Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Sinner

Bitter Lemon Press, February 2008

Cora Bender, a German mother and housewife, teeters on the edge of madness in the brilliant, psychological thriller, The Sinner by bestselling German author Petra Hammesfahr. Unhappy with her marriage, unable to feel any love towards her son, Cora muddles through life as she attempts to forget a tortured past.

As Cora and family picnic at the beach, Cora becomes enraged over the sexually overt behavior of a young couple sitting next to them. Without warning, Cora attacks the male and kills him; so begins the unraveling of her past; a past which is inextricably linked to the man she has murdered. Although it is clear that Cora has committed the crime, Police Commissioner Rudolf Grovian is determined to discover why, even if it means uncovering that which Cora can not face.

Hammesfahr, considered one of the greatest German crime authors, deftly explores how our past serves to define us and how one can never truly run from what was. Lyrical prose and concise wording creates a novel that hits at one's very soul; each word is rift with meaning and purpose. This is a book created by a master of the genre - one that an American public would be wise to embrace.

Monday, December 24, 2007


5 Spot, 9/2007

As a single mom of two, I find there are many instances where I feel like a fish out of water. Take for example the annual school fundraiser, a black tie event where everyone attends with their spouse. I've never gone as I no longer have a spouse and lack a significant other. In her new book, Odd Mom Out, author Jane Porter tells the story of Marta Zinsser, a single mom by choice, who feels like an outsider in her Seattle suburb. Like me, Marta is a working mother who can't be bothered to wear the garb of the suburban mom, doesn't get her nails done weekly and finds it hard to make time for PTA meetings. While Marta is comfortable with who she is (at least at the beginning of the book), she begins to question herself when her nine year old daughter, Eva, takes her to task for not being more like the other moms.

Porter writes for those of us who are entering (if not already there) our mid-life - a demographic that is normally ignored in the typical chic lit arena. Recognizing that we all get older (readers of books included), Porter dissects the lives of women who have succeeded in their careers but may find themselves feeling empty in their personal lives. When Marta meets the gorgeous, rich Luke (please will someone write a chic lit book with a man who is imperfect!), she must question her determination to go it alone and succumb to both the needs of her daughter and the inner desires in herself.

This is a book that is not only fun to read but one that deals with the turmoil of single mothers everywhere. Bravo Jane Porter!

Beginner's Greek

Beginner's Greek by James Collins, Little Brown, January 2007


LC:You worked in finance and as a journalist. Now you're a novelist. How did this book come about?
JC:Going by my natural abilities and inclinations, I have always been better suited to writing fiction than to working in journalism much less in finance, so I feel as if I have sort of been moving backwards to the thing I should have been doing in the first place. But I never would have had the confidence after college just to say, “I’m going to be a novelist.”

When I was first trying to figure out what to do I thought that getting some financial experience would make practical sense and would be useful no matter what. That has proved to be true, and it was interesting, but, as anyone who knew me could see immediately, I was not cut out for a career on Wall Street. I was really lucky to have some friends who helped me make a transition to journalism, which I like a lot, even though I am most comfortable sitting by myself making stuff up.

This particular book came about after I had moved to rural Virginia and had switched from having full-time jobs in New York to just writing on my own. I had a couple of germs for a novel in my mind and I started it thinking I would write it on the side quite quickly, but I enjoyed writing it so much that it got longer and longer and more and more complicated. I’d say that the finished book is probably only sixty per cent of the original manuscript.

LC:What's your writing process?
JC; I wrote the first hundred pages or so in longhand and then switched back and forth from longhand to writing on the computer. I can’t explain why I wrote some sections one way and others in the other way. I do really like the tactile experience of using a soft pencil (no. 1, to be specific) on paper. I feel a little silly saying all this but I know that when I read interviews with writers I am always fascinated by these details—what size nib of a fountain pen they use.
I tried very hard to have a regular schedule. That’s what real novelists do, right? They work religiously every day between certain hours. But the fact was that with two small children and lots of other things of life to interfere I never could establish a set time that I could devote exclusively to writing, so I would work as long as I could whenever I had chance at all times of day and night. It was my own fault because I just never could insist that I not be disturbed. And, funnily enough, since I had worked at magazines where the phone is constantly ringing and people are constantly coming to see you while you are trying to write or edit, I think having a certain amount of activity around me was familiar and even stimulating. Also, I tried to avoid becoming dependent upon there being certain set conditions in order to write. One of the nice things about writing fiction I found was that all you need is a pencil and paper and you can work anywhere and any time, and that’s what I did.

LC: Authors you would like to meet?
JC: This could be a very, very long list, especially if I included writers of non-fiction and authors who are dead. But let’s see, here are a few living writers of fiction off the top of my head: John Updike, Philip Roth, David Lodge, Tom Wolfe, Michael Chabon, Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, William Vollman, David Foster Wallace, Jane Smiley, Allegra Goodman, Peter Carey ….

LC: Your book is a wonderful exploration of a young man's unrequited love. Would you consider the book a member of the new genre, male lit?
JC: It’s funny, a couple of people have mentioned that they were struck by the fact that protagonist of a book like this was a man. It never occurred to me to think of that as being unusual, since it seemed to me that male heroes of love stories have always been very common. “Boy meets girl…boy loses girl…boy gets girl back” is the classic formula. So, no, I don't think of it as being part of a new genre, and, while I really like Nick Hornby, whose success started the "lad lit" trend, I actually hope my book has a bit more "lit" and a lot less "lad" than the typical one in that category.

LC: Have you ever met someone remarkable on a plane?
JC: Something like the incident in the book actually happened to me, but I knew the other person slightly and there were no romantic consequences, so it wasn't really the same. Otherwise, I find as I get older I am less shy about talking to strangers, and while I haven’t met anyone truly remarkable, I have had some enjoyable conversations. I know much more about shark-fishing and theatrical lighting and how a Dollar Store makes money than I did before, and I have gotten a look into other people’s lives, which is endlessly fascinating, no matter who they are.

LC: Future plans?
JC: I have started a new novel and have an idea for another one, so I hope to write those, while also doing some journalism, too.

REVIEW:Have any of you ever found yourself seated next to a stranger on a long airplane ride with whom you begin a conversation? Last time I flew across the country I sat next to a very pleasant college student and we had an interesting conversation about fraternities and liberal arts studies. By the time we both picked up our luggage from the baggage carousel, I knew more about this young man's back story than I could ever imagine. Author James Collins uses this type of experience as the first plot point in his forth coming book, Beginner's Greek. Peter Russell finds himself seated next to Holly, a beautiful young woman, on a cross country flight to Los Angeles. The chemistry is immediate and as they disembark, Holly hands Peter her phone number (on a page ripped from her Thomas Mann novel). In the first of many mishaps, Peter loses the number and never calls Holly as promised.

Fast forward to a couple of years later. Peter is about to marry Charlotte, a woman he is fond of but not necessarily in love with. No...the love in his heart remains with Holly. Holly who is now married to Peter's best friend, the serial cheater Jonathan. I don't want to give away the important plot points of the book but suffice it to say that life keeps the two lovers apart whereas fate ultimately brings them together. A kind of Greek comedy with a bit of tragedy thrown in, this book showcases the talent of a honest, sardonic writer who delivers a truly rewarding, entertaining read.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

Grand Central Publishing, March 2008

I am exhausted and the reason is simple...I stayed up all night unable to put down Joshilyn Jackson's forthcoming book, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

Laurel is a mother and wife who lives in a beautiful home in a gated Florida community with her husband, David and daughter, Shelby. Her present is altogether different than her past: one that includes the Southern town of DeLop, a poverty, drug stricken town where her relatives still reside. One evening, Laurel awakes to find a ghostly female figure hovering above her (Laurel has a history of seeing ghosts) and follows the figure down to the pool where she is startled to find the dead body of Molly, Shelby's friend. This discovery propels Laurel to reach out to her estranged, bohemian sister, Thalia, a young woman who lives for drama and chaos. Together Laurel and Thalia will face the past they have tried so hard to run from while solving the mystery of the present.

In Jackson's adept hands, the character of Laurel is rich and complex: refusing to see the truth behind family secrets and the reality of her own life, Laurel is foibled and true. Thalia has such depth and strength that one can actually visualize her, right down to her bizarre clothing choices and marriage to a gay man. The nature of family and the fear of disclosure runs under the entire book - who are we? Are we simply a compendium of all of those who have come before or can we ever really wash away our history? As the book comes to its spectacular finish (one that couldn't be seen), the reader can only wish that Jackson will hurry up and finish her next book. This is one of the best books to come across our office desk in quite awhile.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Seeing Me Naked

5 Spot, January 2008

I've loved Liza Palmer's writing since I read Conversations with the Fat Girl. In her forthcoming 5 Spot release, Seeing me Naked, Palmer again addresses the issue of outward appearance, only this time the focus is on a young woman from an extraordinarily high profile family. Elisabeth Page, a pastry chef, is the daughter of famed author Ben Page and literary man of the day Rascal Page. In the glare of their spotlights, Elisabeth feels inadequate; she can never be good enough for her father or heroice enough for her brother. Not only is she stuck working crazy hours at the hottest restaurant in LA, she is stuck in a relationship with Will, a childhood friend who simply can't commit to anything other than his journalism. When she is presented with a great job opportunity and meets Daniel Sullivan, a basketball coach, Elisabeth must let go of all the pretense, shed her "clothing" and allow herself to appear naked, flaws and all. Once this occurs, her transformation will allow her to move on with her life.

Palmer writes with humor and warmth, bringing the reader in to the story quickly and creatively with each word. We are meant to like these characters and we do...they are us, struggling with family, with the desire and search for happiness in love and career and faltering as we go. At its heart a story of family and the fact that love can truly conquer all.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Go Welsh!

Visit our main site at www.literaturechick.com to learn more about Welsh authors! Our Welsh fest starts this week!!

Sister Mine

Sister Mine by Tawni O'Dell (Shaye Areheart Books, 2007)

Author Tawni O'Dell weaves an incredibly moving story in her newest book, Sister Mine. Protagonist Shae-Lynn Penrose, a former cop with a dysfunctional childhood, drives a cab in the town of Jolly Mount while dressed to the nines in miniskirts and a pink Cowboy hat. Jolly Mount is a coal mining town that has been plagued by its past - one filled with mine accidents including the highly publicized survival of the Jolly Mount Five.

Dealing with her own demons, Shae-Lynn is the town caregiver, whether it be as sole parent to her son, Clay, as confidante to her best friend and love interest E.J., or the mother to her younger sister, Shannon, who flew the coop 18 years previous. When Shannon suddenly reappears, pregnant and reticent to explain her situation, Shae-Lynn is thrown into an almost comedic series of events. She finds herself trying yet again to save her sister, only this time it's from a rich New York woman who claims to have paid for the baby, an attorney who has a sordid relationship with Shannon and a Russian who isn't afraid to fight for what he believes is his. As Shae-Lynn bravely confronts the reality of her sister's life, she is forced to also look at her own past and come to terms with a slew of family secrets that will no longer remain buried.Filled with numerous plot lines, O'Dell manages to deliver a story that makes sense; one where each plot leads to the same end - the transformation of Shae-Lynn. The use of details about coal mining and the dangers miners face add an element of truth which allows the reader to feel empathy for these men. Shae-Lynn is a woman defined by her surroundings and yet has overcome the hardships she has faced - she is a heroine. In O'Dell's skilled hands, this story is one that you will remember.

It's summer - time to take a breather, enjoy the weather, check out the hotties at the beach and enjoy some fun books. For the next couple of weeks, Lit Chick is going to focus on some great summer reads. The first of these is Zoey Dean's (of The A-List Series fame) new novel for adults, How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls (Warner Books, July 2007).

Our heroine, Yale graduate and wanna-be-journalist Meghan Smith, slaves away at a tabloid magazine dreaming of grander pastures. After a terrible day at the office, Meghan finds herself being fired at the same time her boss (think Anna Wintour meets Bonnie Fuller) offers her a new job opportunity - as the tutor of the Baker heiresses of Palm Beach, Florida. Without any other job prospects on the horizon, Meghan leaves the city and her boyfriend, James, for the grandeur that is Les Anges, an estate owned by Laurel Limoges, grandmother to Sage and Rose Baker. Laurel, unhappy with the way her granddaughters have turned out, wants Meghan to help them graduate from prep school, pass the SATs and get into college; if Meghan succeeds, Laurel will pay her a sum large enough to cover all her debts.From the beginning, Meghan is a fish out of water and perfect fodder for the cruelty of the twins. With the help of some fairy godmothers, Meghan soon discovers that the only way she'll survive and succeed is by becoming just like her pupils - knowledgeable about Dior and fluent in the ways of the rich. Along the way Meghan learns more from her students than she ever imagined, discovers the man of her dreams and finds the career she always wanted (don't worry I am not giving anything away here).Dean manages to deliver a story that is both contemporary and moral - don't judge a book by its cover for you're sure to be fooled every time. Although the journey that Meghan makes in the book is unique, the tale is not. Each one of us have been challenged, each one of us have had a dream that seems difficult to obtain, each one of us have made rash judgments that prove to be misplaced. This is ultimately a story about transformation. This is a book that is shear, unadulterated fun!

Welsh Fest!!

Get prepared for our upcoming Welsh Book Fest Online...check out some of these amazing books by Welsh poets:The Blue Book - Owen Sheers (Seren Books)Skirrid Hill - Owen Sheers (Seren Books)Arab York - Landeg White (Parthian Books/DuFour Editions)Imperium - Hilary Davies (Enitharmon/DuFour Editions)Misappropriations - Jasmine Donahaye (Parthian/DuFour Editions)These are some of the authors we will be discussing come September.Books are the bomb!

Also check out The Ex Files: Women, Litigation and Liberty (Adams Media, 2006) available at amazon.com (exfilesbook.com)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Riley Weston's Before I Go is an incredibly moving tale of the relationship between a mother and daughter, a young adult and her first love, and the act of letting go in the face of tragedy. Literature Chick cried for the entire final 40 pages! This is a book in the spirit of The Notebook, one that you will remember for along time after you finish the final line. The book recently won accolades at the New York Book Festival. Riley took some time out to talk to us.

LC: Your new book, Before I Go, deals with the love between a mother and daughter. Does this come from your own personal history?

RW: My relationship with my mom is wonderful, and we’re extremely close. Probably too close! She is my biggest support and my best friend. However, I will be the first to admit I was not the easiest kid! So the trouble between Annie and Madison in before i go did come from a little of our history.

LC: What influenced the plot of the book and why?

RW: The entire plot, start to finish, happened in a dream. Two in the morning until just after five in the morning. I saw every moment, every scene, and heard every line of dialogue. It was written as a script first, and then later a book.

LC: You are also an actress - which is your first love?

RW: This is the most difficult question!! If I absolutely had to pick, I would lean towards acting, as that’s how I started out. I do think one of the reasons why I not only love to write, but why my works comes out the way it does, is due to my acting. I love disappearing into characters. Thankfully, I’ve found a good balance to be able to do both…and throw in another hyphen or two with my singing and television and script writing! Whoops. Maybe that’s three hyphens!

LC: Who are some of the writers that influence you?

RW: I really am not influenced by writers. For me, it’s more…I’m a fan of their work. I love to read Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve, Nicholas Sparks, Wally Lamb and some classics.

LC: I have to ask it so here goes...way back when you were embroiled in a tricky situation when it was discovered that you were not the age you portrayed yourself as. Do you think Hollywood discriminates based on age? What has that experience taught you?

RW: I do think some people in Hollywood do discriminate against age. I also think they discriminate against people when it comes to a chosen sexuality, hair or eye color, height, weight…you name it! Being in the entertainment industry has taught me a few things. You have to not listen to the negative people and press, because in the end, talent and inevitably, success, will always win. And that feeling, for me, is definitely worth all the other stuff! I also realized I am far stronger and more determined than I thought I was. And lastly, the experience taught me to always remember…we’re in the business of entertaining! There are much greater worries out there in the world than how old a certain actress is, or what sexuality a certain director is, or are they or aren’t they real on a certain singer!

LC: What is your favorite book and why?

RW: This is a hard one, as I don’t really have a favorite. I love the works of the authors I mentioned above. If I had to pick one and only one, I would before i go! Even if i hadn’t written it, I love the meaning in it. It encompasses everything I think we, at any age and every age, think about and want: the unconditional love of a family member, and finding that one true love of a lifetime.

LC: Future plans?

RW: There are a few!! I’m acting whenever I can. I have a television movie I wrote that is currently shooting. It’s called “The Black Widow” and will be airing on Lifetime. GoTV Networks just filmed a television pilot presentation I wrote and produced called “Being Bailey.” That is going to be airing on the internet, cell phones and now, potentially on television! I also have a feature film called “Stay” that is heading into pre-production soon. And lastly, my personal favorite project! “Before I Go” just won it’s second award, so that’s incredibly exciting. I am now talking to production companies about making it into a feature film…and I would play Madison.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

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Monday, August 20, 2007

I am so excited to tell you about a truly wonderful book - Grub by author Elise Blackwell (Toby Press, 2007). In a funny and heartwarming way, Blackwell relates the story of a group of writer friends traversing the difficulties faced by artists in the world of publishing. Based on the book New Grub Street by George Gissing, this well-written character filled book will keep you up all night finishing and keep you talking about it for some time to come. Honestly, this is one of the best books I have read in quite some time both in its honesty, humor and storytelling. Literature Chick puts Grub on the top of our must read novels...lucky for us the author took some time out to answer our questions.

An Interview with Elise Blackwell

LC: Your book, Grub, focuses on a group of writers struggling with their art and the marketplace. Further it is based upon New Grub Street. Tell us a bit about the decision to write a book on this topic.

EB: When I read New Grub Street, I was struck by how timely its critique of the literary marketplace remains. I wanted all writers to read it immediately—to learn from it and take refuge and pleasure in its company. Yet despite its ongoing currency, the Gissing novel is dated in several ways (including in its plotting of the fortunes of its female characters) and is quite dense in places. So I thought: wouldn’t it be fun to update it with a focus on the today’s marketplace for literary fiction? It’s also the case that I was feeling a tad bitter about that marketplace, some for myself (I was struggling with reactions to The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, a novel I wrote before Hurricane Katrina and was compelled by circumstances to revise) but more so for several of my friends who are wonderful writers either going unpublished or being roughed up by their publishing experiences. I wanted to bite back a little, to write a fun novel while also offering a real critique of some of the publishing industry’s business practices and the way some writers allow those practices to harm their work and even their lives. Writing Grub permitted me to vent my frustration without becoming like one of its characters. It also provided a venue to make fun of my own novels, both the published ones and the unfinished.

LC: Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective. Why did you decide to execute the book in this way?

EB: The novel’s structure follows the original fairly closely. While Gissing’s point-of-view system is more omniscient than my closer third-person, New Grub Street does rotate its attention among the primary characters. I don’t follow Gissing’s sequence to the letter, but I’m not far off. This decision wasn’t blind retelling, though; I wanted the novel to trace a variety of writers’ trials and fortunes, to present a spectrum of writers’ approaches and outcomes. Each character has a different relationship to the literary marketplace.

LC: You have a wonderful sense of character and plot. Tell us about your writing process.

EB: Thank you for saying that. For so many of us, writing begins with an interest in people—who they are, how they’re different, and how those differences (combined with luck) play out across time. Yet plot is sometimes a challenge for me because my real joy in writing happens at the level of word and image. With Grub, the initial drafting was made easier because I was working from a blueprint. While the specifics of my characters and their fates vary from those of New Grub Street, I kept the basic types. The character of Jackson Miller is my vision of who Gissing’s Jasper Milvain would be if he were writing novels in the twenty-first century, and so forth. But I wanted my characters to be more than types, and I hope that they are. And of course I had to update the plot to account for the availability of divorce, the fact that women’s lives are no longer dominated by inheritance, etc., but I try to at least nod to each of the plot turns in New Grub Street. I didn’t want Eddie Renfros to die literally, but he does die as a novelist. The joke for me is that writing from an outline (sort of)—something some of my characters champion while others sneer at it—did indeed make for a quicker write. Grub is the longest of my three published novels, while it took the shortest time to write. In months, anyway, though not necessarily hours; I found that I was able to work on it many more hours per day than much of my other work, in part because it was just plain fun.

LC: What do you see as the most difficult part of being a writer?

EB: For me, there are several difficulties. When I was younger, discipline was hard, and I had to train myself to sit alone in a room for enough hours and days to write an entire book and to find enough pleasure in it to do it knowing that it might never be read by others. On top of that, most writers work day jobs; I have had a job (often more than one) since I was a kid. That’s part of the territory, though, and we (excepting a few characters in Grub) know it going in. And so I believe the most difficult part of being a writer is producing what we hope is “art” in a culture that isn’t particularly interested. My greatest heroes are those who work in art forms with even smaller audiences than most novelists, including the poets that some of my more sinister characters are so hard on. I feel sad to imagine what it would be like to be born with the talent and inclination to compose classical music. Or to be Henry Baffler, the committed experimental novelist in Grub.

LC: Who are your greatest influences and why?

EB: I have always read widely, both fiction and poetry, both old and new. Michael Ondaatje has been a major influence. I have enjoyed moving through his novels in the order he wrote them, as he moved from more impressionistic, collage-type novels to his more recent novels, which are equally brilliant and beautifully drawn yet are more conventional in plot and structure. My favorite writer lately is W. G. Sebald—for his language, his ideas, his structural daring, his blending of fact and fiction, and, ultimately, his worldview. Obviously George Gissing is the major influence on Grub, which is very different from my first two novels.

LC: If you weren't a writer, you would be....

EB: A small farmer and orchard keeper. When I was fresh out of graduate school, I had the opportunity to live on about twenty acres and began to raise fruits and vegetables, including some fairly exotic ones. I miss that life, right down to the huge compost pile. I love the idea of playing music or painting, but I lack the talent. I’m also attracted to any occupation that offers international travel; I love to spend time in other countries.

It's summer - time to take a breather, enjoy the weather, check out the hotties at the beach and enjoy some fun books. For the next couple of weeks, Lit Chick is going to focus on some great summer reads. The first of these is Zoey Dean's (of The A-List Series fame) new novel for adults, How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls (Warner Books, July 2007).
Our heroine, Yale graduate and wanna-be-journalist Meghan Smith, slaves away at a tabloid magazine dreaming of grander pastures. After a terrible day at the office, Meghan finds herself being fired at the same time her boss (think Anna Wintour meets Bonnie Fuller) offers her a new job opportunity - as the tutor of the Baker heiresses of Palm Beach, Florida. Without any other job prospects on the horizon, Meghan leaves the city and her boyfriend, James, for the grandeur that is Les Anges, an estate owned by Laurel Limoges, grandmother to Sage and Rose Baker. Laurel, unhappy with the way her granddaughters have turned out, wants Meghan to help them graduate from prep school, pass the SATs and get into college; if Meghan succeeds, Laurel will pay her a sum large enough to cover all her debts.From the beginning, Meghan is a fish out of water and perfect fodder for the cruelty of the twins. With the help of some fairy godmothers, Meghan soon discovers that the only way she'll survive and succeed is by becoming just like her pupils - knowledgeable about Dior and fluent in the ways of the rich. Along the way Meghan learns more from her students than she ever imagined, discovers the man of her dreams and finds the career she always wanted (don't worry I am not giving anything away here).
Dean manages to deliver a story that is both contemporary and moral - don't judge a book by its cover for you're sure to be fooled every time. Although the journey that Meghan makes in the book is unique, the tale is not. Each one of us have been challenged, each one of us have had a dream that seems difficult to obtain, each one of us have made rash judgments that prove to be misplaced. This is ultimately a story about transformation. This is a book that is shear, unadulterated fun!
Welsh Fest!!
Get prepared for our upcoming Welsh Book Fest Online...check out some of these amazing books by Welsh poets:The Blue Book - Owen Sheers (Seren Books)Skirrid Hill - Owen Sheers (Seren Books)Arab York - Landeg White (Parthian Books/DuFour Editions)Imperium - Hilary Davies (Enitharmon/DuFour Editions)Misappropriations - Jasmine Donahaye (Parthian/DuFour Editions)These are some of the authors we will be discussing come September.Books are the bomb!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Interview with Anita Amirrezvani, Author of The Blood of Flowers (Little Brown, June 2007)

Interview with Eduardo Santiago, Author of Tomorrow They Will Kiss (Little Brown, 2006)

In a beautiful debut novel, author Anita Amirrezvani takes the reader back in time to 17th century Iran to tell the story of a fourteen year old girl caught between the history of tradition and her talent as a rug designer. An engrossing and entertaining read, the novel illuminates and brings to life a time and place unknown to most of us. The author took some time out to talk with Literature Chick.

LT: You were a journalist - why write a novel?

AA: Journalism is fast-paced and immediate, while a novel requires an intense and sustained effort. The approaches are so different that in some ways, they are quite complementary. When I was writing about the arts, I enjoyed the speed and the instant gratification of daily journalism. When I went home at night to work on my novel, I had to stretch my skills in another direction. It takes a different part of the brain to develop characters over time, to create a viable plot, and to immerse readers in an unfamiliar historical period. And patience! The key is endless and enduring patience as you get deeper and deeper into your book.

LT: What was the primary impetus to writing a historical fiction work such as The Blood of Flowers?

AA: Before I started to develop the plot, one of my main concerns was to provide a more nuanced view of Iran than we normally see in news headlines. Many people probably think of Iran solely in terms of the 1980 hostage crisis and now, the nuclear issue. For nearly thirty years, the United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations, which means that knowledge of each other at an ordinary, human level has steadily decreased. After so many years of blackout, I thought people might be interested in learning things that go beyond the politics of the moment. After all, Iranian culture has been around for thousands of years, and that’s what will endure into the future. In my book, I focus on typical traditions like the craft of carpet-making and the art of storytelling to provide a broader view of the people and the place.

LT: The book takes place in 17th century Isfahan - what type of research did you do to insure accuracy?

AA: I went to Isfahan twice while I was writing the book to visit the buildings that I describe in my novel. The great square where much of the action takes place, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, has a beautiful palace, historically important mosques, and an extensive bazaar, which are much loved by locals and tourists. Isfahan also has beautiful bridges, outdoor teahouses, ancient fire-temples, and long tree-lined avenues. Naturally, I took photos so that I could remind myself of the exact details when the time came to write about them. Back at home, one of my great pleasures was to spend time reading about the seventeenth century. Shah Abbas, who ruled for more than forty years, had a scribe named Eskandar Monshi who wrote an extensive chronicle about his reign. My book is not particularly tied to historical events, but Monshi’s account gave me insights into the way that the people of the period, especially powerful men, thought about things. I also consulted many art books, such as Arthur Upham Pope and Phyllis Ackerman’s Survey of Persian Art, which has extensive photos of Iranian architecture, paintings, textiles, coins, carpets, and so on. I used these massive tomes to help me paint an accurate picture of the art of the seventeenth century.

LT: Your female characters ring true. Were they based upon actual people?
AA: No, but they are based on actual situations that female characters might have faced during the time period. My heroine, for example, expects to get married at the age of fourteen, like most of her friends and her relatives. That was typical in Iran until fairly recently. My grandmother, who was born in 1910, married at fourteen, and her daughter, who was born in 1933, did the same. Today, the average age of marriage in Iran for women is 23, according to government statistics, while in the United States it is 25.

LT: What part did your own background play in the writing of the book?

AA: Probably the most important thing is that my daily experiences with my Iranian family are reflected in the book. What I mean by that is that I have incorporated typical practices -- dining habits, expressions, marriage customs, celebrations -- so that people get a sense of what life might have been like for an Iranian family. However, the main characters and the plot are wholly invented.

LT: It took you many years to research and finish the novel. Did you ever want to give up? What drove you to finish?

AA: Since it was impossible to know whether I’d ever sell my book, I ascribe my persistence to the role that the book had in my everyday life. Generally, we are all subject to the demands of people around us, in particular our bosses at work and our families, and we have to work within those frameworks. While writing my book, I enjoyed an imaginative freedom that was not possible elsewhere in my life. Even when I was stuck, tired, or disappointed, I always returned to my writing because it was one of the few places where I could proceed entirely as I wished. I didn’t tell anyone close to me that I was working on a novel for about five years, and this gave me additional liberty to develop it as I saw fit.

LT: The characters tell stories in the book. Tell us a bit about these stories - where do they come from? Their allegorical nature?

AA: When I was writing my book, it occurred to me that although Westerners are familiar with European tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, as well as with the Greek and Roman myths and with A Thousand and One Nights, Iranian oral culture as such is little known to the general American public. There are seven tales in my novel, some of which come from sources that are about a thousand years old. I wrote the first and the last tales myself because I needed stories that matched the arc of the plot. As for as the allegorical nature of the stories, I chose them carefully and changed them as needed in order to reflect the heroine’s emotional development.

LT: What are your future plans?

AA: A second book, naturally. It’s not a sequel, but it will continue my explorations into Iranian history. Recently, I’ve noticed a surge of non-fiction books on medieval leaders such as Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, but to my surprise, there have been few novels on pre-modern Iranian movers and shakers, and even fewer on powerful women. That’s fertile terrain for the novelist, and I’m happy that there’s so much rich material to enjoy and to share.

Interview with author Eduardo Santiago, author of Tomorrow They Will Kiss(Little Brown, 2006)

LC: Tell us a bit about how growing up in Cuba and then Miami has influenced your writing.

ES: I lived in Cuba until I was nine years old, after that we spent some time in Madrid, Spain, then we moved to Los Angeles. I spent all my summers with my aunt in Miami. But leaving Cuba physically was not the same as leaving Cuba emotionally. My childhood memories remained very vivid. There are a lot of factual events in my novel that seemed unreal to me, maybe because they were filtered through a child’s eyes. Those memories nagged at me until I discovered a way to put them down, as creatively as possible, into my novel.

LC: Do you consider yourself a multi cultural writer?

ES: Absolutely, I still have my Cuban passport (although it’s not valid), and very strong ties to the Cuban community, both in the U.S. and back in Cuba. But I live an American life. Although I am fully bilingual, I mostly speak English in my daily life, even with my siblings and my Cuban friends. In my writing, I always try to bring both experiences together, as I have done in Tomorrow They Will Kiss. I don’t think I would know how to write from just one side of the Florida Straits.

LC: Where you influenced by women in your life? You write with such understanding and knowledge of female character.

ES: I don’t think the women in my life knew how profoundly they were influencing me. My aunts were just all very colorful and outspoken. They were natural storytellers who had opinions about everything and weren’t reluctant to express themselves. So they handed me a large palette of color that I can now use when I write the way a painter would use colors. None of my characters are based on any one woman, they all composites of women both here in the U.S. and some who stayed behind in Cuba.

LC: How long did it take to write this first novel?

ES: All in all about a year and a half. Including about a dozen rewrites. This novel, once I got the idea, practically wrote itself, and as soon as it was finished, Michael Mezzo who at the time was an editor at Little, Brown and Co. approached me and I sold it – before it even went out to other publishers. But the way I looked at it, when Little, Brown and Co. says they want you, what are you going to do? Wait for a better offer? Our relationship has been wonderful so far, just supportive as any first time author could want.

LC: Why the telenovela element in the book?

ES: Telenovelas were always a huge part of our family life. In Cuba they were on the radio, that was in the 50’s. Here they are on tv, every single night, so even though I didn’t sit down and watch them with my parents, they were always background music. So it was inevitable that they would find their way into my work. Even now, my parents watch three a night, five nights a week. If they’re bad they watch them so they can rag on them, if they’re good they watch them because they love them. Basically, they’re addicts. But in Tomorrow They Will Kiss what I tried to do, and I hope I accomplished, was to give readers an understanding of how important telenovelas have been to the immigrants and exiles. How they connect them go each other in a country where they feel so disconnected.

LC: Does the novel's title have double meaning - i.e. freedom of Cuba?

ES: Yes! Not just double, but multiple. I actually expected my publisher to ask for a different title, but they never suggested it, not once. I know writers that have to submit lists of titles. But was always Tomorrow They Will Kiss. I don’t want to tell you what all the meanings are because I think part of the fun of reading the book is to find out for yourself. But, yes, the title was chosen very carefully to convey a multitude of meanings.

LC: What would you say is one of the key problems with the identity of Cuban Americans?

ES: Well, when this novel takes place we were all very new to this country, and our identity was much more in question than it is today. Also, we must keep in mind that back in the 60’s we expected our exile to be much more temporary than it turned out to be. Now that we’ve been here such a long time, and many of us expect to be here for the rest of ouir lives, it’s not really a problem. Personally, I enjoy having one foot here and one foot there. I’m Cuban-American, but Cuban first. I’m very clear on that.

LC: Is this book a commentary on the nature of immigration in America?

ES: I don’t think so. Certainly, that was not my main intention. Although from what I hear from people who’ve read the novel, it’s definitely a key ingredient. I was much more concerned with the nature of friendship and how often good intentions go awry. When I was writing this novel I was much more focused on how sometimes the people who claim to love you and care for you will often hold you back – and what it takes to break away and become your own person, live your dream, follow your destiny.

LC: Do you consider yourself a political person?

ES: Only in the sense that I am constantly horrified, saddened and baffled by the choices and decisions of world leaders. So I try to take a long view of the world, which keeps me from being too much of a reactionary. Has there always been terrorism, injustice, senseless poverty, tyranny, political dishonesty and gut-wrenching suffering in the world? Yes! Has there been some progress since the Middle Ages? Yes. My faith remains with the individual – and so I do vote and I try to live responsibly. In spite of all this chaos I try to carve out a little corner for myself where I can live out my days with some dignity and (increasing) sanity. And I try to surround myself with people, who, if the ship sinks, will be willing to be on the life raft with me. That’s about as political as I get. I read the papers, I watch the news, I cringe, shudder, and I grab my two-year old niece, Olivia, and go get some ice cream and try to make her feel safe.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Eliot Fintushel is Cool!

Author Eliot Fintushel’s book, Breakfast With the Ones You Love(Bantam Spectra, 2007) is at times a science fiction adventure complete with a quirky, beautiful heroine named Lea and at times a spiritual book about Judaic mysticism complete with a hero, Jack, who is one of the Chosen. Either way, this new release from the acclaimed short story writer will leave readers feeling moved, educated and entertained. Fintushel took some time to talk with Literature Chick.

LT: Did you always know you would be a writer?

EF: As a child, I wrote passionately, and I imagined that I would be a writer someday. In my early teens I typed a novel called SEDUCTION OF THE VOID, cover decorated with blood from a pierced thumb. I actually did submit it to two or three publishers and very deservedly got my rejection slips. At some point, though, I gave up on the project of being a writer, and I decided to become enlightened instead. I think that I imagined that I would disappear and merge into the universe in a kind of a puff of green smoke. I did all kinds of very extreme practices to that end--and I still do one or two of them. I practiced Zen at a big center for many years and actually did discover something. Then I became a performer of mask and mime theater, did very well at it, wrote material for myself and for ensembles I worked with. The great thing about performing is that the audience tells you at once what's good and what's not, moment by moment by moment--if you know how to listen. With writing, it may be months, if ever, before you know. When I moved from New York to California, I left all my theater contacts behind, so I figured I'd better find a way of making a living that didn't depend on location. For that reason, I started writing. Someone had told me that genre markets were the easiest to break into, so I wrote science fiction stories at the rate of about one every ten days. I sent them out practically before the ink was dry, and when they came back, I sent them out again. At the end of a year, I was selling lots of them to big magazines and making two or three thousand bucks a year at it. Part 2 of my plan was, on the basis of a track record selling short stories, to start selling novels to some big publishing house. That part has taken me about fifteen years. Meanwhile, I've managed to stay alive by doing performance art and children's shows, teaching improvisation, playing the theremin on street corners, and writing articles and reviews for this or that magazine.

LT: Why the genre of science fiction and the sub genre of Judaic writing?

EF: I write science fiction partly because it's the most easily salable, but also because it suits my wild mind to do so. Mostly, however, my fiction is not so much science fiction as metaphysical fiction--what can happen between seeing a thing and knowing its name, for example, or between waking and knowing (or believing you know) who you are. Not infrequently, I have received hate mail from sci-fi fans who are upset that such stuff has been allowed to seep into their magazines. I have written some straight-ahead literary fiction, one short for The Ohio Review, before it folded. I write Judaic stuff because I know it, I grew up in it, and I have a deep and abiding fondness for the culture. When I was a child, all the grownups were from Eastern Europe and spoke Yiddish. To write or cut paper on Saturday was frowned upon. Once, I hid under the bed, fearful that the Jewish police would come knocking because I had eaten a little milchik after fleishik. I still soulfully sing Yiddish opera ditties in the shower, plus much of Moishe Oisher's cantorial repertoire for the High Holidays and S'lichot.

LT: Breakfast With the Ones You Love deals with the nature of identity, spirituality and family all tied up in a complex, off the wall story. Where did the idea come from? The character of Lea? Of Jack/Yid?

EF: Well, I guess I just have the sort of a mind that takes things to infinity--just my natural bent. Couple years ago I memorized Revelation, that horrendous, immoral, vicious, disgusting--and most Jewish, alas!--of the New Testament books, added masks and some songs in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and toured it across the states and in Canada, a wild one-man show. So BREAKFAST's Messianic spaceship is just par for the course for me. You think this is off-the-wall? You should check out my short stories (www.fintushel.com/stories_page.htm) because you ain't seen nuttin' yet. Jack is an idealized me--well, a piece of me, and, possibly, Lea is my sister Mollie, hard on the outside, sweet and soft inside. When I read parts of my book these days, I confess that it makes me cry, and it's Lea's voice that does it to me. Where did she come from, really? I don't know. But she moves me. A gift.

LT: The nature of Kabbalah and Judaic mysticism is vital to the plot of the book; do you practice either?

EF: No. Occultism, Jewish or otherwise, is a disease of the mind, a defect. However, I believe very deeply in art, and even more deeply in the importance of meditation, not to mystify, but to clarify. This world is such a wonder altogether, what silliness to go invent exotic fabulations, mystic gestures at the mirror--excepting, consciously, as Art. I am a good and thorough Jewish atheist.

LT: Much of your writing is for young adults, this book seems to have an older demographic - would you agree?

EF: I don't think I've ever written anything for young adults, actually, although I wrote a few children's stories for Pitspopany Press. I never had YA in mind in writing this book, but, in hindsight, the YA appeal is clear. After all, it's the coming of age story of a young woman--how she learns to love (herself and everybody). Still, some pretty complex and sophisticated notions are batted about, there are a lot of sly references and subtextual cavorting going on--let's hope that that makes it the kind of a book that one can read at fifteen and then profitably revisit at fifty.

LT: The notion of salvation seems to weave throughout the work - would you agree?

EF: Salvation, in a religious sense, is at issue everywhere in the book, yes, but it functions only as metaphor for a very much simpler, psychological process. There is no Olam Habaa but this world of ours. The only salvific thing I know of is the melting/opening/remembering of which each of us is capable right now, and the redemption of evil by awareness of it--which is the main point of the angels' ritual inquisition of Jack near the very end, before he is allowed to enter the supernal realm with the rest of his tribe--not to give away too much, I hope . . .

LT: If you were not a writer, would you be a Rabbi?

EF: I do not think of myself as a writer, although I certainly write. I'm not trying to be cute--it's just that I do a lot of things, and when the Muse, if any, bops me, I'm as likely to play the theremin or to dance or to improvise a scene as I am to write. As to being a Rabbi . . . well, when I was a young teenager, I wanted to go to a Yeshiva to become a rabbi or a cantor, but now that I know myself a little better, I'm quite sure that I would not have endured it, and that I would have caused myself and everyone else a lot of sorrow on my way to getting out of there. Except as culture, as art, I'm not fond of any religion. I feel that it's very seriously questionable whether what good religions do is worth the horrific evil of the attendant magnification of ethnocentrism--medieval Crusades, Biblical wars of conquest on the desert, et cetera, et cetera, et bloody cetera.

LT: Do you find that the life of a writer is a difficult one?

EF: Difficult?? Difficult?? What could be difficult about doing what you love and getting paid for it? Of course, it's necessary to learn not to want anything much that you haven't already got, because, by and large, there's little dough in writing, but that's a knack easy to acquire for folks who, above all, love to dream and to wordsmith.

LT: What are your future plans? new book?

EF: I want to play all of Debussy's chamber and piano works on my theremin for lots and lots of people.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Birdie Clark's Because She Can (Warner Books, 2007)

The recent brouhaha over the firing of Judith Regan, President of Regan Books, a division of Harper Collins, has left the media wondering what really went on behind the scenes. Did media mogul fire Regan over the O.J. Simpson debacle (the book and interview)? Or was the firing due to Regan's anti-semitic comments to member of the Harper Collins staff? Regan, a controversial figure from the start, was fodder for a ton of rumors; staff members came and went unable to handle her difficult behavior while she continued to develop and sell best-selling books. Was she a woman misunderstood or a woman in search of fame, no matter how she could obtain it?

In Bridie Clark's new release, Because She Can, editor Claire Truman goes to work for a beast of a boss, the publishing giant and tyrant, Vivian Grant. Grant, is the head of Grant Publishers, a division of a larger company; as such she has sold more best-sellers than any other publisher in the country. Claire, in search of more money and the ability to find great authors, naively ignores all the warnings about Grant and takes on a job with the company. Things go spectaculary well for a bit, until Grant loses her cool and her vampire teeth come out. Determined to hold on for a year and reluctant to leave her newest author in a lurch, Claire deals with the abuse.In the midst of her work nightmare, Claire falls hard for her college crush, the rich and gorgeous Randall. Randall is all she has ever dreamed of and although things are lacking (no communication) in their relationship, she sticks it out.

Claire is a main character much like alot of us - we deny the reality in front of our eyes and talk ourselves into staying when we should be walking out the door. Claire will only come to realize what is truly important when she opens her eyes.Clark, a former editor at an unnamed publishing house, has written a fun, readable book. A quick read, the reader will wonder if there is a measure of truth to the tale of this very hostile work environment or if Clark is simply pulling from recent headlines. Either way, you'll cheer Claire on.

The Continuity Girl by Leah McLaren (Warner 5 Spot, April 2007)

On every movie shoot there is a person who is known as the continuity expert or the script supervisor. This person, usually a woman, must be exceptionally detail oriented as she has to insure that every take matches the previous one, that the small aspects (i.e. taking a sip of water, wearing a certain pair of shoes) are consistent. In Leah McLaren’s The Continuity Girl, Meredith Moore is the ultimate continuity girl; she lives her life on the straight and narrow, never moving off course...that is until her biological clock begins ticking loudly. As her 35th birthday approaches, she realizes that the one thing she really wants is a baby, not necessarily a husband, and so with the focus she uses on her job she begins to shop for the perfect sperm donor.

Although the plot line is not unique, McLaren has created a group of interesting characters that are funny, real and honest. Meredith’s best friend Mish has just miscarried, having created a fetus with sperm from her gay roommate. Meredith’s substitute gynecologist is the gorgeous Dr. Veil, a man that ultimately holds our heroine’s heart. Meredith’s mother, Irma, is an award winning poet who lives in a filthy London flat with no food in the fridge.

When Meredith loses her job on a Toronto film set, she moves to London to work on the elusive Osmond Crouch’s new film. In London, she meets a slew of men from the German artist to the bird obsessed Barnaby, but none seem right as sperm donor. When Dr. Veil comes to Europe to start fertility treatments for the star of the Crouch’s movie, he and Meredith fall hard and quick for one another. Soon, Meredith learns that life, unlike the movies, has its constant ups and downs, its total surprises.

McLaren writes in a style that is both insightful and humorous. The story is related in a way that is visual; we feel like we have stepped inside Osmond’s Italian villa, we know what Irma looks like. It is the author’s ability with words that makes the story a fun, compelling read.

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