Category Archives: Fiction

If It’s Good Enough For George

In the February issue of Vanity Fair, my pal George gives his answers to the famous Proust Questionnaire.  Would you be surprised to learn his most treasured possession is a pen and a piece of paper?  That his hero of fiction is Atticus Finch?  That the thing he’d most like to change about himself would be to read more books?

Not a snarky answer in the bunch.  My George is all grown up.  And I admit he got me in the gut with his answer to “what would you change about your family?” when he said:  I’d make them young again.

He also surprised me.  His favorite writers are Mark Twain (I’d never have guess that one) and Paddy Chayefsky (who I had to Google).  Turns out Paddy is a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist; and the only person to have earned 3 solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay.  Paddy is a much respected and renowned American dramatist.

Paddy Chayefsky.  I love making these kinds of discoveries.

Now, of course, I can’t resist asking you a few questions.  Who knows what I might learn.  And I’ll play if you will.

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Favorite Writers and why (I’m limiting myself to 4, because you know this list could be looooooong):

William Styron — what style, not a wasted word in the place, with long flowing complex sentences I could read over and over again.

Joan Didion — particularly for her nonfiction, a structural genius who writes what she wants and doesn’t worry about what she’s not supposed to do.

Mary Karr — raw poetry in prose, most recognizable nonfiction voice in town.

Larry McMurtry — brilliant epic storyteller, creator of unusual and conflicted characters who drive seamless plots.

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Best last paragraph of a book:

Jane Smiley’s A THOUSAND ACRES
“And when I remember that world, I remember my dead young self, who left me something, too, which is her canning jar of poisoned sausage and the ability it confers, of remembering what you can’t imagine.  I can’t say that I forgive my father, but now I can imagine what he chose never to remember — the goad of an unthinkable urge, pricking him, pressing him, wrapping him in an impenetrable fog of self that must have seemed, when he wandered around the house at night after working and drinking, like the very darkness.  This is the gleaming obsidian shard I safeguard above all the others.”

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Favorite Writer You’ve Seen Speak in Person:  

Dorothy Allison.  Couldn’t take my eyes off of her.  She read a little, but spent most of her time on stage just talking like a real person, seemingly off-the-cuff, not a note in sight, about her writing and reading life.  Her remarks were like listening to a great poet put their everyday life into a regular conversation.  About a year later, I saw her perform her famous (which I didn’t know at the time) monologue, Frog Fucking, at AWP in front of hundreds of people.  It was shocking and hilarious and devastating, and the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.

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Your turn ….

I Gotta Get Out More

Last night we went to a reading.

No, wait.  It wasn’t a reading.  It was a celebration, a celebration I figured would result in a reading.  Anyway, I heard about this non-reading over at SheWrites and off we went.

Meg Waite Clayton is a local author I’ve never heard of, and her event was held at Books Inc., an independent bookstore I’ve never heard of.  It turns out she was celebrating the paperback release of her last book — THE FOUR MRS. BRADWELLS — and Books Inc. was filled with her friends and supporters.  It was more cocktail party than reading, and since we weren’t really part of the group I introduced myself to Meg and we scurried out of the circle.  For the next half hour, my husband and I wandered around Books Inc. — such a great store! — wondering how in the world we didn’t know this place existed.

Meg did eventually take up the microphone to say a few words.  She thanked her family and friends, then she read a page or so of her book and took a couple questions while her husband served champagne, chocolates, and Bellinis.

The night wasn’t what I thought it would be, but …

I discovered a new writer and picked up her book.  If you haven’t heard of Meg Waite Clayton, check out her website — it’s one of the best author sites I’ve seen.  And while I don’t read much women’s fiction, I’m guessing this book will be perfect for my book club.

I also left Books Inc. with my first James Michener novel, because I’m jonesing for a big fat saga and ever since I saw THE DESCENDANTS over the holidays I’m obsessed with Hawaii.

And I had my first Bellini.

The Quiet

I’ve gone quiet.

When I was little, I’d plant myself in a spare bedroom, the barn, the porch, the horse pasture, the library, or even underneath (yes, underneath) the living room coffee table and go quiet.

The best thing about setting foot on my mother’s farm was the nonexistence of noise.  Any noise.  Especially this time of year without the combines or crickets or howling coyotes, without the constant creak of the porch swing.  Even Buddy, her beagle mutt, holed up under the porch.

These holidays have been quiet.  And lovely.  Even with the Christmas crazies, my kids coming and going (which I loved!), even with Nat King Cole, Sinatra and Brenda Lee on the constant radio, even with a crazy puppy romping around the house, finding her big-girl-voice, it’s been damn (good) quiet here.

I’ve been keeping my mouth shut, reading and listening.

In THE HUNGER GAMES series, I discovered a story I would never have read, a story I can’t stop reading.  My 17 yr old niece called me a year ago and said, “Aunt Teri, you’ve got to read this book!!!”  And I said yep, sure, ho hum.  But now.  But now I’m almost finished with the 2nd book in this series, and had to run out like a crazed, obsessed nutcracker and buy the 3rd.  In hardback, full retail.  I couldn’t wait for Amazon.com delivery, that’s what fun these books are.  The great escape.  Team Peeta!

A friend sent me Ann Patchett’s THE GETAWAY CAR, a short e-book about the writing life, which I read in about a day.  Patchett’s memoir led me to her friend Elizabeth McCracken’s AN EXACT REPLICA OF A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION.  I listened to it on audio, to McCracken reading her memoir, and it broke my heart and revived it, all at once.  I sat in my car, in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble, listening to the birth scene.  Tried to not-listen to it.  In the holiday rush of some jerk-off wanting my parking space (honk honk honk honk “Come On Lady!”) I crumbled under the pivotal scene.  That book led me to re-read (or rather, listen on audio to) Patchett’s memoir, TRUTH AND BEAUTY, which I read years ago when it first came out.  And then I found all of these articles about how pissed off everybody was about this book and, suddenly, I was pissed off.  At ALL of them.  If you’ve ever had a friend that consumed you, if you’ve ever sacrificed your peace and quiet for someone else’s hell, read (or listen to) this book.  And then google “Ann Patchett Lucy Grealy” and go read the bullshit that came after.  I’m in your corner, Ann Patchett.

We went to see a great movie this week:  THE DESCENDANTS.  A quiet little story where nobody is who you think they are, a story I wish I could write.  I ran back to the store and bought the paperback, retail $13 flippin’ 50, by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  What a discovery, this writer I’ve never heard of.  Can’t wait to read her book, her book with the story I’ve already seen.  There’s an interview section in the back:  “In a way, I’m writing all day,” she says.  “Reading other people’s novels is my work.”  Reading is a great thing, “because in a way you’re engaging in this strange, silent, conversation.”

On Audible.com. I found an old (really old) recording of Mary Karr’s THE LIAR’S CLUB.  It’s abridged, and the sound quality is awful, but who cares.  It’s spectacular, in the way that only the Texas of Mary Karr is spectacular.

I’m feeling quiet in this new year.  Like I want nothing more than to hole up in my dining room (aka my office) and shut it all the hell out.

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Sit and quiet yourself. Luxuriate in a certain memory and the details will come. Let the images flow. You’ll be amazed at what will come out on paper. I’m still learning what it is about the past that I want to write. I don’t worry about it. It will emerge. It will insist on being told.     —Frank McCourt

Don't let this quietly sleeping, long-legged angel fool you. She dreaming up her next adventure.


The Mill River Recluse

This weekend I’m reading Darcie Chan’s THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE.

On my iPad.

And you know I don’t like reading on my iPad.

But I came across this article about Ms. Chan and her book and I was hooked.  After years of trying, unsuccessfully, to get her first novel into the mainstream world of publishing, she’s now sold 400,000 self-published copies.  In today’s New York Times Book Review, THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE is #23 on their e-book best sellers list.

iPad reading or not, I’m enjoying this story a great deal.  Click on the book’s cover above to get your copy.  I promise it will be worth every penny of your 99 cents, and then some.

Click here for Darcie Chan’s website.  You can find her RedRoom interview here.

Top Reads of 2011

For the first time in years, I am all over this holiday season.  I’ve decorated my house, found a gorgeous new wreath for front door, and hung the stockings.  We’ve watched the first half of It’s A Wonderful Life.  The tree has been up for almost 48 hours and the puppy has not knocked it down or eaten the ornaments or been electrocuted by the lights.

As this year winds itself down, I’m taking a look back at my top reading pleasures of 2011.  Here they are, in no particular order:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In making my list I made some discoveries:

1.  I’m growing up.  My preferences have become less highbrow (what I’m supposed to read) and more about what I enjoy.

2.  I read far fewer books in 2011 than I thought I did.  I spent more time engrossed in author interviews and great, long essays.

3.  I tend to read and re-read my favorite authors.  I need to give the lesser-knowns more of a chance.

4.  I don’t like fiction as much as I used to.  In fact, I’m reading a National Book Award winner now and I feel manipulated.

5.  The memoir is not dead.  In fact, it’s barely got it’s sea legs.  Peoples’ real lives, and how they choose to make them into art, are endlessly fascinating.

What did you discover about your reading self?  Have any favorite books to share?

Write The Damn Book Already

At 5:15 this evening, I arrived home to find this gift on my doorstep.

Here it is, new on the bookshelves.

Some of you might remember that our very own Lyra went to see Mr. Eugenides last week, and now I see she went to the trouble of waiting in a line to get this book signed.  Just for me.

When I opened this gift, I got chills up the back of my neck.  Writing-wise, it’s been a tough year.  Time has been lost.  I’ve been lost.  But no more.  The writing is finally going in the right direction again.  Is it perfect every day?  Uh …. no.  Some days I write and later see I can use none of it.  None.  But that’s okay because other days, I’m getting the wow factor.  It’s been almost a year since I’ve had this, and it feels … well … it feels fucking good.  The good days are outweighing the not-so-good, so I’m moving in the right direction.  Which has to be right.  Right?

Of course, Lyra didn’t just send me any old book.  She sent me a signed, first edition, of the latest and greatest.  (If you haven’t read this article, do it now, right this instant!)  I’m going to start reading THE MARRIAGE PLOT tonight.

I promise to refer over and over again to one particular page.  My page.  Just what I needed to hear, Mr. Eugenides.  I take you at your word.  And I don’t need to be told twice.

Breaking It Down

From PaperLanternLane

One thing I miss about school is sitting around the table with a group of readers and taking a story — usually a short story — and breaking it down to see how it works.

Today I came across this Podcast at The New Yorker:  it’s my favorite writing teacher, ZZ Packer, reading “Paper Lantern” and then talking with Deborah Treisman about the mechanics.  Here’s the audio link:  Paper Lantern by Stuart Dybek.  If there’s anything that helps me figure out my own writing, it’s seeing how someone else pulls it off.  I started out enjoying the story, ZZ’s voice, and her great big laugh, but ended up with the perfect writing prompt for today.

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P.S.  We’ve been talking about the importance of libraries lately.  How about this Dybek quote: “The public library is where place and possibility meet.”  My 10 year old self would have agreed.

How Much Fun Was That

LITTLE GALE GUMBO. 2 glasses of wine. Some chips and cheese. The perfect evening.

This wonderful book arrived on my doorstep Friday afternoon and I savored it all weekend, turning the last page last night just before turning out the bedside light.

I’m pretty sure the last time I got this caught up in a really well-written family saga must have been THE SHELL SEEKERS, which I read earlier this summer.  An older book (which I eventually realized I’d read before, long long ago) I was so caught up in the yarn of the story, the charming characters (strong women), the smooth shifts back and forth in time, and the mysteries to be solved, it was hard to put it down.  I was sad to see THE SHELL SEEKERS end.

I felt the same way about LITTLE GALE GUMBO.  What a pleasure it was.  Truly.  I hated to turn that last page, and I’m already wondering about a possible sequel?

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From a writer’s perspective, here’s an additional list of some things I appreciated about Erika’s work:

1.  The multi-sensory experience.  I could feel the bitter cold and the fog of a Maine island winter; I could smell the melting butter and sugar of every Praline; I tasted the gumbo and the red beans and rice, right down to their textures; I could hear the sisters voices so clearly – the headstrong (but underneath fragile) Dahlia, the sweetness and let’s-just-make-it-all-better heartbreak in Josie, Camille’s steady strength.

2.  The complexity.  The story is complex — all those romances and mysteries — but you never feel that way reading it.  There were so many times when I marveled at how well this story flowed, and I especially loved how much the author trusted her reader.  She knew when to give just enough information to let me figure things out for myself.

3.  Time sequencing.  For all of us who try to do it, we know how hard it is to make it flow naturally.  Erika made me feel like she was sitting on the porch, with no notes, telling me a story.  That’s how smooth it was.

4.  Sense of place and real characters.  I could feel what it might be like to be a girl in New Orleans, a girl sheltered from The Quarter and schooled in the arts of Creole cooking and voodoo.  I wanted to be the young Camille.  And the way they move to Maine (and how Maine is ‘chosen’) was so clever, but also perfectly in line with what the now-world-wise Camille would do.

5.  Elements of surprise.  I was pleasantly surprised many times by this story, so many secrets and happenings — which I can’t list because I don’t want to give them away! — which unfolded in unexpected ways that, after the fact, made perfect sense.  It’s hard to surprise a reader who’s trying to puzzle out what’s coming, but Erika pulled it off so well.

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This would be a perfect book club choice.  I can see a group of women serving up the recipes in the book on a cold winter night, glasses of wine in hand, discussing the trials and pleasures of the Bergeron women.  I’m a little afraid to try the Pralines, but I’d be willing to give them a shot.  Plus, I’m always looking for just the right opportunity to say the word etouffee.  Doesn’t that just sound delicious?

Our Little Gale Gumbo

I just ordered my copy of LITTLE GALE GUMBO, a new novel by our very own Erika Marks.  I’m so excited to see this wonderful book finally – finally – come out into the world.  It’s been a pleasure to follow Erika’s road to publishing her first novel.  A labor of love, it’s been, and also years of dedication and hard work.

Click here to order your copy (on paper or Kindle).

Here’s a brief description.  Is it just me, or does this story sound like it would make for a great book club discussion?

Hoping for a fresh start, Camille Bergeron picked up her life–including her two teenage daughters, Dahlia and Josie–and left New Orleans for the quiet shores of Little Gale, an island off the coast of Maine. To share Creole spice with their islander neighbors, who at first were more suspicious than welcoming, the Bergeron family opened The Little Gale Gumbo Cafe. When Camille met Ben Haskell, a divorced local, and her daughters met his teenage son, Matthew, they knew that they had found a new home–and perhaps even a new family.

Today Dahlia’s free-spirited behavior is the stuff of legend on Little Gale, and Josie has grown up to become the island’s resident keeper of Creole traditions. But when a mysterious accident leaves Ben fighting for his life, the sisters must do everything in their power to protect and care for the man who has been more of a father to them than their real father ever was.

As a long-brewing storm of family conflict begins to break, Dahlia and Josie call Matthew home. Coming together in this time of crisis, they also must confront long held secrets and unrequited loves that will test the limits–and definition–of family.

The Art of Fielding

As much as I try to avoid the big hype books (until the hype is long dead, at least), I’ve made an exception for the current literary darling.

I first heard of THE ART OF FIELDING when, late on a Friday night, AmyG directed me to an article in the latest Vanity Fair she called “writer porn.”  And jesus people, who among us can pass up writer porn?

AmyG was right.  If you haven’t read this long and detailed piece about how THE ART OF FIELDING came to be, stop reading this post and get ye straight to the magazine and read Keith Gessen’s phenomenal essay.  (in the print magazine only, sorry)  I’ve never read a better, more detailed and intriguing drama about how a book was written, re-written, discovered, agented, edited, negotiated, sold, marketed and, finally, set out into the world.

The writer, Chad Harbach, is also a co-founder and editor of N+1, one of my favorite lit mags.  Here’s an 8 minute review on NPR’s All Things Considered.  Chad wrote this book long-hand; he says he finds writing on the screen paralyzing.  There’s a thought.  He’s got me thinking, this Chad Harbach character, thinking about baseball and expectations and writing and success and MOBY-DICK and tragedy and secrets and long sagas and the art of great story telling.

Who wants to read this with me?