Archive for the ‘Reads’ Category

Amy’s Notebook 03.26.14

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Make-spring-rolls-Like-a-PRO

Source: How Does She

 

I simply adore springrolls and I’m looking forward to making Vietnamese springrolls like a pro with these directions – and hopefully with rice wrappers to be gluten free!

I’m loving these ideas for 5, 10, & 15 minute plans to painlessly clean your house – perfect for easing into spring cleaning.

Here’s a really easy way to make a no sew bench cushion for any wooden bench – plus a great tip to save on the most expensive part of any cushion, the foam.

Oh, goodness, these really awesome black bean burgers look so good, I don’t think I’d miss the meat at all!

Not only does this robin’s egg nest chocolate cake look delicious, it’s absolutely beautiful, too!

SO many incredible ideas I’m getting in these 12 craft closet makeovers…now just to put them into use, ha!

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I hope you enjoyed this collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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March Book Club Discussion With the Author: A White Wind Blew

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

A White Wind Blew by James Markert

A warmest welcome to all of our readers today as we discuss our MomAdvice Book Club pick for the month of March. I am particularly honored to have James Markert sharing his own thoughts on his book with us and I hope you will find his answers as fascinating as I have!

Tuberculosis and how this illness affects its patients, and those that love them, are often the central focus of this book.  After I finished reading this and then reading the historical notes about Waverly Place, I immediately went in search of more information about the illness and the backdrop for this book. Although the book goes into great detail of symptoms of TB and what the patients experience, it does not delve into why people have it because, in this time period of the book, people do not know how to cure it or why it lies dormant in some, while killing others.

Tuberculosis, is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It typically attacks the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. It is spread through the air when people who have an active TB infection cough, sneeze, or otherwise transmit respiratory fluids through the air. Most infections are asymptomatic and latent, but about one in ten latent infections eventually progresses to active disease which, if left untreated, kills more than 50% of those so infected.

As we are able to read in this book, treatment for progressive cases often included removing ribs to help the lungs and all patients were encouraged to get as much fresh air as possible, even in wintery weather conditions, because fresh air was believed to help cure this illness.

Delving into the book, we have an unlikely band of friends that have gathered together to create an orchestra who are working together to perform a concert. I love how the author pulls together these unlikely people and then, oftentimes, paints a very different portrait of what we expect them to be like and then tells us the true story of who they are when we dive further into the book.

Rose’s death, for example, takes me completely by surprise as I believed it was one way and it was not.  McVain, who begins the novel as an unlikeable bully, later delves into his story of his true wartime injury and the unlikely love he discovered. Herman, when given a little love and attention from Susannah, steals the show with his beautiful voice. And, one of the most pivotal moments for Wolfgang, is when he finds out the death of his father is very different than his childhood interpretation of what really happened.

I loved this book from start to finish. Although the book is filled with death and disease, it offered a surprising amount of hopefulness in it. There is so much love and beauty as the patients join forces to complete and perform the requiem and the beauty of these unlikely friendships and loved is solidified because they are all battling this same fight.

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James Markert is a debut novelist and screenwriter, which is why his writing feels oh-so-cinematic. James  lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife and two children. He has a history degree from the University of Louisville, where, in his senior year, he was honored as the school’s most outstanding history major. He won an IPPY Award for The Requiem Rose, published by Butler Books.

With Requiem’s local success, James was signed by Writers House Literary Agency in New York, and the book was sold to Sourcebooks, Landmark in January 2012. Rewritten and retitled, it became A White Wind Blew.  James is currently working on his next novel, The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley, a story that takes place in the late nineteenth century and involves the theater scene, a lunatic asylum, and the theatrical version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…and possibly a few gaslights, cobblestones, and an eerie fog.

He runs his own blog called Markert Ink where you can read about some of his thoughts on books and writing. I know you will want to become a fan after you read this one and you can follow James on Twitter!

James has graciously answered all of our questions about the setting, inspiration for the book, and who inspires him in his own writing. I am particularly excited for you to read his thoughts on adapting A White Wind Blew as a screenplay!

James Markert

Upon reading the historical notes about Waverly Place, we find that this sanitarium is considered one of the most haunted places in the United States. Why did you decide to set a book here and do you think you hint at the darkness of Waverly Hills (the Death Tunnel and the suicide scene in the book) in nod of this history you discovered?

I grew up only a few miles from Waverly Hills and was always fascinated because of the legends and stories of ghosts there, but when I visited a few years ago, it was the history, the wooded surroundings, and grand architecture that drew me in. History seeped from every room. I went in wanting to come out with a story idea, something scary, actually, but instead, while I stood out on the fourth floor solarium porch, listening to the wind and watching the trees sway, I thought to myself: What if this place really is haunted? What if I am surrounded by ghosts? What is their story?  I imagined the sound of a violin, and, coupled with the fact that they had no cure back then, the story of musical medicine took root. Waverly is known around the world as a haunted building, I thought the real flesh and blood inhabitants, the people who lived and died there, deserved to have a story told that revealed their fight and struggles. But in doing this, I also wanted to incorporate some of the legends, namely the nurse suicide and the body chute.  And Big 15 was also taken from an actual man who worked there, doing the same job, and his name was Big 14 because of the size of his feet!

The whole book really centers on music and music therapy for the patients. What type of research did you need to do to prepare for this portion of the book?

My sister-in-law is a music therapist, so I did consult her. My sister is a pianist, and I think her constant practicing, although it annoyed me and my brothers as kids, really sunk in with me and inspired this book later in life. TB had no cure, and I feel that music can be really healing. I did a little research online, and have since become involved with the National Music Therapy Association, but since music therapy was not really a “field” during the time of the story, I intentionally didn’t research that much from current music therapy practices because I wanted it to come off as something new for Wolfgang as well, something unpolished and evolving.

When Wolfgang witnesses the horrific death of his father, he always blames his mother & never forges a relationship with her. When she comes to visit to take one of the instruments and Wolfgang discovers the true reason for his death, he invites her to the concert. Is there a reason why you did not write her into the concert scene at the end?

I did consider writing her into the concert, but ultimately decided not to. White Wind is a moving story.  It can be sad and funny in parts, and make you really think in others, and, although I wanted the concert to be uplifting on many levels, I didn’t want to wrap everything up too nicely for Wolfgang. It didn’t want it to seem like the concert solved everything for him, so I decided to leave her at home.

Who are some of your favorite authors or favorite books that have influenced you as a writer?

I grew up a huge fan of Stephen King. I was not a reader until sophomore year of high school. My English teacher told out class, “Ok, I know half of you won’t want to read the “classics”, and those who do probably won’t fully enjoy it, so we’re reading Stephen King novels all year.” And we did, but not his scarier stories.  We read Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand by Me, etc… and we had great discussions because all the kids read them. That’s when I fell in love with books, and I then devoured every Stephen King book available. From there I moved on to Dean Koontz, and those two authors heavily influenced by first few unpublished novels. The way I write now, with historical fiction, I’d say my biggest influences are Ken Follett, Pat Conroy, Caleb Carr, and John Irving. I love how John Irving develops his characters. As far as suspense, I’m a big fan of Greg Iles. George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones books are probably my favorite to read at the moment. Pillars of the Earth is my favorite book. Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafron is also one of my favorites. I could read Pat Conroy and John Irving all day long.

The ending is left open to interpretation by the reader. As the writer, do you see Wolfgang choosing the priesthood or do you picture him continuing his work at Waverly Hills?

I go back and forth on this, which is only part of the reason why I did it. Whenever someone asks me why, I always tell them that I fell asleep halfway through that sentence. But the truth is, when I got to that part, and I honestly didn’t have an answer when I got there, I thought to myself that it didn’t matter as much to me. Wolfgang had already begun his healing by then and I didn’t want to lead him one way or another. The concept of faith is big in the book, but I don’t try to answer it.  The question: Where do we go when we die? Is also another big part of the book that I intentionally don’t try to answer either. Faith is an open-ended question with many answers that lead to many other questions, so that is the main reason I ended it that way. Like faith, I wanted the reader to take that on themselves.  I wanted to let the reader take Wolfgang where they thought he should go, and no matter, their answer would be right.

As a screenwriter, many aspects of this book feel like they would lend itself to a movie. Are you planning to develop this for the screen?

YES!!! I actually wrote the screenplay for this story before I wrote the novel because screenplays are quicker to write and the story, with the music, was so cinematic. I’ve always envisioned it as a movie. After I finish my next book in a few weeks I plan on rewriting the screenplay for A White Wind Blew. I’ve recently opened some doors with another movie I’ve written that could make A White Wind Blew a bigger possibility in the future.  It will be a movie someday, even if I have to produce it myself!

Who would be part of your “dream cast,” for playing these roles?

I don’t always do this with books I write, but I did with this one. I had three actors clearly in mind when I wrote it. For Wolfgang I imagined Joaquin Phoenix. For Susannah I imagined Amy Adams. And sadly, for McVain, I had imagined Phillip Seymour Hofmann. But my second choice for McVain would be Russell Crowe. And for Rose I’d always had Audrey Tautou in mind. She plays Mathilde in the French film, A Very Long Engagement, and she’s also in The Da Vinci Code.

Thank You so much to all the readers in your book club for reading my debut novel, and for the insightful questions. Please feel free to tell many other books clubs about it!

Best wishes,
James Markert

What did you think of A White Wind Blew? Can’t you just picture this as a movie? It is cinematic storytelling at it’s best.  Share your thoughts on our  book club pick below and offer recommendations for what you might like to see on our list in the upcoming year!

Our next book club pick will be announced on March 28th- this is a big departure from our past three historical fiction books! In the meantime, catch up on what is happening this year and explore our past book club selections here!

 

This post does contain affiliate links! 

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It’s The 3 Little Things

Friday, March 21st, 2014

3_little_things

I am so happy to hear that you guys are enjoying our new feature on the site. I loved hearing about your three favorite things too from your week. If you missed last week’s edition we chatted it up about plushy boot inserts for worn out boots, my obsession with BB cream, and my new favorite spring layering piece. Be sure to check that out!

Here are 3 little things that I enjoyed this week!

twice

Twice

Have you heard of Twice? It is my new little fashion obsession. Since I live in a small town, Chicago sometimes becomes the destination to have a wide plethora of shops.  Thanks to Twice though, I can find those wardrobe pieces, but at a fraction of the price since the items are gently used, typically 60% or more off their former retail prices.

The other bonus is that if you are weeding through your closet, you can send them to Twice and they can sell your items for you. Just let them know you need a bag and they will ship it to you to fill.

With Spring comes weddings, graduations, and summer parties. I plan to use this site to grab some fancy frocks this year and save a ton of money. Pictured above, is my first purchase. Anthro, pockets, AND polka dots? Be still my beating heart.

waterlogue

waterlogue 2

Waterlogue

Have you heard of the Waterlogue app? I am absolutely in love with the water colors you can create with this little app. My best friend’s birthday was coming up so I wanted to do something special for her day.  I snagged her family photos from when their home was being built and got frames to put them in to hang in their new home.

I then spent the rest of the day plopping all of our favorite photos in it to see what they would look like. Beach, travel, and landscape photos turned out amazing with this little app.

I just emailed the photos to myself and then printed it on heavy cardstock. I did 8×10 prints, but you could adjust your print sizes according to your frame. ($2.99)

sleepytime extra tea

Sleepytime Extra Tea

I’m trying to break myself of the habit of needing a nightly glass of wine in the evening to unwind.

Don’t judge.

With all my tummy issues, the dietician I saw suggested making the switch over to tea to help my stomach.  I have difficulty unwinding in the evenings and still needed something that would help me with that. I had been taking melatonin, but seeing this piece on it kind of freaked me out about that.

I found this Sleepytime Extra Tea and I don’t know what voodoo is in this stuff, but it makes me feel sleepy and relaxed at night. I actually do know what voodoo it is… it is valerian and it seems to work like a charm for me. I sleep good and I have no problems getting up and around in the morning. This has replaced my melatonin hangover and I have been really happy about this little life switch.

I add a splash of almond milk and honey to it and have really been looking forward to this in the evenings.

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

What’s making you happy this week?

Amy’s Notebook 03.19.14

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

DIY-Gold-Foil-Lettering

Source: Nest of Posies

 

Aren’t these diy gold foil lettered flower pots great? I’m thinking of all the fun things I can write on the pots – both for keeping and for gifting!

There are SO many good ideas in this article on 8 ways to teach your kids the value of money!

I’m excited to try putting some of these colorful ideas, resources and tips for paper organization to work!

I love a good gumbo and this seafood gumbo looks fantastic.

15 dinners you can make in 30 minutes? Just the type of resource we need for those busy school-sports-work days!

And take a look at this gluten free Girl Scout Samoa-inspired peanut butter bar – it is truly inspired! Yum.

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I hope you enjoyed this collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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Amy’s Notebook 03.12.13

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Salted Honey Caramels

Source: My Humble Kitchen

 

Ooo…soft, chewy and sweetened with natural honey and palm sugar – there’s a lot to love about these salted honey caramels!

What a cute way to use up some fabric scraps and usher in some springtime with a cool spring wreath. And we’re all ready for spring, aren’t we? Please…

Okay, this is just a fabulously creative idea – convert an old sewing table into a drink station.

The humble chicken breast is elevated to a man-pleasing chicken dish with bacon and spinach – yum!

How about getting your vegetables in a cauliflower fritter? Works for me!

Here’s a completely fun home tour for you – my favorite part? The giant “XO” over the bed – love!

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I hope you enjoyed this collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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Amy’s Notebook 03.05.14

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Crochet-Shamrock-banner

Source: Everything Etsy

 

Oh my, this crochet shamrock banner is adorable! I.must.make.

I think these cute succulents in painted pots would add a fun St. Patrick’s Day decoration to a tabletop or make a sweet hostess gift.

Wow, this sounds different and SO amazing: Lemon-Lime Beer Shandy Cocktail.

This baked chicken and orzo dish not only looks delicious, but seems very easy. Thinking I could replace the orzo with rice for a gluten free version?

How about a bowl of simple tomatoey, brothy, garlicky beans to help you through our long, long winter? Perfection.

Need some creative ideas for clothes storage? Here are 10 solutions for storing off-season clothes and many of them look so good, there’s no need to hide them away!

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I hope you enjoyed this collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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March Book Club Selection: A White Wind Blew by James Markert

Friday, February 28th, 2014

A White Wind Blew by James Markert

As I turned the final pages of, “A White Wind Blew,” I knew immediately that this would be a fantastic book for our book club discussion. The book covers so many issues including religion, racism, prohibition, war, the power of music, friendship, illness, and love.

Markert is a screenwriter and the book reads with the cinematic quality of a beautiful film. He also has a history degree from the University of Louisville and, with this background, it is evident that the details he includes in this book really shine.

Dr. Wolfgang Pike practices at Waverly Hills, a tuberculosis sanitarium in Jefferson County, Kentucky. He is a theological student from Saint Meinrad Abbey and is continuing to study to be a priest while practicing as a doctor at the clinic.  Music and his former love, named Rose, are the center of his life and he still mourns the loss of her daily. He has been working on a requiem for her that he just cannot seem to finish in his evenings, never able to fully bring this piece to a close. During the day though, he visits his patients and uses music therapy to help ease their pain and relax them, despite the belief of his boss that this is a waste of time.

When a former concert pianist checks in, he begins to believe that he will be able to help him finish this requiem to Rose. With his help and an unlikely choir of singers and musicians in the hospital, he begins to see the transformative power of music on these patients and what these times of practice mean to them. Unfortunately, not everyone believes this is a good idea. When Wolfgang finds a musician from the colored hospital to participate, during a time where racism runs rampant, many lives are threatened while unlikely friendships & relationships are formed.

James Markert

James Markert is a debut novelist and screenwriter, which is why his writing feels oh-so-cinematic. James  lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife and two children. He has a history degree from the University of Louisville, where, in his senior year, he was honored as the school’s most outstanding history major. He won an IPPY Award for The Requiem Rose, published by Butler Books.

With Requiem’s local success, James was signed by Writers House Literary Agency in New York, and the book was sold to Sourcebooks, Landmark in January 2012. Rewritten and retitled, it became A White Wind Blew.  James is currently working on his next novel, The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley, a story that takes place in the late nineteenth century and involves the theater scene, a lunatic asylum, and the theatrical version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…and possibly a few gaslights, cobblestones, and an eerie fog.

He runs his own blog called Markert Ink where you can read about some of his thoughts on books and writing. I know you will want to become a fan after you read this one and you can follow James on Twitter!

James Markert has graciously offered three of our readers the chance to win his book. He has also offered to answer your questions, which I could not be more excited about! 

To enter to win a copy of, “A White Wind Blew,” please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!  Just leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts on our book club and book club selections so far! 

MomAdvice Book Club

Our book club discussion for this novel will take place on March 25th. I will try to collect your questions for the author before that though via our Facebook groupSign up for our newsletter to stay informed and connect with me on GoodReads too!

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Amy’s Notebook 02.26.14

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

lego man  clipboard display

Source: Sarah M Style

 

Displaying Lego men on a clipboard is so unique and would be an adorable decoration for a boy’s room!

We absolutely love saving money by streaming TV shows, so I loved this list of 20 must-stream shows – I found a couple we need to check out! How about you – did your favorites make the list?

Wondering what to do with your tv wall? Here are some great tips and ideas to create a picture gallery wall around your television. Definitely inspiring!

I love Greek flavored foods, so it’s no wonder this slow-cooker Greek pork is going to to top of my ‘to cook’ list!

Are you a Sriracha fan? Here are five totally unique dinners using Sriracha like savory waffles or roasted chickpeas and cauliflower.

How do chocolate-peanut butter apples with almonds & coconut sound? Yeah, pretty much the perfect after school snack my kids will flip over!

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed this collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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February Book Club Discussion With the Author: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

I am so excited to discuss our MomAdvice Book Club pick, A Constellation of a Vital Phenomena with you. I am doubly excited that Anthony Marra has agreed to answer our questions about his astonishing debut novel with you.

With a book of this gravity, it is hard to know where to begin in our discussion. First, I want to thank you all for participating in this month’s selection.  I know that we had two historical fiction books that centered upon wartime topics, but once I began to read this book, I knew from Marra’s beautiful writing that this would be a book worth discussing with you all.

Let’s begin with our cast of characters in this book, as there are many, all of them offering much importance to this storyline and beautifully woven together at the end of our story.

The Cast of Characters

 

Sonja: An amazingly talented doctor who is almost singlehandedly carrying for the wounded at an abandoned hospital. Sonja is consumed with worry and grief over the loss of her sister, Natasha, who has disappeared.

Akmed: The neighbor who discovers Havaa in the woods and offers his services as a doctor in exchange for Havaa’s safety at the hospital. We later learn in the story of why Akmed is so motivated to save Havaa.  Of course, we also soon discover that Akmed is more of a dreamer and artist than a doctor, but he offers his services nonetheless. He is also husband to Ula, who has dementia and is completely reliant on Akmed to care for her.

Havaa: Is the eight-year-old child that is saved by Akmed when her father is taken by the Russian military, leaving her without her father and her home. She has now become the target of the Russian military and Akmed has volunteered to keep her safe. Although Havaa is at the center of our story, her storyline isn’t as deep as many of the other characters. Her suitcase that she carries, however, holds a secret that weave some of our characters together.

Natasha: Sonja’s beautiful younger sister is truly a victim of war.  She becomes a victim of sex-trafficking, a drug addict, and is dealing with PTSD after all she has been through. We follow Natasha through both of her disappearances and discover the outcome of both of those, although Sonja never does.

Khassam: Is a scholarly elder neighbor and friend to Akmed and became one of the most endearing characters to me. Khassam writes a book on Chechnya and its history, yet only gets a fraction of his thousands upon thousands of pages published. He is in a nonexistent relationship with his son because his son has become an informant. His best friends have now become a pack of feral dogs.  While Akmed is at the hospital, he visits Akmed’s wife and shares his life story to the one person who will never remember them, due to her failing mind.

Ramzan: Is Khassam’s son and, perhaps, one of the most complex characters in the book. Ramzan has become an informant after two times of brutal torture.  He is the one who has turned in his friends & neighbors to keep his own safety and protect his father.  He is the boy that never felt loved and is still hated even when he feels he is, “doing the right thing,” for his family.

Dokka: Is Havaa’s father and a good friend of Khassam & Akmed.  Dokka has suffered horrible mutilation when he is tortured during this war.  He is a kind soul that takes in refugees during the war.  He is abducted by Russian soldiers in the opening chapter and accused of aiding Chechen rebels.  He is not a central character to this story, as those above are, but his story does weave into these other six characters in some unexpected ways.

Now that we have all of our characters, let’s delve into this book more!  As a reader, we were able to follow the timeline from 1994-2004 as it moved forwards and backwards through time, taking the reader on a journey of what each of these characters went through during the war and how it had impacted each of them as people.  

In this novel, two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child named Havaa.  Havaa is just eight years old when her neighbor Akhmed finds her hiding in the woods, watching her house burning down. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, but her father is an old friend, and he risks it all deciding to take her to an abandoned hospital where a woman named Sonja Rabina runs a hospital almost single handedly.

Sonja does not love kids…at all. Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will change in ways she never imagined. The reader is taken on a journey through each of these character’s past on an extraordinary journey of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human.

I found myself completely swept away into each of these characters and what they had to overcome.  Although the book was about war and suffering, the book was also all about love and what we do for love.

This entire book was so beautiful that I reread some of the scenes over again. For example, the scenes when Natasha finally has some happiness and purpose when delivering babies in the hospital, brought me a lot of joy as a reader. The scenes when Khassam goes to visit Ula to tell her his secrets because he knows her failing mind will never remember them truly moved me to tears. The beautifully drawn portraits that Akhmed drew that hung in the street deeply moved me as a reader.

Everything about this book seemed to have significance and meaning. In previous interviews, Marra has described how he settled upon, “A Constellation of Phenomena,” as his title.  In an interview he states, “One day I looked up the definition of life in a medical dictionary and found a surprisingly poetic entry: “A constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” As biological life is structured as a constellation of six phenomena, the narrative life of this novel is structured as a constellation of six point-of-view characters.”

The reader quickly realizes that every word is precious and every sequence of events will later have meaning and be woven together. Marra frequently writes of what we can expect to come from these characters and even clues us in on their longevity through an omniscient voice that help us sometimes know whether we should get too attached or worried about the next scenes outcome.

When Marra brings it all together, it is beautiful and surprisingly hopeful, especially when we learn of the fate of the beautiful Havva.

MomAdvice Book Club

I am so honored that Anthony Marra has agreed to speak with us today, to share more about this amazing book. You can become a fan of Anthony Marra on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Anthony Marra is the winner of a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, The Atlantic‘s Student Writing Contest, and the Narrative Prize, and his work has been anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a Jones Lecturer in Fiction at Stanford University. His first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, was published in May 2013 and will be translated into over a dozen languages.

In short, he is a big deal, and he is talking with us today! 

Anthony Marra

Questions for Anthony Marra

I understand that this novel began as a short story called, “Chechyna.”  At what point did you feel that this short story was actually a novel and what did a process like this entail for you as a writer?

Nearly as soon as I finished the short story, I realized that the characters, their pasts and futures, stretched much farther than a twenty-five page piece of short fiction could contain. In the short story, I’d only just crossed the border into a land that fascinated, perplexed, and moved me. The next several years were my attempts to explore that land more deeply and draw a map of what I had found.

Many times as a reader we are clued in on the fates of these characters, even during pivotal scenes, which is a rarity as a reader. Was this style of omniscient narrating difficult to flesh out since you had to know how these characters stories would develop?

My writing process is largely based on retyping. As soon as I finished the first draft of Constellation, I printed it out, dropped it in front of my keyboard, and retyped the book from the first word on, and did this a number of times until I had a final draft. I find this useful for a few reasons. First, it forces you to go through the book at a glacial pace, meaning you end up noticing both the inconsistencies and the small resonances you might miss if you were moving through the book at a rate of more than a page an hour. Second, it tricks your mind into returning to the same creative well from which the sentences first emerged, letting the language change organically from the inside out, rather than through the transposition of red-pen edits. Third, and most important, you begin to see the scene both as you write it, and through your earlier imaginings. There was a David Hockney exhibition here in San Francisco a few months back, and there were entire walls of the same landscape painted again and again, in different seasons and different mediums. One of the placards said that Hockney believes he sees the landscape more clearly the more times he paints it, because he’s seeing it not only through his eyes, but through his memory.

I had a similar experience writing this book. Up until the fourth retyping of it, the novel was told in a very limited third person perspective. The reader never knew or saw beyond a single character per chapter. But the fourth time through, I felt like I knew the scenes so well that my eye began to wander away from the main characters to minor characters I hadn’t paid much attention to before. In a sentence I projected the future of a character who only appears in the book for the space of a paragraph. It felt like a big bang right in the middle of the book. Suddenly the story seemed like it could be much larger, more inclusive, really trying to wrap the covers around as much of this world as it could encompass. And I realized that I wanted to tell a story in which there were no minor characters. Just about every character, no matter how minor, gets their sentence in the spotlight.

The weaving and gathering of six characters together really brought these stories together for me as a reader.  How hard was it to pull these six characters together for you as a writer? Did you always know how they would interweave?

I knew from the beginning that if I was going to write about the Chechen conflict, it couldn’t be a novel with a traditional beginning, middle, and end. Violence has broken these characters sense of time and narrative. Yet they’re all trying to piece their lives together, to recover what’s been lost, and while they often don’t succeed, by attempting to rescue their past they instead create new and unexpectedly meaningful present. I wanted the novel to embody at a structural level this central act of its characters, mending their individual stories into a communal whole.

While writing the first draft, I had a final page in mind that I was writing toward. Even though I ultimately decided to go with a different ending, it gave me a destination, a concrete point in the future of the novel that I had to get to, even if I didn’t really know the way. Sometimes I knew characters would interweave fifty pages in advance, other times it wasn’t until I was in the midst of writing a scene. A novel contains not only a writer’s thoughts, to paraphrase Marilynne Robinson, but also a pretty good blueprint for how a writer thinks. As a writer, I tend to find myself tuning into the echoes trapped between narratives, and using those echoes as the connective tissue to build the kind of mega-story made up of many small stories that feels a lot like life as I experience it.

Natasha and Ramzan both find themselves as prisoners a second time. When faced with the reoccurrence of this, Natasha sacrifices herself while Ramzan sacrifices those around him to save himself.  Were you able to sympathize with both of these characters and why they made the choices they did?

That’s a great question, and yes, I found both characters very sympathetic. Ramzan, the ostensible villain of the book, probably has more of my empathy than any other character. He’s more or less an average person placed in very difficult conditions. A place like Chechnya in this time period magnifies moral choice. Because the stakes are so high, the smallest betrayal can lead to tragic consequences. Were Ramzan to live in America, his ethical failures would probably result in nothing more calamitous than, say, lying on his CV. So I felt it was important to portray his experience without any kind of authorial judgment. The ability to recognize ourselves in a character like Ramzan makes his betrayals all the more harrowing.

Natasha, when confronted with different but no less difficult choices, decides to resist because she reaches a point at which she values her dignity more than she values her survival. If placed in those circumstance, I think we’d all like to believe we’d have her courage. More likely, we’d have his fear.

What do you have in store for us with your next book?

Well, I’d initially thought I’d packed my bags and head to warmer climes after Constellation. Instead, I ended up in the Arctic Circle, working on a book that revolves around a 19th-century landscape painting, and the lives of those who alter, repaint, buy, lose, receive, and restore the painting, along with those who live and die on the plot of land it portrays.

Thank you to Anthony Marra for joining us today in our book club discussion. Isn’t he amazing? I was so honored that he took our questions on his book!

 

What did you think of The Constellation of Vital Phenomena? Did you like the omniscient narrative in this one? Which storyline moved you the most?  Share your thoughts on our  book club pick below and offer recommendations for what you might like to see on our list in the upcoming year!

 

Our next book club pick will be announced on February 28th- stay tuned! In the meantime, catch up on what is happening this year and explore our past book club selections here!

This post does contain affiliate links! 

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Amy’s Notebook 02.19.14

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Amazing Appetizers

Source: Giving Up on Perfect

 

I know where I’m going to look when I need some amazing appetizer ideas! Drooling…

Mmmm, combining citrus with black pepper and mint in a salad? Sounds like something I need to try!

Eggs, spinach, tomato, bacon & feta – what’s not to love in this yummy-looking Mediterranean scramble?

If it’s one thing I like, it’s quick and easy diy projects that result in fabulous decor and gifts, so I’m totally excited to have this resource of 20+ DIY coasters to make.

This amazing family home makes me swoon – modern, yet warm!

I totally want to make a coffee-beverage station like this for my family – loving through coffee & hot chocolate!

amys_notebook I hope you enjoyed this collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, and thrifty ways to spruce up your home. Nothing brings me more joy then to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!