Thursday, July 30, 2020

On the nothing is Cancelled Virtual Video Tour, Kate McQuade talks about her extraordinary collection of stories: Tell Me Who We Were

I'm thrilled to host Kate McQuade here to talk about her collection of stories: Tell Me Who We Were. And I'm not the only one raving about this collection:

"These are stories of magical lyricism, contemporary in their exploration of the obsessions of girls and young women, mythic in their scope and mystery. Remarkable." -- Joyce Carol Oates

Kate McQuade is the author of the story collection Tell Me Who We Were (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2019) and the novel Two Harbors (Harcourt, 2005). Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Harvard Review, Memorious, Shenandoah, and Verse Daily, among other publications. Her nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Lily for Washington Post, LitHub, TIME Magazine, and American Literary Review, where she was named the winner of the 2019 ALR Essay Prize. Her honors include fellowships and scholarships from the MacDowell Colony, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Ucross Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center, the Women’s International Study Center, and Yaddo. Born and raised in Minnesota, she holds degrees from Princeton University and the Bread Loaf School of English and teaches at Phillips Academy, Andover, where she lives on campus with her husband and three children.

Anne Raeff talks about her astonishing novel ONLY THE RIVER about two instersecting families, one Jewish, one Nicaraguan, in a Nothing is Cancelled Virtual Book Tour Video!

I'm thrilled to host Anne Raeff here for the Nothing is  Cancelled Virtual Blog tour with her extraordinary new book, ONLY THE RIVER.

And look at these amazing raves!

“Anne Raeff is a master of the family novel, and of the diaspora novel, and of the novel that spans decades and continents. Is there nothing she can’t do? With Only the River she gives us, in her trademark exquisite prose, the deeply moving story of two families joined and separated by a tiny patch of land in Nicaragua, a country as passionate and divided as the unforgettable characters who populate this marvelous book.” —ANN PACKER, author of The Children’s Crusade
“In this novel, Anne Raeff weaves a multigenerational tale of love and war while at the same time casting a magic spell. Her authorial voice is incantatory. Characters and events caught in recent tragedies take on aspects of myth. The novel feels unique, timely, and yet timeless. I couldn’t put it down.” —ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH , author of A Train Through Time 
 “Read Only the River as much for its lush, seductive prose as for its impressive historical and geographical sweep. Read it for its resonant depictions of the high costs of war, and for its ironic and surprising collisions of past and present. Anne Raeff’s personal investment in these intersecting stories, and her love for each of her searching, unforgettable characters, comes through on every page. Just read it!” —CHRISTOPHER CASTELLANI, author of Leading Men

Anne is also the author of The Winter Kept us Warm, The Jungle Around us and Clara Monschein's Melancholia




A novel about love being the ultimate crime, from bestselling author Emily Collin who talks about SWORD OF THE SEVEN SINS, writing, and so much more

Emily Colin’s debut adult novel, THE MEMORY THIEF, was a New York Times bestseller and a Target Emerging Authors Pick. She is also the author of THE DREAM KEEPER’S DAUGHTER (Ballantine Books, 2017) and the editor of the YA fiction anthology, WICKED SOUTH: SECRETS AND LIES (Blue Crow Publishing, 2018). The first book in her new YA series, SWORD OF THE SEVEN SINS, is forthcoming from Blue Crow Publishing in August 2020. Emily’s diverse life experience includes organizing a Coney Island tattoo and piercing show, hauling fish at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, roaming New York City as an itinerant teenage violinist, helping launch two small publishing companies, and serving as the associate director of a nonprofit dedicated to immersing youth in need in the arts. Originally from Brooklyn, she lives in Wilmington, NC with her family. She loves chocolate, is addicted to tiramisu, and dislikes anything containing beans.

I always want to know what the why now moment was in writing a particular book?

Ah—well, “why now” is pretty relevant for this particular novel. I started it back in 2015, when Trump was running for president. I thought—what if he wins? And what if he’s not running on his own, but is rather the puppet of a white supremacist regime that wants to put him into power in order to accomplish his own ends? What if, when he gets into power, all the white supremacists start coming to the fore—and his administration doesn’t continue to advocate for environmental conservation … in fact, they prioritize business interests first, so our environment starts to crumble? What if society starts to break down in the wake of white supremacist riots and environmental degradation, leading to civil war? What would our world look like then?

And … there you have it. It seems eerily prescient now, actually. I even set the heart of the resistance in a post-apocalyptic Minnesota—which I call “Minneska” in the book.

Sword of the Seven Sins is so  very different from your past novels. Tell me about the pleasures—and the perils—for you in doing something so, so different?
I’ve always loved reading young adult—YA—literature. When I was growing up, I adored Lois Duncan and Madeleine L’Engle, who I think of as two of the forerunners of the modern YA canon. Now, I happily immerse myself in novels by Renee Ahdieh, Sabaa Tahir, Tahereh Mafi, Julie Kagawa, Sally Green, Leigh Bardugo … and the list goes on. I’m drawn to the extremes of human nature in my writing, and there’s something about YA lit that so naturally lends itself to extremes. First love … first kiss … first losses … it’s so naturally powerful.

My past novels have been what I like to think of as ‘supernatural love stories’ for adults. It was exciting for me to venture into new territory—although in some ways, SWORD OF THE SEVEN SINS is also a supernatural love story, just with a fantasy bent, written for an upper YA audience. Of course, it’s always scary to take a new path as a writer, because it means building your audience all over again and diversifying your ‘brand.’ But I firmly believe that writing what you love—what you’re drawn to—is so, so important. I’m still writing books for an adult audience—I’m in the middle of drafting one right now!—so for me, this is a both/and proposition rather than an either/or. SEVEN SINS is a trilogy, so I get to hang out in this world for a while longer … and that’s been so much fun, too, since I’ve never written a series before. The whole thing’s been a great adventure.

You’ve always written beautifully about love and loss, and here is no different. The character of Ari has always loved Eva, but you’ve created a world where this kind of love means death, which is a classic Romeo and Juliet theme! Can you talk about this please?

Oh, sure! I’m always up for a good discussion about forbidden love. Ari’s loved Eva all his life, since they were children. But love’s not allowed in their society—romantic or otherwise—so this is a real problem. As for Eva, Ari is there for her at a crucial moment in her childhood … a moment when everyone else turns away. She never forgets that moment, and neither does he. Their connection is undeniable—but to act on it might well cost their lives. What’s a girl—or boy—to do?

For me, this notion of a world where having any kind of real attachment to others posed danger was both alarming or appealing. As Eva herself says in the novel, “I don’t think love makes you weak. But I do think it’s dangerous. For love, people will take risks they’d never dream of otherwise.” The two of them are willing to put themselves on the line in ways they might not dare to do, without the feelings they harbor for each other.

When the book starts, neither one of them has any idea what love is, and that’s a challenge, too. They only know what they feel for each other, which seems to defy categorization in the world they inhabit—and that what they feel is deemed very, very wrong. Of course, in the end it might well be the thing that saves them—but that’s another story.

I also loved the storyworld you created which seemed almost shockingly relevant to today. A repressive regime, all this talk about sin and punishment. Can you talk about this please?

Absolutely. Well, for the relevance—see the answer to your first question, above. As I said, I wrote SINS when Trump was running for president, before he won. I could just see how everything that privileged individuals have come to take for granted in American society—the institutions, our civil rights—could come tumbling down if he was elected … that the things we thought were bulwarks of civilization might well turn out to be a house of cards. I imagined a country divided, governed by fear, ignorance, and intimidation rather than logic and civility … one where the vitriol and hatred of white supremacists were given power.

I took it one step further, imagining that these white supremacists were also religious fanatics who wanted to control people’s behavior through invoking the Christian Bible—so they created a society in which people must live … and die … by the rules of the Seven Deadly Sins. Of course, the people at the top of this power pyramid aren’t necessarily abiding by the rules of the citizens they govern … but as I said above, that’s a story for another novel. ;)

You’ve written so many wonderful novels. Was writing this book any different?

Aw, thank you! I’m blushing. In a sense, writing this book was easier—the first draft came pouring out. I had to go back and do some serious revisions … but that’s no different than my normal writing process. Perhaps you recall all the revisions I did on THE MEMORY THIEF, back in the day! I will say that I had to do less research for this book than for either of my adult novels. For MEMORY THIEF, I had to do all that mountain climbing research, and for DREAM KEEPER’S DAUGHTER, I immersed myself in the history of Barbados and the island’s slave rebellion. While I loved doing all of that research—and learned so much—it was a tremendous amount of work. It was kind of freeing to be limited only by the scope of my imagination for this book!

What, beside the pandemic and world politics, is obsessing you now and why?

When you subtract those two things, what else is there? ;) Seriously, let’s see. I just finished up a 10-month treatment regimen for breast cancer—I’m cancer-free! Hooray!—so right now I’m a bit obsessed with being healthy and appreciating every moment. I try to do yoga every morning on my deck while listening to the sound of the little waterfall in my pond. Then I come inside and brew myself some coffee, which I top with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon. I’m on a huge ebook kick, since I can’t get to the library right now … so I’ve been reading like crazy—all kinds of stuff. I’ve got a Kindle Unlimited membership, so I get lots of books from there … plus I just saw the Netflix show Virgin River, so I’m deeply immersed in the Virgin River book series, which is a lovely guilty pleasure that has sucked me in. Oh, and I’m doing research on Slavic witchcraft and the Roaring Twenties for two novels in progress. In the evenings, I take my dog on a nice mile-long walk. So, all of that keeps me pretty busy!

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

Ohhhh, this is such a hard one. Maybe—why should we be thinking about books now, when the world is crumbling all around us?

Believe me, I’ve asked myself that question. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that this is a crucial time to read books and stories … and not just because we’re all on a quest to escape our current reality. Fiction builds empathy, forcing us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine how they think. It broadens our worldview and takes us places we might never otherwise go. Right now, when so many of us are stuck at home, it lets us travel. It teaches us new things; introduces us to diverse viewpoints; inspires us; strengthens us; helps us imagine a different version of the world. And right now, we need all the imagination we can get.

As one of George R.R. Martin’s characters said in Martin’s book A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Award-winning Laura van den Berg talks about her eerie, mysterious new collection of stores, I HOLD A WOLF BY THE EARS, the feeling of being in deep emergency and her great love of boxing, and so much more.

To talk about Laura van den Berg requires a lot of space because of all her accolades! First there is all of this:

 "As enchanting as fairy tales, as mysterious as dreams, these exquisitely composed fictions are as urgent and original as any being written today.” —Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend, winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction

One of Entertainment Weekly's 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2020 and 30 Hottest Summer Reads, one of O, the Oprah Magazine's 30 Most Anticipated Books of 2020, one of BuzzFeed's Most Anticipated Books of 2020 and 29 Summer Books You Won't Be Able to Put Down, one of Esquire's 20 Must-Read Books of Summer 2020, one of the BBC's Ten Books to Read in 2020, one of TIME's 12 New Books to Read in July one of ELLE's 30 Most Anticipated New Books of Summer 2020, one of Refinery29's 25 Books You'll Want to Read This Summer, one of Time's 45 New Books You Need to Read This Summer, one of Thrillist's 21 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2020, one of Bustle's Most Anticipated Books of July 2020, one of LitHub's 2020 Summer Books, and one of The Millions Most Anticipated Books of the First Half of 2020

 Next, we have this extraordinary bio:
Laura van den Berg is the author of two collections of stories, The Isle of Youth (FSG, 2013) and What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books, 2009), and the novels Find Me (FSG, 2015) and The Third Hotel (FSG, 2018). The Third Hotel was a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award. The book was also an IndieNext Pick, a Powell’s Books Indispensable Pick, and named a “best book of 2018” by over a dozen publications, including The Boston Globe.
Laura’s honors include the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Bard Fiction Prize, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Award, and the Jeannette Haien Ballard Writer’s Prize, a $25,000 annual prize given to “a young writer of proven excellence in poetry or prose.” Her debut collection was selected for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” program, and she has twice been shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The Isle of Youth was named a “Best Book of 2013” by over a dozen outlets, including NPR, The Boston Globe, and O, The Oprah Magazine. Find Me was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR and longlisted for the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize.

Her stories have appeared in The Paris Review, BOMB, Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, Freeman’s, American Short Fiction, Ploughshares, and One Story, and have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. Her criticism and essays have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, O, The Oprah Magazine, BOMB, and

It seems particularly appropriate for me to ask what was haunting you when you started to write the absolutely haunting I Hold a Wolf by the Ears?

So many things, both in the self and in the world. Sickness and death within my own family; Florida; dreams; the daily, private ways white women uphold white patriarchal violence; spirit photography; impersonation; sisters; ghost stories of all sorts.

The stories are eerie and strange and unforgettably brilliant, many set in Florida, where you grew up. Written before the pandemic, they feel startlingly fresh because they are seeped in fears and violence and our terrible economics.  Did you have an inking of some of the things that were coming (not the virus, of course)? And if you were writing these stories today, would they be different?

I wrote these stories alongside the feeling that we are in a place of deep emergency—and have been in a place of deep emergency. Covid-19 is a new crisis, but it’s also exposing the various crises that have been unfolding for a long time. Fantasy, willful ignorance and deception, are integral to the national narrative and consciousness—and this unwillingness to be honest about our own history can only continue to lead us in the direction of disaster.

I am sure these stories would be different if I were writing them today. Strangely enough my first novel, Find Me, was a dystopian novel that concerned a deadly virus—it’s been surreal to be talking about that book again in the context of Covid. Still, I’m sure that book would be very different too, were I to write it now. I tend to think that any major event in the world will shift something in our work—for me, it can also take a long time to understand what that change will look like.

The stories are women-centric and nothing is as it seems. How does one live in a world like that, without being hyperaware of the consequences?

Perhaps because I come from a big family I’ve always been aware that a person’s perceptions are usually a collision between some kind of loose, objective truth—i.e. we can all agree it’s raining outside—and our highly subjective inner worlds. In "Cult of Mary," for example, there is an awful man in a tour group in Italy. Near to the end, there is a revelation that things are not what they seemed to be in respect to his personal history. That shift is not intended to make him more sympathetic—I actually never think of characters this way, as “sympathetic” or “unsympathetic”—but to complicate his presence. He is in place of pain that’s real and/also he’s manipulating his pain to provide cover for toxic, misogynistic behavior; both things can be true at the same time. Also, many of the characters in these stories misperceive things in their worlds or perceive the necessary thing a bit too late. I’m interested in the consequence of those misperception and how they can destabilize one’s sense of reality.

The stories are so fantastic! People vanish or are decimated in some way, and yet there is a real edge of humor here. All this makes me want to ask you what your particular world view is outside of your writing.

It might not be apparent from the stories, but I think I’m actually fairly optimistic by nature. I believe in the possibility of change.

I know this is the question every writer is asked, but it’s one that I think matters, because art matters. Are you able to write now? How does it feel different?

I am. Focus is a struggle, so I’m moving back and forth between two possible projects, something I’ve never done before. I’m trying to stay oriented towards process—and story as a way of processing—and releasing any kind of concrete goals (i.e. I want to finish a draft in x months).

What’s obsessing you now other than the world situation, and why?

Boxing, one of my great loves. I watch a couple of old fights every week and study technique.

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

I think your questions were wonderful—thank you, Caroline!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Amy Poeppel talks about her delicious love letter to modern family life, MUSICAL CHAIRS, why change at any age is wonderful, classical music, writing and so much more

"What kind of writer is Amy Poeppel? Warm, generous, funny, and full of surprises.” - Stephen McCauley, author of MY EX-LIFE and THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION

“Poeppel has created a story that is well thought out, well plotted, well written, and fully developed. A delightful novel that celebrates the messiness and joy to be found in real life.” (Kirkus, Starred Review)

"This story of reinvention has just the right tone for a musical elegy to one family's journey." (Good Morning America, "Top 25 Novels for Summer")

Amy Poeppel and I met when we were four-years-old. No, that isn't really true, but it FEELS like it's true, because the moment I met her, I felt that I had known and loved her forever, and therefore would do anything for her. The fact that she is also a brilliant novelist makes the friendship even more delightful, and I'm thrilled to be presenting her newest novel MUSICAL CHAIRS here.

Amy worked as an actress in the Boston area, appearing in a corporate industrial for Polaroid, a commercial for Brooks Pharmacy, and a truly terrible episode of America’s Most Wanted, along with other TV spots and several plays. While in Boston, she also got her M.A. in Teaching from Simmons College.

She is married to David Poeppel, a neuroscientist at NYU and Director of the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt. For the past thirty years, they have lived in many cities, including San Francisco, Berlin, and New York, and had three sons along the way. Amy taught high school English in the Washington, DC suburbs, and after moving to New York, she worked as an assistant director of admissions at an independent school where she had the fulfilling experience of meeting and getting to know hundreds of applicant families.

She attended sessions at the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit and wrote the theatrical version of Small Admissions, which was performed there as a staged reading in 2011. Amy’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The RumpusWorking MotherPoints In CaseThe Belladonna, and Literary Mama

And Amy is my friend to the end. Thanks for being here, Amy!

I always want to know what haunted an author to write what she writes? So what was on your mind when you wrote this fabulous novel?

There's a famous line in Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally that has always been hovering in the back of my mind: "Men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way." I was at just the right stage of life when that movie came out – about one year out of college and fascinated by the notion of a man and a woman being lifelong platonic friends. Was it possible? Harry said no, Sally said yes, and we all know how that ended: with sex that almost ruined their friendship, followed by wedding bells once they realized they actually loved each other. I began writing MUSICAL CHAIRS to explore that idea, but I wanted to try to find a different outcome. My book celebrates a male-female friendship, in which there is a solid, marriage-like bond between two characters, a bond that – one hopes - can withstand the test of time, conflict, old secrets, and big change.

Another issue that haunts/amuses me is the phenomenon of grown children moving back home. For exactly one year (and one year only), my husband and I were an empty-nesters …  until our three sons unexpectedly moved back home. I find so much comedy in having these (almost) grown men under my roof, and I wanted to bring that humor into this novel.

I love the way your storyworld helps the characters figure out who they were and who they were not, how Connecticut versus New York City figures into the plot. Why do you think place matters so much?

I have a well-worn house in Litchfield County (much like the one in the book) and have been going back and forth from that lovely setting in the country to the bustle of New York City for over ten years. However, since quarantine began, I’ve been spending all of my time in Connecticut. I love how quiet it is in the country; I’m able to focus on writing (while being perfectly able to ignore leaks in the roof). For the past four months, I’ve been entirely anti-social, spending my time taking walks and reading books. I cook, drink wine, and am happy to be with family but also content to be alone with my dog and cat. I truly love it here. But having said that, I am really missing my very different life in New York these days!

I wanted to use the different settings of the city and country to help the characters in MUSICAL CHAIRS figure out who they are and what they really want in life. Some of the characters surprise themselves to find they’re willing to make big changes. Will, for example, thinks of himself as a creature of New York City, but his wishes evolve throughout the course of the book as he finds that life in the country can offer him something he didn’t even know he wanted.

I loved all the musical details surrounding the Forsyth Trio. What’s your music background? What kind of research did you do?

I placed my two main characters Bridget and Will in the classical music world as Juilliard graduates and members of a piano trio. Although I appreciate chamber music and love attending concerts, I started this book knowing very little about the subject. I needed to do a lot of research to learn as much as I could about the lives, schedules, personalities, finances, and, of course, the music of chamber players. As a mother and friend of many musicians, I knew where to turn for help and loved getting recommendations of beautiful pieces to include in the book by composers like Mendelsohn, Stravinsky, and Mahler. My son Luke was an enormous help to me, as was author Marcia Butler (PICKLE’S PROGRESS) who worked as a professional oboist for many years.

There’s a lot in this book about fame and accomplishment, the trio falling on hard times, Bridget’s father’s fame and Sterling’s novels, and how we deal with what we create. Can you talk about this please?

I think fame and success at a young age can be a wonderful, well-deserved reward, but it can also be a challenge. In our society there is always so much buzz about a new music prodigy on the scene, or a young author winning a book award, or a young actor or actress taking Hollywood by storm. Sometimes, that early rise to fame can become problematic in terms of the pressure that comes with it. In MUSICAL CHAIRS, I explore that phenomenon, but I wanted to consider an alternative narrative at the same time: that some people aren’t prodigies at all; rather they work really hard to develop a skill and they stick with it until they achieve mastery. Bridget and Will are serious musicians who are focused on their abilities and their musicianship, rather than on achieving a certain level of fame, and I wanted them to earn whatever success came their way through hard work and a refusal to give up. There are also, of course, prodigies who work extremely hard and manage to survive a rapid rise to fame. That is my character Gavin’s story.

I also was really enamored about the story centering around a house in Connecticut (and a loft in NYC) and how as the characters change, their feelings about their dwellings change as well.  Everything in this book seems poised to the brilliant possibility of change! Even the 90-year-old father who plans to marry! Do you think we can always change if we let ourselves?

I love the idea of embarking on a new chapter in life. My father is in his nineties, and even he recently started a new chapter by moving out of his home of 45 years and into a cool, modern high-rise. He’s adapting to the change remarkably well, and he seems energized and excited. Change is wonderful! I say this as someone who has often moved from city to city and job to job, which I feel has kept my life interesting. I didn’t publish my first novel until I turned 50, and I am loving my new career as a writer after years of working in schools. I’m learning new things every day, and I’m happy. I think we can and should embrace changes when possible.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Women! I am so impressed, for example, by the strength, integrity, and seriousness of women in government recently; women should simply be in charge of everything. There are so many negative attitudes floating around in our society about women as they (we) age, but what I’m seeing is women who become more powerful, more interesting, and more brilliant as they hit fifty and beyond. I’m currently working on a book that explores the lives of three female characters, one who is 25 years old, one who is 45, and one who is 65.  And the whole story is told from the perspective of a wise 85-year-old woman who is observing the scene.

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

I did a lot (and I really do mean a lot) of rewriting for MUSICAL CHAIRS. One of issues I wanted to work out in a satisfying way for myself involved the structure of the book. The reader won’t necessarily notice the pattern I created, but I decided to write the chapters in sets of three. Following the rhythm of a Waltz, I gave the main character Bridget the emphasis of the first chapter, followed by Will, followed by an empty third “chair.” That place holder was given to all the different characters in the remaining chapters. That may sound overly complicated, but I found it gave the book the pacing I wanted, and I really enjoyed having the sense of triads as I was writing about a musical trio.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

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

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

There's two ways to win, too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 6, 2020

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

July 14, “Mighty Mystery, Celebrity Edition” conversation with Megan Abbottlive on Facebooksponsored by a Mighty Blaze. 4 pm EST, at

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