stuff. (BTW in extremis again, you see?)

BookSexy Review – And is there a new author in Australia who you’re particularly excited about?

Lisa – Oh, this is really, really hard! Only one? If I must restrain myself I’m going to give this gong to Chinese born Ouyang Yu – because in The English Class he exemplifies a new non-English-speaking-background Australian voice: born overseas but shaped here and writing playfully in an accessible postmodern style.

BookSexy Review – Lisa, thank you again for all the fabulous recommendations and for taking the time to answer my questions.  And I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about ANZ (which stands for Australia & New Zealand), or read more of Lisa’s reviews and recommendations, to pay a visit to ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

I’m off to order a copy of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. Right after I download Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (available via Kindle for only 99-cents!).

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Duck… Duck… Duck… BOOKDUCK!

If you saw my post yesterday you’ve already gone to look at Bookduck.  If not, what are you waiting for?!  Click here.   I had the opportunity to ask Sarah, the blogger behind Bookduck,  some questions.  I hope you enjoy our interview as much as I did.

I love the story about how your blog, Bookduck, got its name.  Can you tell it again for readers who haven’t visited your blog yet?  And I couldn’t help wondering…was Duck ever your nickname?

My name is Sarah, which starts with an “S”. With the addition of a simple beak and a dot for an eye, cursive “S”s look a lot like ducks. An older girl in my neighborhood showed me that when I was just learning cursive, and I’ve been BookDuckSignatureplaying with it ever since—although I don’t use it on my real signature. Add that to the fact that I like books, and you get “Bookduck”.

Duck, however, was never my nickname.

When did you start blogging?

Bookduck has been around since 2008.  I started on Livejournal and moved my reviews over to Blogger this summer. I still mirror my posts on Livejournal.

So after almost a year of blogging, what do you feel your roll is as a book blogger?

I feel that my role is to post reviews that will help people find books that they are likely to enjoy. As a reader of reviews, I find more books I like because a) I now know they exist and b) a good review often leads me to books I would’ve rejected after seeing the cover and reading the book jacket. Book blogging also gets people talking about books, which is rarely a negative thing.

Is that why you started Bookduck, to get people talking?

I started Bookduck for fun as well as to keep track of what I liked/disliked about what I read. Also, I read a lot of book blogs and one day decided I wanted to join the discussion. I don’t have any big plans for Bookduck, but I would like to try doing more interviews in the future —bloggers, authors, readers, whatever. I do have an author interview coming later this year, and I’m incredibly excited about it. I’d love for something like that to come up again, but if it doesn’t I won’t be heartbroken. As I said, I started Bookduck for fun—and I hope it stays that way.

And you post music to Bookduck as well.  (I love the videos!). Do you consider BookDuck primarily a book blog?

Most of my posts are book related, so I would say yes: Bookduck is primarily a book blog. When I read other book blogs, however, I enjoy reading occasional posts about other topics like current events, art, music, and movies. It’s also interesting to hear a little bit about the person whose reviews I am reading.

I like to post about whatever interests me or might interest others.

What kind of books can a reader expect to find reviewed on your blog?

I read mostly YA fiction with the occasional adult novel or work of nonfiction. As far as genres go I read all over the place, but I do enjoy books that contain realistic fantasy–as in something out of the ordinary that occurs in an ordinary situation and feels like maybe it could really happen. This often takes some research–for example, historical–on the part of the author.

Would you say you lean more towards historical fiction or more towards fantasy?

That’s difficult–I like them both.

I wanted to ask you about your reviews.  Do you try to stick to positive reviews or do you post about the books you don’t like as well?

I mostly post positive reviews of books I enjoy because I’m absolutely terrible at finishing books I don’t enjoy—I have too little free time for that, and since Bookduck is just for fun I don’t feel bound to finish every book I touch. In other words, if I finish a book it’s automatically an okay read. It does not, however, mean that I’m in love with it, and I often have complaints. This is where it gets fuzzy because I want to be honest without being rude.

On the other side of this, just because I put aside a book today doesn’t mean I won’t pick it up later and find it un-putdownable. Some of my favorite books are ones I couldn’t stand when I first cracked them open.

That’s a great word “un-putdownable”!  What are some of the books you’ve changed your mind about – that went from put aside to un-putdownable?

The Murderof Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty;  The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope;  A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray;  Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle;  Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

I’m sure there have been more, but this is what I’ve got off the top of my head.

When you’re looking for something to read to you go to the any traditional book review outlets – like the NY Times or Entertainment Weekly?

Not on a regular basis, no.

So you stick mainly to the blogs?

Yes. The great thing about blogs is finding people who tend to like books you like, which makes finding books to read easier.

Did you discover these bloggers before or after you started blogging?

I discovered them before I started blogging. They were fun to read, and suddenly I started finding all these fantastic books I never knew were there. And I was hooked.

Were you influenced by other blogs?  Any recommendations?

Yes, I was.

The blogging community has affected my blog by being an example–seeing what people write about and how they deal with their layout has definitely shaped Bookduck. And the blogging community has definitely effected how I read books! I’m now more careful to note what I think about books as I read, and also to try to read books I don’t like. Having people to be accountable to makes the page turning easier.

My favorite sources of inspiration are Bookshelves of Doom (http://www.bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/), The Story Siren (http://www.thestorysiren.com/), Natural/Artificial (the author blog of Stephanie Perkins) (http://www.naturalartificial.blogspot.com/), and Grow Wings (the author blog of Laini Taylor) (http://www.growwings.blogspot.com/). They’re all great reading.

There are a lot of book blogs out there, so there’s a little something for everyone.  Which is great.

So, here’s the hard question.  What’s your book of the year?

Ooh, that’s a tough one… So far I really like Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev. It’s funny and smart and I got lost in it.

Sarah, thank you so much for the interview!