Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thomas Maltman

Thomas Maltman’s essays, poetry, and fiction have been published in many literary journals. He has an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His first novel, The Night Birds, won an Alex Award, a Spur Award, and the Friends of American Writers Literary Award. In 2009 the American Library Association chose The Night Birds as an “Outstanding Book for the College Bound.” He’s taught for five years at Normandale Community College and lives in the Twin Cities area. Little Wolves, his second novel, made the January 2013 Indie Next List and is an Amazon Book of the Month.

Late last month I asked Maltman about what he was reading.  His reply:
I come to writing as a reader first. It’s a love of reading that brings me to the blank page. In high school I sometimes devoured entire novels in a single afternoon and I daydreamed one day about writing a book of my own. A love of books and language is what brings me here and sustains me.

I like to keep a number of books from different genres on my nightstand, from poetry to fiction, and my tastes roam a broad territory. I tend to have mix popular fiction, literary, and classics going all at once.

This means that right now I’m rereading Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I remember loving this in high school. Dickens is master at setting up scenes like a cinematographer, his omniscient style sweeping over courtrooms or rioting city streets to illumine a single subject. I’m also reading this a second time because my next book is about The Last Dauphin, the son of Louis-Charles XVII and Marie Antoinette who were both executed during the French Revolution. As part of my research I read heavily from the period, absorbing historic details and a feel for the time I’ll hope to later use when I write.

The book from the “popular” genre that I just finished was George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Yes, it’s pure melodrama, but also absolutely riveting. What I admire is the strong sense of place, from those faces carved in the weirwoods where the Stark family stays true to the old gods to the dire wolves and forest beyond the Wall haunted by the Others. It’s been a long time since a book has so completely transported me to another place. “In real life the monsters win,” one of the characters observes and that’s true of this story world, which gets praised and criticized for its grit and the sometimes random deaths of favorite characters. There are some books out there that became popular for terrible reasons. Isn’t it rotten that as I write this all three Fifty Shades of Grey books are in the top ten of the NYT bestseller list? Bleh. And yet, sometimes a book becomes popular for all the right reasons. Even for non-fantasy readers (and I will read any genre I get my hands on so long that the story is well-crafted), George RR Martin is a must-read.

Two literary books by Minnesota writers I recently finished are Peter Geye’s The Lighthouse Road, a masterful novel about birth and death, family loyalties and belonging, set in the 19th century north woods community of Gunflint, and Nick Healy’s collection of short stories, It Takes You Over. In our age of shortened attention spans, I don’t understand why more people don’t read short stories. If you are reading this right now take twenty minutes of your time and go listen to him read one of the award-winning stories on this podcast. Those twenty minutes may be the best you spend today! Reading between classics, popular, and literary helps me to see that a great book is one that crosses the artificial genre boundaries we set up.

In case this isn’t clear yet, I read everything I can. Since I teach young adult literature and children’s literature, I am always on the lookout for good books. You can learn so much about pacing and pathos from reading Roald Dahl! Nicole Helget and Nate LeBoutillier have written this wise and funny book for kids, Horse Camp, which started as a story they were making up for their own children at bedtime.

Poetry and nonfiction also occupy key places on my reading stand. I follow Ray Bradbury’s advice from The Zen of Writing that it’s wise for prose writers to drink in good poetry because it helps us create more shapely sentences and lyrical prose. I read Wendell Berry before journaling (a spiritual journal) and I’m also reading Kris Bigalk’s beautiful book, Repeat the Flesh in Numbers.

In short, I finish each day wishing there were more hours I had for reading. It’s a good life, so long as there are books to sustain us.
Visit Thomas Maltman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Little Wolves.

--Marshal Zeringue