Monday, August 31, 2015

Chaos

The Personal: 
My folks come for dinner to see Finn and Phoebe before they leave for college and as Theo and O. prep for new school year. Washing machine flood in basement as Dave puts the steaks on; fire alarm goes off as steaks smoke. Dogs run outside and sit on neighbor's lawn, as if following the safety plan. People eat, shouting between the fire alarms. I drop a knife that stabs the floor next to my foot. It was that kind of meal. 
Later, after everything calms down, Dave calls us all downstairs. "Are we in trouble?" "Are you going to make us look at the moon?" He has us all sit down and play "What's my problem?" -- a game he's just invented. Basically everyone gets 3 minutes to air their issues.
O. (8 years old) says, "I think you shouldn't just have to say your problems. You can be like, 'Socks these days. Am I right?'" We agree. We go around, each timed, and then discuss.
We laugh. We choke up. It's been a strange and wonderful summer -- the kind of tough summer you wouldn't trade.
The next day is the last before Finn leaves. I give him a haircut in the side yard, an old ritual, but it's later when I confess to him I haven't cried yet but I could. He's at the foot of the stairs. I'm at the top. The 8 year old is asking for soda in between. He says that he could dig at it and cry but doesn't feel like it. I say I don't want to either. He continues packing. The 8 year old is still hoping for soda. I wave her up the stairs and whisper that I'm sad about Finn leaving but my voice cracks and I start to cry. She stares at me, wide-eyed. Seeing a parent break down a little is surprising. Then she says in a very quiet voice, "Can I have some soda now?"
"No."
The Promotional: 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY has a fantastic review of HARRIET WOLF in the current issue. I hear that in print I'm on the same page as Franzen and got a higher grade, but I could care less about Franzen, on the planet and on the page. Hoping to get a copy in hand today. Here's a bit:
"Family secrets make for ripe hunting grounds for novelists. In this evocative book, those secrets hide mystery after mystery, like a set of Russian nesting dolls... No spoilers, but we’ll say this: Baggott knows how and when to reveal answers for the ultimate emotional punch."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The New York Times Book Review of HARRIET WOLF'S SEVENTH BOOK OF WONDERS

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW takes on Harriet Wolf, and, wow, it's a great review. I mean truly amazing. And the praise feels good, of course, but, more deeply, there's a feeling of being understood, to have the lines you needed to write singled out as if needed to be heard, to have labored so long and have someone say yes to the work, the ride, and mainly to my characters, who are real to me in all of their joy and suffering, love and sorrow... very thankful. 

And I'm thankful for all of you who have been such great support over the years. It means more than you might imagine. 

(The review will run, full page, on Sunday.)

Guest Post at WRITER UNBOXED

So, I rant a little in this guest-post at Writer Unboxed, and I hesitate to post this here because it will land with the community that really supports writers so incredibly well. But I write what I wish someone had broken down for me long ago and so I forge on with some hard truths like:
"People who say the right things will be loved a little more strongly. People who say the wrong things will go on a subconscious shit-list. The silence of those who say nothing will, over time, wear down the writer."
And ... "If the writer weren’t a writer but instead owned a taco truck parked nearby, would you feel weird never having stopped by to eat there? Two taco platters and two drinks cost about the same as a book. Buy your friend’s book."
Here is: One Rule and 12 Tips for Writers and their Family and their Friends. I hope there's something helpful in the mix.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Interview in the Baltimore Sun

I've written about Baltimore in so many of my novels and I'm very happy that in this Baltimore Sun interview (that just popped up today!) I finally get to explain why the city holds such literary grit for me. I talk about the historical Baltimore-based parts of HARRIET WOLF as well as baseball in writerly terms (a shout to catcher Mackey Sasser who started double-clutching on his throws to the pitcher), the creative process I built (how it's made me prolific), the ways I've faked myself into writing even when I felt like I couldn't go on.

And, yes, mentions of Loyola -- I wouldn't have gone if not for David Barrosse mentioning the school in passing in the halls -- and there's an odd compliment about the range of readers my work appeals to. Also thankful they pulled a lovely quote from Robert Olen Butler, one of the most generous writers I know.



(Note. I think I grew up north of the state line -- east? The plane crash was moved forward in time, not back. And the reference to MD School for Feeble Minded Children wasn't in a footnote in the book on Sheppard Pratt, as I state in the acknowledgments. I think it's p. 44. My fault.) 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pub Day, at last.

I'm really excited to announce that today is FINALLY pub day for HARRIET WOLF. 
19 years ago, I sat down with a couple outside of Chicago to interview them about a plane crash they'd witnessed -- a bolt of lightning hit a passenger plane over Elkton, Maryland. I knew about the crash because my Dad would take me to eat crabs at The Howard House as a kid, and they had framed the newspaper clipping and hung it up. The headline read DEAD FELL FROM SKY. Around this time, I somehow got my hands on an in-house publication about Sheppard Pratt, the famous (curative) mental institution in Baltimore. On p. 44, there was a mention of The Maryland School for Feeble Minded Children. On p. 45, I read about the murder of Dr. Wolff, killed by a visiting doctor from Japan, Dr. Ishida.
Over the next couple of years, I visited the grounds of the Maryland School for Feeble Minded Children, massive old asbestos-ridden buildings, long since condemned (in the Owings Mills area). I photocopied the 1911 report -- how hard those children were put to work; a portrait of their lives slowly emerged. I read all the news items about the murder trial.
I started publishing pieces of the novel fifteen years ago. And I stopped working on the novel many, many times. Abandoning it because I lacked the courage to keep at it. I've published over twenty books, but my relationship with literary fiction -- whatever that flimsy term might mean to anyone on a given day -- has been complex. About twelve years ago, I really stopped writing with that set of burdens and aspirations because I couldn't. I wrote my way around the term, created other identities in order to protect myself. I fell in love with other genres and audiences and ways of telling a story. I really found myself as a writer while trying on what I thought were masks.
HARRIET WOLF'S 7TH BOOK OF WONDERS is a return, in some ways, to what I first set out to do as a novelist. There are a number of reviews slated -- some of them biggies -- and I'm trying not to brace for them, to be honest. It's my job to be vulnerable as a novelist, not toughened. The way I actually protect myself is by being deep into another project when a book comes out and I am -- and it's one twisted, wild book that's not interested in any of the terms or definitions or maybe it's wearing all of them at once. I'm thankful, as ever, for the page. That's what sustains me.
So, today is pub day. I hope you buy the book; that's, quite simply, how literature survives. (If you don't buy my book this month, I hope you buy a book you love.) If you read this novel, I hope it burrows deep.



It'll be at the front table at BN, but here's the link:http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/harriet-wolfs-s…/1120878228…

Thursday, August 13, 2015

From the writer's desk ... notes.




Showing the chart for a work in progress. The numbers are pages; each character has a code -- lines, dots, letters -- and if they're above the line, those characters exist in one geographical location together and below represents another.

In this way, I can see, for example, that the cursive e's -- the character who starts the narrative -- goes relatively unheard from in the middle timeline, a real problem. The middle timeline shows the introduction of character marked by the letter N, who's minor.

I also jot a one-word understanding of the scene above or below the line.

These charts are out of date pretty quickly as I go in and spend a day back-filling information that I realize is missing -- shoving all the page numbers off.





[Now Available: HARRIET WOLF'S 7TH BOOK OF WONDERS.

Order it at your local independent bookstore.

It'll be at the front table at BN for a bit, but here's the link:http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/harriet-wolfs-s…/1120878228…





Monday, August 10, 2015

One week away...

   

Daisy said, “Love – it’s how we’re bloomed!”
And Weldon looked at her and said, “Bloomed?”
"Did I say bloomed? I meant doomed and blessed.”