The 13 short stories in Alethea Black's debut collection, "I Knew You'd Be Lovely," range in tone from Gothic to hilarious, our review of her book said last fall. That's a remarkable range for anyone, but Black's work is exceptional.
Her collection was chosen as a Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" pick, and as an Oprah.com book of the week.
Black will be in the Twin Cities for three bookstore appearances this month: 4 p.m. Sunday at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis; 7 p.m. Tuesday March 27 at The Bookcase in Wayzata; and 7 p.m.Thursday March 29 at Micawber’s in St. Paul.
Here, she graciously answers our ten questions.
1. Describe your writing room.
My writing room is covered in pea-green sheets. I write on a Mac laptop, in bed. I used to feel embarrassed about doing my work from bed, but then I found out that Sid Mukherjee (physician and author of Emperor of All Maladies) is also a bed-writer, and that cheered me. My ‘display’ writing room -- that unvarnished wood desk out in the living room -- has a bit of fortune-cookie wisdom taped to its front. “A person with a determined heart frightens problems away.”
2. What is your writing strategy—do you have rituals that you maintain?
I don’t have much of a strategy in terms of logging a certain number of hours, working at a certain time of day, or always writing my first drafts longhand with my special Hertz rental-car pen. But I do try to be diligent about recording any interesting fodder as soon as I see or hear it. And when I say “recording,” I mean literally -- into a miniature tape recorder I always carry with me. My friends are a patient and tolerant lot.
3. How do you get past writers’ block (or the distraction of the Internet)?
I don’t tend to suffer from writer’s block (pause to knock on wooden surfaces with both hands and one foot), but I do find that more and more of my day gets sucked into email. I’ve tried to turn it off while I work, but somehow that sense of absence is even more distracting. So I guess this is what addiction feels like? I can’t let go of the idea of imaginary good news on its way, and I love the reward of hearing from readers who liked the book.
4. Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
I loved (and still love) the poems of Shel Silverstein and his book The Giving Tree.
5. What books do you re-read?
I’m perpetually re-reading a mystic’s diary by Gabrielle Bossis called He and I.
6. What’s on your desk?
That desk out in the living room? (Goes to look.) A photograph of my dad, a stapler, an antique key, an absurdly cute drawing of a giraffe, and a folder with my business receipts. The photograph is my favorite of my father. He’s sitting at the breakfast table, eating a bowl of cereal with orange juice instead of milk, and he’s looking up at the camera as if someone has just asked him a question.
7. Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
I’m in bed, with a miniature dachshund named Zoë curled beside me. I just made some boiled-ginger-and-cayenne-pepper tea (I have a head cold). It’s early morning, and it’s snowing. I’ve always thought the weather forecast “light snow at daybreak” would make a good first line for a haiku.
8. What are you reading right now?
I just finished A Visit from the Goon Squad and it was wonderful. WordTheatre approached me about sponsoring a dramatic reading of one of my stories and when they said they were also inviting Jennifer Egan to be part of the line-up, I danced around my house.
9. What’s been the best place so far to do a reading?
I love to give readings in people’s living rooms, for book clubs. Everyone has read your book, and they regale you with wine and snacks! My favorite on-stage event recently was a five-minute true story I told at the Bitter End as part of a Moth Story slam. The story won (beginner’s luck), which almost made the harrowing experience I described feel worth it. You can listen to it here: http://aletheablack.com/audio.html
10. What authors have inspired you?
I’m a fan of writing that has humor and compassion and a certain fearlessness. Some of my favorite short story writers are Jhumpa Lahiri, Steve Almond, Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson, Miranda July, Ralph Lombreglia, Amy Bloom, and David Gates.
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