Five Questions With Grace: David Berger

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I didn’t know anything about razor clams, much less razor clamming, before I met David Berger.  I was the event person in charge of one of his book readings and his enthusiasm for the subject, as well as great presentation skills – he came prepared with some awesome visual aids!- soon had us all enthralled with this fascinating bivalve!

David has been a contributor to the food feature, “Northwest Taste,” in the Pacific Magazine, and is a former art critic for the Seattle Times. He is also a recipient of a Metcalf Fellowship for Marine and Environmental Reporting.

His new book, RAZOR CLAMS: BURIED TREASURE OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, is published by University Of Washington Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, let’s here what David has to say!

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be, and why?

 

I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island every couple of years, so I guess it’s reasonable to wish I’d written it and had the chops for it.

It’s a great yarn and one of the world’s most popular books. I like stories and insights that have to do with the sea, and young Jim crossing the ocean with pirates and comrades, and having a tide-tossed boat ride in a tiny vessel called a coracle, are quite the watery adventures.

Sometimes people like to be read to as they’re failing in health and preparing to shuck this mortal coil. I wouldn’t mind hearing this tome in that circumstance. We’re all crossing something, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I need the stars to line up correctly, some space in my life and head, research and papers at hand, and a good amount in my bank account

 

3. You are forced to condense your book collection down to one small shelf. What six books would you want to always have in your home?

 

Well now, that’s a tough one. A dictionary, say the Random House Dictionary of the English Language. I like words and language.

Treasure Island, I’ve already said.

Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez.

Collected Essays by George Orwell.

My portable field guide to Western mushrooms, All that the Rain Promises and More… .

I like art, too, so The Hokusai Sketch-Books: selections from the Manga.

But OMG that’s leaves out Dostoyevsky, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Moby Dick, all the poets and so much more!

 

 

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you first started your writing career?

 

I dunno, not feeling very advisor-ly at the moment.

Eat more chocolate. Buy more real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

5. During the course of your research for the new book, what was the most surprising thing you discovered about the razor clam or about clamming?

 

One thing that was surprising was how much fun it was to do the research. The number of people who went razor clamming in the 1970s, maybe as much as seven percent of Washington State’s population, was surprising.

And It’s quite astonishing to picture the razor clams on the West Coast all dwelling in their sandy intertidal burrows with hinges facing the surf. Their backs to the pounding waves. “Lined up as orderly as soldiers on parade.” That haunts my imagination every time I think of it.

 

 

 

 

Be sure to pick up a copy of David’s book from your local bookstore and check out the UW Press website to see if he has an event near you! And stay tuned for next week’s Five Questions With Grace with Eric Andrews-Katz!

Five Questions With Grace: Steve Olson

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Steve Olson is a Washington-based nonfiction writer who has published articles and books on an array of fascinating topics. Subjects such as genetics, race, human origins, climate change, and even punk rock! His most recent book, ERUPTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF MOUNT ST. HELENS, was named one of the best books of 2016 by Amazon, was nominated for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, and, most recently, has been named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.  His next book, to be released in 2020, is about the production of plutonium at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation during World War II and the Cold War.

You can check out more of Steve’s work at www.steveolson.com

 

 

 

 

 

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be, and why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a physics major in college, and I’ve always been enamored of the idea of mastering an idea at the forefronts of physics. For a while, my attention was focused on the book Gravitation by Charles Misner, Kip Thorne, and John Wheeler. I can’t say that I ever read the entire book or understood even a portion of it, but the general concept of mastering a particular area of knowledge is still the approach I take toward writing.
Oddly, I’ve been running across Wheeler again in my research on the history of the Hanford nuclear reservation. (I happen to be answering these questions from a hotel room in Richland after a day spent doing research.) He helped design the reactors at Hanford and solved a problem that threatened to shut them down when they first started up.

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book?

 

I can write almost anywhere. But to work on a book, I need libraries, archives, and knowledgeable people. The problem with the way I write is that every single sentence is based on something I had to learn somewhere. Though I wish I could, I’ve never been able to write sentences that sound nice but don’t have much content.

 

3. You are forced to condense your book collection down to one small shelf. What six books would make the cut?

I’m going to interpret this as a “desert island” type of question, so six books that I’d choose if I could never again have any other books. They’re:

Don Quixote, since I’ve heard that it’s three different books if you read it once as a young person, once in middle age, and once in old age
A History of the World, the longest and most comprehensive volume I could find (though I guess multiple volumes would violate the rules)
The Bible, so I can reflect on the profound history the Bible has had on world history.
Ulysses, since I’ve been wanting to reread that book ever since college (preferably, right before a trip to Dublin)
Gravity’s Rainbow, both for its humor and complexity
The Collected Stories of Chekhov, to dwell on the reasons why people think and act the ways they do

Hmm, I guess all six of those books are kind of like Gravitation, now that I look at them.

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you first started your writing career?

I always tell aspiring writers the same thing: If you want to write full time, keep your financial needs as low as possible. Yet I’ve never followed that advice myself. And, sure enough, I spend most of my time on high-paying but routine writing projects that subsidize my lifestyle and occasional books.

 

5. I actually have a second ‘go-back-in-time’ question for you! As a science writer, if you had the chance to cover any scientific discovery or major natural event, and gather firsthand information, what would it be and why?

It would be the event I’m writing about now: the discovery of nuclear fission and the application of fission to produce nuclear weapons. Many journalists and scholars have listed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the top news story of the 20th century. It’s a great privilege for me to be writing about those events.

 

Thanks for the great answers, Steve! Next week, I’ll be chatting with David Berger, author of the recently released, RAZOR CLAMS: Buried Treasure of The Pacific Northwest

Five Questions With Grace: Ben Clanton

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I got the chance to interview Ben Clanton, picture book author and illustrator, and his answers are just as much fun as his book launch parties always are! With only a few well-placed (and genius!) lines and squiggles, Ben is able to capture the heart and soul of a multitude of characters – from the very sweet duo of Narwhal and Jelly to his latest, the endearing ghost, Boo.

 

 

1. Ben, if you could have been the writer of any book that’s ever been published, what would it be and why?

 

Definitely Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It is the book that turned me into a reader and for good reason. Harry Potter contains so many things that I love such as magic, mail, humor, mischief, and goodness. J.K. Rowling weaves these things together in a way that is spell-binding as well as both fantastical and real. It helps that I have a healthy dose of nostalgia for reading it with my mom and sister.

2. What three things do you need around you when you start working on a new book?

A blank sketchbook (usually a Moleskine), a freshly sharpened pencil, and something unexpected

 

 

 

 

3. You are forced to condense your book collection to just one shelf : What books would make the cut?

That better be a huge shelf and I would definitely be cramming every last book on it I could, but the books that I must have on it include: ZEN SHORTS by Jon J. Muth, I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen, HOW DROOFUS THE DRAGON LOST HIS HEAD by Bill Peet, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak, CALVIN AND HOBBES by Bill Watterson, MATILDA by Roald Dahl, JIMMY ZANGWOW’S OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD MOON PIE ADVENTURE by Tony DiTerlizzi, STUCK by Oliver Jeffers, MUTTS by Patrick McDonnell, THE DOT by Peter H. Reynolds, and all of the HARRY POTTER books by J.K. Rowling.

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you were first starting out as a writer?

Make something new every day.

 

 

 

 

 

5. If you could have, as your sidekick, any of the characters you’ve created – which one would it be, and why?

Narwhal!!! Because who wouldn’t want a positively awesome, super kind, waffle-loving, and incredibly imaginative sidekick??

 

 

 

 

Thanks, Ben, for the very wonderful interview! We can’t wait to see your next project!

Stay tuned for next week’s FIVE QUESTIONS – with Steve Olson, author of  ERUPTION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF MT. ST HELENS.

Five Questions With Grace: Nancy Pearl

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Welcome to the newly relaunched Five Questions With Grace! After a much needed hiatus, I’m back with a long list of fun interviews with your favorite authors!

I decided to relaunch on the pub day for the fiction debut of America’s favorite librarian, Nancy Pearl! She has published several non-fiction books, is a regular contributor to NPR, and has a popular monthly show, Book Lust With Nancy Pearl, on the Seattle Channel. Nancy’s novel, George and Lizzie (Touchstone) came out on September 9th and has been highly anticipated! She gave me an advanced copy when I saw her a week ago, so I’ve been getting lost in the exquisitely-crafted tale. Be sure to pick up your own copy of this wonderful book!

Here are Nancy’s answers to my Five Questions:

 

 

1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be and why?

There’s so many books that came to mind when I read this question, among them Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, Ruth Doan Macdougall’s The Cheerleader, Laurie Colwin’s Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, Leah Hager Cohen’s Heart, You Bully, You Punk, but if forced to choose just one, it would be Anne Tyler’s Searching for Caleb. It was a difficult choice between that and Tyler’s novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant because they both have everything I look for in a book: wonderfully quirky characters, beautiful but not baroque or self-conscious writing, and a plot that grows out of the character of the characters, rather than having the story thrust upon them. Yes, Searching for Caleb for sure.

 

 

 

 

2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book? (E.g. Gallons of coffee, absolute quiet, a lucky pen…)

Diet Pepsi and almost total quiet. Also, a place to write that isn’t at home and has no Internet access. I live in a pretty small and narrow townhouse, so I have to write in the center of everything, at the dining room table, and of course we have Internet. It’s too easy to sit down at the computer and check my email or Twitter or Facebook, then look around the house at the things I need to do (make dinner, dust the shelves, take out the trash, and, of course, read all the books that have come in for review). My best writing is done when I’m visiting someone who’s gone all day and their house is empty and I have no responsibilities for it.

 

 

3. For some horribly twisted reason you are forced to condense your book collection to just one small shelf. What six books would make the cut?

The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman
The Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay
Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon
Anne Tyler: Searching for Caleb
The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin
Merle Miller : A Gay and Melancholy Sound

 

 

 

 

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you were first starting off as a writer?

I’m going to sneak in two bits of advice, because they’re short: 1) Write for yourself, not for the thought of possible publication; and 2) To manage to create a balance between believing in yourself and your work and heeding the advice of people who give you suggestions for making your work better.

 

 

 

 

 

5. SPOILER ALERT Which character from your new book, George and Lizzie, was the hardest to write and why?

All the character were pretty easy to write about because I felt I understood who they were and why they were that way. For that reason, even Lydia and Mendel, Lizzie’s parents, were easy to write about even though I disliked them intensely. The one character I felt the most distance from is Alicia, and luckily for me (and Lizzie, who feels the same way I do), she’s not around a lot.

Please watch this site for the next set of Five Questions – this time with best-selling picture book author and illustrator, Ben Clanton.

Five Questions With Grace: Shawn Speakman

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shawn-speakmanFor my very first interview, I chose fantasy author and editor, Shawn Speakman. In addition to being a great writer, Shawn is also a really great person and very encouraging to people starting out in this business. In fact, this is actually the second time that I’ve interviewed him- the first being for my final class project a few months ago, when I was studying to be an editor. I also figure that we had all better be nice to him right now since, judging from this picture, he obviously seems very much at home on that Iron Throne!

Shawn, a native of Washington State, is the author of THE DARK THORN and the editor of the bestselling fantasy anthology, UNFETTERED. He is also the webmaster for Terry Brooks and Naomi Novik, a contributing writer for Suvudu.com, and the owner of The Signed Page, a specialty online bookstore.

And now, because I know you’d much rather hear from him, here’s what Shawn had to say for his Five Questions:

1. If you could have been the writer of any book that’s ever been published, what would it be and why? 

shadowofthewindTHE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruis Zafon. It is hard to deny the power of this book. It is a love letter to the book community and book lovers everywhere, but it works on numerous different levels. It’s a mystery, a coming of age tale, a romance – all set against the backdrop of a ruthless dictator’s regime in 1940’s Spain. Couple those things with absolutely beautiful prose and having sold millions of copies – yeah, I’d want all of that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  What do you need around you when you start working on a new book?

writingessentialsI need an outline. And a clean house. If I have those two things, I can sit down and write through a hurricane if need be.

 

 

 

 

3.  For some horribly twisted reason , you are forced to condense your book collection to just one shelf: What books would make the cut?

bookshelf

The Shadow of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Elfstones of Shannara -Terry Brooks

Dune – Frank Herbert

The Mists of Avalon- Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Wizard of Earthsea -Ursula K. LeGuin

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

The Name of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star by Pierce Brown

 

4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you were first starting out as a writer?

Work harder at doing more with less words.

 

5. If you could possess a magical object from any fantasy novel you’ve read, what would it be and why?

swordofshannara

If I had the proper lineage, I would choose the Sword of Shannara. It has the magical ability to reveal the truth about people and force them to come to terms with the lies they’ve propagated. I would then take the talisman to the Congress of the United States and clean house.