Thursday, June 25, 2015

Joe Lansdale = modern-day Mark Twain

I interviewed Joe Lansdale for Kirkus Reviews about his great new novel. Here's how it starts:

Even if the prolific Joe Lansdale created an imaginary twin (don’t put it past him), the two combined probably wouldn’t have enough fingers and toes to count all of his published novels. So when he says Paradise Sky was the most fun one to write, take heed.

A fictionalized story of the real-life Nat Love, the picaresque tale follows its African-American protagonist on a jaunt through post-Civil War adventures that lead him into careers as a marksman nicknamed Deadwood Dick, a Buffalo soldier and a marshal, all the while being tailed by a racist miscreant bent on killing Love for a mostly imagined slight.

Lansdale had read the real Nat Love’s autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick" by Himself and saw an avenue to tell a tale often overlooked—African-American contributions to the Old West mythos. He’d pitched it as a novel as far back as the late ‘70s, but agents and editors then saw no audience for a story with black heroes.

Read the rest here.

Gary Cartwright's memoir dives into 'Mad Dog' days

My interview with Gary Cartwright is the cover story for this week's Austin Chronicle. This is how it begins:

Photo ©Joe M. O'Connell
How to write about the memoir of an iconic Texas scribe whose life has been way more interesting/wild/chaotic than yours? Use his words.

"On the road home to Brownwood in her green '74 Cadillac with the custom upholstery and the CB radio, clutching a pawn ticket, for her $3,000 mink, Candy Barr thought about biscuits. Biscuits made her think of fried chicken, which in turn suggested potato salad and corn. For as long as she could remember, in times of crisis and stress, Candy Barr always thought of groceries. It was a miracle she didn't look like a platinum pumpkin, but she didn't: even at 41, she still looked like a movie star."

Thus begins Gary Cartwright's 1976 Texas Monthly profile of the state's most notorious stripper, a story that in many ways cemented a style of inserting himself into the narrative. It's a technique that served him well in writing the memoir The Best I Recall (University of Texas Press, 272 pp., $27.95) When UT Press asked him to pen the book, he realized details of events from party days of yore were often hazy.

"Even though I wasn't the topic I was writing about, I wrote in first person a lot," Cartwright, now 80, said recently from his Central Austin home. "So I could go back and re-read stories from Texas Monthly and other magazines and get a timeline of what I'd done and when I'd done it. I put it together by going to school on myself."

Cartwright had a longstanding desire to meet Candy Barr going back to his Army discharge when a buddy and he showed up in Dallas at Abe Weinstein's Colony Club with a bottle of whiskey in the days pre-liquor-by-the-drink. They weren't (yet) drunk, but an overzealous cop threw them in jail anyway. Candy Barr had to wait.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Boxing is a metaphor for stuggle in Cuba memoir

I enjoyed interviewing Brin-Jonathan Butler about his memoir The Domino Diaries for Kirkus Reviews. Here's the opening:

Brin-Jonathan Butler owes his life to Mike Tyson.

Butler was a battered and bullied teen afraid to leave the front door of his house when he heard the enigmatic former heavyweight champ in a televised interview talk of also being bullied and of the famous authors he was reading while in prison for rape.

Never good at school, Butler raced out to buy five Tyson biographies and all of the novels Tyson had suggested. Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea was a revelation. In the years that followed Butler wrote half a million words in three novels he'd rather forget. He left his Vancouver home at 18 for Spain, then went to Cuba at 20. “I thought I had to lead a life worthy of writing about,” he says.

But first there was the Vancouver boxing gym a frightened Butler entered at age 15, all 5' 2” and 115 pounds of him. He'd never kissed a girl, but he'd soon learn to take a punch. “If you're out of shape or new, the ring is one of the loneliest places in the world,” Butler writes in his memoir The Domino Diaries. “The worst blow, for my money, is the first big one that hasn't hit you yet, it's just hanging there on the way to hitting you.”

Read the rest here.