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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National Book Critics Circle also honoring writer Margaret Atwood with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Annual benefit, hosted by Charles Baxter, moves to Feburary and now includes a writing competition for U students.
The winner will be announced later this month, and the winner's book will be published in the fall.
Free cookies and good stories in January and February at the Hamline Midway Library in St. Paul.
Many other Minnesota institutions--from Coffee House Press to the Mankato Symphony Orchestra--also won grants.