Thursday, September 10, 2015

Interview with Aida Zilelian

Aida Zilelian is the founder of the Boundless Tales Reading Series. She recently released her outstanding debut novel Legacy Lost Things. She’s a Queens resident, and also a contributor to Newtown Literary.

JG: Tell us a little about yourself.

AZ: I’m an English teacher and a writer. Before I decided to start writing seriously I played guitar and wrote music. I played shows all over New York City for many years.

JG: When did you start the Boundless Tales Reading Series? What was the impetus behind it?

AZ: I started Boundless Tales in September 2011. Queens didn’t seem to have a reading series that I was aware of, and I wanted to provide a platform for emerging and established writers.

JG: Do you like MCing? How do you put together a lineup?

AZ: I do like MCing. It’s especially fun introducing new writers. My lineup is based on the type of literature being read (i.e. fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc…) and the overall mood of the pieces. I like to create a nice of balance.

JG: I understand you had to change venues. How did you land the new location?

AZ: Waltz Astoria, where we used to be, was closing. And the Astoria Bookshop seemed like the most obvious and sensible choice. And the owner Lexi is marvelous.

JG: Where does the inspiration come from in your writing?

AZ: My family. Their strengths and flaws.

JG: How has the book tour been treating you? Any interesting stories you’d like to share?

AZ: The book tour has been interesting. I was surprised about how many different types of people were interested in reading about an Armenian family who immigrates to Queens, NY. Last week I spoke with an African American man in his late 80’s who used to be a musician in Harlem in the 1940’s. He bought the book.

JG: How long did it take you to write The Legacy of Lost Things? Any hurdles you had to overcome?

AZ: It took me about a year to write. The most difficult hurdle was writing about characters who resembled my family members and portraying them as honestly as I could.

JG: How many publishers did you approach?

AZ: I don’t remember, honestly. I was fortunate, though. I finished writing the novel in September 2012 and signed my contract in January 2013.

JG: This might be probing, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to answer, but did you draw on any stories or background from friends or family regarding immigrating or assimilating into New York City?

AZ: Absolutely. My parents immigrated here. I drew on their experiences and my personal accounts of their struggles.

JG: Where did you go to school?

AZ: Queens College for my B.A. and M.A. But I was a psych major with a double minor in philosophy and sociology. My M.A. was in creative writing.

JG: What writers have had the greatest impact on you?

AZ: Truman Capote, David Sedaris, Sylvia Plath

JG What are you reading now?

AZ: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

JG: You are also involved in Newtown Literary. You serve on the editorial review board. Tell me about your experience.

AZ: It’s been quite amazing. Tim Fredrick, the founder, is one of the best people I have ever worked with. His intuition on how to run and manage a publication always impresses me. And the staff overall is extremely innovative.

JG: What’s the Queen Book Festival?

AZ: It’s a festival featuring Queens literature. They are working very hard to make it a huge success. It will be the first one the borough has ever had.

JG: Opinions about MFAs?

AZ: They aren’t necessary, but they help in many ways. It gives the discipline, insight into other writers that you wouldn’t normally read and you have to produce a body of work by the end of the program. Those are all valuable aspects, I think. But as I said, not necessary. It depends on the writer.

JG: Do you have a schedule for writing, a preferred time or place?

AZ: I just need peace and quiet and I need to be indoors. Being outside is too distracting. As long as I write every day, regardless of when, I’m happy.

JG: Any guilty pleasures?

AZ: HBO’s “Girls”, Lindt salted chocolate, tequila, gin, and aji verde.

JG: What do you want to be when you grow up?

AZ: A person whose writing has made on impression on her readers.

JG: If you were throwing a dinner party who would you invite (Living or dead)?

AZ: My stepfather, my father, my grandparents, and many other relatives who passed away. I know— not very exciting and kind of sad, but they inspired me more than anyone else in my life.

JG: How do you deal with rejection?

AZ: I don’t let it bother me. When I send out stories or my work for consideration I always keep a detailed log, but I forget that I sent it in the first place.

JG: Any new projects?

AZ: I’m working on a new novel. The deadline I have set for myself is December 2015. It’s about a girl’s quest to find out what happened to her family in Armenia during the Genocide.

JG: Places you long to visit.

AZ: Argentina, Italy, and Armenia.

Check out her novel Legacy of Lost Things. You can find out more about Boundless Tales Reading Series right here:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Panther Creek's 98 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir

Recently, I had a chance to taste the ’98 Panther Creek “Shea Vineyard” Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley’s answer to premier cru Burgundy. Holy cow! As a bottled-up 17-year-old it was still so vibrant. Packed with bing cherry up front, offering notes of sage, and rose petal it gave way to darker fruit and a touch of gaminess on the finish. Its balance proved it to be a venerable pairing delight. It’s a silky wine, well-knit and still showing grip, but civilized grip— tannin tame enough to appreciate Debussy in the park.

Panther Creek was founded by the legendary Ken Wright in 1986. Ken moved on in 1994, and so did his bold, fruit bomb style. When Michael Stevenson took over as winemaker in 1996 he brought a new philosophy to the estate, one that focused on balance, nuance, and more restrained oak over flamboyance. 1998 was a Shawshank Redemption to the 1997 washout. The ’98 produced a small crop, less than the tiny ’94 that basketed less than 2 tons per acre. They talked it up as the vintage with plump and powerful wines, many properties were already licking their chops. Harvey Steiman described the ’98 Argyle “Nuthouse” Pinot Noir as “Ripe and seductive” offering “plum and black cherry, shaded with hints of chocolate”. Wine Spectator gave it 93 points. When the ’98 Domaine Drouhin was released its “bright” fruit and “soft” tannins had hailed it as approachable enough to start the Pinot Party. The consensus declared it as an excellent vintage, but I’m not sure anybody realized how long the wines would last in the cellar. Even after you’ve completed barrel tastings, even after you’ve tasted a finished product, a year or two out can seem like an eternity. Wine tasting is indeed a game of extrapolation. A warm vintage like 1998 might show itself plusher in the early rounds, but the fear that it may be short-lived lingers.

The ’98 vintage started out dismally with heavy spring rains. There were already comparisons to the ’97 washout. Then it got warm for the summer, and just before harvest, maybe even too warm for some tastes. The kicker was the fact that they had less grapes to cull from, and, with viticulture less is usually more (in terms of quality). With less than a ton of grapes per acre (when 2.5 — 3.5 is considered the norm) it was going to be a tiny harvest.

Pinot Noir is fickle no matter where it grows, and this is where the love affair begins for the wine wonk. What sets Shea Vineyard apart from other sites? It’s a pristine vineyard located in the AVA of Yamhill-Carlton and is known for its soil composition: sedimentary with cracked sandstone. It is rich in marine deposit and is unirrigated, enveloped in small ridges. The grapes ripen earlier and are known to offer jammier fruit. This is the challenge then. If you you’ve got riper fruit more extraction will lead to fruit bombs. Tannin offers structure, but so does acidity. It is often overlooked as a key factor. For many people the fruit and tannin stand out. The lack of one bolsters the other, but one has to be mindful of all the components, and the interplay between fruit, alcohol, acidity and tannin.

Panther Creek’s ’98 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir has the balance and acidity level have offered tremendous ballast. It’s a layered wine with great nuance. I see this wine carrying on well into the next decade.