Author On the Bookcase
Kelly O'Connor McNees
So thrilled to welcome Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. Kelly's story includes factual accounts with fictional ideas to study Alcott's life and loves. With fine details from 19-century New England, the novel centers on a fictional period of her life -- Louisa attracts the attention and affection of Joseph Singer, a charming merchant. Should she reciprocate his feelings and maybe lose her independence and a career as a writer. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott humanizes the writer and paints Louisa as she was -- a complex and strong woman.
Kelly chats about her love of Little Women and her fascination with Lousia May Alcott.
Every year around Thanksgiving I get the urge to reread Little Women. The story begins, of course, in December, with Jo March lying on the rug, declaring that “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” The four March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—and their mother, Marmee, are missing Mr. March, an army chaplain who has been called to the Civil War battlefields to minister to the injured and dying soldiers. Things just aren’t the same without their father there to guide them. Over the course of the story, the March sisters must learn to overcome their individual weaknesses: pride, anger, timidity, and vanity. In the end we see that they are no longer little girls but grown women.
Sounds cheesy, right? And hopelessly quaint, not to mention a celebration of calcified nineteenth-century gender roles. It is all those things. But every year I yearn to read it just the same. There’s something deeply soothing about the simplicity of its moral universe, where the purpose of life is improvement. Good people should try, always, to be better: more generous, more contemplative, more committed.
And, to be totally honest, there’s just one more tiny reason I reread this book: Ever year I hope against hope that Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Lawrence, the next-door neighbor and Jo’s kindred spirit, will end up together. Alas, in all these years it has never turned out differently. Why, I wondered countless times, did Louisa end Little Women the way she did?
The direct answer is the one Louisa herself gave when asked this question by readers. Little Women was a huge bestseller right out of the gate, and Louisa received hundreds of letters asking about Jo and Laurie. The pair could not marry, Louisa explained, because Jo would no longer be Jo if she chose to live a conventional life. Even when Jo marries Professor Bhaer at the end—a plot twist Louisa was forced to tack on at her publisher’s request—it is not the sort of passionate love affair one might hope to see. The professor is much older than Jo and their relationship is mainly an intellectual alliance. Bo-ring!
Louisa’s defense of Jo’s choice never satisfied me. A few years ago, on a whim, I picked up a biography on Louisa and found myself utterly surprised and fascinated by this woman I knew so little about. Her most famous novel represented only a small part of who she was—and, it turns out, Louisa never even wanted to write it. Though she never had a love affair, late in life Louisa burned letters and journals, a fact I found intriguing. The more I learned about who Louisa was, her triumphs and disappointments, I realized there was a great deal about her life I wanted to, for lack of a better word, examine. I had never felt that way about any historical figure before.
But I had more questions than answers. Much of what I wanted to know couldn’t be known. And that’s when I realized that, counterintuitively, fiction was probably the only avenue that might lead me to some answers. By writing about Louisa—creating a fictional episode for the Louisa in my imagination, that is—I could come to see her more clearly, see what was inside her heart and mind as a young woman starting out in the world. Perhaps this story could explain the origin of the character of Laurie and why Louisa would want to save Jo, her fictional alter ego, from heartbreak.
The result is The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a novel set in 1855 when Louisa was just twenty-two, yearning for independence in Boston and recognition as a writer, but stuck for the summer in sleepy Walpole, New Hampshire, with her family and one irritatingly charming young man named Joseph Singer.
Writing this novel has satisfied my questions—for now. Although I can’t be sure until November rolls around if I won’t start wondering all over again.
Thanks so much, Kelly, for sharing your novel "answer to a question'" about one of America's great writers. November is right around the corner -- come chat with us, if more questions come up!
". . . The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is the kind of romantic tale to which Alcott herself was partial, one in which love is important but not a solution to life's difficulties. Devotees of Little Women will flock to this story with pleasure."
—The Washington Post
"I have read Little Women at least a dozen times, but Kelly O'Connor McNees has given me a gift I will not soon forget. Louisa May Alcott is no longer simply an icon to me but a real woman in all her complexity, one who lived life in spite of exploitation and the expectations of her day, never giving up on her dream. Her story is as relevant today as when Alcott bravely made her way. I can't wait to give copies of this novel to all of my friends."—Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife and The Same Sweet Girls
Kelly O’Connor McNees lives with her husband in Chicago. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is her first novel.
Please learn more about Kelly.
Two Authors chat about writing, books, and everything in between
I'm excited to bring to the second Author Squared to On the Bookcase. On deck are Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters) and Sarah Pekkanen (Skipping A Beat).
Skip to it, Sisters!
Eleanor: Sarah, what’s the best vacation you've ever taken?
Sarah: My husband and I took a second honeymoon to Montreal when our first two boys were about 3 and 5 years old. We hadn't been away for more than a quick night together in years, and we desperately needed to re-connect. We stayed in this charmingly quirky little hotel, featuring a grumpy parrot that muttered at us while we ate breakfast in the sun room, and we took long walks around the beautiful old city. We had rich strong coffee every morning, crepes for dinner, and spent an afternoon at a tiny little spa, where we luxuriated in side-by-side massages. It was blissfully decadent, and reminded us that we actually liked each other (despite all the squabbles about who forgot to take out the recycling, or whose turn it was to get up at 5:30 with our early-rising child). Then we came home and immediately started bickering again. Kidding!
Since we’re talking about vacations, Eleanor, what three things couldn't you survive without on a desert island (assuming you can't name people)?
Eleanor: Can I cheat and say an e-reader with a wi-fi connection so I’ll never be without something to read? And a pen and limitless paper, both so I could make up stories and send a message in a bottle for someone to come rescue me off the damn island, especially if I can’t take my sweetie and my cat with me.
Oh, and food. I should probably specify food other than coconuts, although I do have a fondness for coconuts. Sarah, while we’re on the subject of food, what would your ideal meal be?
Sarah: I'm a vegetarian (though I do eat some fish) so fresh, organic veggies would have a starring role. I'd love little bites and spoonfuls of a variety of dishes - a few sips of a roasted butternut soup, a tiny green salad with goat cheese and toasted pine nuts and a tangy dressing, and a sampling of fresh, perfectly prepared veggies. Maybe a funky tofu dish - something Asian, with noodles and lemongrass. I'd have to have a glass of crisply sweet white wine, and chocolate would need to be involved for dessert. Maybe a trio of little chocolate dishes - a mousse, a salted caramel drizzled with chocolate, and a tiny scoop of chocolate sorbet. Jeez, am I ever hungry now. Damn you, Eleanor Brown!
Eleanor: Sorry! (Except not really – that meal sounds really good!) I’ve had dinner with you two or three times, and I feel like I didn’t even know you are vegetarian. Am I clueless?
Sarah: No, because I was eating a huge steak at the time. No, not really. I had salmon the first time we went to dinner, and the second time, I’d already eaten, so I had soup. And wine.
Eleanor: I’m so not a foodie, but I keep hearing about salted caramel. Clearly we need to go out to dinner again next time I’m in D.C. so I can try some.
Sarah: We need to stop talking about food! So where and when do you get your best writing done?
Eleanor: I am so jealous of writers who say they have a lovely little office where they spend each morning from precisely 7:30 to 10 am, drinking the same tea in the same cup (now that I’ve said that, I’ll bet five dollars that you’re one of those people and I’ve just put my foot in my mouth, as usual). I have, haven’t I?
Sarah: Nope, and I’m insanely jealous of those people, too. The only thing worse is people who talk about escaping to some pristine retreat where they sit in a little beach cottage and listen to waves crashing down while they write for days and days with no interruptions. So where do you write?
Eleanor: I pretty much fly by the seat of my pants in every way possible, and writing is the same way – it’s more about whether the ideas are flowing, and that seems to happen at any date or time, especially if it’s inconvenient. My muse likes to make my life difficult.
Sarah: My muse is unshaven and surly, and usually hung over.
Eleanor: Did you know how Skipping A Beat was going to end when you started it?
Sarah: Yes. I once heard someone describe the process of writing a book as being similar to taking a road trip with a man. You know where you're going, but you're going to get lost (and not be allowed to ask for directions), you may run out of gas, you'll hit roadblocks, and you'll end up getting pretty pissed off. You'll get there, eventually, but it might not be pretty. That sums up the writing process for me. What about you?
Eleanor: I thought I knew how The Weird Sisters was going to end, and even went so far as to write the last scene soon after the first, but it didn’t work out how I thought it would at all. So I guess my writing process is more like taking a road trip where you get lost on the way and then just decide to permanently move to wherever you end up.
Sarah: What's the strangest/funniest thing that has happened to you as an author?
Eleanor: The whole thing is strange and funny, don’t you think? It’s just so startling that these people and this town that have been living in my head for so many years while I was writing The Weird Sisters are now out in the world and other people talk to me about them. It’s wonderful, but odd!
Sarah, what is the biggest challenge in writing fiction set in the now?
Sarah: Good question - I've never thought about that! For me, historical fiction would be more difficult because it would require extensive research. I was naturally drawn to writing fiction set in the now, just as I decided to write my first two books in the first person, and it wasn't a decision I grappled with. Now, titles, on the other hand - talk about a challenge! Titles are my kryptonite. I'm just terrible at them! My editor has had to title all three of my books.
Eleanor: You’re lucky she’s very good at them! Since we’re both Washington, D.C. area natives, I have to ask, what is your favorite D.C. monument?
Sarah: I love the majesty of the Lincoln Memorial. But there's also a little park in the shadow of the Washington Monument where you can lie on the green grass and watch airplanes take off from National Airport (it's now called Reagan Airport, but the locals still call it National). It's a great place to go and dream.
Eleanor: I agree – Lincoln totally wins the monument contest. I don’t think I’ve been to that park, but can I just say I still get confused when people say Reagan Airport? Growing up in DC, I’m so used to calling it National that it doesn’t seem right to call it anything else.
Sarah: How do you unwind? And please don’t bring up chocolate. I’m begging you.
Eleanor: The things I find most relaxing are working out and reading. Most days I have to push myself to go to the gym, but I know I’ll feel a thousand times better when I’m done.
But nothing, to me, beats diving into a good book. I love it when you’re reading a book so wonderful that the world just floats away and it’s just you and the story. And if I’m in or near some water while I’m reading that, all the better!
Sarah: I loved learning more about you, Eleanor. It’s very cool when an author you truly admire turns out to be a wonderful person.
Eleanor: Awww….and likewise! You already know I am president and founding member of the Sarah Pekkanen fan club, and I’m so happy to know you!
Monuments, chocolate, writing process, and "literary" road trips -- what a great conversation! Thanks so much, Eleanor and Sarah.
P.S. Born in DC and raised in Maryland and now back living in Maryland, I still called it National!
Another New Feature!
Sisters of the Traveling Computers
Eight great writers are going to produce a progressive novel -- like a progressive dinner! Each one will write a couple paragraphs in round robin style without discussing it with each other. This novel-in-progress will continue through the rest of the year. The scribes are Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters), Heidi Durrow (The Girl Who Fell From the Sky), Siobhan Fallon (You Know When The Men are Gone), Therese Fowler (Exposure), Tanya Egan Gibson (How to Buy a Love of Reading), Caroline Leavitt (Pictures of You), Sarah Pekkanen (Skipping a Beat), and Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters.)
The first eight installments will be anynomous as the writers would like to guess who is writing that passage solely on sytle of writing.
Let the novel begin!
By midnight, he still wasn’t home. Or he wasn’t picking up the phone, which he knew would make her frantic with worry. She couldn’t leave the Martin’s now. Already, Mrs. Martin had told her that just cleaning up after the party wasn’t enough, that she wanted her to also redust (redust!) the figurines on the mantle because “You didn’t take enough care last time.” Should she tell Mrs. Martin how Mr. Martin groped her as she trying to arrange the baby chocolate éclairs on a plate? Should she tell her how Bobby, Mrs. Martin's son, called her a stupid bitch and kicked her out of his room so she wouldn’t catch him doing Jesus knows what?
She wasn’t supposed to use her phone when she was working, but she dialed again. Maybe he was with Bette, his terrifying girlfriend. Maybe he was walking again, clearing his head about what had happened.
The next installment will be in June.
Two Authors chat about writing, books, and everything in between
I'm so thrilled to announce this new feature for On the Bookcase! The first AUTHOR SQUARED combines two New York Times bestselling authors, Caroline Leavitt (Pictures of You) and Heidi Durrow (The Girl Who Fell from the Sky). Both excellent book club picks!
Caroline: I know, for me, that often what I want to write isn't what I should be writing about, that sometimes the idea reveals itself to me. I never wanted to write about a child with asthma because my own childhood was filled with such terror and shame, but when I finally gave in to it, I actually began to feel better--both physically and emotionally about my past.
Heidi, do you find that what you’re writing taps into someplace deeper than what you expected? Or do you know right from the start what it is you want to tap into?
Heidi: It’s a tricky question because I think that I will always write about my core obsessions: what makes a family? What makes you who you are? How do we metabolize grief without becoming warped by it? What is the real role of racial and cultural identity?
The stories I tell exploring those questions—well, those reveal themselves to me—like for the new book I’m working on. It’s inspired by the real life of a mulatto strongwoman and circus performer of the Victorian era. She’s a fascinating character who embodies a lot of the questions of my writing—When I learned about her, I knew I had to write a story about her life and struggles.
But the other part of what you said is so interesting: that when you write about the difficult past, you actually FEEL better. I get that 100 percent because the same thing has happened to me in finally finishing my debut novel. I feel healed in some way now that I have written a book that in some ways mirrors my own struggles growing up concerning identity. In a way, I would say I feel more compassionate to my younger, flawed, searching, struggling self. I wonder whether you find that readers respond in the same way.
Caroline, do you think that they feel stories in their bodies when they read, the way that we feel stories in our bodies when we write? And if so, how do try to enhance that aspect of the reader’s experience as you write?
Caroline: That's a fascinating question. I definitely know that when I read books that reach me, something thrums inside me and I feel a connection. It's like that old song, "Killing me Softly With His Song." But I think the way to intensify that feeling, to make things more universal, is to dig deepest for what is important and unique to us when we are writing.
For me, I always feel that if I think about an audience at all, it smothers the work somehow. Readers respond when you're able to show the dark or hidden places that maybe they have been afraid or unable or unwilling to.
Heidi, I wanted to ask you about research. I'm overwhelmed by it in the novel I'm writing now, which is set in the late 50s and early 60s, and I imagine you must be doing a ton of it for your new novel--which sounds fantastic, by the way. How do you go about doing it and when do you know that it's time to stop? I feel as if I am drowning in facts! I want to have more time to do the writing, so after an initial burst of researching, I've hired an intern to help me! It's the first time I've ever done this and I'm curious about how it's going to work!
Heidi: Oh my gosh! I was just thinking of finding an intern—not to do the research itself necessarily because it’s in doing the research that I find the gems—the telling detail, the wonderful subordinate characters.
I imagined the new book vastly different when I first started the research—I mean it was solely focused on the character Miss Lala who I was learning about. But then I discovered these other wonderful characters who will serve as great counter-points—real life characters.
But yes, it’s hard to stop researching. Research can be stimulating but also a good way to procrastinate. So, I’ve had to stop with the research and now I am trying to find a way to use the information I’ve gathered best and for that, I think I might need an intern to help me organize these piles of papers and notes and thoughts.
Caroline, what kind of research are you doing? What stuff is most helpful? Listening to the music of the time, reading old newspapers, watching the films? And then the bigger question: why do we as writers torture ourselves this way—it’s hard enough to write a book finished but then to add on the worry about being historically accurate! I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into sometimes!
Caroline: Well, I've been finding a wealth of material in old magazines and newspapers. One of my characters is a 1950s divorced woman ahead of her times, so I've been diving into old Ladies Home Journals. Did you know they had pages and pages of diagrams for setting your hair? Did you know want ads were separated by male and female and the female ones always had words in them like, "Wanted: Cute, perky, pretty young woman to type, etc." I also think novels written at that time are helpful or TV shows of the times for me. I have a male nursing assistant, and I tried to find people in the nursing field from the early 60s. I found one guy who was a nurse (close enough) who gave me great stuff. Those are the real stories!
I agree with you, you find things in your own research, but I'm hoping because I gave the intern a wide berth, she'll find me lots of interesting stories. I've never had an intern. Do you find it hard to give up control?
I think we torture ourselves because we want to push ourselves into the unknown, but with it comes the terror. I agree, What have I gotten myself into? I write a modern novel and there usually is at least one person catching me on something I got wrong. How will I manage in the 1950s? Plus, you don't want to hammer people over the head with historic details so they seem planted there. They have to be organic.
So I wanted to ask you, Heidi, actors are always terrified they will never get another job. Do you think writers always worry that the well is going to run dry? Do you keep a notebook of ideas to staunch that terror? I know I have to have another novel idea on the back burner while writing a novel so I can relax about "what's next, oh my God, what comes next!!" Or do you like to have a period where you just ruminate and read and the idea presents itself to you?
Heidi: I love the stuff you’re finding—yes, real stories! And yes, I do find it difficult to give up control – there is so little one can control as an artist/a writer—it’s not easy to part with!
And I’m knocking on wood with one hand as I type with the other in response to your question about the fear of the well running dry. Okay, knocking on wood again. I sure hope not. And I sure hope that I can ditch the fear of the dreaded sophomore slump.
But I don’t worry in terms of story ideas—it took me so darn long to write this first book and get it published that I have been storing ideas for other projects for years. How will I ever catch up with myself? I worry about the words, the sound of the words not coming to me. I had awful writer’s block for a couple of years during the process of writing The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. I really couldn’t get the words right.
Essentially I couldn’t hear myself! I got through it by running. I hate running by the way. But I decided that I would train on my own and run a marathon. And if I could commit to doing such a huge thing for something I hated then I owed it to myself to commit myself equally to writing. A funny thing happened along the way—the running itself helped me—I started to work out ideas and characters and phrases while I ran. The words and sounds were somehow very literally part of me and I had to get moving to recognize it. I still don’t like running, but it helped me through a difficult time.
Getting back to this idea of the ideas running dry. Caroline, how could you wonder that? Isn’t this your 10th book you’re working on! I am guessing you have not just another 10 but another 10 dozen books in you! I sure hope so. We want to read them!
So, yes, my notebooks (Moleskine plain paper large) are brimming with notes and ideas—how about you? And since we’re talking about it—are you Moleskine fan too? These small writerly fetishes have become so important in process-my Moleskine, my fountain pen, my purple pens when I need a little extra inspiration. Got any?
Caroline: I love the whole thing of your running--which is a great essay, by the way that you should send to NYC Lives. And I know what you're talking about--that feeling of not hearing your own voice or the characters' voices, when everything is like a big dead flounder on the page!
I have an elliptical trainer in my writing office and I find that that really unstresses me and somehow unlocks the creative process. I am full of superstitions and rituals! I have to have music playing but not any kind. It has to be sort of mortifying music, things you would never want to admit that you really listened to in real life, like the Carpenters. It can't be good enough to make you want to really listen and sing along, but it has to have enough of a beat so you are propelled and energized. It drives Jeff, my husband, who is a music critic and writer, crazy, but I can listen to the same song forty times in a row before I switch to something new!
I think a lot about plot before I sleep in hopes that I will dream a solution. Sometimes it works, but a lot of times I simply forget the solution I dreamed.
I talk to a lot of people and bounce ideas off them. I have about three trusted readers with widely divergent opinions, but I like that. It forces me to look at all the issues. I don't have Moleskin, but now I think I should!
I have tons of files and notebooks and ideas that I want to do. I'm in the midst of this new novel now, but the next one is obsessing me and I have no idea if I can pull it off. It's scary, and sort of exhilarating. You know that John Irving quote, "if you don't have some doubt about your authority to tell the story, then you're not trying to tell enough?" That's how it feels.
This is really mortifying, but sometimes, when I feel that what I am writing is garbage, I get out my good reviews and read them. It always perks me up.
So last question, Heidi. What do you wish you had known about writing when you first started? For me, I wish I had known to be gentler with myself, to know that there are ups and downs and also I wish I had known about marketing myself much earlier on!
Heidi: Okay, first of all, What’s wrong with the Carpenters? I LOVE the Carpenters – and there must be a lot more folks out there that do too, because the music keeps selling to this day!
And what you call mortifying (reading your good reviews) is what I call necessary. I have a “Happy File” where I put all the nice letters, good reviews, etc. about my writing. When I feel like a fraud as a writer or when I’m down on what I’m writing, I pull out the Happy File and voila! I regain some confidence in myself and can get back to the page.
So when I first started writing, I wish I had known to be gentle with myself too. But then, also, I wish that I had learned not to share my work too early. I’ve had some very difficult experiences in workshops and in part, those experiences played a big role in my writer’s block. Who is it that says the creative writing workshop is “inherently a fault-finding machine.” It’s important to recognize if you’re writing something different or in a different way: the workshop may not be your best route.
Also, I wish I had learned to talk about my writing not in terms of one book, but in terms of my vision. It took me a while, but I finally got there as I started writing more and more. As I faced rejection after rejection for the manuscript, what kept me going is that I had a desire to publish a book – have a product in the world—but beyond that I had a vision of what I wanted to explore and say.
Caroline, this has been so amazing. You are a gem and absolutely dear to me as a very early early supporter of my work—I can’t thank you enough—I’m just hoping I can pay it forward!
Caroline: Heidi, back at you, double, triple and more. I adore your work and I adore you.
You gals are great! Oh, and you write amazing books! Thanks so much for sharing your writing process -- I love the HAPPY FILE though you both don't need it.
Win a copy of Pictures of You and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by commenting on this post below and entering your info on the random drawing form. Commenting on post with not enter you in the drawing.
The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance has announced the finalists for the 2011 Southern Indie Book Awards, which recognize "the books from last year that Southern Indie Booksellers especially loved, the ones they most enjoyed putting into the hands of their customers with the earnest, heartfelt and ever hopeful words 'You’ve got to read this.' "
Winners will be announced in July and will be celebrated at SIBA's trade show in Charleston, S.C., September 17-19.
Two titles of the Fiction short list are Reading Group Choices selections!
Bloodroot by Amy Greene
Burning Bright by Ron Rash
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
On Folly Beach by Karen White
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
Check the rest of the list!
Congrats to all authors!
TOP TEN FAVORITE
DISCUSSIBLE BOOKS OF 2010
What was your favorite discussible book of 2010? There was one run-away favorite of hundreds of book groups, and it was - the envelope, please! - The Help by Kathryn Stockett! Reading Group Choices just announced the Top Ten List reported by thousand of book clubs representing over 100, 000 members in their annual survey.
It seems that a great many book group members could relate their personal experiences to the characters', whether they were from the South or elsewhere. In fact, it seems that discussions of The Help were especially lively if the members originated from different areas of the Country.
"We are a group of women with very diverse backgrounds, and each brought the feelings of the time described in the book at that time of our lives. Perhaps the most enlightening meeting in a long time," says Barb of The Read 'Em and Eat Book Club (Egg Harbor Township, NJ). "We have a mixture of 'Southerners and Northerners' who are part of our group, and it was wonderful talking from each of the gal's perspectives based on where they lived," echos Carmilia of The Mission Swamp Book Group (Murrells Inlet, SC).
Still, 42% of the book groups who chose The Help as their favorite live in the South. "We're in the South, and it hit home," says Maureen of the Whisperwood Book Club (Cary, NC). When asked why they chose The Help, Cindy of Butterbeans and Fudge (Mount Olive, MS) said simply, "We are proud Mississippians!"
Of course, the author's portrayal of the characters really added to the book's appeal, too. As an example, read what Phyllis' Read Between the Wines (Hopewell Junction, NY) book group thought: "The story was so real, the characters so strong and brave. We have a woman in our group who grew up in the south and could talk about what it was like in the 60's through her personal experience. As a group we all felt outraged about how these women were treated and felt such compassion for them."
Congratulations to Kathryn Stockett for winning the #1 spot!
The whole top ten list? OK, here they are!
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
What was your favorite discussible book of 2010?
Author On the Bookcase
So thrilled to welcome Lisa Scottoline, author of Save Me, Think Twice, Look Again, and 13 other novels! Save Me is the story of a woman who tries to save her child, tries to save another, and finally, ends up saving herself. Lisa's new book will have readers wondering just how far they would go to save the ones they love.
Lisa chats with us about her books, life, love, and the mother-child bond. "It is inborn, and cultivated, both, and it powers most of my thoughts and hopes, worries and fears."
People say you should write what you know, and while I agree, I think that doesn't go far enough.
I think you should write what you feel.
Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this, because it’s taken me almost twenty years and twenty books to figure it out.
Call me slow on the uptake.
Let me explain what I mean by write what you feel. I’m what’s known as a people person. I love people, and so it’s no surprise that characterization and relationships between people are the strongest part of my novels.
That’s where my heart is.
That’s what I feel.
Relationships between girlfriends, women and men, and family members populate every page of mine, and I like it that way. I try to write an entertaining story with a fast-moving plot, but what I want you to remember, when you close the book, is the people between the covers. Not to get too English major-y on you, but the fact is that characterization and plot are the same thing.
We are what we do, after all.
So to stay on point, it occurred to me that when I look at my life, the most important relationship to me, and the one that abides time and even space, is my relationship to my daughter, Francesca.
In other words, it’s all about the mother-child relationship.
I love her more than I can say, and I’m in the words business, so I should be fired. And as she’s grown up and moved out, I’ve gained a new perspective on her that makes me want to write more and more about that relationship.
Paradoxically, now that she’s moved out, I think about her more. I see us with new eyes. And our relationship has changed and grown to one between two adults, I still remain her parent, no matter how old she gets.
Motherhood has no expiration date.
I used to think that I felt our relationship so intensely because I’m a single mother an she’s an only child. In fact, I remember that she came home from grade school one day and asked this priceless question:
“Mom, if I’m an only child, does that mean you’re an only mom?”
But now that I’m a new empty nester, and comparing notes with all of my girlfriends, I’ve come to the conclusion that the intensity of the mother-child bond doesn’t turn on how many children you have, or if you have a hubby or not. It’s inborn, and cultivated, both, and it powers most of my thoughts and hopes, worries and fears.
(As the kids say.)
So it makes sense that later in my life, which is now, I’d turn to writing more and more about the mother-child relationship.
I’d written about it in Final Appeal, which won an Edgar, but hadn’t returned to it often in the past, for one very practical reason – in a suspense novel, you need a mom getting herself in trouble, and if she did that with a kid, you wouldn’t like her much.
Neither would I.
I needed a fictional sitter, and you know how hard those are to come by.
I returned to moms and children in Look Again, and I think the strength of the bond between a mother and her child gave the story an enormous force and emotional power.
If I don’t say so myself.
And I think the same is true of Save Me.
It’s intense, the story of a woman who tries to save her child, tries to save another, and finally, ends up saving herself. I think any mother will find themselves in this book, and wonder what they’d do if they were in its heroine’s shoes.
And if you’re a mother, you could be in her shoes.
Tomorrow, or the next day.
We never know where life will lead us, but we mothers know we can cope, and lead, and nurture, and love.
Because that’s our job, to me, sometimes I feel as if I were put on earth to be a mother.
I feel it.
And when you read Save Me, I bet you’ll feel the same way.
So open the book.
Thanks so much, Lisa, for sharing your thoughts of mothering and reminding us that, no matter what, "we can cope, and lead, and nurture, and love."
"Are you a good mother if you save your child from disaster? What if it means sacrificing another's child? In Save Me, Lisa Scottoline walks readers into this charged moral dilemma and then takes them on an intense, breathless ride. You won't be able to put this one down." --Jodi Picoult, NY Times bestselling author of Sing You Home and House Rules
Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling and Edgar® Award-winning author of sixteen novels. She has twenty-five million copies of her books in print in the United States, and she has been published in twenty-five countries. She teaches a course called Justice & Fiction at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater. She lives in Philadelphia with an array of disobedient pets.
Learn more about Lisa.
Author On the Bookcase
I'm excited to welcome Sarah Winman, author of When God Was a Rabbit, to On the Bookcase. Sarah's novel reveals the love of a brother and a sister, unwinding over many years -- backlit by historical events and cultural references.
From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, When God Was a Rabbit follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own. When God Was a Rabbit is a love letter to true friendship and fraternal love.
Here, Sarah talks about her book and the way she tried "to stop the film. I wanted to give people a second chance, a way of viewing the world and their relation to the world with different eyes."
How would I describe this book to a friend? Primarily, I would call it a love story between a brother and a sister—a story of how secrets are forged in childhood and are carried through to adulthood. Intertwined with this story is a parallel story of best friendship between two very unlikely people who actually follow a very similar path, and how that emerges later on. It’s also a book about starting over, of being able to start over. We’ve all had the feeling of sometimes looking at our life and wanting time to stop, wanting to put it into reverse, wanting to change things. For the majority of people, that’s not possible and they’re faced with the natural consequences of what life brings. I wanted to stop that process. I wanted to make it magical in a way. It’s not perfect, but it allows people to break what they think is going to happen in a story—and actually brings something more joyous back to life.
Violence—and therefore the senselessness of violence—is also a theme that punctuates the book. The story opens with the narrator, Elly’s, birth in 1968, and attention is drawn to three moments of violence that happened that year. This is followed by an unexpected accident that claims the lives of Elly’s grandparents, followed by the political bombings of the seventies, followed by dark strands of abuse, followed by John Lennon’s death, followed by Princess Di’s death, and so on—vivid moments of violence that act as a backdrop to the innocence of a family rolling like scraggy tumbleweed through a suburban landscape, gentle, loving, and so unaware. Until the moment, that is, when this dark side of life reaches out to them and engulfs them, and acts as a catalyst for change. And of course, as most people know, that moment is 9/11. I offer no commentary on the violence witnessed, no judgment either. It simply exists as violence does and will continue to exist; as Elly comments in the book: “This will happen again.” And had the book’s time frame extended beyond 2001 the atrocities of Bali in 2002, Madrid in 2004, and London in July 2005 would all have been written about or mentioned.
That 9/11 is written about in this book has drawn sharp intakes of breath from some people, total acceptance from others, and outright criticism further afield. I understand all reactions, but never felt that I didn’t have the “right” to write about this moment, as some people have suggested. But writing about such a traumatic historic event comes with great responsibility, and I knew that the only way through was to be guided by respect and honesty, and so I wrote my own story of that day exactly as it is written in the book. I got up and walked toward Soho that morning. I veered off down Charing Cross Road to get tickets to see a Vermeer exhibition I had wanted to see. I didn’t stop at Zwemmer bookshop as I usually did. I got my ticket—a three o’clock viewing—I walked to Soho, went to Bar Italia, sat outside, and ordered a macchiato with a Baci on the side and watched life pass. I felt a tap on my shoulder and was ushered inside. The image was on the screen. And so began the start of the phone calls. That was when it became my story—when it became millions of people’s horrific story. When I stood, knowing the world had so suddenly, so violently changed.
The subject of the later part of this story has sometimes been greeted as “implausible,” and in many ways it is supposed to be, because I am attempting to bring someone back to life. In the same implausible way that a rabbit speaks in the first half of the book, there is an element of magic and make-believe that weaves its way through the storyline and calls for the suspension of disbelief. It rears its head again in the darker, adult part of the book—a time when the coat of unquestionable faith that children wear so effortlessly has been carelessly shed.
So when I have talked about my book being about starting again, it is because I did not want the inevitability of a situation to play out and throw a family into grief and suffering. I wanted to stop the film. I wanted to give people a second chance, a way of viewing the world and their relation to the world with different eyes. That does not necessarily mean a happy ending; simply a desire to be given another chance and to live life differently. This is not a book about 9/11, but an homage to family, to relationships, and to love in all its forms.
Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing your "element of magic and make-believe."
“Winman’s debut boasts one of the more endearingly unconventional families in a while. A freshly rendered tale of growing up and living in the world by a late-starting author with a bright future.”—Kirkus Reviews
I was at Quail Ridge Book & Music (Raleigh, NC) last week for their semi-annual Book Club Bash. Nancy Olson and her so smart staff have welcomed me for five years. It is always such a great time listening to staff picks and, then, the book club audience chimes in about their recent book club picks. I always learn some much.
Wine, book chat, and book clubs!
The American Booksellers Association announced the finalists for the 2011 Indies Choice Book Awards.
Independent booksellers will vote and the winners will be announced on April 7. This year's winners and finalists will be honored at ABA's Celebration of Bookselling Author Awards Luncheon on Tuesday, May 24.
From their list, what books would you pick as winners? Let us know on the RGC Facebook page or comment here. You might win some free books!