Last week I interviewed Chang-rae Lee about his forthcoming novel The Surrendered, and our conversation was so interesting I thought readers of The Book Case would enjoy hearing a few clips. The Surrendered (March 9 from Riverhead) is Lee’s fourth novel. Native Speaker won the PEN/Hemingway Award in 1995.
The novel is alternately told from there different perspectives: June Han, who is orphaned as an 11-year-old during the Korean War, then eventually moves to New York City after living in an orphanage in Yongin; Hector Brennan, an American GI who works at the orphanage then becomes a janitor in New Jersey; and Sylvie Tanner, the wife of a missionary who helps run the orphanage.
At 480 pages, The Surrendered moves back and forth from past to present, and graphic war scenes are painful to read. Yet, I couldn’t put down the book. June, Hector and Sylvie are full, flawed characters; you will sympathize with them and despise them; root for them and cry for them. And Lee is a wonderful writer. Reviewers in BookPage have called his prose “rich, riveting, radiant” and “modern, fluent, and full of beauty.” I completely agree.
Learn more about The Surrendered in the March issue of BookPage. Until then, listen to short excerpts from my conversation with Lee:
Why did you title the book “The Surrendered”?
How were you affected by writing violent war scenes?
The church in Solferino, Italy, which is filled with human bones from the Battle at Solferino, is an important image in your novel. Why did you choose to include it in the book?
Henry Dunant’s A Memory of Solferino, the book that inspired the founding of the Red Cross, plays a central role in The Surrendered. Why did this interest you?
And a question for readers: Will you read The Surrendered?
On January 18, Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me, a middle-grade novel that’s part mystery, part touching family comedy. The plot centers on Miranda, a sixth grade New Yorker who saves her friend’s life; preps her mom to appear on a game show; and holds down a part-time job at the neighborhood sandwich shop. Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time will love this book; Miranda carries it around, and time travel figures into the story.
Because we couldn’t imagine the excitement Stead felt upon learning of the award, we contacted her for an e-mail Q&A. Below, she describes the moment of receiving a call from the Newbery committee, growing up in New York City and why she writes for kids.
Describe the moment when you were awarded the Newbery Medal.
I was standing in the kitchen of my apartment. [Chair of the Newbery committee] Katie O’Dell introduced herself on the phone and then said something like, “I’m about to tell you something that will change your life.” I think that’s when my feet fused to the floor. She had the whole committee on speaker phone, and there was this wonderful cheer. I couldn’t seem to move. I remember Katie saying, “it’s okay, you don’t have to talk.” But I hope I managed to tell them how grateful I felt—still feel.
What were your favorite books to read as a child and teenager?
I loved all kinds of fiction. I read books by Edward Eager, Madeleine L’Engle, E.L. Konigsburg, Judy Blume, Norma Klein, Bette Greene, Paula Danziger, Anne McCaffrey, Louise Meriwether, Robert Heinlein and Louise Fitzhugh. I also loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales, D’Aulaire’s Myths and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-kind Family books.
What do your children read today?
My sons read a lot of fantasy, including Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books. But they also love the Hank Zipzer books, Hillary McKay’s Casson Family novels, Judy Blume’s Fudge books, and many others.
When did you first read A Wrinkle in Time? At what point did you decide to feature the novel in your own book?
I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was 11 or 12. My main character, Miranda, was carrying the book around from day one, but I wasn’t sure for a long time that it would be part of my final story. Wendy [Lamb] and I talked about that, and decided that I would try to deepen the connection between the two books. If it seemed to work, wonderful. If not, I would have to take Wrinkle out.
What’s the best part of writing books aimed at a younger audience?
Middle-grade kids are blossoming intellectually, and they’re less jaded than adults. I think they’re more open to big ideas. Also, kids generally root for a story to succeed, and they’re willing to do what I call “the reader’s work.” I find it much easier to write knowing that I have them for partners.
What were your favorite things to do as a kid growing up in New York City?
Eat Chinese food, see plays, go skateboarding, eat pizza, go ice skating and read. We used to have great block parties in New York City, and I loved those too. I also watched a heck of a lot of television.
Miranda’s mother appears on “The $20,000 Pyramid.” If you could go on any game show, which would it be?
I would be terrified to be on any game show, because I don’t like being put on the spot. But if I had to go on one, it would absolutely be Pyramid.
Do you identify with any specific character in When You Reach Me?
Miranda. Her brain works the way my brain worked at her age.
Have you read or listened to past Newbery acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I’ve read a couple of past speeches in The Horn Book, but that was before I ever dreamed I might be writing a speech myself. I’m excited. And worried.
I’m working on another novel for children. It’s unrelated to either of my first two books, and it’s coming together pretty slowly. I have a feeing that lots of people will write three books before I finish this one.
And a question for readers: What's your favorite Newbery winner?
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?
Yesterday I interviewed YA author Ally Carter to chat about her February 9 release, Heist Society. The novel has been described as “Ocean's 11 meets Veronica Mars,” and I think that’s a fair assessment. Without giving away too many details of the plot, I’ll just say that Heist Society is a perfect pick for teens who love watching “The Thomas Crown Affair,” or for those who have visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and are more fascinated by what’s missing than what’s there.
Because I know BookPage readers love a good teaser, I’ll share a few tidbits I was able to squeeze out of Carter.
The fourth book in her hugely popular Gallagher Girls series is coming out in June 2010, and she plans to release the title “very very soon,” she said. “Stay tuned within the next two weeks.” She sent a draft of the manuscript to her editor earlier this week, and it should be in copy edits soon.
This book will take up a few weeks after we left Cammie in Galagher Girls #3, Don't Judge A Girl By Her Cover. Cammie has gone to visit BFF Bex in London during winter break, Carter said, “and of course the threats and the danger have gone with her.”
“The action kicks off really fast in this one and hopefully it stays really fast throughout the whole thing. Cammie’s in some serious hot water this time around, so it’s been very interesting to see her get herself out of it.”
And that’s all I’ll share right now! Stay tuned for the complete interview. It’ll go live on BookPage.com on February 9.
And a fun question for our commenters: If you could talk to any YA novelist, who would it be? I think I'd like to talk to E.L. Konigsburg.
A former city girl, Ree Drummond left her high-heeled boots and sushi dinners behind to marry a cattle rancher, "Marlboro Man." After having four children, she started to chronicle her adventures in cooking, ranching, homeschooling, photography and home repair on a blog, The Pioneer Woman—and in just three years, Drummond, or "P-Dub" as she is often called, became an Internet phenomenon, à la Dooce’s Heather Armstrong or Greek Tragedy’s Stephanie Klein.
Like many bloggers, Drummond is making the jump from web to print, and her cookbook—appropriately named The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl—came out in October. Full of the homey recipes, beautiful photography and goofy humor found on her site, the book became an instant hit: the week of November 6, the book was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in the Hardcover Advice category.
I’d heard tales of huge turnouts on Drummond's book tour, so I eagerly went to Nashville’s signing at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on December 8. I’m not a good judge of crowd size, so I’ll just say that an entire floor of the bookstore was packed (not Mall-of-America-packed, but packed all the same). Before she started signing books, Drummond admitted that she’s nervous speaking in front of crowds, but offered to answer questions. One woman shouted out “Where’s Marlboro Man?”, and after a brief answer (at home, taking a break from travel) Drummond launched into signing books.
Since there wasn’t time at the signing for an interview, BookPage asked Drummond to respond to some questions via e-mail.
BookPage: If I could only make one recipe in The Pioneer Woman Cooks, what should it be, and why?
The Pioneer Woman: This is an impossible question to answer! It depends on what you're in the mood for. Comfort food? (Mac & Cheese, Chicken Fried Steak, Meatloaf, Comfort Meatballs would suit you just fine!) Elegant food? (Roasted Beef Tenderloin, Burgundy Mushrooms, Creamy Rosemary Potatoes would make you smile.) Sweets? (The Chocolate Sheet Cake and Peach Crisp will make your eyes roll back in your head.) Sorry—I wasn't very helpful, was I?
Is there a city-girl cooking trick or two you've taken with you into your ranch kitchen?
I've always been addicted to cooking with wine. Sometimes the cowboys turn up their noses if I add too much to a pot roast or braising short ribs. But I loved it then, now, and forever. Oh, and I always add more garlic than normal people would—5 cloves instead of 3.
Many of the recipes and stories in The Pioneer Woman Cooks have already appeared on your website. Did writing a book feel different than writing a blog post?
Yes. A book is tangible, can be held in your hand, passed to a friend, carried into your kitchen. I knew I couldn't possibly write a cookbook without including my longtime favorites like cinnamon rolls, blackberry cobbler, the Marlboro Man Sandwich, and Jalapeno Poppers, so I balanced existing recipes with new ones. It was important to me that the book retain the same feel of the site—sort of a stream-of-consciousness, irreverent, relaxed approach to cooking and life.
Are you able to read all the comments on all of your posts—and if so, how long does it take?
Aside from contest posts (which elicit more comments than a normal post), I do read every single comment left on my site. I can't imagine not reading them—I learn more (and crack up more) reading the comments folks than anything I could come up with. Very hilarious people read my site. I love them!
How do your kids feel about their mom being a web star?
“Star” isn't a word that really enters into our consciousness in our life on the ranch. Stars, I imagine, don't have manure on their porch. And if they do, they probably have someone on staff to shovel it away.
I don't have a staff like that.
Now I'm really depressed.
Which is sexier: chaps or cowboy hats?
Oh, the former. Most definitely . . . the former. I recommend them for lifeless marriages everywhere!
This afternoon I had the incredible good fortune to get to interview Gary Paulsen over the phone about his January 2010 release Woods Runner. I won’t reveal too many details from the conversation (for that, you’ll have to wait for our January feature on BookPage.com), but I will give this teaser: In our hour-long conversation, I somehow managed to seriously crack up over Paulsen’s jokes; be incredibly inspired by his love of reading and writing; and feel compelled to buy a used copy of Hatchet on my lunch hour since my own copy is on the shelf in the house where I grew up. If you love Paulsen (and what fan of children’s literature doesn’t?), then you are in for a treat come January. Woods Runner is excellent, and it was made many times better when I got some background information from the author.
I did manage to extract a bit of news you may be interested in. Paulsen is an amazingly prolific writer (he’s written over 175 books), and 2010 will be no exception. Besides Woods Runner (out on Jan. 12), you can look forward to the release of Lawn Boy Returns on May 11. This is the sequel to Paulsen’s Lawn Boy, a novel about a kid who makes nearly half a million dollars when he starts up his own lawn business. BookPage reviewer Angela Leeper wrote of the novel: “With his quick-paced, conversational narration and such chapter headings as ‘The Law of Increasing Product Demand Versus Flat Production Capacity,’ Paulsen presents capitalism and storytelling at its best in this delightful summer story.”
Paulsen has another intriguing project in the works. He has written a book about kids who read books (such as Moby Dick), then try to re-enact them. The book was inspired by a fan who sent him a homemade video re-enactment of Hatchet (that involved the kid taking his mom’s fur coat into a swamp). No publication date on this one yet, but we'll keep you posted.
Related in BookPage: An interview with Paulsen from 2003.
What’s your favorite Paulsen book? There are a lot to choose from! My favorite is Harris & Me. I found out today that “Me” is really Gary.
One of the first big releases of January 2010 is Elizabeth Kostova's follow-up to her hit debut, The Historian, a literary vampire story that topped bestseller lists in the summer of 2005. Her new novel, The Swan Thieves, is a tale of love, obsession and art that, like The Historian, goes backward and forward in time to unravel a mystery. We asked Kostova a few questions about the book as a teaser for fans--and a preview of our full-length BookPage interview coming in January.
What elements in The Swan Thieves will most appeal to fans of The Historian?
I think readers who enjoyed The Historian will probably enjoy the mix of historical and contemporary settings in The Swan Thieves, as well as the travel to France and through time.
Impressionist art is frequently referenced in books (yours!) and films (Amelie), and probably adorns 8 out of 10 dorm room walls. What is it about these artists that continues to speak to people today?
I think we still look at and love the Impressionists because they capture something about nature that is both vivid and idealized. As we watch the destruction of natural beauty in our world, we probably value these images in a new and piercing way. I think it's also important to note that many people are understandably sick of Impressionist art from sheer over-exposure to it, and because in reproduction it radiates a certain prettiness. Looking closely at an original Impressionist masterwork is still a radical experience, and very different from looking at a notecard or tote bag.
The mystery of The Swan Thieves revolves around a 19th-century female artist, and the sacrifices women in particular must make to pursue art. Is there a real-life artist who inspired this character?
Beatrice de Clerval is not based on a single real artist, but in developing her I was inspired by the life of Berthe Morisot, one of the six original exhibiting Impressionists, a dedicated and very gifted painter who also protected the conventions of her social and family life.
Who is your favorite character in the new novel, and why?
I think I'm fondest of Andrew Marlow, because he changes the most over the course of the book. I feel very close to him in his struggles to figure out who he is, and I like the way he evolves from vanity to love--rather as Professor Rossi does in The Historian.
How was writing this book different from writing The Historian?
In writing The Swan Thieves, I had to move away from using the models of Victorian literature and into something more exactly fitting my story in terms of language and structure. I also wrote it in large swathes, as different episodes became vivid for me, and then rearranged these in the editing, rather than writing straight through from beginning to end as I did with The Historian. I learned a tremendous amount from writing The Swan Thieves and it is a deeply felt book, for me.
Twlight author Stephenie Meyer appeared on Oprah last Friday, and she answered a question backstage that may leave some fans disappointed. An Oprah Winfrey Show staffer asked if she’d be writing a fifth Twlight book (Oprah didn’t have time to ask the question on air), and Meyer answered:
I am a little burned out on vampires right now. . . I think I need a little break. I might go spend some time with my aliens. I might do something completely different. I’ve got to cleanse the palate. I may come back to it. I did envision it as a longer series. But I wrapped Breaking Dawn in a way that I felt satisfied with, so if that moment didn’t come, I’d be okay.
Will any readers be lining up to see New Moon on Friday? Do you hope that Meyer will change her mind about revisiting Bella and Edward?