My friend M. Scott Carter can now add “published author” to his impressive resume. Scott is a journalist who has lead several lives—at the Oklahoma State Senate, in the advertising industry, as director of marketing for the Metropolitan Library System, as reporter for the Norman Transcript, and now as a political reporter for the Journal Record.
Although I had some interaction with him while he was in the advertising world, I really came to know him while he worked for the library system. It’s obvious Scott has a passion for libraries and reading, and he’s particularly interested in promoting reading for pleasure to boys and young men. So I really wasn’t surprised to find that Scott’s first novel was aimed at young adults. (And, it’s a romance!)
Stealing Kevin’s Heart is the story of sixteen-year-old Alex Anderson, a young man who witnesses the death of his best friend Kevin, descends into depression, and ultimately finds the guidance—and the girl—to help him retrieve his life.
I was anxious to talk to Scott when the book came out. So… this edition of Talking About Books is really an author interview with my friend, M. Scott Carter.
Q: Scott, because you have an interest in marketing reading to boys, tell us a little bit about your relationship with books and reading while you were growing up.
A: I grew up in a very small town. However, the librarian at the public library was a genius. Every time I came in (and it was a lot) she would hand me a book and ask me “have you read this?” Usually I hadn’t and, almost always, I checked out what she handed me. I also racked up a million dollars in library fines (thankfully, my mom paid those). Seriously, though, it was at the library where I discovered the joy of reading and a deep long-lasting love for books.
Q: The saying goes, “Everyone wants to have written a book, but nobody wants to actually write one.” Have you always wanted to write a book? When did the desire translate into action?
A: Yes. I’ve wanted to write a book since I was in grade school. My mother bought me an old Underwood typewriter and I started my own newspaper (it covered our house and a couple of the neighbor’s) and even though that project was short-lived, I discovered just how much I enjoyed writing. I think that’s why I embraced journalism so strongly; it offered me the opportunity to write every day.
Q: This is ultimately a life-affirming book, but readers have to confront a lot of darkness first: death, potential suicide, a life-threatening medical condition, and an outrageously abusive character. Would you address this darkness and its role in the book?
A: Life is difficult and just because you’re writing about kids doesn’t mean it’s not difficult for them, too. There were several of these elements that I experienced when I was younger and they had a deep and lasting impact on me. I remember being chased home and beaten as a kid. I think it’s because of those events that I can identify with the underdog. Many times the underdog has to face the darkest obstacles. I wanted my characters to do that, but I wanted them to survive with their humanity intact. That’s a big part of Stealing Kevin’s Heart, showing how you can survive the darkest times and still remain human.
Q: I laughed at the “announcer” in Alex’s head who occasionally comments on his situation. (See Alex Anderson get arrested, tried, and convicted for trying to stop a crime. Only in America!) It’s like a promo for a TV show, or something you would hear before going into a commercial. Do you have an announcer in your head?
A: Yeah I do. That was straight out of my own life. There are so many times during the day that I hear a voice in my head broadcasting my latest screw-up that I’d swear I’ve been picked up by all three networks. Seriously, though, I added that to show that Alex was always thinking. He’s a modern kid, so he has that primary television experience and it’s manifested in his brain as his own personal television announcer. Still I would not recommend this for everyone.
Q: There are spiritual—even paranormal—dimensions in the final pages. Without giving anything away, would you talk about this aspect of Stealing Kevin’s Heart?
A: The spiritual component is just an example of one young man trying to discover his humanity. The paranormal aspect was written to show that sometimes, once in a while, there are things that happen in the world you just cannot explain. I like the idea that there is something bigger out there. And I like the idea that a real, honest-to-goodness friendship doesn’t end when one person dies. I was trying to show that, too.
Q: A little birdie (a Facebook post, actually) tells me you have another book in the works. Want to give us a preview?
A: Yes. My second novel for RoadRunner Press is The Immortal Van B. It’s the story of a young woman who “accidentally” clones a teenage Ludwig Van Beethoven, teaches him how to play the electric guitar and falls in love with him. It’s different but I think it’s really fun. I just finished writing it this week. I’m editing it right now and I really hope people like it.
Q: Being a sci-fi geek, that certainly sounds like it’s up my alley! Finally, because I’ve never known: what does the “M” stand for?
A: Marvelous. Most fun. Martian. Okay, okay, it actually stands for Matthew. When I was in college I worked at the campus radio station, and the news director there dubbed me “M. Scott” because there was another Scott on the air. The name stuck and I’ve used it as my pen name since then.
Well, Matthew Scott, thanks for taking the time to visit with us about your new book, and congratulations on its publication. I found my copy of Stealing Kevin’s Heart at Full Circle Books, but you can find it at other stores or online. Of course, you can also check with your local public library.
Read an excerpt from Stealing Kevin’s Heart.
When the culture wars returned a couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of Sheri S. Tepper’s 1998 novel Six Moon Dance. My brain blew a fuse. It was one of those serendipitous moments when what you’re reading informs the news of the day—and vice versa.
Whether you believe the current culture war is about women’s health and access to contraception, or about religious freedom, or both, there’s no denying that reproductive and sexual politics have come into play. Just turn on any cable news station.
When it comes to literary commentary on gender issues, Tepper is a master in the science fiction/fantasy genre. Her novel The Gate to Women’s Country is a landmark in feminist sci-fi. (And a darn good read, too!)
In this Tepper novel, the author turns gender stereotypes on their head. On the human-colonized planet Newholme, a matriarchal society has evolved. A virus that attaches itself to the double-x chromosome means fewer births of live females. Women become treasured, and the families of young men pay dowries to the families of young women to forge families. As in pre-modern times, the marriage arrangements are not romantic but economic. Once a woman has given birth to children—done her “duty”—she can buy the services of a consort, a man who has been trained in the art of pleasuring women.
This is where protagonist Mouche comes in. He is the son of parents who have been unable to produce daughters. These families are unable to pay dowries for their sons because they have been unable to collect dowries for daughters. Their options are few. One option is for the family to sell a son to a Madame who grooms young men to become consorts. And so Mouche finds himself in the house of Madame Genevois, the most prestigious consort house on the planet.
In this house, Mouche will rediscover the “Timmys”—another life form on the planet to which human children are intimately connected. But as children grow older, they are told the Timmys are illusions and must be ignored. But Mouche can’t ignore them. And increasingly, it appears the other residents of Newholme can’t ignore them either. For the Timmys once held the key to protecting this volcanically-active planet, an activity that reaches dire proportions when Newholme’s six moons align.
The above description of Six Moon Dance doesn’t even begin to touch upon this almost-epic work. Suffice it to say there are many more characters, many secrets, and a million-year-old back story that only adds richness and intrigue to Tepper’s commentary on gender, sex and mysogyny. And once the big questions are answered, and you feel you have just finished a great book, there is the most delightful of payoffs.
There are a number of interviews with Tepper out on the web, but this is my favorite one!
We humans are a curious lot. We like to see ourselves above nature—higher than the animals, but lower than the angels. We often fool ourselves, believing we are in control of the natural world that surrounds our homes, schools and businesses. Well, at least until the next tornado, earthquake, flood, famine or disease comes along.
Even people who know full well how interconnected we are to the natural world can experience eureka moments of understanding. It happened to journalist and food author Michael Pollan one day while he was watching a bee move from flower to flower. He marveled that the bee really had no understanding of its role in the plant’s reproductive cycle.
And then Pollan was struck by the fact that he was in the middle of planting potatoes in his garden. Potatoes! He was servicing a tuberous root that was domesticated thousands of years ago by the Incas in South America. Human beings have spent centuries helping the potato spread across the planet. That’s when Pollan’s 2001 book, Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World was conceived.
Pollan looks at four plants in Botany of Desire, and explains how a particular attraction humans have for each of the plants has led us to move heaven and earth to cultivate them across the world. Because of our desires, we have made them four of the most successful plants in history.
Our pursuit of sweetness has made the Apple the most popular fruit on earth. Our love of beauty has made the Tulip a star. Our desire to get high has made Cannibis one of the most modified plants in the world. Finally, our history with the Potato is a compelling reflection of our desire for control in a chaotic world.
Pollan’s book is filled with histories and stories that will make you look at our relationship with these plants in a whole new way. You’ll see Johnny Appleseed in a completely different light. If you think the Housing Bubble is bad, wait until you read about the Tulip Bubble. You’ll see how we’ve changed Cannibis from a tall, ugly weed into a compact beauty that can be grown indoors (so as not to alert the authorities). And you’ll discover the dangers of monocultures (think Irish Potato Famine) as you follow the potato from its Inca origins to the french fries you buy at McDonald’s. (We’ve even grown potatoes in space!)
PBS was so impressed with Pollan’s groundbreaking 2001 book that it commissioned a documentary based on it. You can explore for yourself online, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of the printed version. After all, the book is always better.
Out of Nowhere: Images of Oklahoma
Opens 3:30 pm, Monday, February 20
Edmon Low Library, OSU-Stillwater
The State of the Novel: Constance Squires and Rilla Askew
7:00 pm, Tuesday, February 21
Joseph Gierek Fine Art, 1512 E. 15th Street, Tulsa
Yep! Two literary events comin’ up next week. The first is a gallery showing of the photography of Kelly Kerr, featuring images from his Centennial book Oklahoma Revisited. Books will be available for purchase and signing at the reception after the event.
Kerr is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker and visual communications faculty member at OSU Institute of Technology. Michael Wallis, best-selling author, speaker and storyteller will introduce Kerr.
Born and raised in Ada, Okla., Kerr discovered his passion as an OSU student shooting for the school newspaper, The Daily O’Collegian.
Kerr graduated from the business college in 1989 and was hired at the Tulsa World in 1994. He covered breaking news, features, entertainment and sports. He was named the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photographer of the Year and twice the Associated Press Sweepstakes Award winner.
In December 2007 Kerr became a faculty member at OSU-IT teaching photography and film in the visual communications program. Kerr has received two teaching awards: the 2011 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Excellence in Teaching and Leadership Award and the 2010 OSU-IT Outstanding Faculty Award.
The OSU Library houses two oral history interviews with Kerr. The first interview focuses on his experiences as an OSU student. The second highlights his photography and creativity. Both interviews are available online.
Event partners include Friends of the OSU Library, OSU Institute for Creativity and Innovation, OSU School of Media and Strategic Communications, Center for Oklahoma Studies, Oklahoma Oral History Research Program, the Tulsa World and OSU Research and Technology Transfer. This event is free and open to the public. For event questions, call 405-744-7331.
Squires’ debut novel, Along the Watchtower has been called “smart, funny, and beautifully written.” Askew is one of our greatest Oklahoma writers, having won the American Book Award (Fire in Beulah), three Oklahoma Book Awards (Strange Business, The Mercy Seat, and Harpsong), and nominated for the Pen/Faulkner Award (The Mercy Seat.)
Squires will read from her novel, while Askew will debut an exclusive preview from her forthcoming book, Kind of Kin. A dialogue will follow about the current state and future of the novel. Sponsor of the event is Book Smart Tulsa. Don’t miss it!
Online magazine Vice calls Harold Bloom “the preeminent literary critic in the world.” It’s hard to argue with that. This writer, critic, professor, and staunch champion of classic literature is one-of-a-kind. My friend Lloyd loves him, and talked to me, in particular, about one of Bloom’s most popular works: The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.
My only other exposure to Bloom, until recently, was his work Jesus and Yahweh : The Names Divine. Although the subject of that work was investigating what we really know about Jesus, the author spent some time expressing his love for the Old Testament, the Jewish Tanakh. (This was also my first exposure to the idea that Bathsheba could be the author of the Torah, the first five books of the bible. A bit more on this controversial idea here.)
Knowing he placed the Old Testament up there with Shakespeare (or is that other way around?), I was not surprised to see Bloom’s latest work staring at me from the library stacks. (Although I was excited.) The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible is the author’s celebration of “the sublime summit of literature in English.” Bloom also includes Shakespeare in this “sublime summit” for both the works of the Bard’s major phase and the KJB emerged during the same time period, 1604-1611.
Bloom reads passages from the KJB alongside those of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, as well as the Tyndale and Geneva Bibles, to illustrate how the KJB translators improved or diminished the text.
During the journey, we discover how Songs of Solomon inspired poetry and Shakespeare, how God’s voice changed from mocking to “threatening rhapsody” in Job; and we meet the strangest, but perhaps the most literary, Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Tyndale is the master translator in this picture, and his Bible and other works influenced the KJB translation:
The inexplicable wonder is that a rather undistinguished group of writers… brought forth a magnificence almost to rival Shakespeare’s. Without Tyndale as fountainhead, it could not have been done, but Tyndale’s powerfully rugged prose is very unlike the orchestration of the sentences of the KJB.”
Yes, orchestration. There is beauty here. Millions of people read the King James Bible for its religious dogma and spiritual inspiration, but Bloom says we should look at it a different way as well: as a masterpiece of English literature.
“In August 1973, three weeks past my seventeenth birthday, I packed my clothes in three hand-me-down Samsonite suitcases and left the only place I had ever called home.”
Anita Hill looks at the meaning of home in this series of stories that trace a journey from her family’s move to the “promised land” of Oklahoma to today’s sub-prime mortgage crisis. In Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home, Hill demonstrates how this search for a better place—a place to call home—has been stymied for far too long for many of our citizens by “institutional incentives that encourage separation.”
The search for home, of course, goes beyond the four walls—to the neighborhood, the community, and even the nation where we feel we belong. Our search begins with ourselves and our own family history:
When I began to explore my family history, I was in search of the perfect past. What I found were surprises and a messy, complicated reality that forced me to abandon the myths that filled my head about family, progress, and success.”
Hill discovers that the system established following slavery, to correct slavery’s depravities, had failed her ancestors. And yet, Hill’s ancestors “dared to imagine” a better place for themselves and their children.
This need for home runs deep in the American soul. From the first Euro-American settlers, to Abigail Adam’s arguments for women’s legal protections in their own homes, to commerce secretary Herbert Hoover’s Own Your Own Home campaign, to the twentieth century migration of blacks to the North, to George W. Bush’s Ownership Society, it is a need that has framed our national conversation.
Hill’s stories synthesize this history and conversation with personal reflections from herself and others, race and gender issues, government policies, and our enduring dreams for a better life.
After establishing the links among home, belonging, achievement and success, Hill calls for a new vision amidst the current housing crisis that has brought a great nation to its knees. This vision can take inspiration from the social networking communities that are being embraced, especially by younger citizens, as well as the story of President Obama, who’s “fervent search for home brought him to the presidency…”
The vision? “…not of movement, but one of place; not one of tolerance, but one of belonging; not just of rights, but also of community—a community of equals” Such a vision, Hill argues, could make an inclusive American Democracy where all of us feel at home.
This is a beautifully written, hopeful book.