Friday, June 28, 2013

Kate Christensen talks about Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, how being happy has changed her writing, why you can't tell the whole truth, and so much more

There are certain writers that other writers just adore. Not just for the writing said writer produces, but because of the heart, the humanity, the humor, the wonderfulness of the person. Yep. I'm talking about Kate Christensen. She's the acclaimed author of six novels, including THE EPICURE'S LAMENT, the PEN/Faulkner award-winning THE GREAT MAN, THE ASTRAL and her newest, BLUE PLATE SPECIAL: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY APPETITES, a wonderful memoir about food, fate, finding family and love, and writing. I can't tell you how thrilled and jazzed and honored I am to have Kate here. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kate.

Your memoir is so brave and so honest, so funny and so heartbreaking. Was it hard to go back to those times and look at them again? And did anything about those times surprise you now in hindsight?

It was both hard and not hard. The autobiographical material emerged almost involuntarily: I never intended to write a memoir, but I have always wanted to write about food, a lifelong passion. it turned out that my experiences with food are embedded in my life. For many years, I've been living so fully right where I am, I haven't thought much about the past at all. While I wrote the book, I felt as if I were opening boxes in my head that have been tightly shut for years and letting air into their contents and rummaging around, rearranging the contents and holding various items up to the light. 
It was refreshing, in that way, to allow my own past to surge through my head. I felt connected to it in a new way., as if I were describing my life as it happened, transcribing my memories. I was surprised both by how much I remembered and by the distance I feel now from it all. I wrote the book as I turned 50. Maybe I'm finally old enough, and happy enough, to be able to look back without flinching.
What was hard was dealing with the fact that I'm not writing fiction. Other people are involved -- my family, my ex-boyfriends and ex-husband, my friends, former teachers, neighbors, landlords, and bosses. I did my best to take my friend Rosie's advice: "The only person who should ever look like an asshole is you." I changed names, I sent the manuscript around to my loved ones to be vetted and corroborated and corrected and dealt with directly. It makes me very uneasy to have to appropriate others' experiences and identities for my own book; there was no way around the fact that writing about my life means writing about other people, but if I could have avoided it, I would have.

I found it fascinating that you dealt with food issues (overeating) and were unhappy with them the same way you were unhappy with your relationships--and then it all changed for the better. Love and food eventually saved you. Can you talk a bit about that?
I was very lonely and hungry and unbalanced for most of my life until about 4 years ago. This deep loneliness, a hunger for connection that caused me to feel out of control, is one of the primary forces that shaped my life after the age of 13 in ways I am not proud of, but which I finally understand. Food -- and alcohol -- and sex -- served many, many purposes for me:  either smugly ascetic self-denial or overindulgent consumption to fill emptiness, assuage homesickness and stress and depression, ward off feelings of frustration in my career and frustration as a girlfriend and wife. 

For the past 4 years, since I met and fell in love with Brendan, I've eaten solely for pleasure and nourishment. Also for the past 4 years, I haven't been lonely at all. There's a connection there. For me, everything comes down to this sense of being rooted, solidly connected, and loved.

I also loved your writing about your experiences as a writer, how long it took, how one book vanished because it came out during 9/11. Do you have any advice for would be writers now?
I am leery of giving advice. When I was a would-be writer, I gobbled up advice as if it could save me. I read "On Becoming a Novelist" five times. I treasured any nugget I gleaned from the writers I took workshops with in graduate school. I read dead, famous writers' journals and diaries, Virginia Woolf, Dawn Powell, in hopes of finding the key to it all. I thought there was a key. 
There is no key. And there is no shortcut. It's a bunch of hard work and perseverance, but it should be the greatest joy you know. There. Advice. 
I want to ask, do you think being so happy has changed your writing?
It's changed my writing in the sense that I can now write about my own life. I couldn't before. I don't know why this is. I don't know whether it's changed my fiction; I will find out when i write my next novel. If my personal, domestic happiness changes my fiction, I hope it allows me to go deeper and broader than ever before. I'd love to write something entirely new and wildly ambitious and risky, something that I can't technically write. I want to explode my brain. Maybe I have that luxury now. Unhappiness is a different motivator. My novels have always tended to be dark comedies. I was looking for something in writing them that I don't seem to need anymore. So we'll see. 
What’s obsessing you now and why?
My primary preoccupation these days seems to be the fact that the human race has destroyed our planet and many of our fellow living things. We're witnessing our irreversible destructiveness everywhere, all the time. My own culpability is inescapable. I'm human just like everyone else; collectively, we have done this, crass barbaric short-sighted limited apes that we are. 
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
I can't imagine that there's anything left to ask after I laid it all bare in my book! Thank you so much for reading it and for responding so warmly to it. It's terrifying to publish a life story. No autobiography can tell the whole story; it's a process of selective editing. But you can never tell the whole truth. And what fun would that be, anyway?

Lori Nelson Spielman talks about the LIfe List, being debut author, and so much more!

Thrilled to have debut author Lori Nelson Spielman (I'm partial to debut writers) on the blog today to talk about her novel, The Life List. Thank you, thank you, Lori!

CL:  How does it feel to be a debut author?
LNS: Exhilarating. Surreal. Thrilling. Fraudulent. Yes, most days I feel like I’ve duped everybody. Do all debut authors feel this way? Somehow I’ve been granted membership into an elite club where surely I don’t belong. I’m thrilled, don’t get me wrong. But after years of being on the outside looking in, it’s difficult to actually own the title “author”. Curt Vonnegut once said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” For now, I’m going to pretend I’m a writer.

CL: I read that the idea for your novel came from a life list you’d written at age 14. Can you tell us some of the things on your life list?
LNS: I wish I could say my list was comprised of noble pursuits and daring adventures. Truth is, most of my wishes were humble and conventional, like having babies and going to college and getting married. Like my protagonist, I wanted a horse and a dog (neither of which I have). And some goals were embarrassingly shallow, like Have lots of clothes. Apparently a nice wardrobe is key to a happy life. Who knew?

CL: Most people think of a bucket list when they see your title. Is there a difference between a life list and a bucket list?
LNS: I think of a life list as a blueprint for crafting your life. The goals are broader, farther-reaching and longer-term than those on a bucket list. In the book, Brett’s life list included things like having children and maintaining old friendships. A bucket list, on the other hand, is a list of one-time items that can be checked off in an instant, like a visit to the Grand Canyon or skydiving. But this is just my take on it. People seem to use the phrases interchangeably. And I recently heard about a third type of list, a list of all the things you once thought you wanted, but have decided aren’t worth the effort. The name of this list rhymes with “bucket”.

CL: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it, and does it influence your writing in any way, either by providing inspiration, material for characters or plot, or in any other way?
LNS: Like my protagonist, I work as a homebound teacher in an inner city school district. When students have long-term health issues, I gather their schoolwork and teach them in their homes or the hospital. It’s a privilege being invited into someone’s home, where I get to teach one-on-one and develop relationships with the families. It also gives me a glimpse into settings and family situations I wouldn’t normally be privy to, so yes, these experiences definitely helped create scenes that felt authentic to me. Though my characters were fictitious, I’ve had prickly students like Peter, who were out of school for disciplinary reasons, as well as homeless students like Sanquita. I even had one student who wanted me to keep her new baby.

CL: You delve into some cultural issues with your South Side Chicago scenes, using black dialect in some cases. How tricky was that to write? Do you expect to receive any pushback?
LNS: It was very tricky. I’m certainly not an expert on cultural issues, but I do feel my job has allowed me a unique perspective. It would be na├»ve and irresponsible to ignore the fact that social inequality still exists. Poverty rates and homelessness are highest among the black population. Black and Hispanic youth experience the highest rates of teen pregnancy. I feel it would have been more offensive if I’d sugarcoated these issues, created characters who spoke like prep school kids, suggesting that educational disparity doesn’t exist, or worse, portrayed the socioeconomically disadvantaged as a bunch of happy white folks living in nuclear families.

CL: Writing can be a lonely process. Do you have other writer friends, either where you live or online? 
LNS: One of the biggest perks of becoming a writer has been getting acquainted with other authors, both in person and online. I’ve met some great new friends—friends I imagine will be lifelong. It’s incredible how generous and supportive the writing community is. The same day my book sale was announced, I discovered Claire Cook was following me on Twitter. I’ll never forget it. The author of Must Love Dogs was following me. And Claire isn’t the only gracious author. You, Caroline, are one of the most generous, big-hearted people in the business.

CL: What’s obsessing you now, and why?
LNS: Ah, where to begin? The writing (or lack thereof) of my second book, of course. I’m obsessing about the guest blogs I need to write, the Facebook posts and Tweets I should be doing, and, I admit somewhat sheepishly, Goodreads and Amazon reviews. I’m also obsessing about my upcoming book events. What was I thinking? I’m terrified of public speaking. Happier current obsessions include the anticipation of Breaking Bad’s final season, moving to a new house, cracked pepper kettle chips, and Magic Eraser sponges (if you’re rolling your eyes, you haven’t tried them yet).   

CL: What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
LNS: You're too tactful to ask if I have advice for other "seasoned" would-be authors who are debating whether they should give it a shot, so I’ll tell you. I’m 52 years old, and although I desperately wanted my earlier work published, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to become an author. Along with more life experience, I’ve had a satisfying career, and now have the freedom to move in a new direction. It’s truly exhilarating. I strongly encourage anyone who has a story to tell and the desire to tell it, to give writing a shot, regardless of their age. As Isaac Asimov said, “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I’d type a little faster.”

Read an astonishing excerpt from David Samuel Levinson's thrilling new novel, Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence

One of the most extravagantly wonderful things about Algonquin Books is that all of the writers seem to really like one another. David Samuel Levinson  and I began swapping emails shortly after I read his dazzling new novel, Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, and we got to meet in person, too, on one unbearably sweltering day at the Algonquin Books party--and we became fast friends. David's also the author of Most of Us Are Here Against Our Will, and his new novel is deservedly racking up the raves. The Denver Post calls it, "A fast-paced page turner," Interview Magazine calls it "an intelligent psychological thriller," and Entertainment Weekly makes it one of it's Must Summer reads, and I, personally, nominate this novel as one of the best of the year. I want everyone to love it as much as I do, and I couldn't be more thrilled to provide an excerpt below. I dare you to read it and not want to read more. Thank you David (and thank you Algonquin Books for providing the excerpt.)

In Medias Res
We thought ourselves good people who lived good lives. Some of us had lived in the town for generations and had never considered leaving. Many of us, though, had relocated there from the city, in the process learning what it was like to desert the place we loved, longed for, and hated. Winslow wasn’t a big town and couldn’t offer the charms of Manhattan, nothing as remarkable as the rooftops at twilight or Central Park in the rain. While many of us had grown sick of the city’s neon signs and glass towers, many others of us put up photos to remind ourselves daily of what we missed. 
     No one came to Winslow looking for variety: we had one museum, the Finch; a community theater, the Vortex; and only a handful of restaurants, outstanding though they were. Two blocks long, Broad Street consisted of Page Turners, the local bookstore; Mayfair Cinema; Custard’s Last Stand; a barbershop; a launderette; and Einstein’s Video & Arcade. Not far from there — nothing was that far — was Breedlove Hardware; College Breads; Maddox Cafe; and Tint, the bar and restaurant connected to the historic Tweed & Twining Arms hotel. Then there was the heart of the town, Winslow College, giving reason to the place, the lure that had drawn many of us there, to teach and to study.
     Some who came were either running from combative or cheating spouses, while others were just running. Some ended up staying; others gave it six months or less before the moving trucks arrived and took them away. We saw the trucks and shook our heads. “You haven’t given it enough time,” we said. “One more day!” One more day, though, might become one more year, and those who fled already had grown tired of the things they’d initially come for, the quiet, the cordial hellos in the morning and the good-­evenings at night. Those who didn’t last wanted what we didn’t have and could never offer — invisibility. 
     I knew this only because, once, I had been one of them. I, too, had come there from the city but not to escape the barrage of sirens and chattering crowds — things I’d cherished, at least in memory. I came to Winslow out of love; I followed my heart.
     That was years ago now. For the first year, I hated our house and the town and my heart for luring me there. Yes, my life in the city might have been stressful and chaotic, but it had also been blessed. There was spontaneity, and there were friends and dancing and cocktail parties. I liked parties back then, when I was younger. It was an exciting time. I thought about myself as a writer, filled with promise. Promise, though, has a way of never happening, and much of what followed was painful, though not nearly as painful as this story I’m about to tell.
     “The action of any good story,” Wyatt used to say, “always begins in the middle.” 
     This story, my story, however, began long before the events in Winslow, before I met Antonia Lively. It began long before Henry Swallow moved to town. Although it’s my story, it began in 1968, set in motion by two brothers in a cabin in the woods. I didn’t know any of this until later, though. I didn’t know any of this until I’d read Antonia’s novel and gradually wove each individual story together — the brothers Linwood and Royal’s, Henry’s, Antonia’s, Wyatt’s, Catherine’s, mine — into this one, ours. 
     Wyatt also used to say there weren’t any fixed rules in writing. I know now, though, that you have to learn the rules first before you can break them. Learn about voice, plot, and point of view. Learn about imagery, setting, and character. Learn all of these things — then let the story dictate how it wants to be told, and never get in the way, because it’s not about you, the writer. It’s about the relationship between the story and the reader. Give the reader a good story, and he’ll forgive just about everything else.
      spent years reading through Henry’s criticism and Wyatt’s lectures, absorbing and learning these rules of theirs. This story is the result. If I am a writer, it is because I had no other choice. If I tell this story well, if it rings true, it’s because all of our voices that summer and, over time, became one. The reader, though, will be the judge. For now, this story’s as close to the truth as I can get, and that, I’m afraid, will simply have to do.

Copyright 2013 by David Samuel Levinson from Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, published by Algonquin Books.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Win a free copy of Is This Tomorrow and tweet and video chat with me

Every writer is anxious about reviews. I don't know one who isn't--and I probably could keep the Klonopin factories in business with my nerves. So I'm thrilled to announce that Random House's Everydayebooks has compared me to Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road! I'm also a Jewish Book Council BookClub Pick, a San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick (Editor's Choice), a May Indie Next Pick--and more. You can see the reviews at my website I think I have them memorized.

In other news, Please join me and Chatteworks for a special tweet chat, followed by a video chat, with a book giveaway of IS THIS TOMORROW. It's Tuesday, June 18th, from 8-9 and here are the details! 
Please come!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Julie Sarkissian talks about finding her fabulous Dear Lucy --gasp--given away

I think the thing I might love as much as Julie Sarkissian's new novel Dear Lucy, is this essay about it. And speaking of her novel, Joyce Carol Oates calls it "boldly lyrical."  Ron Rash says it's "startlingly original." And I say this novel, about a farm, a pregnant teenager and a vanished baby, "marks your heart."  Julie won the Francis Leon Page Award for creative writing and she's an instructor at the Sackett Street Writer's Workshop. Thank you so much, Julie for writing such a wonderful book--and such a wonderful essay for the blog.

In Good Company
By Julie Sarkissian

I buy a good deal of used books. I am lucky enough to live one block from a fantastic thrift store called Housing Works. Actually, I buy more than just books there; I credit Housing Works with providing a majority of my wardrobe and furniture. My finds are a constant source of jealousy among my friends. “You always find the best stuff there,” they tell me. And I do.
Especially books. I don’t know how the quality of the books at Housing Works is controlled, but the selection is well curated as the shelves of any indie bookstore, and as a novelist and unabashed book snob that is not praise I give freely. Along with bulking up my classics collection, I have discovered new contemporary favorites at Housing Works; books I had never heard of and now revere; “Mating,” by Normal Rush, “The Book of Ruth,” by Jane Alexander,” “Oranges are not the Only Fruit,” by Jeanette Winterson. Intimate, affordable and an endless source of inspiration, Housing Works is one of my favorite places in all of Brooklyn.
Until I saw my own recently published debut novel on its shelves. I was drawn to the cheery orange spine before I realized I was staring at my own book. Dear Lucy, by Julie Sarkissian. I went cold, then broke out in a full body flush. Someone had – gasp – given my book away. Someone had deemed Dear Lucy – my baby, my life’s work, the very essence of my existence – was not even worth re-gifting to a friend. I looked around to make sure nobody had seen the look on my face and immediately pegged me as an author whose book someone did not want to keep. I grabbed my book, rushed to the counter and didn’t wait for my change.
Then I got home and had to find a place to put my 51th copy of Dear Lucy. I have stacks of Dear Lucy on chairs, the floor, on my dresser. I have piles of Dear Lucy manuscripts in my basements. What good could come of bringing another copy of Dear Lucy in my tiny apartment? Here the most excitement that book would see would be when it was shuffled from a chair to the floor to make room for someone to sit. Maybe I wasn’t saving the book from being orphaned as much as getting in the way of its being adopted.
Like any author, I wanted my book to find readers. But to do that I had to accept the book’s journey into the hearts of appreciative readers would be paved with people that didn’t care for it, that actively disliked it, that would give it away – maybe even throw it away. There was no way I would be able to snatch the book back from people who didn’t like it, but I could hope that it might find its way to people that did. And where better for that to happen than Housing Works, a beloved place where I had discovered so many gems?
The next day I took the copy back to Housing Works. The price tag – two dollars – was still on the back. I slipped the book back on the shelf, in between Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson and Dubliners by James Joyce. Dear Lucy was in good company. Maybe here she could find a good reader as well.

Alan Corey talks about 4 Fun Writerly Things Found in his fab new Book: The Subversive Job Search

4 Fun Writerly Things found in “The Subversive Job Search”


       I first met Alan Corey when his first book, A Million Bucks By Thirty, was sent to me. What instantly snagged me was the irreverent tone, the whoppingly good advice, and the astonishing fact that Corey, at 22, managed to pull this off. (It took him six years, but still.) He's funny, smart, and a damn good writer, and I think I'd promote his grocery list. Thanks for being here, Alan!

\     Alan Corey’s new book “The Subversive Job Search” is not just creative advice for finding and furthering a career, it also has creative style.  Don't believe me? Take a gander at it from an author’s perspective.  

      Unique Dedication – The dedication of “The Subversive Job Search” at first glance seems simple, stating “This book is dedicated to you.”  But an aside on the following page requests the reader to not tell his sister Jill about the book, so that she doesn’t have a book dedicated to her. 

What looks like a simple joke at his sibling’s expense,  is also a call back to Corey’s first book “A Million Bucks by 30”, where he also “not-dedicates” the book to his sister.  She’s most likely the first person to have not one, but two, published books not dedicated to her. Corey single-handedly created his own material for gaining the upper hand in some sibling ribbing.

2.     Opening lineThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is an annual contest challenging writers to write the worst opening line for a novel. The namesake, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, is infamous for his long-winded opener: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Miffed that the contest is only limited fiction, Corey purposely wrote the worst opening sentence that he could in his latest non-fiction installment. (You’ll have to check out the book to read it.) Luckily the bad writing stops after line one.  Maybe now there will be a new contest for non-fiction writers trying to top Corey.

3.     Inventing Words – Corey calls out on occasion when we invents new words. For example, bosse, which he defines as a posse of bosses huddled in the workplace.  Like any creative author, Corey doesn’t let the dictionary limit his choice of words, whether it is inventing his own office place vernacular or coming up with tongue-tying curse words.

4.     Writing Constraints – The most writerly aspect of the book is that “The Subversive Job Search” is a lipogram. A lipogram is a piece of work that purposely avoids using certain characters, and his book does that by dancing around the letter z.  Not only is that harder than it sounds, but it’s also another nod to fiction-only works as his book is now the only non-fiction lipogram ever published. Corey has introduced his own challenges to writing to keeps things interesting not only to readers, but to himself. 
Although Alan Corey’s career guide has writerly aspects that authors may enjoy, it does not distract readers from the book. “The Subversive Job Search” stands alone as a great offering to job hunters and those looking to further their career and incomes. Many of the writerly items mentioned here would go unnoticed to most casual readers, which is the perfect way to make things fun for the eagle-eyed writer types.  The book is in stores now.

Marci Nault Talks about The Lake House, writing with your eyes closed, and so much more

I first met Marci Nault through her wonderful new novel The Lake House. Not only is she the founder of 101 Dreams Come True, a website dedicated to the power of dreaming, but she's also an electrifying speaker and a partner in  the online bridal boutique Elegant Bridal Designs. I'm honored to host Marci on the blog today. Many thanks, Marci!

Writing With My Eyes Closed – Creating Depth in Scenes and Characters

The world changes for me whenever I pick up my camera, feel the weight of my lens in my hand, and look through the viewfinder. Instead of seeing the big picture, I look for the tiny details: an angle that leads my eyes to beauty or even a rusted bike wheel that reminds me of childhood summers. Through my lens I find a world that calms me, forces feelings and creates memories.

It’s not so different from the way I write, but instead of looking outward to the world, I turn my vision inward. I close my eyes, find my setting or character and I search for the small details.
The first time I met my character, Victoria Rose, I was sitting in my living room terrified to write for fear that I wouldn’t be good enough. Then Victoria came to me – an older woman standing in her sunroom in the middle of the night with three candles lit. A battered sweater, tinged with the smell of mothballs, was wrapped around her shoulders. Patsy Cline played in the background and a spring breeze came off the lake and through her windows. Victoria swayed and pretended she danced with a little girl, her child, and I realized that the daughter was no longer with her in this world. Then I looked at the candles and knew that each flame was for a woman she’d lost.

Tears filled my eyes as I felt this woman’s heartache. I fell into the depth of loss and regret and how her soul screamed but had to continue to live. Victoria, at that moment, was as real as anyone I’d ever met, but somehow I felt closer to her than real life. I knew that she’d come home to Nagog, the tiny lakeside community in New England where she’d grown-up, because she needed its warmth, love, and a chance to remember happiness.

Each time I write a scene or a character, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and allow a world, not quite my own, to create pictures in my mind’s camera. I seek out the details: the smells, the sounds, how things feel, and the world that defines the character’s personality. Then I do the hardest thing; I allow the emotions to overtake me. I experience every moment of pain, happiness, laughter, and anger. My kittens have kissed away tears many times while I’m writing. Thank goodness I also write funny scenes or I might not get out of bed.

It’s through this empathy and quiet that I can make my characters and setting come to life, and when readers write to me and tell me that they want to move to Nagog Lake I know that every emotion was worth it.