Monday, March 29, 2021

A Preview of coming attractions! Enjoy this conversation with the fabulous Anne Lamott here, and then come to the A Mighty Blaze Facebook Page, Friday at 4 ET, where I will be live interviewing her!


Who doesn't adore Annie Lamott? She's the one who taught us to write (Bird by Bird), how to raise our kids (Operating Instructions), and how to find the goodness and spirituality in all of us. Her latest book Dusk Night Dawn is an astonishing vitamin for the way we live now, a way to come back from the horrors of the Pandemic, the horrors of the Trump years, too.

I am thrilled to be live interviewing Anne on A Mighty Blaze this Friday at 4 ET. Just come to the FB page and you can be a part of it, and even ask Anne questions!

Thank you for this, Annie. Big love.



Dusk Night Dawn is so powerful and so healing to read, and I think because it is so honest about things like forgiveness, hope, dread. Are there moments when you are writing where you feel, uh oh, I cant be that honest, and then you talk yourself done and you say what you need to?


—I really save the deeply intimate stories and details of my life for a few friends and the random husband and son. The stories in my book are about universal truths and problems—ie that most of us have equal proportions of self-doubt and grandiosity, of faith and fear; that loneliness is part of the human condition, that we have all screwed up right and left. What does happen is that Neal or my editor will gently suggest that something I’ve written will be misunderstood, or seen as downright antisocial or just gross.


Youve always written gorgeous prose, but the writing in Dusk Night Dawn is even richer. How did that come about? And is it still true that you will never write another novel?


—Thank you! I think this book is a little more mystical, because it is so much about finding our center, our soul, when things are incredibly hard, both in the nation and at the dinner table, or awake in the middle of the night (the Swedes call 3:00 a.m. “the hour of the black dogs.”)  And soul material doesn’t lend itself to intellectual erudition, so I needed to do the deep-dive towards the inside kiosk of the soul, where we are friendly awareness and fascination—so I’m glad if this heart and soul stuff was lucid!



So much of Dusk Night Dawn is about your wonderful later in life marriage. (I always believe the best things come later. Spoke as a woman who had her first and only child in her 40s!) Do you think you would have been open to a relationship like this early on or that you had to become the person you are now to have it?


—I definitely had a lot of healing to do before I could be available for a rich, safe relationship. I had to get over my addiction to people-pleasing. Also, I remember about five years ago I was overwhelmed with trying to save and fix other people, making their well-being my priority, and feeling taking advantage of because I was *nobody’s* priority. I got furious and grief struck by it one day, and went for a drive in the country where I shouted and cried in the car. Then I pulled over, picked up the 200 pound cell phone, and called my spiritual adviser of 30 years, Horrible Bonnie and shared with her—the rage and sorrow. She said, “Hooray! This is what we paid for! Get it out!” And then she said, “You need to make yourself your own priority, before you’ll be anybody else’s.” So I did, and a few months later, met Neal. And now we are each other’s priorities!


What I loved in the book was how hilarious it was—the way you deal with people who I would probably snap at—including many conservatives, since many conservatives are deeply religious. So I wanted to know how you do this?


—Sweet of you to say, but most of the time, it all becomes hilarious a little while later. At the time, I might have just lost my mind, but eventually, and usually when I see my own part in the misery or hostilities, I get my sense of humor back. Then I’m halfway home. Laughter truly is carbonated holiness.


You write so beautifully about an unbeautiful topic: dread. Im asking for a friend—ha ha no Im not—but how do you stop being afraid about the future because sometimes this friend-ha ha—gets so worked up –they think when is this life going to be over so they dont have to worry anymore?


—Neal has really helped me with dread. He has a website (and forthcoming book) called shapes of, where he helps people with their inner critic, which he calls the super-ego, and I call my governess Dread growing up. He helped me identify when she is at the helm—when I was scaring myself and feeling small. He helped me quiet her down so she didn’t drive my life. She kept me alive when I was small—so I didn’t run into the street, or swim in the deep end. But now I can thank her, and ask her—Dread, my governess, the super ego—to hang out in the library and do some deep research for me, while I do my life.


Rereading your book feels new! Its like you reread a novel but you know, oh here is where the girl jumps off her house. But your book--rereading is like getting out your favorite warm blanket and suddenly realizing that it is glinting with real gold threads you never noticed before. Do you reread your own work? Do you find something new in it every time?


—I’ve been reading it because I’ve been on virtual book tour for a month, doing readings and podcasts. Sometimes I’m kind of surprised that I thought of a good sentence or passage, or yeah, I’ll notice something for the first time, that I either TOTALLY wish my editor had made me take out because it is so lame, or that’s kind of cool! And I NEVER listen to my audio books for podcasts, because when Sam was 10, and I was on Rosie O’Donnell’s show, he asked me very gently if I had a speech impediment.


Whats obsessing you now and why?


—I’m obsessed with helping uphold voting rights! I send off money to anyone Stacy Abrams tells me to, and I’ll start writing postcards for the midterms in a few more months. Also, this is very petty, but I’ve been a little obsessed about the Covid Ten. This morning I was sitting up in bed, with my iPad on my lap, and my little tummy roll actually crept over to the iPad and started typing. Hank you and love you, Caroline. See you Friday!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A YA that celebrates science! Marti Leimbach talks about DRAGONFLY GIRL, a heroine who finds the cure for death and what was obsessing her in the writing.


What is more exciting than a YA novel about science featuring a science-loving girl who has found the cure for death? Called a YA thriller for people who loved The Queen's Gambit (and who didn't, I ask you?) Dragonfly Girl makes the astonishing, the magical, seem possible. School Library Journal calls it "thrilling, with a heroine to root for."

I first heard about Marti Leimbach because she wrote the international bestseller, DYING YOUNG, which was made into a blockbuster movie. She's also the author of The Man From Saigon and Daniel Isn't Talking, and she is a core tutor at oxford University's creative writing program.  Also, I would be amiss if I didn't mention RATS: Marti breeds them as part of the National Fancy Rat Society. But most importantly to me, Marti and I became friends and I adore her. Thank you so much, Marti for writing something for my Nothing is Cancelled Book Tour blog.

 Visit her at

What was haunting you in writing this book?


 Like my 17-year old heroine, Kira, in Dragonfly Girl, I like reading science research papers. I worry a little that whatever medical treatment I learn about won’t arrive soon enough for me, or be affordable. So I read these papers with a mixture of hope and dread, certain that I or someone dear to me might die of something that, in the near future, will be totally treatable.


Still under the general heading of “haunting” let’s add my historical anxiety about poverty and lack of opportunity, which is also in the novel. My only parent, my mother, was very ill through my late teens and early twenties. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how I was meant to go to college, which would mean deserting her, when she very sick and destitute, needing someone to look after her or at least cheer her up. Kira has the same problem I did, though she handles it way better.


In my case, I went to college on a scholarship and I mostly abandoned my mother, which I regret. I visited when I could, hoping that was enough (it wasn’t) and that she’d get better (she didn’t). I felt worried about her when I was away, but suffered terrible angst when I was with her. My mother died just after I finished college and, really, I’ll never get over feeling like the worst daughter in the world for having left her.


So, I’ve got the medical FOMO, the guilt over the dying parent, a legacy of deep financial troubles and a sense that my life is just not normal. I’m not normal. Add it together, stir the pot, and you come up with Dragonfly Girl. 


Dragonfly Girl is about an impoverished teenager with a gift for science, who discovers a “cure” for death. Such a triumph ought to be the means of securing her future and helping her mother, but she ends up at the center of an international rivalry. She goes from being an absolute nobody to being somebody considered very special. So special that it puts her in danger.


Which brings me to a final idea that occasionally haunts me: maybe being noticed isn’t always a good thing?


 Has your writing process changed since you began? How?


 Before I began Dragonfly Girl I was already thinking of the sequel that would follow. Important admission: nobody has paid me for this sequel or even discussed it. There’s no two-book contract, no conversation about the second book at all, in fact. All of which is to say that I may be the only person who insists that Dragonfly Girl is part of a series. If nobody wants the sequel, I may have to publish it myself. And I’d do that because Academy One is the best book I’ve ever written. It’s going into print even if I have to grow the trees to make the paper on which it is printed.


Writing a book with a sequel in mind changed everything about my process. I don’t plot things out, so once Dragonfly Girl was finished I had to race through a draft of Academy One, so that I could then go back to Dragonfly Girl and revise it so the two were in sync.


Understand that I’m only describing this process, not recommending it. If you’re not into plotting out novels ahead of time, creating a series is a near-impossible undertaking. And I now have newfound respect, bordering on hero-worship, for every author with a good series.


 What's obsessing you now and why?


Due to my ongoing and necessary isolation due to Covid, I’m a little concerned I’m edging toward insanity.  So there’s that. In terms of writing, this may be a good thing. Novels are easier for those of us who catastrophize – that is, start with one problem and imagine the worst possible likely event to follow – so I’m looking forward to a good creative run.



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



Maybe why I’m writing young adult novels? Admittedly, I don’t think of Dragonfly Girl or Academy One, as exclusively young adult novels. It’s just that the stories involve young people.


Teenagers and people in their twenties have an  energy I crave. Writing about them helps me embody that energy, at least for a time. I can’t get enough of it. I feel younger when I write and read (good) YA. I feel my thinking become more flexible, expansive, with the excitement of possibility that defines our teens and early adulthood.




OH AND: so much of your book is about the mystery of death--lately scientists are saying that we can cure death, as if it is a disease. What do you think?


Well, we’re always trying to cure death, though usually before it happens. We slow down or reverse the disease process.


Interestingly, we’ve already had to redefine what “dead” even means. Death used to be understood as the cessation of a heartbeat, for example. However, as we can now reverse that condition through technology, a lack of heartbeat no longer suffices as the definition of death.


What happens in Dragonfly Girl is that the heroine comes up with the reversal of an additional process in dying: the rapid destruction of brain cells. That isn’t to say that it restores the body to full health, but that this particular process in dying is arrested and sometimes reversed.


Could this happen in real life? Sure. Though not yet and not necessarily as described in the novel.

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.”




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!