Earlier today, we posted a short excerpt from our April interview with Sue Miller about her forthcoming book The Lake Shore Limited. Now, we offer you a little bit more—some excerpts from the conversation that won't be in the print edition of BookPage. The interview was conducted and transcribed by BookPage Production Designer Karen Elley.
Tell us in the comments: What's your favorite book by Sue Miller?
Have you always wanted to write?
As a little girl, I won a high school writing prize, a National Scholastic Award, and I’ve always felt it was something I would do. I didn’t know if I would publish ever, but I always imagined writing being in my life.
What’s your writing schedule like?
I tend to try to work in the morning, the way most writers do, before the business of the day starts to intrude. I have to confess that email has changed that a bit. I’m kind of an addict so I check that first thing before I start to write.
[Editor’s note: Miller writes the old-fashioned way, in longhand, and has a particular kind of pen she likes to use that she purchases by the dozens.]
Your latest novel, The Lake Shore Limited, revolves around 9/11, a web of intricate relationships and a play—a story within the story—written by a young woman, Billy, who is one of the main characters in the novel. What form did your research take?
I’ve read a number of novels about 9/11, including Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, a novel that focused on the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on one New York family. There’s one called A Day at the Beach by Helen Schulman, an intriguing tale of 24 hours in a troubled marriage that uses 9/11 as a backdrop. Then there’s a wonderful graphic novel, American Widow, written by a woman who lost her husband on 9/11 and is pregnant at the time. The couple was going through some struggles—it was all very revealing and helpful to me.
I also read some plays. I think it was useful for me to see the shape of a play on the page. I randomly chose plays that were on Broadway in production, anything I thought sounded interesting. I also sat in on the production of a play from the early days of casting, where they were talking about the parts, to the actual performance.
When you were researching plays were you in any way tempted to become a playwright?
The nice thing about writing the play in The Lake Shore Limited was that I didn’t have to deal with the parts I’m not so sure about. In another book I wrote a sermon and the same thing was true, I could summarize.
I found it compelling and interesting to be reading a number of plays and to be thinking about that as a form and the way in which the writer of a play leaves so much more up to other people than a writer of a piece of fiction does. The gestures, the looks on their faces, these are all things you write about and think you’re controlling, whereas a playwright leaves so much more up to the actors and director and so forth. It’s more of a collaborative effort. They must have a much greater trust in other people. And Billy, the playwright in the book, enjoys that. I’m not so sure I would.
Do you think that the stress and strain of contemporary life has made the family bond stronger or has it driven us farther apart?
I don’t know. The Golden Age of the Family was rather brief. It seems to me that the idea of the family that got created sort of post-World War II lasted about a decade. I had a great-grandfather who married three times. His wives simply died so his children were as scattered and confused as any product of divorce might be today, and they had as much strain in their lives and as much difficulty. Disruption, sorrow and pain have always been a part of family life, although they may happen for different reasons. We have more choice and freedom at this point, but I think that the sorrow and difficulty we experience are not so different from those that came in other times for other reasons.
If you could go back in time, what year, era or event would you visit?
For me, it would be the period in America during the early part of the 20th century, the first couple of decades before World War I. My grandmother was a great storyteller and that was the period of her youth. She grew up in rural Maine, and her childhood sounded very appealing, although there was no modern medicine as we know it and lots of other issues at the time.
What are you reading and working on now?
I’ve started on another book that involves some arson, so I’m reading about that; it’s an interesting subject. There are several things I’m interested in reading. One of them is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, the true story of the African American woman who unknowingly contributed HeLa cells, one of the most important tools in modern medicine, to science. It sounds like a fantastic book, wonderfully written.
If you had to do something other than writing or teaching, what would it be?
If I had the gift, I would certainly love to make music with other people. It would be one of the most pleasurable things I can imagine, but I’m quite mediocre at singing and pretty bad at the piano so that’s not going to be possible for me. But I’ve always thought that musicians have the happy life. I’m sure there are great complications in making a livelihood, arranging and scheduling things and all that, but the process of making music seems to be one of the most joyous in the world.
There’s a lot of fresh content available on BookPage.com this week. Below, we offer a teaser: first lines from new reviews and features you won’t want to miss. Click the book titles to read more. (Don’t get mad at us if you start bursting your budget at the bookstore!)
We’ve noticed that books (with the exception of political books) get little coverage on network TV, so we were happy to see that Katie Couric covers many authors on her web show @katiecouric.
Just Tuesday, her conversation with Kathryn Stockett, best-selling author of The Help, was posted. During the hour-long interview, Stockett also took questions from book clubs in Ohio and Washington D.C. via Skype, and in a separate segment (without Stockett) Couric interviewed three women from Jackson, Mississippi—the setting of the novel.
If you loved The Help—and I know many of you do, since it was the #1 book in our Best Books of 2009 reader survey—then you’ll be interested to hear about Stockett’s relationship with Demetrie, her own family’s help, and why the author wanted to tell this story.
Watch the interview here:
I was especially excited to hear Stockett mention the movie version of The Help—news to me. A quick online search shows that Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People) will direct. According to Variety, “Taylor grew up with Stockett in Mississippi—his mother inspired one of the Mississippi matriarchs in the novel—and was so helpful to the author that she gave him an early peek; an option was made well before the book came out.”
On the @katiecouric website, find interviews with Sapphire, the author of Push (the movie-version, Precious, is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture); Malcolm Gladwell; and other authors.
What authors would you like to see Couric interview? Did you learn anything surprising in the Stockett segment?
By the way, in my Stockett research for this post, I learned on the PenguinUK website that the author is at work on a second novel: “It also takes place in Mississippi, during the 1930’s and the Great Depression. It’s about a family of women who learn to get around the rules, rules created by men, in order to survive.” I can’t wait for this one! What about you?
Related in BookPage: Read our interview with Kathryn Stockett about The Help.
Last week I spoke to Newbery medalist Laura Amy Schlitz (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) about her new release The Night Fairy (Feb. 23 from Candlewick). The middle grade novel tells the story of Flory, a fairy who loses her wings in an accident and must fend for herself in a garden alongside bats, praying mantises and other potentially threatening creatures.
As she learns to appreciate life in the daytime—Flory was born a nocturnal fairy, although she attempts to change her sleep schedule—the little fairy also discovers emotions like empathy and hope.
I predict that this charming story will be a hit with kids who love the outdoors and playing make believe—not only because of the text, but because the accompanying illustrations are truly works of art. Illustrator Angela Barrett studied at the Royal College of Art in England with Quentin Blake (best known for immortalizing Roald Dahl’s characters in cartoons). She has illustrated more than 24 books, and her depictions of Flory’s miniature world will enchant young readers. (Visit this gallery on The Night Fairy’s website for examples.)
On Feb. 23, you can read about Schlitz’s intriguing new project and her interest in fairy stories on BookPage.com. In the meantime, listen to an audio clip from the author. In it, she discusses the joyful moment of winning the Newbery Medal in 2008:
We’re giving away a copy of The Night Fairy to a lucky reader. To enter, tell us in the comments: Who is your favorite fairy from literature? I’ll vote for Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Deadline: Feb. 17 at 10 a.m.
Yesterday we highlighted features from our February issue, including an interview with romance novelist Kristan Higgins, author of The Next Best Thing (February 1 from Harlequin). Today, we have a special treat: A guest post from interviewer (and BookPage Production Designer) Karen Elley, who brings us more behind-the-book quotes from her conversation with Higgins.
Ever wondered why your favorite romance heroine has a pet? Or how an author feels at the conclusion of writing a book? Read on to get the scoop. Then tell us in the comments: What's your favorite romance novel?
Recently I interviewed romance author Kristan Higgins for the February issue of BookPage. Due to space constraints, several paragraphs had to be cut from the article. So, just in case inquiring minds want to know what I left out, here are more insights into Higgins and her writing style.
For instance, Higgins writes from the first person narrative point of view, something that is unusual in contemporary romance. She said it provides a truer point of view for her because the heroine doesn’t know what the hero is thinking, and neither does the reader.
“In real life,” Higgins says, “you don’t get the other person’s point of view—you have to make assumptions by going on what’s showing in their actions and by what’s being said. It feels like a very natural and honest way to write.”
In Higgins' previous books, a dog is usually the heroine’s best friend, but in The Next Best Thing, Fat Mikey, a cranky, overweight cat takes on that role. “I’m definitely a dog person,” Higgins says, “but I also own a cat.” (Dear reader, cat people will understand that no matter what the author believes, no one owns a cat.) “I decided to pick a pet for each of my (five so far) heroines,” she explained, “because I think the pet the character chooses, and how they relate to it, is very revealing.”
Actually, in The Next Best Thing, the heroine doesn’t pick him; her friend with benefits, Ethan, gets Fat Mikey for Lucy—to be with her while he’s away.” Higgins felt a dog would be too much for Lucy to handle with her job at a bakery and the unusual hours that go with it. “A cat is company but more independent and less needy.” Darn straight.
When she moves on to write a new book, Higgins admits that it’s hard to get the current book’s characters out of her head. “You fall in love with these people. They are so real to you. In your heart you feel their pain, you laugh at what they say, you cry with their sorrows and then when the book is done, I don’t get to see them anymore. It’s almost like breaking up.”
Higgins gave BookPage a sneak preview of the book she’s currently writing, scheduled for publication in August of 2010. All I Ever Wanted is a tale of opposites who attract, starring a woman who has a toxic crush on her boss: “When the book opens it’s her 30th birthday, and she thinks he has given her some reason to hope that things are going to be different. But as it turns out what he really wants to tell her is that he is seeing someone else. The plot revolves around a quirky, funny family and a heroine who feels that if she does everything right, she can fix everything. She’s always trying to solve other people’s problems and make everybody happy.” The hero this time is a vet. “With all the pet references in my other books, sooner or later it had to happen,” Higgins said.
When asked what she likes to read, and what authors influenced her writing, Higgins replied, “I just finished a wonderful book, Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch, an absolutely lyrical book about a family.” Other authors she loves and appreciates are Eleanor Lipman, Elizabeth Strout, Monica Macanerny, Steven King, Sherry Thomas and Susan Mallory. “It depends on my mood of the moment. I read a lot of different genres. But I think because I hadn’t always planned to be a writer, I didn’t look at the books I was reading as influence, more as enjoyment.
Higgins admits she doesn’t have a clue as to what the next big thing in romance novels might be. “I don’t pay attention to market trends and predictions, but I think readers are always hungry for great stories. They love characters with conflicts and issues to overcome, and they love when it’s difficult. They love the struggle. A good book with great characters will always sell.”
If she had to do something other than writing, what would it be? “I think I’d like to be an editor, that way I could still read all these great stories.”
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!