This month, Irish novelist Ken Bruen is back with Purgatory, a new novel in his uniquely written Jack Taylor series. Taylor, a former Galway cop with an impressive laundry list of vices, catches the attention of a serial killer known simply as "C 33." This new adversary poses a hefty challenge to Taylor's detective skills as well as his new found, fragile sobriety.
In a 7 questions interview with Bruen, we talked about classic noir films, classic albums and more.
Read an excerpt from Bruen's Purgatory below:
My name on a deep blue envelope, almost the color of a Guard’s tunic. Inside
A photo of a young man, on a skateboard, high in the air, looking like an eagle against the sky. Then a piece from The Galway Advertiser which read
…verdict due on January 10th in vicious rape case. Tim Rourke, accused in the brutal rape and battery of two young girls, is due in court for the verdict. Controversy has surrounded the case since it was revealed the Guards had not followed procedure in obtaining the evidence.
There was more, about this being the latest high-profile case likely to be thrown out over some technicality. And still
Continued to fuck us over every way they could.
A single piece of notepaper had this printed on it
"You want to take this one? Your turn, Jack.
Today marks the publication date for Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, the subject of our May cover story. Telling the tale of an early part of American history, the book follows a young Native American boy who becomes a Harvard graduate—in the 1660s.
The book is being published at a time when Wampanoag culture is on the rise again. Not only will Tiffany Smalley, the first Martha's Vineyard Wampanoag since Caleb be graduating from Harvard this spring, there's also been a resurgence of the language.
"A young native linguist named Jessie Little Doe Baird got her linguistics degree at MIT and has been working on a dictionary of the language and language classes," Brooks told me. "Her child is the first native speaker in several generations and there are a number of people now who are fluent. She got a MacArthur Genius grant for her work in the language reclamation. . . . it really is of great interest to everyone on the island seeing this come back. When the tribe's medicine man died the year before last, the language was heard on the cliffs at his graveside ceremony, probably for the first time in very many years."
Brooks and I went on to talk about the importance of language, and how the way it is constructed can shape or reveal things about a society. "I lived in the Middle East for a while and Arabic is structured so differently," she said. "The way the root words have developed give you such insight into the thinking of people. Maybe if you're a native speaker, you're not aware of all the echoes of the words that share a common root, but you know, it really struck me that [Arabic has] a word for 'child' that relates to things like 'dawn' and 'soft clay' but also 'one that arrives at an inopportune moment,' " she laughed.
In Caleb's Crossing, the way that Bethia describes her discovery of the Wampanoag language echoes these thoughts.
Over time I had come to grasp that the chief principle of their grammar is whether a thing to them is possessed of an animating soul. How they determine this is outlandish to our way of thinking, so profligate are they in giving out souls to all manner of things. A canoe paddle is animate, becuase it causes something else to move. Even a humble onion has, in their view, a soul, since it causes action—pulling tears from the eyes.
Will you be picking up Caleb's Crossing this week?
BookPage contributor Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for more than 20 years. In a guest post, he reflects on his March cover story interview with debut novelist Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife.
By the time I came to ask it, it was a silly question, an embarrassing question.
But I had read Téa Obreht’s abbreviated bio: She had been born in Belgrade in 1985. Her family left in 1992 as the conflict in the former Yugoslavia heated up. They moved to Cyprus, then Egypt and then finally came to the United States when she was 12. That meant she had been in the country just a little over half her life.
I had also read Obreht’s remarkable first novel, The Tiger’s Wife. It is set in an unnamed country in the Balkans after a prolonged civil war. Of the many things that impressed me about the book one of the most prominent was its powerful evocation of place. Not simply in a travelogue sort of way—though the landscape is vividly rendered—but in a deeper, more elusive, more heartfelt way, as though Obreht had captured the very essence or spirit of the place.
So I wondered as I finished the book, did Obreht see herself as an American writer or as a writer in exile?
Then there was our conversation. I learned that the family had moved to Palo Alto, that she went as an undergraduate to the University of Southern California. And there was that lilt of a California 20-something in her voice. Her humor, her intonation—as American as apple pie. So I hesitated.
“Oh, go ahead,” she said.
So I asked Obreht if she felt she was an American writer.
Her response was immediate: “Yes. Definitely.”
And what did that mean?
“Oh gosh, that’s a question,” she said. And after a pause she continued. “The fact that I am able to call myself a writer at all, the fact that I am able to be a writer at all makes me an American writer. To be in an environment where one can without hesitation—without constriction or fear—write about anything—one’s past, one’s projected future, whatever you want—is the luxury of American writers. And in that regard, I am an American writer. And very happy about it.”
What’s that they say about no silly questions?
Author photo by Beowulf Sheehan.
BookPage contributor Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for more than 20 years. In a guest post, he reflects on a common thread among his three most recent interviews: Starbucks.
As a standard-issue Berkeley resident, I am a fierce loyalist of Peet’s Coffee. French Roast, to be exact. So of course I look with snifty disdain on the thin brew served at a-Starbucks-on-every-corner.
But credit where credit’s due. In the past three months, every novelist I’ve interviewed has mentioned writing some chunk of her novel at a local Starbucks.
Téa Obreht, whose remarkably assured first novel will be featured in next month’s issue of BookPage, usually writes on a desk she’s carted around from house to house over the last five years. But, she says, a portion of The Tiger’s Wife, was composed at a corner table in the local Starbucks in Ithaca, New York.
Lisa Genova, who was interviewed about her second novel, Left Neglected, last month, has a “beautiful writing room. It’s the sunroom of the house. It’s all windows and we overlook a saltwater creek that leads out to the ocean.” But as a mother of young children, she says she can’t write there. “There are too many distractions. I think, I’m home, I should throw in a load of laundry. I should call the repair guy. Household duties loom heavy over me when I’m here.” So what does she do? She goes to the local Starbucks in Chatham on Cape Cod. “There’s nothing else to do there but write the book.”
And then there is the very funny Karen Russell—author of Swamplandia!, and, like Téa Obreht, one of the exceptionally talented young writers named to the New Yorker’s 20 best writers under 40 list. Russell says she has to leave her apartment to write because it’s so teeny, tiny. So a lot of her debut novel was composed at a Starbucks on 181st Street in Manhattan.
A year ago she won a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, where they gave her “this beautiful office space to write in. It was like getting this amazing promotion. I think I embarrassed everyone. I was like, ‘look at this! The drawers open soundlessly!’ They looked at me like they were wondering if I’d been homeless or something.” Now she’s back writing at her Starbucks again. “I was away for a year writing in my fantastic library office and now I’m back. We never exchange words but I just feel like the vibe is ‘Oh, look who has come crawling back. Guess it didn’t work out so well, so you’re drinking your vente in the corner again.’ ”
So credit to Starbucks. But a query: Whatever happened to that old, ideal image of the writer in his garret or a room of her own? What could it mean that so many writers now prefer to work out there in public, in front of everyone?
When I read Kerry's post about how many people visit her site in search of news about the sequel to The Passage, I realized something: we've been holding out on you. At least a little bit. During my interview with Cronin for our June issue, we touched on the second volume in the trilogy, which he told me has a projected pub date of sometime in 2012. Not wanting to spoil the surprise, Cronin didn't reveal any major developments, but what he did say is a little something to help you through the wait and whet your appetite.
If I could do it faster, I would, but I let them be written at the rate that they demand. I think people will be happy if it’s a great book, even if they have to wait. And volume two is, I hope, every bit as rich and engaging as the first one. It has new elements, as any book must, it’s not simply a straightforward continuation of volume one, though it certainly has that element. It has surprises aplenty, things you didn’t see coming but I hope you feel like oh, that’s just perfect.
So, pretty much every reader in America has heard about The Passage, right? The buzz book of the summer that puts a new twist on vampires from an author better known for his literary leanings? If you're one of those jaded types who avoids reading the books everyone's talking about, take my word for it—this time around, you'd only be hurting yourself. The Passage is a big fat juicy adventure novel that deserves every ounce of attention it's getting and then some.
Will you be reading The Passage this summer?
Coming in October from Little, Brown—The Wolves of Andover, the prequel to the 2008 hit The Heretic's Daughter. Dallas novelist Kathleen Kent tells the story of Martha Allen and Thomas Carrier, who in her earlier novel experienced the Salem Witch Trials. Their courtship sounds equally daunting: Thomas, who played a significant role in the English Civil War, finds himself pursued by assassins sent to the New World from London, while Martha navigates the complicated world of a household servant.
Related in BookPage: Our review of The Heretic's Daughter.
It’s always a treat to have the opportunity to speak with authors after you’ve read their books. So I was thrilled to interview Emily Giffin about her latest novel, Heart of the Matter, for our May issue.
We mostly talked about Heart of the Matter, of course, but I was delighted as our conversation veered off-course a few times. I couldn’t include all of the great content in my print interview, so here's the dish on Giffin’s writing process, how she balances a full-time writing career with raising three young children and—gasp—some then “off-the-record” (and now public) details on the upcoming movie version of her debut novel, Something Borrowed.
We’ve heard the good news that Something Borrowed (and Something Blue) are being adapted for film. Something Borrowed is slated to begin filming this summer. What can you tell us about that experience?
It’s been totally thrilling and I’ve been very involved with the details and become very close to both producers and the director. It’s been such a positive experience. I’ve heard that it can be a very negative experience for writers and they can be completely not involved and hate the direction. They have listened to my thoughts, and they don’t always agree with what I say—which is fine, because I’ve always viewed it as a separate project—but they listen and they are just great people. So it’s been awesome. Ginnifer Goodwin has been cast as Rachel—she’s perfect. So sweet. And John Krasinski is in for Ethan.
[This is where Abby devolved into total celeb geek mode and Emily and Abby discussed all the casting options and possibilities. Recently, more of the cast has been revealed (and even seen on set the week of April 19), including: Kate Hudson as Darcy, Colin Egglesfield (from the new Melrose Place) as Dexter and Steve Howey (who co-starred with Hudson in Bride Wars) as Marcus. Giffin said the movie is slated for release in early spring 2011, and you can bet I’ll be first in line at the theaters.]
So will you get to be on set and meet all these fabulous people?
My book tour starts May 11 and filming starts April 27 and I’m like, 95% of my life is totally boring, why do these two things have to happen at once? But I should be able to get up there a few times. And technically, in the contract, I’m supposed to have a small speaking part.
How does your creative process work? What comes to you first? The characters? The situations?
It’s pretty much worked the same with all of my books. It’s more of a very general premise. What would happen if a woman fell in love with her best friend’s fiancé, or what would happen if a couple got married and then, a few years into their marriage, one changed their mind about something that was fundamental to their marriage? Or what would happen if you ran into your “one who got away” and suddenly you realized that being with him was an option. I think I always start with that scenario, and I try to make it very relatable. Most everyone has someone from their past who they wonder about; and most of us have a friendship that is not 100% pure, marked by an undertone of insecurity or competitiveness, or something toxic about it. I think women—people—of all ages can relate to that. So the situation comes first and then the characters emerge from that. And then as I get to know the characters and write about them, the plot comes after [that]. It’s a very character-driven process for me.
Do you outline and plan it all out?
No, I don’t. I haven’t for any of my books. I have a very general sense of beginning, middle and end, but I don’t outline any scenes or specifics. I just think to myself, “Ok, this is where they’re starting out, this is where they’re going and this is where I think they’ll end up.” But in many cases they don’t end up where I think they will because as I get to know them, I think to myself, “Well, that’s not actually what this person would do.” You get to know the characters as you spend time with them, and sometimes I’m very surprised. For me, it’s a lot more fun to write that way. It’s inefficient, but I enjoy the little surprises along the way.
How do you balance a full-time writing career with raising three young children?
I think it’s interesting that people often ask that question. In a way, I think it gives me too much credit. I think every time we go into a bookstore, Harriet that she’ll have a role model—someone who does both.
You initially tried to break into publishing by writing a YA novel. Do you ever think of revisiting that genre and writing anything for a younger audience now that you’re a best-selling author?
Occasionally. If I had more time, I definitely would. I have been writing the screenplay for Baby Proof and I’ve been thinking about young adult books. I just wish I had more time because there is so much I would like to do. But I have to prioritize because I do have small children and I don’t have all the time in the world to work. So I think I’m going to stick with what I’m doing, for the most part.
Are you working on your sixth novel? Can you tell us anything about it?
I’ve started it. But it’s a little too new to get into what it’s about.
Read the complete interview with Giffin on BookPage.com.
A prolific, ambitious and talented writer, Louisa May Alcott was a public figure who nevertheless kept much to herself—so much, in fact, that a large portion of her creative output was not credited to her until decades after her death. In recent years, biographies like Eden's Outcasts and Louisa May Alcott have shed light on Alcott's private life, mining diaries and letters to create a portrait of a passionate, conflicted woman who understood the tradeoffs necessary to pursue a creative life.
In a buzzed-about debut, former English teacher Kelly O'Connor McNees uses the author's life as the foundation for a novel. On sale tomorrow, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (Amy Einhorn Books) is set during the summer of 1855, when the 22-year-old Louisa meets a young man who causes her to rethink her future aspirations. (Read our review of the book here.)
McNees took the time to answer a few questions about The Lost Summer from her home in Chicago.
Why Louisa May Alcott? What about her inspired you to tell this story?
While I had always loved Little Women, I never really knew much about Louisa May Alcott herself. A couple years ago I picked up the celebrated and controversial biography written by Martha Saxton, and from the first page I was completely engrossed. Louisa was complex, passionate and very surprising. So many assumptions I had made about her, based on the tone and story of Little Women, turned out to be incorrect. I had always imagined a prim and docile spinster, but Louisa was an activist, loved the theater, worked as a nurse in the Civil War. And she wrote countless stories that were nothing at all like Little Women, under pen names. There was so much more to her than I’d ever imagined, and I began to think about the question of how we should separate Louisa the woman from Louisa the historical icon. Who was she, really? That was where the story began.
As an English teacher, did you ever have the opportunity to teach Alcott?
These days, Little Women isn’t part of a typical middle-school curriculum. So no, I never taught the book. Though I often recommended it for independent reading projects!
In The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Louisa's (fictional) romance with Joseph Singer ended up inspiring the Jo and Laurie romance in Little Women. Do you see other common themes between Little Women and your novel?
Little Women was intensely autobiographical and Louisa encouraged the comparisons readers made between the novel and her life. She modeled Jo on herself as a young woman and Meg, Beth and Amy on her sisters Anna, Lizzie and May. I tried to make these connections part of my story, but I also tried to examine the many aspects of Louisa’s real life that differed from the idealized world of Little Women. For example, Mr. March is virtually absent from Little Women; in the story he is an army chaplain away at war. This plot point does not parallel an experience in Louisa’s own life. Bronson Alcott was a teacher and philosopher and was very much present in the Alcott girls’ lives.
Biographers have made much of what they cast as Louisa’s choice to exclude her father from the story of her childhood. Saxton argued that Louisa felt so conflicted about her difficult relationship with him that she couldn’t grapple with it on the page. Geraldine Brooks’ magnificent novel March uses the details of Bronson’s life to imagine the missing story of Mr. March. Brooks disagreed with the view that Louisa’s authorial choice stemmed from psychological unrest; for Brooks, this decision was merely a fictional construct that forced the characters of Little Women to grow and change in ways that serviced the story.
I have no real opinion on who is right about this question, only an intense interest in the question itself. It is fascinating and problematic to try to discern 150 years later what Louisa’s intentions may have been. Little Women is a moral tale written for young women; it’s not a surprise that the story is a kinder, gentler version of the complexities of real relationships.
Can you tell us about your first encounter with Louisa May Alcott's work?
I’m not sure how old I was when I first read Little Women. Maybe 12. I think I was especially intrigued by the relationships between the sisters because I don’t have a sister and always wondered what that would have been like. The story always stayed in my mind and I reread the novel every couple of years. The most cynical person in the world can’t help but be charmed by the March family.
But I have to say that Louisa as a writer really came alive for me just a couple years ago when I first read A Long Fatal Love Chase. This is a novel that was not published in her lifetime, not even under a pseudonym, because it was deemed too sensational. (It was finally published in 1995.) It’s about a woman named Rosamond who is seduced by a man who looks and acts very much like the Devil. Soon she uncovers a lie about his past and tries to escape from him, hiding in Italy, France and Germany. He stalks her across Europe—it’s a truly captivating thriller. You can imagine Louisa writing it in one furious and exhausting session, ratcheting up the tension chapter by chapter.
Louisa loved stories of fantasy and danger. You might remember the plays Jo writes and performs with her sisters in Little Women; Jo grows out of her interest in these tales, but I think in her heart, Louisa herself never grew out of them. And something about that fact was very moving to me as I tried to understand her.
You did a lot of research for a work of fiction. What was it like reading Louisa May Alcott's letters and diaries? How did they compare to her fiction?
It was wonderful! After reading several biographies of Louisa, turning to her own words felt like the closest I was ever going to come to having dinner with her (if only!). Her voice in the letters and journals is different from her fictional voice. She is wry and friendly and casual, though still aware that a reader is listening. These documents are fascinating.
Your novel is a work of fiction, but it's based on a real person, who had her own life and her own history. Do you feel that there are certain lines one should not cross when writing this type of fiction, or a certain "code of ethics" that should be observed?
This is an important question, and I’m not sure I have the answer to it, though I’ve thought about it an awful lot. This may seem like an evasion, but it’s important to me for readers to understand that the Louisa in my novel is not the Louisa. She is the Louisa of my imagination. Another writer might have imagined her some other way. With that in mind, I think all a writer can do is try to be true to the spirit of the person who inspired this character and to write with integrity.
What do you hope readers take away from your novel?
As I worked on this novel (which, incidentally, I was sure would never see the light of day), I always told my husband that my greatest hope was just to write a good story. I had no illusion that it was going to be the kind of novel that changes a reader’s life, and I certainly had no intention of trying to compete with other novels written about the Alcotts and their contemporaries, such as March and John Pipkin’s riveting story about Thoreau, The Woodsburner.
My hope is that readers who loved Little Women will take pleasure in this story, will think about that novel in a new way, and will consider, maybe for the first time, the real woman who wrote it.
Find out more about Kelly O'Connor McNees and her debut novel by visiting her website.
Country music superstar Sara Evans was in Nashville Monday night to promote her first novel, The Sweet By and By. Evans teamed up with veteran author Rachel Hauck to write the first in a four book fictional series about a young Southern woman, Jade Fitzgerald, and her evolving quest to balance the traumatic events of her past with the bright prospects on her horizon.
BookPage editors Abby and Trisha were lucky enough to sit down and talk with the lovely and candid Ms. Evans. Press the play button below to hear our chat about the stories behind the book, how Sara balances her work and family life and why she is afraid of elevators.
Our chat with Sara Evans:
The Sweet By and By is on sale now. Will you pick up a copy?