Author On the Bookcase
I'm excited to welcome, Aine Greaney, author of Dance Lessons. Aine's novel tell the story of Ellen Boisvert who discovered her late husband, Fintan, was not an orphan at all -- his mother, Jo, is living in a lakeside village, the westside of Ireland. Ellen, a thirty-nine-year-old American prep school teacher, packs her bags and boards a plane to Ireland to reveal the secrets of Fintan's family. Deeply rooted in the Irish landscape and sensibility, Dance Lessons shows how Ellen reconciles with Fintan's past and learns to heal the wounds.
"Is it a burden or a curse to be labeled 'an Irish writer'?” Aine chats with us about being labeling as "a Irish writer."
Fifteen years ago, I attended a reading and presentation by the late, great Irish author, John McGahern (Amongst Women, The Barracks).
Afterward, during the question and answer session, a young newspaper reporter stood up to ask McGahern, “As an Irish writer, do you consider--”.
“--No such thing,” said McGahern (I’m paraphrasing). “No such thing as an Irish writer.”
A hush fell over that afternoon audience. Wait, hadn’t the local university billed this gig as an “Irish-author event?"
McGahern explained: “I’m a writer who happens to be from and live in Ireland,”
But a writer is a writer is a writer.
Is it? As authors, can we actually separate our national identities from our work and books? And, as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, is it a burden or a curse to be labeled “an Irish writer?” As readers, when we plunk down our money for an Irish book, is there a defined set of expectations for a book that hails from the Emerald Isle?
Yes. I first learned this with my first ever publishing rejection. I had sent out a query letter, synopsis and sample chapters proposing a collection of my personal essays to a small, literary press. Back then, this neophyte popped that package in the mail and started planning my book tour.
A month later, the rejection letter dropped into my mail box. In the letter, the acquisitions editor said that she loved my writing. BUT … “these stories simply don’t do justice to a country as beautiful as Ireland.”
I checked and re-checked my original pitch letter to her. Had I inadvertently promised a travelogue? A kind of expanded Fodor’s Guide of Ireland? A book of castles and meadows and Guinness signs outside brightly painted pubs? No. True to the personal essay genre, my proposed book was a set of first-person stories. Some even included some nerdy-dry statistics and research. But presumably, this editor had read “Ireland,” and “Irish writer” and expected something quite different. And I had disappointed.
Sometimes, I see this same reader-disappointment during some of my public readings or presentations. Audiences are gracious and engaged and ask really smart questions. Some even shed a tear at the sad parts. But afterward, I feel like it’s these sad or serious parts (of the book) that leave some people feeling shortchanged. “I thought this would be different,” one woman said to me at a small-town library. She added, “I came here for a fun Irish night out.”
An Irish night out. Fun.
Of course. I got it. I should have been funny. Or funnier. Right? Even when I’ve written a short story about a terminal illness or an essay about leaving my family, somewhere in there, somewhere behind that lectern or on that written page, I was supposed to make `em laugh.
From Ned Devine to Barry Fitzgerald, we have this national reputation as a country of back-slapping, quick-witted jokesters. Or, as one author wrote about her research on the Irish in America: “You can always depend on the Irish to get the joke.”
In my personal life, as a wife and colleague, a sister or neighbor, I do get the joke. People tell me that I have a quick wit and that I can find the funny side of the darkest things or my own mishaps.
But ultimately, I think the joke’s on me if I only give my readers “an Irish story.” Oh, yes, even when I’m reading or writing it in an Irish accent, even when the setting is on a hilltop, rural farm, my story should ultimately be about them. It should be the mirror of our shared existence. It should hail from that middle ground where readers from any place or country can meet this Irish writer's sensibility.
Thanks, Aine, for your idea of writers and readers sharing "the middle ground."
Praise for Aine Greaney
"Clean, precise, rhythmical and original, Greaney’s prose manages to negotiate a wide space of injury, geography and joy. She keeps her fingers on the pulse and recognizes that the universal is found in the heart of the local. . . ."—Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin
Did anyone read Enid Blyton's books growing up? Some of her books included the Famous Five series (21 novels, based on four children and their dog), the Five Find-Outers and Dog series (15 novels, five children regularly outwit the local police) as well as the Secret Seven (15 novels, a society of seven children who solve various mysteries).
I loved her books! My British grandmother sent them over to me from England.
A new unpublished manuscript has been found. YAY! Though they say she might have written it at the end of her life when she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
In these modern times, many of her books have been edited to remove passages that were deemed racist or sexist. (Just like the Mark Twain/Huck Finn issue, as of late.) My thought is let the work stand as is -- it shows the time and place when written.
I'm excited about the new discovery and maybe will go the the exhibition displaying her work, which will run from 2012-2013 at Newcastle Upon Tyne children's book museum.
"One of the deacons stood and said to the preacher's back, "She were beaten down by hate."
"By hate," someone agreed.
"Killed in the street."
The preacher turned to look at the man. 'That's the truth, Deacon Hull. Hate killed our sister. But the love she lived will triumph over the sin that took her away." -- p. 228. The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew (April 2011)
I think this will be a great reading group pick.
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Grab your current read, open to a random page, share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. Share the title & author.
What is your TT, today?
Author On the Bookcase
I'm excited to welcome Claudia Sternbach, author of Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses. Claudia takes a unique platform to tell her story. Kisses -- a father's kiss, first love kiss, best friend kiss -- tell the tale about small and, sometimes big, moments in one's life. This book is Claudia's life in her kisses.
Kiss and tell, Claudia!
One Kiss is Never Enough
by Claudia Sternbach
It wasn't that I sat down one day and decided to write a book about kisses. I am not that clever. But ever since my memoir Reading Lips A Memoir of Kisses sold to Unbridled Books people have said things to me like, "Brilliant!" Or, "Why didn't I think of that?" As though I actually had made a plan and then stuck to it.
Oh how I wish my mind worked that way. But the truth is I am much more helter skelter. I don't even match up my socks when putting them away. Actually, I don't even put them away. What happened was that like many writers, a tiny seed of an idea lodged itself in my brian, like a piece of spinach between two teeth, and stayed. That seed was the memory of a boy I had known in elementary school. His name was Teddy. I loved him. And there was a rumor he was going to try to kiss me on the last day before summer vacation. I could remember every detail. So I sat down at my computer and began to write. Not because I believed it would become anything. Simply to get it down on paper and out of my head.
I was sure that much more important topics were just waiting to be explored. And once I had excised Teddy I could get back to these most valuable issues. I assumed an hour or two at my desk would take care of things nicely. I was wrong.
As I began to write more and more kept coming. I lived and breathed my childhood and could hear the kids in the school yard, feel the heat of the tar paper roof when a group of us climbed up on it during recess. Could hear the snap of bone breaking when I fell off and feel the cool cement step I sat on with the principal while waiting for my mother to come take me to the hospital.
On and on I traveled, realizing eventually that at most big moments in life there is a kiss. Romantic or maternal. Daring or unasked for. Appropriate or not even close. Say, for example, you are about to be released from visiting a convicted murderer in San Quentin Prison. Should there be a kiss? Or perhaps your boyfriend has just spent a full week sharing a room with his supposedly ex-girlfriend. Should you kiss him hello when you find him at your door? And what about when a dear loved one is about to go in for surgery and it is still dark out and no one has any idea what will happen by the end of the day. A kiss is all there is to express what you feel as she is wheeled away.
So I found my groove and just kept going. I found that like eating potato chips, one kiss story led to another, then another. It became a small group of personal essays and then a full on collection and now the bag is empty but there is, amazingly, a book -- Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses.
Thanks so much, Claudia, for sharing your story about how Reading Lips took hold and never let go. It is so true that sometimes "a kiss is all there is to express what you feel."
Reading Group Alert! Parents, childhood, friends, romance, identity, grief -- Reading Lips will produce a lively discussion.
". . . Sternbach has carefully considered how to make a life story interesting through unusual yet approachable formatting, and she throws humor, sarcasm and self-deprecation into the mix….A memorable, laugh-out-loud, cry-out-loud essay collection for both genders and all ages.”" —Kirkus Reviews
Learn more about Claudia.
Last weekend, I attended the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) in Washington, DC. But, some people call it Awesome Writers' Party! It was a blast. Panels, workshops, readings -- all about writers and their craft. I had the honor of hanging with some great writers.
On Thursday, I had dinner with a fun and talented group of women writers. Two found out that day that their books were on the NY Times best-seller list and one had been on for two weeks!
Left to right:
Tanya Egan Gibson (How to Buy a Love of Reading)
Barbara Drummond Mead (little ol' me)
Therese Fowler (Reunion, Souvenir, upcoming in May, Exposure)
Siobhan Fallon (You Know When the Men Are Gone)
Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters)
Heidi Durrow (The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, NY Times bestseller)
Caroline Leavitt (Pictures of You, NY Time bestseller)
Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters, NY Times bestseller)
Sarah Pekkanen (Skipping a Beat, The Opposite of Me).
Had a few drinks with plenty of authors writing great reading group picks. Details in subsequent posts.
AWP will be held in Chicago next year. I will be there!
Author On the Bookcase
So pleased to welcome Summer Wood, author of Wrecker to On the Bookcase. Summer's novel tells the story of Wrecker, a lonely and confused boy, and the eccentric relatives that raise him and, somehow, create a family. Set amid the giant trees of northern California's magical Lost Coast, Wrecker charts the ups and downs of a real, ragged, joyful and painful life -- a tribute to the unconventional family and the truest kind of love.
Wrecker "grew out of a rank stew of personal experience, literary experiment, political inquiry, and meandering imagination."
Summer, please share with us more of this "rank stew."
As a reader and a writer, I love stories that challenge my ordinary perception. As a mother, on the other hand, I find I’m perfectly okay with the status quo. I don’t need surprise or revelation in that job description. I like it when things go smoothly. I don’t like to have my feathers ruffled.
Except, of course (Mothers? Can you confirm this for me?) – they never do go completely smoothly, do they?
Wrecker came about because of an unexpected bump in my personal motherhood curve. And even though my writing rarely follows the contours of my life, the experience of being a foster parent was so emotionally acute that I turned to fiction to see my way through to a clearer understanding.
We entered the experience innocently enough. We had trained to become emergency foster care parents, thinking that if a local kid needed someplace to stay briefly while the family was in trouble, we could harbor him or her for a weekend or so. With our three sons and their friends, our place was overrun with kids, anyway. The screen door kept slamming as one neighbor child or another came or went. What was one more for a couple of days?
One, maybe; but the first call we got was for four small brothers who needed a family to stay with. Their parents were both battling drug problems, in trouble with the law, and the authorities had removed the kids upon confirmation of neglect. Sally, the social worker, said that if we couldn’t take these boys – aged 4, 3, 2, and not-quite-1 – they’d be split up and sent to different homes.
You want us to take them for the weekend?
Indefinitely, she said, and coughed politely into her hand.
We thought hard. We consulted our sons. And then we said yes, and for nearly two winter months, these small boys – who came to us with pneumonia, an amazing roster of aberrant behaviors, a black trash bag of shorts, t-shirts, and ill-fitting sneakers, and the most cherubic little faces – lived in our home and rapidly took up residence in our hearts.
It’s a long story, the saga of their journey back and forth, into and out of their parents’ custody. We became friends of the family, kind of informal kin to the boys. We were on hand to help when a fifth child was born with medical complications. We rooted for the parents, celebrated with them, wept with them, and when, at last, the whole house of cards came tumbling down, we felt our hearts break for them as their parental rights were terminated and the boys were adopted out to separate families.
I didn’t write this novel in conscious response to having fostered those children. As any novel will, it grew out of a rank stew of personal experience, literary experiment, political inquiry, and meandering imagination – with a good dose of love, whimsy, fear, humor, and warped psychological obsession thrown in. This imaginary child, Wrecker, arrived in a public playground one June afternoon in 1965, and I wanted to know what would happen to him. I wanted to know his mother, and how she lost him, and who would come to love and raise him, and what kind of man he would turn out to be.
Writing his mothers into being – both the one who gave him his start, and the one into whose arms he fell – meant coming to terms with the power of parents. It meant coming up hard against the truth that no parent, not one of us, is perfect. It meant facing head-on the fact that the mistakes we make can have grave consequences. It meant learning forgiveness as a kind of survival strategy.
I’ve come to believe that it is a radical expression of love to parent any child. And that there’s no right way to do it. It can only be done by trial and error, and error, and error, and trying again. And, yes; there will be unexpected bumps. There will be ruffled feathers.
And writing Wrecker himself? Writing Wrecker into being was a way for me to believe again in the possibilities open to children. I needed to reconnect with the hope that led us to step forward and say: yes. With whatever we can offer, for as long as we can, we’ll welcome these children into our lives.
It was an honor to have the chance to know those boys and their parents. And the best way I knew to pay back that honor was to bring this other boy, Wrecker, into the world, and let him muscle his way, with grace and love and a good share of noise, into his future.
Thanks so much, Summer, for sharing your real life experiences and your ability "to reconnect with the hope that led us to step forward and say: yes."
Reading Group Alert! Wrecker brings together great topics to discuss -- motherhood, family, identity, community, coming-of-age, sense of place. What more can you what in a discussible book?!
"Wood succeeds with surefooted prose; a lush, earthy California backdrop; and a sensitive story of nurturing and family."—Publisher's Weekly
Summer Wood is the author of Arroyo. In 2007, she received the Gift of Freedom Award from A Room of Her Own Foundation for her work on Wrecker. She teaches writing at the University of New Mexico's Taos Summer Writers' Conference, and in 2009 she directed the first NEA/Taos Big Read. She is currently the director of Voices from the American Land, and has lived with her family in Taos for the past twenty years.
Find out more on Summer.
The Lotus Eaters
I'm re-reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli to prepare for the Reading Group Choices panel on March 18 at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Tatjana, Carolyn Parkhurst (The Nobodies Album, Lost and Found, The Dogs of Babel), Myla Goldberg (The False Friend, Bee Season), and William Cobb (The Last Queen of the Gypsies) are the panelists. I'm so excited to be moderating these great writers and reading group favorite authors.
"Helen looked back and watched soldiers swarming over the station wagon. Such a terrible mistake to come." p 377, The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli.
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
What is your TT?
Around the Bend
Exposure by Therese Fowler
Around the Bend is an On the Bookcase Feature bringing attention to upcoming reading group-appropriate titles.
I'm so excited! Random House sent me an ARC of Therese's new title, Exposure (May 2011). I met Therese at the Virginia Festival of Books (VABOOK) 3 or 4 years ago. (Time flies when you have having fun!) She was on the Reading Group Choices' panel. Therese is a great writer and a fun person. Her previous novels are Souvenir and Reunion - both excellent reading group picks. And, I get to see her next week in DC for the Association of Writers & Writing Progmans.
Here's the scoop!
Amelia Wilkes’s strict father does not allow her to date, but that doesn’t stop the talented, winsome high school senior from carrying on a secret romance with her classmate Anthony Winter. Desperately in love, the two envision a life together and plan to tell Amelia’s parents only after she turns eighteen and is legally an adult. Anthony’s mother, Kim, who teaches at their school, knows—and keeps—their secret. But the couple’s passion is exposed sooner than planned: Amelia’s father, Harlan, is shocked and infuriated to find naked pictures of Anthony on his daughter’s computer. Just hours later, Anthony is arrested.
Despite Amelia’s frantic protests, Harlan uses his wealth and influence with local law enforcement and the media to label Anthony a deviant who preyed on his innocent daughter. Spearheaded by a zealous prosecutor anxious to turn the case into a public crusade against “sexting,” the investigation soon takes an even more disturbing and destructive turn.
As events spiral wildly out of control and the scandalous story makes national news, Amelia and Anthony risk everything in a bold and dangerous attempt to clear their names and end the madness once and for all.
A captivating page-turner, Therese Fowler’s Exposure is also a deftly crafted, provocative, and timely novel that serves as a haunting reminder of the consequences of love in the modern age.
Praise for Souvenir
“Compelling . . . The characters are likable, troubled and human, and they’re well worth following on their journey.”—USA Today
“Souvenir is indeed one of those books you want to sit down and finish all at once. . . . Fowler’s storytelling is what makes this novel shine.”
Therese has worked in the U.S. Civil Service, managed a clothing store, lived in the Philippines, had children, sold real estate, earned a B.A. in sociology, sold used cars, returned to school for her MFA in creative writing, and taught college undergrads about literature and fiction-writing -- roughly in that order. With books published in nine languages and sold world-wide, Therese writes full-time from her home in Wake Forest, NC, which she shares with her husband, four amiable cats, and four nearly grown-up sons.
Reading group alert! Family, relationships, current events, coming of age, believable characters. Perfect topics for a lively discussion.
Look for Exposure in May and see here more details about Therese.
I received one big box of Advance Reader's Copies from Viking Books! Here are the treasures.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (February 2011) heard excellent things about this one.
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (May 3, 2011) so excited to read her new one
Mice by Gordon Reece (August 2011) first American novel
Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson (February 2011)
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Juy 2011) first novel
The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice (April 2011) love her
Emily Alone by Stewart O' Nan (March 2011) love him
The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly (January 2011) heard excellent things about this one
Journal of a UFO Investigator by David Halperin (February 2011) first novel
Twice Born by Margaret Mazzantini (May 2011) title won Italy's Premio Campiella
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (June 2011) first novel
Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington (June 2011) first novel
Now, that's a lot of reading!
Thanks, Andrew D and Viking Books!
Around the Bend
Galore by Michael Crummey
Around the Bend is an On the Bookcase Feature bringing attention to upcoming reading group-appropriate titles.
When a whale beaches itself on the shore of the remote coastal town of Paradise Deep, the last thing any of the townspeople expect to find inside it is a man, silent and reeking of fish, but remarkably alive. The discovery of this mysterious person, soon christened Judah, sets the town scrambling for answers as its most prominent citizens weigh in on whether he is man or beast, blessing or curse, miracle or demon.
Though Judah is a shocking addition, the town of Paradise Deep is already full of unusual characters. King-me Sellers, self-appointed patriarch, has it in for an inscrutable woman known only as Devine’s Widow, with whom he has a decades-old feud. Her granddaughter, Mary Tryphena, is just a child when Judah washes ashore, but finds herself tied to him all her life in ways she never expects.
Galore is the story of the saga that develops between these families, full of bitterness and love, spanning two centuries.
With Paradise Deep, award-winning novelist Michael Crummey imagines a realm where the line between the everyday and the otherworldly is impossible to discern. Sprawling and intimate, stark and fantastical, Galore is a novel about the power of stories to shape and sustain us.
"... Crummey lovingly carves out the privation and inner intricacies that mark his characters' lives with folkloric embellishments and the precision of the finest scrimshaw.—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“...pitch-perfect, boisterous...Galore is an endearing romp. For the language alone—and there is so much more—I loved the book.”—National Post
Michael Crummey is a poet and storyteller, and the author of the critically acclaimed novels River Thieves and The Wreckage and the short story collection Flesh and Blood. He has been nominated for the Giller Prize, the IMPAC Dublin Award, and Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Canada for Galore. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Reading group alert—family, religion, culture, eccentric characters, and a little bit of fantasy will create a lively conversation.
Look for Galore in April 2011.