Twenty-three-year-old Alice Ozma's new memoir, The Reading Promise, is all about the joy of reading: it chronicles the more than 3000 consecutive nights that she and her father, a single parent, spent reading aloud to one another. But does a love of reading translate to an apartment full of books? Ozma doesn't think so—read on for more.
Books: Sharing the love
guest post by Alice Ozma
People always assume, when they hear that I'm an avid reader and that I wrote a memoir about my father reading to me for 3,218 consecutive nights, that I own tons of books. They make jokes about it when they visit my apartment, especially since I have a study. They imagine wall after wall, shelf after shelf, of big, sturdy books. And they're shocked when they see what I have: one tiny bookshelf, up to about my knees, comfortably full but not at all jam-packed.
But the thing is, I just can't bear to keep books to myself.
When I buy a book, it is almost always used. I love knowing that it's been read, and loved, and passed along. It's like wearing my grandmother's jewelry. And once I own it, I can't bring myself to break that cycle. Try as I might, even if I know I'll want to reread it or reference it later, I can't help but pass it on. Whether I donate it, or give it to a friend, or leave it in the break room at work, I am happiest when I imagine the book being read. It wasn't made to sit closed and idle.
As a new author, I am keenly aware that the more “free” copies of a book float around, the less the person who wrote it makes. Even that does not deter my strange, insistent desire. I've heard the quote that love should be divided, not multiplied. It's something we can't just hoard.
The books I pass along may be dog-eared, tea-stained, and worn in some places. They may contain a few of my long, auburn hairs, or even a receipt that I used as a bookmark. But they're brimming with love. True love gets dusty on a shelf.
The daughter of an FBI agent, P.M. Terrell wrote 12 novels solo before starting on a collaborative effort with T. Randy Stevens. Here, she shares her tips for a successful team writing project with BookPage readers.
Writing times two
guest post by P.M. Terrell
Years ago, I met a married couple who had gone from writing romance to murder mysteries. I think there’s something Freudian in that, but I was also struck by the concept of two individuals collaborating on one book. I doubted I would ever want to do it. But with my latest suspense novel, The Banker’s Greed, that is precisely what I did. And I would eagerly do it again.
T. Randy Stevens, the CEO and Chairman of the Board of First Farmers Bank, approached me with a draft and asked me if I would consider editing or rewriting it. I knew when I read the story—about a banker’s daughter who is kidnapped and all the clues lead to her father—that he had a compelling plot and multi-faceted characters. But I also knew that I did not want to take another person’s story and rewrite it. It was his idea and I wanted it to be a team effort.
For months, Randy wrote his chapters in the middle of the night. I’d arrive at my office to find his emailed chapters waiting for me. I’d spend the day massaging them, adding my “flair” and emailing him with suggestions and ideas. We went back and forth like this and the pages began to accumulate. Then we progressed to rewriting, editing and perfecting it.
I was fortunate because Randy is a dream to work with. For authors considering a collaborative effort, I recommend:
Kristina McMorris' debut novel, Letters from Home (Kensington) is a World War II love story with a twist: It's based on McMorris' own grandfather's letters to his sweetheart—her grandmother. Here, the Portland author writes about the unique challenges this premise created for her work.
The challenges of writing historical fiction—when those who lived it are around to correct you!
guest post by Kristina McMorris
Finding inspiration to write my first novel, Letters from Home, was relatively simple. My grandmother had saved every one of the love letters my grandfather sent to her during World War II. Based on those beautiful pages, I imagined a Cyrano de Bergerac twist to their story, and voila! I had the premise of my book.
I brainstormed. I outlined. And then—oh, yes—I researched. A lot.
At first, my main motivation for accuracy stemmed from my fear of critics' feedback—namely from those ever-scary "anonymous" Amazon reviewers who supply their lengthy critiques in the form of bullet points. The deeper I delved into research, however, the more responsibility I felt to do justice to our humble veterans, whose sacrifices secured the freedoms we too often take for granted.
Writing historicals about any era poses a great number of challenges. In my case, I was featuring a period in which many of those who lived through it are still alive to call me a "nincompoop" over potential errors. (Not saying they'd use that word, precisely; but it's a great word, isn't it?)
On the upside, I eventually realized I had a wonderful opportunity that most historical authors don't: the possibility of hearing true accounts of the era firsthand. Before I knew it, my research process gained in-depth momentum. I had the pleasure of interviewing a wide variety of veterans, and even befriended a few members of the famed "Band of Brothers."
While I've gained an enormous amount of knowledge from textbooks, archivists, docents, and memoirs, no experience has compared to listening to tales from men who actually fought in the trenches. I'll never forget the Japanese-American vet who grew teary as he described the day that, unknowingly, he watched his own brother—an airman for the Japanese Empire—being shot down in a fighter plane overhead.
Sadly, two of the vets I met have passed away. Estimates claim we're losing a thousand of them daily, likely more. Hopefully, though, their amazing accounts and, perhaps more importantly, the lessons they've shared will live on through the written word. For that, I feel honored to contribute. And if, in the end, I still earn the label of a "nincompoop," it certainly won't be for lack of trying to get their stories right.
Kristina McMorris resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two sons, bundles of energy who take pride in transforming any cylindrical household object into a weapon. She is a former host of "Weddings Portland Style" and a winner of the Golden Heart. Find out more on her website.
Kim Harrison is known for her sexy urban fantasy novels starring witches and demons—but the best-selling writer has a secret life that features "jeans and scuffed boots" that are a far cry from her leather-clad author photos. Today, in honor of the publication of her latest book, Pale Demon (Harper), Harrison gives us the scoop on her double life.
guest post by Kim Harrison
“So, what do you prefer? Kim or Dawn?” It’s almost always the first question I’m asked when I meet professionals in my field. I usually smile, touch my hair, and say, “I’m Dawn, today,” if I’m a blonde wearing jeans and scuffed boots. But if I’m wearing my event wig—a bold reddish auburn that goes past my shoulders—I grin and say, “I’ve got my Kim on. Better stick to that so no one gets confused.”
Split personality? No, though I will freely admit that I frequently have conversations with myself. Secret agent on the run? Not likely, though I’ve been known to take people-watching to the level of an Olympic sport. No, it’s something so banal, so dull that when people find out I’ve got a second persona stuffed in my closet, they scratch there heads and ask me, “Why?”
I’m a writer, who, through contractual obligations and a large shift in writing style, found it easier to create a second, public persona than try to reconcile the old with the new. It didn’t hurt that booksellers will give new talent a bigger push than one with a slow but steady track record. In this case, it has seemed to have worked.
Get-my-Kim-on is more than the wig and black signing clothes, though. It’s almost become a job title, a name tag, if you will, that I wear when I go from the sedate, 8-10 hour day at the keyboard with little human contact to the plane-jumping, speech-giving, always-smiling publicity hound that is what most readers see when they meet their favorite authors.
Author appearances have always been a part of book promotions, and I’m continual reminded of the Westminster Dog Show where it’s obvious that those beautiful animals being paraded before all have never seen a cow or sheep, but they need to look like they can do the things that their working counterparts still do today. I think readers are the same way. They know that the person sitting behind the signing desk isn’t really out there fighting bad guys, making spells, or solving crimes, but if they look like they might be able too, it makes the experience all the more fun—and that’s what a book event should be. Fun. So Kim has long red hair, stylish boots and a penchant for wearing black. I’ll admit that she’s sort of rubbed off on me over the years—in a good way, of course. Kim has class, and I have tatty slippers.
And when I get home, I have the luxury of being able to peel off the layers of show, smiles and graciousness so I can be my old crotchety self again, stumbling about in search of that first cup of coffee.
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?