books and authors

Paul La Farge (1970-2023)

I am surprised and saddened to learn of the death of novelist Paul La Farge. He was the author, most recently, of The Night Ocean, which offers a fascinating fictional take on the real-life relationship between H.P. Lovecraft and his young fan and collaborator Robert H. Barlow.

Because of the Lovecraft connection, the Los Angeles Review of Books asked me to interview Paul when The Night Ocean was published in 2017. A month later, when he came to Seattle on book tour, we met up for coffee. In my all-too-brief interaction with him, he came across as a smart, thoughtful, and incredibly friendly guy. I was really looking forward to seeing what he’d write next.

You can read my interview with Paul here. And you should definitely check out The Night Ocean. As I write in the interview intro, it’s “one of those impossible-to-categorize books that seems to constitute its own genre.” My favorite kind, and a good legacy to leave behind.

The Clarion West 2022 fundraiser auction is open…

The Clarion West Writers Workshop 2022 After Dark Gala & Auction is open for business. You can register here and help Clarion raise money by donating or bidding on various prize packages, including a Meet & Greet featuring myself and Kelley Eskridge:

Bidding is open through Friday, October 21, at 9 PM Pacific. The virtual Gala will be livestreamed on YouTube starting at 7 PM Pacific, and will feature a reading by Daniel Abraham, co-author of The Expanse series. Hope to see you there!

This weekend: Crypticon, Christopher Moore, and Lovecraft Country

I’ve got a bunch of online events scheduled this month (full list here), including two this weekend that I wanted to spotlight:

On Saturday, October 17 at 8 PM Pacific Time, I’ll be reading from and answering questions about Lovecraft Country as part of Crypticon Seattle’s 2020 online convention. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased here.

On Sunday, October 18 at 5 PM Pacific Time, I’ll be in conversation with my friend and fellow author Christopher Moore, as part of San Francisco’s 2020 Litquake. Admission to this event is free, but with a suggested donation of $5-10. You can sign up here.

And immediately after the Litquake event, I’ll be tuning into HBO for the season finale of the Lovecraft Country series. If you’ve got things you want to ask about the show or the book, and you can’t make it to any of my live events, I’m still taking questions over at Goodreads.

Friday read: Sundown Towns

Watching the online reaction to Lovecraft Country‘s pilot episode this week, I’ve seen a number of viewers mention that this is the first time they’ve ever heard of the concept of a sundown town. So I thought I’d re-up my recommendation of James W. Loewen’s excellent book on the subject.

Sundown Towns was a hugely important resource when I was researching my novel. It’s where I learned about black travel guides like The Negro Motorist Green Book, and it’s also where I first read about the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. Most importantly, it’s a book that helped me understand that Jim Crow-era racism was just as big a problem in the North as in the South.

Contrary to what you might expect, sundown towns were relatively rare in the South, where black people were traditionally viewed as a source of exploitable labor and their presence tolerated. Elsewhere in America, attitudes were very different. Loewen documents the waves of ethnic cleansing that began in the post-Civil War era and continued through the mid-twentieth century, as white citizens in the northern and western U.S. sought to drive out non-whites who they saw as undesirable. Much of this history has been suppressed or forgotten, but the legacy of it persists: Even today, there are big swaths of the country where you’ll rarely encounter anyone who isn’t white, and that’s not an accident.

In addition to Sundown Towns, I’d also recommend Loewen’s other books, Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. And Loewen’s website includes a sundown town database where you can learn about confirmed or suspected sundown towns in your home state.

Second Life Book Club video

Here’s the video of my recent appearance on the Second Life Book Club. My host, Draxtor Despres, came up with the idea of having me read a short passage from each of my seven novels, to create a sort of “tasting menu” of the Matt Ruff canon. I thought it worked out pretty well, and the discussion was a lot of fun, too.

Also, just a reminder, if you’re interested in catching me live, there’s still time to register for this evening’s Zoom event hosted by Powell’s City of Books. My friend Christopher Moore and I will be chatting about 88 Names. The event starts at 5 PM Pacific Time and you can sign up here.

And if you’re busy this evening, you’ll have another chance to see me on Zoom when I do a solo appearance for Sunriver Books & Music on Saturday, July 25 at 5:30 PM Pacific. Details here.

The Fear of God podcast

This week I am a guest on the Fear of God podcast, talking horror and Lovecraft Country with hosts Reed Lackey and Nathan Rouse. This was originally supposed to be a ninety-minute conversation, but we were having so much fun I ended up chatting more than two hours. You can listen here.

FYI, we focus on the novel—and there are spoilers—but I’ll be back on the podcast to talk about the Lovecraft Country TV series after it airs.

Also, a reminder that tomorrow, July 1, starting at noon Pacific, I’ll be a guest on the Second Life Book Club. Hope to see some of you there!

Second Life Book Club this Wednesday

My SL avatar emerges from the deep.

This Wednesday, April 8, starting at 10 AM Pacific, I will be a guest on the debut episode of the Second Life Book Club, along with authors Ken Liu, S.L. Huang, C.B. Lee, and host/master of ceremonies Draxtor. The event will be livestreamed on Second Life’s social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Mixer). If you sign up for a Second Life account (which is free), you can also join the event in-world, here.

Books and more books

Last week I attended the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s fall trade show in Portland, Oregon. I was a guest at the Tuesday morning author breakfast and got to pitch 88 Names to a ballroom full of friendly indie booksellers. I also scored complimentary copies of the other guest authors’ books—the new Joy of Cooking, revised by Ethan Becker (grandson of the original author) and Megan Scott; Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel, about a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme, with ghosts; and Ruta Sepetys’ The Fountains of Silence, a historical novel about Spain under Franco.

Before heading home I made the obligatory pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books, signed some stock, and picked up a few more presents:

That’s How to Disappear, by former skip tracers Frank M. Ahearn and Eileen C. Horan; The H.P. Lovecraft Book of Puzzles by Dr. Gareth Moore; and Julio Cortázar’s Literature Class, a collection of lectures on writing Cortázar gave a Berkeley in 1980.

With author Jo Lendle at Elliott Bay tonight (5/14)

Tonight at 7 PM I’ll be onstage at Elliott Bay Book Company, talking to German author Jo Lendle about his novel All the Land, which has just been translated into English. The book is a fictionalized account of the life of polar researcher Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), who originated the modern theory of continental drift. If you’re in the Seattle area you should definitely come by and see us, but even if you’re not, you should pick up a copy of the book, which is great:

He looked through the sheets one by one, then crumpled each piece and tossed them over to the cold fireplace. He missed it every single time. The white paper balls bounced off the surrounds and rolled briefly across the kitchen floor before coming to rest. He kept the four best drafts. The tool chest contained a few nails and a hammer, and Wegener used them to affix the pictures to the wall above the fireplace, next to the cast iron pokers.

They showed the prehistoric face of the Earth. Wegener had spent the day cutting continents out of stiff card and transferring the most important characteristics to them: directions of the glaciers’ motions, occurrence of rare species of flora and fauna. Then he had pushed the pieces to and fro on the tabletop like glasses at one of the seances all the world was talking about. What ghosts was he trying to summon? When the pieces refused to fit he had cut, torn and folded them until everything finally tessellated: abrasions, habitats, coasts. Then he had constantly retraced the continents’ paths, how they split, divided, separated off and drifted into their present positions. He had repeated the movement until his hands knew them by rote, forwards and backwards, in a single moment overcoming distances for which the continents had taken millennia.

Then he had traced the various phases onto new sheets and finally coloured the surfaces of the continents as far as the pencil stumps had allowed. He had chosen a pink pencil for the ur-continent, because it was closest at hand. While the ur-continent was a single mass in the first picture, in the consecutive sketches it separated ever further, each surface drifting gradually away towards its present position.

Only now that the series of pictures was on the wall did it occur to him that their course looked like a flower slowly opening its pink blossom. Or a plate breaking very gradually. No, thinking about it, it was an embryo, lying curled in the first picture and then growing continually, the little head rising, the foetus stretching out arms and legs and taking ever greater shape. As long as one did not get confused by the head and limbs gradually separating off from the rump. Wegener picked up the last piece of pink and wrote beneath the first picture: All the Land.