Today the Book Case welcomes author Mindy Friddle—a Southern writer who's celebrating the recent release of her second novel, Secret Keepers.
guest post by Mindy Friddle
One of my favorite parts about writing fiction is taking a familiar setting, tweaking it, and making it a character’s own. You won’t believe how liberating it is to depart from a map, wander away from the grid of streets, and imagine a slightly skewed version of a place.
My second novel, Secret Keepers, is set in Palmetto, loosely based on my hometown and its overlay of New South over Old South, Although it's a contemporary story, there's a narrative sweep from the early 1900's to the late 1980's, illustrated by changing landmarks. For example, the Confederate monument in the opening pages of Secret Keepers has been relocated from a central location in town to a new marginalized spot in the New South—in front of a cemetery. That really happened in my hometown. In the book, that statue is none other than General Robert E. Lee, and he’s pointing. Fiercely. I made that part up. And the cemetery? I changed it from Springwood to Springforth. I thought Springforth was a better name for a cemetery, anyway.
In Secret Keepers, McCann Square is known as the first “temperature-controlled shopping center” in Palmetto that once “dazzled the fickle town like a mistress” and lured away downtown department stores. It’s based on a shopping center I used to frequent back in the 80’s; the kind of place you’d find Members Only jackets and buy REO Speedwagon and Styx cassette tapes at the Record Bar. That was BM. Before Malls. A few years ago, that shopping center nearly went under, before it was transformed into an anchor for the local community college. In SECRET KEEPERS, McCann Square is rescued from abandonment when investors turn the place into a “faith-based commerce mall.” Renamed Crossroads, it attracts stores such as Hole in the Sole Shoe Repair, Pray and Pay Title Loans, and Testamints Candy Shop. One character in the novel, Dora, harbors an uneasy attachment to the revamped shopping center. In her wayward youth Dora frequented McCann Square, but now she is trying—and failing—to forget her past and reinvent herself. But try as she might, she still sees McCann Square winking at her behind the veil of Crossroads.
Sometimes I find inspiration right in my front yard. The pitcher plants, Love-Lies-Bleeding, and moonflower vine in my garden prompted some poetic license. Amaranth, a seedy, neglected estate in Secret Keepers, has a secret garden. When the Blooming Idiots gardeners stumble upon its bounty of botanicals, they find a few other-worldly flowers as well: secret keepers are flowers with a potent aroma that trigger a powerful memory of love in a person’s life. Soul shines are preternaturally sensitive, and react to a person’s feelings by shrinking or blooming. But other than these flights of fancy and warped locations, most of the novel is grounded in realism: Family secrets, mother-daughter conflicts, strained marriages, grief, lust. Humor, hopefully, winds through it all like a vine.
“I created a cosmos of my own,” William Faulkner said about Yoknapatawpha County, the setting for most of his novels and short stories, patterned upon his actual home in Lafayette County, Mississippi. Not that I’m comparing my work to Faulkner. Jeez! But I love the fact that in ABSALOM, ABSALOM! he included a hand-drawn map of his “apocryphal county,” signing it, "William Faulkner, Sole Owner & Proprietor."
I don’t know if I’ll ever go as far as sketching a map. When people tell me they loved getting lost in my book, it pretty much makes my day.
The universe of superheroes is unfairly dominated by guys, don’t you think? What we need is a little gender equity to balance SpiderMAN, SuperMAN and BatMAN. Children’s book author Jarrett J. Krosoczka is doing his part to promote female omnipotence with a new series that features a school cafeteria worker with special powers. The series debuts in late July with the release of book one, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, told in graphic novel format for ages 7 to 10.
Now, before the first book even hits shelves, comes the exciting news that Universal has snapped up film rights to the series with Saturday Night Live’s Amy Poehler on board as star and executive producer. We can’t wait to see Poehler as the apron-clad Lunch Lady who dishes out justice along with chicken patties and sloppy joes. And we’re thrilled to see the talented and super-nice Krosoczka get this very special recognition. So thrilled, in fact, that we immediately had to find out if he'd ever imagined something like this in his wildest dreams:
“Well . . . let's not get too far ahead of things,” Krosoczka says via email, proving that his feet are still on the ground. “The books aren't out just yet, so I don't want to jinx anything. But there is so much momentum as I head into the release date. I've been promoting these books in my school visits for years now and people are eager for new age-appropriate graphic novels. And of course the news about Universal and Amy Poehler's interest is just incredible!”
Of course we couldn't resist a few more questions for Jarrett:
How did the movie deal come about?
Back in January, The Gotham Group (who manages the film rights to my books) asked if I was interested in their being attached to Lunch Lady as producers for a possible live-action feature. I was thrilled by this news and signed on. I've been a fan of Amy Poehler for a very long time now, so we sent her a copy of the first Lunch Lady book. She loved it! Two writers were attached (Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern) and they, along with Ms. Poehler pitched the project to Universal. And Universal loved it!
How did you come up with this character?
Back in 2001, I visited my old elementary school (Gates Lane School) to speak about the publication of my first book, Good Night, Monkey Boy. There, I ran into Jeannie, my old lunch lady. She started telling me about her grandkids—which blew my mind! My lunch lady had kids, who then had kids? She had a life outside of the cafeteria. So it got me thinking . . . what would a lunch lady do when she wasn't a lunch lady. She'd fight crime!
What’s your favorite thing about the Lunch Lady?
I'm having a blast with the action and the absurd humor in these books. On one page I can have Lunch Lady fighting robots with her fish stick nun-chucks, on another page she is elated that she'll be making chicken patty piazza for lunch. She's a very fun character and I hope people love reading about her as much as I've enjoyed writing about her.
A second book in the series, Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians, will also be published on July 28, with a third title planned in December and a fourth next summer. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Krosoczka has written and illustrated nine picture books, including two Punk Farm titles. For more fun facts about this imaginative and clever guy, check out his website, which includes a bio, a short bio, a serious bio, a fake bio and a faker bio. And don't miss the audio clip that reveals how to pronounce his last name—a name we'll all be hearing more about.
C'mon people, with Father's Day just four days away, we'd like to have more nominees for favorite fictional father.
Vote getters so far:
We're going with Atticus Finch*, but you might have a different idea. Check out the comments and dive in for a chance to win four new books on fatherhood.
*Atticus on courage: "I wanted you to see what REAL courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do." (To Kill a Mockingbird)
While checking out Penguin's new site to promote their books and authors, From the Editor's Office, I came across this video with JR Ward. She discussed several of the same topics in our web-only interview.
What do you think of author videos? Do they enhance your reading experience in a way that print interviews don't, or are you happy to stick to the page? If you prefer one over the other, I'd love to know why. I'm a fan of both—I tend to have a longer attention span for reading than watching a video, but it's also interesting to hear an author's voice and see what they look like, even if I sometimes find myself fixating on their fashion choices (love the ruffles, JR, but what's with the shades?).
Shared via AddThis
Readers are buzzing about the mystery debut from Attica Locke, Black Water Rising. The L.A. Times calls Locke "a writer wise beyond her years," Sarah Weinman is a fan, and the novel garnered positive pre-pub reviews from Library Journal and Kirkus. [via]
Come July, they can add praise from BookPage to that chorus. Whodunit? columnist Bruce Tierney chose Black Water Rising as one of his four favorite mystery debuts of the summer, calling the mystery "an excellent book by any measure, but as a debut, it is nothing short of astonishing."
Can't wait two weeks? Want to discover Bruce's other favorites before the L.A. Times does? Click here for a sneak peek.
If you’re gift-challenged like me, holidays/birthdays/graduations and other gift-giving events have a way of sneaking up on you. We’re doing our part to help out by warning you a full week in advance that Sunday is FATHER’S DAY and if you don’t already have an idea for a present, you’d better get busy. Wait, there’s more. We’re also offering one lucky reader a chance to snag a Father’s Day gift collection without ever leaving the sofa. Our “Four for Father” collection includes these new releases:
After the success of President Obama's books, a family member hopes to follow in his footsteps. Today's Publisher's Lunch announced that his Kenyan half brother, George Obama, will be telling the story of his "fall into crime and poverty as a teenager and his eventual embrace of community organizing and of advocacy for the poor," in Homeland, a book written with Damien Lewis. George Obama reportedly got six figures for the book, which Simon & Schuster will publish in 2010.
Pardon the cliched post title, especially since it's not really accurate: no one "lets" anyone in the BookPage office eat cake. If something sweet arrives, there's no waiting for permission—as demonstrated today when the cake delivered to celebrate the long-awaited launch of our new website arrived.
These photos were taken within 20 minutes of each other. In an office of 12 people. Better get my share now!
What's your office's—or family's—favorite sweet treat?
As we've mentioned before, finding out what the mailman's brought us is a daily treat. One recent discovery I've got stationed on my desk is Harriet Reisen's Louisa May Alcott (Holt). This "revelatory portrait" (per the back cover copy) of the Little Women author will be on shelves October 27, and promises a fresh take on her life while placing it in the context of her works. Reisen has written for radio, PBS and HBO—and has adapted this biography for an American Masters biopic that will air in December.
Like many women I've been an Alcott fan since childhood, and remember snapping up old copies of her out-of-print works, like Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom while following my mom around antiques stores. I loved the family dynamics (I'd always wanted a sister, or three) and the occasional hints of romance. As a preteen I discovered her ghost stories and pulp fiction. I'd always wished she'd written more, which is part of the reason I enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' wonderful novel, March, so much.
Are you an Alcott fan? and if not, which authors captivated you as a child? I have many more on my list but I'll have to save them for another blog post.
As BookPage’s fiction editor, I get to read (or at least partially read) dozens and dozens of great novels every month. But the hardest part of the job (at least for me) is narrowing all of these great books down to a stack of 10 or 12 to review each month. As my mother would say, “That’s a nice problem to have!” And it really is. But in my time with BookPage, there has not been a month when I didn’t lament not including a certain book in our issue. Such is the case with The Fixer Upper, the latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Mary Kay Andrews (Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, Savannah Breeze, etc.).
On sale at the end of this month, The Fixer Upper is the story of Dempsey Jo Killebrew—an impressive young woman who thinks she has landed her dream job at a Washington, D.C. law firm. She’s living the high life until her boss is implicated in a very juicy political scandal—and she is shown the door right along with him. Dempsey is suddenly out of a job with bills piling up; and because her name has been splashed all over the news along with her boss’s, no potential employer will touch her. So what’s a girl to do? Well, in a Mary Kay Andrews novel, she has only one choice—return to her Southern roots. For Dempsey, that means taking her father up on his offer to restore the old family mansion in sleepy Guthrie, Georgia.
Like Andrews’ other novels, this is a light, sassy, easy read, perfect for the beach or lazy days on the porch. I loved what I read of the novel, and even though we didn’t pick this one for print coverage, the kind folks at Harper sent us three finished copies of the book. So in celebration of the start of summer, three lucky Book Case readers can enter to win a free copy—even before it officially hits the shelves. Just post a comment and tell us what your favorite beach read is before June 15th. We’ll select the winners at random. Good luck!