Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Some stories do not need to be told..." Emily Colin talks about her exquisite new novel, THE DREAM KEEPER'S DAUGHTER

I don't remember when I first met Emily Colin. Only that she sent me pages of a book that were astounding--and that turned out to be the New York Times bestseller, The Memory Thief, about a man whose dreams are haunted by a woman he's never met. I swore I'd read her grocery lists next, but I don't have to because she just published The Dream Keeper's Daughter, about secrets, reality and the very nature of love. And you want to watch the amazing trailer here. 

I'm thrilled to host Emily here. Thank you, Emily!

The Dream Keeper’s Daughter is the story of single mother and field archaeologist Isabel Griffin, whose mother disappeared when she was 16 and whose boyfriend, Max Adair, vanished in the woods not 50 feet from where she was standing—the day after she’d told him she was pregnant. After her mother went missing and her father sank deep into an obsession with finding his wife, Isabel vowed that if such a thing ever happened to her, she wouldn’t allow herself to become consumed by what she’d lost. So when Max disappears, she gets her PhD in archaeology and devotes herself to raising their daughter, Finn. But eight years later, on a dig in Barbados, she gets a mysterious phone call. The hauntingly familiar voice on the other end says only, Isabel. Keep her safe, before they’re disconnected. Still, Isabel is sure the caller was Max—and as one peculiar event follows another, she has to decide whether honoring the promise she made all those years ago means believing the impossible: Max is stranded 200 years in the past, on the eve of a historic Barbados slave rebellion, and the choices he makes will shape both of their lives forever.

Some stories do not need to be told.

And others? They claw their way out of you, whether or not you feel inclined to share them. They cannibalize your thoughts at traffic lights, at the grocery store, even mid-conversation, so that you break off what you’re saying and stare into the distance, causing your unfortunate companion to believe that a) you’ve lost your mind, or b) the discussion at hand was so dull, you’ve chosen to vacate your body rather than remain a part of it.

The truth, of course, is both better and worse. You’re not bored. You’re possessed—by an idea, by people who live only inside your head. And when they speak, you are compelled to listen.

Really, it can’t be easy hanging out with fiction writers.

The Dream Keeper’s Daughter was one of these stories. But the strange thing about it was that the character who possessed me wasn’t Isabel, who I’d first envisioned pregnant and running through the woods, screaming the name of the man she loved as he tore through the brambles—or even Max, the man himself, who chased a ghost through the trees behind his parents’ house and wound up in 1816 Barbados, on the eve of a slave rebellion that would shape the lives of his family forever. These were the main characters of my story, and you’d think that their voices would be the ones that whispered in my ears, kept me up at night, and rendered me the world’s worst—or at least most frustrating—conversationalist.

No—the character who captivated me was Ryan. He was meant, at first, to be no more than Isabel’s best friend, a sounding board and a surrogate parent for her child, whose father had vanished in the woods and never returned. But somehow, Ryan became much more. He had a past, deep-seated hurts and ghosts of his own, and these somehow took root in my novel without my conscious volition. In fact, I was annoyed: What business did he have, speaking up like this? Didn’t he know he only had a bit part to play?

But it was no use. His story grew with Isabel and Max’s, until it became just as important to me as theirs. His voice spoke to me on the verge of sleep, jolted me awake in the morning.

It was like being haunted, really.

My point, I suppose, is this: If you don’t like what Ryan has to say, blame him. I had nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why do we love celebrities so much? The divine Julie Klam answers all as she talks about her wonderful latest, THE STARS IN OUR EYES


Julie Klam has a bio on her website that is so wonderful, I want to reproduce it here:
Julie Klam grew up in Bedford, New York. Don't be confused if you see that her brother, the author Matthew Klam, says he was born in Katonah, New York. Katonah is in the town of Bedford, and she can call it whatever she wants. After attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and interning at Late Night with David Letterman, Julie went on to write for such publications as O: The Oprah Magazine, Rolling Stone, Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, and for the VH1 television show Pop-Up Video, where she earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Special Class Writing.  Currently she writes for The New York Times, The Washington Post,  and the magazines that haven't folded.  She lives in New York City with her daughter, her Dan Davenport, and a variety of cute dogs.

Julie's the author of Friendkeeping, Love at First Bark, You Had Me at Woof, and Please Excuse my Daughter, and her latest book The Stars in Our Eyes is so wonderful that you are going to buy up twenty copies just to hand out to any celebrity you might meet!

Thank you so much, Julie. For everything.

So, as someone who once followed Steve Martin around the block until he hid from me—(he’s actually very shy, I’ve heard. Or that’s my explanation, anyway), I devoured your book. What was the “Why Now” moment when you decided to write it? (P.S. I gasped when I saw your had a blurb from Carly Simon.)

I have always wanted to write something about my own love of celebrities but I had never thought it would be a book. When I was getting divorced, I really wanted to write something that was not about me (or me now) and that was how it was born. Because of a confluence of things (related to my divorce) it took me longer to write this book, and it ended up being when a reality tv star became president so it definitely has a different poignancy (if I may) now.

Do you think that living in NYC makes us more celebrity conscious and less apt to hurl ourselves on celebrities? I had a friend who sat next to Anne Meara once and had a whole conversation about the food and even let Anne Meara have a bite—and never once did they talk about her celebrity. I sat beside Margo Martindale once and we spent a half hour talking about my handbag! So my question is, how do we balance our ferocious need to know these people with our devil-may-care attitudes that we are not going to intrude in their lives like everyone else?

 I think we pride ourselves on being cool here. I have had those kind of exchanges you are talking about, though I act way more buoyant then with other people. I feel like when you leave a celebrity alone, you’re giving them a gift. Today I was walking home from the gym and passed Samantha Bee walking with her two little kids and you could almost feel her thinking, “please don’t.”

I love that you thought celebrities could save you, but YOU are a celebrity yourself. How does it feel to be on the other side? And are book celebrities less than Hollywood ones? What about animal celebrities, the ones who have zillions of followers on twitter?

I’m not a celebrity, but I recently talked to a famous writer friend about the weird, small world of the famous writer. I don’t mean Stephen King or James Patterson, but like Colson Whitehead and Gary Shteyngart (and just not to name only men, Anne Rice, Liz Gilbert). They aren’t less, they are different. There are very few people who are known by everyone.  And the new breed of internet celebrity, well, they are different than the old kind, because talent isn’t necessarily what made them famous.

You must have had so much fun writing this book. Did you find yourself getting re-obsessed at all? The fun part about writing this book was when I was wasting time reading stupid stories about celebrities, I could pretend I was working!

 It’s funny, but the one celebrity I actually know, Al Kooper, from Blood, Sweat & Tears, never once has talked music with me. And it’s better that way. We only talk about movies, so there feels like common ground. And I think readers would want to know, what’s the best way to stalk, um, I mean, approach a celebrity?

I would say feel it out. If there’s a celebrity at an opening you can approach them, if they’re buying Preparation H in Duane Reade, maybe not a good time. I think most people appreciate a brief, ‘your work has meant a great deal to me, thank you’ and move on. I was working for a caterer at a bar mitzvah and Ray Liotta was there and I said, “I don’t want to bother you, but I loved Dominick and Eugene so much.” And he was genuinely happy and asked me my name and then I skittered away.

I also want to ask about the book’s cover, which I absolutely adore.  Since I know that covers are marketing tools, and they can change and change and change, was this the first and only cover? Were there others?

HA HA HA First of all, thank you. I am forgetting now but I think there were 100 covers but I didn’t see any of them, because my publisher, Geoff Kloske, and editor, Jake Morrissey, didn’t think any of them were right. This cover took the longest of any of my covers and I started to wonder if it would ever happen. I actually made suggestions (all involving glitter). When I came in to see it, Geoff threw all the rejects on the table and they were cool, but just not quite right.  And they had this one (though it was sort of dusty rose and I asked if they could make it a different color, because pink books frighten me) and it was like WOW!

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Well, my horrible obsession is the news from the government, I need to cap my intake because I go down all of the dark rabbit holes and it’s very easy to despair and wonder if there’s any point to anything when these cruel people are in power. I am also obsessed to finding sandals to go with a new dress.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

You should have asked, what do I think of Caroline Leavitt? Well, I think she’s a brilliant writer and a kind supportive friend and I adore her.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Carol Hoenig talks about her wonderful new bookstore (it has WINE! and FOOD!) The Turn of the Corkscrew

Who isn't thrilled when a great new bookstore opens up? I first visited Turn of the Corkscrew: Books and Wine (110 North Park Ave, Rockville Center, Long Island, NY) for a reading. It's incredible! Not only does it have these wonderful winding rooms, but it has very special wines (served in real wine glasses), delicious food, and all the books you could ever want. You can paint and sip, bring a date, browse the books, have great wine and food, and just hang and talk to Carol and Peggy! What's particularly wonderful is that both Carol and Peggy risked it all to create this gorgeous space, so even if you don't live near by, you can still place online orders. Do it for the community. Do it for yourself. Do it for bookstores everywhere.  And thank you so much, Carol for this interview!

In these tough times, what made you want to open a book store?
Good question. Both Peggy, my business partner, and I had been talking for a number of years (after having worked at Borders Books for many years) of wanting to open a bookstore, but we knew the timing wasn’t right since bookstores seemed to be struggling, not to mention closing in droves; however, since I have always been involved in the publishing industry as a consultant and writer, I started to see that independent bookstores were making a comeback. So, we dipped our toes in the water and began researching the possibilities and managed to overcome each hurdle that was put in our way, and here we are. Go figure.
What I love is that your store also has a wine bar! And delicious food! And a warm comfortable feeling to it. Did you know this was always what you wanted it to be or did it become that way organically? I was so impressed by the crowd, the interest, the whole energy of the place!
Thanks so much, Caroline. And, yes, that is exactly what we wanted it to be. I’d been hosting a monthly book discussion in my home that we called Book & a Bottle since wine was always flowing, and my daughter who loves to cook, would prepare a menu inspired by the book we were discussing. Therefore, we wanted to shift that ambience to the bookstore.
What's the hardest thing about running a bookstore?  The easiest?
The hardest is getting people into the store! We came up against major challenges months after we opened since our street was closed almost daily due to major infrastructure for six months. What with the internet offering books, people didn’t necessarily want to struggle to get to us since they had other options. In addition, we cannot give the dramatic discounts that Amazon can, but most of our faithful customers understand that we bring value to the community that the internet cannot. Also, because we had to use most of our working capital to get us through those six months, we have a limited budget to order in a lot of stock, which is very frustrating. As for the easiest part about running a bookstore I would have to say showing up for work. I’d worked from my home office for over ten years and wasn’t sure I’d like the commitment to get out of my PJ’s and come to work, but each day brings new opportunities, as well as challenges to overcome, and I like that. (That said, I still work as a publishing consultant, writer, editor, ghostwriter, etc, because sleep is overrated.)
What do you want people to know about Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine that they might be surprised to know?  And as a professional namer (really!) I want to know how you came up with the great name for the shop!
Well, we wanted to have our name represent that we are both a bookstore and a wine shop. Peggy and I were brainstorming in my kitchen one night and she spotted the display of corkscrews I have near my wine bar and at first shouted out, “Taming of the Corkscrew!” Then we realized that didn’t quite make sense, but then I remembered Henry James’ novella, Turn of the Screw and suggested that, while tacking on “Books & Wine” and we both loved it. I’m pleased to say we still do. Some people get it and some don’t, but it gives us an opportunity to talk about what we have to offer.
What's obsessing you now and why?
Introducing readers to new writers-whether they are new to the publishing industry or just to the reader. We believe society has so many distractions that yield little reward that delving in a book, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, can open a mind and show another side of the story.  Reading doesn’t have to be dry and boring. It can create interesting conversations and add value to our lives.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?

People may not realize that both Peggy and I believed so much in this venture that we both used our homes as collateral, as well as our savings. We know we won’t get rich anytime soon, but we believe in the necessity of education and books are instrumental in that. We host a lot of author events, workshops and readings, hoping to be a place for the community.

Ellen Umansky talks about THE FORTUNATE ONES, thinking you are done writing when you are really not, forgiveness, the Holocaust, and so much more

The Fortunate Ones is a truly GREAT novel. I didn't know Ellen Umansky before I read her novel, but halfway through, I knew I had to talk with her--and I'm so delighted I got the chance. She has published fiction and nonfiction in a variety of venues, including the New York Times, Salon, Playboy, and the short-story anthologies Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge and Sleepaway: Writings on Summer Camp. She has worked in the editorial departments of several publications, including the Forward, Tablet, and The New Yorker.

Thank you so much for being here, Ellen.

I always want to know why this book and why now? What was haunting you?

It’s funny talking about this book in terms of now, since it was such a long time in the making. The seeds of the contemporary story come from something that happened when I was growing up in Los Angeles. We knew a rich ophthalmologist who liked to live large: A house in Beverly Hills, trips on private planes, an enviable art collection. In the early 1990s, his two most valuable paintings, a Picasso and a Monet, were stolen.

Fast forward years later, the police tracked the paintings down to an airport locker in Cleveland. The doctor had set the theft up—to collect the insurance money. I remember my mother faxing me a clip of the story from the L.A. Times—that’s how long ago this was. I kept thinking about it, not only why he’d been driven to do it, but why he did it the way he did, and why he didn’t destroy the paintings. If he had, there wouldn’t have been anything in that Cleveland locker for the police to find.

As for the historical part of the novel: I was working as an editor of the Forward in the late 1990s, when stories of Nazi-pilfered art were coming to the fore. Around then a friend asked me to go with him to an art exhibit of a painter I had never heard of before, Chaim Soutine. I went somewhat reluctantly and was floored.  Talk about being haunted: I couldn’t get Soutine out of my mind.

It’s astonishing to have a debut get so much high praise, including from the New Yorker. Did you expect this? Did you have a feeling? And does this reassure you or make you feel that writing your second novel is going to be like starting all over again?

I had NO idea. I mean, I hoped and fantasized—what writer doesn’t? But I worked on this novel for so long, about 15 years all told, and had so many rejections along the way—there were long stretches in which I doubted it would ever exist in the world. A number of years ago, my agent at the time tried to sell the novel. It didn’t go anywhere, and my agent told me as gently as she could that it was time to put it aside and work on something else. For more than a year I tried. Finally Joanna Hershon, a close friend of mine, an immensely talented writer, and the patron saint of this book, said to me, “I don’t think you’re done. I don’t think this book is over.” And it was entirely because of her faith that I took it out and began working on it again.  

I’m so glad it didn’t sell years ago. It’s an entirely different book now, a deeper, more complex story. I certainly hope my next one doesn’t take me another decade and a half, but at the same time the response has been so profoundly gratifying; it is reassuring in all kinds of ways.

The history is so alive that it made me want to know about your research. The author Mary Morris once told me that when you research, you look for stories, not facts, and that’s the way to keep from being overwhelmed. What startled you in your research? What gave rise to story?

That’s such a wise way to put it. I loved doing the research, loved trying to hunt down those stories. They’re hard to come by, but you know them when you see them, and sometimes the smallest detail can open up a world. When I was looking at unpublished memoirs in the archive at the Center for Jewish History, I read something by a Viennese-born woman who mentioned being irate after her parents told her she couldn’t go to the movies anymore. Germany had annexed Austria, SS officers were on the streets, and that’s what she remembered. It was just an aside, but it cracked open Rose’s story for me. It felt true to a child’s experience, because of course you’re not paying attention to what politicians are saying or what the immigration quotas are. You want to go to the movies. You want to go to the same school you’ve always attended. And when you can’t, your life is turned upside down.

The story that haunted me for years was from a documentary on the Kindertransport called Into the Arms of Strangers. The filmmakers interviewed a number of survivors, including Lory Cahn, whose parents had secured a spot for her on a train when she was 14 years old. She was an only child. They took her to the station, she boarded the train, and held her father’s hands through the open train window. Then the train started to pull out. He was so distraught, he literally couldn’t let her go. He tugged her out the window and onto the platform. A few years later, the family was taken to Auschwitz.

The story is so harrowing and painful on every level. It drove home for me how hideous all those separations must have been, the desperation the parents must have felt to put their children on those trains.

Of course, we have to talk about art and what it really means to each of the remarkable women in your novel. Please talk about this.

I always knew I didn’t want it to be a conventionally beautiful piece of art, something that everyone would be dazzled by. I was more interested in what the painting represented emotionally to my characters than its aesthetics. It’s complicated for both women. Rose doesn’t actually even like the painting that much. She’s envious of all the attention her mother lavishes on it. Later, she’s unable to separate the painting from the loss of her parents. It becomes a cover. Rose hates thinking of the past, will do anything to avoid it, but at the same time, she can’t let the painting go.

When Lizzie first moves to L.A., she sees the Bellhop as an outsider, a stranger in her father’s modern house jutting over a canyon in Los Angeles, just as she is an outsider to his house and world. She’s comforted by it, especially when she learns that her mother loved it too. And she too latches on to its loss, feeling if she could just get it back, everything else would be righted in her life.

Both women can be a little closed-off, and I think the painting gives them room emotionally, to privately grieve and fantasize about what might have been. I love Soutine and was so drawn to his work, but you could make the argument that the art is beside the point. Rose and Lizzie could conceivably have felt this way about any object that’s tightly bound up in memories—a watch or a book or a scarf (something else Rose holds dear). Its all they imbue the object with that matters.  

So much of your dazzling debut is about who we forgive, what we forgive, and what we can’t and why. Do you think there is ever anything that truly is unforgivable? And what is the cost of that?

That’s a good question. So much of what Rose has to endure—the forced separation from her parents, their murder, the loss of her home and country, is unforgivable. The question becomes how does she cope. I was interested in the long shadow of trauma. How does anyone move on from such devastations? Is it possible to?  

It’s interesting to consider forgiveness in terms of Lizzie too; her father did something terrible—not as terrible as murder, of course, but unscrupulous and illegal and he allowed her to believe she was to blame. Does she forgive him in the end? For me, it was less about forgiveness than acceptance. Acceptance feels more attainable. You can choose to move on without forgiving. Lizzie doesn’t have to like what happened, she doesn’t even have to understand it, but I think in the end she accepts it’s the truth, however complicated and ugly it may be.
Rose also has to forgive herself. For most of her life, she can’t accept the circumstances of her survival. She views it as a betrayal. How could she be here when her parents are not? Her struggle is to forgive herself for getting on that train—and to forgive her parents for putting her on it, for leaving them behind. It takes her nearly a lifetime.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Well, I spent the other morning glued to the TV, watching James Comey testify, so I would say that the state of our democracy is obsessing me now. I’ve never been so grateful for our free press and for our judiciary. I never thought too when I was writing about World War II and a family’s desperate attempt to flee—trying to acquire visas and facing tight quotas and indifferent countries that turn them away—that there would be anything particularly relevant about these issues in 2017. But here we are.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

Less a question than an explanation: I’m not the same Ellen Umansky who is a professor of Jewish studies at Fairfield University. There are more Umanskys out there than you might think.  

Sunday, June 25, 2017

National Book Award winner Julia Glass talks about her extraordinary new novel A HOUSE AMONG THE TREES, fame, why you shouldn't ignore the shadows cast by your parents, the bliss of writing, being just a tad nosy, and so much more

Oh!  I get to interview a literary heroine! I've loved everything that Julia Glass has written, from her National Book Award winning Three Junes, followed by The Whole World Over, I See You Everywhere, The Widower's Tale, and And the Dark Sacred Night. Her newest, A House Among the Trees obsessed me and was one of those books I did not stop reading. About fame and love and family, A House Among the Trees is so alive, that it practically breathes.

What surprised--and delighted me--so much about this interview is how accessible Julia is, and how very funny! Thank you, thank you, Julia for letting me pester you with questions and for making this one of the most fun interviews, ever.

A House Among the Trees explores celebrity with unusual finesse. Did you ever expect your own fame? How has it (or hasn’t it) changed you?

To the extent that I've ever been "famous," it's nowhere on the scale of my characters Mort Lear--a genuinely iconic author based loosely on Maurice Sendak--or Nicholas Greene, a newly minted movie star whose face is, as my heroine Tommy Daulair observes, "on the racks at the CVS." For one thing, none of my readers are ever likely to recognize me walking down the street or even walking into a bookstore. (As I write this, I'm seated on a plane next to a woman who told me she's a librarian, then dove into her book. Even if I told her my name, I doubt she'd recognize it.) Another of my characters in A House Among the Trees remarks that being "secretly famous" is the best kind of famous there is. In the wake of my winning the National Book Award, back when I lived in New York's West Village, that's how I felt. Someone could be reading Three Junes across from me on the subway but would have no idea the author sat within arm's reach. That's a delightful experience. So I would answer this question by saying that if anything changed me at that pivotal point in my life--not that I was going to change much at age 46!--it was success, not fame. It gave me two precious gifts: First, thanks to increased royalties, it bought me more time to devote to writing fiction, rather than the assortment of freelance jobs that kept me afloat over the previous two decades; second, it gave me a moment in the limelight that enabled me to meet other writers, including many I revere and admire, some of whom I now count as friends. So, after years of working in solitude, I finally found my tribe. For the first time, I got to talk shop! And I found out something quite reassuring: All good writers are, at some level, nerds.

Like your other novels, A House Among the Trees is about family dynamics. I know I write about family because my own was so fractured, but what is it about this unit that draws you?

On the whole, both the family I was born into and the family I've made are your average crazy-quilt of blessings and tragedy, of love and emotional wounds, loyalties and betrayals. The same is generally true of the families I bring to imaginary existence in my novels. My characters may suffer grievous losses, but they are all relatively privileged, like me. So why is family life at the core of my work? Because I have a fundamental belief that whatever human beings witness and learn in the context of family will greatly determine the way they grow up and influence the world around them. (I love that haunting song in Sondheim's Into the Woods, "Children Will Listen." It's both tender and terrifying.) Not just every artist but every world leader will always carry, deep within, the child born to his or her parents in a particular place and time. Whether we honor our parents or rebel against them, whether we know them for half a century or were abandoned by them at birth, their shadows loom large. (Ignore those shadows at your peril!) I'm also fascinated and moved by the many "unconventional" ways in which people form families, whether out of necessity or choice. Such families make their way into my stories not through any political agenda but because I want to write about how resilient and adaptive people are, how decent people always try to fix what's broken--our hearts included. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don't. Sometimes even the smartest people make foolish choices. How we deal with the consequences (or don't) is what makes for a riveting tale. In A House Among the Trees, the initial challenge for all my characters is how to deal with the highly unanticipated final wishes of a great artist with a fragile ego. That challenge leads all of them down unexpected alleys into their  past lives and the choices that have brought them to this crucial moment.

I love the way you jump both time and characters.  How did you keep everything mapped out, or don’t you map out at all? I’m also curious about how you approach each new novel. Do you feel as if you are starting all over again? Or are you building on what has come before?

The way I move through time in my novels--which are dense with flashbacks (even flashbacks within flashbacks!) is entirely organic. Although I revise obsessively--my Achilles heel is overwriting, so I have to do a lot of paring down--rarely do I radically restructure the chronological rhythms that guided me instinctively at the start.  Nor do I cut and paste. And I definitely do not map out a novel in advance; I'd make a terrible general! E. L. Doctorow said something about writing as if he were taking a long journey by car in the dark and could see only the road within the range of the headlights . . . yet had faith it would take him to his destination. What's good about this approach is that my characters can surprise me. It's much easier to let a character take on a greater role, or make an unanticipated choice, if there's no road map to follow. What's not so good is that I sometimes write myself into cul-de-sacs; backing out can be a challenge (I can almost hear that abrasive beep-beep-beep of construction vehicles in reverse.)

As for how it feels to start a new novel, sometimes I know I'll be bringing back a character or two from a previous book, yet even when I'm certain that I'm starting entirely anew, once in a while a character I think I've left behind for good comes knocking. Everything, really, is about the characters. Plot, in my novels, emerges entirely from the nature of their relationships, their choices, and the consequences of their actions. At the outset of a novel, I'm always worried that "nothing will happen."

I’m obsessed with the question, How well do we know the ones we love? It’s not just celebrities who have both a public and a private side. Can you talk about this, please?

Well, guess what? I'm obsessed with that question, too! I am a tremendously nosy person, by the way, and yet I'm fully aware that I will never know "the all of it" even about my husband, whom I've known for 33 years. I know even less about my parents--and increasingly less about my children as they grow into adulthood. (I can almost feel the watertight chambers forming in my 21-year-old son's psyche as he forges his independence; it's a little sad, but it's also right.) I'm also obsessed with how, in any given family, each member--even among siblings who feel close to one another--will have dramatically different perceptions of their parents, their upbringing, the significant events and memories of their early lives. This was the impetus behind my creation of the three McLeod brothers in Three Junes. Two years ago, while I was in the middle of writing A House Among the Trees, my father died. He saved EVERYTHING, and when I discovered an old candy box filled with diaristic notes and letters from his late teens and early twenties, it was like meeting another man: my dad before he met my mom, my dad before he was a dad! I also found boxes of photos he'd taken as a college undergraduate. I had the painful wish that I'd seen these papers and artifacts--many of them lovely in their revelations--before he died and that we could have talked about them. But you know what? I have a feeling he wouldn't have been comfortable with that. I do wonder, however, if he ever imagined my finding them after his death.

I loved how your novel probed just what it means to be gifted, and what it means not to be. At one point, a character says that being secretly famous is the best kind of famous to be. I love that line. Do you feel that fame interrupts great art?

Oh, so  you noticed that "secretly famous" line! You know, let me add to what I said above that I think many people would love to know what it feels like to be revered, even adored by strangers (as both the author Mort Lear and the film star Nick Greene are in my novel). Who wouldn't love to turn appreciative heads or get a standing ovation? I have to confess that I had fun imagining what it would feel like to become suddenly famous--really famous--in creating the character Nicholas Greene, who lucks into a role that wins him every screen award there is. (Why do I feel guilty when writing is fun?!) But yes, I do think that boldface, magazine-cover fame can threaten the making of great art--mainly because it would have to force any genuinely introspective artist to question why his or her art has been "chosen." (Sidebar: Not all brilliant artists are introspective.) And if you are fortunate enough to stand on the pinnacle of a mountain, the view may be spectacular, but your perch is slippery and the only direction from there is back down. Artists who can both maintain and manage the pressure of that stature over decades are few and far between, I think. Some of those who succeed do so in part thanks to a stable, firmly rooted relationship in their lives. Others create a protective public illusion. (Read Richard Russo's fine new collection, Trajectory, for a chilling story involving characters clearly based on Robert Redford and Paul Newman, both of whom Russo has worked with and known.)  

A House Among the Trees is, in part, a cautionary tale about creativity, fame, and ego. The relationship that the late Mort Lear held dearest (while taking it for granted) is the one he had with his quietly devoted assistant, Tommy Daulair, the novel's main protagonist--and of course she is left to weigh the costs of having allowed this man to keep her so close for the prime years of her adulthood. Though I never wrote from Lear's point of view, I began to realize that Tommy was effectively his emotional ballast--yet even so, she could not save him from the consequences of his own pride.   

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Whether I'm going to take up the novel I abandoned midstream to write A House Among the Trees instead. As a writer, I've always been a serial monogamist, working on one book and one book only until it's done. This time, for the first time, I stepped out on a novel when I was 200 pages in; it felt like I was having an affair! Whether those characters (one of whom my readers know from The Widower's Tale) will forgive me and take me back is the burning question in my creative life at the moment.
What question should I have asked that I didn’t? [I think I wrote enough!!]

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sharon Hart Green writes about what haunted her to pen her acclaimed novel COME BACK FOR ME

Evocative and heart-wrenchingly beautiful, Come Back For Me is a must read for anyone with a moral conscience and a soul. Leah Kaminsky, winner of the Voss Literary Prize for her debut novel, The Waiting Room 

In Come Back for Me, Hart-Green explores the trauma and loss of one extended family as it clashes with life’s insistence upon being lived. Heartfelt and rich in detail, the story [is] unflinching in its portrayal of devastation and renewalan impressive, ambitious, and highly readable debut. — Joseph Skibell, author of A Blessing on the Moon and A Curable Romantic 

Sometimes, I like to ask authors just to write something for the blog instead of an interview, and I'm delighted that Sharon Hart Green agreed!  Thank you so, so much, Sharon.

Despite growing up in a serene Toronto neighbourhood, I was haunted by the stories of war and loss that seemed to hover over many of the Jewish inhabitants of our leafy enclave. My best friend’s father who’d lost half his family in Poland; the neighbour who’d been hidden for years in an Amsterdam closet; my father’s cousin who’d lost one of her arms in a Nazi concentration camp. Of course as a child, I knew they were different. After all, they spoke with strange accents and had gold teeth. But there was something else that I couldn’t put my finger on, something mysterious that I couldn’t name.

And as I grew older, I wanted to ask them (though I never could bring myself): after all they have lost, how could they still embrace life? How could they marry, bear children, build families and homes? How did they preserve the ability to laugh?

My decision to write Come Back for Me was not entirely a conscious one. True, I had been teaching Yiddish and Hebrew literature at the University of Toronto for several years, and many of the novels, stories, and poems I taught were about the war. But most of those works depicted lives that were deformed by suffering. Where were the stories of those who were somehow able to rise above their pain? Or was it all an illusion, a clever ruse to cover up lives that were broken inside?

This is the tale that I set out to tell.

Sharon Hart Green

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

John Freeman Gill talks about The Gargoyle Hunters, NYC in the 1970s, fathers and sons, obsessions (my favorite thing), writing and so much more.

Zounds. The Gargoyle Hunters is one amazing novel about fatherhood, obsession, and of course, gargoyles. And it's not just me who thinks so. The Gargoyle Hunters is
a Booklist Best New Adult Fiction Pick, A Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a W Magazine Best Spring Book.

John Freeman Gill
is a native New Yorker and longtime New York Times contributor whose work has been anthologized in The New York Times Book of New York and More New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of The New York Times. He is the architecture and real estate editor of Avenue magazine, for which he writes "Edifice Complex," a monthly column exploring the biographies of historic New York City buildings and their occupants. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, the International Herald Tribune, Premiere, New York magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and elsewhere. He lives in New York City with his wife, three children, and a smattering of gargoyles.

I'm thrilled to host John here. Thank you, John!

 So, tell me about the extraordinary family in The Gargoyle Hunters?
The fracturing family at the heart of The Gargoyle Hunters lives in the same Queen Anne row house where I grew up, on East 89th Street in Manhattan between Lex and Third. It was something of a grandly tricked-out imp, just twelve and a half feet wide, squashed in the middle of a jostling troupe of six. My own parents separated in a painful fashion while I was a small child in that house in the early 1970s, and so the plight of Griffin Watts, the 13-year-old protagonist of The Gargoyle Hunters, echoes my own in that period, although the characters are all inventions.
The book is really about fragmentation in all its manifestations. I wanted to tell both a small, intimate story of fathers and sons, and also a big story about the near death of New York during the 1970s financial crisis, when the city nearly defaulted on its debt. The novel’s story takes place in the year and a half or so leading up to the famous Daily News headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
Once I realized that the stories of Griffin’s family and his city could quite organically be told in the same novel—both, after all, echoed aspects of my own childhood—I allowed Griffin to be recruited into his father’s illicit and very dangerous architectural salvage business. Pushed by his obsessive, manic father, Griffin clambers around the tops of buildings, using power saws and crowbars to steal exuberantly expressive 19th-century architectural sculptures right off the facades.
In this way, the vividly crumbling city of my childhood became not only a metaphor for the family’s disintegration but also a very real, concrete backdrop in which the story of the father and son could unfold.
What kind of writer are you? What surprised you about writing this particular book?
I am a fastidious writer. I labor enormously over the language, the sound and rhythm of the sentences. I read everything out loud periodically as I write, and every morning, for continuity, I read aloud the previous ten or 15 pages I’ve written. But I’m also aware that most of the best, lightning-bolt stuff comes when you’re not overthinking things. It’s important to leave plenty of room for discovery. So I have two documents on my laptop when I’m writing: the text of the book itself, and a separate document in which I ask myself questions, talk to myself about plot or character problems, or just free-associate wildly, banging away—often in sentence fragments—at an image or scene that feels powerful to me but that I don’t yet understand. This last activity involves turning off my own persnickety internal editor and allowing myself not to worry about polishing the sentences, so that I can grope my way to what feels most exciting and alive. I always trust this instinct. For me there should always be a tension between controlling the shape of the novel through outlining and endless contemplation, and occasionally giving myself free rein to stumble into discoveries.
What I think surprises me most is how inevitable everything about the novel seems in hindsight, when the book is really composed of a thousand little discoveries along the way that you never saw coming while you were writing.
I loved reading about NYC in the 1970s (I was here in the 80s). What do you miss most about that time--and what don't you miss?
I miss the messiness of New York in the 1970s. By this, I don’t mean the graffiti-blasted subways or the tons of uncollected garbage rotting at the curb during the sanitation strike. I mean the uncertainty, the surprise. The New York of today is pleasant and orderly for the most part, but along with that order comes a predictability that has robbed the city of much of its fun. 1970s New York was a place of peril and possibility. Along with the unruliness came a Wild West sense that anytime you went out for a walk you might see something or meet someone unusual. I loved that constant sense of imminent discovery.
So much of this extraordinary novel is about fathers and sons and how they navigate their relationships. Can you talk about this please? 

I think almost all children, up to a certain age, labor under the misconception that anyone bearing the title “father” is somehow intrinsically qualified for the job. As Griffin, looking back at his childhood from middle age, says of his dad at one point, “trusting one’s parents is an occupational hazard of being a child.” Fathers, whether they deserve to or not, tend to wield an outsize influence over their sons, and in particular over the sons’ understanding of what it means to be a man. In the course of this novel, Griffin learns precisely what he needs to learn from his father, though Griffin’s self-discovery ends up being quite different from what his father thought he was imparting.

What's obsessing you now and why?
I’m in the early stages of developing a new novel I’m excited about, and I find that my mind is forever twitching with new ideas about how I might tell the tale. It’s a scary but exciting place to be, a moment of uncertainty but also of invigorating possibility.
Set against this obsession is another (involuntary) obsession: The grave challenges to our Republic posed by the current president’s disdain of our democratic institutions. To write a novel one needs to shut out the world for great chunks of time, and at this point in history, I feel it’s impossible to be a responsible citizen without keeping abreast of the threats to our Constitution. I happen to be reading Ron Chernow’s remarkable biography of Alexander Hamilton at the moment, and the juxtaposition of today’s battles with those of the early republic is pretty fascinating. The political warfare was at least as vicious in our nation’s early days, but with one major difference. As nasty as the fighting became between Hamilton and his opponents, Jefferson and Madison, it seems clear that all the combatants had the best interests of the fledgling nation in mind; they simply had vastly different views on how the republic should develop and they deeply distrusted their domestic political adversaries. By contrast, our very democracy has been compromised by Russian interference in the most recent presidential election, and it remains to be seen whether there was complicity in this effort by powerful Americans. I find it disturbing that the president doesn’t seem to have the slightest interest in learning about Russian efforts to manipulate our election.
Where did your fascination with lost New York come from?
I think I essentially osmosed it as a child. My mother is a native New Yorker who has spent more than 60 years painting street scenes of doomed city buildings just before their demolition. When I was growing up on East 89th Street and later on Riverside Drive, the demolished landmarks of old New York were alive and well on my family’s walls: trains clattered over the Third Avenue el in our front hallway. Cheesecake was still being served by the 57th Street Automat in our kitchen. The Fifth Avenue Bonwit Teller, not yet razed to make way for Trump Tower, sold haute couture dresses in my mother’s bedroom. Growing up in that environment, it was inevitable that I would become fascinated with New York’s relentlessly changing streetscape.

What’s more, our home was something of a salvage yard, crammed with a hodgepodge of iron railings, stained-glass windows, and gorgeous stone carvings and terra-cotta castings my mother had rescued from demolished city buildings. I was therefore sensitized, from a very early age, to New York’s elbow-jostling relationship with time, its essentially ephemeral nature.

Later, when I began writing for The New York Times, I often chose to do stories about historic preservation and the evolving cityscape. The Gargoyle Hunters is informed by both my emotional connection to the lost city and by everything I learned about architectural history and historic preservation as a journalist.