Instead of egg and pasta salads, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, tables were stocked with SunButter (peanut butter substitute made from sunflower seeds), Caramel and Apple Bars, and soft Snickerdoodle Cookies (dairy, gluten, wheat, nuts, tree nuts, soy, egg, fish and shellfish free). Other tables were staffed by EpiPen employees, and allergists filtered through the crowd talking to their patients, getting to know these families.
So what was I doing there? A writer without any family members with food allergies?
I was meeting my characters.
When I wrote Matters of Faith I didn't know anyone with food allergies, and I relied on medical research and empathy to imagine what a family dealing with them goes through. Though an adverse reaction figures prominently in the plot, I didn't set out to write a book about food allergies, I simply wrote a book about a family. But once it was published, the reader mail I received was frequently from mothers of food allergic children thanking me for presenting a realistic, if terrifying, possibility that they had to live with every day.
Most surprising and gratifying was that many of them gave the book as a gift to family members, friends and acquaintances in order to help educate them about how serious food allergies can be.
Over the last year I've met many of these families, and on that Saturday in November I was the Honorary Chair of the Tampa FAAN Walk. Copies of Matters of Faith were raffled off, and I signed them to people very much like the Tobias family in the book.
It was a humbling and exhilarating day. I am filled with admiration for these families and thank them deeply for sharing such an important event with me.
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.
We’ve seen fictionalized Emily Dickinson; members of the Tudor court; and more Jane Austen spin-offs than I can count (Austenland, The Jane Austen Book Club and Jane Austen Ruined My Life, for starters -- not to mention Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, Darcy’s Passions, and Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley). I’m intrigued by a new historical novel about a character I haven’t thought about since 10th grade English class: Hester Prynne.
You may remember that at the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale had died and Hester and her daughter, Pearl, had left Boston. Many years later, Hester returns alone and Pearl (presumably) lives happily ever after as a wealthy lady (on account of her inheritance from Chillingworth). . . until now.
In Hester, by Paula Reed, the title character moves to England and falls in with Oliver Cromwell. Hester is “entangled in a web of political intrigue, espionage, and forbidden love” as she is forced to help Cromwell in his scheming – or risk a death sentence.
The novel will come out on February 16, 2010, although you can read an excerpt now on Reed’s website.
Which classic literary hero or heroine would you like to see in a contemporary novel? (Or do you think spin-offs ruin the original?)
A couple weeks ago I blogged about upcoming movies based on books. In anticipation of the film adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox (the movie is currently out in limited release – it won’t make it to Nashville until November 25), I enjoyed watching an interview about children’s literature and childhood reading with Jason Schwartzman. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, Schwartzman voices Ash Fox, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Fox (a new character that did not appear in the original book). The interview was hosted by Read Kiddo Read, James Patterson’s website that promotes kids’ reading.
In the interview, Schwartzman talks about his favorite books from childhood – The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. Although he loved to read, Schwartzman says he was a slow reader himself. “Reading is a hard thing to learn, and the only way you can get better is by reading,” he said.
Schwartzman also discusses the popularity of Roald Dahl (whom we blogged about in August). In his books, “there is an element of mystery and some darkness – but it’s real," he said. "Kids are intrigued by adventure. With all adventure, there is an element of danger. If there was no danger, there would be no adventure, it’d just be a vacation.”
When asked about playing an animal, Schwartzman said that he did the “human side” of the character and let the animators “do the foxing.” He identified with Ash’s struggles: “feeling littler than the rest, not having many friends, getting pushed around by bullies, liking girls who don’t like him back. . . All of that is part of my experience in my own life.”
Watch the interview below the jump. And tell us: What’s your favorite Roald Dahl book? My favorite has to be Dahl’s autobiography, Boy.
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?
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Lucky New Yorkers -- Mayor Bloomberg has named next week as National Book Awards Week. Festivities will kick off with a 5 Under 35 celebration on Monday and continue through the 60th National Book Awards on Wednesday. About a month ago I blogged about the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 selection (Ceridwen Dovey, C.E. Morgan, Lydia Peelle, Karen Russell and Josh Weil made the cut), and Trisha blogged about the National Book Award finalists here.
an enveloping new novel. . . [McCann] lends a forgiving tenderness that invigorates the timeless notion that we are not really all the different under the skin, each of us longing for love, for beauty, for those connections that will quell our loneliness.
The National Book Foundation will also announce the winner of the “Best of the National Book Award Fiction” category – ever. (We blogged about that award, too.) My vote's for Faulkner.
Everyone from GalleyCat to Publisher’s Weekly to the Huffington Post has been blogging about the big news from Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket). Yesterday afternoon, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers announced that Handler has signed a new five-book deal. The Series of Unfortunate Events was previously published with HarperCollins, and Handler moved publishers because his editor, Susan Rich, got a new job at Little, Brown. The last Series of Unfortunate Events book – The End – came out on Friday, October 13, 2006 (it was also the 13th book).
The five-book deal includes four new Lemony Snicket-authored books (the first book is due out in 2012), and a separate YA novel—written by Handler, not Snicket—due out in 2011.
I loved the Series of Unfortunate Events, and I’m curious about what Handler has in store for the new four-part series. Will he continue writing about the Baudelaire orphans, or dream up some new characters to curse? I am really excited about the non-Snicket YA book. Handler’s written a lot of interesting stuff in his career – from a book of short narratives about love (Adverbs) to an essay for the New York Times Magazine about giving away money . . . not to mention his stint as an accordion player for The Magnetic Fields, one of my favorite bands – and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with for this project. No word yet on plot details, but we’ll keep you posted.
Any Snicket fans out there looking forward to the new series?
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Most scientists agree that there have been five mass extinctions in Earth's history. Kolbert, a respected environmental journalist, believes we're on the verge of number six, the first since the dinosaurs were wiped out more than 50 million years ago. What does this mean for the planet? We'll find out when The Sixth Extinction appears sometime next year.
From our archives: a review of the audio version of Kolbert's previous book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe.