In Conversation

The Pickle Index

The Pickle Index is being feted far and wide as a multi-platform vision of the future of storytelling. And it is that. But it also, at heart, an old-fashioned fable in the tradition of, say, George Orwell and James Thurber (a natural pair, like a carrot and a cucumber)—a fable about a world in which pickled vegetables are the basis of the diet, the economy, the culture, and the only hope is a seemingly hapless circus troupe trying to put their arcane skills to good and desperate use…you can see where the Orwell and Thurber comparisons come from. Right? But anyway, what’s more old-fashioned than the actual wood-cuts that illustrate the paperback edition? Here, digital visionary Horowitz peppers Ian Huebert, print-maker and illustrator, with questions about just the distinctly analog way woodcut gets made (Look at those tools! Sharp, dangerous tools that cut into wood! Look at that printing press!)—never once letting on that the FSG Originals paperback edition contains a secret illustration of an octopus in a rowboat that is absolutely exclusive to our edition. You will, however, have the opportunity to win a signed and numbered letter-press poster by Mr. Huebert himself. So read on, friends, read on!

Alex Mar

Alex Mar has been compared to a kind of modern “Virgil” for providing a tour through the world of American practitioners of the occult. Just in time for Halloween, we asked her a few questions about her experience writing Witches of America, her favorite horror movies, and the difference between Samhain and what the rest of us celebrate with candy and pranks.

Flannery O'Connor Stamps

Last month the United States Postal Service issued a Flannery O’Connor stamp, complete with a glowing portrait and peacock feathers. Coincidentally, we also recently reissued all of O’Connor’s fiction with new covers painted by June Glasson and designed by Charlotte Strick. When the stamp sparked a bit of controversy, we figured, Why not? It is therefore with great pleasure that we present the official FSG Flannery O’Connor stamp, with a few words from Charlotte about the project.

Battle Lines by Ari Kelman and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Featuring breathtaking panoramas and revelatory, unforgettable images, Battle Lines is an utterly original graphic history of the Civil War. Here Ari Kelman and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm talk graphic novels, Civil War reenacting, and drawing like Martin Scorsese.

Valley Fever by Katherine Taylor

In Valley Fever, Katherine Taylor examines high-class small-town life among the grapes—on the vine or soaked in vodka. It’s a blisteringly funny, ferociously intelligent, and deeply moving novel of self-discovery. Here she talks to us about California’s Central Valley, the deadly Valley Fever, and accepting where you’re from.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

This year’s Book Expo America launched with a marquee conversation between Jonathan Franzen and critic Laura Miller. The two sat down in front of a packed crowd to discuss the writing of Franzen’s latest novel, Purity (coming September 1st). Their conversation ranged from the story of the book’s name to its eponymous protagonist, and to the importance of climbing one’s own mountains as a writer.

The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon

From the title alone, Aleksandar Hemon’s new novel, The Making of Zombie Wars, suggests that the author is up to something new and different. And while it’s not exactly what you’d call a traditional “zombie novel,” Hemon does admit that it could be described as a “roller-coaster ride of violence and sex.” Here, he talks to his editor, Sean McDonald, about how he changed up his writing process for this book, even enrolling in a screenwriting workshop; why this book maybe isn’t so different from his earlier books; and the challenges of being “funny all the way through.”

John Freeman and Adonis

For the past thirty-some years, Adonis has lived in Paris, but continues to write in Arabic. His poems of exile and longing reflect a long life spent, for political reasons, outside of his native Syria. He despairs of the war that rages there now, and does not see easy solutions. During a free-ranging conversation in New York City last spring, the eighty-four-year-old poet explained how the forces behind his modern voice are actually centuries old. He also spoke boldly against the force of organized religion within the Middle East and Syria.

The Road Home by Ethan Nichtern

In The Road Home, Ethan Nichtern, a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, investigates the journey each of us takes to find where we belong. Here, Nichtern discusses the metaphor of “the path,” and the effect of mediation on the creative process with the writer and fellow Buddhist practitioner Maud Newton.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Following the recent publication of The Sellout, which has been called “among the most important and difficult American novels written in the 21st century,” we asked Paul Beatty to sit down with his editor, Colin Dickerman, and discuss his explosive follow-up to The White Boy Shuffle. He took stock of his influences, the state of Taco Bell, and the process of transforming a shoe box filled with notes into a finished novel.

Love and Lies

In his latest book, Love and Lies, Clancy Martin argues that love requires deception and self-deception. He uses philosophy, literature, and his own life to argue the case. I am his wife, and I wanted to ask him the difficult, scary questions—like what should a married woman do if she has an affair and gets pregnant with the other man’s kid—but in the process I found that we all know the answers to those questions. The answer is: lie. But still, many people, when faced with the situation, are too weak; they tell the truth. So I tried to find a place—still difficult and scary—where I could ask questions that touched on the truth about love and our marriage, and I wasn’t sure what his answers would be. I am his third wife and he’s my first husband, and that’s part of what’s scary, of course. Did I marry a pathological liar?

van den Berg and VanderMeer

After two acclaimed story collections, Laura van den Berg brings us her debut novel, Find Me—an “unforgettable…unique…glorious” (TimeOut New York) tale of a young woman struggling to find her place in a world that has been devastated by a mysterious disease. Here, native Floridians van den Berg and Jeff VanderMeer (author of widely and wildly acclaimed Southern Reach Trilogy) talk about the many ways in which Florida influences their writing, the “daily contact with the surreal,” and the best theme park in the state, Gatorland.

Hans Ulrich Obrist and Marina Abramovic

On November 16th, 2014 the seminal performance artist Marina Abramović and Hans Ulrich Obrist, one of the world’s most influential critics and curators, sat down at McNally Jackson to celebrate the publication of Obrist’s book, Ways of Curating. They discussed the rituals of creativity, night trains, Da Vinci’s sleep cycle, and much, much more.

Marilynne Robinson

On October 17, 2014, Marilynne Robinson and the staff of The Nation had a conversation about writing, Calvinism, and her work, including her new novel, Lila.

Peter Osnos and Evan Osnos

Father and son discuss the difference between writing a book and writing for magazines, the changing journalism landscape, and the technicalities of a family edit.

The Unspeakable

Nearly fifteen years after her debut essay collection, My Misspent Youth, unforgettably captured the anxieties, aspirations, and hypocrisies of a generation, Meghan Daum returns to the personal essay with a masterful collection of previously unpublished work, The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion. In these insightful and provocative new essays, Daum pushes back against false sentimentality and manufactured emotion in American life. Here, she talks about the new book, womanhood, and being mercilessly honest in her writing.

Area X

No one ever makes it out of Area X—you know that. Longitude and latitude are just a conspiracy to disguise the facts. There is plenty of fresh air in here, though. I’m still immersed, although sometimes I’m not sure if I’m in Area X or in Southern Reach HQ. Not that it makes a difference. In fact, it’s possible this is still part of the dream that started with me walking down into a tunnel-tower one night. If so, it’s turned out to be kind of a nice dream, in the end.

Deep Down Dark

The thirty-three Chilean miners buried in the Copiapó mine disaster were rescued four years ago this month. When they were still underground, the miners agreed that should they survive, they would only tell their story together, once, to one person. Novelist and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Héctor Tobar wound up being that person. Here, he talks with his editor, Sean McDonald, about his relationships with the miners, and rising to the challenge of telling their story in Deep Down Dark.

Werner Herzog

Winston Churchill said that being shot at unsuccessfully is an exhilarating moment in a man’s life. I was at the top of the Hollywood Hills near my home, recording an interview, when I heard a loud bang. I assumed the camera had exploded because it felt as if I had been hit in the stomach by a chunk of glowing metal, but it was intact. Then, some distance away, I saw a man with a gun, ducking out of sight on a veranda.

Southern Reach

One of the great pleasures of seeing The Southern Reach Trilogy in print has been the ingenuity and sophistication of the foreign language editions. Among the absolute best of the many versions are Destino’s covers for the Spanish editions.