Sunday, January 19, 2020

Crissy Van Meter talks about her ravishing debut CREATURES, and about love, oceans, loyalty, grief, her love of the non-linear, and so much more.

What's more glorious than discovering a debut? It's my favorite thing in the world, especially when it's from my own genius publisher, Algonquin Books.  I was instantly enthralled by Crissy Van Meter's astonishing novel, CREATURES,  about grief, memory, family, and the sea. Plus, get a gander of that extraordinary cover!  I'm not the only one praising this gorgeous novel. Take a look:

“Van Meter’s debut is an unwavering triumph.”
The New York Times Book Review
“The sensibility of this short, gemlike novel puts Van Meter in league with contemporary novelists for whom humans and their environment are tightly bound together—Lydia Millet, Joy Williams and T.C. Boyle come to mind.”
The Los Angeles Times

“An alluring, atmospheric debut.”

 Crissy is a writer based in Los Angeles. She teaches creative writing at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the founder of the literary project Five Quarterly, and the managing editor for Nouvella Books. She serves on the board of directors for the literary non-profit Novelly. I'm so thrilled to host her here. Thank you so, so much, Crissy!

I always deeply believe that every novelist is haunted into writing their novels, hoping that the narrative will answer their questions. What was haunting you? And was the answer that your novel gave you the one you expected? Why or why not?

I agree with this! I start every project with questions and work my way into the answers. With this book I was asking questions about grief. I lost my dad and I was experiencing grief in a non-linear way; sometimes I’d feel things all at once, sometimes I’d feel nothing at all. I wondered how grief and time and memory really worked. It felt like a constant ebb and flow of emotion. And then life kept going, and I fell in love, and I wondered how I could love, if I could love. How can a person with a broken heart, or a lifetime of a lot of broken hearts, survive love?

I’m not sure the novel gave me any real answers, but I did find comfort in the idea that life can be happy and broken all at once. There’s a high tide and low tide … every day.

So much of Creatures is about waiting—to be married, for the groom to arrive, for an absent mother who suddenly shows up. Why do you think those pauses in our lives, those spaces waiting to be filled in some way, tense as they are, leave room for us to change and grow?

I think the moments of waiting, and longing, are the quiet and scary moments that make Evie really question what she wants, and how she might get it. Those are the moments she has to listen to herself, trust herself, because she’s all she’s got.

Creatures is also so richly atmospheric that the land itself truly becomes a character as much as any of the people. Can you talk about how environment very much works as a force in this remarkable novel? And could you also talk about why many people today do not see the connection we have with our Earth?

When I was writing this I was thinking so much about emotional weather. And also, real weather all around me. In California, I’m constantly reminded of climate change – everything on fire, erosion, drought, heat, rain. I wanted this book to reflect Evie’s emotional barometer – extreme, constantly changing. I think this book is about the extremes of both emotional life, and our physical earth experiencing trauma too.

Evie’s upbringing with a father who suffers addictions and a mother who leaves and leaves and leaves, is certainly not ideal, yet every page is full of a deep, yearning love that is palpable. And as you move through Evie’s past and her present, we get an idea of the future she might get to have. Which brings us to the question: of how you did what you did here.

I kept thinking of darkness and light – and how they just exist all at once. And in nature, literally, we get both each day. And while it may be dark here now, there is light just around the way. I know that it’s possible to love someone you hate, and in Evie’s situation, with this kind of father, I think she truly, deeply loves him, while she hates and mourns his flaws too. It’s her darkness and light.

What kind of writer are you? Was Creatures planned out before hand or did you start with an image or an emotion? 

I started writing the father sections first – because those were the most emotionally true for me. And as I kept writing, I wanted this story to encompass an entire life, so I just kept building Winter Island and the good/bad/tragic people who lived there. I wanted to answer the question: What kind of chance does Evie have for love and happiness? So, I needed to include all the relationships that would inform and shape her—a mother, a friendship, a marriage.

I’m terrible at outlining or planning, and I didn’t do it for this book. I really kept trying to answer the big questions, and to get to know Evie, and to figure out what she really wanted for herself. A lot of this meant writing bits and pieces, and taking time away from the writing, and coming back to it and putting together like a puzzle.

That cover is just gorgeous! I know Algonquin always does a spectacular job on covers, but I was wondering what images you personally were thinking of when writing this book?

Whales. Sea creatures. Things that lurk in the dark. The things we hide from the ones we love, and from ourselves. Of course this is not literally horror book, but there are so many terrible and horrific things in this book, at least emotionally. The word ‘creatures’ feels like it could be the title of an old horror movie.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I love nature and nature writing. I’m big into geology now. I’m researching the formation of the earth and reading a lot about how the earth might end. I can’t help but compare my own life, and all human life, to the cycles of earth. I’m always looking for answers (why are we here!?!) and right now I’m reading Annals of the Former World by John McPhee.

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

I’m a sucker for structure talk. This book felt like a puzzle, or a shattered piece of glass that has been put back together. It jumps around in time to emulate this non-linear sense of memory, time, love, and grief. If you turn the table of contents on it’s side, and trace the chapters, it mimics a tide chart.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Author, NPR Weekend Edition host, broadcaster Scott Simon talks about his warm, wonderful novel, SUNNYSIDE PLAZA, about kindness and dignity, writing about the developmentally challenged, and how he cannot drive a car (me, either!) but he can touch-type, and so much more

Everyone on the planet knows the praise and accolades that Scott Simon has received, and I've taken some from his website and put it below this intro paragraph just to refresh your memory. But before we delve into the accolades, I also want to say that there is not a kinder, more generous, and funnier soul around than Scott. I first met him on Twitter where we were trading very bad question-jokes that were still hilariously funny. (Who would win in a fight? A bear in high heels or a Giant Squid in a dress?) The more I got to know Scott, the more I saw how deeply he cares about the world and about people. He adores his kids, adores his wife, and he puts good into the world. To me, that is everything.

Okay, here comes the praise from his website. Prepare to be astonished: Scott Simon is one of America’s most admired writers and broadcasters. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

Simon’s weekly show, Weekend Edition Saturday, has been called by the Washington Post, “the most literate, witty, moving, and just plain interesting news show on any dial,” and by Brett Martin of Time-Out New York “the most eclectic, intelligent two hours of broadcasting on the airwaves.” He has won every major award in broadcasting, including the Peabody, the Emmy, the Columbia-DuPont, the Ohio State Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and the Sidney Hillman Award. Simon received the Presidential End Hunger Award for his coverage of the Ethiopian civil war and famine, and a special citation from the Peabody Awards for his weekly essays, which were cited as “consistently thoughtful, graceful, and challenging.” He has also received the Barry M. Goldwater Award from the Human Rights Fund, the Studs Terkel Award, and the Charles Osgood Lifetime Achievement Award. He will receive the Order of Lincoln from the State of Illinois in 2016.
Simon is a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning. He has hosted many television series, including PBS’s “State of Mind,” “Voices of Vision,” “Need to Know” and “Backstage With…” “The Paterson Project” won a national Emmy, as did his two-hour special from the Rio earth summit meeting. He co-anchored PBS’s “Millennium 2000″ coverage in concert with the BBC, and has co-hosted the televised Columbia-DuPont Awards. He also became familiar to viewers in Great Britain as host of the continuing BBC series, “Eyewitness.” He has appeared as a guest and commentator on all major networks, including BBC, NBC, CNN, and ESPN.

Simon has contributed articles to The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times of London, The Guardian, and Gourmet among other publications, and won a James Beard Award for his story, “Conflict Cuisine” in Gourmet. He has received numerous honorary degrees.

His books include:  Home and Away: Memoir of a Fan; Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball, Pretty Birds, the story of two teenage girls in Sarajevo during the siege; Windy City, a political comedy set in the Chicago City Council. Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other, an essay about the joys of adoption. Simon’s tweets to his 1.25 million Twitter followers from his mother’s bedside in the summer of 2013 gathered major media attention around the world. They inspired his New York Times bestseller book Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime.  My Cubs: A Love Story is about his lifelong fandom of the Chicago Cubs, and their historic World Series victory.

His latest novel, SUNNYSIDE PLAZA, takes us inside a home for developmentally challenged with grace, warmth humor--and a mystery. I cannot say enough good things about this wonderful book, and I'm thrilled to host Scott here. Thank you, Scott.

This novel does what I think the best literature does: it makes us see the world differently. You already were changed by your experiences with developmentally challenged people, but how did the actual writing, creating characters and events, change you even more?

When I was nineteen and twenty, I worked as an aide at the Approved Home on Wilson Avenue, a home for developmentally challenged adults (which is, alas, not the term used then) on the north side of Chicago. I helped residents wash and dress, made sure they swallowed their pills, and helped organize arts and craft sessions and occasional field trips to Lincoln Park, church festivals, and Wrigley Field (the Cubs has always been good neighbors to the homes on the north side).

When I began the story, most of the characters were drawn from actual people I once knew. But of course, the more you work through your characters, the more they stand on their own. You find yourself thinking through unanticipated situations, and trying to understand each character’s reactions, concerns, impulses, and decisions.

When I worked in the home, I liked, admired, and delighted in the company of so many of the people there. But it took writing this book for me to start trying to put myself in the skins and minds of my friends there.

I always am haunted by what haunts a writer into writing a particular book. What was it that made you need to write this wonderful novel? Was there a question haunting you and did the novel give you the answer?

I don’t think someone who wants to be a writer doesn’t have an experience (I mean, even changing a light bulb) without thinking, “How can I use this some day?”

I took the job as a case aide years ago as a job. I did not believe the experience would broaden my views, deepen my understanding of humanity, or do anything more than slightly interrupt the process of me trying to become a writer and/or journalist. The job paid a little, I could work nights, and watch late-night movies on teevee. Of course it became one of the most profound experiences of my life.

I certainly poured a lot of what I think I learned about war into my novel, Pretty Birds, urban politics into Windy City, adoption into Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other, and life and death and a blessedly original childhood into Unforgettable. I had been trying to figure out a good way to tell a story put together from some of what I learned, so long ago, working with the remarkable people I did at the Approved Home.

I had talked about the experience with our daughters, who are now twelve and sixteen, especially as they were introduced to the L’Arche homes through their (parochial) schools. I told them stories that I hope helped them see that the people they were “helping” would wind up teaching them far more in return.

It was ultimately my wife who suggested I should take advantage of the first-person advice I can get from the young readers in our home to tell a story for young readers, set in a home for mentally-challenged adults. What we read as youngsters often sinks into us and stays.

So I wrote, and our oldest daughter, Elise, and her friend Adelaide, read and advised (their first advice: “Make the book about as long as The Old Man and the Sea.”). I hope the story of Sal Gal and her friends reminds them that the most telling experiences in life are often not the ones you plan, but the ones that surprise you. And as I often tell young journalism students who fret about getting internships and fellowships, “It doesn’t matter. Do anything. The important thing is to do something. You’ll learn from anything.”

I always want to know what surprised a writer in writing a book? What weird turns in plot happened for you, or how did a character startle you?

Sal starts as a strong character, but then surprised me by becoming very strong for others, too. I found that I began to rely on her strength, and her goodness of heart, to steer through the shoals of the story. Sal was there when I needed her.

And one of the detectives, London Bridges, really surprised me. At first, I thought of him as the cop-character who, while courteous and professional, would keep reminding his partner, Detective Esther Rivas, “This is a crime investigation. Don’t put yourself out there for anything else.” But within a few chapters, what Lon sees, hears, and begins to understand transforms him, too, as he becomes fully drawn into Sunnyside Place.

I want to talk about the voice first, because it’s so authentic and moving from the first word. How did you get inside Sal’s head so perfectly? How difficult was it, and did you find days when you were thinking just like Sal?

Gosh yes. There were even time I began to write my weekly essay for NPR, and realize after a couple of lines that Sal had taken over (which was fine; she often notices what the rest of us can overlook). Trying to capture her voice meant throwing over my own, which is pretty well developed after all these years of writing. A challenge, yes, but also a wonderful opportunity to spend time in the mind and heart of someone so good, creative, devoted, and original.

I don’t know if you’ve seen Derek, the series about a mentally challenged man living in a nursing home by Ricky Gervais—which unlike his more caustic work—is sweet and endearing. I ask because Derek believes in the things that Sal does—kindness, helping others, experiencing wonder about the world, and love. In the series and in your novel, that rubs off on people, and I think it says something important about the right way to live, especially now in these tangled times. Can you talk about that please?

I have only seen a few clips, which I’ve liked. I do believe we’re living in times in which it is more important than ever to take time with each other, in a way that recognizes everyone’s elemental dignity. The more I go on in life, the less I am impressed by what we call intelligence. It certainly doesn’t seem to correlate with character.

(This said, intelligence is to be prized. But learning is more important—and useful.)

“We try to give them good lives,” says at worker at Sunnyside Plaza. What IS a good life? And how can we all learn to appreciate that in others?

I’ve thought about this a lot. Enough to eat and wear, so that people don’t suffer want, and have dignity. But human contact is essential. Interesting activities. Laughter and people to share it.

The novel is also hilarious. I loved the fortunes in the fortune cookies, loved their dialogue. Laughter, I think, is one of the best ways, to get a truly serious and meaningful message across. I bet you agree, right?

Utterly. I’d even say it’s the only way, with all regard too much better writers who have done without it. The sense of humor reflected by the residents of Sunnyside especially is one of the qualities that drew me to the people with whom I worked so long ago. They loved to laugh. It was a common language.  In fact, after a little reflection, I’d say that humor has always been one of the defining traits of places and people I’ve loved and written about the most, including Chicago, sports, my family, and wartime Sarajevo.

The denizens of Sunnyside Plaza are often the people that people want to forget. Yet, in this novel, we can’t, because it profoundly shows us that a life, any life, is worth living. I loved the framework of murders happening and the denizens joining forces to solve the situation. It’s not only tender and sweet, it’s incredibly empowering, because a group of people in an insular world are actually impacting the world at large. So that brings me to the question of research—how did you know what you knew about places like Sunnyside Plaza and its people?

I relied on my own experience, years ago, and more recent experience in L’Arche program homes, which are communities for adults with challenges. And it was not lost on me—not to give away the story—that the residents of Sunnyside knew they would have to bring what they had discovered to someone they trusted who didn’t live there—because they knew how overlooked and forgotten they so often are.

“I was scared. I was excited. I took a step.” So says Sal, and don’t you think this is the perfect metaphor for how we should all be in the world?

It’s actually a lot like what I say to our daughters, about anything I’ve done that’s worthwhile, including covering wars, writing novels—and marrying their mother. I was scared. I was excited. I took a step.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

The intentional cruelty being done, as a matter of policy, to vulnerable immigrants in the name of America, a nation built by and enriched by immigrants (including my late mother, mother-in-law, father-in-law, mother, grandparents, wife and daughters).

You’re an acclaimed broadcaster, author, journalist, and even in the toughest gossip session, I have never heard anything but warm admiration or downright adoration for you. So…Is there ANYTHING that you can’t do? Do you have ANY flaws we could know about?

Thousands. Millions. Perhaps I should put up a sheet at NPR—or in our kitchen—and invite friends and family to list them. I have no practical skills whatsoever. I can’t drive a car. Our daughters often tie my shoes (I have a paralyzed left hand, and can manage, but results not effective or edifying). I can boil water, make chicken-under-a-brick with our daughters, pick up take-out, and touch-type, but that’s about it.

More seriously, I have sometimes hurt and exasperated people I love, and who love me. I can talk too much about our children. I have told off-color jokes (the grandson of a cop, and son of a comic and a showgirl hears a lot of good ones—I’m sorry, I mean bad ones—growing up, but doesn’t have to keep repeating them). I have been wrong about politics, baseball, and being a parent.

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

I’m answering these questions from Normandy, France. My wife, Caroline (pronounced Carro-leen), is French; and our daughters are fluent in French. So I’d like to suggest the question most waiters seem to ask when we sit down for dinner here. They hear me speak in English to our children, and so assume I don’t understand them when they ask my wife, “Que fait une femme si belle avec un homme aussi hideux?”

(“What is such a beautiful woman doing with such a hideous man?”)

Yes, no one can figure that out.

And finally, who would you bet on to have a better life: A talking crab with an attitude, or a lobster who has discovered the perfect recipe for peanut butter?

I’ll go with the lobster. Her or his peanut butter discovery could be a gateway breakthrough to others, including almond butter, cashew butter, and walnut butter. Might they wind up as a billionaire lobster with no friends, remote from the ocean crevices they knew as a child? Perhaps. But a talking crab with attitude could talk himself into a pot. It only takes one smart-shell (crustacean-talk for smart-ass) mistake. So, my euro is on the lobster.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Over 14K readers and writers can't be wrong: Come join Jacob Marquez's Reading Corner on Facebook. He talks about it--and himself--here!

It is always a cause for celebration (bring out the champagne) when someone is promoting books and making a warm, safe, lively community for authors on line. And that’s Jacob Marquez who began Reading Corner on Facebook.

Who better to introduce himself than Jacob himself?

 I everyone, my name is Jacob Marquez. I live in Texas and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcasting and Electronic Media from West Texas University. I've won many different awards in college for several of my media projects. I also have Cerebral Palsy, but I am fortunate enough that I don't have any complications from my Cerebral Palsy, I just can't walk by myself without  some assistance.

I am the creator of the Facebook group called Reading Corner. When I am not reading, I enjoy going swimming, hanging out with family and friends...along with my sweet baby dog Tiffany. I got my love  for reading from my mom. If I could get the chance to meet anyone it would have to be "Oprah Winfrey." I learn so much from her over the years, and I would also  love to get to meet all the authors I've  connected with through social media. I would also like to meet Jenna Bush Hager and Hoda Kotb someday .  

Thanks so much  my friend! 

Thank YOU, Jacob.

What inspired you to start Reading Corner on Face Book?

 My inspiration for starting Reading  Corner can be summed up into three words: love, books, and kindness.  I have  joined  a lot of reading groups on Facebook over the past year and half. The biggest thing I have noticed on a consistent basis is  that people are not very friendly or kind to each other in some of these  various groups. In some of  these groups  you  can't   even discuss books you have read because some people  have not  read the book.  In our group  Reading Corner members can discuss any books they like in  a safe, caring,  loving,  and encouraging  environment. In Reading Corner  we have a monthly book club selection chosen by me. Then either  in the middle of the month or at the end of the month we have the author of the book come in and do a live chat to discuss their book.  Live Chats are where the author pop in and out throughout the schedule day at their convenience answering members questions or comments  about their book. The  wonderful  thing  is some like to do giveaways  where  they will give one lucky member the chance to win a signed copy of their book.  The author will usually just pick  at random  a person  that participated in the live chat that asked a really good question.  Finally the day after the Live chat I will post discussion questions to get the group members engaged in a meaningful group discussion about the book. I will post three questions a day for four days.

What I love best about Readers Corner is the warmth and kindness. How do you make sure it keeps on?

 I think it's very simple really I think it's the  job of the administrators to set the tone of the group and to  lead by example.

 Our group has two administrators myself  and my good friend Julie Draughn Emfinger.  Julie is just great. She has a son with special needs. Her son's name is Drew. He has high-functioning autism. Julie is also working on her master's degree in nursing. I believe that there should be more kindness in the world especially in these politically charged times we are living in today. One thing I do in our group is to post an inspirational quote for the  day.  I do not let anyone discuss  politics in our group.

I know people have issues in life, that stuff comes up. Well we all face obstacles in our lives, but the key is how are we going to react to those obstacles. I feel you just need to treat people equally with respect because there's too much hate in the world . And everyone deserves the same respect across the board. We all have stories and we all come from different backgrounds but we are also all the same. So I just believed to treat people with kindness and understanding because the world is hard enough as it is.

And what if someone is unkind?

First I give a gentle reminder. Then we will just kick them out of the group and then just block them from the group.  Honestly, who has time  for  unkind people?  The answer is no one does.

What do you see happening with Reading Corner in the future?

My goal is to keep adding new members to our group and to get the word out about our group. In Reading Corner we will most definitely continue having  Live Chats and Giveaways  with our  monthly featured authors.

I am also planning on doing  live stream chats with authors that have books out  that I find to be interesting and that I think people should  know about. They  don’t necessarily have to be the author of the month.  I would  love to  get some  people from the publishing industry involved in our group  in some form or fashion.

What book is on your radar that people might not know?

There are so many great books on my radar it's hard just to pick one. There are two that come to mind at the moment off the top of my head. The first book  is our current January 2020  Selection  and it's called A Heart Not Easily Broken by M.J.Kane.  M.J.  Kane is a fantastic author and she is a true inspiration. M.J. has  overcome so many obstacles and challenges in her life. Here is a description of this great book.

 Ebony Campbell is a smart, sexy career-oriented black woman who wants nothing more than a summer fling with a man who challenges her mind and body. What she doesn’t expect is Brian Young, a blond-haired, blue-eyed bass player to step up to the challenge. Despite negative reactions, their fling develops into a deep relationship, and Ebony discovers juggling love, family, and career are nothing compared to the ultimate betrayal she endures. Now her dreams spiral into lies and secrets that threaten her future and the trust of those she loves.

We will be Having a Live Chat and Giveaway with M.J.Kane on Saturday January 25th and a group discussion January 26 through the 29th

The second book that I think everyone should  know  about and read is called  Dumpster Doll: The Early Years by Michelle Mays and Michelle Moone.  It's about Michelle Mays's  life growing up in a dysfunctional family and her journey in the foster care system. It is a very powerful and memorable book that unflinchingly shines a light on family turmoil, flaws in judicial systems, and ultimately, the grit and tenacity that thousands of children exhibit each day just to make it through.

The wonderful Michelle Mays will be joining us for a Live Facebook chat  to tell us about  her powerful and unforgettable book at 6pm Central Standard Time Thursday  January 30th

Do you write? Have you ever thought of writing your life story?

No I'm a horrible writer. If I ever did write a book. I would have to have a ghost writer  help  me  with the  book. Plus, I am only 36 I have a lot of life left to live and  experience before I write a book about my life.

You now have over 1400 people in the group, and in a very short time! That’s amazing!

Yes I am super surprise how the group has grown so fast. But I the other hand I am not because I have just used my networking skills to build the group as well.

How can readers and writers get into the Reading Corner?

Sometimes I will friend an author whose book I liked on Facebook and tell them and ask them to join. Recently, Jamie Ford just joined! I usually put up a welcome post, but I forgot to do one, and then Jamie told me he had been in the group for a couple of weeks!

Will have  many great Authors  in our group just  as members.. here are just  a few of them Jean Kwok,  Jamie Ford, Caroline Leavitt,  Sally Koslow , Benjamin W.Bass  Chris Miller, William Dameron,  James Lott Jr,  Rachel Radner, Jillian Cantor, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, A.J. Bass,  M.J. Kane,  Carmen DeSousa  and FE Feeley Jr. and so many more.  So what are you waiting for come Join the  Reading Corner today!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A boy, the sole survivor of a plane crash, grows and struggles to find meaning in his life in one of my favorite novels ever: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano and she's here to talk about it!

Ann Napolitano has done a miracle, crafting a novel that  is both superbly literary and heartwrenchingly moving. But don't just take my word (or my blurb) for it. Look at this stellar press she's getting.
“Dear Edward is that rare book that breaks your heart and stitches it back together during a reading experience that leaves you profoundly altered for the better. It’s about the infinitesimal difference between being a victim and being a survivor, between living and being alive. Don’t miss this one.”Jodi Picoult, NYT bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

Dear Edward isn’t just a beautiful novel, clear-eyed and compassionate even as it pulls us into such difficult terrain. It’s an examination of what makes us human, how we survive in this mysterious world, how we take care of each other. It’s the kind of book that forces you to trust that the author, who will break your heart, will also lead you toward something wondrous, something profound. After this brilliant novel, I will follow Ann Napolitano to the ends of the earth.”Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang and Nothing to See Here

“Outstanding, beautifully written, a compulsive read. Dear Edward is the best book about a young person I’ve read since Emma Donoghue’s Room.”—John Boyne, bestselling author of A Ladder to the Sky and The Heart’s Invisible Furies

“Ann Napolitano’s writing is astonishing. I’m in awe.”Marian Keyes, bestselling author of The Break and The Brightest Star in the Sky

“I loved Dear Edward so, so much. It made me laugh and weep. So many times I had to stop after reading a paragraph to acknowledge the beauty of Ann Napolitano’s writing. In Edward, his friend Shay, and the passengers on the airplane, Napolitano offers unforgettable characters, people you know you will miss after you’ve turned the book’s last page. Magnificent!”—Lily King, author of Euphoria

“From its breathtaking premise—a boy is the sole survivor of an airplane crash—to its absolutely rhapsodic finish, Dear Edward is about the persistence of hope, the depth of love, and the unexpected, radiant moments that make up our lives. If I loved this stunning novel any more, I’d have to marry it.”—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World

“A stunning novel of courage and connection in the face of unimaginable loss. Beautifully written, with characters so intensely alive you will hold your breath as they break your heart. An extraordinary read.”—Helen Simonson, author of The Summer Before the War and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

“Gripping and elegaic, this is a captivating novel about loss, love and growing up.”—Rosamund Lupton, bestselling author of Sister

“Weaving past and present into a profoundly beautiful, page-turning story of mystery, loss, and wonder, Dear Edward is a meditation on survival, but more important, it is about carving a life worth living. It is about love and hope and caring for others, and all the transitory moments that bind us together.”—Hannah Tinti, author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley and The Good Thief

“Eddie is an ordinary twelve-year-old, until a horrific plane crash turns him into the real-life Boy Who Lived. Ann Napolitano brings clear-eyed compassion to every character in Dear Edward, from Edward himself, caught between living and merely surviving, to his fellow passengers, who don’t have that choice. The result is a rich, big-hearted tapestry that leaves no one behind. Fans of Room and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will be spellbound by Dear Edward, which explores trauma with the same honesty and tenderness as it does the crooked path to healing.”—Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists

“From the first page of this heartwarming and heart-wrenching novel, I was dazzled. Napolitano weaves a story that brims with humanity—with joy and sorrow, love and friendship, survival and triumph, and a cast of unforgettable characters. Dear Edward is a masterpiece that should be at the top of everyone’s reading list.”—J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author of Saints for All Occasions

Ann is also the author of A GOOD HARD LOOK and WITHIN ARMS REACH, she was also long-listed for the Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize

I am thrilled to have her here. Thank you, Ann!

I always want to know what is haunting someone into writing a book. I think I know some of the answer from your glorious authors note in the book, but I still would love you to talk more about it.

There was a real plane crash in 2010, that I became obsessed with. The flight originated in South Africa and crashed in Libya—most of the passengers were Dutch, and on their way home from vacation. Only one passenger survived, a nine-year-old boy named Ruben van Assouw. The boy was found still strapped into his seat about a half mile from the wreckage–the speculation was that he’d been sitting near the fuselage and had been basically ejected from the plane. He had a badly broken leg and a punctured lung but was otherwise fine. Everyone else, including his parents and brother, had died immediately. I couldn’t read enough about this story, and the obsession was such that I knew I was going to have to write about it. I needed to write my way into understanding how this young boy could walk away from this wreckage, from the loss of his family, and not only survive, but to find a way to live his life.

Would you say that your previous novels have taught you skills in terms of craft, or do you, like me, alas—have writers’ amnesia, where every book is a new book and everything you think you know about writing flies out the window?

I have the same experience as you, sadly—every book is a new book, with its own challenges and its own hard problems. Structure is always a headache, though an interesting one. I like to think, however, that my sentence-by-sentence writing improves somewhat with each book, and that I get a little better at accessing the emotional grid of the story. That might be wishful thinking, though. It takes me a long time to muscle a novel into a place where I’m happy with it. It took eight years to write Dear Edward, and I would say that for the first five years the whole thing was at best mediocre, with a lot of major and minor flaws. Stubbornness is perhaps my most defining trait as a writer, though—I basically will not give up until the novel works.

I love the way the book is structured in alternating chapters, with some chapters set right in the plane before it goes down, so we can know the lives of the people it is carrying, and the other chapters set in present day, showing how Edward is grappling with the loss. Was this always the plan?

Yes, it was always the plan. When I conceived of the story (based on the idea of the real crash) I knew the story would start with the plane taking off and end with it crashing. I wanted the story of the flight and Edward’s story afterward to sit side by side, in part because I knew the flight and the crash were a weight Edward would have to carry with him every day of his life. He would never be able to set it down; at best, he’d learn how to bear it.

I also loved (without giving anything away), how we got to live some of Edward’s life post-plane with him, and experience his changes along with him. There was so much grace there, so much beauty. Can you talk about how life can be both unutterably sad and compellingly gorgeous?

I would love more than anything to talk about that! But I don’t know how, and I think that’s a large part of why I write novels. I can try to say something over eight years and several hundred pages that I could never express in clear speech out of my mouth. But perhaps it is in moments of great sadness that we as humans are the most beautiful? I think of being in New York for 9/11, and how hundreds of people rushed to hospitals to donate blood, and how firefighters and emergency personnel from all over the country got in their cars and trucks when they heard the news and drove to New York to help. Others lined the West Side highway to applaud those emergency workers as they arrived. When we show up for one another—and I believe we are hardwired to do so—it is heartbreakingly beautiful.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

The history of basketball, and the history of racism within basketball. I’ve been obsessed, and reading everything I can on the subject, for about two years. It’s amusing to me, because I had no interest in basketball up until that point, but it’s also exciting, because I know it’s a push toward the story I will tell next. I know the obsession will inform the novel I’m taking notes on now, but I don’t know exactly why or how yet.

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

These were excellent questions. Thank you, Caroline.

Friday, December 13, 2019

What's cooler than going around telling stories to babies and kids? Nothing! And here, Tthe Storybook Mom Nili Yelin tells all, including details about her tattoo!

It’s no secret that I think award-winning Nili Yelin is the coolest person around. She's  combined her professional theatre career with mommyhood to create The Storybook MomTM.
Using an interactive, educational and highly amusing style, Ms. Yelin likes to call her story-telling, “Sit Down Stand-up.” Founded on the high-minded principle that children like to see a grown-up act silly, Yelin entertains a hard-core audience of two-years olds—and their fatigued moms and dads. She delivers a full performance of the written word, even though the words are few, rhyming, and surrounded by pictures.

Along with her many weekly storytimes, Yelin regularly hosts the annual Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest Children's Stage. She story-tells for the Field Museum and their podcasts for children in association with The Crown Family Play Lab, The Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry, and various venues around Chicago and the suburbs. Yelin has expressed the lofty goal of having “every kid in Chicago know their ABC’s backwards before they enter pre-school.”  
Ms. Yelin’s outreach includes after-school programs with the Chicago Mayor's office, homeless shelters and domestic violence centers; The Center for Companies That Care on their corporate literacy initiative, Terrific Tales, performing in schools and libraries on Chicago’s South Side; Bernie's Book Bank, a not-for-profit organization that collects and distributes books to low income schools; and Creatively Caring and Sunrise Homes, storytelling for children with autism and special needs and older people with dementia. 

Yelin has appeared on WGN TV News and in numerous magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs. Awarded "Best Storyteller" by Make It Better Magazine and Time Out Chicago Magazine, Yelin is currently working with Storyola (tm) on a storybook app. She is also writing her debut book on techniques of storytelling.

 I'm so delighted to host her!

How did you get involved with storytelling for kids?

In 2000 there was an actor’s strike and I was unemployed for 6 months, I saw a sign in a baby store looking for an Opening Day Storyteller so I called and was hired! I had read in my children’s preschools so I just brought a bunch of books and my kids and went for it! The store owner asked me to do it weekly, people saw me, and word of mouth spread thanks to the Mommy Network and it just blew up into a full time thing! I found my passion combining my love of books and kids and with my schedule of carpooling it worked right into my schedule. I had taken my kids to STORYTIMES and was usually bored and thought that kids should be exposed to real performances of words and as a trained actress and stand up comedian I just meshed it all together to create my own”sit down, stand up” style of storytelling. The hours are much better than when I was doing standup too. I used to joke that I wish I could sit down and do comedy in the daytime and lo and behold that is what I ended up doing! Also taking care of a little being is hard all day long so I wanted caregivers to be able to laugh and drink some coffee together too, 

How is storytelling for kids different than for adults in the less obvious ways—and tell us about the “giggle level” AND about the photo on your website of a baby dressed as Raggedy Ann with a red nose?

Performing for babies takes being so present in the moment and using focus and energy to keep their attention. They are he most honest audiences in existence, and you feel when they are engaged and believe in you and the feedback is immediate. I truly get in the zone and feel more alive and free when I interact with babies and toddlers and they respond to my total openness and lack of self consciousness,. The sillier and more spontaneous I am the more we connect, I really believe I am a 4 year old, for some reason that is my golden zone. I learned English when I was four, having come to NYC from Israel and I believe my relationship to words and my love of words, and books really solidified at that age.

 I used to write some of the Wishbone Books, based on the PBS series about a little dog who wisecracked his way through classic literature, and I remember how much I used to love to go to bookstores to talk to kids. The energy is so different than standing in front of adults! You get such an appreciative audience.  So my question is now about to segue into babies. How do you engage a group of babies with storytelling?! How are you able to get them to interact with you? 

My core fan base is 2-5 years old and babies are a whole different ballgame. I first did a fully baby aged STORYTIME at Monica + Andy 5 years ago and I remember it took all my 30 plus years of training and experience to keep them engaged. At that young age babies cannot sit still and listen to stories but they parallel play so it’s all about using tone, rhythm, energy and lots of physicality. I remember being drained after the first 45 minute STORYTIME with all babies because I had to use my body a s voice more actively but it is also exhilarating and establishing a connection with love and books at that young age is powerful. I put out board books for them to hold, and they eat them up, literally. I love that babies are so physically curious about books and I encourage tactile interaction. I spend a lot of money replacing board books but it’s worth it.

You also tell stories at Monica & Andy, which has some of the most adorable kids clothing I’ve seen. Want to talk about that?

I learned about this incredible baby and toddler organic clothing brand when I read an article in Forbes or Crain’s about this new brand opening in Chicago in 2014 and that the founder, Monica Royer wanted to create an experiential retail experience with classes and events, including STORYTIME. I was the biggest storyteller in Chicago, (and there weren’t many to begin with), and I was thinking, “Who is going to be their storyteller.? I met with Monica and she said let’s try one and see and as soon as I did the one she asked me to come back every week. 

She was one of 12 weekly clients and I was doing festivals and parties every weekend and after 18 years of that I was thinking it would be great to do this all the time but would love to do it in one place with a salary and benefits.

Monica and I became friends and started meeting for coffee and she saw something in me that she wanted to help nurture, to help me grow as a business and as a brand and then all of a sudden the manager position in the new New York City location opened up and my gut told me to seek the position of returning to my old Upper West neighborhood where I had lived in the eighties and nineties and as long as I could still do STORYTIME as part of the job I was in!! It was a huge risk and life change but I knew I had to go for it. I felt so torn to leave the community and work I had built in Chicago but I felt with my own kids grown up I wanted to go back to my hometown and explore my roots. When I first moved to America we lived with my grandparents on the Lower East Side and it has also inspired me to write a children’s book about that area and my grandparents. 

 I got a rush when I saw you read No, David by David Shannon, and Click Clack Moo, which I used to read to my son when he was little and I still remember the drawings and the story. I believe stories imprint on us, don’t you? And do you think that is part of why it’s so important for kids to hear stories? And, what’s yoru favorite storytelling book now?

Yes, this is everything! Books from our childhood and the books from our children’s childhood are treasure boxes of memories and who we were when we read Dad was a voracious reader and just seeing him in the act of reading colored my entire world. Books are friends, you can take them with you, they open up the world and make you feel less alone. I love the moment when you read something and are blown away that the author put in words a feeling you had and identified it deeply.

My current faves are always all books by the late and great Amy Krouse Rosenthal, my mentor and muse. Also Mo Willems, Matthew Cordell and the Pete The Cat series. 

I love quirky, funny, and dramatic emotions which also center on huge life lessons. Since kids are always falling down and over during STORYTIME I get to I,port the biggest life lesson which is When you fall down you just get back up....

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I am writing my first picture books, I consider myself an adapter and dramatist of picture books and have read thousands for decades so I believe what I write has to be worthy of the best that I have encountered and the precision of the words and story has to be spot on,...having done voice over work and been directed on individual performance of words is a great example of the detail and specificity a picture book demands, and I have been working in various ideas for years. I get sick of a lot of them and get stuck and put them away but I currently have been working on a book that I feel great about, and have the feeling I get when I read my favorites aloud so persistence and perseverance may pay off yet. I have a childlike optimism, idealism and hope that despite numerous obstacles, rejections and disappointments is still going strong. 

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

I love the questions you asked, and the only through line to all this that I missed is my love for Emily Dickinson, the poet. The Belle of Amherst, the one woman show about her was my senior acting project at Northwestern University and as I performed the show certain lines impacted me for mission statement is “A word is dead when it is said, some say, I say it just begins to live that day.

I met Julie Harris, the actress who played Emily in this show to much acclaim and one of the actors who I long admired and one of the reasons I became an actress at the time I was  working on this show and also named my daughter for Emily Dickinson.

Last year I got my first tattoo of an open book with my children’s initials in Emily Dickinson’s handwriting.

My next may be a mermaid,