Friday, April 3, 2020

Deborah J. Cohan talks about WELCOME TO WHEREVER WE ARE for the Nothing is Cancelled Book Tour!






What my book meant to me as I was writing it:

Writing is a way to think clearly, to come to know what we know and what we feel. Writing the book helped me heal from the grief of abuse and the grief of caregiving. It's about breaking silences and coming to voice. It was a also a way to meditate on what home means and what we hold onto and what we let go of, how we remember others and how we're remembered. #memoirshealwritersandreaders


What my book means to me now:

The title feels like a slogan for our times! I had no idea when I gave the book this title how prophetic it would be! The book is about how we hold contradictory realities and what we do with that---in the case of the book, it's about love and abuse. In this current dark moment of our lives with this global pandemic, we are all trying to find some light that will vanquish the darkness. Creativity in the form of writing, as a way of making art, is one way to do this.

I want to shout out two authors in particular right now! One is Sue William Silverman whose new book How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences just came out, and the other is Rebecca Winn, author of One Hundred Daffodils: Finding Beauty, Grace, and Meaning When Things Fall Apart

And, the Indie stores I want to recognize are Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC, A Room of One's Own in Madison, WI, The Book Cellar in Chicago and Brookline Booksmith in Boston, MA!! 

So you have it, here's my contact info:

Facebook: Deborah J Cohan and also Deborah J Cohan Writing
Twitter: @CohanDebcohan

Elizabeth Kadetsky talks about THE MEMORY EATERS, ghosts, writing, more




I'm thrilled to host Elizabeth Kadestsky. She is author of the memoir First There Is a Mountain, the short story collection The Poison that Purifies You, and the novella On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World. A professor of creative writing at Penn State and nonfiction editor at the New England Review, she is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Program, MacDowell Colony, and Vermont Studio Center.

Thank you so much, Elizabeth!

One of the most moving sentences I’ve ever read is this: Ghosts live with us. I think they do, too. And I think it isn’t, as Hollywood would have you believe, the ghost who needs to move on to the light—it’s us. Can you talk about that, please?

That is very kind, thank you. I love your way of putting that—I hope to move on to the light some day. My book definitely proposes that our ancestors hover about the periphery like ghosts. They shape our actions, and we make unconscious decisions every day based on stories that have been passed down for decades: stories that we have never interrogated or consciously allowed into our worldviews. Stepping on to the light, for me, is recognizing the presence of my ancestors in my subconscious—good and bad—and then making conscious choices about the extent to which I allow their storylines to shape my reality. This can be true for many people. Shame, in particular, seems to get passed down unconsciously. I know that my mother was unfairly shamed as a child, and that her irrational shame infected me. Another very simple example of an unconscious ancestral narrative is that my Franco-American relatives can be fatalistic about the prevalence of alcoholism and addiction “in our genes.” Having read about genetic markers and the genetic markers for addiction specifically, I don’t believe that this is an inevitability at all. I refuse to give in to the idea that something so personal is fated and out of my control.

Ghosts also live with us in dreams, and perhaps it is through these dreams that one can take further steps toward conscious living. Dreams access that space where the dead and the living co-habit. My mother fully occupies my dream life. When she had Alzheimer’s and was still alive, I continually dreamed that a miracle cure had been discovered and she recovered. After she died I continually dreamed that she was still alive. The dream self, I guess, doesn’t adjust easily to bad news. Even eight years after her death, my mother still appears in my dreams, but there is a greater sense that she has moved “on to the light,” that she is no longer living. But perhaps this slow coming to terms is also a version of my own moving into the light. My ghostly dream mother is, perhaps, my spirit guide shepherding me toward greater reconciliation. Sadly, though, the same rationalism that denies me the salve of believing in an afterlife or reincarnation also insists that I sit with the reality that I am mortal and that life is evanescent. Perhaps the light that we, or I, must enter is the light that allows me to shed my fear of death after seeing my mother move through the ghostly affect of Alzheimer’s to actual death.

How did you decide to write your memoir as a memoir-in-essays? (I love this structure by the way?)

Thank you, again! I saw no way to tell my story in a linear manner. Whenever I wrote about what was happening in the present—my mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s and the many dramatic upheavals along the way—the past would insert itself. Probably, my mind did this as a means of coping. The past appeared in no particular order. The same would happen when I was writing about the past—reflections on the present moment ordered themselves more by topic than by timeline. The essay structure seemed the best way to allow an overlay of time, memory, and mental states. My story, after all, was about occupying liminal spaces. That slide between past and present that I was experiencing while writing the book reflected my mother’s Alzheimer’s-ish reality, almost a sleep walking. It also reflected my own nostalgic mind state, which cast an unreal patina onto events from the past, recalled simultaneously in starkly opposite, positive and negative, ways. I was also writing about drugs, my own experiences in the past and my sister’s tendency to bend the facts or refuse to stick to a hard and true sense of accountability when drugs were involved. My reaction to the latter was to perform the metaphorical throwing up of hands—I didn’t want to waste my time pursuing the truth when someone was artfully constructing false narratives. The book, in a sense, also refuses to impose a rigid sense of rationality. Locating a hard and fast truth when the markers are so elusive is too difficult, and it doesn’t always lead to greater insights or resolutions. 

 There is so much in this memoir about not just the need to forgive or forget or move on, at least, but to also remember. Part of your book deals with your mother’s Alzheimer’s and about reconstructing a past. I think a lot about how the brain doesn’t really differentiate between what really happened and what someone is hypnotized into believing happened, so that makes it seem as if our memories are indeed fluid. Would you agree? And how do think that helps us (or hinders us) in living our lives?

Memory is our own endless stream of fake news, isn’t it? I read somewhere that dysfunctional families create false mythologies in the same manner that cults do. The cult member accepts a tinged version of reality set forth by a charismatic leader. The isolation and interiority of the group ensures a lack of input from outside, such that the accepted truth is never challenged or subjected to outside corroboration. When a member does allow the entry of an external world view, that person is banished. In this way, group think perseveres.

My grandmother’s alcoholism created dysfunction in my family that rippled out through generations; with it came many false narratives. One was a false accusation against my mother that shaped my mother’s life thereafter, and subsequently shaped my own. Unspoken family secrets are the closest equivalent of group think. Since they are unspoken, they can never be challenged, and at a certain point many of the players forget what, exactly, they even were. All that is left behind is a residue of bad feeling, like that Victorian idea of the ghostly froth that seeped from the mouths of the living dead, the ectoplasm.

This residual memory of an unnamed transgression certainly happened with my mother. By the time she had Alzheimer’s, she had no recollection of the false accusation against her. I believe that through years of shame and denial she’d expunged it from conscious thought even by the time I was an adult, when I first began to sense that it existed. So, for me, unearthing the secret, and speaking it, was an important part of my refusal to forget. Once the accusation was spoken, anyone could see that it was ludicrous. By that point, my mother was in a state where memory and imagination were nearly the same thing, and in my family, I think, there was always that tendency to conflate the imagination with the real anyway. My mother told me the New York Times was “full of lies” when I brought it come as part of a high school English assignment. Choosing journalism as my first career was my next act of rebellion against this family mindset.

Nevertheless, I think that if someone can reconceive a painful history in such a way as to make it meaningful and to point a way forward and away from darkness, be it though nostalgia or recasting the story of one’s own life, by all means they—we—should.

Tell us about your writing process, rituals, planning or not planning, number of cups of coffee you have to have, and more.

I don’t sit down at the desk until at least a full paragraph has taken form in my mind: I’m a firm believer in that “eureka moment”—that one’s best ideas will come when one is in a relaxed and slightly distracted mind state. Nothing is worse for the imagination than staring down that blank page. If I’m lucky, the paragraph takes form when I’m in a position to record it into an audio note or jot it down, because that way, I can inscribe it in my memory. When I’m ready to create the actual written record, I often don’t go back to the original note—having recorded it is enough. Then, once I have a piece of writing started—be it something new or a chapter or scene from something in progress—I carry it around with me in multiple forms, and I more or less compulsively read and re read it, making edits in my head that, once again, I don’t always write down right away. I’ll often have a version on my phone as well as a printed version in my purse. I then become extremely annoying to all the people around me because I can’t think about anything else, and I will constantly pull out any one of the extant versions of the work in progress to keep adding to it and refining it. Once I have something started, I am working on it pretty much 24 hours a day, including in dreams, until it’s done.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I’m currently on a Fulbright grant to India pursuing a research topic that deals with memory in another form—about the uses and importance of objects from antiquity, and their ethical and unethical applications, for instance by museums. Being in India, my mind is often in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, a place where I spent a lot of time as a child and a nexus for the many wonderful books that I’ve been reading dealing with the art and antiquities trades. I’m not sure exactly what writing will come out of this journey, but I am very interested to spend some time at the Met when I return to see what comes to mind.


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

Something about posterity and publishing, perhaps? Now that I am finally publishing this book, I am thinking a lot about what it means to put it out in the world, especially since it exonerates my mother for something that I wish she could have forgiven herself for during her life. Publishing a book causes one to spend a lot of time hoping for it to get attention and comparing it to how much attention other books have received. So, I am trying to keep hold of the fact that the simple act of publishing this book accomplishes so much of what I initially hoped for, ending, as it were, a cycle of secrets and lies.




Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Joanna Hershon talks about her extraordinary new novel St. Ivo, writing, loss and so much more








 Joanna Hershon is the author of five novels: the extraordinary St. Ivo (Forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux), SwimmingThe Outside of AugustThe German Bride and A Dual Inheritance (Ballantine Books).  Her writing has appeared in (among other places) GrantaThe New York Times, One StoryThe Virginia Quarterly Review, the literary anthologies Brooklyn Was Mine and Freud’s Blind Spot, and was shortlisted for the 2007 O. Henry Prize Stories. She’s an adjunct assistant professor in the Creative Writing department at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, painter Derek Buckner, their twin sons and daughter.

 I also always think that writers are haunted into writing their books, looking for some answer. What was haunting you when you wrote St. Ivo?

The process of how this book came into being seems directly born from a haunting or at least the notion that writing fiction is inevitably about following one’s anxieties, even if (or especially because) the anxieties are unconscious. I had the basic opening for this book for years, during which time I thought I was going to write some kind of literary thriller involving a whole subculture about which I ended up writing exactly nothing. I did a fair amount of research and plotting and then I was…stuck. I couldn’t sort it out, couldn’t find the story. In the meantime, my domestic life was extremely full with raising twin boys and moving and renovating, and when our boys were 8 years old, I became pregnant again. I decided to put the writing project aside. I was too frustrated by my inability to find the story. Our daughter was born and I was happily focused on her, and when she was about six months old and I hadn’t written in months, I rejoined the wonderful Brooklyn Writers Space and forced myself to return to that same opening for the thriller, only now I would forget about plot, craft, structure—basically anything

I usually consider when beginning a project. I would write the way I used to in journals when I was a teenager. Those writing sessions were almost feverish. An image would pop up and I’d write into it and I’d let myself veer off into interrupting images that reminded me of Tarot cards. This probably sounds like it would have produced pages and pages of indulgent digressions, but, actually, very quickly, my imagistic threads began braiding themselves into a cohesive structure. And what I found was that I wasn’t writing a thriller but I was full of dread and also strange anticipation. I was writing a story of a mother who had lost her daughter to forces beyond her control. There I was, hoping to write past my own judgements about plot and structure and what I found was that I was haunted by the what-ifs of being a parent. I hadn’t consciously worried about any of the specific issues that I eventually came to write about, but fear is primal. And so, of course, is love.

So much about St. Ivo is about the choices we make, the families we create—or tear apart. And it’s a literary novel that also blends in suspense, which I loved. But the question that got me was about how we are able to move on from loss, and that perhaps the answer is we don’t. instead, we have to learn to live alongside it. Can you talk about this please?

You put that so eloquently! Learning to live alongside loss—it’s remarkable. The idea that one can go on with living after horrible things happen—the notion that the pleasures of life are still possible—this notion seems perverse in the face of grief, and it’s also weirdly thrilling, almost illicit. There’s this addictive and perhaps especially American story of linear experience in which we suffer and come through it; we not only learn but grow. This process can certainly be both true and inspiring, but it seems that the more realistic narrative is a layered one, a multi-faceted reality in which one can be simultaneously miserable and also taste something delicious, sad and anxious and also able to run and sweat and feel the strength of physical exertion. We can be depressed, able to charm strangers and enjoy the force of our own charm. The simultaneous experience of outer and inner life, how many inner lives can exist at once—this is where fiction can approach what it feels like to be alive.

I want to talk about the beauty of your language, which had me underlining passages. How does that come about as you are writing?

Oh Caroline—thank you. I mean… I have no idea. I will say that I consciously try to write while remaining connected to my body. Michael Cunningham was an important teacher for me when I was writing my first novel, Swimming. His ability to convey the importance of staying connected to our physical selves (in addition to his indelible contributions to literature) made a particular impact on the way I approach writing.

I loved that the story was unfolding in three days, especially hot ones—for some reason that gave it such an atmospheric charge! Can you talk a bit about your story world, and why you set it where you did, and how it furthered the story for you?

This novel began as two separate pieces. My original feverish beginning that I mentioned earlier turned into a short story called (confusingly!) Saint Ivo, which was eventually published in Granta. That story has a pretty similar beginning and ending as my St. Ivo novel but there’s nothing set during those three days, no weekend away. Before Granta accepted it, I couldn’t let the story go, and I kept thinking about it. Simultaneously, I was talking out a novel idea with my husband about a weekend set in an area where we’d once spent part of a summer. At some point I merged the two stories. The sense of place, the strange beauty of the location and the vague feeling of potential menace—it all took on a life of its own. And I do tend to love the construct of a weekend visit, how temporary domestic rhythms establish themselves so quickly over a limited period of time.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

To be honest, I’m a little obsessed with the idea of St. Ivo being released into the world. Though this is my fifth novel, I still find it amazing that my own invented, intimate story will (hopefully) be read by friends and strangers. That readers will have their own personal experiences with my story seems remarkable. No matter how slim a novel is--and this happens to be my slimmest by far—it’s a commitment to read a novel, and I’m honored when anyone commits to mine.

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

Your questions were just perfect. Thank you so much for your curiosity and for being such a true champion of writers.

Leslie Swartz talks about THE HECATOMB (she writes as J. Edward Neill), gives shout-outs to other books and indies, and more!










 My newest release is Elohim, book three in The Seventh Day Series. It introduces a few new characters that will be super important in future books and wraps up the Lilith storyline readers may have thought was over at the end of book one. Don’t worry, the last four books have all been plotted out. Unless something catastrophic happens in the next two years, they will all be written and all story lines will have satisfying endings. The series is above all else a story of a family. A family of human-born angels fighting to save the world from demons and monsters with the help of a vampire queen and witches, but still, a family. Sibling relationships, romantic relationships, and mental illness are all explored. It’s character-driven, dark, and funny.

The series was created when characters I’d had in my head since I was sixteen finally made sense. It seemed like I could never come up with a plot good enough for my MC. Twenty-one years of angelic, biblical, and mythological research and still, the story wouldn’t come to me. Then, one day I was bingeing a Netflix show and the actor that I’d decided was the only person good enough to play the non-existent part of my MC should it ever become a television series did something that felt too real. In that moment, I didn’t feel like I was watching the character he was playing. It felt like I’d witnessed him having a personal moment. It broke me. I cried for forty-five minutes like a baby and I decided that I HAD to get something written or he’d start winning Oscars and never agree to star in something based on a book a nobody like me had written. So, that day, I plotted out the first three books, wrote a few scenes and it snowballed from there. I had the inspiration, I just needed a little push to focus.

My favorite new book (new to me, anyway) is The Hecatomb by J. Edward Neill. It’s a collection of related short horror stories that I read in one four-hour session. I couldn’t put it down. The timeline feels cyclical; the reader doesn’t know which story came first. I’m still thinking about it months later. It’s so good. Super creepy and completely engrossing.

My favorite indie book store is Books On Sale on the South Side of Indianapolis. It’s tucked away in the Southern Plaza strip mall and looks very modest from the outside, but once you go in, it’s huge. They have a great selection of used books, things you can’t find anywhere else. Plus, the sales are amazing. They don’t have an online store as of yet, but if you’re in the Indianapolis area, I highly suggest you check them out.

Janelle Brown talks about Pretty Things and DOES A PSA for The Nothing is Cancelled Book Tour










 Want to hear and see NYT Bestselling author Janelle Brown talk about her amazing new novel PRETTY THINGS and shout-out other new books? Of course you do! Here is the link!

https://wdrv.it/5a0af3b7a

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Susan Gaines talks about ACCIDENTALS, for the Nothing is Cancelled Virtual book Tour, an arm of A MIGHTY BLAZE





When Gabriel’s mother suddenly decides to repatriate to her native Uruguay after thirty years in California, he takes a break from his uninspiring job to accompany her. Immersed in his squabbling family, birdwatching in the wetlands on their abandoned ranch, and falling in love with a local biologist, he makes discoveries that force him to contend with the environmental cataclysm of his turn-of-millennium present—even as he confronts the Cold War era ideologies and political violence that have shaped his family’s past. Accidentals is a multicultural novel of loss and discovery that challenges our notions of family and explores the ways that science, with all its uncertainties, illuminates the natural world and our future.

‘Gorgeous, smart, and surprising, this family saga takes us into the large world of nations and politics, but also the microscopic world of mud and microbes.  Tender and powerful. Also with birds!’ – Karen Joy Fowler

Accidentals sings with the vibrancy of the living world. It is a novel both erudite and emotionally compelling, suffused with science and natural history, and one which places Gaines firmly in the company of Richard Powers, Barbara Kingsolver, and Anthony Doerr.’ – Christian Kiefer, author of Phantoms and The Infinite Tides

Accidentals is an intimate family story with an astonishingly epic scope. Alive with history, politics, science, romance, and birds, it is as entertaining as it is intelligent, as beautiful as it is wise. Gabe’s evolution from a passive observer to the passionate creator of his own destiny is a life-changing experience not only for him, but for readers as well.’ – Jean Hegland, author of Still Time and Into the Forest

‘The personal is political: if anybody has ever wondered what this insight means then I recommend Accidentals as an enchanting path toward understanding. ... masterfully encompasses so many levels, from the biology of microbes to the chaos of politics and the mysteries of the human heart…. A novel that is, above all, about how seeing is an act of love..’ – Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex and Properties of Light

‘…the reader will walk away with an understanding of not only Uruguay’s repressive regimes, but also biomass, bird preservation, and more.” Kirkus Reviews

Accidentals is a love story set against a backdrop of family strife and secrets – a kind of Shakespearean tragedy freighted with Cold War politics, environmental urgency, and birds. …a spellbinding novel from a writer whom you may not (yet) know, but whose praises you’ll soon be singing.’ Four Corners Free Press

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Winston Perez talks about CONCERNING THE NATURE AND STRUCTURE OF CONCEPT for the Nothing is Cancelled Virtual Book Tour, which begat A MIGHTY BLAZE









Author Winston Perez works on Films, TV, technologies and businesses and is the founder of a discipline called Concept Modeling, which the NY Times once described as "the process of getting down to the bottom of things." Winston’s clients have included Warner Bros., NBC/Universal, Dreamworks, Relativity, Cineflix, Telepictures, and others.
His book, Concerning the Nature and Structure of Concept, is now a semi finalist in the BookLife Prize, which calls the book “engaging and stimulating…often enlightening.”  Deadline.com’s article on the book is entitled “If Bugs Bunny Met Immanuel Kant, It Would be in Winston Perez Book on ‘Concept.’”

In Winston’s own words:
But here is the rub. What is concept? For most people it is something we think we know—but do we? Really? That, and the daily rejection that comes with that, is what has followed me for decades: Could it be that something in our evolutionary history caused all of us confusion in our understanding of something so basic as the difference between “concept vs. idea.” Everyone has ideas, some live and breathe them, but do we know what ideas are themselves? What about concept? Did you know the dictionary definitions are way off? Yet everything is dependent on ideas vs. concept, how the abstract world works, and the nature of concept itself—thus my book and my 44+ year journey. 
This is what haunts me specifically: People don’t know what they don’t know. But is it worse that than that, because the thing they don’t know is the thing they are convinced they do know. What screenwriter, Hollywood executive, Silicon Techie, or successful innovator or scientist (even the best of them) doesn’t think they know ideas?

But prove it to yourself—take this test today but do it out loud: Ask someone you know what an idea is—their definition. Wait. Next, ask them this: So, what’s a concept then? Stand back and note his or her confusion. 

Amazingly, everything you read about in history (from Einstein to the Wright Brothers to Shakespeare to the Beatles), what you do professionally for a living, and every idea you have for a film, a business or a revolutionary technology are dependent on that difference. Your success depends on knowing the true nature of concept—yet no one was ever taught the difference between an idea and a concept. I call it the missing discipline.

Why does it matter? All great films. All great books. All great music. All great technologies. All great books have concept at their core.

But don't let it scare you. It is true, this is a discipline—a missing discipline—that I call concept modeling. But few things are more fun than learning about the concept that made the Beatles, Baseball, and even a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich great! 

A shout out to a great writer, Leslie Lehr, and Book Soup, a great independent book store in West Hollywood.
Let's rock this thing!


Winston
WInston Per

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lisa Gornick joins the Nothing is Cancelled Virtual Book Tour with this wonderful post about THE PEACOCK FEAST


Dear Caroline Fans—and aren’t we all?
The paperback of my 4th novel, THE PEACOCK FEAST, was published March 10th.


The book started with a question: What the hell is going on in this photograph?

 














You can read about THE PEACOCK FEAST HERE, and see the lovely praise from Christina Baker Kline, Rebecca Makkai, Joan Silber, and Meg Wolitzer.

As for my little paperback book tour, I made it as far as Emma Snyder’s wondrously creative The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, where I was interviewed by writer & reviewer extraordinaire Marion Winik, author of THE BIG BOOK OF THE DEAD, before I had to cancel all other events. Shout-outs to the bookstores and writers who had so generously prepared for my visits:

Kramerbooks in DC, where I was to be in conversation with Angie Kim, whose debut smash-hit MIRACLE CREEK comes out in paperback next month.

Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, where I was slated to be interviewed by Krista Bremer, author of a magnificent memoir, A TENDER STRUGGLE.

Charis Books & More in Atlanta, who were co-hosting with the Georgia Center for the Book my conversation with Susan Rebecca White, author of the fantastic WE ARE ALL GOOD PEOPLE HERE, also just out in paperback.
 
Parnassus Bookstore, owned by literary luminary Ann Patchett, where I was looking forward to being interviewed by Nashville’s book-maven, Jennifer Puryear, creator of BACON ON THE BOOKSHELF.

Thank you, dear Caroline—and wishing all a safe journey through the coming months…

Lisa


Susan Gaines ACCIDENTALS is now touring right on this BLOG!




 
 

Susan M. Gaines is known for melding science and natural history into literary fiction. Her 2001 novel Carbon Dreams was an early contribution to the genres now variously known as cli-fi, eco-fiction, and lab-lit or science in fiction. Her novel Accidentals takes on both environmental and political themes, and her non-fiction book Echoes of Life combines literary prose and narrative in a scientific account of discoveries in the earth sciences. Raised in California, Gaines has spent much of her adult life in South America, where Accidentals is set, and in Europe, where she is a founding director of the Fiction Meets Science program at the University of Bremen.

When Gabriel’s mother suddenly decides to repatriate to her native Uruguay after thirty years in California, he takes a break from his uninspiring job to accompany her. Immersed in his squabbling family, birdwatching in the wetlands on their abandoned ranch, and falling in love with a local biologist, he makes discoveries that force him to contend with the environmental cataclysm of his turn-of-millennium present—even as he confronts the Cold War era ideologies and political violence that have shaped his family’s past. Accidentals is a multicultural novel of loss and discovery that challenges our notions of family and explores the ways that science, with all its uncertainties, illuminates the natural world and our future.

‘Gorgeous, smart, and surprising, this family saga takes us into the large world of nations and politics, but also the microscopic world of mud and microbes.  Tender and powerful. Also with birds!’ – Karen Joy Fowler

Accidentals sings with the vibrancy of the living world. It is a novel both erudite and emotionally compelling, suffused with science and natural history, and one which places Gaines firmly in the company of Richard Powers, Barbara Kingsolver, and Anthony Doerr.’ – Christian Kiefer, author of Phantoms and The Infinite Tides

Accidentals is an intimate family story with an astonishingly epic scope. Alive with history, politics, science, romance, and birds, it is as entertaining as it is intelligent, as beautiful as it is wise. Gabe’s evolution from a passive observer to the passionate creator of his own destiny is a life-changing experience not only for him, but for readers as well.’ – Jean Hegland, author of Still Time and Into the Forest

‘The personal is political: if anybody has ever wondered what this insight means then I recommend Accidentals as an enchanting path toward understanding. ... masterfully encompasses so many levels, from the biology of microbes to the chaos of politics and the mysteries of the human heart…. A novel that is, above all, about how seeing is an act of love..’ – Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex and Properties of Light

‘…the reader will walk away with an understanding of not only Uruguay’s repressive regimes, but also biomass, bird preservation, and more.” Kirkus Reviews

Accidentals is a love story set against a backdrop of family strife and secrets – a kind of Shakespearean tragedy freighted with Cold War politics, environmental urgency, and birds. …a spellbinding novel from a writer whom you may not (yet) know, but whose praises you’ll soon be singing.’ Four Corners Free Press

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai witnessed the devastating Viet Nam War, and now writes about it in the racking-up-the-raves and astonishing THE MOUNTAINS SING





A Best Book of the Month/Season: The New York Times * The Washington Post * O, The Oprah MagazineReal Simple * Amazon PopSugar * Book Riot * Paperback Paris * She Reads We Are Bookish
Born into the Việt Nam War in 1973, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai grew up witnessing the war’s devastation and its aftermath. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. She is the author of eight books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction published in Vietnamese, and her writing has been translated and published in more than ten countries, most recently in Norton’s Inheriting the War anthology. She has been honored with many awards, including the Poetry of the Year 2010 Award from the Hà Nội Writers Association, as well as many grants and fellowships. Married to a European diplomat, Quế Mai is currently living in Jakarta with her two teenage children. For more information about Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, visit her at www.nguyenphanquemai.com.

I always believe that writers are somehow haunted into writing their books. What was haunting you?

The death of my grandmother. She was killed in the Great Hunger of 1945. She was tied to corn plants and was too weak to break away. My father knew the man who had murdered his mother, and told me that after the Great Hunger, that man moved away from our village. I never knew what happened to that man so I created the character Wicked Ghost in The Mountains Sing. I showed the reader how Wicked Ghost was punished for what he’d done. But in the end, Wicked Ghost was forgiven somehow. In other words, this novel was my way of searching for healing, for forgiveness, because being able to forgive is the greatest gift that one can give him or herself.

I was fascinated and horrified and heartbroken to read how what is often taught in school about Viet Nam is not the real experience. How difficult was it for you to share all that you know?

It took me seven years to bring this book to the finish line and I am still deep into it. I was born in a small village in the North of Vietnam, grew up in the South of Vietnam and my first trip out of Vietnam took place in 1992 when I was 19 years old. So I lived and breathed Vietnam and I still do. There was so much that I witnessed, so many stories that I heard, so many things which moved me therefore the most difficult decision was to decide what not to include in the book. The original manuscript purchased by my editor Betsy Gleick at Algonquin Books is much longer than the final length. I am very lucky that Betsy gave me the editorial vision and the courage to make my decisions regarding what to tell and what not to tell in The Mountains Sing.

The Mountains Sing is about Vietnamese history, which is a living history, witnessed by millions of people. There is no single version of this history because it is very complexed, personal, and emotional. In my position as a writer, despite my family’s experiences, I wanted to be objective. I wanted to present a version of history which as many people as possible can relate to. That’s why I interviewed hundreds of people for The Mountains Sing, I read countless books in Vietnamese and English. I learned so much by working on this novel and despite the challenges, I enjoyed every minute of it.

The challenge also comes from the fact that English is my second language and I only had the chance to learn it at 8th grade. Yet I wanted to write The Mountains Sing with a poetic language that embraces the Vietnamese culture and ways of expressions. I needed my Vietnamese-English dictionary quite a lot, but basically I wrote this novel with my Vietnamese instinct, with the ca dao songs that echo from deep inside of me.

You’ve previously written a poetry collection. What was it like to delve into a novel?

I’ve published eight books in Vietnamese language and The Secret of Hoa Sen (BOA Editions, 2014) is my collection of Vietnamese-English poetry, translated by myself together a poet I deeply admire – Bruce Weigl  (who is a Vietnam veteran and whose poetry collection Song of Napalm is stunning).

I think my love for poetry took its roots from the very first day of my existence in this world. The year was 1973, in the middle of the Vietnam War and things were extremely difficult. We did not have enough to eat, and my mother made up for the lack of food by nursing me with lullabies and ca dao songs. Essentially poems, these songs are passed down from one generation to the next, so you could say that poetry helped raise me and keep me alive.

Poetry is a part of my being and I could not help but sneak snippets of poetry into The Mountains Sing, either through the translation of Vietnamese poetry or via my own use of images in the expression.

What kind of writer are you? Do you map things out or does the story somehow find you?

I have always wanted to write a novel with a grandmother and a granddaughter in it. It’s because I never had a grandma and I wanted to have one who would tell me the history of our family. But I didn’t know how to start such a novel.

Then in 2012, while traveling to a self-defense class together with my husband and our Vietnamese friend, I asked the friend what it was like for him during the war. He told me about the bombings of Hanoi in 1972, when he was a young boy living with his grandma. Both of his parents were working in Russia and his grandma tried to protect him from the bombs. My friend’s bombing experiences were so horrific that years later, when he was a grown man traveling on a business trip, he got onto an airplane and as soon as the plane’s engine started, he started shaking. The airplane’s noise brought him immediately back to the terror of the American bombings. He shouted and screamed and had to get out of the airplane.

My friend’s story was so moving that when I came home that night, after cooking my kids dinner and putting them to bed, I sat down at my writing desk. I found real audio clips on the internet with urgent voices warning citizens against approaching American bombers. I listened to those audios and with tears running down my face, started to write a scene which would later become chapter 1 of The Mountains Sing.

So to answer your question: I did not know what would happen to Grandma Diệu Lan and Hương when I started The Mountains Sing. But I knew that I needed to write about Vietnamese history and the Vietnam War and place Vietnamese people in the center of it. Tens of thousands of book about the war are available in English and they are mostly about American people. I would like readers to hear stories from Vietnamese people, and from women and children in particular.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

How to stop wars with my writing. How to highlight the evil of wars and their devasting impact on individuals, families, societies, cultures… for generation to come. When I was growing up, witnessing how terrible the Vietnam War’s aftermath was, I was so sure that humans would not be stupid enough to wage another war. Now I know that I was naïve. I am sad to see wars taking place every day now somewhere on our planet. I see myself in a normal citizen of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan.... I feel for them. I think that if we don’t know how to stop spreading hatred and foster dialogues and understanding, the human race will kill ourselves off this earth someday.

With the above obsession, I have written my second novel, also about the Vietnam War but set mainly in the current time. It took me five years to research and write this novel and I also put all my effort into it. I have just sent the manuscript to my brilliant agent Julie Stevenson who is reading it. I can’t reveal the storyline yet but I am truly excited about this novel.

I hope The Mountains Sing illuminates my love and respect for nature. In the words of Grandma Diệu Lan, “whenever humans fail us, it is nature who can help save us.” But the sad reality is that the human race is destroying nature at an alarming rate. We cut down forests to erect commercial projects, we use too much plastic, we pollute and we consume. I wish to write a book one nature someday so that I can paint pictures about the breath-taking natural landscapes of Vietnam. And I hope my books will encourage international readers to visit my homeland: it is truly a beautiful and fascinating country.

Caroline, thank you so much, for spending your time reading The Mountains Sing and for your kind compliment about it. To have a New York Times Bestselling author read and excited about my novel is a real gift.




Sunday, March 15, 2020

PREORDER! Coming in May! Roxana Robinson talks about DAWSON'S FALL, her abolitionist family, her great-grandfather, a liberal who fought for the Confederacy, her fave book and indie bookstore, and more











 Roxana Robinson is the author of ten books - six novels, three collections of short stories, and the biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Four of these were chosen as New York Times Notable Books , two as New York Times Editors’ Choices.

Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Best American Short Stories, Tin House and elsewhere. Her work has been widely anthologized and broadcast on NPR. Her books have been published in England, France, Germany, Holland and Spain.


She is the recipient of many awards, the most recent the Barnes & Noble “Writers for Writers” Award, from Poets & Writers.






Her new novel DAWSON'S FALL is about her great-grandfather, a hero to her family, a liberal who fought for the Confederacy. How was this possible?


THANK YOU so much, Roxana, for all that you do.

What was haunting you so that you had to write this book?
One side of my family is from New England, where we were abolitionists. On the other side we had a small Southern branch. My great-grandfather, Frank Dawson, was considered a hero in our family, because of his progressive positions – he was the editor of the Charleston News and Courier after the Civil War. He was a liberal, who stood up for the rights of black freedmen – but he was an Englishman, who came to this country in order to fight for the Confederacy. He fought in it for five years, and by the end he was a captain in the cavalry. So how could he be a hero to our family? Who was this person, and how could I reconcile such deeply opposing beliefs? I needed to come to terms with who my family really was, and what their legacy was. As I wrote this book, I came to realize that it wasn’t about my family, it was about my country.


What other book out there do you want to shower with some love?
I am just beginning Hilary Mantel’s final book about Thomas Cromwell, The Mirror and the Light. What is so wonderful about her writing is the beauty of her sentences, and her knowing, urbane voice. The language seems both utterly authentic to the times and to today; the characters are utterly familiar to us, the details mesmerizingly real: Thomas Cromwell’s cook asks him to kill the eels that twine and intertwine in the bucket at his feet. Cromwell remembers that when he was a cook he let the eels stay alive until the pans on the stove were heated. Who would know that? Now we do.

What indie bookstore should everyone order from and celebrate?

My favorite indie bookstore is The Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue and 92nd Street in New York City. Once you set up an account with them you can order by email and they will send you the book, anywhere. It’s easier than A****n. And they are smart! And they know books! And they are nice! Here’s their email: cornerbook@aol.com


What book would you love to promote?

Rachel Cline, The Question Authority



Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Nothing is Cancelled Book Tour presents PRETTY THINGS by Janelle Brown









What was haunting you so that you had to write this book?
The old stone mansion in my book -- an ancient estate on the shores of Lake Tahoe called Stonehaven -- quietly literally haunted my dreams as I started writing Pretty Things. My novel is about a young con artist and her boyfriend who move in to the guest house of Stonehaven, with nefarious plans for the heiress who is living alone in her family estate. Things go sideways, as they often do in Gothic novels that take place in remote, run-down mansions. I love books like that – slow burning suspense novels where the walls are closing in, and you don’t know who to trust – and this one festered inside me until I got it down on paper.

What other book out there do you want to shower with some love?
Sara Sligar has a smart, character-based suspense novel coming out April 28, called Take Me Apart from FSG. She’s a debut novelist and believe me, you will be hearing more from her in the future. Pick it up!

What indie bookstore should everyone order from and celebrate?
Skylight is my local bookstore in Silverlake, and has my heart. https://www.skylightbooks.com
Vroman’s in Pasadena is a phenomenal institution and one of the best bookstores I’ve ever visited. https://www.vromansbookstore.com 


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Nothing is Cancelled Book Tour. Sue Williams Silverman talks about HOW TO SURVIVE DEATH AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES




A memoir-in-essays, How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences, was published March 1.
Many are haunted and obsessed by their own eventual deaths, but perhaps no one as much as Sue William Silverman. This thematically linked collection of essays charts Silverman’s attempt to confront her fears of that ultimate unknown. Her dread was fomented in part by a sexual assault, hidden for years, that led to an awareness that death and sex are in some ways inextricable, an everyday reality many women know too well.

THE BOOK I LOVE:
Strung Out
by Erin Khar.

MY FAVORITE INDIE BOOKSTORE:
And my favorite indie bookstore is The Bookman in Grand Haven, Michigan.


The Nothing is Cancelled Book Tour. Jennifer Rosner presents THE YELLOW BIRD SINGS





The Yellow Bird Sings came out on March 3; most of my events are being cancelled. The novel is about a Jewish mother and her five year old daughter, a musical prodigy, in hiding (together and apart) during WW2. It is about mother-daughter love, and the place of creativity and beauty in human survival.



BOOKS I LOVE:
 The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton.  


INDIE BOOKSTORE I LOVE:
One of my favorite Indie bookstores is Amherst Books - the owner, Nat Herold, is incredibly supportive of local authors.