A2A: Scott Elliott & Lamar Herrin

The novels Fractures and Temple Grove are set at opposite ends of the United States, and their environmentalist concerns are different: the one with hydrofracking in Pennsylvania, the other with logging in the Pacific Northwest. But their authors, Lamar Herrin and Scott Elliott, found plenty of common ground during a recent e-mail exchange… not least of all in their ability to draw out the characters and the relationships that make these more than just “a book about hydrofracking” or “a book about the logging controversy.” In a way, those may be the least of what these two novels are “about.”

Scott ElliottScott Elliott: Fractures is masterful in its ability to take us into interior lives. It’s been some time since I’ve read a novel so invested in multiple characters and the tenuous connections between them, and so ambitious and successful at seamlessly moving us into and out of different characters’ heads. Plumbing the depths of characters’ psyches and putting pressure on them would seem to have a ready analogue in the central subject matter and source of conflict that the book takes up in all of its complexity—the hydrofracking in which deep drilling and the pressure of lots of water laced with chemicals releases natural gas.

I wonder if you could talk about your research into natural gas drilling and also the degree to which you thought about the notion of hydrofracking in a metaphorical sense when you were writing the novel and within the novel—as an analogue for the process of fiction writing, and for the way pressure tests bonds between characters in the novel’s extended family.

Lamar Herrin

Lamar Herrin: My research into natural gas drilling took place mostly on the ground, wandering around drilling sites in northern Pennsylvania and making a bit of a nuisance of myself. Talking to anybody who would talk back and keeping my senses alert. I never managed to get onto a drilling rig floor, at least not in person. But as I began to do parallel wandering on the web, and as one video led me to four or five others, I did manage to accumulate a lot of impressions. It turns out drill workers like to video themselves working, sound effects and all. It didn’t take a great leap of the imagination to smell the smells. I talked to certain people at Cornell University and did the reading I could, but mostly it was groundwork and moving around on the web.

And I talked to people in the towns. Friends have asked me what got me thinking of a novel, and I’ve come to believe it was the moment I walked into the Susquehanna County Court House in Montrose, Pennsylvania (I had gone there, and to Dimock, which is close by, to simply get enlightened, to see what might be coming our way in the Southern Tier of New York State). But in the court house a policeman on duty explained that the desks I saw lined up and down the long central hall had been set out so that property owners could come check their deeds, and so that competing family members (or so the policeman claimed) could see who owned what. Almost all of my novels have had to do with families, and here, I quickly realized, was a plot.

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8 December 2013 | author2author |

My 6 Favorite #Holidaysongs CDs of 2013

The Best Holidaysongs CDs of 2013

Every year, from Black Friday to Boxing Day, I totally immerse myself in holiday music. I used to collect my own Christmas CDs, but once I got on board with Spotify I was able to start compiling a playlist which is, as I write this post, just shy of 8,500 songs and may likely hit 9,000 before the end of the season. Last weekend, I searched out and added all the new albums of holiday songs (or #holidaysongs, as I’ve tagged them on Twitter) and listened to them straight through once before adding them to the ongoing shuffle. These are the ones I thought were the best:

Nick Lowe, Quality Street: It opens with a rockabilly version of “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” then quickly settles into a humorous but groovy tone with songs like “Christmas at the Airport,” “The North Pole Express,” and “Hooves on the Roof.” There’s some fantastic horn and organ riffs behind the guitars on Lowe’s “Silent Night,” for example, and though some critics have sensed a bit of ska in his cover of Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,” it feels a little bit more late ’50s rock to me. Out of all the 2013 holiday albums, this might just be my favorite.

Elizabeth Mitchell, The Sounding Joy: A Smithsonian Folkways collection of “Christmas songs in and out of the Ruth Crawford Seeger songbook,” as it says on the cover. It starts out with Mitchell and a children’s chorus on a gorgeous a cappella plus hand claps version of “Oh, Mary and the Baby,” with just a bit of flute and percussion for the bridge, and then she brings acoustic guitar in for “Mary Had a Baby” that’s equally beautiful. So many great cuts here, but probably my favorites (after those two) are the deeply soulful “Mary Was the Queen of Galilee” with Gail Ann Dorsey and Joan Osborne and the closing track—a lively version of “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” that becomes a parade of guest stars.

Quire of Voyces, Christmas with the Quire of Voyces: This is a choir associated with Santa Barbara City College, and they’ve been recorded with a clear, beautiful sound. Some standout cuts for me included “The Cherry Tree Carol” and “In Judah’s Land,” but they’re all quite good; if you’re looking for a quiet, contemplative holiday record to play in the background, this is perfect.

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6 December 2013 | listen to this |

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