Happily married writers
In Hollywood, marriages between actors are almost commonplace (think Brangelina). But in the publishing world, it’s still a bit unusual to find two authors who are married to each other. Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon and Cassandra King and Pat Conroy are among the examples that come to mind.
Add to that list Tasha Alexander and Andrew Grant, who merged their households and their occupations when they married in June 2010. Grant, who was born in Birmingham, England, had published his first thriller, Even, earlier that year. Alexander grew up in South Bend, Indiana, the daughter of two college philosophy professors, and published her first Victorian mystery, And Only To Deceive, in 2005.
Both Grant and Alexander are currently busy promoting their new books, Run and The Counterfeit Heiress, published this month. In a Q&A with BookPage, they explain what it's like to share the so-called "lonely occupation" of writing. The two admit to having very different working habits, but say they each use the other as their first, and most trusted, reader of every new book. Readers can learn more about “what it is like to have two writers in one house” in their joint Q&A, “A marriage made in publishing heaven.”
If you have ever attended the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, you know that many of the authors' sessions take place in the Legislative Plaza, in very formal hearing rooms with fluorescent lighting. As best-selling author Lauren Oliver said as she sat at the front of the room, it looks a bit like the author is going to be handing out prison sentences.
Halfway through Oliver's session last weekend, she accidentally knocked the State of Tennessee seal off the table, announced, "This is so me!" and held it up for fans to snap a picture. I can think of no better moment to illustrate Oliver's relationship with her readership.
After her session, Oliver sat with me and talked about her first novel for adults, Rooms. While she's clearly fascinated by haunted houses, her book is more concerned with the haunted relationships between generations. Check out the Q&A here.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bret Anthony Johnston, Creative Writing Director at Harvard and author of Remember Me Like This, during the Southern Festival of Books. He was also a contestant in Nashville's first ever Literary Death Match, which was described by the velvet-jacketed host as a “highbrow, lowbrow literary clusterf__k.” It was indeed. During our interview, I asked Johnston about his involvement and wondered if he was afraid of sudden death.
So what is the Literary Death Match, and how did you get roped in?
Well, they’ve asked me to do it a number of times, because this thing is all around the country. But we had never been able to make the schedule work. But the Southern Festival of Books asked me to do it, and they’ve been incredibly good to me, so I'm doing it. I’m debating whether or not I should open with a really dirty Willie Nelson joke. (Editor's note: He did.) I wanted to show up in one of those Olympic wrestling outfits, like a onesie with shorts. But in my very lazy research, it didn’t seem like I could get it. But if you want to wrestle one up, I’ll totally wear it. (Editor's note: Sadly, I didn’t.) So my strategy is a half-assed costume, then I’m going to read something that’s about three minutes long that I didn’t write but relates to me, and then I’m going to read a three minute short story, because you just get seven minutes. And that’s the best I can do.
Johnston did exactly that, taking the stage at Third Man Records in a Lucha Libre mask and warming up the crowd with hilarious (well, hilarious in light of his success) rejection letters he's received throughout his career. (Letter: "The dead donkey was a bit much." Johnston's reply: "What dead donkey?") He then read his short story "Boy," inspired by Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl."
Johnston was competing against Pulitzer-Prize finalist Adrian Matejka, who performed a poem with musical accompaniment; Patricia Lockwood, whose short piece is so dirty we can't even tell you the title; and Abraham Smith, whose mesmerizing performance entranced the audience. It all came down to a sudden death match of "fictionary," in which audience members with questionable artistic ability drew book titles for the authors to guess. Smith was declared the champion, but not without the help of Johnston, who flexed his preternatural fictionary skills. Luckily, no authors were seriously injured during the Death Match, and afterwards, being in Nashville, we line-danced off into the sunset.
Read the interview with Bret Anthony Johnston here.
Christina Baker Kline's session last weekend was one of the most well-attended events I went to at the Southern Festival of Books. Come to think of it, it was one of the most well-attended author events I've been to—ever.
Which is really no surprise considering the runaway success of her 2013 novel, Orphan Train. With a contemporary story of two women forming a tentative friendship set against a little-known historical backdrop, it's perfect for sparking questions for reading groups.
Not only that, but the true story of the orphan trains has inspired many readers to discover the truth of their own histories, which happens to be one Kline's favorite things about the book's success. You can read all about it in our Q&A with Kline.
Readers who have read Orphan Train: What questions would you like to ask Kline?
For many writers, especially the authors of memoirs, it can be hard to predict where and how readers will make the strongest connection to their stories. For Richard Blanco, whose The Prince of los Cocuyos is one of our favorite memoirs of 2014, the part of his book that seems to be attracting the most attention is especially surprising: It involves a can of Easy Cheese.
Growing up in Miami in a family of Cuban immigrants, little Ricky Blanco accompanied his cantankerous abuela (grandmother) to Winn-Dixie, a rare incursion onto the turf of los americanos. Blanco yearned to fit in with his American schoolmates, so he asked his abuela to buy a can of that uniquely American food, Easy Cheese. ("What? Queso en una lata? she questioned, unable to fathom the idea of cheese in a can. But I could tell from the tone of her voice that she was intrigued.") We won't spoil the story by telling you what happened next, but it's clear that the anecdote is making an impression on readers.
Blanco, the inaugural poet at President Obama's second inauguration in 2012, recently began a tour to promote The Prince of los Cocuyos. During one of his first stops, at Brookline Brooksmith in Massachusetts, a reader presented him with a very special gift—you guessed it: a can of Easy Cheese.
Will the gifts become a trend? No Easy Cheese was evident during Blanco's weekend appearance at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, but we have a feeling that Blanco might end up with a lifetime supply of canned cheese before his book tour is over.
To learn more about Blanco and his tender and keenly observed coming-of-age memoir, check out our Q&A with the author.
Of all the many authors I had the pleasure of seeing and meeting at this year's Southern Festival of Books, it was especially thrilling to take a moment with award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson to talk about her new memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming.
This truly marvelous book reveals a childhood caught between worlds, and her poignant verse succeeds in stripping away extraneous details, allowing room for readers to make an instant emotional connection.
Throughout her session, Woodson quoted from several of her books, including a selection from Locomotion that instructed a young mind to "be quiet" and to allow memories to make themselves known. She read several of the poems from Brown Girl Dreaming, including her favorite, "Music," which begins:
Every morning the radio come on seven o'clock
Sometimes Michael Jackson is singing that A-B-C
is as easy as 1-2-3
or Sly and the Family Stone are thanking us for
Sometimes it's slower music, the Five Stairsteps
things are going to get easier, or the Hollies singing,
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
So on we go . . .
After her session, Woodson graciously agreed to chat with me about the book, her complex relationships with music and the South, and so much more. A preview:
Why did you think verse works so well for this book?
It’s how memory comes. Memories come in these small moments, with all of this white space around them, but the moments are very distinct. I feel like I have all this information, [but I'm] not sure what it’s connected to. And then the exploration of years and months and days brings the connection together. But it wouldn’t have been a straight narrative. A straight narrative would’ve been a lie. It’s not how you remember things—you remember them in small moments.
There are some truly unexpected treasures in the BookPage vault. This week I stumbled across a special gem, our 1998 Meet the Author interview with modern artist, New Yorker cartoonist and Hunter S. Thompson collaborator, Ralph Steadman.
Check it out:
Kelly Parsons is a board-certified urologist with degrees from UPenn, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins, and he takes all that surgeon's knowledge and puts it to better use (in my opinion, but I'm biased) with his debut medical thriller, Doing Harm.
We meet chief resident Steve Mitchell, a rising star with a bright surgical future who our reviewer calls "engagingly flawed." But then a patient dies of mysterious circumstances, and the killer starts toying with Steve, threatening his career, his marriage and even his life. And with an actual surgeon behind it, Doing Harm is the perfect blend of authentic hospital atmosphere and tense life-and-death moments.
To find out more about the high-stakes hospital world, we chatted with Kelly Parsons in a Q&A about patients, medical school and the fascinating character of Steve Mitchell—who we're reluctant to trust, or even like. And Parsons agrees:
"Readers shouldn’t necessarily trust Steve. They certainly don’t have to like him. But what I hope they do, on some level, is relate to his dilemma. I want readers to understand why he makes the choices he makes, however flawed those choices may be. The story is essentially about Steve’s moral journey. With some help along the way, Steve finishes the book a much different individual than when he began it."
Doing Harm is out today! Will you check it out?
Carla Buckley, author of Invisible and The Things That Keep Us Here, has returned with a thought-provoking new novel (out today!), The Deepest Secret. Eve Lattimore's utmost devotion to her family—and especially to her fragile son Tyler—is tested when she finds herself in the middle of a car accident that results in horrific consequences. The ripples from Eve's actions spread quickly, and the suspense builds in tandem, resulting in an unexpected, well-crafted climax.
Buckley kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book. Here's a preview from the Q&A:
Your stories often center on family conflicts and dynamics. What is it about this subject that interests you?
I guess the easy answer is that I came from a dysfunctional family and that I’m still working through the lessons of my childhood, but I’ve come to believe that we all come from dysfunction in one way or another! I think the reason I’m drawn to talk about family dynamics is because it’s the universal language we all speak: We all have families and our roles within them shape us into the people we become. It seems a particularly fraught and vulnerable process. What if you make a mistake—can you ever undo the damage? What if you’re faced with a terrible dilemma—will you make the right choice? Can you forgive yourself if you don’t? I hope my readers recognize themselves in my characters and ask themselves what they would do if faced with the same issues. [continue reading this interview . . .]
For more on Buckley's inspiration for the book, over-protective mothers, happy endings and her next project, read the full interview here.
In a 7 questions interview with BookPage, Dolan chatted about the novel's setting, his favorite place to write, why everyone should read The Long Goodbye and more.
Read an excerpt from the first chapter of The Last Dead Girl below:
They left me there alone. Nothing in the room but a wooden table and two chairs with metal frames and padded seats. I sat in a chair, held my hands above the surface of the table. The right one trembled—faintly, but you could see it. I thought about what could be causing it: more than one thing, but I knew part of it was anger. I made a fist and the trembling stopped.
An hour passed. There was no clock, but they had let me keep my watch. They'd taken everything else—Swiss Army knife, keys, everything I had in my pockets.
I got up and circled the table under the hiss of fluorescent lights. Reached for the cut on my temple. Dried blood. I crossed to the door and tried the knob. Locked. I returned to my chair and picked it up. Thought about smashing something. Maybe the lights: they were glass, they would break. Then I could be angry in the dark. Childish.
I walked another circuit of the room, dragging the chair behind me this time. Slightly less childish. The metal legs made a satisfying screech against the floor. The door opened and a uniformed cop looked in at me and frowned. I put the chair back where it belonged and sat. The door closed. A few minutes later it opened again and a different cop came in, one I hadn't seen before. Dressed in a gray suit, with a detective's gold shield on a lanyard around his neck.
He sat down across from me.
"Why'd you kill the girl?" he said.
Read the full interview here. What do you think, readers? Are you a fan of the David Loogan series?