Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

Sundays With Writers: The Martian by Andy Weir

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

This year one of my reading goals was to branch out into different genres than I typically reach for.

I blame you.

I want our Sundays With Writers to be a well-rounded selection of great books and authors and I want to challenge you to read something you might not normally pick up.  My first leap into science fiction this year was The Girl With All the Gifts and I wasn’t going to stop there. After reading about The Martian, I knew that this would be my next science fiction book for the year.  Can I be honest and say that after starting it, I started to wonder if my tiny brain could process all of this science?  This book, my friends, is heavy on the science in the science fiction. And it was geekily good. So geekily good, in fact, that this is the next book my husband wants to read.

Did I mention it is being adapted into a film starring Matt Damon?

I finished this amazing book and emailed Andy Weir to see if he might like to do an interview. He graciously agreed.

And then I wondered what in the world I could ask this genius that wouldn’t sound completely stupid?

Hello, anxiety attack.

I hope this interview does this great mind justice and I hope you will want to snag his book too. Let me tell you a little about it!

The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

This is a suspenseful survival story of an astronaut who finds himself stranded on Mars and what he must do to survive. Science geeks will love this story of survival from the astronaut, Mark, from his ingenious ideas of how to grow food for himself to how he keeps his limited equipment running to stay alive until he can be rescued. Loads of unexpected humor in his logs, even in the most challenging situations, and a character you want to root for. I really enjoyed this one immensely and can’t wait to see it on the big screen!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in for a chat with Andy Weir about his debut novel The Martian!

Andy Weir

When your short story The Egg hit the front page of Reddit, you said that you were a little sad that The Martian wasn’t as popular as the short story you wrote in an evening. Now that The Martian is finally getting the attention it deserves are you finding this project to be more rewarding than you expected?

Oh definitely. That was before The Martian really took off. Since then, it’s become more well-known than The Egg. It’s been a very exciting ride.

Some of my favorite scenes in your book are when Watney discovers what fills his crewmates USB drives. I love that they brought disco music and fabulous shows like Three’s Company. What would you put on your USB drive to take with you to Mars?

Probably a bunch of 1980’s music. And I’d bring the entire archive of Doctor Who. You may not have noticed, but I’m a nerd.

 Any thoughts on commercial space flight? Any plans to purchase a ticket?

It feels like it’s just around the corner. The trick is getting the price down. Most people can’t pay $200,000 for a trip to space. But if that were brought down to $10,000 it would probably have millions of customers. As for myself, I’m afraid to fly in ordinary planes; I certainly wouldn’t be able to go to space.

Do you see us putting a man on Mars in your lifetime?

That’s a tough one to predict. With our modern technology, we can make extremely effective rovers. It makes people ask why we should risk human life. There are lots of solid reasons to send people instead of robots, but that fundamental concern, and the tremendous cost increases associated with manned spaceflight, will always be a factor. Considering we haven’t gone back to the moon yet, I’m honestly not sure if we’ll see anyone on Mars soon.

Which do you think is a more technical challenge- the first time we put a man on the moon or putting a man on Mars?

Putting a man on Mars is definitely the larger challenge. Even when you account for the technology level of the Apollo era compared to now. The Moon is just so much closer and easier to work with.

I know that not many of our readers have explored as much science fiction and that is why I wanted to share about your book. Do you have any other great suggestions for readers just jumping into the science fiction genre?

Yes, I recommend “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. It’s my favorite book of the decade so far, and it has excellent crossover appeal. You don’t have to be a “sci-fi person” to enjoy it.

Do you think you would survive if you were stranded on Mars?

I doubt it. It would require great bravery and fortitude, and exceptional strength of character. I’m just a normal guy.

John Young

If you could dine with one astronaut, living or dead, who would you invite to dinner?

John Young. He’s the consummate astronaut. He was on numerous spaceflights including Apollo 16, when he walked on the Moon. Fun fact: Apollo astronauts wore bio-monitoring equipment, so their heart rate was recorded throughout their missions. As you can imagine, during launch, their heart rates tended to spike. Usually to around 140 or 150 beats per minute. John Young’s heart rate never got above 70 during the Apollo 16 launch. Nerves of steel.

I understand that you started your computer programming career at the age of 15. What came first, your love of computers or your love for space?

Definitely my love of space. I grew up with it. I can’t remember any time when I wasn’t interested in space travel.

I am trying to build a passion for science in my children. Do you have any suggestions for how to foster that passion in them whether it’s books, places to visit, or shows/movie recommendations?

First, find their passion. Whatever it is. Art? Music? Fast Cars? Doesn’t matter. Then show them how science makes those things possible. Because in the modern era, everything is a science. If they like art, show them the science of computer modeling. If they like Music, show them how musical instruments are made with modern machinery and precision. If they like cars, well you get the idea.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov. In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest sci-fi books of all time.

You can connect with Andy Weir on GoodReads or on Facebook! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Sundays With Writers: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I can be the first to admit that sometimes the size of a book can be intimidating to me.  All the Light We Cannot See has been in my book stack several times this year, but at over five hundred pages, I just didn’t think I had the time to sit down and really dive in deep with a heavy book.  It had been recommended to me by some of my most respected fellow readers and I knew I would love it, but it being named our book club selection for the month was finally what pushed me to just sit down and read.

And read.

And read.

And please leave me alone, I AM READING THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD.

I could not flip the pages fast enough. What will happen to these beloved characters? How will my life go on when this book ends?

Most of all, why did I wait so long to read this?

I wish I could give this book ten stars on GoodReads. I was held captive by it and could not put it down. The storytelling is superb, the characters vividly created, and the words read like poetry. My heart was in my throat for much of it and I could not turn the pages quickly enough so I knew what would happen with Marie-Laure & Werner. I loved how their stories weaved together and how the author created such striking details that made you feel as though you were witnessing it all firsthand.

All the Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

 

In this story, Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

I can’t recommend this one enough- it will be, perhaps, in my top ten books ever read. I want you to set aside the size of it and just dive in like I did. 

I sent an email to Anthony, firmly believing that I would not get a response. At that time, he had been on the New York Times best seller list for twenty weeks. He certainly doesn’t need to do an interview with me to spread the word about his book.  I was shocked when I received the kindest response and so honored that Doerr would take time out of his busy schedule to answer his new #1 fan and her silly questions.

I hope you will love this interview and book as much as I love sharing about it. I already know this one is in my top ten for the year and, perhaps, forever.

Grab your coffee and let’s share a virtual cup with Anthony Doerr and his literary tour de force.

 

Anthony Doerr

I understand that this beautiful book took a decade for you to write which really speaks to your commitment to this novel. Tell me what it is like to devote ten years to a book like this and did you ever find yourself discouraged during the process of fleshing out this story? Did you ever dream that it would take that long to complete it?

Oh, I was crazy with doubt almost of the time. You invest so many months into a single project—shelves stuffed with WWII books, three separate trips to Europe, dozens of notebooks full of scribbled notes—and the terror that you won’t be able to pull it all together keeps you up at nights. I worried that if I abandoned the project I’d let down my wife, my kids, my editor, myself. And I never dreamed it would take so long—a quarter of my life!

At the heart of this story is the communication via radio that brings unlikely people together in beautiful ways. As an NPR junkie, I absolutely loved picturing Werner & his sister huddled beside the radio (as I may or may not do that myself while tuning in to my favorite shows) and others who were enchanted by radio broadcasting through this story. Why did you decide to explore radio and did you have to do a lot of research on the older models and how they worked in order to develop this plotline?

I adored radios as a boy and would often stay up late listening to baseball games under my covers while my parents thought I was sleeping. But that passion had waned a bit, until ten years ago, when I took a train from Princeton, New Jersey into New York City. I had just completed a novel and was searching around for a new idea, and had a notebook in my lap. The man in the seat in front of me was talking to someone on his cell phone about the sequel to The Matrix, I remember that very clearly, and as we approached Manhattan, and sixty feet of steel and concrete started flowing above the train, his call dropped.

And he got angry! He started swearing, and rapping his phone with his knuckles, and after briefly worrying for my safety, I said to myself: What he’s forgetting, what we’re all forgetting, is that what he was just doing is a miracle. He’s using two little radios — a receiver and a transmitter — crammed into something no bigger than a deck of cards, to send and receive little packets of light between hundreds of radio towers, one after the next, miles apart, each connecting to the next at the speed of light, and he’s using this magic to have a conversation about Keanu Reeves.

Because we’re habitualized to it, we’ve stopped seeing the grandeur of this breathtaking act. So I decided to try to write something that would help me and my reader feel that power again, to feel the strangeness and sorcery of hearing the voice of a stranger, or a distant loved one, in our heads.

That very afternoon, ten years ago, I wrote a title into my notebook: All the Light We Cannot See—a reference to all the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum (like radio waves) that are invisible. And that night, I started a piece of fiction in which a girl reads a story to a boy over the radio. I conceived of her as blind, and him as trapped in darkness, and the sound of her voice, carried by radio waves – light we cannot see — through walls, as his salvation.

 My heart ached for Werner so much especially his time in the Hitler Youth and what he must do to survive. Death, war, sadness, poverty…it is all there in this book, despite the hope that so much of your story brings in the end. I imagine that this was a very difficult time period in history to write about as an author. What scene was the hardest for you to write?

Yes, lots of the research for this novel was excruciating. The destruction of human beings during WWII, especially on the Eastern Front, occurred on a scale that is almost too large for the human brain to comprehend. So sometimes the source material would send me to dark places, and I’d have to take breaks by working on other projects.

As for scenes that were hard to write, there are many kinds of difficulty a writer faces: technical difficulty, emotional difficulty, syntactic difficulty. In terms of emotions, probably all the scenes involving Frederick were the most difficult, because he reminds me of one of my sons.

It is hard to say who my favorite character is because I found each one so endearing. The relationship between Marie-Laure and her father brought tears to my eyes though because it was so special. The books that he gives her for her birthday are so treasured and one in particular, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, turns out to be a very special one. Was this a childhood favorite of your own? What was it about this book that made you want to use it in such a unique way in your story?

Thank you, Amy. Yes, 20,000 Leagues was indeed a childhood favorite. The book is about wonder and technology, and it uses narrative to excite a reader’s interest in the natural world. This is so similar to the kind of projects I try to make with my own fiction, that – one day, when I started re-reading it — I decided Verne’s text might serve as an effective book-within-a-book.

The intricate puzzles that Marie-Laure’s father creates add so much beauty to your story. It made me wish I could find a puzzle for my kids to solve.  How did you come up with this concept?

A friend of our family’s once gave me a Japanese puzzle box as a present. It was a wooden cube that looked like an ornate, solid block of wood. No visible doors, no knobs, no handles, no buttons. But, as our family friend showed me, if you knew what side to push in on, then various panels would start to slide down, and by manipulating all the panels in clever ways, you could eventually slide open the top and discover a hidden compartment inside.

I played with that thing for hours, showing it off to friends, examining its construction, etc., then eventually put it on a shelf and forgot about it. A couple of decades later, working on this novel, the puzzle box came back to me, along with my fascination with it, and I decided to try writing a couple of scenes in which Marie-Laure’s father fashions puzzle boxes.

Which character do you identify the most with in your book?

I do my best to identify with all my characters, even the bad actors—I think that’s probably part of the job description for any novelist, isn’t it?

This novel has 187 chapters, but they are beautifully segmented and sectioned for the reader in small doses, which created a lot of suspense for me, as a reader, and kept me pushing through your story so I could find out what would happen in the next chapter. Why did you decide to structure your story this way?

Obviously, there are an infinity of ways to write a novel, but for me “plotting it out” has always sounded scary and programmatic. I have to compose, revise, and re-revise scenes just to understand what should happen in them.So my process involves a lot of trial and error. I write hundreds of paragraphs trying to figure out where the story is going, and I usually end up cutting most of them. I knew early on that I wanted the two narratives to feel like two almost parallel lines that inclined toward each other very gently.

The structure was a big mess for a long time. It probably had 250 or 300 chapters at some points. All I knew early on — and wanted a reader to intuit – was that Marie’s and Werner’s lives would intersect. But it took me a long time to figure out exactly how that would happen.

 If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Oh, gosh, my answer to this question changes all the time, but a novel I’m absolutely in love with right now is Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It’s about family, siblinghood, memory, storytelling, and particularly about our society’s treatment of animals. It’s also structured in this beautiful, organic, perfect way—I hope a few of your readers will give it a look!

You can connect with Anthony Doerr on GoodReads or on Facebook! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

 

 

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Sundays With Writers: Lifelines by Caroline Leavitt

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I have a very special treat for you today and am so honored to be interviewing bestselling author Caroline Leavitt for our Sundays With Writers series. I have been a longtime fan of her work and recently requested a copy of her book LIFELINES on NetGalley to read. It was so interesting to see several all available for one author (a rarity for a reviewer)  and was so excited to read that Caroline’s backlist of novels are now being published into ebook format for her devoted readers.  I was not as familiar with how all of that works in the publishing world so I was so excited to interview her and let her tell us about this unique opportunity.

Lifelines by Caroline Leavitt

Let me begin with her book LIFELINES that I read last week. Honestly, you would have never known that the book was originally published in the ’80′s because the story is timeless as is the beautiful and rich relationship between the mother and daughter in this story.  This story is about a woman named Duse, a strong-willed psychic and Isadora, her daughter, who struggles to find her own identity. It begins with Duse’s supernatural gifts which lead her to palm reading and how these lifelines in her own hands help guide her in her decision to find love and begin her family. As Duse is open to her gift her husband and daughter do not believe in it and live their lives differently, often conflicting with Duse’s world and their own self-discovery. What happens though when these three worlds collide and what if there truly are things in the world that cannot be explained.

  I found this book to be a deeply moving story that illustrates the bonds and difficulties that often arise in mother and daughter relationships.  I would recommend this beautiful book for people who enjoy stories with lots of character development, descriptive prose, and a slower build in their books. As with everything I have read by Caroline, I find her storytelling superb and this book was such a treat to read. I had happened to read IS THIS TOMORROW recently too and I can say that from her earlier work to her more recent work, it is solid through and through.

Now grab your coffee and let’s chat with the wildly talented Caroline Leavitt today!

Caroline Leavitt

For those of us that aren’t in the publishing world, explain what it means to have your backlist published?  How did this opportunity arise and what is the gain for you, as an author, to see your backlist published?

Before there were-e-books, everything was just in paper, which meant that, for most books, after a while, the book goes out of print. If people want to read it, they hit the library (which is great, I love libraries), or used bookstores or private sellers, which often charge ridiculous prices like $2,000 for my novel Meeting Rozzy Halfway! That  price tag means I can’t afford to buy up extra copies of my own novel! My agent and I were approached by Dzanc Books who had a new series called REprints (that’s the right spelling, by the way!), where they were bringing back literary novels in e-book form and would I like to have my book list out? I was so completely thrilled! In fact, Dzanc is now going to publish another one of my backlist, Living Other Lives. That means all my books, except for my third novel, Jealousies, which everyone hated, (I was pushed into writing a “more commercial novel” by my then publisher), will be available!

I would be most grateful if everyone would take a look and/or order them all here:

I read your book LIFELINES, one of several titles that are making their way out into the world again and would love to hear what makes this book special to you? Do you feel your writing style has evolved since this was published originally in the ‘80’s?

What an interesting question! The book was special to me because it was my second novel. My first, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, had created a sensation and made me a kind of star, and everyone had huge expectations for Lifelines, which got rave reviews—and then the publisher went out of business and the book lost promotion and steam, and well, there you go. The book died. It has particular meaning for me because parts of it were first published in the Michigan Quarterly Review, which was actually my very first publication. They paid me $50! I was so thrilled! I was deeply interested in identity back then, who we are compared to others—(hey, I was really young and insecure). I wrote my first two books in first person, and then I began to branch out!

LIFELINES really, at its roots, deals with the bonds between mothers and daughters.  In one line you say, “Through it all, Isadora began to think that if you had to be mother and daughter, it was easier at a distance.” The complexities of these relationships are so rich and deep just as they often are in real life. What made you want to explore this relationship and do you think there is any truth to Isadora’s thoughts?

Another great question. Well, at the time, I had a tangled relationship with my mother. I loved her (and still love her) very deeply, but she was insistent that I live my life the way she thought I should, and it caused a lot of friction. At the time, I just wasn’t strong enough to say to her, “I love you, but it’s my life and I know what it is going to make me happy.” Isadora wasn’t strong enough to do that—plus, there were parts of her that wondered if she WAS living her life the right way because everything was going badly for her! It became a really useful way for me to explore my own feelings about who I was, who my mother was, and who we could be together.

Edgard Cayce

I have read that you always add a spiritual element into each of your books. LIFELINES deals a lot with the things that we can’t always explain like palm reading, the feeling of spirits moving through one’s body, and the power of hypnosis. Do you believe in the power of these things yourself? What type of research did you do to prepare for Duse’s gifts?

I am LOVING your questions. I have always been interested in magic, the unknown, etc. I blame my father, who used to give me books about Edgar Cayce, the minister who would go into a trance and be able to tell peoples’ futures and cure their ailments, and no one—including him—knew why. I loved reading about that! I saw possibilities everywhere!  My father also gave me these old magazines called Weird Tales, and one of them talked about there being hidden holes in the world and if you stepped in one, you would vanish and go into another world. I looked for those holes everywhere!  But I also started reading a lot of quantum physics for the layperson and the thing that struck me is the pieces always talked about how the universe is really more strange and weird than anything we can imagine. There can be parallel universes where you might be living out another live. Maybe we are part of a giant computer (they’ve recently found pixels in space!).

So I do believe that anything and everything is possible—and that anything and everything has a scientific explanation we just don’t know yet. Many physicists say that there is no time, really, that is all a loop with everything happening at the same time. Wouldn’t that explain how a psychic might know your future?

I didn’t really do research back then. (I know, crazy, right?) Instead, I used what I knew and the experiences I had had with psychics I had gone to.

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

As an author of nine bestselling novels, I am sure it might be difficult to answer this, but what is one novel of yours that you wish everyone would read? What makes that book particularly endearing to you?

Yikes, this is like asking a mom who her favorite child is. Each novel was extremely important to me at the time. I guess I would urge people to read Is This Tomorrow because that is my most recent and the most me.

You are not only an author, but also a critic of books for People, The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle. I wrote my first book and had such a hard time reading the feedback from it and have found that I prefer doing interviews with authors rather than reviews of books because I am now aware as an author of what it feels like to be on the other side of criticism. Since you receive criticism for your own work, do you find it difficult to critique others especially when so many authors are colleagues or personal friends? Do you publish feedback if you find you really hate a book?

What a great question. Before I became a critic, my reviews used to decimate me. If they were bad, I would hole up and cry for weeks. If they were good, I was skeptical and wondered if the reviewer was just being kind to me because he or she felt sorry for me.  My husband Jeff is a music critic and he used to talk to me for hours about how this is just one person’s opinion, and you have to weight the criticism, maybe learn from it and in any case, let it go. Becoming a critic was the best thing I ever did for myself because it made me realize how true that is. There have been books championed by every other critic on the planet that I just hated. And there have been many, many books I have loved that no one else even bothered to review, or if they did review, they tore the book to pieces.  It made me review and consider books more carefully. No one sets out to write a bad book, yet many reviews read as if that is truly the case. I think there is a right way to critique, to gently point out things that may not be working and to explore why in the context of what you believe the author was intending to do.

It’s considered deeply unethical to review a book by someone you know, even casually.  You are not supposed to review a book if you share the same publisher or editor or agent. Many papers I have worked for, including the NYT, make you sign a contract stipulating that you do not know the author. I’m very careful with that. Part of why I started my blog was so I could be above board about interviewing writers I knew and giving them some press for their books!

I also work privately with writers on their manuscripts because I love looking at books and figuring out what works and why, and what doesn’t work and how a writer could think about fixing that issue. It’s an intensive process—but it’s always done with great care and concern for the artist, because I know how hard a process writing anything is. And that process deserves the utmost respect. The difference between this and reviewing is that here, I can point out ways for the book to succeed on a higher level. A review is just a review.

That said, I don’t review books I hate. I don’t want to tear apart another writer. There’s so little review space available now, that I want to promote the books I love, instead.

I also read your book IS THIS TOMORROW and absolutely loved it. I’m a big fan of period pieces especially the 1950’s era and you weave a beautiful story about what it would be like as a single mother in this era and the scrutiny of those around her and the heartache of what it would be like for your child to suddenly be missing. I just felt like this one must be made into film.  Are there any plans to see this one being made into a screenplay? Please say yes.

Oh, thank you!  Thank you!  I have had my heart broken and smashed by the movie biz many times. My first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, was supposed to be a film with Paramount and then there was a writers/directors strike. My novel Into Thin Air was considered as Madonna’s directorial debut for three days before she went on tour. It was later picked up by another producer, but nothing ever happened. Pictures of You was optioned and nothing ever happened. Living Other Lives was optioned by the guy who made some Stephen King films and it had a script written by an Obie winning writer. It was about to go into principal photography and then everything stopped. I never heard back from anyone, until months later, when the producer resurfaced in Nashville, but the project was inexplicably dead. Is This Tomorrow actually has a script! I submitted the first scene  (I wrote it) to Sundance Screenwriting Lab, and was a finalist! They take only 6 people, but I didn’t make the cut. There’s a producer interested who is looking at financing, and he’s told me to be patient—so I’m used to all of this. Having a movie made of your book is the brass ring, but the chances of it actually happening are so slim. Still, a girl can hope, right?

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

I’m just about to turn in Cruel Beautiful World, which was sold on the basis of a first chapter and a thirty page synopsis, and of course I’m terrified. It’s set in the 60s and early 70s, the time when all the free love movement was starting to turn ugly, with the Manson murders and Altamont. It’s about a 16 –year-old girl who runs off with her 30 year-old hippy teacher to join the “back to the land” movement that began in the 70s, a so-called-paradise that turns into a nightmare for her.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

The Great Gatsby. I hated it in high school, but then years later, I had to teach it in a high school, and I began to realize what a perfectly structured novel it is, how moving, how sad, and how beautiful a book it really is.

Thank you for these magnificent questions!

You can connect with Caroline Leavitt on GoodReads or on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

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Sundays With Writers: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Sundays_With_Writers-1_Final

Happy Sunday, friends! I hope your day is filled with great books and good coffee today. This week I have the pleasure of interviewing debut novelist Rebecca Rotert about her first novel Last Night at the Blue Angel. I will say that this one is racier than some of the books I have featured here in the past so if that isn’t your cup of coffee, so-to-speak, I understand.  The storytelling was so good in this one though and I had so many questions for the author after I finished that I wanted to share it with you in our Sundays With Writers series. I am not shying away from this book- I think it a beautifully told coming-of-age story and the characters are rich and vivid even if I didn’t always like their choices.

last-night-at-the-blue-angel

Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s Chicago jazz scene, a highly ambitious and stylish literary debut that combines the atmosphere and period detail of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility with the emotional depth and drama of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, about a talented but troubled singer, her precocious ten-year-old daughter, and their heartbreaking relationship.

It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is a city of uneasy tensions—segregation, sexual experimentation, free love, the Cold War—but it is also home to one of the country’s most vibrant jazz scenes. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. Finally, her big break arrives—the cover of Look magazine. But success has come at enormous personal cost. Beautiful and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet extremely self-destructive woman whose charms are irresistible and dangerous for those around her. No one knows this better than Sophia, her clever ten-year-old daughter.

For Sophia, Naomi is the center of her universe. As the only child of a single, unconventional mother, growing up in an adult world, Sophia has seen things beyond her years and her understanding. Unsettled by her uncertain home life, she harbors the terrible fear that the world could end at any moment, and compulsively keeps a running list of practical objects she will need to reinvent once nuclear catastrophe strikes. Her one constant is Jim, the photographer who is her best friend, surrogate father, and protector. But Jim is deeply in love with Naomi—a situation that adds to Sophia’s anxiety.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, their powerful and wrenching story unfolds in layers, revealing Sophia’s struggle for her mother’s love with Naomi’s desperate journey to stardom and the colorful cadre of close friends who shaped her along the way.

I loved this book so much more than I had expected. This is a coming-of-age story placed in the sixties focused on the story of a daughter who constantly lives in the shadow of her mother’s stardom and her need to be the center of attention. We are able, as readers, to read how she evolved into this self-absorbed woman, while witnessing the heartache of her daughter lurking in the shadows of her life. There are beautiful plot twists in this one and I never saw the ending coming.

After writing the author and reading her answers, my only regret is that this coffee with her is done virtually and not in person. I hope you will enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed reading and sharing it with you today!

Rebecca-Rotert-headshot

You chose the turbulent sixties era and the city of Chicago for the setting of your debut novel. What was it about this time period and city that captured your attention for the setting of your book?

I seem to be thinking about race, class, sexuality and gender all of the time.  ALL of the time.  Whatever problem or issue I’m trying to sort out in my head…I go back in time to examine turning points or cultural shifts in an attempt to identify what was at play, what happened, what changed.  In this vein, I find myself in the 50’s and 60’s a lot.  In some ways it’s very personal. I’m often asking myself, What did the territory look like before I landed on it (I was born in ’71)? I want to understand the culture that created my parents and their generation, and the boom generation, and us. What wounds did we inherit? What unfinished business? So many questions…

Richard-Nickel

Richard Nickel (Source: Out of Chicago where you can see his amazing architectural photography)

Jim, a struggling photographer, was one of my favorite characters in the book. You based him upon a photographer named Richard Nickel who captured architectural photos. How did you happen upon his story and photography?  Was he the first character you really started fleshing out or did you develop him later as you wrote it?

Jim was there from the very beginning but he was, like, Jim 2.0.  I did a lot of research in Chicago, kept running into these very interesting photographs, discovered the photographer was Nickel, researched him, fell in love with him, then came back to the drawing board and grafted him into Jim 2.0.

As a mom, I could not relate to Naomi’s choices and putting her own needs and desires before her child. Was it difficult to write some of these scenes particularly adult moments that Sophia witnesses when she is so small? How did you feel about Naomi?

Oof.  It was tough.  I swear there were scenes that were just…viscerally painful to write.  I sometimes asked myself, What would I do here? And then had Naomi do the opposite.  My feelings about her are complicated.  My reasoning behind allowing you to see some of her backstory was in order to cultivate some compassion for her. I don’t think Naomi has any idea what she’s doing.  She never learned. She sort of operates on desire and compulsion without taking into account consequences.  She doesn’t feel comfortable being a mother but she tries.  In the end, she chooses her art and her artist’s life over motherhood because she knows what she’s doing there. We all have Naomis in our lives…women we judge because WE would do it so much better.  They bring out our self-righteousness, which is of course a bar to all connection.  I wanted her to be galvanizing in this way and she is.

I understand that you are also a singer and songwriter, illustrating that you are a woman of many talents. How much of that background were you able to draw from to create Naomi? Have you also felt that hunger and struggle being a singer? Did this make Naomi more relatable to you?

In part, it was sheer laziness.  I know the vocabulary of performing well so I chose that as her art. And certainly I understand the hunger to make art; I’ve always had that in me. And I share with Naomi the feeling that art is often one of the few things that makes sense to me and that I’m good at. But in terms of fame, I just have no ambition whatsoever.  I know Box Turtles more ambitious than I.

My husband & I are obsessed with the jazz music from the ‘60’s and have quite the record collection going. What is your favorite song or artist from that era? Any in particular that you have Naomi sing that we should be hunting down for our record collection?

I love Mingus and Coltrane and Miles Davis. In terms of vocalists I’m crazy about Nina Simone and Jeanne Lee. In fact, Laura is named after the song/lyrics “Laura” from Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake’s album The Newest Sound Around.

A group I discovered during research, though not jazz, is The Boswell Sisters.  You’ve really got to listen to them if you’re not familiar.  Three harmonizing sisters in the 1930’s.   Go ahead and YouTube “Crazy People” to be delighted (see above!!).  Especially if you have, I don’t know, crazy people in your life.

Naomi’s love affair with Laura was brief, but ultimately shaped Naomi’s life journey. Is there any reason you didn’t have Naomi fall in love again with Laura later in the book and bring these two back together?

Ah, you are a savvy/intuitive reader, Amy. I DID bring them back together at the end but the more I worked on the end of the book, the more convinced I became that Naomi had to be alone at the end.  That she would get what she wanted but the price would be loneliness.  And Laura is strong. Naomi needs to…deserve her I feel.  And she doesn’t. Not yet.

Naomi has quite the parade of lovers and also learns her skills of being a lady from a very unlikely source. You did not seem to shy away from any topic- would you say that this book is provocative?

Um, I’ve been told it is.  It doesn’t feel at all provocative to me.  The next book, however…

You make a choice to do all dialogue in italics- why did you make this choice as a writer?

I’ve not yet described this well but today might be my lucky day….You know, when you put quotes around a line of text, you tell the reader, This is EXACTLY what was said….but so much of this book is about impression/memory/tone/perception/performance…I wanted there to be: Here’s what was said, yes, but also, Here’s what I heard/what I remember/what I tried to say…all those grey areas that color our sad efforts at human communication.  And everyone is performing in this book so a line of dialogue may represent an actual authentic feeling or thought but it may also be someone’s performance of a feeling/thought that may or may not be true.  So you see, all these sticky layers.  I guess I said to myself, Let’s put it in italics.

I will not say anything about the ending because I don’t want to spoil the book for our readers. Would you say you were pleased though with how this story wrapped up? Did you always envision this to be the ending for your book?

The exact ending, ie: last lines, came late in the process but the general ending I knew.  I would also say I could handle the end of this book because although the book ends, the story is to be continued.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

IMPOSSIBLE. I NEED TWO AT LEAST AMY! However, a book I have to read over and over is Anthony de Mello’s Awareness.  It’s not fiction.  It might even be called self-help (choke).  It reminds me of the troublesome human pitfalls that can really muck up our short  little jaunt on earth.  I also return to Duras’ The Lover over and over because it reminds me of longing and waking up to life. These are a few of my favorite things, as the song says.

 You can connect with Rebecca Rotert on GoodReads or on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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Sundays With Writers: The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Happy Sunday, friends! As always, I am so excited to share about great books with you and interviews with fantastic authors. I picked up today’s featured book The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley at my local library and absolutely loved it. I am always a lover of books with big moral issues and this book is one of those books that shares a dilemma of something a mother could face and then begs the question, “Would I do that if I was in her shoes?”

It’s one of those books you want to read with your book club and then dive in a discussion about this mother’s choices. It is one where it is unclear what the right or wrong answers are.

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

In this story, Eve Lattimore’s family is like every other on their suburban street, with one exception. Her son Tyler has a rare medical condition that makes him fatally sensitive to light, which means heavy curtains and deadlocked doors protect him during the day and he can never leave the house except at night. For Eve, only constant vigilance stands between an increasingly restless teenage son and the dangers of the outside world.

Until the night the unthinkable happens. When tragedy strikes, it becomes clear that this family is not the only one on the quiet cul-de-sac that is more complicated than it appears. And as Eve is forced to shield her family from harm, there are some crises she cannot control—and some secrets that not even love can conceal.

This book is deeply moving and suspenseful. I sat down with it and I could not put it down until I shut it two days later.  I would recommend this book for fans of Defending JacobThe Husband’s Secret, or My Sister’s Keeper.

Now hurry up and grab that cup of coffee and enjoy this beautiful interview with Carla Buckley!

Carla Buckley

 Fourteen-year-old Tyler suffers from xeroderma pigmentosum, a genetic condition that means he must avoid any exposure to the sun or any UV light. How did you first hear about this condition and what prompted the idea for creating a story around this condition? What type of research did you do to prepare for what it would be like to live with this condition or be a family member who lives with someone who has XP?

When my son was sixteen and had just gotten his driver’s license, I had mixed feelings as I watched him drive away that very first time. He’d worked hard and proven himself to be responsible and I was proud as I watched him carefully back the car out of our driveway. But I also felt sad. He wasn’t just driving himself to his guitar lesson. He was taking a critical first step to becoming a man and leaving home forever. I began to wonder what it would be like to mother a child who could never reach this sort of milestone. It occurred to me that this normal, turbulent, and always challenging period of a boy’s growing up would be complicated immeasurably if he had a medical condition. But which one? My sister, an ER physician, suggested Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) and as soon as she said the words, I saw my story start to unfold.

XP’s an extraordinarily rare disease passed on by both parents in which a person’s skin and eye cells cannot repair the deadly damage done by ultraviolet radiation. Most parents don’t realize they’re carriers until their child is diagnosed, usually by the time their child is two years old. But by then, the damage has already been done. The average life expectancy for someone born with XP is twenty years.

In order to understand the disease itself, I scoured online resources (there are two parent-run organizations, one in the US and the other in the UK that offer general information to caregivers), read numerous medical research papers, and interviewed dermatologists and dentists. Combined, this gave me a basic foundation upon which to build. Then I began to put myself in Eve’s place to imagine what I would do if I had to keep my child safe from sunlight.

Eve struggles with the moral decision of coming forward with information when her best friend’s child goes missing because she thinks keeping it secret can protect her family. Do you think you would have kept the deepest secret, personally, or would you have taken different actions than Eve?

If only there were a users’ manual for raising children. Failing that, we all write our own, cobbled together from experiences that range from “Okay, remember that the next time this happens” to “Boy, I wish I hadn’t done that.” If we’re lucky, our children survive our mistakes with just a few scars. Sometimes I think parenting is like throwing darts and praying they hit the wall and not a few innocent bystanders.

That’s what I wanted to show in THE DEEPEST SECRET. Most of us are just doing the best we can, and we’re not perfect. Eve’s circumstances are difficult, if not impossible, and she’s going to make mistakes. But she’s also going to do some things incredibly right. My hope is that readers will recognize something of themselves in her, whether or not they agree with her choices.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had been Eve. I hope I never face that kind of dilemma.

There are a lot of secrets throughout the book and many of them focus on the neighbors and Tyler capturing some of those secret lives through photography when they are unaware in their windows. The book also builds to a big scene were the neighbors are disagreeing and then spilling those secrets out onto the pavement to each other.  It made me think how little we know our own neighbors, especially today. What made building this neighborhood such a big part of the Lattimore’s story and was it difficult to develop so many plotlines for so many people?

I’ve always thought there was something magical about a neighborhood at night, all the house windows glowing brightly in the darkness. When I’m out walking my dogs, I sometimes catch a glimpse of a family eating dinner or watching television. From a distance, it all looks so cozy and cheerful.

My children had a piano teacher whose house we visited for lessons. Her home was tidy and filled with photographs of her smiling children. She had something delicious-smelling simmering on the stove, and she laughed easily. One sunny afternoon, her oldest son wandered down the street with a knife in his hand, headed for her house. She didn’t survive the assault and neither did another child home at the time. I had been in her kitchen just the day before and had chatted with her son, and I’d had absolutely no inkling that anything was wrong.

It’s haunted me for a long time. What do we really know about the people in our life, about the houses we visit during the day and pass at night?

Coming up with so many secrets was a challenge. I had to ask myself over and over why someone would hide a part of their life. I searched for the kinds of quiet secrets I believe every neighborhood contains.

I admit to being an overly-protective mother and I could relate so much to Eve’s desire to protect Tyler with his medical circumstance. Did you relate to Eve in this way or did you find her overprotectiveness to be extreme?

The first time I heard the term “helicopter parenting,” I thought it meant a parent who dropped in every so often as needed, like a Medevac. I think that’s the real challenge parents face today—knowing when to be present and when to step back. I don’t think the world is any more dangerous today than it was a generation ago, but the dangers are different and we’re more aware of them. A parent can become almost paralyzed by too much knowledge.

Personally, I do tend toward being an overprotective mother. I’d love to lock my children in a room until they were twenty-five but even if I could, I know it would backfire. Kids are smart—they can fool you into thinking you know what they’re up to. The trick is to give them just enough freedom so they can make a few mistakes and learn a few life lessons that will keep them safe. There’s a lot of trust involved—on both sides.

 I will not say anything about the ending because I don’t want to spoil the book for our readers. Would you say you were pleased though with how this story wrapped up? Did you always envision this to be the ending for this family?

Actually, coming up with the ending was the single greatest challenge I faced in writing this novel. The ending I initially envisioned turned out to be far too melodramatic and I was forced to pull and consider what I was really trying to say in THE DEEPEST SECRET. It’s this: I wanted to write about love in all its guises and show how love prevails, regardless of the obstacles it faces. That’s the note I decided to end this story on and I admit to getting a little teary every time I think of it.

 If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Oh, I love talking about books! There are three novels that inspired me as I wrote THE DEEPEST SECRET: Emma Donaghue’s ROOM, Anna Quindlen’s EVERY LAST ONE, and Elizabeth Strout’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE. Just a few days ago, I finished Laline Paull’s fabulous debut, THE BEES; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can connect with Carla Buckley  on Facebook or on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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Sundays With Writers: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

If there is one thing I love it is a summer thriller. There is nothing  better to tuck in a beach bag then a book that you can rapidly flip through and sit in suspenseful moments as the story unfolds. Those kinds of books that your eyes can’t read fast enough because you just HAVE to know what is going to happen.   If you have been waiting for the next-big-thing since Gone Girl, then I have the just the book for you!

The Good Girl

Today I am excited to feature a fantastic debut novelist, Mary Kubica, and share a little about her first book, The Good Girl. I snagged an advanced reader of this book from NetGalley, but it is now out on the bookshelves just begging for you to pick it up.  Debut novelists hold a special place in my heart and I’m excited to share her incredible journey into seeing her first book come to life with you.

The book opens with the following words, “I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia is unlike her parents in every way, content with her life as an inner-city school teacher. When she finds herself at a bar one night alone, after being stood up by her boyfriend,  she meets a guy. Her plans for a one-night stand turns into the worst mistake of her life.

I don’t want to say anymore because the beauty in this book is those plot twists you never see coming!

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with Mary Kubica about her debut novel The Good Girl!

Mary Kubica

I am a big reader and it is so difficult to find a book that actually has plot twists I didn’t see coming, but The Good Girl absolutely surprised me. As the writer of these twists, did you always see these twists coming or were they as equally surprising to you?

This is a great question! The plot twists are often equally as surprising to me as they are to the reader. In the case of The Good Girl, I had written a significant chunk of the novel before the ending came to me. This is one of the most exciting parts of writing for me – when I get that clear picture of how the story will end. I don’t typically outline or do much note taking before starting a new manuscript, and so all I have is a starting point; the rest of the details remain obscure. I make it a point not to overthink my plot too much, and to have faith that the details, plot twists, etc. will come in due time. It’s very exciting when it all comes together in my mind, and I get to go through the manuscript and insert clues to help the reader along, or in some cases, throw them off course. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing this genre!

Mia’s mother is the character that I relate to the most in your story because she is always questioning if she did enough or if she was a good enough mother. Is this something you really identified with too?

Absolutely. Mia’s mother, Eve Dennett, is the character I relate the most to. She is a woman, for one, but more importantly a mother, and as a mother myself, I was able to put myself in her shoes and ask myself how I would respond to the situation. How would I feel, and what would I do or say if it was my child that was missing? I really felt for Eve in the pages of the book. Even the very best mother makes choices that they may second guess, and not only is Eve longing for her missing child, but she’s desperate for a chance to make things up to Mia and amend for the poor decisions she made in Mia’s childhood. I think that as mothers, no matter how hard we try there is always the fear we will fall short and not do anything and everything we can for our children. I believe many mothers out there will relate to Eve on some level.

I found myself sympathizing with Colin so much that I did not see him as the bad guy in this story at all, even though I felt very differently at the beginning. Did you sympathize with him?

Without giving anything away, I think that The Good Girl is a novel that makes you rethink much of what you know, and teaches the reader not to take things at face value. What you see if not always what you get, a fact which holds true with many of the characters in the book. I sympathize with nearly every character in The Good Girl for various reasons. They are imperfect and flawed, as most of us are, something that will hopefully make them relatable to the reader.

Your journey of becoming a debut novelist is such a good one and showcases why writers should never give up on their dreams. How long did you have to wait to see your book on bookshelves? Does it still feel surreal to you?

Yes, it feels absolutely surreal. It was 2006 when I first began working on The Good Girl, and 2014 when it was published. That’s 8 years of hard work, hopes, dreams and fears – all of it. There were many ups and downs all along the way, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. After finishing the novel, I submitted it to many literary agencies, and, as you may know by now, it was rejected by every single one of them. I thought that was it; any hope of a writing career was through. Two years later I received an out-of-the-blue email from one of the agencies that had previously declined to represent my novel. The Good Girl had stuck with them all that time and they wanted to represent it – proof that writers, or anyone for that matter, should never give up on their dreams. It still shocks me to see my name on a book at the bookstore. I wonder if this will ever feel real to me and no longer surreal? Probably not.

Your book is being compared to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. What do you think of the comparison? Do you think this comparison has helped in the selling of your novel?

I definitely think the comparisons to Gone Girl did nothing but help The Good Girl. There are so many Gillian Flynn fans out there (including me!), and so I’m thrilled with the comparison. That said, it can be a bit unnerving, trying to live up to such a masterpiece, but early feedback for The Good Girl has been phenomenal. I couldn’t be more pleased.

We featured Heather Gudenkauf and her book Little Mercies this past month (which was also so fabulous!) How did you end up partnering with her for your book promotion?

First, let me say that Heather Gudenkauf is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with, and her latest novel Little Mercies is by far one of my favorites of 2014. Heather and I share not only the same publisher – Harlequin MIRA – but the same editor as well, and seeing as our novels came out just a month apart, and we write in the same genre, it’s a perfect match. We’ve been able to travel together many times to promote our books, and have connected at many conferences throughout the year. Heather has been a wonderful mentor to me, and I feel so fortunate for our time together. It’s so great to be able to connect with other authors. Writing can be an isolated profession, and so the more people – authors, readers, etc. – we’re able to connect with, the better!

Can you give us a sneak peek on what you have in store for us next?

Yes, I’d love to! I just finished up my second novel Pretty Baby, which will be released by Harlequin MIRA in 2015. This is another psychological suspense set in the Midwest, about a Chicago mother who encounters a young homeless girl with a baby. She becomes quite taken with the two of them, and as she does, we learn more about these women and what effect this chance encounter will have on both of their lives. Be sure to check my website or follow me on Facebook or Twitter for updates on Pretty Baby as they arrive!

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

My favorite book of all time is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This is one that I tell everyone to read. It’s a Vietnam War memoir, but is much more than that. You don’t need to be a history guru to fall in love with this book. When it comes to my own genre though, psychological suspense, Before I Go To Sleep is one I often recommend. I just loved this S.J. Watson novel.

I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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Sundays With Writers: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Do you ever pick up a book completely outside of your normal genre and find yourself completely swept away in a world you never dreamed you would escape to? It happened a couple of times for me with The Hunger Games series and Twilight series, just to name two types of books that I never thought I would love.  Last week if you would have asked me if I would have fallen head over heels in love with a book with a plotline firmly planted in science fiction with a zombie apocalypse theme or even just another dystopian thriller ( a genre I had grown very tired of), I would have probably laughed at you.

No, this is not your typical recommendation on here and that is exactly why I had to feature it today. It is different and it is awesome.

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-2

 

I fell head-over-heels in love for The Girl With All the Gifts. I can tell you now that this will be on my top ten reads of 2014 because I can’t stop thinking about it and have the urge to reread it all over again. It is a true adventure of a read that grabbed me and did not let me go until the final pages.

My husband is not a big reader like me, but when I finished the book and described it to him, he picked it up one evening after my encouragement. I did not see or speak to him for two whole days. He was just as swept away in this book as I was. For this reason, I would definitely recommend this one as a great couple’s book selection and definitely not limited to our female audience.

After I finished it, I emailed Mike Carey (who is using the pen name M.R. Carey for this book) and never in a million years expected a response. You see, Mike is quite a big deal. He is an established British writer of prose fiction and comic books. He has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles. His creator-owned books regularly appear in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list. He also has several previous novels and one Hollywood movie screenplay to his credit.

And he answered my message and said he would love to share his book with you all.

I have taken my fangirl status to another level entirely after this interview and can’t wait to see this book adapted into a screenplay.

All the descriptions of this book state that Melanie is simply a special girl. You don’t know what makes her special until you dive in and discover the girl and all her gifts.

This book is wildly imaginative, suspenseful, and leaves you wondering who you should be rooting for as the story develops. I really, really loved this book.  Unfortunately, it is just the kind of book that you shouldn’t talk about so that each reader can go on the journey with this child and find out just what makes her so unique. It’s a book that you will want to finish and share with friends. It reads like a movie and is just the type of literary adventure I would recommend if you have been in a reading slump this summer.

Grab your coffee and let’s have a chat with the amazing Mike Carey about his book…

mike-carey

I loved this book so very much and it is unlike anything that I have ever read before or will ever read again. Thank you for such a fantastic escape this summer. I discovered that it was based upon the Edgar-nominated short story, Iphigenia in Aulis that you had written.  Why did you decide to take this short story and expand it into The Girl With All the Gifts?

Thanks!  I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

The story had an unusual genesis – or unusual for me, at least.  I’d been invited to contribute to a themed anthology edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner.  They do these books every year, and the theme is always something deceptively innocent and everyday – home improvements, family holidays or whatever.  This particular year the  theme was schooldays.

And I said I’d do it, but then I had no ideas whatsoever.  Inspiration didn’t strike.

Until about three weeks before the deadline, when suddenly I woke up with this image in my mind of a little zombie girl writing an essay in an abandoned classroom. “What I want to Do When I Grow Up”.  The whole story grew from that – from Melanie, and her situation.  I wrote it in four straight days and sent it in, and Charlaine and Toni said it fitted the bill perfectly.

But I had the sense as soon as I hit SEND that Melanie’s story wasn’t finished yet.  It felt as though the ending, in which she and Sergeant Parks fight back-to-back against an army of Junkers in order to cover the evacuation of the base, wasn’t really earned.  And it felt like there needed to be much more a pay-off for Melanie’s relationship with Miss Justineau (who in the short is called Miss Mailer).

So I pitched it to Orbit as a novel, and they commissioned it – even though that meant amending my contract in some complicated ways.  And at the same time I pitched it as a movie concept to a producer I was already working with.  The two version of the story grew up side by side.

You make a very conscious decision to never use the word, “zombie.” Why did you not want to use this word in your book? Was this meant to lead the reader into their own conclusions when they begin the story?

It’s partly that – although the reveal comes quite early, really.  It’s also a question of trying to make the reader keep an open mind.  I was conscious that zombies for a lot of people are an overworked trope and a fairly limited one.  I was coming at it from what I thought was a new angle, and I hoped that if I held off on the Z word readers would stay with it until they were emotionally invested.

It’s rebounded against me in some ways.  I’ve read a few reviews where the reviewer has said “you know, this is reasonably realistic in some ways, but if you’ve got a zombie apocalypse going on why wouldn’t you just call it one?  That doesn’t ring true at all…”

In one scene, Dr. Caldwell says to Mrs. Justineau, “You should ask yourself why you’re so keen on thinking of me as the enemy…Which weighs the most, Helen? Which will do the most good in the end? Your compassion or my commitment to my work?” Which of these characters do you think was doing the most good? Did you relate to Dr. Caldwell or Mrs. Justineau more when writing this?

Oh, I’m with Helen Justineau all the way!  But I wanted readers to understand where Caldwell was coming from.  Nobody sees themselves as evil.  They explain away the things they do as being forced on them by circumstances, or serving a greater good, or whatever it might be.  Caldwell is trying to save humanity.  She’s also trying to earn a sort of personal immortality through her work, and to prove that she’s better than the scientists who were promoted over her, but she genuinely believes she’s doing good – and that the ends absolutely justify the means.

There’s a beat near the end of the book that really only works if you can empathise with Caldwell at least a tiny bit.  It’s when she and Melanie have their conversation about the infection, and Caldwell realises that if anything of her work is going to survive it will be through her being able to explain it to Melanie now.  The child she was going to sacrifice is the last slender reed she can grab hold of.  If you don’t care about Caldwell at all that’s just ironic.  I wanted it to have a little touch of tragedy to it.

Where are you in development of the screenplay of The Girl With All The Gifts? Do you have anyone in mind for your dream cast?

The screenplay is written and we have a deal in place.  I’ve never been this far along with a film project before – well, once a long time ago when I wrote the screenplay for an animated version of Tristan and Isolde, but I generally avoid talking about that.

This time around it’s been an amazingly rewarding and enjoyable process.  The movie and the novel grew up together and kept swapping DNA.  We went a slightly different way in the movie, especially when it came to point of view.  Where the novel moves between the five main characters and lets us see what’s going on in all of their heads, the movie sticks with Melanie all the way.  And there are no Junkers in the movie.  The base falls to a hungry attack.  But it’s a case of two different paths through the same narrative space.  The ending is absolutely faithful to the book.

I’m going to duck the question about casting if you don’t mind.  That’s where we are at the moment, and I’m crossing every finger and toe I’ve got that we get the Justineau and Caldwell who are currently reading the screenplay.

 The science in this book is quite astounding.  Can I admit that my own brain may have exploded at times from all the scientific detail that you developed in it? Was there a lot of research on your end to develop these portions of the book, particularly developing the plotline with the infection that is based upon the ants?

A fair bit, yes.  In the short story I glibly described the hungry pathogen as a virus, probably with 28 Days Later at the back of my mind.  But when it came to writing the novel I had to put my money where my mouth was and I realised very quickly that a virus wouldn’t do.  They have very simple, linear life cycles.  I wanted something more baroque and multi-staged that would provide a plausible puzzle for Caldwell and would also allow for the events of the climax.

Enter Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.  To be honest, I’d already seen the David Attenborough footage of the zombie ants, so I was rediscovering this weird parasite rather than reading about it for the first time.  But it was obviously perfect for my needs.  And once I’d made the decision that the infectious organism should be a fungus, it just kept on giving.  It made for some visuals that I’d never come across in the post-apocalyptic fiction I’d read and that had the potential to be very powerful.

There were also other things I had to look into, like how you take a brain out of a skull.  That was one of the hardest scenes to write.

Without giving it away, the ending that you create was just perfection. Is this where you always knew Melanie’s journey was heading or did it develop as you developed the story?

I always knew that Melanie was going to face that choice.  She’s Pandora, after all.  She has to find the box and make the decision whether or not to open it. And the box has to be full of monsters and terrible evils, but it also has to contain at least the promise of hope.

But the details were quite vague, and they firmed up as I wrote the story.  I’m not sure that Rosie was in the original pitch.   The feral children were, but they were just a placeholder.  I had no idea how Melanie’s fight with them would play out, beyond the vague feeling that she would have to use the environment in intelligent ways that they didn’t see.

It’s always a mixture of planning and serendipity.  You know where you’re going in the broadest sense.  But you don’t know what you’re going to gather along the way and so the ending, when you get there, is both familiar and surprising.

Did you ever have a teacher like Mrs. Justineau? What teacher inspired you the most in your own career?

This is going to make me blush.  When I was seven years old, my teacher was Miss Bimpson.  I had a huge crush on her.  She was clever and funny, her lessons were great, but she was also most extraordinarily kind.  One day when I was crying my eyes out about something – a totally mundane something that seemed like the end of the world to me – she sat me  on her lap and hugged me until I stopped sobbing.  That’s probably the origin of the scene in which Miss Justineau strokes Melanie’s hair.

But probably the most inspiring teacher I ever met was George Lucy, who taught English at the comprehensive school I attended from age eleven.  George was one of those teachers who thinks the curriculum is something that happens to other people.  Boring people.  He taught whatever he was most passionate about, and I learned from him to interrogate limits and push past them if they’re not real.

He also tutored me for my Oxford entrance exam.  I come from a solid working class background and there were a lot of holes in my academic knowledge.  George lent me books – dozens of them – from his own collection and generally gave me the tools I needed to sit those papers.  He changed my life in a lot of ways.

Since you are also a comic book writer, can you picture this book being developed into a comic book or even a comic book series? Who would be your dream illustrator for this?

I would love to write a Girl With All the Gifts comic book.  The only possible artists for a project like that would be Peter Gross or Mike Perkins.  And Mike has already covered the whole post-apocalyptic genre with his epic version of Stephen King’s The Stand, so he might well say no.

Will there be a sequel for Melanie?

I don’t think so.  There are other stories to be told around her story, and I could imagine going back to tell one of those.  Perhaps a story with an entirely different cast, taking place at the exact same time as GIRL.  Or perhaps a story from a generation later.  But I don’t think Melanie would be the protagonist in either of those.

You reach a point, with most characters, where you feel that their story has been told.  I’d love to revisit the world of Lucifer, but I wouldn’t dream of bringing Lucifer himself back into it.  It’s the same with Melanie.  I’d be wary of weakening her story by adding extra beats to it.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

So many possible answers to that!  You could ask me a couple of dozen times and get a different answer each time.  Today I’m going to say The Shadow Of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe.  It’s the first volume in a tetralogy, so if you read it and liked it you’d have to read the other three.  But they’re so worth it. It’s a story of a far future Earth where the sun is dying.  Humanity has spread to the stars but that was long ago.  Now there are other galactic empires, other non-human civilisations that call the shots.  What’s left of humankind is back on an old, old planet that hasn’t got much time left to it.  But there’s a Messianic religion that preaches that the New Sun, sometimes known as the Conciliator, will be born on Earth as a man and rekindle all our hopes.  Reborn, rather, since he’s been here once before.  And Severian of the Torturers’ Guild believes this to be true since he’s found a holy relic, the Claw of the Conciliator, that heals all wounds.

It’s a very hard book to describe, and there’s no denying that it goes to some very dark places.  But Wolfe’s imagination is vast.  He creates a world and peoples it.  And he has a very serious purpose which takes in faith, physics and the importance of storytelling.

You can connect with Mike Carey on GoodReads and on Facebook!  I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book!

You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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Sundays With Writers: Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Sundays_With_Writers-1_Final

 

I have been a huge fan of Heather Gudenkauf since her first book,  The Weight of Silence and had been looking forward to her next book so very much.  When her publicist reached out to me about reviewing her new book, Little Mercies,  I jumped at the chance…and also begged for an interview with Heather for our Sundays With Writers feature. If you can believe it, Heather agreed and I quickly devoured her book on our family trip to Columbus.

I was expecting another suspense-filled thriller that would leave me guessing whodunit- a quick escape from my daily life. From the opening pages though, I began to realize that this book was a swift departure from that , although it was equally thrilling and gripping.

I was unprepared.

Unprepared for the waves of emotion I was to experience and unprepared to go on this journey with this mother in this book.  Yet, I had to see it through, and I felt like I could breathe again once I closed the pages. I also hugged my kids tightly that weekend and was reminded how easily these gifts can be taken from us.  It’s that kind of book.

It’s the perfect type of book for a robust book club discussion and you can print out this handy book club kit for your club that offers some great thought-starters for your group’s discussion. You can also sink your teeth into the prequel to this book, Little Liesalthough Little Mercies can be read on its own too.

Little Mercies

Little Mercies builds on a well-developed premise- what if you were suddenly put in the shoes of someone that you once judged? The difference in this plot is that it is a social worker, who once was the judge of other parents, who makes an honest and life-altering mistake, and is now the one who must be judged as a parent.

Told in alternating points of view from an abandoned child who is quite familiar with the social worker setting and the viewpoint of a mother who is about to lose it all in the system that she has worked so hard to uphold.

It is heart-wrenching and very real, illustrating some of my worst nightmares as a parent, weaving the two stories of these people together beautifully.

Heather Gudenkauf

Photo Credit: Morgan Hawthorne

Little Mercies seems to be a bit of a departure from your past books that I felt were more in the thriller genre of reading. That is not to say that I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the entire book, but just that this seemed like a situation that I could find myself in as a mother. How did you decide upon this idea of placing a social worker in a setting where she, herself, might be accused of child endangerment?

I got the idea for Little Mercies after hearing about a social worker who found herself on the other side of the legal system due to an overextended caseload. From there I began to ask what if? What if the social worker was a mother? What if the social worker mistakenly places her own child in harm’s way? I think the fact that anyone of us could find ourselves in Ellen’s shoes is one of the aspects of Little Mercies that makes it so compelling. As an author I am intrigued by exploring these difficult circumstances and the raw emotions that accompany them.

I also made sure to carefully research the novel by visiting with experts in their various fields. I spent quite a bit of time with a very dedicated social worker who shared the challenging task of separating home and work lives. I talked to doctors and EMTs regarding the medical complications that arose from the severe heat stroke that Avery endured. I met with an attorney who was able to describe the possible legal implications for Ellen and even took a tour of a local police station and learned about the booking process. This helped inform the novel.

When Ellen’s mother tries to comfort her by illustrating an example of something she did wrong as a mom, she says “I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have our moments. We all have those times when we turn our backs, close our eyes, become unguarded. I don’t know why (my situation) ended up being okay and other children don’t….”

As a mom it made me reflect on a time when my son was small, had just learned to roll, and managed to roll right down the basement steps. He was fine, but I was completely a wreck, and I worried what the doctor thought of me when I took him in. Did you have any moments when you let down your guard like this as a mom, that you were able to reflect on while writing and shaping this story?

Most definitely! When my oldest child was a year old I buckled him into his high chair and gave him a handful of Cheerios to munch on. I thought I’d just dash out to grab the newspaper and ended up locking myself out the house. I could see my son chomping away happily on his breakfast through the large kitchen window but had visions of him choking on a Cheerio or slipping from the safety strap and falling to the ground. I stood there helplessly for a few minutes and then broke a window so I could let myself into the house. I felt like a horrible mother. I think as parents we all have had those close calls that make us question our own parenting abilities and agonize over what others will think of us. Fortunately, most often, when these accidents occur, all ends well.

There were many times that I had to step away from the book because the situation with Avery being left in the hot car is one of my worst nightmares as a mom. Did you struggle writing these scenes? Is there a detachment process when you write or do you dive in and experience it all?

These scenes were incredibly difficult for me to write. I’m first and foremost a mother and there is nothing worse than seeing your child in pain and suffering. As I wrote, I experienced every single excruciating moment right along with Ellen. I think that in order to write such dramatic events in an authentic, genuine manner, it was important to become fully immersed in what Ellen was going through. I often had to take breaks while writing these scenes. I would step away from the computer, go check on my own three teenagers, count my blessings and then return to work.

 Little Mercies refers to the “small kindnesses and good that comes from terrible.” Have there been any “little mercies” in your own life that have been good in spite of the terrible that they came from?

More than I can count. Just over five years ago my son was diagnosed with bone cancer. So many emotions flood over you when the doctor utters that small six-letter word. We were shocked, terrified, devastated. Never have I felt so helpless. But something amazing began to emerge from all the heartbreak—our family, friends, community and complete strangers inundated us with simple, loving gestures that carried us through a very difficult, dark time.

It was the phone calls, the emails and the handwritten notes of support that let us know we weren’t alone during a very lonely time. It was the homemade meals delivered to our home when we didn’t have the energy to cook for ourselves. It was those individuals who took my daughters under their wings and paid extra attention to them when so much focus was on their brother. It was the group of seventh-grade boys and their teachers who shaved their heads in solidarity with one young boy facing an uncertain future. All of this allowed us to witness firsthand the selflessness of others.

So often we look for the big miracles, and we don’t always realize that the small ones are just as life changing. I’m thankful that my son is healthy, happy, doing great and looking forward to everything that life has to offer him. We carry all the kindnesses people have shown with us and try to do the same for others.

Can you describe your writing process? Where do you write and how do you begin shaping your books?

I don’t have a specific place in my home where I write. I tend to take my laptop and move to a room in the house where I can be alone. Not that I need complete silence to work; I actually like background noise. I’ll listen to music, a podcast, or even a TV show as I write.

I think through a writing idea for a very long time before putting pen to paper. I always begin my writing projects by buying a brand new journal or notebook and writing the first fifty pages or so in longhand. By beginning my novels this way I find that I’m able to find the unique voices of each of my characters. I will jot down my characters’ physical descriptions, histories, likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. I live with the characters for so long that sometimes my hands hover over the keyboard and I have to decide which direction to take them—and it’s not necessarily the journey I envisioned for them. Though I must say, it’s always an adventure!

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

My favorite book of all time is My Antonia by Willa Cather. My parents always had hundreds of books on shelves and in neat stacks around the house and for a long time I passed right over the thick novel with the illustration of a woman standing in a field of tall yellow grass and holding freshly picked wildflowers. I finally pulled it from the shelf when I was eighteen and immediately fell in love with Cather’s beautiful description of turn-of-the-century Nebraska and the lifelong friendship between a farm boy and a young Czech immigrant. I reread My Antonia every single year, each time with new eyes, always finding something new within the pages. Whenever I visit a bookstore I’m always on the search for a different edition of My Antonia to add to my collection.

You can connect with Heather Gudenkauf  on Facebook or on her website or even on GoodReads!  I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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Sundays With Writers: A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

I am always looking for a sweet escape in the summer and this month I read a beautiful book called,  “A Paris Apartment,” by Michelle Gable.  I call books that send me hours afterward looking up images and more information on the “true” stories,  my narnia-books.  This is one of those books because after I finished the last pages, I was dying to look up what was real and what had been fictionalized for this book.  I spent hours flipping through photos and reading the backstory on these characters which made my bookworm heart oh-so-happy.

When I finished it and shared the story with my husband, he remarked that we had heard this same story of this apartment in the car one day while listening to NPR.  Of course, I immediately ran to my computer to look up the images of the real Paris apartment and it brought even more depth and life to the story that I had read.
A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

A Paris Apartment is a  fun summer historical fiction escape to Paris alternating between present day and the past.  It centers around, April, a furniture specialist with Sothebys,  & diary entries from the late 1800′s & 1900′s of Marthe de Florian. It weaves a beautiful story around a Paris apartment that had been shuttered for 70 years and the what lies behind the treasures in her apartment, including the relationship between her & the famous painter Giovanni Boldini, told through these diary entries.

As April becomes more & more fascinated with this woman through her diary, she increasingly becomes unsure if she wants to return to her own life back in the states or to continue living her own life in Paris, caught in the beauty of Paris and the escape from her own difficult marriage.

I would say that it is just enough fluff to pack in your beach bag and enough meat to enjoy reading the backstory on Marthe after closing those final pages.  I believe it to be a solid debut novel and I could not wait to talk with Michelle about this book and share it with you all!

I sent off a message to Michelle to see if she might like to join me for Sundays With Writers. She sweetly said that she knew my website and been on it before. I messaged her back and told her that if she was trying to sweet talk me, she succeeded and I was now her number one fan. She honestly replied that she had read my interview with Maggie Shipstead and would be honored to be featured on MomAdvice too.

And then I died and and fainted from the happiness..

I knew though that I must come back to life to share this interview.

I mean, really?!

How can we not love Michelle and race out to get her book right now?

Let’s chat with Michelle about her exciting first novel!

Michelle Gable

Wow, after reading your book I truly felt like I got to visit Paris, which has been a dream of mine! Since this is the setting for your book, did you spend a lot of time there before or while you wrote this novel?

I’m so glad the book felt like an escape! That’s fantastic to hear…thank you!

I’ve been to Paris several times and am headed there this summer, but I did not go specifically to research this book. However, I was in Paris when my agent called to say my editor was interested in acquiring it!

The most impressive part of this book is, what I imagine, the extensive research that went into both April’s profession (as a furniture expert) as well as the intricately woven story of Marthe de Florian & Giovanni Boldini that you have created for your reader. How did you gather this information and how much time does this take as a writer working in the historical fiction genre?

I spent a good four to six months researching, almost as much time as the actual writing of the novel. The shuttered-for-seventy-years apartment in the book really existed, however not much is known about the home or its former residents. So researching the apartment itself was not very time-consuming but I spent months researching the time period, the people who might’ve known the courtesan who once lived there, and the events and issues they would’ve been concerned with.

As you point out, April’s profession also required a ton of research. “Sotheby’s Continental Furniture Expert” is just about as far away from my daily life as you can get! I spent a lot of time looking through Sotheby’s catalogues (an area I became totally lost in) and interviewing people who worked there. It was very gratifying to read a review from an industry insider who said the book “felt like a memoir.”

For the historical sections, I used pretty much everything! The internet, interviews, old newspaper articles, books, including several that were over fifty years out of print. I had great fun reading the gossip columns of the day—most of the performers and incidents in the historical parts of the book really existed. Yes, there was a famous farter!

I’ve always loved research and often have force myself to get started on the book already. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of information because you can always uncover one more fact, learn the history of one more person. Probably only about five percent of what I learn makes it into a book, but I have fun with one hundred percent of it. And often little tidbits I pick up are stored in my “future novel” file.

Marthe is a character that I think people would either love or hate, especially as you learn more and more about her through the book. Could you relate to Marthe in any way especially as she struggles to climb up the social ladder?

Funnily enough, people have responded well to Marthe. It’s Sotheby’s expert April who seems to draw the strongest love/hate reactions! She is a controversial character by design.
As for Marthe, she certainly makes questionable decisions and though I can’t relate to most of her struggles I did find her sections the easiest to write…by far! Her pages almost came out of me fully-formed so I joke that perhaps I was a courtesan in a past life.

I do think her feelings of wanting love and belonging are universal. And as someone approaching 40, I can understand her fear of getting older, even if I don’t need to trade on my looks for my job!

Preserved Paris Apartment

Preserved Paris Apartment

Preserved Paris Apartment

Source: Getty Images

When leafing through the actual photos of the apartment, was there anything that you wish that you could take home with you, like the fictional April (who was gifted the Mickey Mouse) did? I know for me, I would want that stuffed ostrich for a statement piece in our home!

I love this question and have to agree…the ostrich for sure! I adore the Mickey Mouse doll too because he makes for such an interesting juxtaposition against the rest of it. This was the home of someone with considerable wealth. It was filled with antiques that, although quite valuable, are not recognizable to most people. But the Mickey Mouse is identifiable to all, no matter your background.

One of my biggest struggles as a blogger is coming up with an idea before all my friends begin pinning it from someone else on Pinterest. I understand that you had actually come up with the concept of this book before the photos of the real Paris apartment went viral. Were you worried that this might affect sales (positively or negatively) since people were starting to discover the story on their own?

It was so crazy how that happened! My sister emailed me on New Year’s Day with a link to some of the photos. She said “this reminds me of the apartment from your book.” And of course it was the apartment from my book!

By then A Paris Apartment was mostly done, the cover finalized, and the Advanced Reader Copies had already gone to print. I have no idea why it suddenly went viral this year in a way it did not in 2010, which is when I first read about it. Maybe because social media is so much bigger now? Amy Poehler was tweeting about it!

It felt very fortuitous. The only thing that would’ve been better was if it happened closer to my publication date! The news definitely increased attention for my book. I went from getting ones of hits on my website per day to thousands. It also resulted in a flurry of blog posts and stories and self-published books, all a positive for A Paris Apartment. People seem fascinated by the topic, just as I was, and generally when you’re really into something you’re going to read more than one piece on the subject.

So, if anything, the widespread interest helps. In my opinion, a debut author’s biggest threat is obscurity, not other people writing about the same topic!

As a first time novelist, what has surprised you most about the process of publishing your first book? Any words of advice for someone who is on this path towards publishing?

The time requirement for the marketing has been the most unexpected. Blog tours, physical tours…it all chews up so much more time than I ever contemplated. The touring (online and physical) is my favorite because I love connecting real-time with readers, but—wow—I really underestimated that piece of it. It’s been two months since my book came out and I only recently started writing again.

In terms of advice, it’s all about persistence, patience, and faith. You have to be willing to finish this novel, then write the next one, and then the one after that. I swore to myself I’d keep writing and writing until one finally took. The waiting and rejection can be brutal, but it is worth it.

Since your first novel is a historical fiction novel, do you plan to stay within this genre for your next book?

The novel I’m working on is similar in that it has a modern storyline as well as several historical ones. The current book was actually inspired by research I did on the Boldini paintings while writing A Paris Apartment. I’m very excited about it.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

I recommend Father of the Rain by Lily King to everyone. It is the perfect book. She has a historical novel that came out recently called Euophoria and I can’t wait to read it. That’s another thing that’s fallen to the wayside lately… I’ve gone from reading 2-3 books per week to reading one if I’m lucky!

You can connect with Michelle Gable  on Facebook or on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Some interviews are extra, extra special. This is one of them. Everything I have ever read by Chris Bohjalian  has moved me and I was thrilled when I got an advance reader of his new book, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, from NetGalley. When I closed the final pages, I sent Chris a message and asked if he might consider doing an interview here. His email back was one of the most sincere, genuine, and kindest responses to an interview request ever.  Not only is he genuinely in love with his characters and getting to share his stories, but it is quite evident that he is just as passionate about the people who read his words.  Getting to share about this book, in his release week,  is an honor and I feel privileged to say that I got to have this conversation with him.  I count myself lucky to get to share this interview with you and I hope that you will race right out and buy this book.

 

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

 

I truly cannot imagine the amount of research and time it would take to take on a book like this.  In Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian proves himself as a seasoned writer, taking on the story of a troubled teenage girl whose town experiences a nuclear meltdown. What makes it doubly heartwrenching is due to her father’s alcoholic past, he is the chief administrator of the plant and her mother, Mira, also works there as a communications specialist.  He is the one that the town blames for the disaster and the death of 19 people. Now orphaned and unwanted, Emily feels like she is not safe in her town and this leads her down a path of destruction that will pull at your heartstrings as a parent and put her in many situations that are brutal in nature.

Not only does Bohjalian capture the voice of this teenage girl so perfectly, but the depth of research on the repercussions of this disaster on a town, and an unlikely blending of Emily Dickinson poems woven throughout (the fictional Emily’s favorite poet) tie this novel up beautifully. Although heartbreakingly tragic, it is one that I could not put down in the final pages.

My only regret was that the epilogue was not expanded more and we could see more of what happened after Emily received treatment.

This book does contain language, violence, & sexual situations.

Grab your morning coffee and let’s chat with Chris about this amazing book!

Chris Bohjalian

With seventeen bodies of work under your belt, I would think that it would be hard to come up with a fresh new plot, yet you did that with Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, and it is phenomenal. How did you come up with the idea to tackle a story based around a nuclear meltdown? Is this something that has always fascinated you?

First of all, thank you so much. I appreciate that immensely.

The truth is, some of my novels demand considerably more research than others. For “Midwives,” for example, I must have interviewed easily sixty or sixty-fives midwives, ob-gyns, lawyers, EMTs, and moms and dads who had their babies at home.

But Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands? Not nearly as much. Emily Shepard’s voice came to me a few days after Christmas 2012, and it came to me fully formed.

Part of the reason why I found the voice so easily, I think, is that I’ve written about teens in trouble often over the years as a newspaper columnist. I’m a big fan of an organization in Burlington, Vermont called Spectrum Youth & Family Services, and the terrific work they do. I’ve met a lot of their kids. I’ve heard the stories and seen their faces. I’ve met the young adults who are going to be just fine, and the ones who – due to mental illness or substance abuse or bad choices or a cataclysmic home life – are heading for disaster.

I also know some of the Spectrum staff. I went to college with Annie Ramniceanu, for instance, who served for years as their associate executive director. She’s also an immensely gifted therapist and counselor. One day when I was having lunch with her, she started telling me how some of the kids – the teens who are falling through the system – would build igloos against the Vermont cold out of trash bags filled with wet leaves, and I knew instantly the novel I wanted to write.

As my 20-year-old daughter, Grace Experience, would tell me when she finished reading the first draft of this novel, “Dad, please take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way: Your sweet spot as a novelist is seriously messed up young women.” I know she’s right.

Emily Dickinson and her poems play a big part in the fictional Emily’s life and Emily really wants her life & words to be like Emily Dickinson. Was Emily a favorite poet of yours or did you develop this entirely around this story?

I’ve always loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry and the mysteries that surround her life. Moreover, as a novelist I’ve often wondered about the choices she made about whether (or not) to publish her extraordinary body of work. And, yes, I went to Amherst College, where her spirit hovers over the community. Sometimes it seems to me as if half the buildings I lived in on campus were named after someone she knew.

Emily is perfectly voiced as a teenager. Some of the lingo, I am embarrassed to say, I almost had to look up. How do you, as a male author, get a perfectly pitched teenage female voice for our narrator?

I think in some ways the voice came together because of all of those teens I interviewed over the years. I still have the columns and I can still recall vividly some of their stories – and so much of their separate ordeals.

I also need to give a big shout-out to my daughter, Grace. Often when I was writing, I would be at a loss to find the right synonym for a word or to capture the precise expression that a really smart teen girl would use, and so I would text her. I would ask, “What’s a hip synonym for ‘tattoo?’” Or “I need another expression for ‘hook-up.’ Any ideas?” And she would text me back something that would work. Trust me, you would not have found the word “bitchcakes” in the novel without her. She was wonderful.

Finally, whenever I write across gender – which I do all the time – I focus first on the things that link us as people. Then, after that, I can begin to examine the particularities of gender.

There were many, many difficult moments that I had reading about Emily’s life when she is homeless, particularly, when she takes Cameron under her wing. Were there any scenes in particular that were difficult for you to write or anything you had to step away from?

Yes. As a dad of a daughter, I found it difficult to write about Emily Shepard’s cutting and the way she is sexually exploited by Poacher.

But I loved writing about her relationship with Cameron, and the way she looks out for him. She might make a lot of bad parenting decisions, but when it comes to that boy – to paraphrase Emily Dickinson – her life really does stand a loaded gun.

Did writing this novel make you think about nuclear disasters differently? Do you have more or less fear about these situations becoming a reality?

I learned a bit about how nuclear plants work – thanks to Arnie and Maggie Gundersen at Fairewinds Energy Education. But I must confess, I still find nuclear power absolutely baffling.

But the Fairewinds website is incredibly interesting.

And, yes, nuclear power does make me nervous. The exclusion zone in my novel in Vermont is small compared to the actual exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Room,” by Emma Donoghue. What makes this novel so remarkable is not merely how authentically Donoghue captures the voice of a five-year-old boy, but the deft way she slowly conveys the horrific reality of a mother and son’s captivity.

If you want a poignant, powerful novel about a mother’s desperate love for her child, it doesn’t get better than this.

You can connect with Chris Bohjalian  on Facebook or on his website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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