I loved Christina Baker Kline’s novel Orphan Train. This book puts her permanently in my favorite authors file. An insightful and poignant historical novel, A Piece of the World take Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World” and imagines the woman behind the tempera. Crippled as a child from an, at that time, unknown disease Christina Olson tells us her story with both pride and humility. She breathes in our faces. She is not the only one. This book is not full of characters – it is peopled. They live in a beautifully realized landscape as moody and distinct at Wyeth’s painting. I will miss them now that I’m done with the book. But then, like “Christina’s World” I can always visit them again. Thank goodness!
If you read Robert Hicks’ novel Widow of the South you may recognize some familiar names, faces, and circumstances. However, it is not necessary to have read Widow of the South to appreciate Orphan Mother. It stands alone. Set during the first phase of Southern Reconstruction it is a look at the racial and societal tensions of the era – tensions that often resulted in violence. It follows the fates of Mariah the freed slave as she learns to let go off the mental and emotional chains of the past and Tole the assassin as he learns the impossibility of doing so. Well-written and insightful I read it slowly not wanting to miss a word. It was worth the time.
Ms. Stone’s sequel to Iguana Tree picks up the migrant family of that book after their deportation back to Mexico. Hector and Lila are both experiencing the trauma of their return to their hometown as well as being haunted by the memories of the fateful trip to America. Although expecting a third child they can not let go of the tragic loss of their daughter Alejandra, stolen from Lila on the trip north. While Lila deals with a difficult pregnancy Hector goes on another quest, this time for his beloved child. Once again Ms. Stone has written a thoughtful, empathetic story that captured me on the very first page. Ms. Stone possesses a talent for exquisite descriptions and well-drawn characters. It’s not necessary to have read Iguana Tree to enjoy this book, though I would advise it anyway. They are both wonderful reads.
I was told this was a “trippy” book. Understatement! Trippy, yes, but totally engrossing. A small book, it can easily be read a an hour or two, but it will stay with you for a long time after you finish. Ms Schweblin is Argentinian and this is best described as Latin literature in the vain of Marquez. It has metaphysical elements, human deformities, and an unnamed “scourge.” Written as a dialog between two people, one of whom is dying, it weaves past and present into each other as the characters stories meld and separate. At the end we are left with few answers. All we know for sure is that it is in the water – but then water has many meanings in dreams. All I can say is read it for yourself, prepare to be fascinated and haunted, find someone to discuss it with. Well worth it all.
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Mr. Downs book is a sweeping, detailed account of reconstruction from Lee’s surrender ( which did not end the war) to the 1880’s. I learned a lot and was not bogged down by either dry writing, boring statistics that added nothing to the narrative, or opinionated asides. The conclusion juxtaposes Southern reconstruction of the 19th century with contemporary uses of the military with logical and informative thinking. A must read for anyone interested in this period and subject.
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Every student of writing has heard the axiom “write what you know.” It is drummed into our heads by English teachers. We interpret this to mean write about ourselves, our town, our loves, our family. But this limits our writing and, indeed, our imaginations. “Write what you know” can have a much broader scope.
After losing my brother in 1984 I went kind-of nuts from grief. So much so that I walked into a closet at the home of an acquaintance during a party while looking for the bathroom. Once in the closet I didn’t know what to do. I started crying and couldn’t stop. I had closed the door behind me and couldn’t seem to leave. I was in the dark. When finally found I was asked the very logical question, “Why were you in there?” Of course I had no reasonable, or sane, answer.
Years later, I was reminded of this incident by that same acquaintance but had no memory of it at all. I had blocked out this most embarrassing occurrence of my life. It came back to me as a whole piece when it was brought up. I was speechless in its wake, mortified all over again.
In my book Under a Gibbous Moon there is a scene where the main character is rooted to a concealed spot atop a staircase, horrified and grief stricken by what she has overheard. In the writing of this episode I was again in that closet, crying, unable to get myself out. I know what it’s like to feel trapped, to feel helpless, to feel out-of-control. So I wrote what I know.
Be brave and dig deep. You’ll be surprised at how much you can write about, how much you really “know.”
Well, I finally caved and entered the Twitter world. I know you’re shocked. In the past I have been heard to disparage the Twitt universe as superficial, self-centered, and unedifying. But then I happened on a Twitter handle (if that’s the right term) that appealed to me: Free Writing Events @writevent. They were offering a one day online pitch session with Elizabeth Winick from Mcintosh and Otis, an agent high on my To Be Queried list. Suddenly, I saw the value in Twitter and signed up.
Now you may say, “Well, she’s doing this for totally egocentric reasons. She has a book to sell. It’s the very thing she always railed against.” You would be right. I have thrown off my mantle of righteousness and joined the “me” generation, as epitomized by Twitter. Do I feel guilty? A little. Guilty that I was such a prig to begin with. Who am I to insult Twitterers? I can learn from them if not become one in my soul. So here I am: @Lives5271
Now comes the hard part…what to Tweet? I know this is half the “fun” of the site. It’s how you build “followers” that will walk into heaven or hell with you Tweet by 145 character Tweet. Yet I find I have nothing pithy to say. Perhaps I need to think in phrases instead of sentences. Not even phrases…clauses? A difficult task for me as I have been thinking in sentences and even (gasp) paragraphs all my life. So my first Tweet is a picture. In this way I superficially, self-centerly, and inedifyingly circumvent the strictures of counting. Because, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.
To see the picture go to…well, you know.
Just entered the Writer’s Digest “Dear Lucky Agent” contest from historical fiction. Because you just never know! They are also running one for memoir. Check them both out at http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/29th-free-dear-lucky-agent-contest-historical-fiction
I have never read any of the books in the Neapolitan series by author Elena Ferrante so I cannot comment on whether they seem to have been written by a man, as some critics think, or a woman, as the author’s name would imply. By I can comment on the hub-bub that has erupted from journalist Glaudio Gatti’s “outing” of the author by publishing the writer’s real name. Who Cares! Hasn’t this journalist ever heard of pseudonyms? Did he miss Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb in order to gain a male audience for her Death series? And what about J.K. Rowling writing under the name Robert Galbraith for her crime novels in order to avoid “hype or expectation? If he doesn’t know about these pseudonyms I must question his expertise as an investigative journalist.
The reaction to Mr. Gatti’s unearthing of the mystery has resulted in some fiery accusations of gender bias. I don’t get that either. Yes, the above mentioned writers may have picked male or non-gender equated names to write in genre’s associated with male readers. But it goes the other way as well. I was told at a writer’s conference some years back that one of the most renowned romance writers, an author with a female name, was actually two gay men who write as a couple and combined their names to appear female. I don’t know what their pseudonym is and I don’t care. The question is whether their books would sell as well if they used their actual names. I’m one of those naive people who think they would. Good books are good books in any genre and under any name.
Apparently this all started because a new volume of Elena Ferrante’s non-fiction Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey is being published and it is in that book that a fictitious background is presented. Mr. Gatti believeS this makes Ferrante a liar. But Ferrante is not a person but a persona. That being the case how can anything attributed to her be a lie?
He also believes that since Ferrante is a “public Figure” she is not entitled to privacy. I suppose since everyone now knows Mr. Gotti’s name he is a public figure and therefore no longer entitled to privacy as well.
Perhaps he should change his name.
Once upon a time in a Florida bookstore
I heard the clerk give a customer this recommendation: “Have you read Joshilyn Jackson? She’s a Southern writer but…” She gave a vague gesture and said no more.
Sneaky word, “but.” It can lead into the perfumed or the stinky and qualifies whatever has gone before. If followed by something wonderful it snubs its predecessor as awful and vice-versa. So did this clerk intend to imply a Southern writer was a good thing? That wasn’t my impression.
What is a “Southern Writer” anyway? Was the bookstore clerk thinking of Margaret Mitchell or John Grisham? Did she refer to Faulkner or Mickey Spillane? Does the writer have to set their books in the South to be considered Southern? In that case leave out Truman Capote. Or does the person have to be born in the South. Leave out Cormac McCarthy. Both of these authors are listed as American Southern Writers, by the way. (http://www.biography.com/news/american-southern-writers-20874761) Amazon’s list of “Southern Writers of Fiction” includes Stephen King as well as Thomas Wolfe.
Perhaps I should have approached our unnamed clerk and asked her for a “Northern Writer.” Google “Northern Fiction Writers” and see what you get. Apparently Northern is an international term while Southern applies only to those United States that lie below the Mason Dixon line.
And still I am wondering “But what?”
Publishers get the blame for overly categorizing authors and their work. But I think this blame falls on the shoulders of book sellers as well – at least in the case of one clerk in Florida.