Amy Gustine on her short story collection, You Should Pity Us Instead

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We asked Amy Gustine, one of our Ohioana Award Fiction finalists, to provide some insight about her work. Amy, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. We appreciate your work and your support of Ohioana!

Ohioana: What inspired you to write your stories?
Amy Gustine: The collection is made up of stories written over the course of ten years, so each one has its own origin story. In general, though, I’m intrigued by the unanswered questions and the peripheral people in news stories—the things happening behind the scenes. The title story, for example, started with wondering about the experience of being married to someone like Christopher Hitchens, a very vocal, public atheist intensely critical of religion. As the story developed, obviously it wasn’t Christopher Hitchens’ actual spouse I was interested in, but rather the person I imagined in Molly, whose ambivalence sometimes clashes with her husband Simon’s unyielding certainty. I’m generally interested in morality—its source, its internal conflicts—and so that also was a natural fit for this story. The character of Adoo in the story was inspired by an article I happen to read about an uncontacted tribe of people infected by the common cold in Peru. Except for a small number of children, the tribe perished, and the children had to be placed in adoptive homes in the U.S. and Canada. As so often happens in my work, many seemingly disparate incidents or people I read or hear about come together like puzzle pieces to create something new.

Ohioana: How does a sense of place inform your work? If that place happens to be Ohio, would love your thoughts on that.
Amy Gustine: I grew up in Toledo, Ohio in a small family of introverted homebodies and I don’t have any aunts, uncles or first cousins. For me, then, place has always started at home, and setting and society were for a long time overshadowed in my imagination by intimate relationships. I’ve worked consciously to step out of the house, to look up and down the street and across town imaginatively, but even that process started with my family. My grandparents were working people. During the Depression one of grandfather’s picked up bricks for a dollar a day and was involved with the early union movement in Toledo. One of my grandmother’s was the first woman to work at a large chemical lab in town. This type of family experience fed an interest in local history, which led to stories on things like the famous 1934 Auto-Lite strike here in Toledo, a defining moment in the development of labor protections. One of my great aunts was a scab in that strike, and the rift it caused never completely healed. So relationships are always the starting point in my work, and setting follows from them. Beginning with the characters is the only way I’m able to enter the work emotionally, to attach myself enough to walk the long fictional road, but I have found that I’ve grown more sensitized over the years to the way that place creates character, the way the physical and social landscape shapes us. That’s where setting becomes interesting to me—where it impacts character.

Ohioana: Can you tell us about your writing process?
Amy Gustine: People talk about being a planner or a “pantser.” In other words, you either figure the plot and characters out ahead of time, or you start writing and see where it goes, flying by the seat of your pants. E.L. Doctorow famously split the difference, saying that writing was like driving at night in fog: you can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. I’d say my process is closest to Doctorow’s, but more serpentine and loopy. I’m driving at night, in the dark, consulting a map I drew that is in fact just the roughest sketch of what I assume the landscape and roads look like. I discover the flaws in the map as I write, the forks in the road, the detours and potholes. I spy interesting stops and surprise exits, too, then I realize I forgot something at one of those stops and have to double back. In other words, I plan, then I write, then I re-plan, then I write some more, and on and on as I narrow down the project. I’m always too ambitious to begin with, and inevitably have to be content with the destination I achieve rather than the one I hoped to reach.

Ohioana: What would you like to tell us about the publishing process?
Amy Gustine: My publishing experience with Sarabande Books was uniformly wonderful. The managing editor at the time, Kirby Gann, made significant editorial suggestions about one of the eleven stories in the collection, and his comments proved very astute. The revisions made it a much better work. Each of the other stories was thoroughly, carefully line-edited, which I really appreciated. When the book came out I felt confident that it truly was the best it could be. I learned some things about promoting a book by working with Sarabande’s publicist, the fantastic Ariel Lewiton, but I would certainly be keen to know more. It’s kind of an opaque process for a writer outside the central literary world of New York City.

Ohioana: What would you tell anyone who wants to write a novel or story collection?
Amy Gustine: Read novels and stories you like two and three times. Read them first for fun, then again to spot what I call “the strings”—like a puppet in a theatre. There are so many choices when you construct something out of nothing. Point of view. Order of scenes. Which scenes to relate in detail, which to summarize. What part of the characters’ past to relate. What tone to use. How to divide up the text into chunks—sections, chapters, parts. How to label those parts, or whether to label them at all. The choices are so staggering, and each work so magically unique in its success, that the aspiring writer has a tremendous uphill learning curve. They’ll have to grab on and start learning in earnest. Part of this will be giving up a great deal of the innocent, easy pleasure of letting a great author chauffer you around town without paying attention to the route.

Ohioana: What are you currently working on?
Amy Gustine: I’m writing a novel about a real person—a politically and cultural important woman with a complex, controversial legacy. The novel spans a lot of time, involves a lot of hot-button issues, and features a lot of major historical events, so the road is long, curvy, bumpy, and I don’t have a great map. It feels less like driving and more like crawling on my knees.

Ohioana: Any inspirational quotes from other writers that you enjoy?
Amy Gustine: I got that last one from Vladimir Holan. “From the sketch to the work one travels on one’s knees.”

One of my favorites is Ernest Hemingway’s dictum: “The first draft of anything is shit.” That might sound depressing, but it’s just the opposite for me. The idea that I have to write something good today is paralyzing. It’s especially terrifying during the first draft of a long project. When I think of Hemingway’s words, I think okay, so I’m going to write a piece of shit today. Tomorrow I’ll worry about trying to polish a turd into a golden nugget. That gets SOMETHING on the page to work with, and something is always infinitely better than nothing.

A couple of other helpers I cling to include:

“When you get stuck, go back to the physical world.”
–Ron Carlson

“Write simple sentences. Report. Don’t moralize. No pretensions.”
–Gail Godwin

It’s YOUR turn!!

posted in: Awards | 0

Calling all readers! Earlier this week, Ohioana launched our second annual Readers’ Choice Award online poll – and we want to hear from you! Created last year in celebration of the Ohioana Awards’ 75th anniversary, the poll invites readers to choose their favorite book from among the thirty award finalists selected by our judges (our inaugural winner: Mary Doria Russell, for Epitaph).

Voting is open until Monday, July 3, at noon. We will announce the favorite in each of the award categories, but only ONE book – the one receiving the most votes overall – will win the prize! What will it be: a collection of poems – or a novel? A children’s picture book – or a biography? YOU decide!

So play your part in this year’s Ohioana Book Awards celebration! Go online and vote today (only one vote per computer).

Tiffany McDaniel: The Summer That Melted Everything

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In recognition of the five finalists in fiction for the Ohioana Book Award, we’re featuring a question and answer with each author over the next few weeks.

This week’s post features Tiffany McDaniel. Tiffany  is an Ohio native whose writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows. A poet and artist, she is the winner of The Guardian’s 2016 “Not-the-Booker Prize” for her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything. The novel was also a Goodreads Choice Award double nominee in both fiction and debut categories, is a current nominee for the Lillian Smith Book Award, and has recently been announced as a finalist for the Ohioana Literary Award and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Outstanding Debut.

Ohioana: What inspired you to write your novel?

Tiffany McDaniel: The Summer that Melted Everything started as a title.  It was one of those hot Ohio summers that I felt like I was melting to a puddle on the green grass and dandelion ground.  A little arranging of words and the title was born.  I always say what inspires me are the characters.  I’m inspired by their very presence, to do right by them and to write their truths to the best of my ability.

O: How does a sense of place inform your work? If that place happens to be Ohio, would love your thoughts on that.

TMcD: I have eight completed novels (yet to be published) and so far they’ve all taken place in Breathed, Ohio, a fictional town based on my childhood summers and school-year weekends I spent on the hilly acreage my father was left by his parents.  The acreage is in the southeastern portion of Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachians where the nights are mythical and starred while the hills sing you to sleep.  It is a landscape that has shaped me as an author.  I always say cut me open and fireflies will fly out of me in a moonshine madness.

O: Can you tell us about your writing process?

TMcD: I never outline. I think planning a story too much can domesticate it, and I like to preserve the story’s wild soul so it can beat on with the thunder.  I like for the story to evolve with each new word and page that I write.  It’s like turning on a faucet.  Sometimes you only have a drop of water.  Others times you have a flood.  The thing about writing is that you just have to be present and ready with a big ol’ bowl to catch whatever comes out of that big ol’ faucet.

O: What would you like to tell us about the publishing process?

TMcD: While The Summer that Melted Everything is my first published novel, it’s actually my fifth or sixth novel written.  I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen and wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine for The Summer that Melted Everything.  For me, it was a long eleven-year journey full of lots of rejection and perseverance.  I was told my writing was too dark and too risky.  For the most part, publishing has been an uphill battle, but the struggle has made me the author I am today.  An author who knows the value of determination and the value of each and every reader.

O: What would you tell anyone who wants to write a novel?

TMcD: To never give up.  Like I said, it took me eleven years to get a publisher.  If you’re really serious about being a published author, be willing to put in the hard work and have plenty of patience should it come to that.  The biggest thing is to never get discouraged.  Don’t let rejection destroy you.  Let it empower you.

O: What are you currently working on?

TMcD: I’ve returned to that very first novel I wrote when I was eighteen.  It’s inspired by my mother’s coming-of-age in southern Ohio from the 1950s to the early 1970s.  It feels like a good time to return to this story and to these characters.

O: Any inspirational quotes from other writers that you enjoy?

“Don’t talk about it; write.” Ray Bradbury, author of Dandelion Wine, one of my favorite books

“If you don’t like my peaches, don’t shake my tree.”-Shirley Jackson, author of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, another favorite book of mine.

My last quote isn’t from the author speaking outside of a work, but rather from a poet speaking within his work.  From Ohio poet James Wright.  From his poem, “To a Blossoming Pear Tree”:

“For if you could only listen,
I would tell you something,
Something human.”

It’s a beautiful quote because something human is the best thing we can hope to tell each other.

Make YOUR voice heard for Ohioana!

posted in: News | 0

This is not a drill: Ohioana’s operating support has been eliminated from the state budget, or at least the version passed May 2 in the Ohio House of Representatives. I’m sure you’re as surprised and shocked as we are.

Ohioana promotes and celebrates our great state and is one of the nation’s leading literary centers. It directly serves 150,000 Ohioans every year and serves ALL Ohioans as the caretaker of our state’s rich literary heritage.

Eleven Ohio Governors and 34 consecutive General Assemblies since 1949 have recognized the public value of Ohioana’s work by providing it with operating support. This support is even a part of state law under the Ohio Revised Code.

Of course, you already know that Ohioana has value because you love books, reading, and storytelling. Perhaps you were at the 11th annual Ohioana Book Festival on April 8 in Columbus and you had a chance to meet one of 120 authors and attended a festival panel. You read the Ohioana Quarterly for book reviews and articles about literary Ohio. Maybe you follow the Ohioana Awards and cheer for your favorite authors when they are nominated.

So today we’re asking for your help. Will you call your state senator and ask them to restore funding? Here are just a few of the reasons to keep Ohioana, reasons that you can mention when you call:

 

  • The Ohioana Library Association directly serves 150,000 Ohioans each year.
  • It serves ALL Ohioans as the caretaker of our state’s literary heritage.
  • It costs the state a penny-and-half per Ohioan to support Ohioana.
  • Ohioana generates more than $1 for every $1 provided by the State.

Just go to this link and under “Find Your Senator” enter your zip code + 4.

Yes, state revenues are tight. Yes, the state has many priorities. But Ohioana’s history proves it has yielded major dividends for a modest investment. Don’t just take our word for it – ask the eleven Ohio Governors and 34 General Assemblies that have supported us since 1949.
Ohioana has always worked hard to be a good steward of both public and private money. And we have faced shortages before. But removal from the budget could not just hinder our ability to serve the people. It could, if not halted, ultimately jeopardize our very existence. So please help and make your voice heard – it has never been as important before as it is now! Take a moment and call your state senator before May 10.

After all, what is any place without its stories and its storytellers?

 

 

 

Ohioana’s First Virtual Exhibit

posted in: Collection Highlights | 0

This year marks Ohioana’s 88th year in operation, and during that time Ohioana has had plenty of time to grow, adapt and, of course, collect literature from Ohio authors. Ohioana’s collection now includes more than 45,000 books, 10,000 pieces of sheet music, and approximately 20,000 biographical files on Ohio writers, musicians, and artists. The best news? Any of these items can be requested to be viewed in our library, by anyone!

While this is wonderful for everyone who is able to make it to visit Ohioana’s collection in person in downtown Columbus, some may live too far away or simply may not be able to visit us. However, we think it’s very important to highlight interesting and culturally significant pieces in our collection, and to show them to you even if you can’t make it here to see them. That’s why Ohioana is happy to present our very first virtural exhibit!

This exhibit features the entirety of a scrapbook from Ohioana’s collection, created by the Junior-Juvenile division of the Ohio Federation of Music Clubs during 1935-1937. The Ohio Federation of Music Clubs (OFMC) is part of the National Federation of Music Clubs, which is dedicated to the love and study of music, and just celebrated their cenntinial year. Click here to visit the OFMC’s Website and learn more about the history of the organization, as well as current events.

The scrapbook is composed of 98 pages, with each page decorated by members of music-focused clubs from 30 towns and cities located across Ohio. Pages include articles and programs, as well as photographs, illustrations and handpainted, hand-drawn and handwritten components. This exhibit includes images of all of the pages of the scrapbook, as well as images of every program and fold-out featured on the individual pages.

This scrapbook is a proud part of Ohioana’s collection, and we are very happy to have the opportunity to share it with you! Click here to visit it, or navigate from our homepage by clicking on the link under “Resources”. Enjoy, and check back for more virtual exhibits featuring items from Ohioana’s collection in the future!

Ohioana Library Announces 2017 Book Award Finalists.

posted in: Awards | 0

The Ohioana Library is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2017 Ohioana Book Awards. First given in 1942, the awards are the second oldest state literary prizes in the nation and honor outstanding achievement by Ohio authors in five categories: Fiction, Poetry, Juvenile Literature, Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature, and Nonfiction. The sixth category, About Ohio/Ohioan, may also include books by non-Ohio authors.

This year’s finalists include such notable names as Douglas Brinkley, Martha Collins, Sharon Creech, J. Patrick Lewis, Loren Long, Candice Millard, Donald Ray Pollock, Julie Salamon, J.D. Vance, and Jacqueline Woodson. Six authors are finalists for their debut books, while nine are past Ohioana Award winners.

Ohioana will profile all the finalists in the coming weeks. Beginning Monday, May 23, it will present “30 Books, 30 Days,” a special feature on its Facebook page in which one finalist is highlighted each weekday thru Friday, June 30.

Winners will be announced in July, and the 2017 Ohioana Book Awards presented at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Friday, October 6.

 

Fiction

Poetry

Juvenile Literature

Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature

Nonfiction

About Ohio/Ohioan

 

One for the record books!

posted in: Ohioana Book Festival | 0

The 11th annual Ohioana Book Festival is now part of history!

From the people eagerly waiting to get in before the doors opened, the large and enthusiastic crowds at many panel discussions, the huge number of kids and teens in their special spaces, the lines of people waiting to check out at The Book Loft, and the fact that our two food trucks (Sweet T’s and Schmidt’s) sold COMPLETELY out of food before their scheduled end time – all signs point to this being our biggest and best-attended festival ever!

Ohioana’s tagline is “Connecting readers and Ohio writers,” and no event exemplifies that better than the Ohioana Book Festival. We had 120 authors of all genres as well as illustrators, all with an Ohio connection. Either their books were about Ohio or the individuals have called Ohio home at some point.

We love it. And it’s FREE! Always has been, always will be.

Please be on the look-out for next year (which will be here before you know it!) The date is Saturday, April 14, 2018.

 

Ohioana Book Festival

posted in: Ohioana Book Festival | 0

It’s here! Hope you have time on Saturday to join us for the Ohioana Book Festival! It’s free!

This is the 11th one, and we’re just as thrilled and psyched for this event as we were for the first one in 2007!

(Isn’t the poster fantastic? It’s the creation of Lindsay Ward. She’s going to be at the festival too!)

Come to the Sheraton in downtown Columbus any time from 10:30 in the morning to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 8. We’ll have 120 authors, foods trucks, activities for kids and teens, and plenty of panel discussions AND OF COURSE BOOKS for sale, courtesy of our on-site vendor, the famous Book Loft of German Village.

See you soon!

In case you missed it: the Mercantile Library

The Winter issue of the Ohioana Quarterly focused on our good friend, the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati.

This library is one of the gems in the crown of the Queen City. It was established in 1835, according to the feature story written by Ohioana board member Bryan Loar. Its founders were merchants and clerks, hence the name. These young men of the city, who could expect a prosperous future for themselves as well as Cincinnati, placed a premium on learning and so created a place and an opportunity.

Can you imagine what a haven the library must have been from the rush and press of business in 1835? Cincinnati was hardly a backwater since it was a significant river port on the Ohio, with trade and a thriving meat-packing industry sending out salted pork all over the country. And can you imagine the despair over not one but TWO fires it endured, the first in 1845 and the second in 1869? Fortunately, most of the volumes were saved in both instances. And in 1904, the Mercantile Library found a home it has stayed in ever since.

The building is, of course, lovely. It has plenty of natural light, comfortable chairs, wood book shelves and cabinets, and works of art both venerable and modern. And it has kept up with the times. There are 80,000 books in the collection and membership has grown from the original 45 to the current 2,500. There are discussion groups, literary and other events, and even e-books.

As Bryan says in the article, “The Mercantile Library continues to support personal improvement and the exploration of contemporary ideas through an adaptive and open space, a notable collection, inspiring art, and extraordinary programs.”

Happy Spring!

It’s here! Spring is here! On Monday, did you run outside and beat on the ground with a stick to tell the earth to wake up? And some daffodils were blooming on Monday. Did you pick one and eat it?

No? *Whew!* Good move! They’re not edible! Although someone at Ohioana did indeed eat one and nothing bad happened. It was planted on top of a mound of vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce (a Blooming Sundae — get it?) and she ate the bits you are supposed to eat as well.

But you needn’t feel slighted — there are plenty of other flowers to add to salads, soups, or main dishes.

In Edible Flowers: A Global History by Constance L. Kirker and former Ohio University professor Mary Newman, you can easily learn what to eat and why (Mary will be at the Ohioana Book Festival on April 8, by the way).

This nifty little book provides a history a edible plants from all over the world. It also provides a unique history of the world since plants found useful or delightful in one country are imported to other countries for propagation and use.

The book also makes the reader re-think the concept of a “flower,” which most of us consider to be a beautiful, fragrant, but perhaps useless thing. After all, what is an artichoke but the flowering part of the plant. We eat them. And the preferred part of the broccoli in North America is the stuff at the top, although some people reject the buds for the stem.

Authors Kirker and Newman always advice caution, reminding the reader that even plants considered medicinal can be bad for you if over-used. Even too much of a good thing will make you sick.

So when you’re at the garden center later this spring, you’re ready to check out with your cart full of flats of marigolds and nasturtiums, and the clerk asks you if you need some help getting them out to your car, you can say, “No thanks. I’ll just eat them here!”

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