From the catalog:
In 1934 all the national publications sent their star reporters to remote Virginia to cover the trial of Erma Morton: a beautiful 21-year-old year old mountain girl with a teaching degree, accused of murdering her father--a drunken tyrant of a man.
We've said before that McCrumb "is just the author to unearth the facts, sprinkle them with a little mountain magic and bring them to life in her fiction." (from an interview for Ghost Riders). The Devil Amongst the Lawyers should bring more of the same.
J. Sydney Jones is the author of 12 books, including 2009’s The Empty Mirror, a “stylish and atmospheric” mystery novel that “breathes life into turn-of-the-century Vienna.” Jones’ latest novel is Requiem in Vienna (published Feb. 2 by Minotaur Books), another mystery starring Viennese lawyer Karl Werthen and criminologist Hans Gross. In a guest blog post for BookPage, the author shares the experience that inspired his series—when, as a young man living in Vienna, he was tailed by a watcher for the state police.
I'll Be Watching You
At first I thought it might be a shopkeeper I did occasional business with. That would explain why he looked so familiar. The butcher on Langegasse or the wine merchant in the Altstadt. He had the same general features: slight build, medium height, light brown hair and eyes, gray overcoat. Nothing stood out. A figure that blends into the background.
I would catch sight of him across the Josefstaedterstrasse on my way to the language institute where I taught; see his reflection in a store window on Graben and he would quickly turn away; pass by him leaving the Stadtbahn station, his back to me, his head buried in a day-old issue of the Kurier. Once I actually came upon him talking with my building portier, a guilty look on both their faces.
This was the Vienna of several decades ago. It was still the Cold War. Foreigners living in Vienna fit into a risk category for the state police, anxious to protect Austria’s neutrality. It did not help that a childhood friend, also living in Vienna at the time, had become involved in a nationalist cause in Yugoslavia.
Still, until I discovered that I had my very own watcher, I had been living in another make-believe Vienna of schlagobers and Mozart. I had believed the tourist propaganda of the city of dreams and waltz.
My watcher stayed with me for over half a year, until I moved on for a time to Greece. Returning to Vienna the next fall, I no longer saw him or sensed his presence. But it was a wake up for me. I began to look at the underside of Vienna after the watcher; seeing the city as not only beautiful, but also treacherous. It is a vision that has remained with me, informing all of my writing about Vienna.
—J. Sydney Jones
When the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalists were announced yesterday, the names were recognizable—even predictable: Barbara Kingsolver, Lorrie Moore, Colson Whitehead and Sherman Alexie. But the fifth finalist, Lorraine M. López, nominated for Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, stood out from the crowd.
While I didn’t recognize the title of the story collection, I thought I recognized the name: I had an English professor named Lorraine López as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt.
Turns out Professor López is not only an incredible teacher (her Latino literature class remains one of my favorites) but a greatly talented writer. I love this description of Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, from fellow writer and critic Heather Sellers: “An amazingly original Flannery O’Connor/Loretta Lynn collision, this collection lets us witness the indomitable spirit and forces us to take pure joy in all we really ever have a chance at: flawed, gorgeous, weird, rollicking, screwed survival.”
Published in November 2009 by BkMk Press (at the University of Missouri, Kansas City), Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories is sure to get a lot of attention in the coming weeks—and we couldn’t be happier for its gracious and gifted author.
Lorraine M. López was kind enough to humor a former student—and took time out of her busy teaching/writing schedule to talk with BookPage today.
When did you find out you were named a finalist for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction? What was your initial reaction?
My editor at the Press, Ben Furnish sent me an email saying he’d been contacted by the PEN/Faulkner Prize administrators who wanted my contact information, and soon afterward, I had an email telling me to call the director of the Prize. I called right away and she congratulated me for being a finalist for the award. I’m a low-key person, so I’d make a terrible game show contestant. I don’t whoop and holler. I think I said, “Wow,” but quietly. I don’t think I was able to take it in fully for the first 24 hours or so. I’m still processing the news, which is unbelievably wonderful, the kind of thing I wouldn’t even dare to dream. And when I saw the list of the other finalists, I went into super-fan mode, and I grew excited all over again with the anticipation of meeting these writers and hearing them read at the ceremony in May.
Were you aware that your publisher had submitted your stories for award consideration?
The remarkable Ben Furnish sent me a list of the competitions in which he’d entered the book months ago, so I suppose I had some awareness of this then. But many things happened between that time and now, and I didn't have this on the tip of my consciousness when I heard the news, adding to my sense of surprise.
What are you most looking forward to about the awards ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library on May 8th?
I am looking forward to the reading. I cannot wait to hear Sherman Alexie, Barbara Kingsolver, Lorrie Moore and Colson Whitehead read their work. I have only heard Colson, whom I met through Kevin Young, read, and he is great. I know this will be a reading I will never forget.
What are you working on now?
Now, I’m working on surviving the semester, but I just turned in two manuscripts for publication in 2011. Realm of the Hungry Spirits, a novel, is due out from Hachette/Grand Central in spring of 2011 and a collection of essays titled The Other Latin@ that I coedited with Blas Falconer will be forthcoming from University of Arizona Press in fall of 2011. Next academic year I am on leave and have plans to work on another young adult novel, working title The Vidalia Onion Queen and a collection of linked stories with this working title: La Cariña. This phrase means “The Darling,” and it is an homage to Chekhov’s unforgettable story about a woman who absorbs identity from the various men she marries. While I enjoy writing novels, the short story is my true love and I can’t wait to get begin composing the pieces for this next collection.
For more on the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Prize finalists, click here. And keep your fingers crossed for Lorraine M. López!
When I went home to Arkansas in December, conversation on more than one occasion drifted toward the Coen Brothers’ new movie adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel True Grit, which opens on Christmas Day 2010.
Why are they re-making the film that won John Wayne his only Oscar? Were any locals auditioning for the role of 14-year-old Mattie Ross? Had anyone had a sighting of Portis, the novel’s reclusive author, who lives in Little Rock? And why on earth weren’t the Coens shooting the movie in Yell County, Arkansas, where the novel takes place? (Instead it’s being shot in New Mexico, which has high film incentives.)
For a while we’ve known that Jeff Bridges will be Rooster Cogburn, the U.S. marshal who journeys with Mattie on the search to find her dad’s killer (played by Josh Brolin). Matt Damon will play Texas Ranger La Boeuf. But yesterday, Variety reported that newcomer Hailee Steinfeld has been cast in the all-important role of Mattie, who narrates the novel. Although the John Wayne version plays up the role of Cogburn, the Coens plan to focus on Mattie’s point-of-view in their adaptation.
There’s little information available about Steinfeld online, such as her age or hometown.
True Grit fans: Can you see her as Mattie?
Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart
Harper, May 2010
Sarah and Nathan are just your average American couple: still in love after more than 10 years together, they have a toddler daughter and an infant son; Nathan is a novelist poised for commercial success with the release of his new book, Infidelity. But when Sarah learns that the book isn't all drawn from Nathan's imagination, what they thought they knew about their relationship is called into question.
Leah Stewart (Body of a Girl, The Myth of You & Me) is an acute social observer, and her take on this oldest of stories is worth reading. Told from Sarah's perspective, the novel puts readers in her place and asks them to consider the temptations and trials of a longterm relationship.
"Do you still love me?" I asked, as though I was just now following up on what he'd said as we got in the car. Two hours ago it wouldn't have crossed my mind to ask this question. Now I heard how tremulous my voice sounded when I did. I stared at his profile. The corners of his mouth turned down, as in a child's drawing of a sad face.
"Of course I do," he said, but this time he didn't sound sure, and I said so. "It's just . . ." He shot a look at me, gripped the wheel with both hands. "Sometimes, part of me wishes I didn't."
"What do you mean?"
"I wish I could say I didn't love you, or we were unhappy, or I was in love with her. At least then I'd have a reason for doing what I did."
"Yes," I said. "That would be much better." "You're gazing at me adoringly!" I used to cry, when I caught him looking at me, and he'd deny it, and then I'd insist that he was, that he was freaking me out, and I'd pretend to flee his presence, and he'd chase me and tickle me and fix me with wide eyes, a goofy smile, and say, "I love you, I love you, I love you, you can't get away."
"Let me go!" I'd shriek, laughing and squirming. "Let me go!"
"I'm sorry," he said now. "I don't know what I'm saying. I don't really mean any of that. I love you. I just feel so bad."
I said nothing, though what I wanted to say was, Yes, you love me, you do, and how could you ever for one moment wish that away?
I don't know yet if I'm taking a vacation this summer, but if it happens, Ayelet Waldman's latest will be tucked in my suitcase. Red Hook Road is being published in July 13. It's her first novel since 2006's Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, which interviewer Alden Mudge called "sharply observed, completely absorbing and sometimes wickedly humorous. Like Lionel Shriver and Zoe Heller, Waldman has a gift for creating flawed, and therefore human, characters. You may not always like them, but you root for them.
Red Hook Road sounds a little more dramatic than Love, which centered on the not-so-unusual dilemma of a stepmother struggling to accept her role. In an interview with Amazon, Waldman says that Red Hook Road was inspired by a newspaper story—a young couple, killed in a car crash on their way to their wedding reception. On her twitter feed, she describes it more succinctly: "Abt 2 families in Maine, connected & divided by tragedy and hope. Hey, just pulled that outa my butt. Pretty good!"
On Monday, we’re posting the March print edition of BookPage online—but until then, here’s a preview of a few new books I’m particularly excited about. Best of all, each one comes out today! Browse the summaries below, then head to a bookstore or library. Which book will you read first?
John Banville won the Man Booker Prize for his latest novel, The Sea, and today you can read The Infinities—which BookPage columnist Robert Weibezahl describes as “a glimmering world that hovers between the lives of humans and the manipulations of the playful Olympian gods, exploring deep and ageless themes of love, loss and the meaning of time.” If that doesn’t hook you, how about this: Weibezahl calls Banville a “magical writer” with a “superlative gift for limning the essence of our own humanity in all its ungodly imperfection.” Read a full review of The Infinities.
Embezzlement, murder, blackmail, Celtic myth and a mysterious show woman? These elements come together in Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, Frank Delaney’s passionate tale of a boy’s coming-of-age in Ireland of 1932. Ben McCarthy must go on a quest to bring his father back from the circus, where he’s escaped to fall in love with Venetia Kelly. Delaney weaves Ben’s personal tale with Irish history—and the result is an “inventive, amazing work” writes Arlene McKanic in BookPage. Read a full review of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show.
Elaine Beale’s Another Life Altogether has been regarded as a debut, although the author did publish a murder mystery in 1997 (now out of print). In any case, I’m glad that Beale is back. Her new novel deals with psychological development, the challenges of fitting in as a teen and a quirky family; it’s a worthy story filled with action and emotional drama. Read a full review of Another Life Altogether.
Any other recent releases you can't wait to read?
This just in: our galley copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which is being released in the U.S. on May 25.
I still think it was silly of Knopf to wait so long to release Hornet (why punish the first, and probably most loyal, fans of the series? not to mention, the below screen cap suggests there were more than a few sales lost to ebooks, the UK edition and illegal downloads) but it has made the release of the finale an anticipated event.
The girl on the guerney could live with a piece of lead in her hip and a piece of lead in her shoulder. But a piece of lead inside her brain was a trauma of a whole different magnitude. He was suddenly aware of the nurse saying something.
"Sorry, I wasn't listening."
"What do you mean?"
"It's Lisbeth Salander. The girl they've been hunting for the past few weeks, for the triple murder in Stockholm."
Jonasson looked again at the unconscious patient's face. He realized at once that the nurse was right. He and the whole of Sweden had seen Salander's passport photograph on billboards outside every newspaper kiosk for weeks. And now the murderer herself had been shot, which was surely poetic justice of a sort.
But that was not his concern. His job was to save his patient's life, irrespective of whether she was a triple murderer or a Nobel Prize winner. Or both.
Are you counting the days until May 25?
There's a new trend in covers these days: bicycles! Is it the environmental movement? The growing popularity of steampunk? Who knows; as someone who rides a bike more often than your average citizen (it's fun, I promise!) I'm happy to see it.
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More are on the way this spring: Roddy Doyle's The Dead Republic (April), the long-awaited final volume of the Henry Smart trilogy that began in 1999 with A Star Called Henry; and Emily Winslow's The Whole World (June), an anticipated debut that is being compared to Kate Atkinson's Case Histories.
Tell me about your favorite bicyclist hero/heroine—or, if you can't think of one, your first bike—in the comments, and you'll be entered to win a copy of The Manual of Detection. ETA: Contest closed.
Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but last week was the first I’d heard of NPR’s “My Guilty Pleasure” series on All Things Considered, in which “writers talk about the books they love but are embarrassed to be seen reading.” The series has been airing since May 27, 2009, and you can listen to archives here.
A few highlights: Kate Christensen (author of Trouble) likens reading Janet Evanovich to eating Twinkies. Lizzie Skurnick (author of Shelf Discovery) loves Peter Benchley’s Jaws, which she calls “Peyton Place by the sea.” David Sax (author of Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen) can’t get enough of Eat, Pray, Love—also known as “a scented candle of new age wisdom.”
No surprise here, but “My Guilty Pleasure” has me thinking about my own guilty reading pleasure. My philosophy is that reading should never inspire guilt, but a particular series does come to mind: Anyone ever race through Jean M. Auel's 1980 novel Clan of the Cave Bear? What about under your desk during chemistry class? Let’s just say that, in the words of my grandmother, this pre-historical novel includes a lot of “R.” And as a high-schooler, I loved it—although I’d blush if anyone asked what I was reading.
What book do you love, but you’re embarrassed to be seen reading? Spill all in the comments.
Related in BookPage: Read an interview with Evanovich, a hand-written Q&A with Benchley, an interview with Skurnick or an interview with Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert.