Saturday, August 12, 2017

Christopher Swann talks about boarding school, trauma, why you don't want a reader who just says, "love it!" with a smiley emoji, and his brilliant novel SHADOW OF THE LIONS

Christopher Swann is chair of the English Department at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta, where he has taught English for more than 20 years. He's another Algonquin author, which means he is family from now on!  I'm so thrilled to have him here!

I loved all the material about boarding school. Did you attend one yourself?  And if so, did you find it freeing?
 I’m glad you liked the boarding school material. I did attend boarding school—Woodberry Forest, in Virginia. Blackburne is kind of based on Woodberry, especially physically, but I made several alterations. Let’s say that a lot of the good aspects of Blackburne come from Woodberry, and the bad aspects of Blackburne I made up.
Did I find boarding school freeing? Now that’s an interesting question. Usually people who aren’t familiar with boarding schools think of them as some sort of elite prisons, like dumping grounds for Holden Caulfield-esque teens. This isn’t true in my experience. If you attend a place like Blackburne, you have access to incredible teachers and mentors. Living at your school as a teenager, without the freedoms available to you as an older college student, can feel isolating. A boarding school a contained environment. And yet the whole experience of boarding school is pretty freeing. It may not feel that way at the time. However, I am very much who I am as an adult in large part because of my boarding school experience. It’s not that I was shaped by my school, exactly, although that’s part of it. It’s that at boarding school I was allowed—encouraged, even—to grow and develop as a student and as an adolescent male in ways that I probably would not have been at a traditional day school. I write in my book that classmates at boarding school can establish close-knit friendships that, on a platonic level, may not be experienced again until marriage. The other aspect, of course, is that you spend the majority of your adolescence, from age 14 to 18, away from home and your parents. Of course you go home for vacations, but for nearly eight months out of the year you live away from home. You grow up and learn responsibility a bit sooner than you might otherwise, and you form tight-knit relationships that can last your entire life.
I’m haunted by the things we do as kids that we would never do as adults—and how those crimes shadow us. If we’re lucky, as in a way Matthias is, we get to reconfront them—but what do you think would have happened to Matthias if he never had that chance?

That is one of the shadows the title alludes to—in this case, Matthias’ fear that this one event clouds his entire life. Luckily, I didn’t experience any kind of traumatic event like Matthias does, but I often think there but for the grace of God go I. I have always enjoyed mysteries, and when writing this book I spent a lot of time thinking about Fritz and what happened to him. But I was even more interested in what would happen to Matthias, and to everyone else affected by Fritz’s disappearance. What kind of effect would that have on you?
 My senior or sixth form year at Woodberry, a girl I knew died in a car crash. I had known her for a few years and our parents were friends, although she and I were more like friendly acquaintances. But she was cute and vibrant and fun to be around, and when I got the news she had died, I was gutted. She was the first person I knew in my age group to die. I remember thinking how utterly unfair and wrong it was. How did this happen? For several weeks her death haunted me, and at first I wasn’t sure why. I hadn’t been secretly in love with her, and we weren’t even especially close, although she was always kind and friendly to me. It was that I was young, and like all young people I thought I was immortal, and when that fantasy was stripped away, which happens to all of us at some point, I was shaken. The girl’s parents and younger sister now had this horrible truth that they had to bear for the rest of their lives. It was just an awful, tragic loss.
Without being conscious of the connection, I wrote my book in part to explore the uncomfortable aftermath in the wake of a tragedy. But I wanted the tragedy in my book to contain a mystery. Death is final. Disappearance is not, and always leaves a question behind: what really happened? Fritz’s disappearance affects Matthias in ways he cannot imagine. He, too, is gutted by the loss of his missing friend. But Matthias has the sense that he can do something—even if he isn’t certain what that something is—to make amends, to put things right. It’s always dangerous to predict what fictional characters would do—my own characters often surprise me with the choices they make! But if Matthias had not had the chance to confront his past, I think he would have wound up bitter, gnawed by a sense of failed promise and culpability. Then again, maybe he could channel that into his writing and find success again. Who knows?

Matthias believes he is a failed writer, which of course is every single writer’s fear. With the praise you are getting for Shadow of the Lions, this certainly isn’t a worry of yours—but was it ever? And what did you do about it?

Hold on a sec . . . just knocking on wood. You’re very kind, Caroline—thank you. Of course I was afraid of being a failed writer—not just of failing in a particular instance of writing, but failing at the entire endeavor. I knew in eighth grade that I wanted to be a writer. And for every passing year, and for every story about a newly discovered literary wunderkind—you know, the genius novelist who’s an undergraduate at Yale and still not old enough to legally drink—for all that, I just shrugged and put my head down and wrote. Not continuously, not every day. There were months that went by when I didn’t write any fiction, maybe a solid year at one point. I don’t know why I kept going, honestly. Stubbornness, I suppose. And in retrospect it seem that at every crucial step, something happened that buoyed my confidence. A teacher encouraged me. A classmate I admired said something complimentary about a story I had written. After dozens of rejections, I had my first short story published. Et cetera.
 Last year Alison Umminger, a grad-school classmate of mine at Missouri, published a wonderful YA novel, American Girls, which you have to read. (Her original title for it was My Favorite Manson Girl, which is what the U.K. edition is called.) I attended a reading she gave at Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia, where she is a professor at West Georgia. I hadn’t seen her in nearly twenty years. At Missouri she was a great writer, funny and honest and so damn smart. Of course she hadn’t changed a bit, and we visited with each other briefly before she gave her reading to a packed house. In her opening remarks, she talked about the long road to publication, and then to my surprise mentioned me and my own upcoming novel. “I guess for both of us, slow and steady really does win the race,” she said, or words to that effect. And I think that’s true. Johnny Evison, who I met on the Internet years ago and who has been such a guide and inspiration, wrote for years before he got published. His agent—who was also my first agent—had to send him a box of food at one point. And now he’s the author of four amazing novels, a fifth in the pipeline, and a sixth in the works.
I do have a secret weapon, though. And like many successful writers, my secret weapon is my better half. My wife Kathy is one of the most patient women in history. She’s my fiercest critic and my biggest cheerleader. She will tell me when I’ve written something terrible. I’ll give her a scene and she’ll read it and say, “Real men and women don’t talk to each other like this,” and I’ve learned instead of huffing or arguing about it, I should listen. That’s wisdom, I guess.

I always want to know about the creative process. Do you write on scrap paper, on a computer, pen or pencil? Do you have rituals?

I write almost everything on a laptop. My handwriting is lousy, although I’ll occasionally jot something down on a scrap piece of paper or in a notebook. But my mother sent me to typing lessons one summer when I was thirteen. It was a class full of housewives going back to work. I was the only male. The next youngest student was maybe twenty-six. But by God, I learned how to type. And I’ve been typing ever since.
For maybe the second half of my novel, I stuck to what my wife refers to as “sacred writing time.” Usually it’s from eight o’clock in the evening to ten or so. Nora Roberts—she didn’t invent this idea, but the first time I heard it was from her—she said that the secret to her success as a writer was “Ass in the chair.” There’s something to that. And I know it works, because when I would skip watching TV or playing on my phone or reading a book and instead put my ass in the chair in front of my laptop, I would produce writing. And for the past several months, various events have conspired against sacred writing time, and I’ve written very little on my second book. This summer, before I go on book tour, I plan to reinstate sacred writing time.
What’s it like for you being a debut author?

Surreal. A few weeks ago my editor said we needed to choose a narrator for the audiobook version of my novel. She had two voice actors in mind and sent me their audio files. So I sat in my classroom during a free period and listened on my phone to two different voice actors reading the opening pages of my own novel.

I’m still a little self-conscious about saying “my agent” or “my editor.” A friend or colleague will ask about my book, and I’ll say, “Well, I was just talking to my editor,” and then I’ll think I sound like I’m bragging. I’m letting that go, though.
Algonquin has been absolutely fabulous—I could not have asked for a better publisher on my first go around. A few months ago I was on a group call with maybe a dozen or so people at Algonquin—my editor, the publicist, marketing, copy editors, the whole nine yards—and I just wanted to hug all of them. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was in eighth grade, and now it’s actually happening. How often do you have a life-long dream and then you achieve it, and then you can keep on doing it (knock on wood again)?

Mainly I’m just consciously trying to enjoy the whole experience, appreciate every moment. I have friends who are consultants and fly to other parts of the country every week, they spend their weeknights in hotels—it’s part of their job. Me, I’m going to go on book tour, and when I stay in a hotel, I’m going to be the guy who’s all delighted that there’s an iron in my room. “I have an iron! Wow, that’s so thoughtful! Wait, there’s a mini-fridge, too?” I’m like that right now about everything having to do with the publication of my book. And I want to keep that feeling for as long as possible. And I’m both excited by and terrified at the prospect of giving a reading. What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t laugh at my jokes? But then I remember that I make a living, in part, on getting up in front of groups of people who may not care about what I have to say, and I have to engage them and convince them that what I am going to say might be interesting. 

Almost everyone I have met in this business—editors, agents, publicists, booksellers, and especially authors—has been so generous and supportive and kind. It’s like I’ve found my people, you know? And I got my first review on Goodreads, by someone I did not know, and she gave Shadow of the Lions five stars. It was the loveliest feeling, to know that a complete stranger had read my story and enjoyed it. That’s part of why we write stories, isn’t it? Because we want to write something that will have the same kind of impact that another book or author had on us.

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Politics, although I’m trying to cut down on the amount of political news I read. There’s only so much healthy outrage I can maintain before I start feeling ill.

The book series The Expanse by James S. A. Corey.  The TV series is on SyFy and it’s awesome, season two ended this spring, but the books are these incredible plot-driven stories with great characters that, at the same time, wrestle with some really big metaphysical questions about humanity and conflict and community. And they also manage to realistically depict the hard science of living and traveling in space. Any one of those things is difficult to pull off; to do all three is amazing. And my own book and the book tour and everything around that. It’s not that I’m being narcissistic or super-anxious. It’s just that I want it to go well. I want people to like my book, and so I have to do my best to promote it and I want people who come out to hear me read to enjoy the experience.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
 Everything I’m coming up with sounds so lame.  Which is probably why you didn’t ask me those things.
I will add some advice for people who have been writing for years without success. If you love stories and you love writing, don’t quit. If you don’t like writing, or you don’t love stories, then for God’s sake move on to something else. But if you do, don’t quit. Read widely, write regularly, and show your work to someone you trust who won’t just write “Love it!” in the margins or send you a smiley face emoji. Slow and steady wins the race. And it’s not really a race, except with time, which always wins in the end. But you can sidestep your own mortality by writing something that a stranger will pick up years from now and think, “Now that’s a good story.” And the only way to achieve that is to put your ass in the chair and write.

Surfing to explain philosophy? Yep, yep, yep, Aaron James talks about Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning

How could I ever resist a book with this title? So I didn't. And then I loved the book so much, I asked Aaron if he would come on the blog. Aaron James is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irvine,and the author of Assholes: A Theory, and I'm delighted to have him here. Thank you, Aaron.

Why do you think that surfing lends itself to philosophizing?

I think surfing is all about what I call bodily “adapative attunement” to the changing movements of a wave, and the ocean and coastline that creates and shapes them in certain way.  Whether you are thinking about it or not, this often brings a deep appreciation of the sublime and the beautiful, drawing you out of yourself, in awe, respect, and wonderment.  In that way you naturally transcend the mundane, even on the most ordinary day, often with a profound sense of fortune, or even gratitude, that the circumstances of one’s life have coalesced as they now have.  Which is already a kind of reflection of a philosophical sort.  But then ideas can be sublime, or even beautiful, as well.  And being attuned to them through skillful philosophical thought or discussion is also a way of transcending the drab or the blah in the mundane, a way of being more attuned to what’s wonderful or curious or puzzling in ordinary life.  So although surfing and philosophizing draw on different skills, to me at least, the enterprises are valuable in much the same general way.

I love the title, though the idea of Jean Paul Sartre surfing is delicious—and maybe that’s part of the delight of your essays, getting us to think about things in a new and fun way. Care to talk about this?

It is really fun that, deep in his long masterwork _Being and Nothingness_, Sartre has these long passages about snow skiing and freedom.  He writes in this excited rush, as he often does, just enthralled with looking at skiing in a deep, fresh way.  I thought I should do something like that with surfing, picking up from Sartre’s comments about waterskiing, which he thinks of as even better than skiing.  So I’m trying to do phenomenology in something of the way Sartre understood it, in hopes of looking at things in a new way and discovering what would otherwise be obscure, which is delightful and fun in itself.

What was it like writing these essays? Any snags along the way?

To me the idea of the book was exciting for its scope and ambition.  It could be like an olden style treatise of the sort you can’t write in specialized academic philosophy these days.  The general reader might want to just see big connections, so I thought the book should “surf” through any and every big issue in philosophy that surfing might illuminate.  But it took me a long time to figure out how all the topics and parts might fit together, with some sort of progression that adds up to a grand picture.  It helped a lot when I realized the chapters could mainly be general, single-word topics, like Freedom, Control, Flow, Being, Transcendence, Society, Nature, Work, etc..  Then I could just focus on the ideas that seemed to develop that particular topic, and stack the topics across the chapters so that they build upon each other over the course of the whole book.

I’m curious if your personal philosophy ever changes—and why?

Well, I think of myself as constantly learning.  A lot of the time you feel like you’re gradually understanding more fully what you were already inclined to think, what you previously had a bare grasp of, or saw dimly, in the distance.  But the new learning also gradually shifts other things you feel like you might have mostly sorted out.  In working on the book I became much clearer for myself about what exactly I have always loved about surfing.  And in reading around all the various areas of philosophy, which go beyond my usual specializations, I was led into some new research interests.  I now think professional philosophers haven’t really appreciated certain connections, which I’m hoping bring out in my academic writings.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I’m tacking back to some of my core interests in political philosophy at the moment, planning what will be another academic book on international socio-economic issues.  I’m also thinking more about a pop book that joins asshole and surfer theory by offering ideas about how to get from our present culture of assholery to a more leisurely, less competitive kind of capitalism.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

And now for something even more different! Joyce Maynard and I video chat about her memoir THE BEST OF US, plus a giveaway

I first met Joyce Maynard through email. She was kind, gracious, and really funny. But best of all, we got to meet at a Book Fest, and I was having such a good time talking with her that I impulsive said, "Let me film you for my blog!" She agreed, and of course, my phone screwed up. BUT, we did the interview later. And it's there in the link at the bottom! AND here:

And there's more! Bloomsbury and Joyce Maynard are offering to send a personalized, signed book plate from Joyce to anyone in the US and Canada who sends in proof of preorder before publication. This can be from any retailer. To enter submit a photo of a receipt, an email receipt, or a screenshot of an order.  They need to be sent in before September 5, 2017  in order to qualify.
More information and submission form here:

And here is the refrain of Joyce's very first song , from songwriting camp--which she sings in the video.. 

It’s a year since you left me
I sold your guitar
Gave your boots to your son
Smoked your last good cigar
And I’m not going to die here
I’m back out on the road,
But I wear your blue shirt, dear
It feels good.

And if someday I love
Though there’s none here for now
I will know how I got there
It was you showed me how.
It’s a skill newly learned
It was you showed me how. 

HERE is the video !

Saturday, August 5, 2017

And now for something different! Anne Korkeakivi and I talk about promoting hardcovers and then paperbacks, and lots of other stuff, too!

Portrait of the gorgeous, genius author Anne Korkeakivi

I love Anne Korkeakivi's work, especially Shining Sea, a transcendent novel about great love and great loss. I met her at a book event, and then I got to love her, too. We got to talking about our paperbacks and decided we would share the conversation.  We hope it's helpful and fun to read.

Caroline: Let's talk about the hardback/paperback thing. Are you exhausted after promoting your hardback? Paperback is much less, but it feels to me that I am always promoting. Do you feel the same way? Do you have strategies to deal with it?

Anne: As a largely expat author, here’s my strategy: transmutation. I look at, for example, social media outreach not as promotion but as a chance to interact with other bookish people, something I don’t get to do much in my day-to-day life overseas. Same for events and book festivals. This is all life, right? I make a point of enjoying it.

Tessa Hadley told me once that no sooner does she send a manuscript off to her agent than she starts work on a new one. That new work-in-progress becomes a psychological buffer. This doesn’t fit with my process, to date--I like to spend a long time researching and getting to know my characters before I start writing--but it seems incredibly smart to me.

How about you? Have you developed an effective strategy? And how about paperback promotion? The book is the same, but both the book-selling and book-buying process are different.

Caroline: I totally agree with having something new to work on, otherwise I just get obsessed with all the details. How is the book doing? What can I do to make it do even better? Plus, what I love the most is that deep state of being in the zone and writing. I feel like I killed myself doing publicity for the hardcover of Cruel Beautiful World, all those planes, trains, and Lyfts! Paperback is a lot different. People are more apt to wander into a bookstore and grab up a book, and I think essays out there do a lot to get the word out. And maybe pleading on social media, too!

Mostly, though, what is so lovely is I am writing my next novel, it's sold already, but I still have to write it and it's scaring me! Did writing your novel scare you at all? And how did you deal with that?

Anne: Very first, congrats on having sold the next novel!

Writing my novels has never scared me. It’s the thought of not writing them that scares me. But I've not been in your position; perhaps it’s more frightening when you have a deal and deadline for a novel in hand. How do you balance working on the next novel while getting the last one into publication? My characters tend to populate my head so thoroughly that I find I need to put them to bed before I can start hanging out with a whole other crew. Or do you mean that you start something new as soon as the former book has gone to press?

Caroline: That's so fascinating, Anne. The thought of not writing is scary, indeed. I had a four-month period a few years ago where I was so overwhelmed, I actually said, that's it, I give up. And I didn't write, and then that damned hunger started up and there I was. It's half and half. On the one hand, I love having a deal because then I can sigh and say, oh thank God, I don't have to worry for two years. But then there is the HUGE worry of "Oh my God, I spent my whole advance and I have to deliver a novel and I have no idea what I am doing!

I always start thinking of a new novel when I am nearing the end of the 67th draft (yeah 67...) so I cannot give myself space to panic.

So, if you hadn't been a writer, what would you have been? I have been a failure as a receptionist (gave Dr. Foot the podiatrist the calls from Dr. Foot the obstetrician and was fired), a worker at a factory that made dirty puzzles (I left after a woman had her hair caught in the glue press), a copywriter for a public TV station, a teacher for juvenile delinquent boys (Total failure)... So it's lucky I found something I can do!

Anne: I’m glad you didn’t give up writing, Caroline. It sounds as though being a novelist is much better suited for you than working as a medical receptionist! My childhood dream was to be a musician. As I matured, many people assumed I’d become a classicist, because I was a dab hand at Ancient Greek translation and I really did love it. But there was never any question in my mind that I’d be a writer. In a way, the predetermination of it bothered me. But it just was.

So, here we both are—novelists. What you said about paperbacks being bought differently is so true. Paperbacks also are very much about book groups. Bless the book groups! Still, I’ll be doing some events. It’s fun to celebrate. I’ll have a launch on August 8 in Brooklyn and do something in the Boston area two days later. Then in September I’m going out the west coast--San Diego, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles--which I didn’t do for the hardcover. I’m incredibly excited about it, because Shining Sea is about a SoCal family, so it feels like bringing the book home. Also each event is different, and I like trying things. I’m particularly happy that one event involves fundraising—as writers we need to do what we can.

How about you? It’s a little tricky doing a summer release.

Caroline: Do you think there is such a thing as summer books? I don't. I don't think emotions have a season. I don't want lighter books in summer. I still want the dark, thorny ones that crack your heart open. I do, however, think that paperbacks make a difference because people are more willing to take a chance on them--and they often buy doubles! I saw that happen with my first two novels for Algonquin, Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow, which were paperback originals. This upset me at the time because I thought I'd lose reviews and sales, but instead, both were New York Times Bestsellers! I was thrilled. So when Algonquin told me they were going to put Cruel Beautiful World in hardback, I begged them not to! So I'm really looking forward to it being out in paperback.

Except that all my PR feels like it was done already for the hardback!

Anne: In a recent article in Broadly, Ilana Masad suggested that the idea of “summer” books might be tied to a vision of the world as a place where women take the summer off while the men are working. I agree with you—and Masad—that there’s something fishy in the very concept. I asked my publicist once, though, in what way Shining Sea might be a “summer” book and she said because the story takes the reader many places, and in summer people are dreaming of traveling.

At any rate, the nice thing is if you’re pretty well done with promotion already, Caroline, you don’t have to worry about those planes, trains, and Lyfts you mentioned. Enjoy!

Oh. My. God. This book. What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives: The Most Honest Children's Book of All Time by Chelsea Marshall and Mary Dauterman is some kind of insane genius.

You want this book. You need this book.

Genius at work

 In this a charming, satirical "children’s" book, BuzzFeed’s lead animal editor Chelsea Marshall and acclaimed art director/illustrator Mary Dauterman introduce us to Digi Valley and 21st Century urban life. It's a town filled with animal people who run vegan cafes, Uber around, and stay on their cell phones, and it is total genius.

I'm thrilled to have them here, and I loved this book so much, I bought extra copies for friends so we can obsess about it together.

I loved this book so much, I want to marry it. It’s so slyly witty and so spot on about how and why we live the way we do. So when was the “we have to write and draw this book” moment? What happened right before the big decision? 

Mary: I had been drawing some of these characters for a while when I asked Chelsea to come onto the project. 

Chelsea: We both have really similar senses of humor and we started brainstorming where we could take all these characters and knew there was so much fun to be had with it. A lot of this process was “does this make you laugh?” and if it did, we went with it. 

Why a children’s book for all ages? (I bet I know the answer, but I want to hear you both talk about it!) 

Chelsea: A lot of our favorite cartoons (Rugrats + Spongebob for instance) were so funny and great as kids growing up, and then you watch them as an adult and they’re still really funny and great in a new way because you notice more of the adult themes. The world is a really weird place and it’s kind of a relief when you realize someone else is like “OMFG I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO NOTICED.” 

Mary: It’s pretty great to be the adults hiding multiple layers of jokes in the story. Lots of jokes buried in the phones and characters’ interactions within scenes. 
I bet it was hilarious fun to write and draw this book. Which came first, words or pictures? Did you brainstorm together? What thing do you now wish you had done that you didn’t? 

Chelsea: We did brainstorm a lot together. We’re BFFs IRL so it just came naturally and random jokes that we had ended up making it into the book. It’s was so fun to work with someone you can just go “hey can a parrot eating salami be renting out this room?” and without batting an eye she draws a character even greater than your imagination. Some brainstorms just turned into drinking wine and talking about how much we love Beyonce though. 

Mary: We had a long list of “scenes” and jobs, then Chelsea made a proper outline/flow of the book while I started drawing scenes and backgrounds. 

Chelsea: The flow is based off of an improv game where you have two characters in a scene, one leaves and a new one comes in. So each scene in the book has a character from the last one, even if they’re just in the background. 

Mary: There are a lot of stories woven together and recurring characters that we hope people discover and love as much as we do! Sometimes Chelsea would write something and then I would draw it how I was envisioning, then Chelsea would be excited about another character or
part of the drawing and tweak the writing a little or add more weirdness. I kept drawing this one kind of depressed looking bird and Chelsea came up with a whole backstory and made him kind of a perv, haha. 

Chelsea: The whole process was all very fluid and fun! If we had more time, we would have made more characters based on our friends, and a bigger storyline around Diana Flurmph, who is running for mayor of DigiValley. We had a lot to say post-election but the book was almost done by then. 

The characters are hilariously real from a beauty blogger to a freelancer (sigh, aren’t we all?) to a realtor (real estate in cities is always big, big, big). Was there any character type you considered but then rejected? And if so, why? And please will you do a sequel? 

Mary: There were definitely more characters, and most didn’t make it into the book just due to timing! We were talking about a baby DJ, food cart vendor, a college student, a dispensary, and a bunch of others buried somewhere in our emails. 

Chelsea: Of course we’d love to do a sequel! One of the first characters created was “Cat Landlord” and we’d love to explore his weird life as a reality TV star/cat landlord in depth. 

The Internet going down is one of my biggest fears—and it actually impacts Digtown. I love my iphone, but I also hate the zombification of everyone staring at their phones, and I resent being bumped into 50 times a day by people on the city streets watching their phones rather than sidewalk traffic. Is there a happy Medium? 

Chelsea: I love that technology can keep us connected to people we may not see everyday, and access to things we may never have seen or known otherwise. (full disclosure: this book was largely shaped over a series of google docs) Of course, that also means we can forget to connect with people in front of us or accidentally find the new 2 girls, one cup vid but there definitely is a balance. We suggest airplane mode from time to time. 

Digtown is totally busy! It reminded me of the Richard Scary Busytown books that my son adored—and in comparing and contrasting the two books, you can see a huge difference in how we live, or how we aspire to live...can you talk about this please? 

Chelsea: We were definitely influenced by Richard Scarry’s Busytown and we nod to it a few times. A thing we wanted to address that most kid’s books gloss over is how boring the everyday can be despite being hyperconnected all the time (every character has a phone nearby). The mundane is absurd and hilarious when you pull back from it a little bit and ask what the hell are we even doing?

Jane Rosen dishes about NINE WOMEN, ONE DRESS, now out in paperback--and guess her shoe size!

I first met Jane in a car driving us to a book festival and we happily dished about little black dresses (okay, EVERYTHING in my wardrobe is black, except for the few daring white shirts I bought because summer can he High hell..). I liked Jane --and her book--so much, I wanted to spread the word.  She's a writer, screenwriter and also the author of The Thread. AND she's hysterically funny.  Thank you Jane! Now everyone go out and buy this book!

Natalie is a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl mooning over her lawyer ex-boyfriend who’s engaged to someone else after just two months. Felicia has been quietly in love with her boss for seventeen years and has one night to finally make the feeling mutual. Andie is a private detective who specializes in gathering evidence on cheating husbands—a skill she unfortunately learned from her own life—and lands a case that may restore her faith in true love. For these three women, as well as half a dozen others in sparkling supporting roles—a young model fresh from rural Alabama, a diva Hollywood star making her Broadway debut, an overachieving, unemployed Brown grad who starts faking a fabulous life on social media, to name just a few—everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season, the perfect little black number everyone wants to get their hands on …
What's obsessing you now and why?

I would love to say something deep and cerebral but I'm currently obsessing over black Coconut Ash ice-cream that contains detoxifying charcoal from a place called Morgenstern's in the East Village. Aside from being delicious I have convinced myself it's an ice cream cleanse. So when I finish off the pint in my freezer that is meant to be for my whole family I feel as if I'm doing my body good. 

So, do you have the perfect little black dress yourself?

I do. Well it was perfect before all of the ice-cream, now it spends more time on the back of my oldest daughter. It's a Fendi dress that I bought in Vegas with my husbands blackjack winnings. It was my 40th birthday and he was on an unusual streak and just kept throwing cash at me. I blew most of it on an ankle length silk dress with an open back, a long slit up the side and thin leather piping.  

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

My shoe size is an 8.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Remember the books that transformed you as you grew up? Ann Hood talks about MORNINGSTAR: Growing Up With Books, eating gourmet meals with her new husband, her obsession with Maggie O'Farrell, and more

I first met Ann Hood in an airport. Or, at least I think I did, and we've agreed that since it SOUNDS like something Ann would do, that I did. I was sitting in an airport reading when this flight attendant in gorgeous brown suede books stopped mid-stride to ask, "What are you reading?"

I've been with her at book fests, where she saved me with Emergen-C. We both dressed in Khakis and baseball caps for the Pulpwood Queens, and she's newly married to a wonderful cook/writer/knitter(!)

Ann is the author of  SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE, AN ITALIAN WIFE, THE BOOK THAT MATTERS MOST, THE KNITTING CIRCLE, THE OBITUARY WRITER, COMFORT, THE RED THREAD, PLACES TO STAY THE NIGHT, SOMETHING BLUE, and RUBY.  She's won two Pushcart Prizes, two Best American Food Writing Awards, Best American Spiritual Writing and Travel Writing Awards, and a Boston Public Library Literary Light Award. 

Comment here and you could win a copy of Ann's book, MORNINGSTAR: Growing Up With Books. It's incredible,a bout the books that change as, stay with us, transform us.

Ann, welcome, welcome. And thanks so much for being here.

Why do you think books from our childhood have such a huge impact on us even through adulthood? Is it because we are just forming our selves then?
I think it's a couple things. First of all it's the sheer joy of discovering the magic of reading. And then it is finding those books that seem to be about us, but either show the world to us and help explain it or that show us to the world in someway.

I grinned when I saw the Harrod Experiment, a book my older sister gave me when I was 15. I was totally stunned by it back then, but now it seems ridiculous.
It was  really tame--and stupid, too! Are there other books that did that for you? It was just considered so racy back then! There was another book, Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, about a high school girl who gets pregnant on prom night and the couple gets married. I remember in it she's making curtains and rubbing her belly and it seemed so racy and exotic to me. The main characters name is July, which I found the most interesting name in the world. This book is still in print! I should we read it and see what I think today.

I also loved you talking about Marjorie Morningstar, a novel I still love today (I love the film with Gene Kelly and Natalie Wood as well.) The fascinating thing was how so many modern women hated that Marjorie gave up her screen dreams to be a suburban housewife--but you could look at that novel another way--it's of its time, and the last scene belongs to--I forget his name--the writer who loves her. Also interesting was how the movie changed the ending so that Marjorie and the writer are together. Which proves my point, I guess--that books don't just transform us. We transform them by our own experience sand thinking. Care to talk about this?
As you can guess from the title, this was perhaps the biggest impact on me in high school. I sobbed when Marjorie gave up her dreams and move to the suburbs. I do think, looking back at it now, that perhaps it was a little sexism going on and Marjorie have to be punished for being a sexual person and having such grandiose dreams. And the punishment was maybe life in the suburbs? But I swear I cannot walk past a lilac bush without thinking of the scene in the chapter called a kiss under the lilacs. I also love this book because here I was when I read it, in a blue-collar Italian American immigrant family, Reading about an upper-middle-class Jewish girl in New York City, and I thought that book was about me. I swear to you it seems like Herman Wouk  looked into my soul.  And remarkably, I have reread that book many times and it still has the same impact on me. Which I guess speaks to your point. Who transformed whom?

How did you decide what books to discuss? I would be overwhelmed! Which ones did you miss that you wish you had talked about?
You know it was easier than you would think. They were so many books that I read and loved, from the outsiders to Valley of the dolls to the aforementioned Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones. Yet when I had to think about the ones that Most helped me become me, the person I am now, these came to me readily. But if I could have added more, I would've included books by Evan Hunter, in particular a book called Sons, and books by Fred Mustard Stewart, A little know – I think? – – writer who wrote a book called the Mephisto Waltz that I loved. And I would also add in there Edgar Allan Poe, whose dark vision really spoke to me.

What's obsessing you now and why?
I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but as you know I just got married last month, and I am really obsessed with my new husband. He's an incredible cook and we are having long delicious dinners with great wine. He also loves theater and so we have been going to every play that we possibly can. And! I taught him to knit! He just finished his first  dishrag.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?
I suppose what I'm reading now? Or maybe what I'm writing now? To the first, I am reading everything that Maggie O'Farrell has written. I am absolutely in love with her books. And I just finished a new YA a novel, called she loves you yeah yeah yeah, which as you can gas concerns another obsession of mine: the Beatles. 

Happy Pub Day to David Abrams who talks about his extraordinary new novel BRAVE DEEDS, being a soldier, and how a short story turned into an incredible book.

David Abrams' debut novel about the Iraq War, Fobbitt, was a New York Times Notable book of 2012 and a Best Book of 2012 by Paste, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Barnes and Noble.  Everyone knows his wonderful blog, The Quivering Pen. His newest masterpiece, BRAVE DEEDS, is published today, so go out and buy a few copies!
Plus, he's one of the nicest guys around.  I'm honored to have him here.
What was the why now moment that made you write this novel? And why do you think it took five years (says the writer who always takes four years...) Is this just the way you write, finding the story as you go along?
For starters, I still work a 9-to-5, 40-hours-per-week day job (like the large majority of my fellow authors) and so that cuts into creative time. I write when I can—small pockets of opportunity—trying to maintain a flow and continuity to the story. Most of my daily writing consists of note-taking and long handwritten passages in my journal, and then a crazed, brain-on-fire, all-fingers-flying marathon session on the laptop when I can afford a longer stretch of time.
Other factors I can blame for slowing Brave Deeds to a five-year crawl: blogging, my daughter’s wedding, travel, reading more and more books per year, a plot synopsis for a TV sitcom that never went anywhere, writing a play that never went anywhere (I’ve really got to start seeing things through to completion), jogging on the treadmill, and too many hours of bingeing on Netflix. In all fairness to Brave Deeds, I honestly thought a previously-written novel would be my “second book,” but I realized that manuscript needed a surgical facelift, so I set that aside after devoting a year or so to it.
In the meantime, I was making the first marks on a page for a short story that would eventually turn into Brave Deeds. That also might be part of the issue here, I was treating Brave Deeds as a short story, or more likely a novella, and not giving it my full attention. After separate lunches with my agent and my editor several years ago, I decided to get serious about Brave Deeds as a longer project. It was when I was writing my characters’ backstories that I really fell in love with this book. I loved these flawed, foolhardy soldiers and wanted to spend more time with them.  And so, 250 pages later, here we are.
You're such a critically acclaimed author, I wonder if each new book feels like the first? Or do you feel that you now have learned new lessons that you can apply to a new work?
Every blank page feels like the first time. I think to myself, “You have a wonderful opportunity here to tell a story. Don’t screw it up.” As I mentioned, Brave Deeds started out in life as a novella told in a fairly traditional way, but then I started narrating it in first-person plural (the collective “we” representing the Army squad as a whole) and that changed the whole tone of the novel. First-person plural was risky and exciting, and I plunged ahead, eager for the stylistic challenge. In the last year, I think my very best day came when my editor said he loved the “we” of the book.
What was your research like?
My research consisted of going to war in Iraq in 2005. That sounds flippant, but personal experience can be the best kind of research. An immersive experience (like combat, like childbirth, like losing your virginity) can provide the kind of sensory details that dry facts and figures on a piece of paper or a screen could never duplicate.

That being said, I should point out that, unlike Fobbit, the characters in my book have a very different war experience than I did when I deployed with the Army’s Third Infantry Regiment in 2005. My characters are infantry, I was a support soldier; they steal a Humvee, I never even drove a Humvee (at least not in Iraq); they walk through hostile territory, I only left the security and comfort of the Forward Operating Base once (and that was for a 20-minute ceremony near the Green Zone). I was out of my comfort zone writing Brave Deeds and it felt good. I needed to stretch and take risks.

As for the more traditional kind of research, I looked up information about weaponry, studied maps, and stared at lots and lots of pictures that showed daily life in Baghdad. But that’s about the extent of “research” for Brave Deeds.

What's obsessing you now and why?
I’m writing this on the eve of the publication of my second book, am about to embark on a tour to promote the novel at bookstores, and am writing essays and doing interviews like this one. I can’t imagine what kind of obsessions you’re talking about.
Eat. Sleep. Brave Deeds.
Eat. Sleep. Brave Deeds.
Eat. Sleep. Brave Deeds.
(Repeat as necessary)

What question didn't I ask that I should have?
What’s the best 2017 book you’ve read so far?
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler. It’s about Boy Scouts, bullies, bugles, war, mothers, fathers, sons, camp counselors, cruelty, longing, love, duty, honor, joy, disappointment, and about a thousand other things that make up life as we know it. It shook me to the core and even now, all these many months after turning the last page, it has stuck with me.