Thursday, July 9, 2020

Two ways to win for two friends! Algonquin Giveaway for With or Without You! Plus, read an excerpt, Plus Praise, Plus a virtual tour!




 Want to win a copy of With or Without You for you and a friend? (You can have your very own bookclub, and I'll be more than happy to Zoom with you!)

There's two ways to win, too!


Twitter
#Giveaway: Retweet and tag a friend to enter for a chance to win copies of my new book WITH OR WITHOUT YOU for you and a friend before it goes on sale 8/4! Giveaway ends 10pm Eastern July 16, age 18+, U.S. only. Winners chosen at random. https://www.workman.com/products/with-or-without-you @algonquinbooks

Facebook
#Giveaway: Share and tag a friend to enter for a chance to win copies of my new book WITH OR WITHOUT YOU for you and a friend before it goes on sale 8/4! Giveaway ends 10pm Eastern July 16, age 18+, U.S. only. Winners chosen at random. https://www.workman.com/products/with-or-without-you @algonquinbooks


After almost twenty years together, Stella and Simon are starting to run into problems. An up-and-coming rock musician when they first met, Simon has been clinging to dreams of fame even as the possibility of it has grown dimmer, and now that his band might finally be on the brink again, he wants to go on the road, leaving Stella behind. But when she falls into a coma on the eve of his departure, he has to make a choice between stardom and his wife—and when she wakes a different person, with an incredible artistic talent of her own, the two of them must examine what it is that they really want.

Unapologetically honest and intimately written, With or Without You is a contemporary story of what happens to relationships as the people in them change, whether slowly or in one cataclysmic swoop.

SO....WANT TO READ AN EXCERPT? Click and meet Stella.


Want to read the Daily Beast Front Page essay, "I was ina Coma and No One Will Tell Me What Happened," that is the backstory for the novel?

Want to come see me on my virtual tour?
There are so many, many events, which means more time for you to snoop in my writing office and learn my deepest secrets!


PRAISE BE!

What a compelling read this book is. With or Without You asks the great question of what happens to a long-loving couple if one of them changes utterly.  This novel gives us high drama while keeping the fairest possible view of the messy lives of these characters.  Another triumph for Caroline Leavitt.”  
Joan Silber, National Book Critic Circle award winner, Improvement
"A wonderful novel about life as mess and disappointment, life as catastrophe and regret, but also life as transformation and resilience. Leavitt’s characters are great company, and watching them find a way forward in their suddenly altered worlds is a joy. Deeply engaging, tense but hopeful, and completely recommended – Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times Bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, Winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award
"Old secrets, healed wounds and surprising futures. One character's coma is only the first surprise in this satisfying story of middle-aged love" STARRED Kirkus Review.
"Packs an emotional wallop and this: Leavitt’s seamless writing easily carries readers through the compelling story. .Leavitt’s fans and readers of domestic drama will be thrilled.- Booklist
"Illuminating. This is a highly readable exploration of the fluid nature of relationships and redemptive power of self-reflection." Publishers' Weekly
 “A moving novel about twists of fate, the shifting terrain of love, and coming into your own. With tenderness and incisive insight, Leavitt spotlights a woman's unexpected journey towards her art.”
Madeline Miller, author of Circe, #1 New York Times Bestseller

"Old secrets, healed wounds and surprising futures. One character's coma is only the first surprise in this satisfying story of middle-aged love" STARRED Kirkus Review.
"Packs an emotional wallop and this: Leavitt’s seamless writing easily carries readers through the compelling story. .Leavitt’s fans and readers of domestic drama will be thrilled.- Booklist
"Illuminating. This is a highly readable exploration of the fluid nature of relationships and redemptive power of self-reflection." Publishers' Weekly
 “A moving novel about twists of fate, the shifting terrain of love, and coming into your own. With tenderness and incisive insight, Leavitt spotlights a woman's unexpected journey towards her art.”
Madeline Miller, author of Circe, #1 New York Times Bestseller

 "A quietly intimate story to get lost in. It's a moving story with characters you can't help but care for, especially Stella, who must builds a new life after her brush with death." AARP

"In With or Without You, Caroline Leavitt once again explores disaster's aftermath and its affect on the lives of ordinary people tethered by love and shared history.  What makes this novel so poignant, and also makes it feel so true, is that there is no going back.  There is only now, the newness of their altered realities and the courage to continue.”  
Helen Schulman, internationally bestselling author of This Beautiful Life and Come With Me

“After all of their lives are irrevocably altered by a single tragic incident, Stella, Simon, and Libby--the major characters in Caroline Leavitt’s compelling, deeply moving new novel--are forced to make complex choices between freedom and responsibility, love and loyalty. Leavitt depicts her characters without judgment, and by doing so compels readers to ask themselves what they might do in such difficult moments.” Ron Rash, Pen Faulkner finalist, New York Times Bestselling author of The Risen
“With or Without You is a compulsively readable novel of artistic ambition and the various betrayals lovers and friends both endure and inflict on each other. It also asks fascinating questions about the stability of the self and our capacity – perhaps even our secret desire? – to  reinvent ourselves. Caroline Leavitt is a born storyteller, and this is one knockout of a story.”  --- Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men 

“When I started reading Caroline Leavitt's gorgeously written page-turner, With or Without You, I felt like I were falling in love: flushed, fascinated, filled with hope, fear and joy. Leavitt's exploration of the many ways in which we change over the course of a lifetime—and how we keep or lose those we love throughout these mutations—is compassionate, profound and moving. Beyond being utterly captivated, I felt like I had grown wiser and more humane after reading this beautiful novel.”
Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of  Girl in Translation and Searching for Sylvie Lee
Not only does Caroline Leavitt write like an angel, in WITH OR WITHOUT YOU, she has come up with a plot that is both wildly original and which rings ancient bells about the the way life’s most awful surprises sometimes coming bearing the greatest of gifts. Stella, a nurse, wakes from a coma with extraordinary abilities that threaten her lover, Simon, a musician down on his luck. Pushed toward choices she never knew she had, Stella discovers that her most remarkable power may be the will to discover herself — and reading the newest from one of America’s great storytellers, you may discover the same thing.
Jacquelyn Mitchard author, THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN

“Caroline Leavitt's new novel With or Without You seduced me instantly and held my heart from the first page to the last. Like Elena Ferrante's raw and intimate explorations into human relationships this novel will make you laugh, cry, yell, and possibly more. At the heart of the story is the art of a woman's life, pulsing with beauty, desire, loss, never-ending change, and the grit it takes to keep going.” Lidia Yuknavitch, The Book of Joan
"This fresh, engaging, intimate tale of love and identity subverts the reader’s expectations again and again. Caroline Leavitt refuses to take one cliche’d turn. A complete original, an absolute delight."—Janet Fitch, The Revolution of Marina M., Chimes of a Lost Cathedral.
“Caroline Leavitt has accomplished in With or Without the hardest but most profound task of the novelist: she makes us not only understand but care about characters as flawed as ourselves.  Stella, Simon, and Libby straddle the ravine between hip urbanity and soulful vulnerability – each achieving a redemption that gives us hope that we might too.”
--Lisa Gornick, Author of The Peacock Feast and Louisa Meets Bear
"I was truly immersed from page one of With or Without You, Caroline Leavitt's new novel. It should be on the cover of the Indie Next List when it is published. Booksellers and book clubs are going to embrace this novel. Caroline has crafted the perfect storm of intriguing plot, beautiful prose, and characters with whom the reader forms an emotional connection. Having read her entire body of work, it came as no surprise that she has once again struck a literary gold mine. So often art is written about in terms of the artist's soul being transferred onto the canvas. Caroline did a remarkable job of making it truly believable that Stella was able to see into her subject's soul and bring it to life in the art. Sure to be popular with readers interested in art, music, medical drama, and all the book clubs looking for a meaty novel that will spur discussion. I will be recommending this novel to all my friends and look forward to hand selling it in the store.”
Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books






Monday, July 6, 2020

What if you could meet your younger self again? Edgar-award finalist Debra Jo Immergut talks about her stunner, YOU AGAIN, quantum physics, Buddhism, and the choices we make and don't make.



Portrait of the artist beaming about her NYT Editor's Choice novel!

Portrait of the artist as a young woman dreaming of her bestseller to come
























Debra Jo Immergut is an Edgar award finalist. She is the author of the novel The Captives, (June 2018), and Private Property, a short-story collection. She is a MacDowell and Michener fellow and has an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. A magazine editor and journalist, she has also taught writing in libraries, military bases, and prisons. Her work has been published in American Short Fiction, Narrative, and the Russian-language journal Foreign Literature.Find her on twitter and Instagram at @dimmergut.

AND FOR EVENTS YOU WON'T WANT TO MISS, SCROLL TO THE END!
 

   Debra Jo Immergut's latest novel YOU AGAIN is wracking up the raves--and it deserves every one of them. Just take a look:

 Debra Jo Immergut's stunning You Again…is dreamlike and immersive, like falling into someone else's alternative reality.
    The New York Times Book Review - Sarah Lyall

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
Selected as “A Novel to Read This Summer” by Good Morning America
Debra Jo Immergut’s stunning YOU AGAIN feels eerily relevant, perfect for this time of deep uncertainty and rapidly shifting news. It is dreamlike and immersive, like falling into someone else’s alternative reality. — New York Times Book Review
At once a mind-bending puzzle and a profound meditation on love, fate, ambition, and regret. — Kirkus Review (starred)
Immergut delivers a furious page-turner. Booklist

A swirling, propulsive novel of suspense …Ambitious and enthralling. James A. McLaughlin, author of 2019 Edgar Award winner Bearskin

So accomplished, so glorious—a complete original from page one. — Janet Fitch, author of The Revolution of Marina M. and Chimes of a Lost Cathedral 

Thank you so, so much for being here, Debra!


I always want to know what was haunting you when you started writing this novel?  And did you find the answers you expected?

The novel really did begin with a haunting!  I was pushing my son’s stroller through a NYC neighborhood I’d lived in at 22 and didn’t visit anymore. I found myself in front of my former building and it was so unchanged, I had this strange feeling that 20-something me would come walking out of the door any second. What would she say if she saw me? That question stayed with me. I loved my life as a mother and wife, but I had largely shelved my creative work--and I thought she might be disappointed by that. I felt compelled to write this novel so I could see what she might say, how I’d explain my life to her, and how we might come to terms. I fictionalized it all heavily, created the characters of Abigail Willard and young A, and those two showed me the way. Writing their story forced me to clarify my thinking about the struggle to construct a meaningful life. And we build it with so many disparate elements--work, love, family, home, self. How do we make it all come together?


Do you think that motherhood and marriage impede a creative life—as Abigail wonders?

Well, I’m a lousy juggler. Of course there have always been incredible writers who were also moms—Toni Morrison and Alice Munro, just to start with the major leaguers! But it wasn’t much talked about, how to manage it all. When my son was born,  it felt like a kind of isolating oddity, to be writing with a baby in your lap. Now I see so many women writing essays and posts about pursuing their creative ambitions with young kids around, putting that part of themselves front and center. This has everything to do with how women have gained in voice and power in the literary world, and it’s so heartening. But honestly, most of my struggles were rooted not in my family, but in myself. I had so much growing up to do.  And I think Abigail comes to the same conclusion, ultimately. It’s not her boys who are in the way. It’s her demons.

The idea of a woman being haunted by her younger self is so fascinating—because haven’t we all wondered what we would tell ourselves if we could? But also, as a quantum physics junky, I truly believe that there is no real time, that all things are happening at once, and we can manipulate that fabric. Can you talk about that please?

Well, I agree. A lot of my headspace is devoted to memory, daydreaming, visualizations of future events. Living in some other moment. Just this morning while I was cleaning house, I had the strongest sense of deja vu, that time was folding over. I love the work of Brian Greene, who is a Columbia physicist and a wonderful writer for non-scientists. There is actually some support for the idea of meeting one’s younger self. Ever since Einstein, it’s been theorized that everything is happening all at once. If this theory holds true, then the only thing preventing you from hanging out with Caroline of 1990 is your ability to actually see her.

I really want to talk about the writing strategy of writing a mystery, and how you know when things are too obvious or red herrings, and when you know you’re about to surprise everyone. Your plot is so full of twists and turns that I was breathless. How do you manage to do this and surprise yourself?

I’m so glad it surprised you. I’m constantly surprised by my characters’ tendency to stir up trouble. Plot, for me, needs to be rooted in a deep understanding of these people. The action then flows from shifts in their desires, the choices they make as they attempt to satisfy those desires, and choices they make when obstacles get in their way. A dramatic or rapid shift in desire, or an unforeseen consequence of a choice--these can result in a plot twist. Twists are about defying expectations—the characters’ or the readers’ or sometimes even the writer’s. But I really try to keep it rooted in the character’s personal journey. If I’m tempted to throw in a bit of action just because the plot’s getting slow, that’s when it starts to feel gimmicky and obvious. I think hard about this stuff, because while I love to play with genre elements, I have a real fear of falling into genre cliches.

What would you personally do if faced with your former self? And what is the nature of self? Are we fooling ourselves? Do we create our identities daily? How much control do we really have?

I would love to see her. I thought a lot about her, writing this book, and grew to really cherish that young woman and all of her many avoidable mistakes and misguided notions. I’d tell her to worry less and claim more space.. As for the question about identity, it’s so interesting that you should ask that. In the last year, I’ve been delving a bit into Buddhist psychology. I’m so intrigued by the notion of identity and self as meaningless, fluid, transient. Obviously, writing You Again, it’s all about deeply invested in the idea of self. But now I wonder if we can actually do away with that notion. Without a concept of “self,”  what would be left to us? Enlightenment, a Buddhist might say. I just enjoy pondering it all. I have no answers, that’s for sure.

We question our memories—that resonated for me, because there have been studies of implanted memories, so we can never really know what’s true, and even if it isn’t true, but we believe it, what we do about it?

You’re making me think of the Buddhists again! They might say that the only thing that’s truly, indisputably real is the present moment. Some of us are suffering at this moment, some are content, many of us are just sleepwalking through it. Everything else--not just our memories, but our fears, our loves, almost of all that occupies our minds--are the stories we tell ourselves. Vital stories--because we make choices and take action based on our understanding of them. But it makes sense to me that memories can be unreliable. They are experiences saved in story form on the great hard drive of our brains-- maybe our most basic creative work?

So much of this astonishing book is about choice. I especially focused on the “former.” Abigail, a former artist who is now a senior art director for a pharmaceutical company. Her husband who also is a “former” creative. It resonated for me big time, because while I was struggling to be a writer, I had to have a job job working for a company, and I somehow told myself when I had saved 500K I could quit. (Of course I never had that, and I quit anyway.) But the whole notion that sooner or later you have to “grow up” and if you haven’t made it yet, give up the struggle and do something “adult,” got under my skin. So in a way, would you say that this isn’t just about choice, but about what we CHOOSE to believe about ourselves?

Absolutely! From all the above, I think it’s clear that I’m fascinated by how we are controlled by our perceptions, beliefs, the stories we tell to ourselves. With age, we can look back on our choices and see how they were not necessarily made based on careful weighing of the facts. If that were the case, no one would ever fall in love! So yes, I used to think that being a grown-up meant listening to the “nos” I was getting from the publishing world and taking a “real job.” Of course, I needed the paycheck, so it was essential, as it is almost everyone. I didn’t have to internalize those rejections though. Now I understand “being a grown-up” as doing good and creating meaning, however and whenever I can. As long as I find writing a meaningful way to spend my remaining time on this earth, that’s reason enough to keep doing it, and I can figure out how to pay the bills too.


What, besides the terrifying state of our world, is obsessing you now?

I’m obsessed with trying not to be terrified, I think. We need calm and steady hearts and heads right now. So I’m searching for ways to get myself there, and to help others do the same, so we can finally win some of these crucial fights. Also, I’m very busy keeping the blight off my tomato plants. Every morning I pluck all the yellow leaves.

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

Who makes the best vanilla soft-serve cone in New England? I’ve done extensive research over many summers. DM me and I’ll share my findings.

EVENTS!

July 8, YOU AGAIN live virtual launch party sponsored by McNally Jackson Books, NYC—with Cheryl Pearl Sucher on Zoom. More info REGISTER HERE , 7 pm EST

July 14, “Mighty Mystery, Celebrity Edition” conversation with Megan Abbottlive on Facebooksponsored by a Mighty Blaze. 4 pm EST, at https://www.facebook.com/amightyblaze

July 15, YOU AGAIN and Us Again—Conversation with Kahane Cooperman, sponsored by Wachtung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ, live on Crowdcast at 8 pm, REGISTER HERE

Friday, June 19, 2020

READ THIS BOOK: A woman miraculously survives a midair plane explosion in The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell











“This is the kind of novel I like best . . . Great writing, great plotting, and a thoughtful plumbing of what makes us human.” —B. A. Shapiro, bestselling author of The Art Forger and The Collector’s Apprentice 

"A stunning debut, The Fallen Woman kept me riveted to the very last page. Without sacrificing an ounce of suspense, Farrell manages to ask the big questions about life and love. This is a novel that is perfect for book clubs.” — Thomas Christopher Greene author of The  Headmaster’s Wife

“A startling and suspenseful debut… Farrell keeps a firm grip on the story’s inherent tensions while also delving into the subtle and profound questions the incredible story provokes.”  —Crime Reads – June 1, 2020 – on 8 Novels You Must Read This Summer



If you are like me, every time you take a plane, you worry about a million things: What if the engine stops? What if the plane crashes? What if a flock of birds hits the engine? Maybe that's why I tend to love, love, love books about air flight, which made me especially delighted to get Richard Farrell's wondrous, highly praised debut, THE FALLING WOMAN. (Great title, too, right?) And Farrell is a former pilot and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy which makes this even more of a must-read.

I loved the book. It's the story of one person, a woman on her way to a Cancer retreat, who just might have survived a midair plane explosion. Dubbed "the Falling Woman," by the media, she's taken to a hospital, where she then vanishes.

But why? And where did she go? And what is it about her survival that has to be so secret? She may not want to be found but
Charlie Radford, an investigator, needs to find her.

Just so lyrically written--and the details about flight--well, fasten your seat belts.





Monday, June 15, 2020

READ THIS BOOK: Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework is a gorgeously written memoir about family, land and what we can do when we lose both.





Kendra Atleework grew up in what might be the driest corner of California, but when her mother died of a rare disease, and drought and wildfires began to ravage her home, she left the land she loved, not returning until years later to make sense of it all. A gorgeously written memoir about the family and the land we love and lose and sometimes, if we are really lucky, find something of treasure in its place.


Kendra was born and raised on the dry edge of California at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. She moved away for eleven years, mostly spent being homesick and researching the place she left behind—the product of which is Miracle Country. She serves on the board of the Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers and lives in her hometown of Bishop, California.  

So I'm not the only one raving about this stunner from Algonquin Books. Just take a look at this praise:
 

"[A] shimmering memoir . . . A bittersweet tribute to home and family in breathtaking prose that will appeal to lovers of memoirs and history, as well as anyone who enjoys beautifully crafted writing."
Library Journal, starred review

"[A] beautiful debut . . . Atleework’s remarkable prose renders the ordinary wondrous and firmly puts this overlooked region of California onto the map."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"[A] singular, sympathetic memoir of loss and belonging, set in a troubled state that still occupies so many people’s dreams."
Foreword Review, starred review

“Can a book be both radiant with light and shadowy as midnight? Miracle Country can. I felt the thrill I once knew reading Annie Dillard for the first time. Kendra Atleework can really write. She flies with burning wings."
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels

“Kendra Atleework has written the most beautiful book about California I ever have read.  The author locates the mystery and beauty of her life in the small town of Bishop, on the eastern slope of the Sierra, decades after Los Angeles has stolen the water.  Her poet's prose, on every page, honors the dry land and breathes Nature to life.”
—Richard Rodriguez, author of Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography

Miracle Country is truly some kind of miracle, combining a moving family story with deft, deeply researched history. Written from the crucible of California's water wars, combined with a family story of love and loss in the high desert Eastern Sierra Nevada, Kendra Atleework's book joins the great American accounts of the West, a step beyond Joan Didion, moving from a beloved geography into a jeopardized future.  Kendra Atleework is that rare writer—capable of heart-stopping memoir while performing a work of keen observation and serious history. A work of stunning acuity and candor, essential reading, already a classic narrative.”
Patricia Hampl, author of The Art of the Wasted Day
 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Love and Endurance on the eve of the Spanish-American War. Brilliant novelist Marisel Vera talks about her astonishing THE TASTE OF SUGAR



Marisel Vera does what the best writers do: she puts you into another world and then makes you see this world differently. Her just published novel THE TASTE OF SUGAR is a gorgeous, heartbreaking saga of a Puerto Rican family suffering under Spanish oppression on the eve of the Spanish-American War--and it is a stunner. She's the author of If I Bring You Roses and she won the Willow Review literary magazine’s fiction prize for two of her short stories in 2000 (The Liberation of Carmela Lopez) and 2003 (Shoes for Cuba).

 When I first started The Taste of Sugar, I was so entranced, I couldn't stop reading.  And I'm not the only one offering high praise.

"The novel’s deeply felt mixture of the characters’ sorrow and joy offers a vibrant glimpse of the history of Puerto Ricans in Hawaii." -Publisher's weekly


“Subtle yet arresting, The Taste of Sugar, is a gorgeous feat of storytelling.  Marisel Vera melds meticulous research with deep compassion and pure talent to fashion a novel that excavates the pain of the history while drawing hope from the buried stories of our nation.  This is historical fiction as its best, using the moral dilemmas of the past to decipher our present conflicts in order to light our way toward a more just future.” —Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage


“A majestic work with the grand sweep of history and the intimacy of a compelling dream. Marisel Vera has written a compassionate, unforgettable, richly detailed novel about colonialism in all its guises, offering us little-known stories from the past that are essential to understanding the present.”
Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban


“In The Taste of Sugar, Vera adds an important contribution to Puerto Rican literature by chronicling the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico, the San Ciriaco hurricane, and the mass migration to Hawaii. Throughout, Vera captures the “trabajo y tristeza” of the Puerto Rican people. Brava to Marisel Vera for telling our stories!”
Ivelisse Rodriguez, author of Love War Stories

I am thrilled to have Marisel here. Thank you so much, Marisel! 


What haunted you into writing The Taste of Sugar?
I was conducting research for If I Bring You Roses, my first novel, when I stumbled on the fact that over 5000 Puerto Ricans left the island to work in the Hawaiian sugar plantations. Worrying whether they’d been able to return to Puerto Rico and to the loved ones they had left behind haunted me. Even nowadays, unless you live on the West coast, it’s still a long journey to Hawai’i. Imagine making that journey in 1900. I was also haunted by how terrible the conditions in Puerto Rico must have been that these families were willing to work in, what to them might have seemed, the other side of the world. Some of the Puerto Ricans who made the journey came from coffee country up in Utuado. My great-grandfather was a coffee farmer in Utuado during this same period. One of his sons was my beloved maternal grandfather Vicente, who was also a farmer. I named my male protagonist after him. I like to set my characters in places where my family is from because as I discover details for my story, I also learn about how life must have been for my ancestors. What can be better than that? This is why my characters Valentina Sánchez and Vicente Vega have a small coffee farm in Utuado.

 Some of the circumstances that led to the exodus in 1900 could be traced to the colonization of Puerto Rico—first by Spain and then the United States. During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico and Spain surrendered the island as war booty. Puerto Rico was then under a U.S. military government that instituted many changes including devaluing the silver peso which raised the cost of living for an already poor people, and implementing new taxes, including import/export tariffs that cut off foreign markets for Puerto Rican products. Then, as now, Puerto Rico must import most of its food and now it cost twice as much.  As if this weren’t bad enough, in 1899, less than a year after Puerto Ricans became American colonial subjects, San Ciriaco, a fierce hurricane eerily similar to 2017’s Hurricane Maria, destroyed much of the island including coffee country where my protagonists live. Over three thousand Puerto Ricans lost their lives and thousands lost their livelihoods and went hungry.

In The Taste of Sugar you create complex little known worlds with many characters. How do you do this, why do you think it’s necessary, and how do you go about learning about these worlds?

That’s exactly the reason why I create these worlds in my work because they are worlds little known to most readers.  I hope that I can entice you to share my love of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans, and the Puerto Rican culture, and, if you already share it, to rejoice in reading about it. I am fascinated by Puerto Rican history because all that I learned as a student in Chicago’s public school system was that Puerto Rico was a “Commonwealth,” the term that the U.S. government used instead of Colony. My mother, who was an outstanding student in Puerto Rico, told me that all her schoolbooks were in English despite the fact that all her teachers were Puerto Ricans with little knowledge of English! The history in her schoolbooks was American history! As I was writing The Taste of Sugar, I would call Mami to share fascinating facts I learned about Puerto Rico. She was always so interested. I wish my mother were still alive so that I could share The Taste of Sugar with her.

Why did you decide to tell the story in two voices—both female and male?
Often, I find that the voices of women are secondary to that of men. I have personally found this to be very true in the Puerto Rican culture. I was taught by both my father and my mother to listen to men and to my elders; I could never contradict them. I was not permitted to speak until I was given permission to speak. (Yes, Caroline! This is true!) I think that is why I became a rebel and a feminist from a very early age. When I write, I stand up for that girl, the young Marisel, who was forced to stay quiet, eyes lowered to show respect. My women will fight the patriarchy. But I also want to write about Puerto Rican men, men like my father and grandfather. I want to tell their stories and how colonialism beat them down again and again, but they kept getting up and kept fighting.

What is your biggest challenge when you write?

Structure! I begin writing with a vague idea about what the book will be about. No characters, no plot.

Maybe because I began with poetry, I always start writing something new with paper and pen. I start thinking about who can best tell the story and, once I know her name, I hear her voice. Sometimes, an unnamed character will speak to me and I’ll write everything down, like in a trance. Eventually, I figure out who is talking. When I hold the pen in my hands, I can feel the words rushing down my arm to my fingers holding the pen. I’ll write pages or maybe even a chapter before I switch to my computer. My characters take me on their journeys. It’s a thrilling chaos!

What is your favorite thing about writing?
Rewriting! I write many drafts because I want to get every word exactly right, because I want the language to be as beautiful as I can make it. It’s also in rewriting that I truly get to know my characters and what my novel is about. In The Taste of Sugar, I learned something new about Valentina in my very last draft!

What are you obsessing about now?

It’s always something about Puerto Ricans. (I’m working on a play and a new novel.)

Is there a question I didn’t ask?
Did I want to write about San Ciriaco to make a connection to Hurricane Maria? No, because I began working on The Taste of Sugar in 2012, years before Hurricane Maria.

Thank you, Caroline, for hosting me on your blog!





Monday, June 8, 2020

New on the Nothing is Cancelled Virtual Book Tour: Ken Ludmer talks about SEARCHING FOR "IT" Fifty years of conversations iwth the Road Warrior Therapist.




 
I'm so pleased to host Ken Ludmer on the Nothing is Cancelled Virtual Book Tour here!

Originally after retiring, I wrote it because I wanted to find a forum to give back to young therapists about how to be a therapist, but then I thought I could widen it to anyone who needs a mentor. I certainly did. So I added my personal search for “it” which included my road adventures. I added stories from my vast experience as a street social worker, or when I directed psych Emergency services at a Medical Center. Or when I was an actor or a bartender in the Village. Surprisingly I found that I really did find “it”.
 It is bizarre to publish a book during the pandemic but our new world is virtual and that is how we will promote it. My first book “Insanity begins at home” had a Barnes and Noble signing. The good ol' days.
My new obsession is what we just learned from the pandemic in that when there was a 90% drop off in car, airplane, and truck travel, the planet started to heal immediately. Air was cleaner, people saw the Himalayas from their house for the first time, and ozone healing had begun. Now we cannot go back to the fossil fuel pollution “normal”. We all were just given an object lesson on proof that it can be better. Once there is a new government in Washington we can go full force on saving the planet as all the signs of bigger storms threaten us all.This needs to be an international worldwide effort. I am writing articles about it.
 To watch the Nothing is Cancelled video, click here!

Saturday, June 6, 2020

New on the Nothing is Cancelled Virtual Book Tour: Award-winning author Mary Morris talks about her extraordinary new memoir, ALL THE WAY TO THE TIGERS, why all tigers are "she," solo travel, writing, and so much more.







 Okay, so here is the story. Years ago I picked up this novel in a bookstore called The Waiting Room, by Mary Morris, and I became obsessed with it. It was so good that I was determined to somehow meet the writer and yes, I sort of stalked her, until fate had it that I had a reading with her husband, Larry, also a writer. A friendship was forged! 

All of her books are remarkable. Her first collection of stories, Vanishing Animals & Other Stories, was awarded the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters. Her novel The Jazz Palace was the winner for the 2016 Anisfield Wolf Award for Fiction. She's the author of T
he Lifeguard Stories, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling AloneWall to Wall: from Beijing to Berlin by Rail, and Angels & Aliens: A Journey West. Her five novels, include The Waiting RoomThe Night Sky and House Arrest, Her latest book,All the Way to the Tigers is a memoir about tigers, of course, exotic journeys., and going to India to find the tigers--and herself.

It's a book that is already wracking up the raves, too:

 "The interesting question Morris asks of her own adventurous and courageous life — “How do we walk a thin line between sane and savage, between wild and tame?” — is the beating heart of this book." The New York Times

 Fact: Mary Morris is the best travel writer alive. I am humbled by her skill at using the bones of a journey to get to the heart of herself. She’s a master of the craft.”
—Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of A Spark of Light and Small Great Things


“Mary Morris has long been a master memoirist, and All the Way to the Tigers is among her finest works. Brave, layered, complex, and deeply human.”

—Dani Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of Inheritance and Hourglass


“Mary Morris so seamlessly combines her interior and exterior experiences, the effect is simply magical, the work of a virtuoso. The journey inside the author’s own mind is every bit as captivating as the trip itself. I’d follow her anywhere.”

—Robert Kolker, New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road

Thank you so much, Mary!



What is it about tigers that we all find so fascinating?

That’s such a basic question and yet it’s not that easy to answer.  But tigers have been a source of fascination to people for centuries.  They are actually the most popular animal in the world – ahead of dogs.  Think about the crazy popularity of Netflix’ “The Tiger King.”  I can’t imagine that show would have had as much popularity if it had been called, say, “The Giraffe King.”

I’m sure that part of the fascination is what William Blake referred to in his most famous poem, and most anthologized poem in the English language, “The Tyger.”  Blake, the poet, recognized “thy fearful symmetry” that is their beauty.  They are beautiful creatures.  They are also solitary apex predators.  There is no flock or herd of tigers.  They hunt and kill by stealth.  Think of that short story, “The Lady and the Tiger.”  There are two doors.  One that offers your heart’s desire.  The other that offers your worst nightmare.  We are drawn to tigers for their beauty and by their danger, for their solitude and their stealth.  They’re a little like artists, aren’t they?

What’s so interesting about your memoir is that while you are exploring tigers, you are also exploring yourself. What didn’t you expect to find out about each that you did?

When I began my journey, the goal was to literally find a tiger.  But what happened became much more profound.  When I learned, for example, that all unseen tigers in the jungle are referred to as “she” as in “she’s out there,” that really struck me.  And when I learned that you don’t look for tigers; you look for signs of tigers.  Again these seem to be metaphors for what it means to be a woman and a writer.  I guess I didn’t expect to identify with them as I have. 

What was your research like? What surprised you the most? And what did you have to leave out that you wished you could keep? 

Well, first before I went on a physical journey, I read everything I could about tigers.  A book that really impacted me is called THE TIGER by John Valliant.  It’s about an Amur tiger in Siberia that actually bears a grudge against a specific person and seeks revenge.  Incredible book.  I think what surprised me the most is how deeply rooted our fascination is with tigers.  For example the blaze that appears on every tiger’s head is the same as the Chinese character for emperor.  Honestly so much surprised and fascinated me.  In terms of what I wished I could have kept, I had a lot more writing about India in the book – in particular my trip to Varanasi but my editor felt it took away from the search for tigers.  You have to pick your battles as they say and in this case I agreed to let the material go.  I think it was the right call for the book, but I do wish it could have stayed.

I loved the whole elegant structure of the book, and it truly is hypnotic in form. What was it like mapping it out, or did it come to your organically?

Ha, well, the original draft which I finished in 2013 was four hundred pages long and included all that India material and stuff about other trips including Morocco and it was a big sprawling mess, quite frankly. A lot of editors turned it down and I put it away for a while.  Then my friend, Dani Shapiro, read it and told me the only thing that mattered was me, tigers, and my personal narrative so I literally got rid of hundreds of pages.  But that’s not new for me.  I tend to render my material like soup.  At some point I decided that I wanted the book to somehow resemble a tiger so (and this might sound crazy) I began to think of those sentence long chapters as stripes and I needed to have an even number (112) because a tiger is like a Rorschach test – a mirror image of itself.  I revised it and shrank it down to the length it is now – though it sat in a drawer for almost two years.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever publish it, but then I was late on a book I had to deliver and my editor, Nan Talese, said, “Oh dear” because that left a hole in her schedule and then I said, “well I do have that tiger book…”  So the short answer:  Is it organic if it takes seven years?  Well, maybe.  It did in the end feel that this was the right way to tell this story.

So much of your work is about what it is like to be a woman traveling alone. Was there ever a moment when you felt unmoored, as if you couldn’t do this? And why do you think it might be important for every person to travel alone, at least once?

I feel unmoored all the time and yes there were definitely moments when I felt as if I couldn’t do this.  As you know from the book, I had a terrible accident that I hadn’t fully recovered from when I went to India and also I was very sick the whole time I was there with what appears to have been bronchitis.  It is tough being on the road alone.  But what did someone say was the definition of courage?  Being afraid but doing it anyway. 

Paul Theroux once said that the only real travel is solo travel.  I don’t know if I entirely believe this, but there is something about being with yourself, alone on the road, having your wits about you, but at the same time, as Indiana Jones said, not being afraid to make it up as you go along.  Being alone on the road brings us face to face with our fears about our own aloneness but it also puts us in touch with our courage and the natural reserves we perhaps didn’t even know we had.

If I may share an example from another journey – in 1986 I travel alone from Beijing to Berlin by rail.  It became a book called WALL TO WALL.  As the train was crossing from Inner Mongolia into Siberia, we had a stop and a Soviet border guard came into my compartment.  He was young and strong and I was terrified.  I gave him a package of cigarettes that he was eyeing, but he was also looking at my Walkman.  I happened to have a tape of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto and I put it into the Walkman and put the headphones on him.  When I turned on the music, he closed his eyes and swayed.  Then I popped the cassette out and tucked it into his breast pocket and he left peacefully.  I took a chance and it worked.  Moments like that don’t happen if you’re on an organized tour.

What, beside the virus and politics, is obsessing you now and why? And what is it like for you having a book come out in the midst of all this chaos?

Well, I am totally obsessed with the current crises we are all facing.  I can’t stop listening and watching the news.  It’s also not ideal, having a book coming out right now, but on the other hand so many people such as yourself, Caroline, A Mighty Blaze, bookstores, marketing people have stepped up to the plate to make the most of this very difficult moment.  Right now what is obsessing me is that I’m about to have my first grandchild in two months and I want the world to be a safer, better place.  We all have a lot of work to do.  That’s what’s obsessing me at the moment.

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

Part of the tiger book is about the fact that I had a devastating accident in 2008 that left me housebound for three months.  My doctor wasn’t sure if I’d walk again.  I think the question I’d like to answer here is what did I learn from that time of being housebound that has perhaps informed this present moment we are living in.  Truthfully when I had my accident in 2008 I sank into such a dark hole.  I had no idea how I would move forward both literally and physically.  It was difficult and it took about a year, but I did move forward and I walked again and really I’m fine.  The lessons I learned about being housebound in 2008 have served me well in our current state of lockdown.  Here is what I try to do every day.  I try to be productive.  I try to do something for my body, my mind, and for someone else.  I begin every morning by making a list – what do I have to do today, what do I want to do today, what can I do to make someone else’s life better.  And honestly in some ways I’ve never been busier or, dare I say it, happier.  I am grateful for every day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

For the NOTHING IS CANCELLED BOOK TOUR: THE book we ALL need now: NYT reporter Jennifer Steinhauer talks about THE FIRSTS: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE WOMEN RESHAPING CONGRESS




I am so totally honored to host Jennifer Elizabeth Steinhauer on the blog with her amazingly important book: THE FIRSTS: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE WOMEN RESHAPING CONGRESS. Jennifer is an American reporter for The New York Times who has covered the United States Congress since February 2010. She joined The Times in 1989 in New York where she was City Hall Bureau Chief and later moved to Los Angeles where she was the Los Angeles Bureau Chief.

Thank you for this fascinating video, Jennifer!




Saturday, May 16, 2020

Aimee Liu talks about GLORIOUS BOY, the excruciating process of writing, creating a memorable silent character, her shapeshifter dad, and so much more




Aimee Liu is the bestselling author of FACE, CLOUD MOUNTAIN, FLASH HOUSE, and her newest, GLORIOUS BOY.

And the raves for GLORIOUS BOY are racking up! Just look at these:  
“The most memorable and original novel I've read in ages.” - Pico Iyer
  • “For readers who are unafraid to be swept away” -  STARRED review in Booklist
  • “Riveting… a fascinating, irresistible marvel.” - STARRED review, Library Journal

    Thank you so much for being here, Aimee!
 
I always think that authors are haunted into writing their books. What was it about this time period (of course it is absolutely fascinating), that haunted you into writing this book?

When I first started writing this story it was set in the 1980s on an unnamed island that was very loosely based on the Andamans but otherwise imaginary. An anthropologist I know had told me about the Andamans – the 60,000-year-old tribes and primeval forests and isolated British colonial outpost, Port Blair, which began as a penal colony for Indian rebels in the mid-1800s -- but it wasn’t easy to get much information, since this archipelago was off limits to westerners until the end of the 1990s.

So I made up my vision of the island around the dream that provided the seed for my plot. In that dream, a young local girl who takes care of a little American boy hides with him as his parents are evacuated from their tropical home during a rebel uprising. Her reasons for hiding him involve a mixture of love, jealousy, and fear of abandonment, and the child is easy to hide because he’s mute and trusts the girl completely. Only when she knows his parents have fled does she lead him out of their hiding place, but when she hears the screaming sirens and reaches the emptied house, she suddenly realizes what she has done – and what danger they face.

The combination of that dream and the mystery of the Andamans is what haunted me into writing Glorious Boy… but my imagination kept hitting a wall until my husband and I finally visited these islands in 2010. One of the first things you notice there are all the blood red beach bunkers remaining from the Japanese occupation during WWII. I learned that a handful of British were left in Port Blair after the Japanese invasion, and some were executed on trumped up charges. I also learned about British spy missions back to the islands during the war -- and the extraordinary role that the indigenous tribes played in aiding the British.

I immediately shifted my dream plot back four decades and started the whole book over with layers and layers and layers of new meaning. It took a very long time to get to a final draft, but I never hit another wall.

I’m always interested in structure and I loved the way you moved back and forth in time, and into different points of view. How do you plan your books? Do they emerge organically? Or did you know this was what you wanted all the time?

Ha! This book had soooo many different structures along the way! At one point I charted it as a spiral. At another, it all laid out chronologically. I tried to start at the end and work backward, like a mystery, but that forced me to give too much away.  I kept thinking of the old adage, “Start on the day when everything changes.” The trouble with that is that there are 2 critical days when everything changes.  The most dramatic is the day of the evacuation when the three protagonists – the family -- are all separated. The other is the day much earlier when Claire and Shep, little Ty’s parents, decide impulsively to marry and head off for the Andamans together.

I decided to lead with the moment of separation that launches the plot’s suspense. But the setting and emotional situation are so complex and foreign to my readers that I had to travel back in time after setting the plot wheels in motion. I had to slow down to set things up and bring readers into this strange and extraordinary world, and also to lay the groundwork for the main characters to be able to take action as they later do.

My primary model for this structure was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which also opens with a violent family separation, then backtracks in time before catching up with itself and moving forward.

You’ve written numerous amazing books. Do you find that the process changes with each book?

The process is always excruciating for me. In that sense it never changes. Otherwise, each book is entirely different, depending largely on the original inspiration.

My second novel, Cloud Mountain, was the biggest and the fastest, in part because I’d “practiced” part of the story in my first novel, Face, which also taught me how to write a novel. Also, Cloud Mountain was very closely based on the true story of my grandparents’ interracial marriage and the historical circumstances around them in America and China during the early 1900s. I’d spent a decade collecting that research and testing it in Face. I also found that Wallace Stegner’s novel Angle of Repose gave me a structural model, much as The Goldfinch did for Glorious Boy. So I felt as if I knew what I was doing.

The others are all much purer fiction, leaning a lot on research and some source characters but demanding much more of my imagination for plot. My imagination is extremely unreliable! I often feel as if I’m crawling through the story on my hands and knees in the dark, just praying I’ll find my way out.

Ty, the young silent boy, is one of the most unusual and unforgettable characters. Can you talk about your decision to make him silent?

Ty was silent in my origin dream, but I didn’t know why or how. Then, in much the same way that I “found” the macro plot in the WWII history of the Andamans, I found Ty’s true character in a book called The Einstein Syndrome, which describes late-talking children who, like Einstein and many other physicists and musicians, are a frightening mystery to their parents when little but grow up to be brilliant thinkers and artists. Then, to my astonishment, I realized that I actually have a child like this in my extended family, which helped me to feel my way through the challenges these kids present to their parents. It wasn’t difficult to imagine just how frustrating it must have been to raise such a child in the 1930s, when no one knew or spoke about such nuances in child development. The guilt and fear and impatience would have been overwhelming for any caring parent. Even more than in a typical parent-child relationship, the bond would depend on close emotional attunement.

In Glorious Boy a great many of the conflicts in the story flow from the glitches in attunement between Claire and little Ty – and from the much stronger organic attunement that he shares with Naila, the young girl who intuitively understands his silent language.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I’ve been working on and off for several years on a memoir about my father. What haunts me about that story is his deathbed request for a mysterious box, which he said contained millions of dollars. Suffice it to say that, when I found the box that fit his description shortly after his death, it contained not money but photographs. And in the search that he requested, I also found countless documents, letters, and artifacts about relationships I’d never heard of, including family members my father had never mentioned. I’m still making sense of all this, and of my father’s genuinely inscrutable personality, which was reflected in his brief Hollywood career as a “Eurasian” actor playing everything from houseboys and Number One Sons to spies and diplomats in the 1930s. Like many mixed-race immigrants of his era, he was a shapeshifter who never let anyone into his inner world – perhaps not even himself. And yet I always felt deeply connected to him, without really understanding how or why. And he tapped me to find the box.  So that’s what I’m working on.

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

Q/Did I write Glorious Boy with the expectation that it would be published on the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII?

A/ No, I most certainly did not! I probably would have been thrilled if that idea had crossed my mind. And quite possibly, that thrill would be misplaced. At least one bookseller has warned me that the shelves will be flooded with WWII novels this year.
Ah well. All I can say is that my book is far from your typical war novel, and it will introduce you to an unforgettable place and time -- and I hope an equally unforgettable cast of characters.