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Joseph Olshan

Why Contemporary Novels Can’t Resonate with All

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Is it possible to write about a book you’ve read and didn’t viscerally respond to without discouraging that book’s other potential readers? Is it possible to recognize a book’s many qualities and still say that your experience reading it wasn’t exactly satisfying? I am going to try and do this with Celeste Ng’s novel Little Fires Everywhere (Penguin Press), a book that has been highly praised, both online and in newspapers and has managed also to be a bestseller and seems to be a favorite of many people. Ng is a fine writer. She tells a compelling story, and at the center of Little Fires Everywhere is a provocative moral dilemma. This novel—her second— is, for these reasons, impressive. But as I was reading…

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Finding Narrative in Dangerous Tourist Settings

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I recently visited the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland’s County Clare—a mecca that attracts tourists from all over the world. The cliffs rise precipitously above the Atlantic, and when you stand at the top of them, you look down on a short grassy decent that quickly ends at a sharp shelf. And then a sheer 700-foot drop to The Atlantic, no doubt one of the more dangerous settings for tourist spots. The view is dramatic and the cliffs appear monolithic. And yet despite the fact that the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal are three times higher, the Cliffs of Moher are far more frequently visited. Perhaps this is because there is something dramatic, frightening, compelling, alluring and awe-inspiring about the…

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Real-Life Mysteries Set Stage for “Black Diamond Fall”

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The disappearance of a college student. The vandalism of a famous poet’s residence. Throw in a frightful skiing accident and you’ve got the setup for Black Diamond Fall, a literary mystery by Joseph Olshan (Polis Books), best known for his works Clara’s Heart and Cloudland. The story takes place in wintry Vermont, where the author spends much of his time, and the book’s central themes are drawn from his own real-life experiences. Olshan offered some insight into the book, the plot, the characters and his writing in this BookTrib interview: BookTrib: Black Diamond Fall is based on two real events that happened in Vermont. Tell us about those events and how you tread the line between facts and literary fiction. Joseph…

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Writers and Celebrity: Why Everyone Is a Genius

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Whenever an author publishes a book, perhaps the best form of publicity is a profile written in a national magazine that is devoured by avid readers. I read one of these profiles the other day and was struck by the fact that the journalist who wrote the piece positioned the writer to come off like some kind of off-beat genius. Indeed, during the interviewing process, the word “genius” was used to describe this writer, who, I must say, seemed very comfortable with the title. It was yet another one of those situations where a writer is being made into a celebrity and, I’ve said this before, book publishing and its most well-known authors more and more resemble the creatures of Hollywood. In…

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The Ever-Changing Climate of Book Reviewing

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A good friend of mine (who started her career more or less at the same time) reminded me the other day how it used to be when a writer of literary fiction published a book. All the reviews would appear within a couple of weeks, and there were quite a few of them at that. I remember, for example, whenever I had a book out in the UK, it would get reviewed the day of publication, and often that same day, in several different places at once. Now, except for the most prominent of writers, the climate has changed. Due to declining revenues, the space for newspaper and magazine book reviews has considerably shrunk while the number of books published…

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Advice to Writers: Be Determined and Stay in the Game

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My tenth novel will be published in September. I began writing it more than four years ago. The delay in its publication is mostly due to the fact that I parted ways with my former literary agent as well as my former publisher. When I broke ranks with them I knew I was taking a risk: unless you are incredibly successful and have a stellar track record, it’s difficult to begin again in mid-career. Going out on my own actually turned out to be a lot more difficult than I realized. Part of this was coming to terms with the fact that the publishing business has more and more become like the movie business. I’ve said this before in other…

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20th Anniv. CLARA’S HEART. Grace Paley was delighted to hear I’d sold my book.

in Non-Fiction by

by Joseph Olshan When I was in my twenties I lived in Manhattan on a stretch of West 11th Street informally named Writers’ Block. The novelist Donald Barthelme lived there, as did playwright Israel Horovitz, and perhaps most prominently, Grace Paley, who in those years was still commuting back and forth between Thetford and Manhattan. I rarely saw Barthelme, but I often ran into Grace Paley, a neighborhood darling, motherly with her bun of steel-hued hair, dark fiery eyes, direct and forthcoming without a hint of pretense. If you didn’t recognize her as one of the preeminent short story writers of the late 20th century you might have assumed that, in one of her ankle-length paisley dresses, she was one…

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