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Pet-Friendly Hotels in New Orleans and the United States

View of the front of a 10-story hotel.
The Hotel Modern welcomes your pet. Photo © Laura Martone.

On our recent trip to New Orleans, my husband, Dan, and I decided to stay at the French Market Inn – mainly because its summer rates were reasonable and its location on Decatur Street offered us convenient access to any number of potential apartments in the French Quarter. Given that we were ostensibly in town to look for a new home, we’d opted not to bring our beloved kitty, Ruby Azazel, along for the ride. Though she’s always been an adaptable traveler, we didn’t see the point in torturing her with a long road trip from northern Michigan, only to repeat the experience (in reverse) five days later.

Although I missed her terribly, it was a good thing that we chose not to bring her with us (and instead let her stay up north, in the care of my patient mother-in-law). After all, the French Market Inn doesn’t permit pets – and it’s certainly not the only Big Easy hotel with such a no-pet policy. While New Orleans is rife with animals – from stray cats in the Bywater (like Ruby!) to leashed dogs in the Garden District – there are surprisingly few hotels that allow pets. Two that do, however, are the Royal Sonesta Hotel – New Orleans (300 Bourbon St., 504/586-0300), a relatively fancy option in the French Quarter that allows pets under 35 pounds for a nonrefundable fee of $75 per animal, and The Hotel Modern (936 St. Charles Ave., 504/962-0900), a newly renovated boutique hotel in the Central Business District that offers dog walkers and other pet-related amenities.

Even more impressive, however, are the W New Orleans (333 Poydras St., 504/525-9444) and the W New Orleans – French Quarter (316 Chartres St., 504/581-1200), both of which not only welcome pets but also provide pet tags, food and water bowls, comfy pet beds, clean-up bags, pet-in-room door signs, and information about local pet stores, veterinarians, groomers, dog-sitting and dog-walking services, and dog parks. From the Whatever/Whenever desk, you can also procure leashes, litter boxes, waste removal bags, first-aid kits, and toys, food, and treats for dogs as well as cats. Bear in mind, though, that both W Hotels only allow one pet (up to 40 pounds) per room and charge a daily fee of $25 per pet as well as a nonrefundable cleaning fee of $100.

Situated in the CBD, the Loews New Orleans Hotel (300 Poydras St., 504/595-3300) is also incredibly pet-friendly, offering rooms specifically intended for pets, a gourmet “Loews Loves Pets” room service menu, and gifts such as pet tags, pet bowls, and special treats upon check-in, plus detailed information about local pet-walking routes, veterinarians, pet shops, and groomers. Guests can also take advantage of pet-sitting services and items like water bowls, pet place matss, dog and cat beds, assorted leashes and collars, rawhide bones, scratch poles and catnip, litter boxes and litter, and, yes, pooper-scoopers. Just be advised that Loews limits the number of pets to two per room and charges a one-time fee of $25 per stay.

Of course, New Orleans isn’t the only place in America that offers pet-friendly hotels. Besides high-end chains like W Hotels and Loews Hotels – which provide pet-friendly accommodations in Hollywood, San Diego, Atlanta, Miami Beach, New York, and other desirable locations – there are several budget-friendly lodging chains that welcome pet lovers and their beloved dogs and/or cats across the United States. Some of these include Best Western, Candlewood Suites, Comfort Inn, EconoLodge, Extended Stay America, Motel 6, La Quinta Inns & Suites, Quality Inn, Red Roof Inn, and Rodeway Inn, several of which Dan and I have relied on while traveling across the country with our own furry feline. Bear in mind, though, that many chain hotels are actually franchises, which means that the properties are owned by autonomous management companies that set their own policies, including those related to pets. Remember, too, that many hotels require deposits, charge extra fees, and have size limitations (not to mention restrictions on the quantity of pets per room), so when in doubt of a hotel’s policies, be sure to call the establishment well in advance of your trip.

For even more helpful information about road-tripping with your cats and dogs, consult the following pet-focused websites:,, pawnation,,, and In the meantime, I’m curious about other pet-loving travelers. So, do you travel with your pets, and if so, which pet-friendly hotel chains do you usually depend on?

Dark Inspiration

Echo Railroad Bridge over Sabine River, north of I-10, Orange, Texas 1031091315BWI can’t think about Edgar Allan Poe without thinking about my life, because he was there in dark spirit, in my room and in my head. He was out there in the shadows of the East Texas pines, roaming along the creeks and the Sabine River, a friendly specter with gothic tales to tell. It was a perfect place for him. East Texas. It’s the part of Texas that is behind the pine curtain, down here in the damp dark. It’s Poe country, hands down.

These thoughts were in my mind as I toured the Harry Ransom Center’s current exhibition, From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. The Center, at the University of Texas at Austin, is celebrating the bicentennial of Poe’s birth with an exhibition that includes original manuscripts and illustrations. Looking at these artifacts, it occurred to me that Poe reached out from the grave and saved this East Texan from the aluminum chair factory. I know there are those who will say working in an aluminum chair factory is good honest work, and I’m going to agree. But I will say without hesitation and with no concern of insult that it damn sure wasn’t work of my choosing, and that it takes the skill of a trained raccoon and the I.Q. of a can of green beans, minus the label, to get it done.

Like Sisyphus forever rolling his rock uphill, I feared I would spend my time on Earth matching up aluminum runners, or linking chain to be pinned together by hissing and snapping and cutting and crimping machines, which in turn would be forklifted away in shiny piles of bent rods and flexible seats. Something to be sold and brought out on hot days at barbecues, and on hot nights to give mosquito-attacked, beer-drinking drive-in theater patrons a place for their butts to nestle.

Continue reading “Dark Inspiration”

Discover Charleston & Savannah

A stone arch with Wormsloe carved into it rises over a tree-lined road.
Wormsloe State Historic Site in Savannah, Georgia. Photo © dndavis.

As more and more people discover the subtle, compelling charms of these two Southern gems, the inevitable comparisons begin. Stereotypes abound, such as the famous adage “In Charleston they ask what your mother’s maiden name is, and in Savannah they ask what you’re drinking.” But the truth is that Savannah can be just as obsessed with arcane genealogy, and anyone who’s ever spent a weekend night in downtown Charleston knows that city is no stranger to a carousing good time.

[pullquote align=”right”]The entire area shares in common a rare natural beauty, with the South Carolina Lowcountry and the Georgia coast together comprising the largest contiguous salt marsh in the world and one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.[/pullquote]The key difference between the two is actually physical. Charleston’s charms are more serendipitous, its architecture more Caribbean. The compact, winding downtown means that a new surprise awaits you around every corner. That’s the magic of Charleston.

Savannah, with its more spacious downtown, has more room to breathe, to walk, and to stretch out. And there are those matchless, tidy squares, still studied as marvels of urban design. Savannah’s classically Anglophilic architecture tends more toward the stately.

While both cities love a good time, Charleston—with its vast selection of nationally renowned restaurants—is definitely more of a foodie’s paradise. Savannah, on the other hand—with its unusual “to-go cup” law allowing open containers of alcoholic beverages on the street—loves nothing more than a boisterous party.

Perhaps we should be talking instead about the things that tie the two together. Charleston and Savannah share a parallel history; stubborn individuality and defiance against the norm have been constants, as evidenced by their key roles in the American Revolution and the Civil War.

The entire area shares in common a rare natural beauty, with the South Carolina Lowcountry and the Georgia coast together comprising the largest contiguous salt marsh in the world and one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. Kayakers are at home paddling in the blackwater of the ACE Basin or the vast Okefenokee Swamp. Beachgoers are often amazed at the underrated quality of the area’s serene strands.

Most of all, however, the greatest treasure of this region is its people. The folks down here love a good story, a good conversation, and a good laugh. Indeed, it’s one of America’s enduring ironies that deep in the heart of our most conservative region lie some of our most fun-loving cities. New Orleans heads the list, of course, but Charleston and Savannah are hard on its heels. It’s not just the fabled Southern hospitality; it’s a joie de vivre born out of great weather and proximity to the ever-invigorating water of the rivers, marshes, and ocean.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Charleston & Savannah.

Hawai‘i: A Foodie Paradise, Part 1

The Big Island of Hawai’i is an underrated foodie paradise that can easily compete with the likes of Brooklyn or Portland. From food carts to farmers markets to local and seasonal foods, the Big Island has it all; better yet, it’s tropical.

Before eating locally became trendy, the Big Island played a large role in beginning the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement. Initially, these foods weren’t necessarily local in that they were grown on the islands; rather, these foods were the popular cuisine eaten by the different populations from Polynesia, Europe, and Asia. Taking an eating tour of the Big Island not only allows you to taste these quintessentially Hawaiian treats, but it also tells you a little something about who came to settle the islands throughout its history.

My suggested food tour includes restaurants, bakeries, and farmers markets, as well as food and beverage tasting. The itinerary doesn’t necessarily have to be completed in any number of days (although it would impressive if you completed it in one swoop—you’d be very full, though). Stops are listed geographically from Kona counterclockwise to Kohala.

Stop 1

Learn how to make bread in the Portuguese Stone Oven, a reproduction of a typical oven from the Portuguese immigrants of the 1880s, at the Kona Historical Society (in Captain Cook) every Thursday and the second Tuesday of every month. The program is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the bread costs $7 per loaf.

Stop 2

The Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative (in Captain Cook) offers self-guided fruit orchard and coffee tours. More importantly, their gift shop area offers many free samples of coffee, dried fruits, and sweets that are all locally produced. Don’t leave here without trying one of their Li Hing Mui slushees.

Stop 3

This will only be your first of many stops to find the best malasadas (Portuguese donuts) on the Island. Actually, the Punalu’u Bake Shop (in Na’alehu) is probably better known for traditional, taro, and guava sweetbreads. Pick up a loaf (or three) as well as a malasada and bring them all with you to the nearby beach of the same name.

Stop 4

It’s a little like Napa at the Volcano Winery, the southernmost winery in the United States. Stop in for a quick (and free) tasting; they have several varieties of whites and reds but their meads (honey wines) are the better of the lot and are created with Big Island honey. If you want a more extensive tour of their vineyard and a private tasting (with some winery schwag), call ahead to reserve a spot ($25 per person). You can also add a tea tasting tour of a nearby plantation for an additional $20.

Stop 5

In Puna, both the S.P.A.C.E. Market (Saturday) and Maku’u Market (Sunday) will overwhelm your taste buds. At the S.P.A.C.E. market, try some raw gluten-free vegan pizza and tumeric tea (tumeric grows in Hawaii!). If that’s not your (literal) cup of tea, the Maku’u Market may be more your style with Mister D’s B-B-Q (he’s also at the Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays). Mister D serves up sticks of barbequed meat and fish for next to nothing (you won’t have to search for him; don’t worry, you’ll smell the voluptuous aroma). You’ll also find Samoan food. Try some baked ulu (breadfruit) and wash it down with a smoothie from one of the nearby stands. Anytime of the week, stop at Kalani Oceanside Retreat Village (in Pahoa) for their lunch buffet. It’s a vegetarian (and gluten-free) dream come true. The buffet, needless to say, has copious amounts of fresh local foods. I recommend not eating breakfast beforehand to really get the full experience.

I’ll be posting more foodie finds later this week. Stay tuned.

Photo credit © Bree Kessler

Start Reading Breed by Chase Novak

Next month we publish the hotly anticipated horror novel from Chase Novak, the pseudonymous debut of Scott Spencer’s alter ego hailed by Stephen King as “The best horror novel I’ve read since Peter Straub’s Ghost Story…by turns terrifying and blackly funny…a total blast.”

Copies are already on their way to bookstores–but you can start the wild ride right here. Let the buzz begin!

Part One


Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father


It’s well known—part fact, part punch line—that people in New York think a great deal about real estate. In the case of Leslie Kramer, she actually was aware of the house Alex Twisden lived in before she had ever met him, or even knew his name. Leslie would often pass by the house on days she chose to walk to Gardenia Press, where, though single and childless herself, she edited children’s books.

The house was a piece of pure old New York, from before taxes, before unions, back when the propertied classes had money for the finest stonework, the finest carpentry, and for a multitude of servants, including people to put straw in the streets so the wagon wheels of passing merchants would not clatter on the cobblestones. It was a four-story townhouse on East Sixty-Ninth Street, an often-photographed Federal-style dwelling made of pale salmon bricks, with windows that turned bursts of light into prismatic fans of color framed by pale green shutters.

It was one of the few residences on this block that had not been broken up into apartments, and the only house in the neighborhood owned by the same family since its construction. It was one of those places that seem immune to change, ever lovely, and ever redolent of privilege and the provenance that justifies the continuation of those privileges. The front of the house bore a polished brass plaque announcing the year of the house’s construction, 1840. The window boxes were almost always in bloom, with snowdrops in the spring, and then with tulips, impatiens, geraniums, and various decorative cabbages, some of them so unusual and obscure that often passersby would stop on the sidewalk and wonder about them. The light post next to the eight-step porch was entwined with twinkling blue lights twelve months a year. Recycling was set out at the curbside inside of cases that once held bottles of Château Beychevelle or Tattinger’s.

Twisdens have been born and have died in these rooms. The first President Roosevelt dined there on several occasions and once famously played the ukulele and sang Cuban folk songs for a dinner party that included the mayor, the ambassador to the Court of King James’s, and a Russian ballerina who, it turned out, was embroiled in an affair with the host, Abraham Twisden. Twisdens who practiced law and medicine lived here, political Twisdens, bohemian Twisdens, drunken and idle Twisdens, one of whom lost the house in a card game on West Fourteenth Street, a debt that was nullified by the sudden death of the lucky winner, who turned out not to be so lucky after all.

Alex was raised in this house along with his sisters, Katherine and Cecile. Their world was this house, with its mahogany globes the size of cantaloupes on the newel posts of every stairway, with wedding-cake plaster on the ceilings, and wainscoting in the parlor, and the library, and antique Persian carpets of red and purple and blue and gold on the wide plank floors, rugs knotted by little hands that had long since turned to dust.

Katherine lives now as a Buddhist nun in Thailand and has renounced the family; she has a brain tumor that has shortened her temper but seems not to be shortening her life. Cecile died at thirteen, of a staph infection following the removal of her appendix, and when their parents died in Corfu, in 1970, the house on Sixty-Ninth Street passed without contest directly to Alex.

In point of fact, it was the house that brought Alex and Leslie together in the first place. One drizzly spring morning, Alex noticed her stopped in front of his house, and he said, “Haven’t I seen you before?”

“Oh, I like to stop here. It’s on my way to work. And it’s such a beautiful house.”

“I’m afraid I’m its prisoner,” Alex said. “I just don’t like anyplace else in the world half so much.”

“I can see why,” Leslie said. The ends of her blunt-cut auburn hair touched the dark red, rain-spotted wool of her coat. She had the plain but lovely face of a pioneer; he could imagine her sitting at the back of a covered wagon, looking longingly east as her family headed west. Her eyes were bright green, and though she was smiling, there seemed something temperamental, easily wounded about her.

Alex, dressed for work in thousands of dollars’ worth of English tailoring and, even in a more overtly social situation, tending toward the reticent, surprised himself by asking, “Would you be interested in seeing the inside?”

From there to courtship to wedding was a mere five months and it did not escape Leslie’s attention that some people (well: many) thought of her as Alex Twisden’s midlife trophy wife. Never mind that she loved him, and never mind that (of this she was certain) he loved her, and never mind that she was almost thirty (well: twenty-eight) and had an excellent (well: good) job at a great (well: up and coming) New York publishing company—the fact that she was seventeen years younger than Alex, and that he was wealthy, and childless and probably (well: definitely) in the hunt for an heir, made Leslie a trophy wife, which, in the parlance of well-off Manhattanites, suggested she was practicing some high-end, socially sanctioned form of prostitution.

But now the shining trophy wife has a very significant ding in her. She has been trying to have a baby for three years, which is why she and Alex are currently sitting in the annex of Herald Church on West Ninetieth Street, a depressing, claustrophobic, smelly, badly lit, terrible, and depressing (yes, it is worth a second mention) basement in which they are attending the biweekly meeting of the Uptown Infertility Support Group. As Leslie looks around at the scuffed linoleum floors, the plasterboard walls, the strip lighting, and the metal folding chairs, she uncrosses and recrosses her legs and tries to read the expression on her husband’s long, narrow, solemn face. But he is as unreadable here as he is when he rides the elevator to the top floor of the Erskine Building, where the venerable firm of Bailey, Twisden, Kaufman, and Chang go about their hushed business, a kind of law that seems to Leslie far closer to accountancy than anything she has ever seen on TV. In TV law, lives hang in the balance, wrongs are redressed, and the system blindly gropes its way toward justice. At BTK&C, all that matters in the orderly transfer of property, and the golden rule seems to be “Don’t ever touch the principal.”

Neither Alex nor Leslie really wants or needs the psychological or moral support of other couples dealing with infertility. They attend because it is Alex’s theory that these meetings, aside from being sobfests and weirdly twelve-steppy in their confessional nature, operate as a kind of clearinghouse for information about fertility treatments and fertility doctors. So far they have not met anyone who has done anything different from what Alex and Leslie have tried, often at the very same clinics, with the very same doctors, and even with the same kindhearted nurses. Tonight’s meeting was particularly useless. Two of the nine couples in the group have already separated—infertility can wreak havoc on a marriage—yet both the husbands from these defunct unions continue not only to show up for meetings but to dominate the discussions. The Featherstones, a chubby, cheerful duo—he a second-grade teacher, she a pastry chef—want to share their fabulous news. Chelsea is, or at least was, pregnant, and even though she miscarried in the third week, both the Featherstones are ebullient, feeling they have their problem, if not defeated, then at least on the run, and they somehow induce the group to share their excitement. As the basement echoes with applause, Leslie pretends to look for something in her purse, and Alex simply sits there with his hands folded in his lap.

When she looked over at him he silently mouths the words I love you.

*** Continue reading “Start Reading Breed by Chase Novak”

U.S. is the Number One Source of Immigrants to Brazil

A black and white propaganda poster in Japanese.
Early 1900s propaganda poster encouraging Japanese immigration. Image courtesy of the Brazilian government.

Like the U.S. and Canada, Brazil has a long history of welcoming immigrants from all over the world. In fact, Brazil was built by immigrants – from Portugal and Africa during colonial times, followed by Italy, Germany, Spain and other Europeans in the 19th and early 20th centuries as well as Japanese, Lebanese and Syrians, and more recently migrants from South American neighbors such as Bolivia.

Five centuries of immigration have shaped Brazilian society and culture into one of the richest and most diverse on the planet. Bahia’s capital of Salvador, for example, is the city with the second largest population of African descent after Lagos. São Paulo – 60 percent of whose population can claim some Italian ancestry – is a city where the pizza rivals that munched upon in Rome (this according to Italians). Brazil also boasts the largest Japanese and Lebanese communities outside of their respective countries.

In recent decades, immigration to Brazil all but ground to a halt due to the political and economic turbulence that plagued the nation during much of the late 20th century. As a result, today foreigners represent a mere 1 percent of Brazil’s workforce, down from 7 percent at the turn of the 20th century. In other terms, the number of immigrants in Brazil in 2012 is half of what it was 100 years ago when the population was ten times smaller.

[pullquote align=”right”]According to the most recent Brazilian Census carried out by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), between 2000 and 2010, the number of immigrants living in Brazil increased by 87 percent.[/pullquote]This trend has begun to change as a result of Brazil’s growing economy coupled with a severe lack of skilled workers and the economic crises wreaking havoc (and unemployment) in the United States and Europe. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of work permits granted to foreign professionals tripled from 25,400 to 70,524, and between 2010 and 2011, this number rose by 32 percent. China, which is currently Brazil’s leading trade partner and main foreign investor, was the largest source of work visas, followed by the United States, Portugal, France, and Spain.

Moreover, in 2011, Brazil reprised its traditional role as a recipient country; for the first time in two decades the number of foreign immigrants entering Brazil was larger than the number of Brazilians leaving the country. Between 2010 and 2011 alone, the number of foreign-born residents increased by 50 percent. By the end of 2011, there were 2 million foreign nationals living legally in Brazil – and an estimated 600,000 undocumented foreigners (which is still miniscule when compared to neighboring Argentina, where legal foreign residents represent 14 percent of the population – and the United States, where they account for 13 percent.)

According to the most recent Brazilian Census carried out by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), between 2000 and 2010, the number of immigrants living in Brazil increased by 87 percent. And somewhat to my surprise, in 2010, the largest source of foreign immigrants was none other than the United States.

The almost 52,000 Americans who immigrated to Brazil that year represented a major increase from 2000, when only 16,695 Americans moved to Brazil. Like the majority of these new immigrants, most Americans who come to Brazil are skilled professionals lured by the many opportunities in areas such as finance, engineering, oil and gas, mining, and IT. The Brazilian states that draw the greatest number of newcomers are those whose economies are experiencing the biggest booms: São Paulo, Paraná, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Goiás.

It looks like this new wave isn’t likely to subside anytime soon. In fact, this week the Brazilian government announced that it was committed to attracting up to 10 times as many foreign professionals to ensure the continued expansion of the Brazilian economy. In order to achieve this goal, it is considering passing legislation that eases the immigration process, which is great news since, like most processes in Brazil, obtaining any kind of long-term visa for Brazil can be notoriously, and maddeningly, bureaucratic.

A Review of Mischa Hiller’s Shake Off

This review first appeared at Grift Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

I thought I’d burn through Mischa Hiller’s Shake Off, but I read the first half at an incredibly slow pace, partly out of necessity (I was moving) and partly because the narrative demanded my attention in a way I hadn’t expected.

The first chapters are weighted down with exposition about Michel Khoury, the book’s narrator, a young PLO operative whose family was murdered by extremists at a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. The short, Sallis-like chapters kept me reading when my attention waned. My first impression was that the book was trying unsuccessfully to balance being a spy novel and a history lesson. But those early chapters are merely a foundation for a story that gets moving around 70 pages in and then is impossible to put down once you reach the halfway mark.

Michel is an agent for a man named Abu Leila, who has taught him all that he knows and has become his surrogate father. I won’t go into great detail about their relationship except to say that what at first seems ordinary is later revealed as the great mysterious core of the book. Michel believes that he, as Abu Leila’s pawn, is working to resolve the Middle East conflict peacefully. Needless to say, nothing in this book is that easy.

Part of the book’s charm is that there are no simple heroes and villains. We have questions about every character that we meet, including Michel, who—in a couple of very surprising scenes—uncovers his true motives for becoming an intelligence agent. When he’s forced to go rogue and face his demons, Michel becomes even more intense and complicated.

One of the most compelling characters here is Helen, a young postgraduate anthropology student who Michel lives next door to and falls in love with. Helen, even more than Michel and Abu Leila, was a mystery to me as I read. I wondered about her motives constantly. Was she an agent? What was her endgame? When I realized I had taken on Michel’s anxiety about her, I felt that Hiller had succeeded in a significant way.

The book is, in some ways, about paranoia. Early on, Michel tells us how he sees the world: “Everyday objects must be considered potential concealers of microphones or cameras. Every person you meet could either be an agent waiting to get close or a possible recruit to the cause. Every woman that talks to you wants to trap you with the promise of sex. Every postcard has a hidden meaning. Everybody behind you could be following you, and it is your job to shake them off.” I was put in mind of Trelkovsky in Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (based on Roland Topor’s novel) in terms of how Hiller portrayed Michel’s pathological alienation. Unlike Trelkovsky, though, Michel’s search leads him away from madness. Ultimately, Shake Off is all the things it’s billed as—infectious, thought-provoking, and entertaining—because Michel is a character who exposes the dark complexities of being human.

An Interview with Michael Koryta

[This conversation first appeared at MysteryPeople’s blog and is reprinted here with their kind permission]

While The Prophet definitely has your voice, it’s a bit different from your Lincoln Perry series and the five other thrillers you wrote. How did it come about?

The Prophet is a book I’d wanted to write for a long time, actually, and I couldn’t find the right way in. I knew the starting point – a kid who was supposed to get his sister home from school safely and didn’t. She was abducted while walking a short distance home, killed by a guy who was supposed to be in jail and had skipped out on bond. As an adult, the older brother is a bond agent, he’s made his life a mission of atonement for something he can never set right. But I wanted to pair him against another brother who had gone another way. At first I started with a minister. That didn’t take, though, it was too on-the-nose, I think. So it wasn’t until I found the other brother, Kent, as the high school football coach and community hero and who has involved himself with prison outreach programs that I really got the story rolling. I needed that dramatic tension between the two of them.

What I love about the book is that the emotions of Adam and Kent ring true for the violent situations they have to deal with. How difficult was it to deal with such sobering subject matter?

I appreciate hearing that, because it was certainly the goal. I told my editor early, this one has to hurt, it has to cut to the bone, or I didn’t do it right. If people ask me my favorite of my own work I’d probably say The Cypress House, and then I’d say that The Prophet is the best, and the reason would be that I think it does have a higher level of emotional reality and depth. Though you know an author is the worst judge of his own work. It was a damn sad book to write, though, it really was. I remember commenting on that a lot to the people close to me. I’d finish a writing session feeling wrung out and exhausted in a way I never had with a book. It wore on me emotionally and I was surprised by that. My emotional investment with Adam was very deep, and as you can imagine, that made it a painful story most of the time. He’s a pretty wounded guy, he’s very damaged. In this really bizarre way, I kept wishing I could save him, that I could force him to make different choices. Now, of course I could, I’m the writer. But it doesn’t feel like that. It feels as if the characters have free will and you’re narrating a drama that you can’t stop. Continue reading “An Interview with Michael Koryta”

TV Movies and Evil Women

Two of the best suspense novelists working today, one lively conversation–what more could you ask for? Goodreads was kind enough to let us excerpt a portion of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott’s chat, more of which can be found here. And don’t miss Flynn’s GONE GIRL and Abbott’s DARE ME, both now in bookstores everywhere!

Megan Abbott: A couple years back we realized we both had been strongly influenced by watching, as kids in the 1980s, true-crime TV movies (the Golden Age for these kinds of movies). Do you have a favorite or two?

Gillian Flynn: Oh, sweet, sweet movies of the week. My all-time favorite (as in, I own it and watch it once a year or so) is A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, a 1992 TV movie starring the sublime Meredith Baxter. It’s based on a real case: Betty Broderick, a wealthy Southern California housewife, began spiraling out of control when her influential lawyer husband left her (after she helped put him through law school and med school). She ultimately shot both her ex and his new wife while they were sleeping. The case is much more nuanced than these basic outlines, but let me say that it intrigues me because it’s about a relationship gone very toxic, escalating animosities, the perils of attaching one’s identity to someone else, and the dangers of righteousness. The movie is legitimately great—Baxter is fascinating. If you want to read about the case, check out Bella Stumbo’s true-crime book, Until the 12th of Never. It’s stunning.

That’s my long answer: And you, Megan? Your favorite, legitimately good, and your favorite guilty pleasure TV movie?

MA: Oh, what a great question! I think A Friend to Die For AKA Death of a Cheerleader with Kellie Martin and (yes) Tori Spelling would be right up there. It’s actually a very meaty tale (based on a true crime) and speaks volumes about the pressures of being a teenage girl. Second only to Small Sacrifices with Farrah Fawcett, which I haven’t seen in many years but terrified me for years (“Hungry Like the Wolf” never sounded the same thereafter…)

Gillian, what was that one with Hillary Swank we both had watched?

GF: Dying to Belong! Hilary Swank’s friend joins a sorority, is hazed by the evil queen bee (Scrubs’s Sarah Chalke) and mysteriously falls to her death from a clock tower. Hilary investigates. I remember girls writing mean things on freshmen pledges with magic marker (am I making this up?) and also Hilary Swank and Mark-Paul Gosselaar riding a lot of bikes to the tune of Sophie B. Hawkins’ “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” This is starting to sound like a fever dream.

MA: Oh gosh, that’s totally right. They markered all over their body parts, telling them where they were too flabby. I never forgot that. If it’s a fever dream, it’s one that returns, like malaria!

GF: Megan, speaking of the evil girls do to each other, it reminds me of that fantastic line in DARE ME, “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.”

Did that line come to you as you were writing, or was that a guiding theme early on of DARE ME?

MA: It came to me as I was writing, though originally it was buried later in the book. It kept sticking in my head, so I knew I had to move it forward.

I wonder with you about the notion of the “Cool Girl,” which is one of the most memorable passages in Gone Girl. (It begins: ““Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping…” and is quoted in full here.

Was that an early idea? When I read it, I nearly gasped it was so perfect, so incisive.

GF: I actually had a lot of trouble getting Amy’s voice and nailing her down. In the final version, she writes quizzes for women’s magazines for a living, but originally I had her as a columnist. So to figure her out more, I wrote a lot of her columns in her voice—just as an exercise. But that one I liked so much I couldn’t bear to get rid of it, so I worked it into the book.

Reader Question:: It seems like the “evil” female keeps cropping up this summer. Before I read Gone Girl, I happened upon Serena by Ron Rash. Now that’s an evil anti-hero(ine). I keep hearing selfish women in my music as well. Could this be a manifestation of frustrated feminists, not satisfied with women’s true roles?

Serena is a beautiful, haunting novel, isn’t it? Fear any woman who has a pet eagle.

I like to write about evil women because I think truly frightening women are under-represented in literature. Not campy villainesses but truly dangerous, evil-minded women. For me, I suppose it is in a way a feminist statement: I get weary of the idea that women are naturally good and nurturing. I think women struggle with evil as mightily as men do. I don’t want that struggle to be dismissed. I want credit for it!

MA: Evil is such a subjective word. I admit I never really think of any of my characters (or yours) as “evil.” One of the things I find so compelling about good crime fiction is it shows the complexities behind people behaving badly. That actions may be destructive or even cruel but as the book unfolds the picture gets more complicated. What do you think?

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Summer Reading

Sunny readingI seem to be on a cycle in which I finish books in early summer for a late fall release. It happened again this year – much, I’m sure, to my editor’s frustration. I’ve just finished up my next novel The Black Box, blowing all kinds of deadlines in the process. The frustrating part for my editor and copyeditor is that the longer I take, the less time they have to work their magic and make the book better.

But I have no worry this year or any year. The team that works on these books is the best and the book is in very good hands.

What’s been nice for me is that it turns summer into a real vacation for me. I don’t want to start my next book, even though I am thinking about it all the time, until all the editing and polishing of The Black Box is finished. That gives me time to catch up on books and movies and other projects. So then, here is an update on how I spent my summer vacation.

First, reading list. Most people think that because I write books that I must be reading books all the time. Not true. On one hand, you have to always be reading. It refills the tank, stimulates ideas and inspires. It’s important. The only problem is it can be intrusive to your own work. So when I am writing I am usually reading sparingly. I am lucky in that I get sent a lot of books to read. I look them over and put the one I want to read to the side for later. That is, if I can wait. Sometimes I can’t wait to jump on a book as soon as I pick it up at the store or it comes in the mail.

This has been a good summer for me. Reading both old and new books and even new old books (I’ll explain later), I have not been disappointed. Continue reading “Summer Reading”

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