Tuesday, March 2, 2021

"A moose walks into a town and..." Marcia Butler talks about her incandescent new novel OSLO, MAINE, Santa Fe living, memory, being haunted and so much more

 



I first became friends with Marcia Butler when she published her ravishing memoir, THE SKIN ABOVE MY KNEE. I loved it so much I promoted it, and we became fast friends. I had the honor of being in her brilliant documentary, THE CREATIVE IMPERATIVE, too! She's warm, funny and so, so smart that she virtually radiates fireworks! And she's got a brilliant new novel out, OSLOW, MAINE. Look at some of the praise:

“Butler’s characters are such complex, authentically flawed humans, you can’t help but root for them. But then there’s the moose…Butler’s moose is a moose, and we never lose that essential fact. It was a brilliant choice to open the novel in the moose’s perspective to immediately establish her stakes in the story… Oslo, Maine is an engaging, wonderfully nuanced novel.”

New York Journal of Books – Jaimee Colbert Wriston

 

“The fictional, titular town hosts a complicated page-turner of a story spurred by the fallout from a young boy’s violent run-in with a moose, and though the pacing is breezy, the grappling with interpersonal and interspecies relationships is not.”

Down East Magazine—Will Grunewald

 

“For all their furtiveness, the flawed but deeply relatable characters in Butler's second novel, exude an authentic sense of humanity, making this a sure-fire recommendation for Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove) fans.”

Booklist

 

 

A moose walks into a rural Maine town called Oslo. Pierre Roy, a brilliant twelve-year-old, loses his memory in an accident. Three families are changed for worse and better as they grapple with trauma, marriage, ambition, and their fraught relationship with the natural world.

 

Oslo, Maine is a character driven novel exploring class and economic disparity. It inspects the strengths and limitations of seven average yet extraordinary people as they reckon with their considerable collective failure around Pierre’s accident. Alliances unravel. Long held secrets are exposed. And throughout, the ever-present moose is the linchpin that drives this richly drawn story, filled with heartbreak and hope, to its unexpected conclusion.

 
Marcia Butler, a former professional oboist and recent documentary film maker, is the author of the memoir, The Skin Above My Knee, and debut novel Pickle’s Progress. With her second novel, Oslo, Maine, Marcia draws on indelible memories of performing for fifteen years at a chamber music festival in central Maine. While there, she came to love the people, the diverse topography, and especially the majestic and endlessly fascinating moose who roam, at their perpetual peril, among the humans. After many decades in New York City, Marcia now makes her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Thank you so, so much, Marcia! I only wish I could hug you!

 

Caroline Leavitt: I always believe that writers are haunted into writing their stories. What was haunting you?

Marcia Butler: It’s such an interesting question because I’ve actually been thinking about this lately. When you write a novel you believe, perhaps naively, that the plot and the characters are made up—unless, of course, your novel is based on real-life events. But this can never be entirely true because all the words and ideas are coming from your brain which holds the entire experience of your life. I finished OSLO, MAINE over a year ago, which is typical for the publishing cycle. Now that it’s on bookstore shelves, I’m promoting it and talking about it. And, with the distance afforded by this year “off”, I’ve discovered that my life experiences have filtered into OSLO. I wouldn’t call it haunting, exactly. More like issues I unconsciously needed to write about.

The most obvious example is my twelve-year-old violin prodigy character, Pierre Roy, who’s lost his memory due to an accident. He discovers that he can use the violin to ground himself. This activity, playing music, is his safe place. The fact that he can’t remember anything becomes, at least for that period of time, utterly unimportant. He is truly in the present, in the now. So, duh, that experience comes from me. When I was young, I used the oboe in exactly that way. Not about memory but with regard to the emotional pain I endured during a difficult childhood. All that sadness fell away for the hours I practiced. But even more than that, the specific sound of the oboe transported me to an imaginary interior life that was happier and which I controlled. This was particularly important because I couldn’t control anything that was happening in real life. I was good at music and no one could deny that fact. And man, I used that oboe for all it was worth. It saved my life, much the way the violin saves Pierre’s.  

 


 


 

CL: There's so much fascinating detail about memory in this novel. Did you research?

 

MB: Right, memory is definitely a theme. Pierre grapples with his memory loss and comes to the conclusion that fussing about the past and fretting the future is a fool’s game. This is juxtaposed with another character—a female moose—who also has a point of view. I imagine that memory is of little importance to a moose, because she begins each day trying to satisfy her needs just as she did the day before. And so, the moose and Pierre are alter-egos with regard to living in the moment. I confess, I didn’t research. But I relied on my experience as a professional musician. When you’re in the middle of playing a concert, past and future are irrelevant. You focus like mad. Music tends to do that. It compels performers to pay attention to what is happening right now. So that’s what I kept going back to—that suspended feeling I’d experienced so many times when performing concerts.

 

CL: You are the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, The Skin Above my Knee and your debut novel Pickle's Progress. What was it like turning to fiction again? And which do you prefer?

 

MB: Well, let’s just say that It’s really, really hard exposing oneself in a memoir. Not only writing it, which can be wrenching, but also living with the aftermath. Because forevermore, everyone knows a certain narrative of my life. My secrets. My total failures. My occasional successes. My immense sadness. And weirdly, strangers think they know me too. I can almost see it in their eyes. The nodding of the head. “Oh yesssss, I read your memoir…” Cue: awkward silence. But a memoir isn’t a complete life; it’s a collection of true stories stitched together into a narrative arc that hopefully makes for a good read. I am so much more than all the stuff I wrote about in Skin. But truly, no regrets. This is all to say that I am, in my heart, a fiction writer. So, writing first Pickle and then Oslo was a given. And I’m already into my next work-in-progress!

CL: What's obsessing you now and why?

 

MB: Early Bette Davis movies. Dark Victory, The Letter, Voyager Now, Deception. Because she slithers around like a panther all the time. Ancient petroglyphs which are everywhere in New Mexico. They make me feel young(er). Speaking of wrinkles. My neck. See Nora Ephron. Um, my Apple ear buds. Does that count? Cause this is a love affair. Stacey Abrams— the star that just keeps on shining. Historian Heather Cox Richardson. Her newsletter is all I need with my morning coffee.

 

CL: What question didn't I ask that I should have?

 

MB: Maybe, what’s the best part of living in Santa Fe, New Mexico? Drive five miles out of Santa Fe in any direction and you’ll drop to your knees because the physical beauty is astonishing. You can see the last 10,000 years embedded into the sides of mountains. Talk about perspective!

 

 

Friday, February 19, 2021

More Big News from small presses: Tamra Bolton talks about The Art of Storykeeping: Saving One Family at a Time.


 



 With thanks to Kathy Murphy, founder of the Pulpwood Queens for alerting me to these great books!

 

I always believe that writers are haunting into writing their books. What was haunting you? And did you feel, after finishing that you were unhaunted?

 

To answer this question, I'd have to back up to my first writing experiment - a collection of interviews I did over a two year period back in the early 2000s.  I compiled these interviews of my dad's World War II unit into a book for the families of the men I interviewed. That whetted my appetite for digging up memories and stories and preserving history. I worked as a photojournalist from around 2007 to 2020 interviewing everyone from CEOs and celebrities to ranchers and chefs. This experience convinced me that everyone has a story...even those that think they don't. I became 'haunted', as you say, by the numerous 'if only's' I heard from those I talked to...most of them had regrets about not finding out more about their family history, not asking the questions that years later still haunted them. So, I guess you could say those regrets kept echoing in my own heart, as I realized there were many things I still didn't know about my own family and I determined to not let any more of those memories slip away.

In 2017, I wrote and co-illustrated with my husband a book about my childhood When I Was Small as a gift to my two grandchildren (at the time), to let them know what growing up was like for me. I was also working on a full-length book about my Dad and his life leading up to and through World War II and his experiences fighting the Battle of Iwo Jima - A Blessed Life: One World War II Seabee's Story. Finishing Dad's book satisfied that "haunting feeling" for a short while, but after the book was published, the feedback from so many prodded me to write my latest book The Art of Story Keeping - Saving History - One Family At A Time. 

Over and over I heard the same sad statement from readers..."if only I had asked about ...but now, it's too late" or "my kids/grandkids don't know anything about my parents or my childhood, it just never came up...is it too late?". Statements like these kept me awake at night until I finished the book which gives a blueprint for recording/preserving those memories and stories for future generations. Research has proven that when people know where they are from and have shared family stories, they are more content and usually more accomplished in their day to day lives. Kids especially benefit from sharing stories. So, I've made it my mission, so to speak, to encourage people to start where they are...start sharing their stories and saving them because if we don't, those stories will be lost. We all need connection, especially now, and sharing our stories is a wonderful way to connect with those we may not be able to be with while dealing with this pandemic.  I guess I will never be "unhaunted" because there are always more stories that need sharing...but what a wonderful way to spend my writing life!

 

 

What kind of writer are you? Do you plot things out or do you wait for the pesky muse?

 

Both! It depends on the project. I usually work from a loose outline or general idea, then add to it as I go. As far as my day to day writing, if I get stuck, I usually go on a walk and let things percolate for awhile. I wish I were more disciplined in my writing, but some days all I can get on paper (I write everything longhand first in spiral notebooks or yellow legal pads) is a snippet of character conversation, a descriptive paragraph, I don't beat myself up if I don't accomplish much in a day. I think it scares my muse away if I get too anxious. On days when everything flows and life doesn't interfere too much, I can get a lot done, but that doesn't happen often enough. On weekends, if I am undisturbed, I can get as many as 10,000 words down...maybe not all usable, but they are on paper nonetheless.

 

What one thing do you want readers to come away knowing after reading your book?

 

You matter. Your stories matter. You, your family are all part of this great big human experiment. There is no such thing as a nobody - we are all somebody - and we all need to share our own story, for our sake, our children's sake, and for the sake of history. We all complete part of the mosaic of life - don't leave your spot empty.

What's obsessing you now and why?

 

Besides cleaning out my storage closets, I guess it would be finishing well. As I get older I see more and more people, especially women, abandon their dreams and give up on who they once wanted to be. That frightens me and motivates me to encourage women to never give up on their dreams, especially as they get older. You may not be able to do exactly the things you dreamed about as a little girl, but you could possibly have a version of that dream if you are aware. You have to learn to see the possibilities and the promise in situations you have at the present. The answer to a dream may be right in front of you, but you have to be 'open' to see it. Life has a way of working things out if we are willing and patient. I feel everyone has a purpose to fulfill and I want to play my part until the end. My Dad has a saying, "If you're not living, you're dying." He has set a great example by making the most of everyday, even now, as he's working on his 98th year on this earth. Play your part, never give up, and strive to finish well. That is my mantra.

 

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

 

What are you working on now? A novel about the cross-over world between the earthly and the spiritual, due out in 2022. Also, I am working on a devotional book about my travels accompanied by my photography, another children's book, and a book of essays. I like to stay busy. :)


My belief is - if you really want something, you will work for it, make time for it, and make it happen. Hoping something will happen is good, but hope combined with action is unstoppable.

 

Big ideas from a small publisher: Vince Spinnato talks about his memoir: My Pursuit of Beauty: A cosmetic Chemist Reveals the Glitz, The Glam and the Batsh*t Crazy

 



With thanks to Kathy Murphy, founder of the fabulous Pulpwood Queens!


Cosmetic chemist and “certified nose” Vince Spinnato began his career in the personal care, cosmetic and fine fragrance industries more than 25 years ago. As president and CEO of TurnKeyBeauty, Inc., VS Vincenzo Ltd., Inc., Aegean Skincare, LLC and Vincenzo Skincare, LLC, Spinnato has formulated and developed hundreds of products for skin and hair care, color cosmetics, bath &body and fine fragrances. His latest luxury product, Caviar &Diamonds, debuted in 2020 under the Vincenzo Skincare brand. Considered an expert in his field, Spinnato has been a contributor to Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, W, Esquire, GQ, Whole Foods Magazine, Health News Digest, Riviera, and more. His memoir, My Pursuit of Beauty: A Cosmetic Chemist Reveals The Glitz, The Glam and The Batsh*t Crazy debuted on January 10, 2021. A documentary about his life will also be aired in 2021. Spinnato’s celebrity clients include Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Khloe Kardashian, Lorna Luft, Carrie Underwood, Victoria Beckham, Seth MacFarlane, Jessica Simpson, Michael Jordon, Lindsay Lohan and others.


Thank you for being here, Vince!

 

I always feel that authors are somehow haunted into writing their books. What was haunting you about the story you wrote?

 

After being in therapy for about 30 years, I couldn’t stand hearing myself talk for another minute. In the middle of a session, I stood up and said, “I’m done!” My psychiatrist looked at me and said, “Why don’t you write a book?”

 

The next day, I got out my tape recorder and started talking. I decided that I wanted to use my crazy life story as a source of lifting people up. Seven years later, after it was transcribed, I realized that there was no way people would want to read it. Instead of giving it the old heave ho, I hired Mickey Goodman to be my ghost writer. It’s been a fun California/Georgia collaboration.

 

What kind of writer are you? Do you map things out or wait for the Muse?

 

Since I recorded my story, there was definitely no outline involved. I passed that fun job to Mickey! My only attempt at “order” was to name each chapter after the cars I drove during that period of my life. For instance, I drove a 1993 black BMW coupe from New Jersey to California at age 20 to launch my career. And because I thought that owning a fancy car gave the appearance of success, I immediately traded it for a 1995 3251 Mercedes convertible, then “downgraded” to a less expensive Mercedes. I fell so far behind in the payments that it was repo’d. So much for appearing rich and famous!

 

What’s obsessing you now and why?

 

A lot of things! I’m putting the final touches on a documentary about my work and life that will air later this year. I’ve also been extremely busy doing Zoom interviews with book reviewers and on-air personalities to promote, My Pursuit of Beauty. But my main obsession is launching my latest luxury skincare product line, Caviar and Diamond, the first ever under my own brand, VS Vincenzo. Throughout the years, my primary business has been TurnKey Beauty, Inc. where I have created products for celebrities, brands, private label, white label and retail companies. Oh yeah, I’ve also been working my buns off to keep that business afloat during Covid-19.

 

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

 

Soon after the tragic death of my beloved Grandmother Serra, I developed trichotillomania, a hair pulling disorder brought on by extreme trauma. It’s one of those conditions that tricksters try to hide, and I want to let them know that it’s okay to “come out.” Recently, a number of celebrities have come forward including Megan Fox, Charlize Theron, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Leonardo DiCaprio and more. We all hope to encourage others to do the same. I’m also in the process of developing products that will discourage hair pulling, an obsession which sometimes left me nearly bald, as well as other products to help sufferers regrow the hair they’ve pulled out.

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Zibby Owens talks about her fabulous new book, Moms Don't Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology, the power of stories, women's lives, and so much ore

 

I first met Zibby Owens online. First, there was her fantastically great name—how could I not follow someone named Zibby?  She had an online voice that was honest, and true and huge-hearted. Then it was all the astonishing work she was doing—essays and podcasts, and book things, and when I heard she was moderating Brenda Janowitz’s book event for The Grace Kelly Dress, I wanted to go, first to support Brenda, a friend, but also, let’s face it, because I HAD to meet Zibby.

 

Meet her I did and she was even more incredible than I expected. She’s fireworks! She was dressed in a sparkly top I coveted, and we began to email. You’ve never met anyone so generous. She featured my novel With or Without You as a pick on Good Morning America Online (for that, I will bake her brownies from here to eternity.) She invited me to write something for her. (Ditto the brownies or the sweet of her choice.) And every time I go online and see what’s she doing, I’m just more and impressed. Zibby lifts the world up. She truly does. She makes you want to have half her energy, half her smarts, and even half of her heart. And I am so, so lucky to know her.

 

Zibby is the creator and host of the award-winning podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, and her newly launched Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight. A regular contributor to ABC's Good Morning America online, she’s been interviewed by CBS This Morning, and she contributes to a wealth of publications like Good Day LA, Good Day DC, Good Day Dallas, Marie Claire, Redbook, The New York Times online and more. She was named NYC’s top book-fluencer by New York magazine ,and Oprah.com included Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books in their list of the best podcasts — twice.


Before the pandemic, Zibby ran a literary salon, moderated bookstore events and hosted book fairs. During quarantine, she hosted a daily Instagram Live author talk show, Z-IGTV and a weekly live show with her husband called KZ Time. But wait, there's more! She also launched an online mag with original author written essays called We Found Time and started Zibby’s Virtual Book Club. 

Zibby’s extraordinary essay Racing Against the Corona Virus is now up on my Psychology Today Blog/Column. (It has photographs, too!) And thank you so much, Zibby! You are EVERYTHING. I can’t wait for you take over the world!

 

 


 

 

Let’s talk about your latest—Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology, that came about as a way to honor your loss (I’m so very sorry) of both your mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law from Covid, both in the space of six weeks. Being who you are, you are also generously donating all proceeds to Mt. Sinai for Covid vaccine research. I love the sections: Read. Workout. Eat. Have Sex. Breathe. There are more than sixty essays here! What was it like getting the essays, and how did you decide the format and what to include? I’m curious how you say no to people, because you seem like the person who always, always says YES.

 

First of all, you are just beyond sweet. I’m going to frame this introduction by my bed. Maybe it would help me sleep better - ha! Well, getting the essays was really fun. First I identified the categories I wanted to start with. Then I made a huge spreadsheet and started reaching out to authors to ask if they’d write for me, along with some ideas for them based on their books and/or our discussions on my podcast. For example, I would suggest an “eat” essay to someone who had confessed to an eating disorder in our interview. Then I worked with editors/authors Claire Gibson, Elissa Altman and then Carolyn Murnick to manage all the submissions and edit them. At first they all lived on my website under the We Found Time magazine umbrella, but after several months I realized: wait, a minute. This is a BOOK. And yes, there were some essays that might not have been necessary the right fit given their topic or whatever, but luckily I’ve just launched Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, a Medium publication, and am going back and publishing them there! 

 

What is so remarkable about these essays is that they go beyond the Pandemic. By that, I mean that the issues in these essays speak to women’s lives always, connecting us around the issues that resonate for us, all about how we spend our time, and who we strive to become.  The biggest message seems to be: we are a tribe. We can connect. We can help and support one another. Can you talk about that please?

 

Oh my gosh, I couldn’t agree more. Making people — especially women — feel less alone has been a big part of my mission from the start. I was crying on the bathroom floor one day about something kid-related (which was so unimportant in the big picture that I can’t even remember what it was) and I was like: there must be other women out there, crying on their bathroom floors. It’s why I write. Why I podcast. Why I’m doing this anthology — and the next one, coming out in November 2021!

 

 

You have said this wonderful quote:
I believe in the power of stories.
I believe in the healing power of a good conversation.
I believe that listening is far more important than speaking.
I believe that the right book can change everything.

Can you pick one of these beliefs and tell us your personal story about it? (I know, I know. I put you on the spot! Forgive me!)

 

Forgiven. But only because you promised me brownies. Let’s take listening. I grew up very shy and even went through a whole summer when I was 14 when I literally couldn’t speak at all. Yes, I could be myself around my friends and family, but in new situations, like going away on a language-immersion program, I literally couldn’t speak. So I spent the summer listening, analyzing language, marveling at how easy and effortless it seemed to be for everyone else to simple speak. I’ve always been an observer, watching, listening, before engaging. I love photography and am constantly snapping pictures, just like the snapshots of scenes in my mind that I end up writing about. Listening is powerful. I learn so much about other people. And then they end up really opening up to me. Because I’m legitimately interested. I really do care. I think people can tell. 

 

 

I also loved the To-Do list you posted on the bookmarks you include, which really, every single reader should do for every book. Post a photo of the book. Order the book. Give copies as books. Leave a review. Consider buying in bulk and spread the word. And I recently received the most wonderful grab bag from your publicist with a jump-rope that I use now! How did you get so brilliant at promoting all the things you do? How did you figure it all out? (And readers, please do all of these things!)

 

Well, I’ve been doing my literary podcast for just under three years now and have been pitched books in all sorts of ways from a standard-issue publisher mailing to a hand-delivered package with a hand-written note. I’ve gotten scarves, luggage tags, CBD bath bombs, chocolates and, most recently, a Twix bar. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I know how hard it is to stand out; I get pitched about 75-100 books each week now via email (preferable) or in the mail. Like I said before, I watch and observe. Also, I did have a mini-career in marketing/advertising a lifetime ago, working at a brand development and design firm in L.A., then at a big Internet incubator called idealab! and then for Unilever Prestige helping launch the Vera Wang fragrance, before going to Harvard Business School. So I do have some experience in marketing. But mostly, I can just put myself in someone’s else’s shoes and know what I would want — and then I do that! 

 

You also have a two-book deal to write children’s book with Flamingo an imprint of Penguin Random House! Is this scary, exciting, what? And will you test-drive these books on your own kids?

 

Yes! The kids have already heard the first book and have gotten sneak peeks of the illustrations of two of the main characters! It’s a really fun process. Princess Charming is schedule for early Spring 2022. 


What’s obsessing you now and why?

 

Honestly, I just got the coolest thing ever. It’s this object that on the outside looks and feels exactly like a book, but when you open it, it becomes a lamp. I put it on my bed as my husband sleeps and the kids delight in opening it up and illuminating their rooms. It’s just the coolest. It’s a total splurge item that no one actually needs, but aren’t those the best types of obsessions? 

Thank you, Caroline!