"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Author Meredith Maran Remembers Book Soup When...

Have a favorite Book Soup story? In anticipation of our 40th anniversary party on June 12 (that's right -- 40 years!), we're collecting memories from Book Soup-ers everywhere.

First up is author, book critic, and journalist Meredith Maran, who finally (finally!) clarifies what the hell a Book Soup is.

Meredith writes:

"My most profound experience of Book Soup happened long before I'd ever set foot in the store. As an Oakland writer, each time I published a book I'd eagerly await my tour itinerary, hoping to find that enigmatic venue on the list. Again and again, I was disappointed, leaving me to wonder, "What's a Book Soup? Is it like alphabet soup? Stone soup? Duck soup?" It wasn't until I moved to LA that I finally entered that hallowed ground -- as an author/bookseller on National Independent Bookstore Day -- and realized what a Book Soup is: Soup's on!

Aw. Thanks Meredith. I totally get it now.

You can submit your own Book Soup story here.

And if you haven't read Meredith Maran's Why We Write or A Theory of Small Earthquakes yet, you're missing out, dude. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

6 Questions with Magician Steve Spill

[Photo: Steve Spill]

1. Reading your book, you get the sense that you are a man who has met everyone. How has working with some of the top people in entertainment shaped you own ambitions and outlook on life?

Those who I've worked with or admired most possess tremendous enthusiasm, great energy, and enormous self-awareness. My ambitions is to continually strengthen those qualities in myself and communicate with audiences while being the funniest and most amazing I can be.

2. What was it that attracted you first to magic and has this fascination sustained you throughout your career?

I was 5 and my dad was bedridden for a couple of weeks with an ulcer. That's when he lit the flame of magic in me, which, to this day, had never gone out. He sat up in bed -- his jaws sagging at first, his face pale, stubbled with beard hairs -- and taught me the simple trick with two strings that his father, my grandfather, had taught him. What I witnessed that day was one of the great thrills of my life.

The instant he started teaching me, a transformation came over him or from within him, he was no longer a slumped man in bed suffering from ulcer, suddenly vital and strong as if nothing was the matter with him... a regal master mentor, majestically passing the baton, the magic wand, to his son. Nowadays the same sort of thing happens to me. If I'm ill and have a show to do, another set of reflexes take charge and the ailments seem to vanish while I'm on stage. After that day, instead of Legos or little green army men, the only toys I played with were magic tricks.

One of the tricks of our trade that I love is the lying. Dyslexic displays of honesty that range from tiny little manipulative untruths, to big, fat in-your-face lies. To be a professional magician is to be an expert at dispensing disinformation, duplicity, hypocrisy, distortion, deception and fakery without any of the guilt or unpleasant consequences. And we magicians enjoy the thrill of getting away with it.

3. You explain and mention many original tricks you perfected throughout the years. Which one is your favorite and why?

My favorite is whatever new thing I happen to be working on at any given moment.

4. Your book includes a chapter on all of your failed ideas. Why did you include it?

Not ALL my failed ideas... that would fill many books. These are cherry-picked stories in the continuing saga where I had an idea, worked up a method to do the trick, got the props together, scripted the routine, and rehearsed it. But on stage, in front of real, breathing strangers, for one reason or another, it wasn't a keeper. In other words, these were routines that turned out to be useless and insignificant. I've included them in the book because in one way or another I found them to be poetic.

5. You are an artist, but you also run a business together with your wife, who is also an artist. How do these various identities mesh?

To write, produce, and perform a show in a theater that you designed, built, own, and operate, you have to be equal parts dictator and diplomat. You must be both the astonishing magician and visionary storyteller on stage and the guy shoveling raw sewage in the middle of the night because no one else would and everything would be lost if it didn't get done. You must be both an extravagant artist and a penny-pinching jerk. It isn't easy, and it isn't always fun. It isn't about money or fame. It's about what it takes to share you vision with those who want to see it. 

6. What advice would you give aspiring magicians?

Nobody makes a living as a magician by accident. You have to want it pretty bad. Success is enjoying the journey. The stamina of a marathon runner is more important than talent. Hard work helps you improve, and when you're obsessed, you make your luck.

I'm not big on giving advice, and I hate to give anyone false hope because luck has played a part in whatever success I've had, but I'll say this: By utilizing your skills and by being true to yourself and working hard it is possible to create an act or show that will -- if not rake in millions -- at least not find you on welfare at the end of the day.

[Photo: Skyhorse]

Steve Spill signs and discusses I Lie for Money: Candid, Outrageous Stories from a Magician's Misadventures on Tuesday, May 19 at 7pm. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 Questions with Author Kevin McEnroe

[Photo: Kevin McEnroe]

1) Our Town is your first novel. How long have you been writing?

I started taking writing seriously when I was about nineteen. I wasn’t a great student, and, floating through college, I took a fiction writing workshop simply because it met once a week, and at night. I didn’t think much of it until our first assignment, which was to write a story from the opposite sex's point of view. I thought, then, of a time when I was young, and I was left alone with my grandmother – my nana – one of my earliest memories. She died soon thereafter, and it’s the only time I remember her at all, but it must have stuck with me, because after that my professor came to me and told me I had something. He told me not to stop. So I didn’t – I’ve been trying to breathe life into her, and thus myself, ever since – and it was because of him that I finally understood what school is for. 

2) Your novel shares a title with Thorton Wilder's famous play, Our Town - although Hollywood is obviously very different than Grover's Corners. Was this a conscious decision of yours?

It was, indeed. It was for a long time called Serenity Side Down – a turn of phrase I liked, and which meant something to me. So, when my editor approached me about calling the book Our Town, I was nervous at first, both legally – not sure whether or not one was even allowed to co-opt a classic name, as such – and in that I didn’t want to disrespect such a legendary work. But, when I thought more about it, it began to feel as though Our Town was always the name, in some ways. From moment one I felt as though a narrator – or “stage manager” – was necessary to guide the action. And I felt that the hope of fame that Hollywood of old could provide a certain type of person was similar to the way people, when reading of Grover’s Corners, could hope for an easier, simpler life. The value systems that the two places offered up were no less than entirely opposite, but I found the hope that life could be better was in some ways the same, and so it began to feel right. Both right, and necessary.

3) Your novel is fiction, but you also come from a long line of Hollywood actresses who have struggled with addiction. How much or how little did your own family history shape this story? 

I’ve always known that Dorothy is based on my nana, Joanna Moore, who is my mother’s mother. However, outside of some attempt to honor her spirit, or, at least, attempt to realize what connected her and I, I view the rest of the novel’s landscape as entirely fictionalized. In many ways, I see the rest of the characters, and in some ways Dorothy, too, as just an extension of me. In the end, I do think I found out what connected her and I, and thus why I was so interested. Her ability to get in her own way – to do the wrong thing because you don’t believe in yourself, because you don’t believe someone like you deserves to be happy – is something that lives in me, too. And I hope, in honoring her, that it will be as though she’s finally able to gain some of the recognition that she should’ve believed she deserved from the beginning.

4) Who (or what) have your writing influences been? Where do you get your inspiration from? 

I have a tack board where I pin up ideas, when I have them. My influences are not all literary, as well. With this book, reading Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust and Joan Didion’s The White Album provided the feeling that I needed to write. But music also helped me – I would find songs that suited the tone and rhythm that I needed for a particular scene, and play them over, and over, and over, until it was right. And movies – The King of Comedy comes to mind. Oh, and lastly things like Bravo, for I found the vapidity of that sort of programming has existed in Hollywood since it’s inception, and it helped for me to attempt to incorporate that tone. 

5) Do you have any more novels on the horizon?

Yes. I am working on a New York book now. I think of Our Town as my LA book, and I want to treat the city that I now live in with the same reverence, and also disrespect. Both idealizing the romance of the New York streets at night, and fearing what happens if you continue walking on them until the morning. I’m working now, so I’m not sure, still, if I'll  be able to get this balance right. But I’m going to try, and I can’t wait to do so.

[Photo: Counterpoint]

Kevin McEnroe will sign and discuss Our Town on Thursday, May 14 at 7pm.