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Author On the Bookcase: Kate Kerrigan, author of Ellis Island

Author On the Bookcase
Kate Kerrigan

Kate KerriganThrilled to welcome Kate Kerrigan, author of Ellis Island, to On the Bookcase. In Ellis Island, Ellie Hogan and her husband John were childhood sweethearts, destined to live together on his farm in Ireland. But when John, a soldier for the Irish Republican Army, becomes too injured to work, Ellie must take drastic measures in order for them to survive. Like many other young Irish women in the 1920s, she immigrates to New York City, to work as a maid for a wealthy socialite.

In New York, Ellie is introduced to a sophisticated lifestyle, tempted by this glittering new world of fine clothes and parties, money and mansions. Soon she is faced with the most difficult choice: to stay in a country full of hope and promise, or to return home to a life of poverty … and love.

Kate chats with us about her "Hermitage a place where I can be utterly alone and free to enjoy and explore the characters and adventures that inhabit the strange world of a writer’s mind."

My Writing Den

Today I am sitting in my writing den in my mother’s garden. Built for me as a child by my grandfather, what we call the “chalet” has been converted into my writer’s cottage. In the small back bedroom there is a bed, covered in my grandmother’s old woollen blankets, and a rickety table painted a bright blue to match the windowsill which it sits in front of. On the wide sill itself is a dried nest with a few pebbles and a clay robin sitting in it, and a load of scented candles that my mother leaves for me. At last, until three o’clock today when I have to collect my baby from the childminder, I can hide in my writer’s nest.

I have been trying to get in here and get going on my new novel for weeks now. Family life offers so many distractions--a mischievous toddler, a sick husband that I seem to have gone for months without a proper routine. Writing has happened at the kitchen table between shopping and feeding, in cafés, on trains, fit into short spurts while half-living my busy life. I know I can’t write a novel this way. I need room to breathe, and think, and ruminate. I call it my writing den the Hermitage, a place where I can be utterly alone and free to enjoy and explore the characters and adventures that inhabit the strange world of a writer’s mind.

Ellis IslandThe laburnum outside my window is in full bloom, the drooping yellow fronds dropping their pod-shaped petals to the ground. There is a blue tit pecking at the bird feeder that hangs from the window, its pert quiff raised as it hammers at the brown nuts, and a half dozen more are flitting in and out of the lush branches waiting for their turn. This tree that my mother planted five years ago is their world. She planted it in memory of her father, but the blue-tits don’t care why the tree was planted, or how it came to be here. Their life’s work is foraging and nesting, feeding their young. Contented opportunists, they scavenge my mother’s shop-bought nuts; I envy the simplicity and sureness of their lives.

My brother who died last year was a musician. Tom’s life was music--his art was transitory; unless it is perfectly recorded music exists only in the moment it is being played.  I use words to try and make sense of things, to force shape and meaning onto my feelings. I want everything to make sense so that I can control it, so that I can make myself feel happy and more secure. Writing is my craft, but it’s also my therapy.

I miss my brother Tom and like many bereaved I try to find him now in nature. I listen for him in the whispering of wind through the trees, look up at the night sky and hope he is up there with the stars for company. When I sit very still I can feel him here with me. I’m not angry with him anymore for dying. I am glad he is at peace, and grateful for his sitting quietly with me in my writing den. I look out at my mother’s garden and am reminded how life goes on. The laburnum sheds, blossoms, and sheds again--growing stronger and more beautiful with each passing year.

My mind hurries along, worried about the number of words I have to write to meet my looming deadline. Worried about abandoning my baby to the kind childminder he grows fonder of with each passing day, worried that my other son doesn’t get enough of my attention, that my house is too big and expensive to run, that the car tax need renewing, as do the passports, the dog license. Then I remember that Tom is dead, and that, despite all the crazy, terrible, wonderful things that have happened since I sat here last summer, I am still writing. Perhaps life is just, after all, like nature, a process of renewal.

Thanks so much, Kate, for sharing your thoughts about writing, loss, and life. Ellis Island creates so many ideas for reading group discussion -- marriage, American and Irish history, immigration, and the "process of renewal."

Praise
"Kerrigan is excellent at evoking both rustic Ireland and 20th-century New York."—Publishers Weekly
"... A love story shot through with a perfect sense of the period, it is a rare combination of historical enlightenment and sheer enjoyment.
"—Peter Quinn, author of The Man Who Never Returned

Kate Kerrigan is the author of two previous novels in the UK. She lives in Ireland with her husband and their two sons.

Learn more about Kate.

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Sisters of the Traveling Computers: Second Installment of Novel-in-Progress

Second Installment!
Sisters of the Traveling Computers
Novel-in-Progress

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.) All great books for reading groups!

First installment (May 15)

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.

Second Installment (June 22)

Mystery NovelMaria wasn’t ready to become a grandmother at 42. And that was what she said first when--with his lips trembling—Mark told her that Bette was pregnant. She should have held him. He looked so scared. How could her teenage son become a father before he had a chance to become a man?

That was just five weeks ago, and now she wouldn’t have to be a young grandmother. She wouldn’t have to watch Mark struggle to take care of a family too young. Why couldn’t Mark see the miracle in this moment?

The phone went to voicemail again.

It was a thirty-minute drive home from the Martin’s. Let him be home by then, she thought. Just please let him be safe.

The first eight installments will be anynomous as the writers would like to guess who is writing that passage solely on sytle of writing. How fun!

Third installment will be in early July!

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Author On the Bookcase: Kate Christensen, author of The Astral

Author On the Bookcase
Kate Christensen

 

Kate ChristensenI'm so excited to welcome Kate Christensen, author of The Astral. Kate's sixth novel relates the story of Harry Quirk, a male poet, and his failures. For decades he thought he created a happy home -- his wife, Luz, a nurse, and their two children: Karina, now a fer­vent freegan, and Hector, now in the clutches of a cultish Christian community. But Luz has found (and destroyed) some poems of Harry's that ignite her long-simmering sus­picions of infidelity, and he's been summarily kicked out. Harry now has to reckon with the consequence of his literary, marital, financial, and parental failures (and perhaps oth­ers) and find his way forward—and back into Luz's good graces.

Kate shares her inspiration for The Astral and the book's central theme of "paradise lost."

The Astral was inspired by a building and a book.

The beautiful, enormous, and compelling Astral Apartments is a real rose-colored edifice in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the neighborhood I lived in for many years. Walking by it in the course of my daily life, I often wondered about its inhabitants, history, stories. Finally, I realized that I needed to write a novel about it.

From that real building came the character of Harry Quirk, a male poet in late middle age, cast out of his home in the Astral by his vengeful, irrationally jealous wife, like an old Adam banished by his Eve from a comfortable, domestic Eden. The entire tenor of the book is shaped around this image of paradise lost, and Adam alone, humbled and brought low and wanting nothing more than to get back to the Astral Apartments.

I still have not been inside; instead, I transformed it into an imagined version of its real self. As Harry walks toward  the Astral at the beginning of Chapter Four, he sees

The Astral“…an enormous, six-story red-brick tenement castle-fortress that spanned a whole block of Franklin between India and Java. The place was compelling to look at from without, blighted from within. Great rock-face brownstone arches curved over the entryways; above them, arched windows were set into recessed arches that rose to the fifth floor of the façade, and above these were crenellated decorative rooftop embellishments. Three-sided bay windows were festooned ghetto-like with webbed metal gates, stubbled with air conditioners, made fancy-looking with decorative brickwork and lintels. The building’s huge corners were rounded and tower-like. No opportunity to decorate had been wasted; even the structural steel storefronts on the first floor, housing a café and a Laundromat, were gussied up by their own rivets. The place had been built by Charles Pratt in the late 1880s to house his Astral Oil kerosene factory workers; Astral Oil’s slogan had been, ‘The holy lamps of Tibet are primed with Astral Oil.’ To which they might have appended, ‘And the refineries of Astral Oil are primed with cheap labor.’ Some claimed that Mae West had been born in this building; I didn’t see why that couldn’t have been so.”

Harry Quirk was also inspired by the narrator of the classic 1944 English novel, The Horse's Mouth, by Joyce Cary. It’s set in the London neighborhood of Green Bank, on the Thames, and is narrated by down-on-his-luck painter Gulley Jimson, a philosophical old rogue. I discovered it in my twenties and have reread (and loved) it many times.

When the novel opens, Gulley is just out of prison and ready to get up to the same old tricks that landed him there in the first place. The opening passage is gorgeously sordid and transformative, the London neighborhood of Green Bank seen through a painter’s eyes: “I was walking by the Thames. Half-past morning on an autumn day. Sun in a mist. Like an orange in a fried fish shop. All bright below. low tide, dusty water and a crooked bar of straw, chicken-boxes, dirt and oil from mud to mud. Like a viper swimming in skim milk. The old serpent, symbol of nature and love…Thames mud turned into a bank of nine carat gold rough from the fire.”

The novel reminds us that a real artist is neither noble nor heroic, and the artistic life is a solitary, unsavory, scrappy ordeal that never lets up until you die. The best thing to do would seem to be to keep at it, through prison, poverty, and scandal, and when you die, go out laughing. This is a wildly brilliant portrait of the artist as an old scamp.

The Astral is my homage to the building and the novel that inspired it.

Thanks so much, Kate, for your thoughts on your novel, the inspiration, and artists and their "scrappy" life! The Astral has so many discussion points for reading groups -- marriage, art, identity, religion, parenthood, and "paradise lost." 

Praise

".... Christensen takes a singular, genuine story and blows it up into a smart inquiry into the nature of love and the commitments we make, the promises we do and do not honor, and the people we become as we negotiate the treacherous parameters of marriage and friendship and parenthood."Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Kate Christensen is the author of five previous novels, including In the Drink, Jeremy Thrane, The Epicure's Lament, and Trouble. The Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award. She has written reviews and essays for numerous publications, most recently the New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Tin House, and Elle.

Learn more about Kate and her books.

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Author On the Bookcase: Ann Joslin Williams, author of Down From Cascom Mountain

Author On the Bookcase
Ann Joslin Williams

 

Ann Joslin WilliamsI'm excited to welcome Ann Joslin Williams, author of Down from Cascom Mountain, to On the Bookcase. Set in rugged New Hampshire in the aftermath of a fatal accident, Down From Cascom Mountain explores grief, desire and identity. Mary Hall overcomes her grief from the death of her husband. and find new friends and in the process, discovers herself.

Ann chats about the New Hampshire landscape and how "many of the things I experienced in these places eventually found their way into Down from Cascom Mountain, shaping events and details."

Ann, please tell us about the land you love and the novel it inspired.

I started writing Down from Cascom Mountain while I was living in San Francisco, far from New Hampshire, where I’d grown up. As much as I liked living in San Francisco, I often dreamed of being in the woods or climbing mountains in New England. Setting my novel in a landscape I loved and knew so well was one way of being there. Every morning I’d transport myself to that terrain following my characters as they hiked up Mount Cascom, got lost in the deep woods, or crossed the old fields and rushing brooks in Leah, New Hampshire.

Though Down from Cascom Mountain is set in this place, the geographical names—Cascom, Leah, and others—are fictionalized. They’re the names that my father, Thomas Williams, a National Book Award winner, invented to use in his own fiction.

Before I was born my parents had built a cabin in northern New Hampshire, overlooking a granite-domed mountain. This would become the retreat where my father could find time and quiet to write during summers. Later, when I’d started writing, often setting my stories in that landscape, my father suggested I use his fictional names. He passed them on to me, and I am honored to use them in my fiction now.

I spent my childhood summers at that cabin, and sometimes at the nearby lake where I attended girls’ camp. When I was a teenager, I worked as a crew member for the Appalachian Mountain Club at the lodge just down the road from my parents’ cabin, and later, I went farther north to work in the White Mountains’ Presidential Range. Many of the things I experienced in these places eventually found their way into Down from Cascom Mountain, shaping events and details.

Down From Cascom MountainAs crew at the AMC, living in a small building next to the lodge, we cleared trails, cooked and served meals, washed dishes, cleaned rooms, mowed fields, dug drainage ditches—just about everything you can think of that needed to be done, including taking part in search and rescue. In our free time we loved the wilderness, hiking, discovering different trails, getting to the top of mountains. We’d dunk in the freezing, rock-carved pools in the brook or play king of the raft in the manmade pond near the lodge. Stretched out on our backs in the grass or on the raft in the middle of the pond, we’d name constellations, breathe in honeysuckle. Some evenings we sat around the campfire, playing music, singing along with the guitars and banjo, falling in and out of love. There were nights I snuck from the crew’s quarters, ran across the wet grass to the lodge and up the stairs to the crew boss’s room. I’d be back in my own bed by sunrise, though I’m sure everyone knew.

When I was nineteen, I went to work in Pinkham Notch at the base of Mount Washington—the tallest peak in the northeastern United States and a wilderness rich with ghost stories. While there, I participated in the search for a missing albino man—the spark for the legend of the ghost girl who appears in Down from Cascom Mountain.

There are other events from those days on crew that have crept into my fiction, though in different forms. After I left the AMC for college, I learned that a boy on crew had fallen to his death from a ledge while hiking overseas. Someone told me he lost his balance while stooping for his knapsack.

It was that small bit of information—that he lost his balance while reaching for his knapsack—that haunted me. It seemed so unfair—a kid who knew mountains, had climbed so many, probably very steep and treacherous ones, could fall while reaching for his backpack.

Years later, working on the novel, happily and imaginatively ensconced in my landscape of choice, I’m following Mary and her new husband up Cascom Mountain when, in an instant, he loses his balance at the edge of a cliff. I suppose I knew it was coming, but now I had to imagine what it would take, what it would look like, how it could happen. I had no idea what would take place afterward. That was to be discovered along with the other characters who began to reveal themselves, among them a young girl who works on the crew at Cascom Mountain lodge and a troubled boy who finds solace in the woods of Leah.

Setting my fiction in this terrain is rewarding for me not only because it can be rugged and sometimes dangerous, which is good for creating tension, but the natural world is also beautiful, full of mystery and magic. There’s mica sparkling in the granite, sunlight blinking through the leaves overhead, the thunder of a grouse taking flight, the smell of pine sap, a glimpse of a ghost or two between the trees. It’s a place I like to be literally and in my fiction.

By way of some miraculous circumstances, I have since moved back to New Hampshire, land that’s in my blood. Or is it really miraculous? Maybe inevitable is a better word. It’s as if I never left.

Thanks so much, Ann, for sharing your love of place. Reading Group Alert -- the New Hampshire landscape as a character in Ann's book is a great discussion point along with loss, love, identity.

Praise

"There seems to be no element of these people and this landscape to which Williams is a stranger. She sees straight to the heart of her characters, and it is a pleasure to witness them yearning and grieving and loving their way through these pages, one living human presence after another, the mountain and the forest rising up around them in all their mystery and specificity."—Kevin Brockmeier, author of Illumination and The Brief History of the Dead

Ann Joslin Williams grew up in New Hampshire. She earned her MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She is the author of The Woman in the Woods, a collection of linked stories, which won the 2005 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. She was awarded an NEA grant for her work on Down from Cascom Mountain. Williams works as an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Please learn more about Ann.

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Author Squared: Janet Fitch and Adrienne Sharp

Author Squared

 

 

AUTHOR SQUARED
Janet Fitch
Adrienne Sharp

 

 

 

Two Authors chat about writing, books, and everything in between

I'm excited to bring the third Author Squared to On the Bookcase. Janet Fitch (White Oleander, Paint It Black) and Adrienne Sharp (The True Memoirs of Little K.)

Adrienne and Janet, paint your true colors!

Adrienne SharpAdrienne: I know that both of us like to look at images for inspiration while we write. While I was working on The True Memoirs of Little K, I stared at a sepia photo of the soft-faced young Nicholas II before he grew out his trademark beard and inherited a throne full of trouble. You can see in his face the dreamy young man who liked to sketch and paint, which he did very well, who liked days’ long chestnut-throwing battles with his cousins, and who liked to attend the French and English theaters. His dreamy softness overlay a stubbornness that led him to pursue what he probably should not have—his marriage to the high-strung Alexandra and his belief in absolute autocracy. I also loved a photograph of the tsar’s well-appointed bathroom, complete with tiled stove, exercise bar, Faberge cigarette cases, and the parrot he inherited from his father and who outlived them both. Janet, what images did you use when you wrote Paint It Black?

Janet FitchJanet: I have a number of photo books from that era, and one I used a lot was Making Tracks, The Rise of Blondie.  It inundated me with memories of being a girl at that time, the toughness and the fragility. A photo I pulled off the internet  I found very evocative was of Blondie talking to Joan Jett backstage--Joan is obviously upset, her head lowered, that shiny black hair, and Blondie's sitting with her, clearly talking her down. A lot of kindness in that picture, a human moment. For this book, music was very important, a huge theme. It was a tough book to write, you know, books take a very long time, and over the five years of writing it, funny enough, things improved a great deal in my life. But I still had to go back to the tone and the mood of the book. So I made a tape, "The Saddest Songs in the World" and if I was feeling too cheerful, I'd listen to it.  Lots of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and of course, the saddest song of all--Janis Joplin singing "Summertime." The way the world crushes the romantic.  Adrienne, did you have anyone in mind when you wrote the character of Little K, anyone you'd known, actors or dancers you were familiar with?

Adrienne: Well, Mathilde Kschessinska is the Little K of my novel, a real life five foot tall prima ballerina of the Russian Imperial Ballet who used her position on the stage as a vantage point from which to leap into the arms of various and sundry Romanovs. She shamed her parents by becoming the mistress of Nicholas II when she was not quite twenty years old. When Nicholas broke off his relationship with Mathilde at his engagement to Alexandra, the unhappy Mathilde took up with the Grand Dukes Sergei Mikhailovich and Andrei Vladimirich simultaneously. Their menage a trois was the scandal of Petersburg.

She used their money to build herself a palace (she installed the Romanov double-headed eagle on her gates), and this became the site of many lively parties at which the actors, dancers, and singers of the era mingled with members of the court--the men of the court, actually, as none of the aristocratic women would attend a party thrown by a dancer. So Mathilde was only able to be part of a part of the court, but she took full advantage of this, using her beauty and her vivacity to cement her position in the shadows. And when she had a son, her bond with the Romanovs was complete. In fact, there were rumors that her son’s father was Nicholas himself—and that she may, as well, have had a daughter by him, adopted at birth by her brother Joseph.

Her ambition comes through loud and clear in her letters and journal entries. Of her performances she always wrote, "I had my usual triumph." Of Nicholas, after she met him for the first time, she scrawled, "He will be mine!" So for me, capturing her voice was paramount--and as soon as I wrote the line "I have always admired an opportunist, being one myself," I felt I had my character--her drive, her sly self-knowledge, her liveliness and humor. But it took a number of drafts over the years before that voice fully emerged. Janet, how did you find your way into the striking voice of Josie in Paint It Black?

Janet: For the first sixty pages or so of the first draft I wrote the book in the voices and points of view of all three of the major characters--Josie, a punk rocker and high school dropout from Bakersfield, California, working as an art model in Los Angeles; her boyfriend Michael back at Harvard, a brilliant and troubled young man, very introverted; and Michael's mother Meredith, a concert pianist, entitled and demanding and extremely sure of herself. Josie was stronger than Michael, a more staccato sound, rougher and yet, she is delicate too, a certain degree of innate elegance, a bit dreamy.

When I decided to tell the entire story through her point of view, I switched to third person, which gave me a little more room to see her as others saw her, and use a wider vocabulary to describe her thoughts than what a high school dropout would actually use--but Josie's  so very observant, a philosophical, intuitive person with a nimble mind, the voice had to deliver her thoughtfulness and the weird elegant/punk combination reflecting her contradictory character. 

Girls of that era emulated Edie Sedgwick, Warhol's superstar in the mid-sixties, a very famous debutante and style-setter, so there often cropped up strange upper-class usages in LA punk circles, used ironically-- like calling vodka 'voddy' and so on.  It's funny, class is not much discussed in American fiction these days, but class has everything to do with Josie's story and Michael's--working class Josie seeks the security and enduring qualities of cultured upper class she sees in Michael, while Michael seeks the security of the realism and permission of the working class in Josie. Class plays a huge part in the story of Little K.
 
The True Memoirs of Little KAdrienne: Yes--even though Russia of the late 1890s the classes were much more fluid than, say, England, at that time, class still made an insuperable barrier when it came to the imperial family. Barons, counts, and princes could and did marry dancers, but this was unthinkable for a tsar. Even grand dukes, if they wanted to keep their titles and the income that came to them from crown lands, were not allowed to make morganatic marriages. So while Mathilde's sister Julia could marry her baron, Mathilde's somewhat more advanced social climbing meant she could never marry her lovers--either Nicholas or her grand dukes. Mathilde's father warned her of this before she became Nicholas's mistress, but she said she didn't care, that all she wanted was her immediate happiness, no matter how brief it would be. She was a teenager. I think she believed that despite all evidence to the contrary he might marry her. She had to use her dancing to convey to him her rage and betrayal, which is why the role of Esmeralda--the gypsy  betrayed by her lover Phoebus in the ballet based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame--became her favorite, her signature,  role. In fact, describing Mathilde's powerful presence on the stage was one of the great challenges of the novel. I had to draw on my own background as a ballet girl to conjure up the heat and the flurry. Paint It Black is all about music. That must have been a challenge to put on the page.
 
Paint It BlackJanet: Paint It Black uses music to express ideas, personality. I was especially interested in the value-laden dichotomies of the two types of music--the permission of punk rock and the rigor, the perfectionism of classical music. Most artists fall somewhere on that scale--often moving closer to one pole or the other... Josie is essentially a punk rocker--ie, don't worry so much about getting it perfect, just go out and make some noise. Michael, son of a classical pianist and grandson of a composer, was looking for someone to give him permission to be an artist, to not worry so much about whether it comes up to someone's standards, but just express himself, and he found that in Josie. His mother, the pianist, raised him in the environment of perfection--and in classical music, there's no upper end as to how perfect one should strive to be. when he tells her he wants to be a painter, she calls him a dilettante, telling him at one point, "there's no room for a good-enough classical pianist. There are too many geniuses."  Michael needs permission, that's why he's attracted to Josie. Although ultimately, he holds himself to his mother's standard, and finds himself wanting.   But each character has music that expresses his or her internal state.  There's a lot of art in this book, too, and poetry--I'm very interested in the struggle of the artist, the artists' world and its challenges. You write a lot about dancers, coming out of that world. That's a perfectionist's field.
 
Adrienne: The most difficult thing about being a dancer is that the career is so short--a dancer has to begin training by ten years of age and then she's retired by thirty, maybe forty if she is very famous. And then it's over. So from the start a dancer is racing against time and debilitation. When I moved to New York at seventeen as a trainee for Harkness Ballet, I was already considered a bit old. Balanchine made ballerinas of girls that age! After ten years of staring at myself in the mirror I was exhausted--all you look for are flaws--how are my arms, my legs, my feet, my face--who's jumping higher, turning faster, sustaining a pose longer. There are days when you love what you see and days when you hate everything about yourself--and the dressing room after class is always awash with emotion, whether it's glee or despair. I still feel those same emotions today when reading over a manuscript I'm working on--what I love one day, I hate the next. And it can be the same exact page I'm loving and then hating!

Janet: That's interesting. I generally hate it unless it really sings. Until I feel it's good enough and my stomach stops hurting. Often that's when I have a whole draft, and realize it's not as bad as I thought it was. Then, by the time I hand it in, I go through another round of "who's going to care about this?  It's just a bunch of words." You forget how much effort you put into every phrase, every sentence.  I'm the Michael in the story, you see--the perfectionist who constantly needs permission just to make a noise. Paint It Black is about my own struggle as an artist.
 
Adrienne: It's a little scary how much you expose of yourself when you write, often without even knowing. I once read an interview with an actress who talked about filming sex scenes and the level of exposure that comes with that. And she wasn't talking about skin. She was talking about how she might find herself uttering a sound or making a facial expression or using a gesture that she used when she was alone with her husband in her own bedroom and how something private was then made public. So the artist exposes herself to create real characters and to get at real truths. And that's what readers read for--at least, that's what I read for--to see played out before me the human experience and all its secrets. I've always been interested in secrets--which may be why Little K fascinated me--she kept so many of them.

Janet: People always ask me if my fiction is autobiographical. Most writers deny it, but a book is generally a perfect blueprint of a writer's psyche, isn't it.Our obsessions, our anxieties, our fascinations. But it's never what people think--the external events aren't the 'real' part.  It's the concerns, the issues that a book deals with, where you really expose yourself. But it's hidden too, you have the freedom to couch your concerns in events and people who aren't you-- unlike in memoir. I would never want to write memoir, I write fiction so it's all in code. But it's there, nevertheless.  So--I've just spilled it all.

Historical research, music, and the artist's struggle -- great reading group topics for discussion. Thanks so much, Adrienne and Janet. 

Janet Fitch is the author of the novels White Oleander, an Oprah Book Club selection, which was made into a feature film starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and Paint It Black, about which the Chicago Sun-Times said, "In dysfunctional family narratives, Fitch is to fiction what Eugene O'Neill is to drama."

Adrienne Sharp is the author of White Swan, Black Swan, The Sleeping Beauty, and The True Memoirs of Little K, which was named a California Book Award finalist and one of Oprah Book Club’s Ten Fantastic Books for Fall 2010. It has been translated into six languages.

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Author On the Bookcase: Kelly O'Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Author On the Bookcase
Kelly O'Connor McNees

Kelly O'Connor McNeesSo 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!

The Lost Summer of Louisa May AlcottLouisa’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!

Praise

 ". . . 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.

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Author Squared: Eleanor Brown and Sarah Pekkanen

Author Squared

 

 

AUTHOR SQUARED
Eleanor Brown
Sarah Pekkanen

 

 

 

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 PekkanenSarah: 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 BrownEleanor: 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?

Skippimg a BeatSarah: 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?

The Weird SistersEleanor: 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!

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Sisters of the Traveling Computers

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.)

Book MysteryThe 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.

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Author Squared: Caroline Leavitt and Heidi Durrow

Author Squared

 

 

AUTHOR SQUARED
Caroline Leavitt
Heidi Durrow

 

 

 

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!

Go girls!

Caroline LeavittCaroline: 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 DurrowHeidi: 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.

Pictures of YouFor 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.

The Girl Who Fell From The SkyBut 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.

Please find out more about Caroline and Heidi.

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.

And, please remember to LIKE Reading Group Choices for updates on the next Author Squared!

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SIBA 2011 Southern Indie Book Awards

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!

Fiction

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!

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