Archive for May, 2009

Life Goes to the Movies (novel) by Peter Selgin (Dzanc Books, 5/1)
How to Hold a Woman (novel in stories) by Billy Lombardo (Other Voices Books, 6/1)
Said and Done (short stories) by James Morrison (Black Lawrence Press, 6/1)
Misfits and Other Heroes (short stories) by Suzanne Burns (Dzanc Books, June)
Best of the Web 2009 (mixed genre) by Various Writers (Dzanc Books, July)
Kamby Bolongo Mean River (novel) by Robert Lopez (Dzanc Books, September)
What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (short stories) by Laura van den Berg (Dzanc Books, 10/1)
Other Resort Cities (short stories) by Tod Golberg (Other Voices Books, 10/1)
The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats (novel) by Hesh Kestin (Dzanc Books, November)
The Wilding (novel) by Benjamin Percy (Graywolf, late 2009)
Too Much Happiness (short stories) by Alice Munro (Knopf, 11/17)

Live Nude Books: The Turtle Catcher opens with a series of intense scenes that take place in 1920.  From there, you send the reader back to 1897 and tell the story of the Richter family leading up to and going beyond those first few scenes.  Did you have the structure of the novel planned out when you first started writing, or did you organize the story this way during the drafting and revision processes?

Yellowleaves1Nicole Helget: Probably to my discredit, I don’t worry about overall shape or structure when I first begin writing a story. I feel very free to jump around in history or in the story without regard for chronology. I connect or arrange events more by theme or metaphor and *expect* my readers to make the connections themselves. I’m aware that this doesn’t always work for some readers. I’m aware that some readers prefer a more linear or traditional plot structure. But there are plenty of books out there that already do that. Plot or structurally-speaking, I’m more impressed by poets and poetry, with all their leaping and echoing, and I try to honor those types of constructions in my prose. When I start trying to force traditional structures on my prose, it ends up feeling predictable, and I despise predictability in my own fiction. I’m trying to fight against what’s expected. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

LNB: There are several characters that receive a hefty amount of page space, yet they’re all well developed—none of them seem like two-dimensional “types.”  When writing a story with a lot of characters, how do you manage all of them without letting one or two fall to the wayside?

NH: It’s sort of cliche, I guess, but I try to deliver the humanity of every character. I, personally, don’t even like all of my characters, but I try to give even the most abhorrent character a history or event that makes them at least somewhat sympathetic, that explains why they behave the way that they do. Managing so many characters isn’t something I’ve ever considered a problem or challenge. In my real life, I’ve always had a lot of people around. I have 5 sisters. I have 5 children. Because of the sheer amount of people in my personal life and because I’ve always been interested in knowing them thoroughly and understanding their motivations, that personal experience transfers naturally to my literary work.

LNB: The novel spans twenty plus years, covering the early twentieth century immigrant experience and World War I.  How much and what types of research did you need to do in order to tell this story?

NH: I’m intensely interested in history. My favorite reads are actually the Pulitzer Prize or National Book award-winners in historical nonfiction, like Nathaniel Philbrick, Timothy Egan, and Ann Applebaum.  I’m no expert on any particular era, so I write fiction instead, where I can just use events of the past to tell the story I want to tell. My favorite part of writing is probably the research that goes into creating the accurate historical perspective. I read a lot of narratives from the time, histories, poetry of or about the time, and watch a lot of documentaries. For The Turtle Catcher‘s purposes, I grew up in the area, too, so I knew some of the history and could see and feel how it has shaped the area and the people in it.

LNB: In your memoir, you write about growing up in rural Minnesota, and the novel is set primarily in your home state.  Does place work as a form of inspiration for your writing?

NH: Oh yes. Setting is its own character. It has moods and bad behavior. Particularly in this area, weather, seasons, animals, plants, and insects, are still prevalent, still a part of the people’s daily business, so it would be dumb, I think, to pretend as though it doesn’t exist or doesn’t have an effect on the people here. So if a writer sets a book here, setting has to be a part of it.

LNB: Your first book is non-fiction, the second is a novel, and you’ve written several children’s books.  What are you working on now?

NH: I am working on another novel, titled STILLWATER, which is about a pair of twins born during the fur-trapping era, who are separated but then later reunited under the most abhorrent, incestuous circumstances. I’ve got about 150 pages, but I think it’ll be close to 400 pages when I’m done. It’s coming out really fast. Hopefully, I’ll be done by the end of summer.

Nicole Helget’s novel, The Turtle Catcher, began as a short story, which won the 2005 Tamarack Award from Minnesota Monthly.  To read this story, click here.

The Chicago Tribune sponsored literary festival is a week away.  Held in Chicago’s South Loop, the Fest is heralded as the largest free outdoor literary event in the midwest, offering a ginormous book fair, panel discussions, readings, and much more.  The event will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 6th and 7th.  Some big names will be there this year, including Charles Baxter, Stuart Dybeck, Dave Eggers, Neil Gaimon, and Aleksandar Hemon.  Some of the events require reserved tickets, but those are free, too.  To reserve tickets, look at a detailed itinerary or a complete list of writers in attendance, or to find all other info pertaining to the Lit Fest, click here.

The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Helget

In her 2005 memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways, Nicole Helget writes long, descriptive sentences that are both rhythmic and lyrical.  She continues this technique in her debut novel, The Turtle Catcher:

What matters is after the three brothers left, after the rain stopped, after more than thirty minutes had passed since one gasp of breath had crossed Lester’s cracked lips, and after millions and millions ofpounds of water had pressed down and tried to crush his life with its weight, Lester Sutter opened his blue eyes in that black place, expanded his lungs, and found himself alive.

Primarily set in rural Minnesota, The Turtle Catcher paints a picture of the immigrant experience for one German family, surrounding the events of World War I.  The story begins in 1920, when the Richter boys force their neighbor, Lester Sutter, into Spider Lake at gunpoint.  This is because they believe Lester has violated their only sister, Liesel.  The first four chapters introduce one of the novel’s central themes: the destructive power of keeping secrets.  Liesel Richter wishes to keep hidden her two biggest secrets: a birth defect and her relationship with Lester.  When Lester—brain-damaged after years of physical abuse from his father—discovers Liesel’s deformity, he is unable to remain quiet.  Liesel then panics, calling for her brothers’ help.  She doesn’t want them to hurt Lester, but she is too ashamed of her secret to say anything.

At this point, Helget takes the reader to Bavaria, 1897, where Liesel’s mother, Magdelena Schultz, carries a secret of her own: a child (Benjamin) conceived out of wedlock, whose father happens to be the wrong religion.  This secret, and the shame it would bring her and her lover, forces Magdelena to move to America and find a proper man to marry.  In New Germany, Minnesota, Maggie is introduced to her future husband, a farmer named Wilhelm Richter.  The story follows this family from prosperity to financial ruin, solidarity to The Richter’s have three more boys and Liesel, but Maggie never forgets her lover from back home.

Love occurs in this novel with little reciprocation.  This is not for lack of want or desire; rather it’s the limitations the characters have placed on themselves for fear that their secrets will be exposed.  Maggie doesn’t want her father to find out about her Jewish lover.  Luther Richter and Pernilla Sutter don’t want their feuding fathers to know about their relationship.  Herman Richter’s battle wounds run deeper than the surface, which causes him to create distance from his sweetheart, Betty.  Liesel shies away from her brother’s war buddy, Philippe, because of her anatomical secret.

Overall, this is a story about identity.  The characters in this novel struggle with the concept of their national, personal, and—in some cases—gender identities. Which leads to feelings of shame, fear, guilt, and ultimately the need to keep their thoughts hidden.  This means the end for some, and nearly destroys one family’s namesake. The characters become haunted both figuratively and literally by the secrets they keep and the actions produced from trying to keep them hidden.

But that ends up being the strongest element of this book.  Helget creates characters that are direct, yet guarded—characters that display acts of mental fortitude, while remaining contemplative about their actions.  Reading this novel feels as if you’re getting a glimpse into the history of a real family that actually experienced these events.  While there is enough suspense from the plot to keep a reader interested, the character’s reactions and responses to conflict made me want to continue turning the page.

Just wanted to let everyone know the Nicole Helget review will be posted soon.  The last few days have been sketchy, but now that I’m back in Minnesota I’ll have more time to update the site on a consistent basis. 

In the meantime, I’d like to direct your attention to this bit of info.  Dave Reidy‘s first collection of short stories, Captive Audience, is set to be released in bookstores on June 1st.  It is available online here, here and here.  Expect to find a review on this site, soon.  “The Regular,” won the Emerging Writers Network Short Fiction Contest, judged by Charles D’Ambrosio, in 2007.  The story, which appears in this collection, is available here.  Definitely worth checking out.

Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips (1/6)
Water Dogs: A Novel by Lewis Robinson (1/13)
The Slide by Kyle Beachy (1/27)
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (2/1)
The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Helget (2/20)
American Rust by Philipp Meyer (2/24)
Gimmie Shelter by Mary Elizabeth Williams (3/3)
The Missing by Tim Gautreaux (3/3)
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Diana Joseph (3/5)
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (3/17)
Don’t Cry by Mary Gaitskill (3/24)
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson (3/31)
All the Living by C.E. Morgan (3/31)
Once the Shore by Paul Yoon (4/1)
Waveland by Frederick Barthelme (4/7)
Lies Will Take You Somewhere by Sheila Schwartz (5/1)
Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon (5/14)

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett (5/26)
The Signal by Ron Carlson (5/28)
Captive Audience by Dave Reidy (6/1)
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (8/25)
The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell (10/13)
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans (2010)

Someday Soon
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall (??)
Long, Last, Happy by Barry Hannah (??)
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Changing Hands

Posted: May 22, 2009 in News and General Posts
Tags: ,

To watch Jessa Crispin, creator of, and Caroline Eick, the new managing editor, discuss the literary site’s management change on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, click here.