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.
Is there anything more to say? We'll just cut to the chase and post the video.
Related content: Stephenie Meyer on BookPage.com
In the years since 9/11, there have been no shortage of novelists willing to take on the subject. Some of the best examples were published about 4 or 5 years ago: Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Don DeLillo's Falling Man; S.J. Rozan's Absent Friends; Jess Walter's The Zero; Jay McInerney's The Good Life.
In recent months, another round of novelists has taken on the topic. One of the most recent, and most notable, is James Hynes' Next, which our reviewer Lauren Bufferd says is his best book yet. Other reviewers agree; Next has had a lot of buzz, including a rave review in the New York Times.
And on April 6, Sue Miller's take on the tragedy, The Lake Shore Limited, hits shelves. Watch for an interview in our April print edition. A sneak preview of the piece:
The fictional what-ifs of her new novel were sparked by a real-life connection to the events of that tragic day. “I had a friend who was staying with someone whose sister was killed on 9/11. Due to the circumstances, my friend felt it was necessary to stay longer than she would have otherwise, and to enact a role, something my main character ends up doing in the novel.”
Variety reports that we have a couple of very different TV adaptations to anticipate from Craig Anderson Productions: Chris Bohjalian’s Secrets of Eden and Donna VanLiere’s The Christmas Secret. (So far, only the rights for these books have been purchased; there’s no network attached to the projects, or air dates.) Secrets of Eden is a “mystery that does not at first appear to be a mystery.” The Christmas Secret is an inspirational tale—classic VanLiere—about a single mom “with a jerk of an ex-husband.”
Bohjalian told BookPage contributor Alden Mudge that he’s “interested in seeing what happens to ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.” That doesn’t sound unrelated to what attracted Anderson to the novel: "I'm fascinated by people who have lives we think [are] normal, but there are actually sort of demons in their closets,” he said.
The Christmas Secret is Anderson’s fourth deal with VanLiere, who told us she “never imagined” she’d write about Christmas or get TV deals back when she brainstormed her first book idea “on a hot, sweaty day in July.”
What do you think, readers? Can TV adaptations do justice to a book?
Senator Scott Brown—the Republican who surprised many when he beat out Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts—has signed a deal with HarperCollins to publish a memoir. The book, which comes out in 2011, will address Brown’s “family background, his early career, and his ascent to the office of Massachusetts senator, one of the biggest political coups of the decade.”
But will he mention his stint as a Cosmopolitan centerfold?
Do you have a favorite political biography or memoir?
Last night I saw the new Alice in Wonderland film by Tim Burton, in 3D.
Despite a weak ending, the film was incredibly entertaining. Burton's world was weird and wonderful, and seemed true to the spirit of Carroll's work. It helps that the story isn't a retelling, but a sequel of sorts that follows Alice's return to Wonderland 10 years later.
The effects were amazing, especially the Cheshire cat, and strong performances by Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, as well as newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Alice (aside: I coveted every one of her costumes, including the spangly-skirted suit of armor), carry the day.
Have you seen Alice yet? What's your favorite literary adaptation?
Related in BookPage: Review of Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been; review of Helen Oxenbury's illustrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Faithful Place by Tana French
Viking, July 13, 2010
"Howyis," I said, in the doorway.
A ripple of mugs going down, heads turning. My ma's snappy black eyes and five bright-blue pairs exactly like mine, all staring at me.
"Hide the heroin," Shay said. He was leaning against the window with his hands in his pockets; he'd watched me coming down the road. "It's the pigs." . . .
"Francis," Ma said. She eased back into the sofa, folded her arms where her waist would have been and eyed me up and down. "Could you not be bothered putting on a decent shirt, even?"
I said, "Howya, Ma."
"Mammy, not Ma. The state of you. The neighbors'll think I raised a homeless."
Somewhere along the way I'd swapped the army parka for a brown leather jacket, but apart from that I still have much the same fashion sense I left home with. If I'd worn a suit, she would have given me hassle for having notions of myself. With my ma you don't expect to win.
Stieg Larsson fans have something to look forward to until the release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest on May 25. I knew that there had been Swedish film adaptations of the Millennium Trilogy, and that a Hollywood version is in the works. What I didn’t know—until last night, when a trailer screened at the Belcourt movie theater in Nashville—is that the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is coming to the United States. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the movie has already grossed $100 million abroad. It’s also 153 minutes long and features brutally violent scenes.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the adaptation is worth a watch:
The film adaptation of the first book, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," is, like its source material, at once formula thriller, scathing social commentary and dark history lesson. But it's also a more eloquent work; smartly condensing the novel's sprawl, the feature forgoes prosaic detail for cinematic vigor. The result is a character-driven mystery of considerable emotional power, often harrowing and always compelling.
I first heard about Helen Grant's debut, The Vanishing of Katherina Linden, in a British look ahead at anticipated debuts of 2010. Intrigued by the description of the novel, which is told in the voice of an 11 year old in a small German town who is the last one to see her missing classmate alive, I searched for a U.S. release date. No dice.
Until today, when I heard that Delacorte would be publishing the book in August. I love the deliciously creepy cover, which is a good fit for a book that sounds like a blend of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the Brothers Grimm. According to the Guardian, "The excellent writing, and the eschewing of anything remotely winsome or mawkish, make this an eerily subtle literary page-turner." Sleeper hit? We'll find out.
A month ago we reported on Libba Bray’s $2 million deal to write a jazz-age trilogy for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Now, it looks like the huge YA contract of the month is going to a newcomer: HarperTeen has paid seven figures to Josephine Angelini for a trilogy billed as "a Percy Jackson for teenage girls.”
From Publisher’s Weekly:
In Starcrossed, which brings Greek tragedy to high school, a shy Nantucket teenager named Helen Hamilton attempts to kill the most attractive boy on the island, Lucas Delos, in front of her entire class. The incident proves more than a bit inconvenient for Helen, who's already concerned that she's going insane—whenever she's sees Lucas (or any of his family members) the image of three crying women appear to her.