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Author On the Bookcase: Michelle Hoover, author of The Quickening

Author On the Bookcase
Michelle Hoover

Michelle HooverMichelle Hoover, welcome to On the Bookcase! Michelle's book, The Quickening, is the story of two women stuggling to make a living in the upper Midwest in the early 1900s. For one, their hardscrabble life comes easily, while the other longs for the excitement of the city. Though they depend on one another for survival and companionship, their friendship proves as rugged as the land they farm. While the Great Depression looms, the delicate balance of their relationship tips, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and exposing the dark secrets they hide.

Mitchelle answers her own Q & A and then reveals her thoughts on the live Q & A sessions in book stores and libraries. The magical time when "the book does matter, at least for a short period of time. The story is taken to heart, and for a few minutes a room is caught in an act of creation that goes far beyond the author’s little self or what lies between the pages." 

What a beautiful sentiment! Read on for more of Michelle's thoughtful "answers." 

"By the time my first novel The Quickening was published this summer, I had years of practice with readings and years more experience as a university teacher, so I’d long ago lost most fear about public speaking.

But it wasn’t until the hours before my first solo venture at the wonderful Odyssey Bookstore in South Hadley, Ma, that I realized I would not only be reading from the page but answering on-the-spot questions about the most personal of subjects—my own writing and my great-grandmother’s journal, the novel’s inspiration.

The novel itself is of course fiction, the story of two neighboring women trying to save their farms and families during the Great Depression, whether they help each other in this saving or the opposite. I wasn’t too worried about the Q&A. I’d responded to plenty of bizarre student drillings on books and writing without much pain. It was more a matter of wonderment: that I would be standing at the head of a group of folding chairs all facing my direction and every raised hand would be raised in curiosity of me. 

Q:  How long did it take you to write this book?
  Six years, seven months, two days. I think. I started when I was twenty-three, too young to realize that I was too young to begin a novel. That version now sits in the crumbling UMass-Amherst library and I wish the building would just collapse already so that students wouldn’t have to duck their heads to escape plummeting bricks and that my sorry “thesis” might find an appropriate death. When I rewrote the book in my thirties, I kept only thirty or so pages of the original, killed off five characters, two narrators, and at least 200 pages. I’ve had plenty of adult students at Boston’s Grub Street cry out in near despair about the years and sacrifices it takes to finish a good novel. I tell them to keep going. Now I hope I have a little more clout to back up my advice.

I don’t particularly like to be the center of attention. Still, a close friend of mine commented at yet another reading that, unlike most she attended, I looked genuinely happy at the podium. “You seem like you’re having fun,” she said.  I looked at her, amazed, only to realize I was having fun. I found the Q &A sessions an absolute kick in the pants.  Other than the blog entries and guest posts I’ve been asked to write, there’s a big difference for me in these live ramblings. I’m not chasing after people to notice something. I’m not acting the salesman. It’s a sad thing, but debut authors from small presses have to spend plenty of time on the virtual street corner shouting out the benefits of their fictional potions, and sometimes that’s all the book becomes: shouting for wares. 

The QuickeningQ:  Why did you write this book?
I wanted to represent a certain temperament, the kind I grew up with--one of reserve, work, and strength.  I tried for a kind of raw beauty too, though beauty aimed at directly usually becomes its opposite. "Why are we reading,” Annie Dillard asked, “if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed." I wanted to show that bareness and mystery of the Midwestern plains. And of course I wanted to save those seventy-one years of living that made up my great-grandmother’s journal. I wanted to capture all her stoicism and grief after my great-grandfather’s death, as well as the happiness in their life-long marriage and what they were able to grow together.  

In bookstore Q&As, the audience has already arrived. True, they may not shell out the dollars for a book, but writing isn’t really about cash. Of course, I’d like to earn enough to buy myself a semester off to write. I’d love for my favorite bookstores to make loads, as well as my publisher. But as long as my audience enjoys their thirty minutes or so in those seats, I’m a happy camper. And if just one person tells someone else about it, all the better. Borrow the book from a friend. Better yet, make sure both of you leave it heavily damaged so a person can tell someone’s come close to devouring it. Or check the book out from your local library—that sacred place where commerce ends. Just be sure to leave the plastic cover well intact.

Q:  What lasting effect do you want your book to have on readers?
  I hope my characters trouble them and that readers feel immersed in a place and time only to wake after the last page as if from a dream. I’d like to make people think of the Midwest and our history there in a deeper way, and then tie this history to today’s difficult economic and political climate. Though we are likely not as isolated in our losses and loves today as my great-grandparents were, we still experience these things deeply. We need books to reflect our experience and to do so without blinking so we don’t feel alone in our craziness. Aristotle claims that a well-written tragedy purges an audience’s fears. Others have written that good storytelling grows our sympathies for others, however unlike us they are. I could never claim with any certainty that my novel does either, but I can still hope it does.

Here’s the real wonder of Q&A sessions: That the ones who raise their hands are genuinely curious about the book and the making of it. I haven’t been paid a dime for their attentions and many are outright strangers. And the sessions are not at all about me (thank God) but about this object that sits on the table and what it takes to make such an object come alive. The audience is a sign of something I’ve believed in all along: numbers in the seats don’t matter, not when the author’s ego finally shuts its trap. But for the dozen or so who arrive, the book does matter, at least for a short period of time. The story is taken to heart, and for a few minutes a room is caught in an act of creation that goes far beyond the author’s little self or what lies between the pages. It’s the highest of human endeavors:  willing something about ourselves and outside ourselves to exist.

I'm on my book tour now -- fourteen events in fourteen days in the Midwest. We'll see if my view of the Q&A has changed by the end. I hope it doesn't."

Thanks so much for extending your Q & A with us. Such lovely thoughts on the joy of reading and book discussion! 

Learn more about Michelle.

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Author On the Bookcase: Cathy Lamb, author of Such a Pretty Face

Author On the Bookcase
Cathy Lamb


Cathy LambI'm excited to welcome Cathy Lamb, author of Such A Pretty Face. Her book tells the story of Stevie, who two years and 170 pounds ago, was wheeled into an operating room for surgery that most likely saved her life. At thirty-five, Stevie is the one thing she never thought she'd be: thin.

Stevie realizes the most important part of her transformation may not be what she's lost, but the courage and confidence she's gathering, day by day. What fascinating reading-group topics -- identity, family, friendships.

Today, Cathy chats about her writing process. What do toilets, electricity, carpet and a chimmey have to do with her writing? Read and see!

I am often asked about my “writing process.

My writing process is a combination of semi-insanity, creative muck, and word – sweat, so to speak. (I just made up the word, “word–sweat,” for fun and because it is past midnight and my brain is fizzy.)

First, I start scribbling in a journal. The journal costs no more than $5. Why spend extra, hard -earned money on something you will eventually throw at a wall, swear at, jump on and, possibly, burn or explode using small amounts of dynamite?

Each one of my books starts with a separate journal. I now have a full shelf of journals. With my most recent book, Such A Pretty Face, my story was so overly complicated for my little menopausal mind, it took three journals. I finally resorted to the sort of notebook I used when I was in school. White pages. Boring. No fluff. Filled that, too.

Everything I scribble in my journals initially is terrible but I have to go through this process to get a handle on the character. One of the first things I try to do is figure out my main character’s name. Most of the time, she won’t tell me her name. It’s like dealing with a female Rumpelstiltskin.  I’ll fight with her, tell her to quit giving me the silent treatment, to open up for heaven’s sakes! Give me a hint! What letter does it start with? How many vowels? Eventually, I wrangle her to the ground and get a name.

Then I have to figure out who she is.
Now, Julia, in Julia’s Chocolates, she was pretty open with me from the start. She had thrown her wedding dress up into a tree on a deserted, dusty street in North Dakota, she was on the run, and she was ready to talk because she didn’t have much to lose.

Jeanne Stewart in, The Last Time I Was Me, was so steamin’ mad after getting revenge on her cheating boyfriend, (She used a condom, peanut oil and hot glue, but I won’t say more. Don’t try this at home!!), that she was ready to talk to me, too, in a really furious, I’m-Driving-My-Bronco-Over-A-Cliff sort of way.

But Isabelle Bommarito in Henry’s Sisters? She’d been so used to handling her own life, her own misery, her own mental nightmares, and so shut off, I practically had to bribe her to get her to speak to me. She was private and not so nice. Way too tough for me. I am still not sure me and Isabelle are friends. We had to come to an understanding.

Stevie Barrett in Such A Pretty Face only told me about her life in chunks, here and there, a whisper around that subject, a chat about this part, a dance around those years, silence in that area.

But the journals are the launching pad for my books. Everything about all my characters that I know, at that time, goes in those journals, including what they look like, their past, their future, what they think of men and cheesecake and their night terrors.

Next I think of a starting line for my books. This takes a looonngg time. It must be clever and catchy. It is hard for me to be clever and catchy, especially if I would rather be outside playing or cruising through bookstores or going to Starbucks.

Once I have that line, and the first scene, I am launched, and I write.
I write until I’m done and have a first draft of about 90,000 words. Then I have a framework. Like a house. Only this is an extremely messy house. The plumbing does not reach the toilets, the electricity is in but it’s still electrocuting people, the heating system is blowing smoke, there is no tub, only cockroaches, and no refrigerator for the chocolate ice cream.

I am half crazed by then. I am working late at night, I can’t turn the story off in my head during the day, I am talking to my characters, arguing with them, and the scary thing is that they are arguing back. I must win all the arguments, but it is difficult. My characters are often poorly behaved and sometimes sarcastic and bad-tempered. They are funny though, too, they laugh and cry in my head and throw things at each other. They don’t do what I thought they were going to do, they don’t say what I planned for them to say. They are becoming themselves and I am watching from the sidelines, wringing my hands, nervous, quaking, wondering if I should have kept my job as a fourth grade teacher....

The first full edit is like writing through tar. Second edit, the tar is a little more soupy. I would say my house now has electricity and plumbing that only clanks now and then. Yay for working toilets! No one is electrocuted.

Third and fourth edits, I’m working on character development more, dialogue, details, sensory stuff, setting, and honing in on all the pain and anguish and making the funny scenes funnier, so you will, hopefully, laugh. I’m also deleting a ton. In terms of a house I now have a working kitchen, no ants.

Fifth draft I’m doing the same thing, and adding strings through the book, repetitions, I’m working on the rhythm of the sentences, completing character development, adding more emotion. The carpet is in, wood floors down, chimney built. Sixth edit I’m making it the best I can make it, obsessing over the tiniest word…and still deleting!

So I have a house.  A literary house, so to speak. A small house.

Then I send it off to my very clever editor for his thoughts and input and head off to get drunk on decaf mochas.  Later I will edit that book six more times, for a total of twelve times, until I have almost memorized the darn thing.

By then my house is a wreck. I am a wreck. I need a haircut. I sure need to get the gray hair dyed. I need to find a razor. Where did I put it? I need to find my husband. I need to make sure the birds are still alive. I need to get the cat away from my husband. My cat is in love with my husband and I have to break that relationship apart now that I’m not frothing at the mouth and having imaginary conversations with people who do not exist.

That’s my writing process. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t romantic. It involves a lot of late nights, time alone, sloppy pajamas, too much chocolate, some swearing, and now and then the journal gets thrown across the room and I tell my characters to, “Shut up, will you?”  Lovely.

Happy reading.

Thanks so much, Cathy. Building a  "literary house" -- what a great way to describe your novel development.

Read more about Cathy!

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Teaser Tuesday August 3: Room by Emma Donoghue and Giveaway

Teaser TuesdayTeaser Tuesday and Room by Emma Donoghue Giveaway.


Room is one of the 13 books selected for the longlist of the 2010 Man Booker Award. I will featured all 13 in upcoming posts.

Here are the beginning lines of Room.

"Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. 'Was I minus numbers?' " -- Room by Emma Donoghue (US Release: September 2010)

Room by Emma DonoghuePublisher's summary To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

Praise for Room

"Emma Donoghue's writing is superb alchemy, changing innocence into horror and horror into tenderness. Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days." -- Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry

I read Room in two nights. excellent reading group pick. Topics to be considered when discussing -- parenting, identity, isolation, language, imagination, fear, family, reality vs make believe. Room, Ma, and Jack are destined to become classics.

Anyone can play Teaser Tuesday, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers! 

What is your TT, today? Let me know and you will be entered in the Room Advance Reading Copy giveaway! Open to US addresses only. Giveaway closes August 6. One lucky random winner!

Thanks to Hachette Book Group for supplied ARC of Room. 

Caitlin from Chaotic Compendiums won A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay last week!

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A Secret Kept Giveaway Winner

Be A Winner Giveaway Winner!


Thanks so much for the comments on the A Secret Kept post. I finally finished reading it. Nothing to do with the quality of A Secret Kept but work as kept (ha!) me busy.


The random drawing winner for the ARC of A Secret Kept is

Caitlin from Chaotic Compendiums 

Congrats to Cailtin!


The ARC has a CD with a excerpt reading by Tatiana de Rosnay. Cool!


ARC provided by St. Martin's Press.

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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has chosen Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen as her pick of the month for August. This book is a great book club pick. Lots of conversation starters -- culture differences, family, loss, personal challenges. Clark wrote:

"It's a common adage that you can't go home again, but Rhoda Janzen does just that in her memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.

"Shortly after Janzen turns 43, her husband leaves her--for a man--and a car accident leaves her seriously injured. Those two events lead her to her parents' home--and the Mennonite community in which she was reared. Janzen broaches her circumstances, and the subsequent return to what now seems like a foreign culture, with insight and wit (and a few traditional recipes for good measure).

"Particularly endearing is Janzen's relationship with her mother, who offers support no matter what. Having had a mom who doubled as a personal cheerleader, I know that no matter where you call home, as long as your mom's around, it's a pretty good place to be."

Via Shelf Awareness  

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Tulane University Reading Project Picks Zeitoun

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers is the 2010 Tulane University Reading Project book selection. 

Since its inception in 2002, The Tulane Reading Project has created a shared intellectual experience for the entering first-year class through the reading and discussion of a selected book. With a variety of events scheduled throughout the fall semester, the Reading Project creates a campus-wide dialogue on a variety of themes. 

This year is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and Zeitoun is a perfect choice for discussion. The nonfiction work centers of the saga of Syrian-American Abdulrahman Zeitoun who, after securing his family's safefy, stayed behind to help during the devasting storm -- a hero assisting his neighbors.

However, instead of earning the respect of the military forces that had been sent to the city, he inadvertently aroused their suspicion. Arrested on false charges, he was turned over to the improvised justice system that sprang up in Katrina's wake-- a system that refused to allow him even a phone call to his wife. 

Zeitoun's ordeal is the main subject of this harrowing book, while Eggers enriches the shocking tale of injustice with a richly layered account of Zeitoun's early life on the coast of Syria, his large and loving family, his relationships with his friends, employees, and neighbors.

Tulane has made a great book selection and Zeitoun would make a excellent reading group pick.

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2010 Man Booker Longlist Announced!

Booker PrizeThe Man Booker Award for Fiction, first awarded in 1969, promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. Any full-length novel, written by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe is eligible.

try to read the Man Booker award winner every year. Some years, I don't get around to it. The Booker award-winners that I read are The White Tiger, The Gathering, The Inheritance of Loss, The Life of Pi, Disgrace, The Blind Assassin, Amsterdam, The God of Small Things, Last Orders, Sacred Hunger, The English Patient, Possession, The Remains of the Day. Not that bad!

I will highlight all 2010 thirteen (Booker dozen) titles in upcoming posts. 

The 2010 Booker longlist.

Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America

Emma Donoghue Room

Helen Dunmore The Betrayal

Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (

Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question

Andrea Levy The Long Song

Tom McCarthy C

David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet 

Lisa Moore February

Paul Murray Skippy Dies

Rose Tremain Trespass

Christos Tsiolkas The Slap

Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky

The 2010 shortlist will be announced on September  7. The winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2010 will be announcedOctober 12 .

The winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction will receive £50,000.(approx. $77,000)  

How many Booker prizes winners have you read?

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Teaser Tuesdays July 27: A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

A Secret KeptI'm still reading A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay. I took a vacation -- from everything, including reading! So my Teaser Tuesday is again from A Secret Kept.

I'm almost finished so I will give the ARC to one lucky random TT fan! Winning the giveaway is a good way for you to review the book before picking it as your choice for your reading group. A Secret Kept is a great book club pick, full of discussion points -- family, secrets, romance, hope, loss.

"I want to call Melanie about all this, and nearly do, but it is getting on for one o'clock in the morning. I lie in bed for a long time, tossing and turning, before sleep finally sinks in.

My father's cancer. My grandmother's upcoming funeral. The tall, blond American.

You better tell me how Clarisse died, right now."

-- p. 238 of ARC of A Secret Kept (September 2010) by Tatiana de Rosnay

Anyone can play Teaser Tuesday!

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
    Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too. 

What's your TT? Leave a comment and you will be entered in the A Secret Kept Advance Readers' Copy giveaway. Giveaway closes on July 29 -- open only to US addresses.

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Jane Austen Fight Club

Hilarious video for Jane Austen fans or not Jane Austen fans! Go, Girls!




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Teaser Tuesdays July 20: A Secret Kept by Titiana de Rosnay

Teaser TuesdayTeaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I'm so excited about this Teaser Tuesday! It is from new Tatiana de Rosnay, A Secret Kept! De Rosnay's previous novel was Sarah's Key. One of Reading Group Choices 2009 Top Ten Favorite Discussible Books. A Secret Kept is my next read.

"I am shown into a small, drab room, told to sit down and wait. Six empty brown chairs face each other on tired linoleum. In a corner, a fake green plant, shiny leaves coated with dust. I do as I am told. I sit down. My thighs tremble. My palms feel clammy, my throat parched. My head throbs. I think, I should call our father now, I should call him before it gets too late. But my hand makes no effort to grab the phone in the pocket of my jeans. Call our father and tell him what? Tell him how?" -- beginning paragraph, A Secret Kept, Tatiana de Rosnay, September 2010. 

What's your TT?

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