Thursday, October 22, 2020
I knew I wanted to write about someone with a short-lived job in the Trump administration, and one day I read about WHORM (White House Office of Records Management—truly its name) in Politico.com, and I said, “that’s it! That’s Rachel’s soon-to-be ex-job." I confirmed it with the actual archivist of the U.S. that it still exists, Scotch-taping the ripped-up documents all day long. A paragraph from Politico is the epigraph of the novel.
It's also incredibly smart (and hopeful!) that you bypassed the length of publishing to get this out there. What was that process like?
It was a slog, and one I wasn’t prepared for. I’d never had a book turned down, and my agent called it “delicious and relevant,” so I wasn’t worried. Ha! One by one, editors said exceedingly nice things along the lines of “has your usual warmth and wit, etc. etc.” all very complimentary, but to a person they were worried about Trump fatigue when 2021 rolled around. “No one will feel like laughing at Donald Trump” in a year when the book would come out. Jonathan the significant other said, “Won’t we be dancing on his grave forever?” Stacy Schiff, one of my first readers, said with each rejection,“I don’t get it! It’s a palliative.” Then dubbed it “The Trump Book That Could Only be Published Abroad.”
How can we all order this asap? http://eye-books.com/books/rachel-to-the-rescue
OR on the demon Amazon for those who have e-readers!
And anything else you would like to say? I am about to do another newsletter and I will put this in it, too!
Yes! At the same time I'm hearing about the U.S. rejections, Mary Trump’s book sold 980,000 copies in its first day for sale. And the NY Times’s Nicholas Kristof published an op-ed titled, “To Beat Trump, Mock Him.” Not in a novel, not in a year’s time, was the message. I did have this fond hope that England, where the diapered baby Trump blimp was invented, might not be afraid to get this out, and fast.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Can you thrive as an adult if you were mistreated as a child? You will want to read R. L. Maizes' novel OTHER PEOPLE'S PETS, and here she talks about relating better to animals than people, family and writing, and so much more!
I am so thrilled to host R. L. Maizes and her incredible novel, OTHER PEOPLE’S PETS (Celadon Books, Macmillan). It was a Library Journal Best Debut of Summer/Fall 2020. She is the author of the short story collection WE LOVE ANDERSON COOPER (Celadon Books) and her stories have aired on National Public Radio, and can be found in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and in The Best Small Fictions 2020 (forthcoming). Her essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and have aired on NPR.
Let's look at the dazzling praise:
"While reading R.L. Maizes' Other People's Pets, I could not stop saying, as La La mouths to herself at one point, remarkable. Every time the novel opened up yet again to reveal some new depth, much like La La and her ability to experience the emotions of the animals around her, I worried how the novel could hold such wonder without bursting, could control the pain and joy of this remarkable story. But Maizes possesses such magic. This examination of family, across all lines and definitions, will open you up in such necessary, beautiful ways."
―Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here and The Family Fang
One of Library Journal’s Best Debuts of Summer/Fall 2020
"'Other People’s Pets,' with its lively voice and unexpected characters, makes a perfect addition to anyone’s summer reading pile, but it is required for those who understand that coming of age has absolutely nothing to do with age." Full review here.
—The Washington Post
"This debut novel brings to life a wholly original, deeply charming, and seriously flawed character whose enormous heart leads her into a mess of trouble. A beguiling tale that will make readers want to leap into the pages...." Full review here.
―The Library Journal, STARRED Review
“With its powerful exploration of a dysfunctional birth family and the life that can be made from and despite the traumas of inheritance, Other People’s Pets is, quite simply, a great read.” Full review here.
—Washington Independent Review of Books
"While its quirky combination of fictional elements and adroit, deadpan writing give the novel a wryly comedic atmosphere, La La’s story is melancholy and moving. An uncanny, appealing blend of suspense, irony, tragedy, and how-to for lock-picking, burgling, and ankle monitor removal." Full review here.
Maizes was born and raised in Queens, New York, and lives in Boulder County, CO, with her husband, Steve, and her muses: Arie, a cat who was dropped in the animal shelter’s night box like an overdue library book, and Rosie, a dog who spent her first year homeless in South Dakota and thinks Colorado is downright balmy.
Thank you so much!!!
I always want to know what was haunting an author when they write their books? So what was on your mind when you wrote Other People’s Pets (which I really really loved by the way)?
I was thinking about whether you could thrive as an adult if you were neglected as a child, and what that would take. I was also considering what animals give us and wondering what it would it feel like to experience animals’ physical and emotional sensations as the main character, La La, can.
I love the whole idea of relating to animals better than with people—but what I loved equally was that you created a heroine who steals from houses and we love her for it.
I’m so glad La La resonated with you as a character. I knew when I created a protagonist who was a burglar that one of the challenges would be to make her sympathetic. Not that all main characters have to be sympathetic. But I wanted her to be. It helps that she is loyal to her father and takes care of animals in the homes she robs, though both put her at great risk.
I am totally obsessed with family—especially how we escape the confines of the ones that we are born with and the ones we are able to make for ourselves? Can you talk about that please?
I’m so taken with the idea of found family. That we can create families as adults and choose who will be in them fills me with hope. We all have wounds that we carry because our parents and the way we grew up were less than perfect. Our ability as adults to create family out of friends and lovers and animals and through that to give ourselves some of what we missed as children is one of life’s gifts.
I cannot believe this is a debut because it just GLEAMS. What was it like for you writing this book? Do you plan these out? Or do you just wait for that pesky muse? And what lessons do you feel you’ve learned about writing that you will use in your next work?
Thank you so much. I wrote six days a week, so I definitely didn’t wait for the muse to show up. For the first messy draft, I worked without an outline, telling myself the story. Then I created an outline in which I fixed many of the problems that had arisen in the draft. I began a second draft with one eye on the outline. But I’m always listening to my characters, and if they want to stray from the outline, I follow them, and then revise the outline. That happened with each subsequent draft.
Writing the book taught me there’s no need to panic when problems arise in the text. (Which doesn’t mean I won’t when I write my next book. I probably will.) But I did see that most problems are less intractable than they appear at first. It may take a lot of revision. You may have to wait a bit for a solution to arise, but most problems have solutions.
What, beside the pandemic and the world political situation is obsessing you now and why?
I’m concerned with people sharing false information on the internet,
intentionally and unintentionally. That affects the political situation and the
pandemic, and even apart from those contexts, it can and does destroy people’s
lives. We all need to ask ourselves before we repost, retweet, or share
information: is this true? How do I know?
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
What’s the best vegan ice cream you’ve found? Costco sells orange coconut creamsicles. Very little nutritional value, but you’ll never regret eating one.
Can you give a shout-out to another author and to an indie bookstore you love?
I love Clare Beams’ new novel, The Illness Lesson. The language and the story are fantastic.
It’s feminist, and it has magical birds. What more could you want?
The Boulder Book Store is a wonderful indie bookstore that gives tremendous support to writers through events and through the Radio Bookclub they produce with KGNU public radio.
Monday, October 5, 2020
Women in the 1970s. An all male-college during the most turbulent times. Love, grief and family. Sarah McCraw Crow talks about THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN, printing out and retyping drafts (a great writing tip, by the way), and so much more.
When I first read Sarah McCraw Crow's novel, THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN, I immediately wrote a blurb for it. Here it is:
“How could I not devour a book set in my favorite era, the 1970s? About family, marriage, love and grief and a country in the turbulent flux of change, The Wrong Kind of Woman limns the lives of a stunned widow, her daughter and a lonely college student as they all struggle to come to terms with death—and life—against the backdrop of an all-male college during the Vietnam war, Kent State, the drug culture, and the first heady rise of the women’s movement. Absolutely fabulous.”
—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World
And I am not the only person entranced.
Publisher's Weekly says: “An entrancing debut” and “engrossing reading.” Also “Sarah McCraw Crow’s smart and thoughtful story will ring true to those who witnessed the social upheavals of the ’70s.”
And from Booklist, “readers will soar through the smoothly written prose and empathize with the strong characters. Suggest to those who loved Jennifer Weiner’s Mrs. Everything.”
SARAH McCRAW CROW’s articles, reviews, and short stories
have run in many magazines and literary journals. She is a graduate of
Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She
lives on an old farm in New Hampshire with her family. Thank you so much for being on my blog, Sarah!
I love, love debuts. What’s it been like for you? What are the pluses as far as writing your second novel? Any minuses? Did you learn something new about you and your writing process as you were finishing the novel?
I love debut novels too! It’s thrilling but also feels a little strange that a book that I wrote is actually getting published. Also, I’m not the typical debut author, if there is such a thing—I’m 55, so I’m not exactly young and cute. I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until my early forties, when I took a novel-writing class at UCLA that you were teaching. Thank you for helping me get started! Many classes, two novels in the drawer, and one MFA program later, here I am!
As to the writing process, two tricks that helped me with revising were printing out and then retyping the whole draft, so I had to look at each sentence and each paragraph again as I typed. Also I read the whole draft aloud, which helped me hear those sentences that sounded clunky or ridiculous.
Regarding the second novel, yes, there have been pluses and minuses: On the one hand, as Brian Leung, one of my grad-school teachers, said about writing the second novel, “You did it once, so you know you can do it again.” I’ve found some confidence in that, which has kept me going.
On the other hand, and maybe this is also a reflection of the craziness of 2020, the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and terrible leadership at the top of our country, there have been many times this spring and summer when I’ve wondered whether my words have any meaning or use.
I always feel that writers are haunted into what they are writing. What was haunting you?
Haunted, yes, and by a couple of different things. I’ve always been interested in the women of my mom’s generation, and the choices they made, whether to go with the dominant culture or against it. My mom is progressive, but in the early Seventies, when she was busy with little kids and a medical-resident husband, she missed out on the women’s movement entirely.
I’m also haunted by the history of my own college, Dartmouth College, which the school in my novel, Clarendon College, is loosely based on. I wondered what it was like in the years before it went coed, when it was a lot like Animal House, and how it might have been for those who didn’t fit the mold of jockey WASP male. What if you were one of the few women faculty on campus back then? And what if you were a female exchange student among all those men who didn’t want you there—what would that have been like?
The Wrong Kind of Woman is told in three unique voices, that of a widow Virginia, her young daughter Rebecca, and college student Sam, each giving us a unique portrait of the process of grief, for both a family, and in a very real way, for a country in trouble. Can you talk about this please?
It's funny, because despite what I said before, when I started writing, I thought this was only a novel about grief, about three people getting through an untimely death. But as I watched Virginia’s journey, I saw that this story was about women—their place, or lack of it, on the Clarendon campus, and Virginia’s changing understanding of herself and the husband she’s lost—and also about a time, the late Sixties and early Seventies, when the country was pretty torn up.
By 1970, the Vietnam War had gone on for too long; Johnson had decided not to run again and Nixon had won the 1968 election. As the students kept protesting, the reactions got more heavy handed (as at Kent State). College campuses, and really the whole country, were in turmoil. And splinter groups like Weather Underground were setting bombs in public places. And the women’s movement was entering a new, more visible phase, beginning to push for the ERA and other changes.
I was really fascinated by the terrible way women were treated in academia. I’m not so sure it’s world’s better now. Is it?
That’s a good question. I’m not an academic, but it seems like it’s still tough for women in science to get the top jobs. Just last year, a group of women psychology grad students at Dartmouth won a settlement against the neuroscience department at Dartmouth for sexual harassment and sexual assault. That said, there are many, many more women in all areas of academia and college administrations than there were in the early Seventies.
So much of this amazing novel has got the 1970s spot on. What was your research like? What surprised you? Did anything surprise you so much that the plot veered?
Thank you! I love the Seventies, maybe because I was a little kid then. But the kinds of things that I remember from 1970—my Close ‘n Play record player, or TV shows like the Brady Bunch and Sesame Street—didn’t take me very far. So I read a lot of old newspapers, listened to late-Sixties music, looked at the books that were bestsellers. I also read accounts from women who were active in the women’s movement, and who’d joined anarchist movements like Weather Underground, and who were exchange students at all-male schools. Also, some readers of my early drafts happened to have been teens and college students in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and they noted when I got something wrong.
What’s obsessing you now and why?
I’m obsessed with a couple of things! One is an institute in
the town where I grew up that promotes research into psychic phenomena—I’m
curious about the people who founded it, and about its history more generally.
I’m also kind of obsessed with the anti-nuclear weapons movement of the early Eighties.
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Well, it’s actually a question about you—how do you find the time not only to write your novels, but also to teach, read writers’ manuscripts, review books, and promote other authors here on your blog and for A Mighty Blaze? And I’d like to say thank you for all the good energy you put into other writers, as well as your own writing.