THE BOOK CLUB PLAY
Planning on being in the Washington, D.C. area next month? If not, you and your book group may want to make plans, because Arena Stage is presenting The Book Club Play, by resident playwright Karen Zacarías (Legacy of Light) and directed by Molly Smith, from October 7th to November 6th in the Kogod Cradle.
As an added bonus, Reading Group Choices subscribers will receive 20% off their tickets! And Arena Stage will host your next book club in one of Arena Stage's spectacular spaces or intimate studies when you reserve group tickets to see the play! Tickets start at $40 - to order yours, please eMail or call (202) 488-4380 and use Offer Code 1703.
Spend time with Ana, a Type A personality living in a letter-perfect world with an adoring husband, perfect job and her greatest passion: Book Club. But when bizarre circumstances put her life under a magnifying glass, things begin to heat up and more truths are told than anyone bargained for. TalkinBroadway.com calls this production about life, love and literature "delightful, fresh comedy!"
"Guest Blog: How to Plan a Themed Book Club Discussion" by Catherine LeFebvre
"This week’s post comes from Donna Paz Kaufman from Reading Group Choices. Planning a themed book club discussion for your group inspired by the plot, character, setting or style makes for a fun and memorable book discussion guaranteed to bring on the laughter! This month’s LHJ Book Club pick, I Think I Love You, centers around a teenage obsession with 1970’s teen idol, David Cassidy. Here are her expert tips for turning a walk down memory lane into a themed event your club will be talking about for months to come.
Spark Memories of “The Way We Were”
Ask members to bring an old photo of themselves, if they are brave enough! (that’s a 9th grade portrait of me below, circa 1973!), or memorabilia from their own teen idol crush to share in a round-robin reveal.
Serve up the Flavor of the Times
Swedish meatballs, chicken croquettes, meat or cheese fondue, and fruity Sangria are good choices for serving up the flavor of 70’s entertaining.
Set the Mood with Music
Get out your old album collection and disco ball, and boogie to some Classics during pre-discussion social time. (Think Bee Geez, Donna Summer, or The Partridge Family of course.)
Create a Time Capsule with Novelty Items
Set out items that set the stage for reminiscing. Quintessential games from the era like Twister!, a beaded curtain, and bean bags will transport your guests back in time.
Throw Back to Fashions from the Past
Invite members to come dressed in groovy 70’s fashions: Bell bottoms, caftans, knee-high socks, mini dresses, maxis and platform shoes."
This article, with Donna Paz Kaufman's input, is an excellent resource to help bring creativity and liveliness to your bookclub!
Two Authors chat about writing, books, and everthing in between...
Take it away ladies!
Gabrielle: In One Amazing Thing, Chitra, you have 9 characters. Did you like some more than others? Have a favorite? Was there one who really gave you trouble?
Chitra: Gabrielle, it was tough to work with 9 characters, especially since I think of One Amazing Thing as an ensemble novel, where all the characters are equally important. To add to the challenge, they came from different racial backgrounds—Indian, Chinese, Caucasian, African American. My favorites turned out to be Malathi, the visa office worker whom everyone hates in the beginning, and Cameron, the older African American veteran. I didn’t have trouble with Malathi—she’s Indian, and I felt I understood her thinking process well. But Cameron--it took me a long time to imagine and research the details of his life because it was so different from my own experience.
How about you, G?
Gabrielle: In most of the stories about the Donner Party, a man named Lewis Keseberg is the villain, the scapegoat. Thinking about him for so many years while I was writing Impatient with Desire, he became much more dimensional and sympathetic to me. He didn't become one of my favorites like your Malathi but I became fond of him and felt for him. Generally in writing fiction I think the character most like me is the hardest to write because of having to face up to truths. Conversely, the one most unlike me can be the most fun because I can indulge my fantasies. In Heartbreak Hotel, I had 7 characters, and the easiest one to write was Rita the bellydancer.
Chitra: You mean you’ve never belly-danced? Never too late, Gabrielle! But seriously, in writing, how much do you draw upon your own experience?
Gabrielle: Sometimes when readers ask me that, I say, If I tell you none of it is based on my experiences you'll be disappointed, and if I tell you all of it is, I'll be embarrassed. In truth, it's someplace in the middle. Our life is our material and we all draw upon our experiences--sometimes the way something actually happened, more often the way it could have or should have happened--in other words, we make a better story of it. Or we use a part here, a part there, and the whole becomes something brand new. And sometimes we just plain make stuff up.
What about you, Chitra?
Chitra: I started making stuff up right from my first novel, The Mistress of Spices, which employs magical realism. The main character is a woman who knows the hidden power of spices and can use them to heal people, not just physically but mentally, and bring them what their hearts desire. From then on, there was no looking back. (How could my own life compare to something like that!) And that has been very freeing for me, because whenever I base a character on someone I know, at some point or other, I get blocked & have a hard time moving away from their life.
Are you ever blocked, Gabrielle? What do you do?
Gabrielle: I think of two things that are really the same thing, one that Flannery O'Conner said, "I sit at my desk every day from 9 to 12. If inspiration comes, I'm there to greet it." And the other an artist, Irving Kriesberg, I met at MacDowell when I was young and struggling said, "You have to trust the act of work." You have to trust that if you keep giving it your best shot, something will happen. The important thing is to get something, anything, down on the page no matter how bad it is, then you have something to work with.
Are you ever blocked or despairing, Chitra?
Chitra: I love that Flannery O'Connor quote. I’ll have to share it with my writing students. Yes, I do get blocked. (Is there any writer who doesn’t? If there is, they’re lying.) Usually it’s because I haven’t understood my story/scene fully enough, or I haven’t figured out the characters motivations and desires. So then I have to make extensive notes and figure these things out. Only then can I move on. I have an alternate strategy: it involves my muse, Juno, and is on my website, http://www.chitradivakaruni.com/about/muse. (Yes, interested readers will just have to go there & check it out!)
Do you have objects or talismans on your writing desk that help you, Gabrielle?
Gabrielle: I often copy down something that a person I admire has said or lines from poems and prop them up in front of me--they change from year to year. Permanent residents are a 140 year old china doll that was my grandmother's, and a piece of amethyst that was the last present my sister gave me. The former inspire me; the latter comfort me.
What do you have on your desk, Chitra?
Chitra: I have a meditating Buddha that my mother gave me. I usually meditate in the morning before I start writing—that helps me enter the fictive world. My Buddha reminds me that all this will pass. Even the worst writing problem I’m facing will get resolved, one way or another. I also have sheaves of notes and a to-do list. When I’m writing and remember something that I should have done, and am tempted to interrupt myself and get up & do it, I write it down instead.
Chitra: Of course all writers would love to have a best seller, but a published book can bring other treasures. What's a wonderful unexpected thing that happened to you as a result of publishing Impatient with Desire?
Gabrielle: One thing was meeting other writers the way you and I met through sharing a publisher, and also meeting writers on the internet. I work pretty much in isolation and the internet has broken that isolation. A splendid thing was a Donner Party descendant writing me, asking if I'd like to see Tamsen Donner's cashbox. She brought it from Oregon to show me, and from my research I was able to tell her a story about it she didn't know. I wrote off and on about the pioneer heroine Tamsen Donner for nearly four decades and not in a million years would I have dreamed her cash box would one day sit on my dining room table for me to touch 165 years after she had.
Gabrielle: I bet people tell you their amazing things all the time. That's what's wonderful about your book, that it inspires people to pay attention to special things. Tell me one amazing thing that has happened to you because of your book.
Chitra: Well, it really touches me anytime I attend a book club and people begin to share their “One Amazing Thing” stories. Sometimes they open up and tell a story they’ve never told anyone. The most amazing time was when this reader—a very successful doctor, very proper, very in control—told the group how he had felt the first time a patient of his died. By the end of his narration, we were all moved to tears—including him. It made me think, this is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for when I wrote the book—community and connection through sharing our stories. Your amazing story above points to a similar connection through reading, too, I think.
Gabrielle: We've talked about this, Chitra, and I know you agree that those are the moments when we know how fortunate we are to be writers. They're really humbling moments. Moments of grace.
Thanks Gabrielle and Chitra! Trimuph over adverstiy, women empowerment and American history in Impatient with Desire and personal discovery, diversity, and intriguing relaitonships in One Amazing Thing. Both make excellent book club selections.
Gabrielle Burton's novel, Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner, was awarded the Western Heritage Award for outstanding novel. She's also the author of the novel, Heartbreak Hotel, and the nonfiction books Searching for Tamsen Donner and I'm Running Away from Home but I'm Not Allowed to Cross the Street. She has written for the Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Ms. Magazine, etc., and blogs for the Huffington Post and the Nervous Breakdown. Her screenwriting honors include: the Mary Pickford Prize from American Film Institute, 1st prize in the Austin Heart of Film Screenplay competition, and a Nicholl fellowship. She lives in Venice, CA.
Chitra Divakaruni's work has been translated into 29 languages, and her novels Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart have been made into films. She has won a number of awards including an American Book Award and a PEN Josephine Miles award. Her latest novel, One Amazing Thing, was recently picked as the 2011 Gulf Coast Reads book, a one-region-one-book program for the Houston area. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston. An avid blogger and Facebooker, she invites you to join her on her author page, http://www.facebook.com/chitradivakaruni
HAS PENMAN'S SHIP SAILED?
MAILE CHAPMAN, author of Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto, discusses the importance of writing—pen-to-paper— in her life and career as an author.
I come from a family of frequent letter writers, so from very young I looked forward to learning “penmanship” in third grade. For me writing that way was a sign of adulthood, something my parents, grandparents, step-parents, and aunts all did. Now, though, American schools are deciding whether to drop the cursive requirement, leaving the choice up to individual teachers. I see the logic of the argument – typing is the more efficient of the two forms – but I don’t think efficiency is the end-all, be-all. I just can’t imagine growing up and getting an education without being taught how to write. Keyboarding is a necessary skill, absolutely, but it’s a different form of expression than writing by hand and the two are not interchangeable. Handwriting is idiosyncratic, whereas typing is standardized – it’s meant to be somewhat less personal, the better to participate in a common system for communicating quickly and easily. Handwriting is messy, and typing is legible. But you know how emails can be easy to misread or misinterpret, because there’s no emotional inflection? I rarely feel that way about anything written by hand.
The detours my brain takes when I sit down to write fiction wouldn’t be the same if I hadn’t learned how to write first with a pen in my hand, at a slow, laborious pace that left evidence of false starts strewn all around, undeletable. I’m biased, of course, because I still write fiction that way, including my novel, and I’m superstitious and protective about my work habits. But if I couldn’t compose inefficient first drafts on paper, slowly and with tons of mistakes, I don’t think I could write fiction at all, because of self-induced pressure to produce something good too early in the process.
Many writers set down first drafts on the computer, and I wish that I could do that, too, because I’m often hampered by my methods – working on more than one project in a bunch of different notebooks makes it hard, if not impossible, to stay organized. I wish I could at least search my hoard for key words; sometimes things I’ve written disappear before I have a chance to transcribe them onto the computer and I never find them again, which is infuriating and disheartening. But as soon as I put words on a screen it gives them a certain formality and if that comes too early I seem to choke. Writing in cursive feels less formal – there’s no illusion that my inky working pages constitute a finished piece. I can write pages and pages of stupid stuff with a pen and not feel like I’m a bad writer, whereas typing the voluminous garbage I personally have to get through before I hit anything useful would make me feel acutely self-conscious, and overwhelmed by the amount of work still clearly looming ahead. It seems I can’t compose the bulk of anything new while I’m typing because I can’t turn off my internal editor and critic.
But then naturally those are the voices I need when it’s time to impose order. Typing pages of cursive into a single document can suddenly make me feel like I’m switching gears and getting somewhere. Once those pages are available on the screen it’s amazingly liberating to be able to move paragraphs and cut sections and then put them back in, seeing the whole as well as the pieces… of course I’m stating the ultra-obvious here. My point is that I’m glad I can do both, because making an explicit distinction between generating new material and then editing it afterwards is what works for me. Starting with a pen on paper makes that distinction palpable, and helps me avoid too much of the early self-criticism that makes it so hard to try to write anything new – I’m safe because I know I’ll clean it up later, on the computer. That kind of healthy self-indulgence is what I need most when I start reaming out the mental garbage in search of something worth pursuing.
What do you think? Is pen-to-paper old and out dated or is it still a relevant institution? Is society too dependent on technology and word processing programs? Where do you think penmanship stands today after reading Maile Chapman’s take on it?
Maile Chapman's stories have appeared in A Public Space, Literary Review, the Mississippi Review, and Post Road. She earned her MFA from Syracuse University and is currently a Schaeffer Fellow in Fiction at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Two Authors chat about their dogs, other pets, and fond memories...
I am pleased to welcome I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship's editor, Wade Rouse, and one of its contributing writers, Jenny Gardiner.
Take it away Jenny and Wade!
Jenny Gardiner: Wade, I know you're a dog freak as am I. I fell head over heels in love with dogs when we as a kid I to the Jersey shore with my family and met up with friends who had a black Lab named Indie. Our friends had a son, Chuck, who had Cerebral Palsy and back then there weren't really therapy dogs but Indie was as close to one as you'd ever come. Chuck and Indie were irrevocably bonded and she would swim with him and be sure he was safe, circling him in the ocean while his dad assisted him. I was so smitten by how much a dog could give a human being. When did you first fall for a dog?
Wade Rouse: Oh, sweetie! I've fallen for a lot of dogs in my life. But the first dog-dog I ever loved was an abandoned beagle puppy my mother brought home one night. She had found it in a ditch. I named it "Rouse's Rabbit Racer," "Racer" for short, and I adored that dog. It slept on my pillow, it rode in a car across the back of my neck, like a scarf, it sat on the front of a canoe. That's when I first learned about unconditional love, and complete devotion. I've had only rescue dogs since (six total), and I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship is really an ode to my mom, a hospice nurse and animal advocate, who taught me about giving back and loving completely, without worrying about the hurt/pain, and to my most current mutt, Marge, our 80-pound, Heinz 57, Scooby Doo mix we lost this April at the age of 14. They were both the loves of my life and my best friends (along, of course, with my partner, Gary!).
Jenny Gardiner: I'm so sorry you lost Marge. I know she was your BFF for a long long time (yeah, besides Gary!). It's so painful to lose a dog.
Hey! Our first dog was a beagle too! His name was Oogie and my mother had her hands full with 3 kids under the age of 3 and Oogie was a handful and he ran away all the time and then poof! One day, Oogie was gone. Taken to the old "farm" we were told. That was the end of household pets until I was about ten, when we started our stockpile of Labrador retrievers. We had BB, and she had a litter of puppies (omg you haven't lived till you've raised puppies) and we kept her son Ace, then BB died suddenly and we got Pepper, then she had a litter of puppies (hey, this was the 70's, a lot of backyard breeding went on back then) and we kept Ace, Jr (imaginative, no?), aka AJ.
I always remember those puppies--some of the best times of my childhood with those crazy little pups. So much so that we bred our dog Sassy, a yellow Lab, a few years ago because of my fond memories. We'd gotten Bridget, the object of my story, My Dog the Dominatrix, in the Bitch anthology, a bit impulsively, shortly after the death of the first dog I had as a grown-up (Beau, also a yellow Lab). I agreed to the premature acquisition of another dog provided I could still have a yellow Lab some day. So for my 40th birthday my husband surprised me with Sassy. Surprisingly Bridget, not a fan of other dogs, took to Sassy pretty well, as long as she could be the serious Alpha Dog. Sassy learned quite readily that she would always take the figurative scraps in Bridget's universe.
When Sassy was two years old we bred her. I'd always wanted my kids to have this wonderful puppy experience. We'd been told NEVER to let Bridget have puppies--the vet sort of grouped her in the "demon seed" category I think LOL. So that wasn't gonna happen. Poor Bridget got spayed right out of the gate. Because Beau had had so many health problems due to inbreeding, we were very professional (for amateurs) in how we bred Sassy. She had to go to all sorts of specialists to be sure her hips and eyes and god knows what else was in the best of conditions to perpetuate her gene pool. She passed all the tests and we farmed her out to be violated by some boy dog--this did agonize me. But when Sassy had those puppies, OMG were they the most adorable precious demonic things you ever did see. Raising a litter of puppies is like raising a team of landsharks. Those things with their razor sharp teeth annihilated anything with which they came in contact--be it drywall, floorboards, trim, or human flesh. It was an experience we STILL talk about all the time, we adored those puppies and it was so painful to let them go. In fact the kids and I still get mad at my husband who refused to agree to our keeping one--he felt three dogs would be more than he could ever bear to deal with. Boo hoo! I wrote a piece about the experience and reading it back was astounded by the amount of cleaning supplies we went through in that 8-week period. I should've invested in Swiffer at the time! It was interesting to see how Bridget was once Sassy had pups. Sass was a fierce protector of her babies and for that period of time her and Bridget's roles actually reversed.
I know that you and Gary have another rescue, right? What's she like? And I know you and Gary are on the road a lot and finding petsitters is a bit of a pain (well there is always the kennel, but my dogs have never been big fans). Might there even be a new beastie on the horizon for you?
Wade Rouse: Mabel is 30-pound, Labradoodle-beagle mix (I know, right? Think Labradoodle that looks as if it's been tossed into a dryer for about a half an hour.) She is adorable, and much easier than Marge ever was: She is laid-back, a great traveler, although she is very vocal (I tend to surround myself with very vocal humans and animals). It's much easier to travel with her than it was with Marge, as she can go more places easily and doesn't mind having a petsitter. We really made Marge needy and co-dependent. We couldn’t ever kennel Marge to go on a vacation, book tour, or weekend trip, as she would go on a hunger strike the minute she couldn’t see us while she ate – I mean, we couldn’t even leave the kitchen at home while she ate. That dog could also work her way out of any locked kennel, crate and room, as well as any door, be it hinged or hooked, bolted or padlocked. Marge was like a doggy MacGyver. She could use her large snout to turn handles or knobs, her paws and teeth to unlock doors, her giant head to push a closed structure open like a bulldozer. Once loose, she would free all other trapped dogs, a sort of Norma Rae staging a kennel riot, before standing back and watching the chaos she had created. One this smokescreen was in motion, only then would Marge walk free, on a quest to find her daddies. I know this, because I’ve seen it on those nanny-cam’s kennels utilize. But that dog slept on my feet every day while I wrote. She never left my side. I credit her with helping me write five books, because she was right there giving me support every second, urging me on, centering me with kisses, exercising with me. We have a pet-sitter (a fabulous vet tech from our vet's office) who watches Mabel and also house sits (win-win). But Mabel misses her sister, and we are thinking about getting another (big) rescue. Perhaps after this book tour. I'm sure I'll be feeling itchy for a dog after talking about dogs for six weeks.
Jenny Gardiner: Oooh, yeah, I vote you get another dog! Mabel must be lonely. LOL I love the Norma Rae analogy. Bridget is the Houdini part of that minus the "I'll free my compatriots" part. She's all about survival/self-preservation. If another dogs lucks out thanks to her wiles, so be it, but she's not looking for company in her escapades: spare dogs just end up being an albatross in her freedom quest. We've thought about setting up doggy-cams. Especially after Sassy (our ravenous Labrador) ate my husband's ear radio (the kind you take to football games), an entire check book, and a furnace filter. Oh and twice ate my daughter's retainer. We'd love to see what triggers her insane feeding frenzies and know we'd get a good laugh.
I did set up a parrot-cam with our parrot Graycie and was surprised to learn that she talks talks talks all day long when we're not around! When she had puppies she got the gourmet treatment, food-wise--she went from two scoops of boring nuggets a day to twelve cups of homemade food: boiled chicken, rice, cooked veggies. She enjoyed her real food, so when that got cut back to two meager scoops of nuggets, I guess her rebellion is to forage in our home. Bridget's never been a food-lover. If they were in a nursery rhyme Bridget would be Jack Sprat and Sassy would be his wife who could eat no lean. But we used to give Bridget major honker bones just to keep her from destroying our baseboards and our hands. She loved loved loved to eat our hands. So I would boil giant cow shanks and stuff them with cheese and other treats. It would keep her busy for a while but we ended up with so many bones lying around the house it felt sort of cadaverous after a while.
Do your dogs go nuts on weird things to eat?
Wade Rouse: Yep. Just like their daddies (I worship Kashi, and, oddly, candy necklaces ... fiber and sugar). Let's start with the weird food brought on by anxiety. Marge ate, in the following order (and survived): Three razor blades (she liked the mint from the shaving cream, ate the safety razors, but managed to pass them all with no damage); a giant chocolate Easter bunny that I had hid for Gary as a Valentine's surprise ("Thank God it was the cheap chocolate!" the vet stated, cementing the worst V-Day in the history of mankind); an entire box of raisins (which can be toxic ... as well as cleansing ... no damage); tubes of my Carmex, Burt's Bees, Vaseline lip balm, lip shimmer, which coated her snout. We learned she was eating things that smelled like us, or she had seen us touch, because she was having separation anxiety. After that, she got a mega-crate in the house, and that ended up being her safe zone and home. Marge loved salmon (any fish, really), rotissery chicken, parmesan cheese, carrots, dry spaghetti, pig's ears, and corn on the cob (which she could straight off the cob, like a person). More than anything, Marge loved those Frosty Paws ice cream treats, which we finally had to end, because she got so territorial with them (she would carry around the empty containers for days). Mabel loves EVERYTHING, from frogs, which she will proudly bring into the house and place on our laps (that's the beagle in her) to my own beloved Kashi (a girl after my own heart). She has never been a picky eater. Put it out, she eats. She's a really bad "counter cruiser": We can't leave any food out on the counter, or dinner table, and walk away, or she's having her own buffet. We recently had a dinner party, and put the salad on the table right before our guests had been seated. I walked away to get the dressing, and when I returned, Mabel was standing on top of the table eating the salad. Gary whispered, "What do we do?" And I said, "Toss it!" No one knew. Until now, of course. That will likely be our last dinner party once word gets out. Mabel's latest summer trick has been to eat all the fresh strawberries in our garden right off the plants. It's easy to bust her: We have no berries, and she stares up at us looking as if she just got a root canal by the dentist in "Marathon Man."
I hope readers are as gaga over this book as we are about our dogs! I have a feeling we're all in the same neurotic Noah's Ark together! Thanks, Jenny!
Jenny Gardiner: Hmm...Remind me to be wary at your next dinner party (I'd likely have done the same thing!). Those counter cruisers are the worst. We now have to shove anything food-like to the far recesses of the counter. If it's something like homemade pies, I put it up above the microwave because I know they go to great lengths to score a good snack.
We sure do put up with a lot with our crazy pets, don't we? I think people are going to LOVE this book! I got a quick glance at it today (still waiting for my copy!) when I did a radio interview and the reporter had a copy in front of me. Can't wait to read it all myself!
Thanks Jenny and Wade! Pets...You can't live with them and you can't live without them. I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship is an excellent book club pick for animal and comedy lovers!
Jenny Gardiner is the author of the award-winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver; Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me; Slim to None; Over the Falls; House of Cards; and a contributor to the humorous dog-lovers anthology, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship. Her work has been found in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post and on NPR’s Day to Day. She lives in Virginia with her husband, three kids, two dogs, one cat, one rabbit, and a gregarious parrot. In her free time she studies Italian, dreams of traveling to exotic locales, and feels very guilty for rarely attempting to clean the house. Visit her at her blog, www.jennygardiner.net/blog, on facebook www.facebook.com/jennygardinerbooks, or twitter twitter.com/jennygardiner
Wade Rouse is the author of five books, including four critically-acclaimed memoirs: America’s Boy (Dutton/2006), Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler (Harmony/2007), and the bestsellers, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life (Harmony/2009), and It’s All Relative: A Memoir of Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine (Crown/2011). Wade is also the creator and editor of the upcoming, humorous dog anthology, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales about Man’s Best Friends by America’s Favorite Humorists (September 6, 2011-NAL/Penguin), which features a foreword by Chelsea Handler and her dog, Chunk, and essays by 11 New York Times bestsellers and one Tony winner. Wade is donating a portion of the book’s proceeds to the Humane Society of the United States. For more, please visit www.WadesWriters.com or www.rhspeakers.com.
One of Reading Group Choices' Featured Books for the month of September is The Legacy by Katherine Webb. Here we get a peek at Katherine’s story of her first novel, favorite authors, and loves and qualms about being a writer!
For book club members, using an interview of an author during a meeting can bring interesting points to your discussion that you may not have thought of with just the novel as a reference. For example discuss the setting of The Legacy after reading why Katherine chose it!
1. When and why did you begin writing?
I started to write as a child – I was always coming up with stories - and I won several poetry and prose competitions at school and college. I did start to write a fantasy novel in my teens, but quickly abandoned it! I sat down to start my first “proper” novel after a post graduate course I'd enrolled on was cancelled, and I found myself in the north east of England with little idea of what to do next. I finished it having moved to Venice, and started the next one straight away.
2. Who has influenced your writing?
This is such a hard question to answer! I'm sure all writers like to think that their voice comes entirely from within, but I'm also sure that we're all a product of everything we've ever read, all the people we've met and the experiences we've had. My mother cultivated a love of reading in me at a very young age, and introduced me to a wide variety of excellent books, so I would say that she has been very influential.
3. Who is your favorite author?
There are so many! I love Helen Dunmore, Joanne Harris, Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood and Terry Pratchett.
4. Why does your book make a good holiday read?
I've always thought that a good holiday read should be one that you can take the time to really get caught up in; one that draws you deeply into a story and transports you to different places. I hope that The Legacy embodies these characteristics.
5. Why did you pick the setting/settings for this book?
The modern day strand of the book is set in a faded English manor house during a spell of bitter winter weather. This is a place that has changed very little since my characters, Erica and Beth, spent time there as children, and I wanted them to feel somewhat isolated and cut off from the rest of the world; the house being almost like a time capsule where they are beset by memories, and forced to confront their demons.
The historical strand is set in Oklahoma Territory, in the USA, between 1902 and 1904. I wanted my character, Caroline, who has left New York to marry a cattle rancher, to find herself in the real wild west – an untamed place of vast landscapes and harsh conditions that would be a real challenge for her to adjust to. Because the area had been reserved for Native American tribes until the last years of the nineteenth century, Oklahoma Territory remained relatively untamed in the early twentieth century, when a lot of the prairie elsewhere had been cultivated and settled by white farmers by then, and opened up by the railways.
6. How long did it take you to write this book?
The first draft took about ten months to complete, including all the historical research beforehand. I tend to write very quickly, once I'm under way. I then worked on a final draft with my editor at Orion, which took another two or three months.
7. What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
The best thing has to be the satisfaction of creating a story and characters from scratch, and seeing both of them come to life. I also love the research involved in writing a historical storyline. I love the chance to keep learning.
The worst thing would have to be finding the will power to stay at your desk on a sunny day and get that word count up, when all you want to do is walk to the pub or lounge about in the garden.
Katherine Webb grew up in rural Hampshire, England. She has lived in London and Venice, and she currently resides in Berkshire, England. Having worked as a waitress, au pair, personal assistant, potter, bookbinder, library assistant, and housekeeper at a manor house, she now writes full-time.
Hi everyone! I’m Laura and will be continuing the blog my Aunt Barbara loved so much. Whether it is an author interview, a new intriguing book, or even a dress made out of book pages, I look forward to sharing and discussing all aspects of book clubs with all you book lovers! Click here to learn more about me.
Kate Spade has done it again!
In a previous post, Kate Spade's purse designs were highlighted -- The Great Gatsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Now, there are more literary clutches. Pride and Prejudice and Emma by Jane Austen, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson, and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Cool and hip. I Married Adventure is very on-trend -- a zebra print background!
Just in time for holiday gift-giving!
" . . . I don’t look forward to a future in which my Kindle (or whatever device inevitably succeeds it) is the only book on the shelf. But it’s a future I’m fairly convinced is awaiting us, and it’s one that I, as a consumer, am playing my part in advancing us toward. There are moments when I wish I could follow the lead of Borges’ retired librarian and bury my book of sand on some obscure shelf in a library basement and just forget all about it. But then I realize that the thing is just too useful, too crazily convenient a tool to not embrace. And then I tell myself that it’s not possible, anyway, to shelve the advance of technology, and that history is filled with examples of beautiful things being supplanted by more efficient versions of those things. Ultimately, you’re never going to win an argument against convenience, no matter how much you love the anachronistic, heavy, unwieldy, and beautiful thing you want to save."
Great article by Mark O'Connell yesterday in The Millions blog The E-Reader of Sand: The Kindle and the Inner Conflict Between Consumer and Booklover.
I agree with O'Connell -- don't pull against progress. Enjoy it and be creative with it.
What do you think? Are eReaders enhancing your reading -- making books more convenient thus reading more?
Author On the Bookcase
I'm excited to welcome Mara Purl, author of The Milford-Haven Novels, to On the Bookcase. Milford-Haven is a fictitious town on California's Central Coast. Pre-9/11, housing is on the rise, the stock market is booming, and Milford-Haven is full of the upwardly mobile pouring out of Los Angeles in search of a fresh start or a weekend getaway. The novels are based on Purl's BBC Radio drama Milford-Haven U.S.A.
The first in the Milford-Haven series, What the Heart Knows, features Miranda Jones. Artist Miranda begins to trust her heart enough to escape from her life of privilege and start over in Milford-Haven. Now that she's moved, deeper questions surface: What is her life purpose? What's missing? And what does her heart know that her head keeps ignoring? Miranda connects with environmentalist Samantha Hugo -- a brilliant PhD twenty years her senior who gave up a son years earlier and with restaurant owner Sally O'Mally who left Arkansas to create her own dream. Each woman wrestles with her own core issues while balancing demanding careers. What happens in Milford-Haven when journalist Christine Christian is found murdered while investigating a half-built house?
Look for the sign to Milford-Haven, pull off Highway 1 and discover for yourself . . . What the Heart Knows.
Mara chats about her Author Chat with a book club and how her "characters became springboards for philosophical considerations and self-examination" during the book club discussion.
Mara, what does your heart know?
When I think of book clubs, I think of a special evening when I was the guest of a group in Thousand Oaks, California. The meeting was held at a beautiful home nestled in the hills. Spacious and comfortable, the home was also fragrant with cooking aromas when I arrived.
After being welcomed, I was invited to sit at a large dining table where the group of twelve women assembled. Our plates were heaped with a sumptuous array of perfectly cooked foods, and as we began to share the meal, one of the book club members introduced me formally.
It soon became clear that not only had everyone there read my book; each had read it carefully and apparently made notes, as notebooks and index cards, and print-outs of the Reading Guide from the Reading Group Choices website began appearing next to their plates. The first volley of questions were about story details: Why did Samantha, an environmentalist, drive a Jeep Cherokee? Why was Miranda, obviously attracted to Zack, suspicious of his behavior? The second set of questions were aimed more at larger writing issues. Did I really believe I could keep developing so many characters? How did I plan to inform readers who started with book three what had already happened in the series?
Some of their questions put me on the hot seat, but I experienced it as more of a “warm” seat—a comfortable place to be, gratified by their obviously genuine interest. But as dinner finished and desert was being served, things got even more interesting. Now the characters and their experiences became springboards for philosophical considerations and self-examination. Now we were a group of women interested in working on our lives, talking through issues, and revealing deep feelings.
We were women who’d moved from our heads to our hearts. And this was the most thrilling part of the evening for me. For this is the theme of my entire series, and the reason book one is titled What the Heart Knows. In our culture, we’re not only encouraged to “use our heads,” but admonished that the only way to get ahead is to use smart tactics and learn how to strategize. This is all to the good!
Yet, when it comes to “following our hearts,” we’re often advised we’re being “overly emotional,” “immature,” or just “foolish.” I believe the heart—our intuition, our instincts, our gut-feelings—can offer information that is every bit as valuable as what our heads have to tell us. So I challenged myself: what would life look like for a character who began to listen to what her heart says? This is my protagonist’s journey. And, to some extent, it’s the journey of each character in Milford-Haven.
The thrill of that evening with the book club was that the very questions I had posed for my characters, were the questions my readers were now posing for themselves. On the surface, my books are good reads because they entertain and provide escape—something we all need from time to time. But beneath the surface, these deeper issues swim patiently, waiting for a chance to surface.
At the end of the evening, I felt not only physically full, but emotionally and intellectually well-fed. The book we’d discussed that night happened to be one of mine, but the experience went far beyond the content available between the covers of the book. Indeed what had happened was the book had become a window into the heart.
Thanks so much, Mara! Reading groups love to extend their book discussions outward to their lives and the world.
Bonus for Reading Group Choices Fans!
A Milford-Haven Single
Read When Hummers Dream, Mara's prequel to the first novel in her series. This is your chance to read the story before the story. . . .
also includes the Prologue and Chapter One of What the Heart Knows.
Praise for The Milford-Haven Novels
"In Mara Purl's books the writing is crisp and clean, the dialogue realistic, the scenes well described. I salute her ingenuity."
—Bob Johnson, Former Managing Editor, The Associated Press
Mara Purl pioneered small-town fiction for women with her popular and critically acclaimed Milford-Haven Novels. Her beloved fictitious town has been delighting audiences since 1992, when it first appeared as Milford-Haven, U.S.A.©—the first American radio drama ever licensed and broadcast by the BBC. The show reached an audience of 4.5 million listeners throughout the U.K.
Early editions of Mara's novels have won fifteen gold and finalist literary awards including the Benjamin Franklin, the Indie Excellence, the USA Book News Best Book, and the ForeWord Book of the Year. Mara's other writing credits include plays, screenplays, scripts for Guiding Light, cover stories for Rolling Stone, staff writing with the Financial Times (of London), and the Associated Press. She is the co-author (with Erin Gray) of Act Right.
As an actress, Mara was "Darla Cook" on Days Of Our Lives. She was named one of twelve Women of the Year by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women.
Learn more about Mara and Milford-Haven.