What people talk about when they talk about the way New York City used to be: the dark, graffitied alleys you absolutely never went down, the overwhelming crime, the grit and the grime. Rob Hart is the kind of guy who remembers this NYC fondly, and he memorializes it in his debut, New Yorked, a noir murder mystery about part-time PI Ash McKenna, who has just been implicated for the murder of his girlfriend.
Hart takes us on a tour of his NYC through books, film and art.
You could live your entire life in New York City—beginning to end, without ever leaving—and never catch the full breadth of this place. It’s unknowable, moving at the speed of light, shifting under your feet. And because of that, everyone’s viewing angle will always be entirely and wholly unique to them.
My experience will never be your experience.
There are things we can share. Places we love to eat. Those secret spots it seems like the hordes haven’t yet discovered and stripped bare. That swell of pride at making it another month in a full-contact economy, where so many prone bodies are being carted off the field.
Another thing we can share is art. The books and films and music that bottle up the spirit and essence of New York.
These are my favorite pieces of art featuring New York, as an inspiration, or a backdrop, or a feeling. The things that inspired me to give it a go and try to capture my experience of this impossible city in New Yorked.
In the City of Shy Hunters by Tom Spanbauer
This novel by Tom Spanbauer, published in 2001, is the best book ever written about New York City. Full stop. Will Parker, a shy boy from Idaho, moves to the city during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. He falls in love with a six-foot-five African-American drag queen and performance artist named Rose, and watches as the city thrashes and convulses around him.
This is a portrait of a city that’s gone. The Bad Old Days as literary fairy tale. It cuts to the charcoal heart of New York with more grace and precision than anything else I’ve ever read.
The Warriors, directed by Walter Hill
Directed by Walter Hill and released in 1979, this movie is a fever-dream interpretation of New York City’s gang culture. The Boppers in their shiny purple vests, the Baseball Furies in their pinstripe uniforms and mime makeup.
This movie (based on the 1965 novel by Sol Yurick) took the most terrifying thing about the New York City of that era—roving bands of gangs and criminals behind the sky-high crime rate—and moved it into comic book territory. Something goofy and colorful that plays out like a Greek myth.
Here Is New York by E.B. White
It’s stunning that this slim volume, a love letter to the Big Apple written by E.B. White and published in 1949, feels so modern. It could have been written yesterday. And at less than 60 pages, it’s the perfect keepsake or gift—a blazing-fast read worth revisiting for the ensuing well of nostalgia.
White’s introduction so perfectly acknowledges how futile it is to write about this town, noting that to “bring New York down to date, a man would have to be published with the speed of light… it is the reader’s, not the author’s, duty to bring New York down to date; and I trust it will prove less a duty than a pleasure.”
Death Wish (film AND book)
The 1974 film Death Wish is the polar opposite of The Warriors. Gone are the goofy armies of street gangs, replaced by a staunch liberal twisted into a ruthless vigilante by a brutal attack on his wife and daughter. As the body count builds you’re brought to the conclusion that violence is the only answer.
The book it was based on, written by Brian Garfield and published in 1972, takes a different path—same liberal character whose wife and daughter are attacked, but his path to vigilantism results in a far more thoughtful examination of justice (and the movie’s gleeful violence so upset Garfield that he wrote Death Sentence as penance).
Girl Walk // All Day
This 70-minute music video, directed by Jacob Krupnick and released in 2011, turns New York into a dance stage. From the Staten Island Ferry to the Apollo Theater, and all points in between, three dancers—the Girl, the Creep, and the Gentleman—slink through the streets and inspire the denizens of New York to dance.
The video is scored to the music of Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, a DJ known for mashups (you will find yourself awed at how well hip-hop group UGK’s song “One Day” matches up with “Imagine” by The Beatles). It’s New York through and through—a melting pot of musical styles, a guerilla production (they were tossed out of Yankee Stadium for filming a sequence during a game), and, most importantly, a pure explosion of joy that shows the city in it’s best light: As a hub for creative expression.
The art of Stephen Wiltshire
Stephen Wiltshire is a British architectural artist with an incredible gift—he can look at something once, and then produce an intricate, detailed portrait of the subject. He’s best known for cityscapes, and has rendered cities like London, Tokyo, and, of course, New York, in minute detail. This, after only partaking in a brief helicopter ride.
New York is a grand city. No one needs to be convinced of that. That Wiltshire took something so big and produced such an accurate portrait is remarkable. And he didn’t just capture the buildings. You can feel the energy—the life pulsating under the lines. Seeing the city through his eyes is like seeing it for the first time.
Shortbus, directed by John Cameron Mitchell
This 2006 film, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, is not for the prudish. The movie explores the lives of several people orbiting an underground artistic/sexual salon. The sex scenes, both straight and gay, are not simulated. If that doesn’t scare you, you’ll find a thoughtful examination on sex and relationships. The story culminates in a citywide blackout that demonstrates that great, overlooked quality of New Yorkers: Our ability to come together in times of crisis.
This is the New York as it exists for non-rich, non-fantasy people. And the movie also features a stellar performance (and musical number) by Justin Vivian Bond, who served as the inspiration for Ginny Tonic, the drag queen crime lord in New Yorked.
Gogol Bordello’s 2005 album Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike sounds like the beating heart of New York City. It’s a glorious mix of styles that occasionally drops into other languages but never strays from the familiar punk rock energy that once thrived on the Lower East Side.
It’s loud and fun and sharp and scrappy. It’s a stroll through the city set to music. Favorites include “Avenue B” and “Oh No,” the latter featuring—like Shortbus—New Yorkers uniting during a blackout. Though, listen to “Start Wearing Purple” and discover one of the most fun songs you’ll ever hear in your life.
Rob Hart is the author of New Yorked, now available from Polis Books. You can find him on Twitter at @robwhart and online at www.robwhart.com.
Discover more great new mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July.
You may know J.T. Geissinger from her award-winning paranormal romances, but with her latest novel, Sweet as Sin, she's entering new territory and grounding her story in the reality of rock stars, make-up artists and Hollywood.
We were curious about the impetus behind the genre switch, and in this guest post, Geissinger opens up about her decision to start a contemporary series and her Van Halen daydreams.
I never set out to write paranormal romance. Until I was 40, I never planned to write a novel in the first place. How I came to write in the paranormal romance genre is another story altogether, but the first book I published, Shadow’s Edge, wasn’t written as a series starter; it was simply written to amuse myself. I had no idea when I was writing it that there would be more than one. But it was published, and the book sold well and won an award, and then my publisher came to me and asked me to write another book with the same characters and four more after that.
Commence jubilant revelry, followed quickly thereafter by massive panic attack.
I had no idea how to write a series. What I did know was that I loved to write. And I decided I’d just trust myself to figure things out as I went along. (I’m the ultimate procrastinator. Goals give me the hives. Paradoxically, I work best under tight deadlines. Go figure.) So one novel became two, which then became six, and two years after first being published, I’ve got half a dozen books and a novella under my belt. Now what?
Because I’m so routine averse, the answer was: Time to switch it up!
After serious consideration and a lot of market research, I decided to go the contemporary route. Then I looked at what kinds of stories were hot, what was peaking and what seemed to be on the way out. Then I thought, what about rock stars? And everything fell into place. As a teenager, I was a huge rock music fan. We’re talking almost-failed-algebra-daydreaming-about-Van-Halen huge. I was also a club rat. The Rainbow, The Troubadour, The Roxy, Gazzarri’s—my friends and I hit all the most famous rock clubs in Hollywood more times than I can count. So I knew I’d be writing about something I knew and loved—the L.A. music scene—and I figured it might be a quicker turnaround on the manuscript than the heavy world-building the paranormal genre required. I was right. My first novel took six months to write; Sweet As Sin, the first book in my new contemporary series, took two.
Now if I could just figure out how to get my cat to type, I’ll be golden.
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Ann H. Gabhart is known for her uplifting inspirational romances, and her latest novel, The Innocent, travels back to post-Civil War America and the fascinating world of the Shakers.
In this guest post, Gabhart tells us what drew her to inspirational romance and the strange customs of the Shakers.
“Hands to work, hearts to God.” That familiar Shaker saying appears in all of my Shaker novels. Other Shaker sayings have made their way into my stories, too: “Do your work as if you had a thousand years to live, and as if you were to die tomorrow.” “Engaged in thy duty, fear no danger.” “None preaches better than the ant, and it says nothing.” And one of my favorites, “Shaker your plate,” which meant eat everything on your plate.
I’ve enjoyed stepping back in time to dwell with the Shakers awhile to discover their odd ways of life, such as condemning marriage and embracing celibacy. They also believed in confession of sins and community property. They worked to shut out worldly influences, and yet they traded with the world continually. They were solemn, hard workers, but in their worship services they danced and whirled and stomped. Those contrasts made for great story possibilities.
When I first began writing historical fiction, I looked to my home state for inspiration. After writing about Kentucky pioneer days and the Civil War, I focused on the Kentucky Shakers. I visited the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village that has been restored as a living history museum and began reading Shaker history. That research led to my first Shaker book.
For years, that story—rejected by publishers as too religious—languished on my desk until I published an inspirational novel, Scent of Lilacs. When my editor expressed an interest in the Shakers, I showed her my book, and Revell decided to publish The Outsider. After the story found some eager readers, my editor asked me to write more Shaker books. Not something I had planned to do, but I began researching the Shakers again. New story ideas surfaced that led to The Believer and The Seeker. Then once again, I thought I’d finished writing Shaker stories until another character wormed her way into my imagination. Lacey insisted I tell her story in The Blessed. That was followed by The Gifted and my Shaker Christmas novella, Christmas at Harmony Hill. Now I was surely through with the Shakers. I was writing other books about families where romance and marriage were definitely not against the rules the way they were with the Shakers.
Then a Shaker Sister and a sheriff tickled my imagination, and a new Shaker story, The Innocent came into being.
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Brad Meltzer is known for many things, from his popular American political thrillers to his comic books to his History Channel TV series to his efforts to promote literacy in Florida. But here at BookPage, Brad is known for writing the warmest emails of all time. And so it comes as no surprise that Brad has some really great fans, as he shares below.
I’ve never told this story. And I promise this is true.
It was over a decade ago, at the start of my career. I can’t remember what book it was for. I think Dead Even or The First Counsel, but I’m pretty sure it was my first trip to Dallas. I was at a local Barnes & Noble and since I was new at this, I made sure to get to the event early. Really early, like, so early, no one else should be there unless we’re related.
So I was surprised to see this group of four or five young men and women in their late 20s, which was about my age at the time. According to the store manager, they’d driven all the way from Oklahoma.
I couldn’t believe it. From Oklahoma . . . all the way to Texas?! With my impaired sense of geography, that had to be like, a 16 hour drive (it was actually five). But still. No one had ever driven five hours to see me sign books before. You don’t forget when someone does that.
By 7:30 or so, the signing begins. People ask questions . . . I pretend I’m funny . . . and then the actual book signing starts. At the end of the line, I notice the folks from Oklahoma. Of course they’re waiting till the end. Whoever’s at the end gets the most time with the author.
Some more time goes by. The signing slowly moves forward, and every few minutes, I keep looking up at the Oklahomans. Even from where I’m sitting, they just seem . . . nice.
Eventually, they get to the front of the line and I sign their books. It’s late now, so I ask them where they’re staying in town. They look at each other and sheepishly admit that they have to drive back tonight. As someone who grew up without much money, I get it instantly: They don’t have the cash to pay for a hotel room (and yet here they are paying full price for a hardback book). They took their entire day to come and meet me.
Now let me be clear: What I was about to do, I’d never done before. I’ve only done it two other times since. But my gut told me these were nice people. And I trust my gut. So I said, “You’re not getting back in the car and just driving for another five hours. I’m taking you all out to dinner first.”
Their reaction alone was worth it.
But here’s the part I love: As we’re all leaving the bookstore together and heading for the restaurant next door, I spot one of the sales reps from my publisher lurking in the corner, by the door.
“What’re you doing here?” I ask, genuinely surprised.
“The publisher told me to come keep an eye on you,” she joked. Noticing the small crowd, she added, “Where you headed?”
“I’m just taking these readers to dinner.”
She almost choked right there. “Wait,” she told me. “You’re taking complete strangers—who you don’t know—to dinner?” I think she gave me some warning about how strangers can potentially chop you up into little pieces. Maybe she flipped through a copy of Stephen King’s Misery. But eventually, she was like, “I gotta see this.”
Looking back, she was just protecting her author from doing something stupid. But there’s nothing stupid about being a nice person. In the end, we all went to dinner together: me, the sales rep and my new pals from Oklahoma (you know who you are).
And the best part? Since the sales rep came along, she surprised us all by picking up the check. So you know what the real lesson is? Kindness will always be rewarded. Also, dinner’s always better when the publisher pays.
On June 16th, my new book tour started in NY. Don’t think I don’t know that at each event, the publisher stills spies on me from the corner.
See you on tour.
The President's Shadow is the newest in Meltzer's Culper Ring series, following The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin. Beecher White is a member of the Culper Ring, a centuries-old secret society founded by Washington and charged with protecting the President. When an arm is found buried in the White House garden, Beecher finds himself hunting down national secrets he never could have expected.
Author photo credit Andy Ryan.
Discover more great new mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July.
Donna Grant's Dark Kings series features a race of dragon shifters who have remained hidden in plain sight for centuries. In this guest post, Grant explains what drew her to the alluring mythology of dragons and talks about her next book in the series, Soul Scorched, out June 30.
Why dragons? I get that question a lot when I tell people my series, Dark Kings, is about dragons who have been around since the beginning of time.
I write about dragons because out of all the mythological creatures—and there are thousands—dragons are the only ones that show up in every culture around the world. From Asian and European countries to Native American folklore—everyone has a dragon myth. Some cultures revered the dragons and almost worshiped them. Other societies feared them and thought of them as bad omens.
I’ve always found that things like that don’t occur by coincidence. It got me asking, Why does every culture have a dragon myth? Why not another mythological creature, like fairies or goblins? Why only dragons?
Was it because there were dragons at one time? How else would societies across the globe have the same legends of huge beings, some with wings and some without, some that could breath fire and some that couldn’t? But if there were dragons, where did they go, and who was to blame for their disappearance? The only logical answer? Humans.
We are responsible for the dragons disappearing. It’s how each civilization knew about them, it’s how they passed down stories of the magnificent, huge beasts—or scary man-eaters—who came down from the sky breathing fire.
Was there a war? Did all the dragons leave? Or did some remain behind, sleeping deep underground, waiting for a time when they could rise once more and take to the skies. Could some be able to shift from dragon to human? Perhaps the man passing you on the street is a dragon in human form.
So I started thinking about how I could turn all those questions into a world of my own. I wanted my dragons to be leaders of their people. So I made them kings—Dragon Kings. I wanted them to be the only creatures on this planet for millions of years. Ever since time began, they ruled the skies, the earth and the seas.
Because of all of the different legends surrounding dragons, I knew the dragons’ downfall had to come at the hands of humans. A war perhaps, but how would the humans win over such creatures as dragons? I decided it was because the dragons vowed to protect humans, and dragons don’t break vows.
So the world of dragons faded to myth. Yet they hid in plain sight, living on their land in Scotland where they can take to the skies at night. Their lavish lifestyle is supported by their distilling and selling of whisky. Beings this powerful, however, have enemies—the Fae, as well as one of their own: a banished Dragon King who is looking for revenge.
Soul Scorched, book six in my Dark Kings series, features Warrick, a Dragon King who finds humans extremely interesting, although he detests being with a crowd. He does better on his own—until he’s sent to the dangerous city of Edinburgh to watch over the unusual Druid Darcy as the Fae and other enemies stalk the streets.
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Nashville, Tennessee, is the home of country stars, line dances, cowboy boots—and BookPage! So we were particularly excited to see that Loving Dallas, the latest in Caisey Quinn's New Adult romance series Neon Dreams, is set in Nashville. In Loving Dallas, a country musician is on the brink of stardom, but the love he left behind to pursue fame refuses to fade. We asked Quinn to tell us more about what she finds so special about Nashville—and got some bar suggestions, to boot!
Everyone has as favorite vacation destination: The beach. The mountains. Ski resorts. Las Vegas. Disney World.
Mine is a little different than most.
Mine is full of neon lights and street musicians and smoky bars.
Doesn’t exactly sound like a dream resort, and that’s because it’s not. It is, however, one of the fastest growing cities in America and lately one of its most popular.
I loved it even before it was a television show. (And yes, I do also love the TV show!)
Nashville, Tennessee, encompasses all of the things I love. It’s in the South, it’s constantly filled with music, and you can’t walk five feet without running into a cowboy with a guitar strapped to his back. So it’s no surprise that several of my books are set in the world of country music and many either take place in Nashville or feature characters who spend a great deal of time there.
Traditional romance heroes generally fall into one of several established tropes: athlete, billionaire, CEO, cowboy, soldier, rancher, rock star. I wanted to read about guys more like Luke Bryan, Eric Church or Brantley Gilbert. Personally, I prefer my heroes country with an edge. Mostly I began writing books about country musicians because I wanted to know what in the world happened on that tour bus between Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. I couldn’t find those books. So I decided to write them myself. Much more experienced writers than me will tell you to write what you want to read and write what you know. So that’s what I did.
Luckily, Birmingham, Alabama, (where I live) is close to Nashville, and my brother and several of my friends are musicians that were happy to answer any questions about the musician lifestyle I had along the way. And I had a lot. Each trip I take to Nashville, I find myself in a bar like The Stage or Crossroads, watching a band and wondering about their story. If I’m lucky, I get to chat with them after the show. If I’m not, I make it up. Either way, each trip provides more inspiration for future novels. So it may not be the bright lights of Vegas or the relaxing vibe of a five-star resort, but Nashville is my second home and there’s nowhere I’d rather be—or rather write about. ;)
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My second novel, Sweet Forgiveness, is now on sale. The novel centers on TV talk show host Hannah Farr, whose childhood bully reaches out to ask for forgiveness, and instructs Hannah to pass on the act of forgiveness by reaching out to someone she wronged. As part of the discussion surrounding the book, I wanted to look at why granting forgiveness is important.
1. Forgiving does not equal forgetting
We have all heard the adage “forgive and forget,” but are we really expected to forget painful wrongs? The notion of forgetting may be the very thing holding you back from forgiving someone; the idea that you don’t want to or cannot forget and, thus, are unable to forgive. In actuality, forgetting may be more like suppressing those memories rather than dealing with them. Psychologists tend to suggest patients focus on the event, reflect on the feelings related to it, and decide how they want to feel about it.
2. Relieving pain through forgiveness starts the healing process
The anger and resentment that comes with holding onto a painful situation can often act like a cavity, slowly growing bigger and more painful the longer you hold onto those feelings. To forgive someone is to let go of that anger and to begin to heal those wounds.
3. Forgiveness is for you, not the wrongdoer
Depending on the offense and the offender, one might feel pressure to forgive to make the offender feel better. That's the wrong reason. Forgiveness is a way to heal yourself, not to appease someone's guilt, though that is an added feature.
4. Forgiveness is good for your health
An article published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine illustrated the health benefit of forgiveness: “Forgiveness might play a palliative role in coping with gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and stress-related disorders.” In addition, forgiveness contributed to health in those sick and ailing through stronger interpersonal relationships and positive mental health all around.
5. Taking the high road makes you the better person
Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.” While there is a fine level of snark in Wilde's quote, the point is valid. Many offenses are made to provoke a reaction or to hurt someone. To show that you are able to let this misdeed go will sometimes teach your enemies not to test you in the future.
Thanks, Lori! Sweet Forgiveness is now on sale. Find more information about the book on Lori Nelson Spielman's website or at these retailers: BAM | B&N | Indiebound | Amazon. Share your forgiveness story on Facebook or Twitter with #sweetforgiveness.
Best-selling author Pamela Schoenewaldt's new book tells the story of a German-American girl whose life is changed forever by the outbreak of World War I. In a guest blog post, Schoenewaldt shares five surprising facts about the German-American experience on the homefront during WWI.
My writing and research process for Under the Same Blue Sky (Morrow) was flavored by stories of relatives who came from Germany between 1870 and 1900. I was curious about their experience during World War I, when their native country and culture was vilified as the home of Huns, brutes and monsters. My great-grandparents, quietly harvesting corn in Iowa, must have been so astonished, so perplexed.
Naturally, my research went beyond family tales, but here are a few surprising facts about German-Americans during World War I.
German-Americans are the largest self-reported ethnicity in the United States
In 1910, nearly 10% of Americans were born in Germany or had German parentage. In much of the Midwest, German-Americans made up more than a third of the population. Most major cities had a significant “Germania” neighborhood. Assimilated and widely respected, German-Americans were spared much of the discrimination suffered by other immigrants. All that changed during World War I.
Immigrants were encouraged to let go of the past to become American
We all know the story of how our national identity was founded on the idea of a nation of immigrants, a golden gate typified by the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in 1886. By 1910, for various reasons, the mood had changed. Ever-more restrictive immigration policies were put in place. German-Americans, like Greek, Italian, Polish or Scandinavian-Americans, were often regarded with suspicion by many whose parents or grandparents had themselves been immigrants. President Wilson warned that “true” Americans give up their heritage. They close the door behind them. They forget where they came from. Imagine how that felt.
A telegram sent the U.S. into the war
The U.S. stayed neutral for the first three years of World War I (while making huge profits in munitions sales). Many German-Americans were even convinced that we’d ultimately side with the Kaiser. Then came the Zimmerman Telegram of 1917, a coded message from Arthur Zimmerman, the German foreign secretary, to the German ambassador to Mexico, offering to support a Mexican attack on the U.S. In return, Germany would reward Mexico with the return of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
In retrospect, the plan seems hardly credible: Mexico didn’t begin to have that kind of military power, and Germany was a tad busy in Europe. Still, the effect was electrifying. Suddenly, people looked at their German-American neighbors as potential traitors and enemies. Within weeks, we were at war.
Thanks to war propaganda, German-Americans became suspect
Newspapers, posters, schoolteachers, songs and speakers whipped up the public against “the Hun.” Speaking German in public was suspect, sometimes illegal. German-Americans were forced to demonstrate their loyalty by buying war bonds, sometimes bankrupting themselves. Some were made to crawl across factory floors to kiss the American flag. Patents by German-American inventors were taken away. Business were ruined, people beaten up, tarred and feathered, run out of town, sometimes killed. It’s an ugly story, repeated so often in human history, when public policy shatters peaceful communities.
The German-American cultural community and identity were in many ways devastated by the war
Nearly 1 million German-Americans “disappeared” in the 1920 census because they claimed other ethnicities. Many German newspapers, community and cultural organizations never reopened, or never regained pre-war status. Music by German composers had been banned. Bach and Beethoven only slowly returned to repertoires. Yes, we won the war, but included in the collateral damage was a huge cost in cultural diversity and the richness in our communities.
Author photo by Kelly Norrell
Choice vs. fate is the dilemma faced by the heroine of New Zealand author Bianca Zander's second novel, The Predictions. In a guest blog post, Zander explains why the idea of a destined romance is so attractive.
When the heroine of my latest novel, set on a remote New Zealand commune, is predicted to find true love in a faraway land, she faces an eternal dilemma: Should she stay in a romance with Lukas, the adoring fellow she grew up with on the commune, or abandon him for a shot at the destiny predicted for her?
For Poppy, the prediction that leads her astray is a tangible one, but it’s fair to say that plenty of young women—myself included—face a similar predicament at one time or another.
The idea that each of us has a predestined soul mate—a match that is perfect for us in every way—is seductive, especially when we’re young and have no time for the notion that lasting love requires work.
In my early 20s, I was forever announcing to friends that I had just met my future husband at a party in the form of an attractive stranger with whom I had shared a fleeting but soulful connection. This happened with such frequency that even I was embarrassed by the number of times my prophecy had turned out to be untrue.
By the same token, I often took for granted the affections of those men already in my circle, dismissing outright their romantic potential.
Ignoring the true love that is right under our noses has been the subject of hundreds of novels and fairy tales since the beginning of time, but I wanted to explore the psychology behind the phenomenon.
Why are some women—and men—so bad at recognising true love when others harbour no such delusions? What might be in a person’s background that predisposes them to such folly?
In my own case, whatever it was, I grew out of it—as most of us do. I stopped judging books by their covers, and got to know a real man instead.
But in Poppy’s case, “growing out of it” is more fraught. She and Lukas were raised on the commune in a parenting experiment—an experiment whose scars don’t start to show until they reach adulthood.
Inside each of the lovers, something is broken, and if they stand a chance of being together, not only must they overcome the prediction, but the damage that was done to them in childhood.
Writing a love story between two broken people was a challenge but it also felt true to life. So does the journey Poppy goes on, from believing love is fate, to understanding that it’s a choice.
Occasionally our interviewers give us a peek behind the scenes of their chats with authors. Today, longtime BookPage contributor Alden Mudge shares Sally Mann's secrets to physical and creative longevity, in honor of her birthday.
Today, May 1, is photographer Sally Mann’s 64th birthday. In the conversation that led to this month’s BookPage interview about her fearless, provocative memoir, Hold Still, Mann told me that she didn’t “want to die until I’m ready to die.”
Morbid? Maybe a little. But Mann’s remarks came at a point when we were touching on issues of artistic longevity. Most writers I interview tell me that they have some form of regular exercise to counteract the sedentary nature of writing. Gone are the days of hanging out in a bar after a day at the desk. Now it’s onto the treadmill for a 30-minute jog.
Mann says she considered buying a treadmill desk because she couldn’t stand the idea of sitting all day. “I think sitting is the new smoking,” she says. Mann eventually opted for simply “taking a beer cooler and raising my computer on it” so she could work standing up.
Mann says she didn’t exercise much at all until she was in her mid-30s. “Twiggy was my ideal of the perfect female,” she says, laughing. “I’d never run a step before I turned 38.” Of course, hauling around a big format view camera gave her a pretty good workout on a regular basis. But then as she approached 40 the exercise bug bit her.
“Being a little obsessive the way I am I have pretty much thrown myself into it. Every morning I do all kinds of exercise, rowing machines, ellipticals, I lift weights.” Mann is also a longtime horse rider. “When I get on a horse all my quotidian concerns just fly out of my head. I don’t think about anything other that listening to my body and listening to the horse. It’s control-alt-delete for my brain.” Mann is certain that exercise “helps the brain work better,” and hopes it will enable her to remain creative for a long time.
Mann’s 20-year friendship with the artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011) gave her a model of creative longevity. Twombly grew up in Lexington, Virginia, where Mann has lived all her life. In his later years, Twombly divided his time between Lexington and Rome, Italy. Twombly was a friend of her parents before Mann got to know him well.
“He went to Italy and didn’t come back for a while,” Mann remembers. “Funnily enough the first time I came out to have tea with Cy at my parents’ house I rode my bicycle. It was at the beginning of my exercise obsession.”
Mann by then was working as a photographer, but still struggling to gain recognition from New York art galleries. “I had so many disappointments. I could wallpaper my entire house with the rejections I had. It was so painful. I wasn’t making good work at the time, so I understand it. But the reason I wasn’t making good work was to some extent because I didn’t have any exposure.”
Mann found some solace in what she knew of Twombly’s early struggles. “What I remember about Cy, and this is an interesting aspect of Cy, is that there was a period when he was not popular. He wasn’t the art hero that he came to be. He was sort of an underdog. Even at the very end, he still had mixed feelings about the way he was treated in certain museums. So I took some consolation as I watched Cy’s star begin to re-ascend. I mean he got that last laugh there.”
Mann writes warmly and in detail of her long friendship with Cy Twombly in Hold Still. His picture hangs on the wall in her office, not far from her computer.
Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for BookPage for more than 25 years. He lives in Northern California.