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Author/Reader Discussions > Lost Everything- Author Reader Discussion

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message 1: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod
Next month, we'll be discussing Lost Everything with author Brian Francis Slattery.

His publisher has given us a total of 10 copies to give away - in print, for US residents only.

In order to be considered, you must comment here or on the blog for a shot at winning one and secure a spot in the discussion that kicks off on July 18th.


This giveaway will run through June 9th.

Winners will be announced here and via email (if you provide one) on June 10th.

Here's how to enter:

1 - Leave a comment here or in the giveaway thread over at TNBBC's blog (linked above). REMEMBER, You must be a resident of the US to enter this time.


2 - State that you agree to participate in the group read book discussion that will run from July 18th through July 24th. Brian has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him.

*If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion right here in this thread next month.

3 - If your goodreads profile is blocked (set on private), please leave me another way to contact you.


message 2: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments Yay! This has been on my to-read list :)

I am a U.S. resident. I agree to participate in the discussion in July.

I can be reached here on Goodreads through my messages.

message 3: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) I love the cover of this novel, and the blurb is most intriguing. I am biased, of course, because I grew up across the street from the Susquehanna in a small town in upstate New York.

Yes, I agree to participate in the discussion if selected. I am a US resident and will provide an email via GR direct message if selected.

message 4: by Kim (new)

Kim Kaso | 21 comments I visited upstate many times while my sister and her family lived there. Am intrigued by this book and would love to win a copy.

I am a U.S. resident, I will be happy to engage in the discussion and review the book. Contact by DM on Goodreads & I will provide info if I win.

message 5: by Diane (new)

Diane | 588 comments I would love to read and participate in the discussion of this book. I live in the US and agree to discuss this book should I win a copy.

message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments I would so like to read this book. I live in the U.S., I love these discussions as much as reading the book - so I will definitely make the date! I don't think I am marked private. My email, in case it is -

message 7: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda Lomazow Would love to read and participate in the

message 8: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Bihlmayer | 81 comments Hi! I agree to participate and I live in the US.

message 9: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie Nielsen | 5 comments The author is one of my favorite musicians! I live in the U.S. and would be happy to participate in the discussion.

message 10: by Kelly (new)

Kelly | 28 comments I am a U.S. resident and agree to participate in the discussion in July.

I can be reached on Goodreads or at

message 11: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments #prettyexcited that there's only 9 of us entered right now :P

message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments Have the winners been notified?

message 13: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod
I will be reaching out to each and every one of you today! Congrats! You are all winners : )

Thank you so much for entering the giveaway and for expressing an interest in the book! I can't wait for us to discuss it next month.

message 14: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Oh, man!! Thanks for the great news, Lori. This discussion will be wonderful.

message 15: by Kel (new)

Kel (kelh67) | 2 comments Sorry I missed the chance,

message 16: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments Hey. Just checking to see if anyone has gotten their copy in the mail? Mine hasn't arrived yet :(

message 17: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments I have not received mine as well. Sometimes it takes awhile. I am anxious to start.

message 18: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Nor have I. I also realized though that I didn't get a message June 11, so theres that.

message 19: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod
Carol, you were contacted via email on June 11th. Your goodreads account was set up to private, remember?

message 20: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod

Please note that I've just discovered that there was a delay in the shipment of the books by the publisher. I am still not even certain they have shipped at this point. The publisher is looking into it and I hope to have a response in the next few days.

In that case, I will also be reaching out to the author to request that our discussion be pushed back until next month to allow us time to read the books once we get them.

More to come.

message 21: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Lori wrote: "Carol, you were contacted via email on June 11th. Your goodreads account was set up to private, remember?"

Lori -thanks for the reminder -had completely slipped my mind that it wasn't a GR message. So glad you recalled :)

message 22: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments Thank you Lori for the update! I'm looking forward to reading it when it comes :) You're the best!

message 23: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod
OK everyone. Good news. The books have shipped!

Brian has agreed to move the discussion back to the week of August 15th, so you have some time to read the book before the conversation begins!

I apologize for the delay. Thanks for your patience!

message 24: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments Thank you Lori for being awesome :)

message 25: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod
Awwww. I do what I can : )

message 26: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments Yay! Finally got it today. Other current reads goin on the back burner :)

message 27: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod
Hey, just checking in to make sure all the winners have gotten their books? The discussion kicks off on the 15th!

message 28: by Diane (new)

Diane | 588 comments I have mine

message 29: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Yes, I have mine.

message 30: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments I have mine and I am halfway done.

message 31: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments Just finished it. Questions are ready.

message 32: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments Finished and need to discuss!

message 33: by Brian (new)

Brian Slattery Hey everyone! Excited to discuss Lost Everything with you. Thanks so much for reading.

As luck would have it, I even just crossed the Susquehanna at Harrisburg a few days ago coming back from vacation as part of a yearly pilgrimage to a music festival in West Virginia (I live just outside of New Haven, CT). It reminded me all over again where I was at when I wrote the book a few years ago now—and of the 50-mile canoe trip I took on it with a couple friends to see what it was like to be on that water, and the driving alongside it to try to get the details right.

Which is all a long way of saying: Looking forward to talking with all of you!

message 34: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod
Hey there Brian! Thanks for swinging in.

We're chomping at the bit to chat. Can't wait for Monday to get here : )

message 35: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments I am excited to start too! Really enjoyed the book!

message 36: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments Hey Guys,
Hope no one minds but I'm posting my questions a few hours early. Tomorrow is my first official day back on the job at the start of a new school year so I'm expecting a hectic day.

Brian thank you for the opportunity to read your book! Here are a few questions:
1). Would you talk about the decision for the story to take place in medias res?

2.) Would you comment on your writing style, specifically the lack of dialogue?

3) Choice of narrator: is there a significance to keeping the narrator's identity a secret? Was it to create a sort of universality? An "it could be anyone" mood to the piece?

4). Many novels I've read focus on a few major characters. Your novel, however, goes into almost equal detail about major and minor characters and gives equal attention to their backstories. Was there an underlying motivation for this?

message 37: by Lori, Super Mod (last edited Aug 14, 2016 03:47PM) (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10023 comments Mod
Thanks for getting in early Tabitha!

Brian, I want to take a moment to thank you so for your incredible patience and flexibility as we worked to get copies of your book into everyone's hands. I wanted to make sure they had ample time to read it to be ready for you because there really is so much to discuss!

I, too, will be at work for the better part of the day and I wanted to get my first question in as well....

I believe you spent a little time traveling the Susquehanna River while writing this book. Tell me, how did the idea for this book and its location come to you?

message 38: by Diane (new)

Diane | 588 comments I am going to jump on the early bandwagon here.

I also wondered about who the narrator was and how the story would develop differently if the narrator was a character known to the reader?

I also am curious about your writing process. Do you write for a particular audience in mind, or do you write for yourself and hope the story that comes of it appeals to a larger audience?

message 39: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments Brian, I want to start by saying I was attached to the book as soon as I started it. The writing was descriptive and the story inviting, I only had a problem with the part about the war. I could not figure out if the war was against all city dwellers, people who were hoarding, or people uprising against the government.

The characterization was detailed. I really felt they were real people and that they would react as you developed them. I also felt the story very possible and not unbelievable,

message 40: by Brian (new)

Brian Slattery Hello all,

I suppose I'll get a jump on all this, too. Today, crazily enough, I happened to be passing through Lisle, NY on the way back from visiting my parents and took a couple detours just to refresh my memory.

Let's see if I can kind of address all these opening questions at once, just to get things rolling.

Lost Everything, like the two books of mine that preceded it, were written in a kind of nutty fervor. They demanded that I write them, and that I write them in the ways that they came out. When I was done, I realized I'd never really be able to write like that again (which has both pros and cons). In all three cases (to answer one of your questions, Diane), I don't think I was writing with a particular audience in mind so much as I was writing the kinds of books that I wanted to read and hadn't found out there already; I just threw them out there and figured they'd find whatever way they were going to find in the world. I'm hopelessly naive in that regard.

The story was born from the really simple image that I just could not get out of my head, after it popped in there while I was playing music at a gig with a bunch of friends I haven't played with since. The image was just of a man going up a river to find his son. So to me, the story actually starts at the beginning for Sunny Jim, in that it's the beginning of his trip. I always knew that the book would begin when he started going upriver and end when he got to his destination, even as I realized later (as you point out, Tabitha) that it's really in medias res as far as the rest of the world of the book is concerned. But since I'd already hung my hat on that main thread of the story as the main thread, I stuck with it.

The writing style for the book—as you can see, it's not the way that I normally write—was there from the beginning; it was a voice I could hear that wasn't mine. It was, in fact, very much the voice of a friend I'd met as a kid and haven't seen since we graduated high school. Its insistence was one of the reasons I ended up with the narrator as an actual character (more on this in a minute). All of the other stuff was stuff that just came out, and came out, and came out. The war, all those other characters, the Carthage, all of it. The overall process of writing this book, for me, was of slowly coming to terms with the fact that I was writing a much, much darker book than I ever thought I would, and it took me a long time to embrace that. I'm very grateful for everyone who felt it was worth the trip.

But as Lori's question suggests, I didn't just pull the story out of my imagination; I can't quite seem to be able to do that as a writer. For a while, that image of a man going up a river didn't have a specific geographic location, and as a result, I couldn't really start writing the book. I settled on the Susquehanna River in the end because I'd been trying for years to write something about upstate New York—not Ithaca, the hippie town I grew up in, but the rest of upstate New York, the place that surrounds where I grew up. I'd tried and failed and tried and failed, and realized ultimately that I might be able to get at it by literally approaching it slowly, step by step (or paddle by paddle), until I arrived there.

But I soon realized that I didn't know enough about the river itself to do OK by it, so I ended up reading a lot, talking to people, and taking some vacation time to cover, as precisely as I could, the trip Sunny Jim takes. The first leg of that was to do a three-day canoe trip starting 50 miles north of Harrisburg and ending in the city, which I did with a couple friends, who were also kind enough to humor me while I roamed around Harrisburg itself to get to know it a little as well, and write what I needed to write about it accurately. In a second trip, I started in a car at the 50-mile mark and drove north, slowly, for two days, to Lisle, stopping everywhere I could get at the river. I ended up with a pile of notes and hundreds upon hundreds of pictures, and in many, many, many cases, the details in the book are pulled directly from what I saw and heard. The rest of the plot, and all those other characters, and even the nature of the war—which (Chris) I ended up modeling a bit after those currently intractable civil wars in, say, Sudan, in which the causes within a few years are lost in a kind of haze and ultimately become kind of irrelevant as the war takes on its own vicious life and logic—emerged from those details. It was all a weirdly organic process; like I said, with the benefit of a few years' hindsight, I understand now that I could never write a book that way again.

But back to the narrator, and the narrative voice: I think a big part of the reason for the relative lack of dialogue is because Sunny Jim is himself just not that talkative a guy. He's someone who holds his cards too close to his chest—it is, in a sense, his fundamental problem, that he holds on to things too tightly—and so it stymies a lot of the free flow of information that characterizes a lot of other books. That Sunny Jim is not a talkative subject is the reason that the narrator has to, in a sense, work around him to get his story. Thus all those secondary characters; each of them, for the narrator, holds a piece of the puzzle to the man in the middle.

The narrator is anonymous in part as a nod to the medieval and early modern literature I love, which often has a sort of narrator-author character who gets to talk now and again directly to the reader. But I also saw that narrator, in the end, as engaged in a kind of preservation project, trying to save everyone (she? he?) met, in the crazy hope that maybe if there was enough of them in the pages, then if someone were to read it, they'd be alive again. In that I was writing under the influence of several books I love that all make the claim that all that little stuff matters, that books offer a weird kind of life after death for their subjects, and that just because a character is secondary to the story doesn't mean they're secondary as characters; that they all have a humanity that's worth trying to capture.

Typing all of this out now, I think to myself that a) it's crazy that I went so far in all this, and b) it's probably not all that surprising that I find myself to be a journalist these days, and really do find it rewarding to spend a fair amount of time entering the details of a lot of ordinary people's lives into the public record. But that's where I'm at.

I suppose I'll stop here for now. Such great questions! I hope I've started to address them. Though before we get too much farther, I want to state for the record that, as the author of the book, I feel pretty strongly that I am the *least* qualified to have opinions about it, let alone offer definitive answers to anything; what the stuff in the book means to you is far more interesting to me than what it means to me. So let's keep going, and thank you again!

message 41: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments I want to understand the last 2 sentences of the book. "Goodbye. Hello." I keep finding multiple meanings to this. It could be the narrator saying goodbye and saying hello, hoping there is someone out there. Or, it could be a foreshadowing of the future and a sarcastic Hello. Then I thought it was an opening for another book. Maybe I am just reading too much into it. But it was a very interesting ending.

message 42: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 164 comments Awesome. I appreciate getting to hear about your process. Thanks, Brian :)

message 43: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments Can you tell me why some of the discussion was "...,"? I have never read any book like that. I thought it very clever. It bothered me the first time , but afterwards I thought it was a great tool.

message 44: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie Nielsen | 5 comments I'm a fan of Brian's music, and I've been to some of the places that are mentioned in the book. I wonder how many times Rainelle, WV has been included in a novel! The mentions of old-time music also interest me. For a book set in the future, they imply that old-time stays alive and relevant even to folks of the future. I hope it's so!

Brian, you were prescient in mapping out some aspects of a future. (I'll mention the horrible flooding that devastated Rainelle, for one.) Did you have a time frame in mind as you wrote? Maybe it's just my take on today's political situation, but I found your representation of a civil war pretty eerie.

Two other things came to me. One is that you left out many, many verbs. The other is that the characters are experiencing things in a passive (kind of hopeless) way. This latter point seems most to apply to the male characters, who are focused on keeping the next generation going. The women (e.g. Aline, General Foote) are fighting the war. In much of literature, this counts as a role-reversal and I found it interesting.

message 45: by Brian (new)

Brian Slattery Hey Chris!

The "..." thing is easier to explain. It's mostly that it often annoyed me in books when the writer said, "He fidgeted" or "She gave him a look" or something like that. To me, a pause was a pause, and when I came across the "..." in a couple other books (or "–", in some cases), I thought, "that's for me." And as I started to figure out how to use it, I liked it more and more.

That said, I don't think I've used it since finishing this book. I write in a different way now, and it doesn't seem as important to me to actually make the pause a pause. It was just something that the first three books I wrote seemed to need.

Re: the last line of the book: I love that you're finding more than one way to read it! And it seems to me that you're understanding it just fine—and in any case, it's my strong conviction that however you understand it as the reader is right.

I can tell you, though, what I was thinking by ending it that way. I'm not a religious person at all—I'm a thoroughly lapsed Catholic—but when I realized that Reverent Bauxite, a person of deep faith, was going to be very close to the center of the book, I wanted to respect that as much as possible. I happen to have a close friend who is an Episcopal priest, and I made him read early drafts of the book and asked him a lot of questions about how the book works from a religious perspective. And while I don't share his faith, I actually did want the book to "work" in that way. For me personally, the challenge was to honor the fact that religious thinking has pulled a lot of weight already in helping a lot of people conceptualize what the ends of things, you know, Mean, while also trying to find a way to make that work from a non-religious perspective at the same time. Foolishly, pridefully, I had it in my head that perhaps I could reconcile, and even combine, those two points of view by the end of the book.

So the "Goodbye. Hello." thing was, first, an attempt at a bit of a nod to the narrator's (and all the other characters') "resurrection" in the pages of the book, in line with one of the ideas that the narrator keeps going on about. It's also an inversion of a phrase that shows up in a couple different songs I like (song lyrics really permeate all my books). And finally, it's kind of an answer to a "hello....?" that someone says near the beginning of my first book; at the time, I knew that Lost Everything was sort of the end of the line of questions that my first book had opened, and at the time, I wasn't even sure I had another book in me. So in this one I just kind of went for it. I also liked that I could make that line circle all the way back to the beginning, even if it was in a pretty easy way.

Though speaking strictly personally, I actually hear those words as going around forever in a tight circle; you say goodbye, then hello, then goodbye, then hello, everyone's always not around for long enough but also never really gone, and maybe this might sound kind of weird, but for me, there's a lot of solace in that idea.

message 46: by Brian (new)

Brian Slattery Tabitha, absolutely! It's what we're here to do, right? I'm really loving hearing your responses (and everyone elses's responses) to this book, too.

message 47: by Chris (new)

Chris Wallace (chrispwallace) | 112 comments I am going to have to read the other two books now! When I read a book I want to be able to know the characters. What I dislike in any book is a, what I call a ghost character, they are characters that come into the story for no real reason. I felt in yours that all the character were given the thoughts and soul.

Thank you for your responses. They are very very good.

message 48: by Brian (new)

Brian Slattery Hey Rosemarie,

Nice to see you at Clifftop! I'm delighted you're a part of this thing here, and totally share your sadness at how badly hit Rainelle was this year.

Re: time frame: Yes, there's a specific one—about a hundred years from now—which I settled on after reading a really fascinating study by some government agency or another (I can't for the life of me find a copy of it now, online or in my office, but I swear I'm not making this up) that speculated as to how the climates of various parts of the Northeast might be in the future. The Northeast/mid-Atlantic as an essentially tropical zone was just one of many possibilities discussed, but it was one that dovetailed nicely with the practical need to make the Susquehanna deeper and thus navigable (it isn't right now), and with my own experience of canoeing down it. The land right around the river is really lush; trees are tangled with vines, and everything is overgrown with foliage. On the water for three days, my friends and I constantly commented that we felt like we were someplace much farther south than Pennsylvania. Really, excepting the addition of monkeys, the descriptions of the river are pretty close to the way it actually was when I visited.

Regarding the political situation, at the time all I did was run with the idea that if the climate changed rapidly enough, it could create enough political stress to make the country come apart at the seams. Without getting all into a long tangent (unless we want to go there, I suppose), for my day job I used to edit a ton of public policy stuff about international affairs all day, and that in addition to traveling to other parts of the world impressed on me the idea that governments, as manmade institutions, are much more fragile than they sometimes appear in the United States. And at the time, international affairs folks were already talking about the possible political and social implications of climate change in fomenting instability and conflict—an idea that has since gained more traction, at least as far as I can understand. I honestly wasn't looking all that much at the political situation then, but I know what you mean; given the tone of the political conversation these days, a civil war seems slightly more likely than it was, say, twenty years ago, and that is not a fun thing to think about.

Re: the female-male role reversal: *That* idea came from reading about (and in one case visiting) societies in Latin America and Africa struggling to recover from long, protracted civil wars. One thing that emerged from that was that women having often ended up doing much of that work. Part of that has to do with the fact that many men were killed in the conflict as soldiers, and many survivors could be out of commission, physically or mentally. But that seemed to be a small piece of the puzzle; a bigger piece was that the social networks women formed during the conflict in some cases were the strongest glue holding society together, and they became the first place to start trying to put the pieces back together.

That's all obviously a dramatic generalization, and in writing the book, I did my best to make it more complicated than that (as it is in real life). But I did want the general idea to be there. That it meant that I wrote for more female characters than I had in previous books was an utterly welcome side effect.

There *are* a lot of verbs missing! Part of that was that it was what the narrative voice dictated; the narrative voice is a kind of hard upstate New York, at least the way I heard it growing up there; a lot of people I knew really did speak pretty tersely. (I will never forget, for example, the phrase "belt buckle" as a complete-sentence answer to "what happened to your eye?" which I asked someone on the school bus once.) But it also seemed to work well with what you observed, that many of the people you meet in the book have become kind of passive. They don't do anything; they don't have any verbs.

It's pretty reasonable to ask, of course, whether all this stuff I've talked about so far actually "worked"—you are all much better judges of that than I am, and I don't think it's a perfect book by any stretch. It's just the best I could do at the time. Every once in a while people ask me what my favorite thing I've written is. The honest truth is that I find all of it pretty uneven. I don't go back and reread my own books, but I do look at them occasionally. There are parts that I cringe at now; there are also parts that I read and think "I couldn't write it that well now."

Though as a final thing—Rosemarie, you'll know that from the title of the book on down, this was totally my old-time music book. Part of it was that I found in several more despairing corners of American music the soundtrack for this book (think Dock Boggs, Skip James), and they gave me some courage when I was worried that the whole thing was going to sink under its own weight (and maybe, for some people, it did!). Though in the world of the book, I also loved showing that the same music is the stuff you can still play even when you lose a lot; to me, it's the glimmer of hope, even when that hope manifests itself as something not obviously hopeful. After all, even when you're singing a sad song, you're still singing, and that is something.

message 49: by Brian (new)

Brian Slattery Hey Chris!

Re: characters: Thanks so much! It means a lot to me that the book connected with you in that way.

message 50: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie Nielsen | 5 comments Brian, thanks for your comments. And for the book. May I add that I'm enjoying the opportunity of being part of this on-line book club!

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