Gift of Character: David Pratt launches "Wallaçonia" at Common Language

David Pratt

David Pratt's latest novel, Wallaçonia, is about honesty and perserverance.

We all feel isolated during adolescence. But Jim Wallace, the main character in Ann Arbor-based author David Pratt’s new book, Wallaçonia, does something about it.

Feeling alienated from his own world, Jim imagines his parents’ yard and woods as his private country -- the titular Wallaçonia. But as we all must do, Jim grows up and realizes he has to leave behind not only his secret place but certain assumptions he made about himself.

Bookseller Pat Baxter asks Jim to work at his store with him over Christmas break. Jim at first feels conflicted about working for the openly gay Baxter. But when Jim’s father makes fun of Baxter, Jim takes a stand by working for him. He feels he should stand by this man and be an ally to Baxter. Through the course of the book, Jim realizes that is more than an ally -- he is gay himself.

“The book is more about the 'how' than the 'what,'” Pratt said. “Jim has some of the same insecurities as Pat and it was important to me to have a setting where they could talk and get to know each other.”


Author Events: April 2017

April 2017 Author Events

Photo by Nino Carè/Pixabay

What does having an amazing university, a plethora of fantastic local independent bookstores, and a pretty slam-bang public library system (if we do say so ourselves) bring to a town?

Authors. Lots and lots of authors.

Authors big and small, renowned writers and first-time novelists, crafters of poetry, prose, fiction, and nonfiction often grace the Ann Arbor region with lectures, discussions, readings, and book signings. The fact that so many awesome authors want to come speak here and meet their southeast Michigan readers is a testament to how voraciously we devour books here in Washtenaw County.

In fact, so many authors pass through the area that sometimes it can be hard to keep track of who is speaking and when and where. To help guide you, Pulp curated a highlights list of April 2017 author events.


Turning Up the Volume: Lindy West at Literati

Lindy West at Literati

Feminist icon and author Lindy West packed Literati Bookstore on March 23.

On March 23, the upper level of Literati Bookstore was standing-room only. People were sardined into corners, craning their necks to get better views, balancing on tiptoes. They were eager. Lindy West -- journalist, comic, and internet personality -- was about to read from her bestselling memoir, Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman. As she approached the podium, the at-capacity room erupted in applause.

Shrill chronicles West's journey from painfully shy child to (over-)exposed public figure, and the trials, tribulations, and triumphs it took to get there. It's also a hilarious, poignantly honest expose of self-discovery. But most of all, it's a bildungsroman for an age dominated by internet culture, social media, and the rampant sexism that infiltrates both.

West began her career writing for The Stranger, Seattle's alternative press, where she became a viral sensation for her barbed wit and acerbic criticism of pop culture. Soon, though, those unapologetically candid columns made her a target of the monolithic, anonymous ire of the internet, which descended on her en masse. They attacked her relentlessly, threatened her life, her family; they harassed her for being herself, for being outspoken -- for being visible.

But West only got louder, drowning out the incessant, white-noise cacophony of her trolls by becoming a role model for those who exist outside "the norm."


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #629, #630 & #631

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #629

Beijing journalist Lijia Zhang's debut novel Lotus is inspired by her grandmother's deathbed revelation that she was sold into prostitution at an early age.

Set in contemporary Shenzhen, China’s “City of Sins”, Lotus is one of the "ji" (Chinese word for chicken, a derogatory name for prostitutes) working at the Moonflower Massage Parlor. Originally from a impoverished village in northern China, she allows her family to think she waitresses in an upscale restaurant, sending her earnings home to support her family and to send her younger brother to university.

Knowing the shelf life of someone in her situation is finite, Lotus casts her eye among her regulars -- Funny Eye, Family Treasure -- hoping for a more permanent arrangement. In the meantime, she befriends Hu Binbing, a quiet and reclusive photojournalist who is hoping his documentary project on the lives of the "ji" will bring him the deserved recognition. But once his photographs of Lotus are published in a national magazine, his standing in the Communist party as well as their relationship is threatened.

"'A Newborn Calf Isn't Afraid of Tigers' is a typical chapter title in Lotus... Readers will find the entire text rich in Chinese proverbs, as well as folk wisdom of a more prosaic variety. Characters employ sage sayings in spoken form, as a kind of parlor game, and the author scatters aphorisms liberally throughout the narrative, with an effect that is both charming and thought-provoking....Some first novels, especially those birthed in creative writing classes, go heavy on self-consciously poetic language ...The images Zhang gives us, in contrast, are uncomplicated, concise and touching" (NPR)

"Pretty Woman but without all the glitz" (Library Journal).


Ann Arbor novelist Camille Pagán is generating buzz with "Forever Is the Worst Long Time"

Camille Pagán

Camille Pagán knows that Forever is a mighty long time.

A few weeks ago, InStyle magazine named Forever Is the Worst Long Time by Ann Arbor-based novelist (and health journalist) Camille Pagán as one of "7 Books You Need to Read in February 2017.”

We’re now in March, of course, but Pagán’s new tale of contemporary friendships and romance gone askew offers a temporary escape hatch appropriate for any time of year.

Forever is Pagán’s third novel; her debut was The Art of Forgetting (2011), followed by Life and Other Near-Death Experiences (2015), which was a bestselling Kindle First selection that got optioned by Jessica Chastain’s production company Freckle Films.

Forever tells the story of James Hernandez, a would-be novelist who ends up writing copy for U-M’s business school. (Pagán is a U-M grad who grew up in Dearborn.) Though James falls for his childhood best friend Rob’s fiancee/wife (Lou) upon meeting her, he buries his feelings, delivers a toast at the wedding, and tries to build his own life. But years later, when Rob and Lou’s marriage falls apart, James is torn between what he wants and loyalty to his friend. In the end, he can’t resist acting on his long-repressed attraction, and the consequences for all three are far-reaching and life-changing.

“I didn’t plan on writing this book,” said Pagán. “I’d planned on writing one about a married couple, and I was just slogging through that when I had the idea for the first chapter [of Forever], and in a day or two, I had the opening chapters done. I just felt like, I know who these people are, whereas with the other project, I didn’t know who I was writing about. … With every book it seems like there’s a fire under me, where I had to get the story out.”


Emptying in, Emptying out: Joseph Scapellato at Literati

Joseph Scapellato

Joseph Scapellato's debut story collection honors the immensity of the Western landscape.

Big Lonesome, Joseph Scapellato's first collection of stories, was published at the end of February. Divided into three parts -- "Old West," "New West," and "Post-West" -- the stories form a triptych, a landscape, a cave-painting; they begin and end and begin again, all-too-familiar and too new, digging into what we think we know about the American West.

The West, a central character in most of the stories, looms out and over, its flowers and cacti and creatures blooming, rustling the pages. This is a collection that follows a cowgirl, "born of a beef cow," of "ours"; follows a mutt-faced cowboy whose scar-smile brings him home to strangers; follows a man whose fiancée's dog sees and hears more than the man ever could. This is a book that deserves to be passed between friends, outsiders, enemies; to be shouted from on high and from on low.

Scapellato, an assistant professor of English at Bucknell College, earned his MFA from New Mexico State University. He will be in conversation with Claire Vaye Watkins on March 10 at Literati Bookstore. We spoke with Scapellato in anticipation of that reading.


Small Towns, Universal Emotions: Nickolas Butler at Literati

Nickolas Butler at Literati

Nickolas Butler proclaimed, "I don’t have a lot of friends" during a reading from his new book, The Hearts of Men, at Literati. Photo by Elizabeth Pearce.

“I couldn’t write about something like the New York City social scene, because I know nothing about it,” said Nickolas Butler frankly at his reading at Literati on Wednesday, March 8. Butler’s third book, The Hearts of Men, has just been released and it shares a rural Wisconsin setting with his previous two books, Shotgun Lovesongs and Beneath the Bonfire.

Butler himself lives outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with his family and is able to brilliantly capture rural Midwestern life in his work, as only someone who truly lives it would be able to do.

“In part, I write about these characters and this setting because that’s what I’m familiar with,” said Butler. “Although I have a very nice house and a very nice property, it’s just a little bit down the road until I’m in what is essentially rural poverty. I go into Cleghorn, which is the nearest town, and there’s literally one intersection and there’s a bar and a taxidermy shop.” He laughed a little. “You can go in [to the bar], and you and four of your buddies could drink as much as you possibly could and there’s no way that you could ever run a tab up in there that’s more than $65.”


The Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon aims to balance the scales

Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

There will be no shouting at the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon (because it's being held in a library, shhhh).

Women comprise about 51% of the country’s population. But according to the Wikimedia Foundation, they make up less than 13% of Wikipedia's contributors.

Fortunately, some folks aim to change that.

On Saturday, March 11, the University of Michigan Library, in conjunction with UMMA and the Ann Arbor District Library, will present the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon from 12-5 pm at the Shapiro Design Lab in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. The event started in 2014 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and has grown to include over 175 satellite locations.

Ann Arbor organizer Meghan Sitar stressed the need for women-focused editing: “After Wikimedia reported that less than 10% of contributors identified as female, Wikipedia set a goal of increasing that number to 25% by 2015. That didn’t seem to happen, so what you have is a gender bias in what is covered."

Men and women really do see the world through disparate points of view, and those divergences show up in Wikipedia entries.


Mystery Summit: Loren Estleman, Doug Allyn, and Laura Joh Rowland at the AADL

Loren Estleman

Loren Estleman is very serious ... about writing good books.

It was a dark and stormy night as the attendees huddled in the library basement to hear three mystery writers talk about their new books. As the first author began to speak, thunder crashed, the lights went out, and a scuffle broke out in the dark. When the lights returned, the entire audience was kidnapped!

OK, I should probably keep my day job and leave the mystery writing to the professionals. Lucky for us, Michigan is the birthplace of some of the best mystery writers in the country and three of them -- Loren Estleman, Doug Allyn, and Laura Joh Rowland -- are appearing at the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown branch on Friday, March 3.


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #628, Parts 1 & 2

"If you are here today ... you are a survivor. But those of us who have made it through hell and are still standing? We bear a different name: warriors.” ~Lori Goodwin.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #628, Pt.1

Two extraordinary debut novels set during WWII came out on Valentine's Day, and both speak to the capacity of the human spirit to endure in the face of the 20th century’s darkest moment.

We Were the Lucky Ones is based on the true story of the Kurc family of Radom, Poland. In 1939, prosperous and educated, Jewish merchants Sol and Nechuma were trying their best to live normal lives with their family as war was looming, observing religious holidays and doting on their new grandchild. When Germany invaded Poland, Sol and Nechuma decided to stay with daughters Halina and Mila, while their sons Genek and Jakob joined the Polish army.

Middle son Addy, an engineer and budding composer was stuck in France and was eventually conscripted. Over the course of the war, the three generations of Kurcs were flung to distant points on the globe, from the jazz clubs of Paris to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro to Kraków’s most brutal prison and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag, they were driven by an extraordinary will to survive and to reunite.