We caught up with Russo, whose novel Empire Falls won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, by phone from his home office near Portland, Maine. Russo is best known as a novelist, but his most recent work is Elsewhere: A Memoir. This month marks the author's first foray into digital publishing with Byliner's release of Nate in Venice, a novella about a former college professor struggling with depression who travels to Italy with his estranged brother.
What's on your nightstand?
I've just finished Monica Wood's memoir, When We Were the Kennedys. I just adored that book, and I also just finished Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, and now there are a couple I'm looking forward to that include Daniel Woodrell's collection of short stories — I loved his Winter's Bone — and another is We Live in Water by Jess Walter.
What impresses you about Woodrell and Walter?
I like Daniel Woodrell because his violence is visceral and it's kind of nonstop, and it shows the very worst that human beings are capable of. But unlike a lot of thriller writers that give you the sense they are secretly enjoying themselves, who really enjoy violent fiction, with Woodrell, you finish the book thinking that he has this news to share on the human condition and he's not enjoying it at all and you would do well to listen up. I just cannot put his stories down, and once I read his stories, I feel like saying thank you and now I know the worst and I can return to the other stuff. Jess Walter is the opposite. He is just the most kindhearted and smart, funny writer out there. His generosity of spirit is just on every page, and what is fascinating, what I truly love about literature, is that both of these visions are right.
Nate is a novella. At this point in your career, do you like the opportunity to write shorter?
Well, my intentions are not often what comes out as the finished work. For my last novel, That Old Cape Magic, it started as a short story. However, in the case of Nate, I did find that I absolutely loved writing in the novella form, and I haven't written novella form for forever. With the advent of electronic publishing I think that writers will rediscover the novella.
Have you found a difference in the skills and style of the editors, print versus digital, to be a challenge?
This is my first foray into electronic publishing, but my sense is that the editorial expertise is sometimes lacking. At Knopf, I have probably the best old-school editor in the business with Gary Fisketjon, and by old school, I mean that this is a man who knows stories and goes through every sentence. It's wonderful to see the work he does on all his writers, and I think it is becoming a lost art as some of these old-guard editors disappear and are replaced with people calling themselves editors, but they don't have the same type of talent. And you do see glaring mistakes in electronic media, confusion of simple words, for example. But I'm new to the form with Nate, and I was incredibly lucky to have a wonderful editor, Amy Grace Loyd, a novelist herself and a terrific editor.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer