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.