Friday, December 31, 2010

A 1/2 Dozen for Novelist Caroline Leavitt

Here's a Half Dozen for bestselling, critically acclaimed novelist and screenwriter and book critic Caroline Leavitt.

Now sometimes the novelist skims the directions and instead of answering a Half Dozen questions from the batch I send, she answers ALL OF THEM! Leavitt's mistake is our goldmine ... Here she explains that

inspiration is really "kickstarting the subconscious"

and she tells us about her previous jobs as a switchboard operator, a daily lunch-supplier to a 500 lb. woman ( two cheeseburgers, chocolate cake and a diet Coke), a fashion-copy writer and a professional namer for Macy's.

and suggests that instead of falling in love with a writer you should...

"Run! Run away!"

and gives us advice for down-hearted writers, maybe even permission ...

"This is part of the deal, this black-souled, down-hearted mood."

And now the much much much more than a 1/2 Dozen with Caroline Leavitt:

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

I'm obsessed with the quantum physics idea of parallel universes. Imagine, everyone I know on another plane! I'm also obsessed with the late 1950s and early 60s, which is where my new novel--the one I'm writing--takes place.

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

Inspiration, when it came, came after weeks of staring at the screen and writing and suddenly things began to happen. But I think it is simply kickstarting the subconscious. I don't believe in a divine idea springing forth! Oh, that that were true! I think you just sit down and do the work every day and sometimes the pieces come together in wondrous ways. (And sometimes they don't.)

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

I love to write. I hate starting at the page, but I love that moment when you are in the "zone" and the characters are alive and you don't hear the doorbell or even the person you love calling your name.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?

Run! Run away! Seriously, you have to learn not to take silence personally. Not to take the writer's need for lots of time alone personally. And you should know you are with one of the most fragile-ego types in the universe.

What's your advice to a writer who's looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)

If you can, marry another writer. My husband works the same long hours I do. He knows that sitting at a desk staring for hours is indeed work (and he knows that it is necessary to take off and go to the movies in the middle of the day sometimes!)

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

Write every day. Never give up.

Tell us a tale from the publishing world – something, ANYthing about that process from your perspective.

It all depends on the publisher. I'm convinced. This is my 9th novel and outside of my first, the only one where I have not been ignored or humiliated. Algonquin went to work seven months before the book was even out and they got it into three printings before publication and a Costco pick with raves from Vanity Fair and O Magazine to boot! Someone there told me, "The difference between us and other publishers is other publishers say, 'Oh, that writer's sales are down. Let's let her/him go.' We say, 'Oh, that writer's sales are down. Let's try other markets to pull them up." To say I worship my publisher is putting it mildly.

Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.

This is part of the deal, this black-souled, down-hearted mood. And from it great things can happen. Pick yourself up, sit at your desk and work. Put it into your characters.

Criticism. It’s part of the territory. How do you handle it? Is this the way you’ve always handled it?

I used to cry and parse every sentence. What did the critic mean by "like" and why wasn't the word "love?" When I became a book critic, I came to realize how personal criticism is and to take everything--good and bad reviews not as fact, but as suggestions. Of course, I still memorize my good reviews and weep over the bad ones. I can't help it.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I was a lonely little girl with terrible asthma and stories saved my life. I spent a lot of time in the library because I couldn't go out and play with the other kids and I began to want to write stories as well. The first time I did (Adventure with a Lion! It was about a little girl who gets caught in a lion cage and saves her own life by offering the lion the last of her Oreo!) my teacher urged me to read it to the class. I was afraid the class would make fun of me, but instead they listened, their heads in their hands. It was the moment I knew what I wanted to be--an author.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

I read everything I can get my hands on, plus I'm a critic so I always get books in the mail. The books I am passionate about now are ones I am about to review, so I can't mention titles. But I did read and love DIRTY SECRETS by Jessie Sholl about her mother's hoarding.

People always talk about the writers they aspired to emulate. I’d love to know the writers you most hated as you were coming up and how those tastes shaped you.

I hated the minimalists. Hated anything experimental. Style over substance made me want to pound nails in my head. It made me realize that I wanted my readers to feel, to have their hearts pummeled.

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

What other aspects of my life? I'm kidding. I used to write with my son in his bassinet by my desk. He'd sleep for two hours, then wake for two hours and I'd devote myself to him until he slept again.

What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

I've had so many jobs! I was fired as a telephone answering service switchboard operator (There were two Dr. Foots, and I gave the wrong emergency message to the wrong doctor), I brought a 500 lb. woman her lunch every day ( two cheeseburgers, chocolate cake and a diet Coke.) I wrote fashion copy and was a professional namer for Macy's, a job I loved (Bohemian wrapsody. The Indian print skirts new possiblities....), and for a few years I wrote movie copy for Columbia House Video club. They were a nightmare. They told me any mistakes would be mine because they would know I was thinking of plot and not video! They also made a friend take down a rave NYT review of my book from her bulletin board because "it was not about videos." When I left I told them I had to leave because it was for "spiritual reasons not physical ones." Proudest moment of my life. I learned that I could work at home, teach, do freelance, and be a writer. I'll never ever get another onsite job!

If you teach the craft of writing, why do you do it -- other than cash?

It helps me in my own work. I like being able to figure out what works and what doesn't. Plus, it's really exciting when when of my students gets an agent and then a book deal! I LOVE it.

Was there an extremely influential writing teacher who was impactful on your writing life?

Yes. At Brandeis, I studied under this writer who told me I would never publish anything. When I did, I sent it to him, along with the great reviews. He insisted he was just trying "to make me angry to get me to write harder." Um. Yeah.

What’s your take on touring?

This is the first time I've really toured and I ADORE it. I love meeting the booksellers, I love talking to readers, love having an escort when I have an escort, and am just thrilled the whole time. Of course, being from NYC, I worry about bedbugs in hotels, though.

Faith. Do you consider yourself religious? If so, how does that manifest in your work and/or your process?

I believe in something--I'm more spiritual than religious and my characters always talk about God or psychic phenomena or things they don't understand but know are there.

This is a vast question. Interpret it at will. What’s the future of publishing?

I think people are hard wired to love stories. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

Caroline Leavitt is the author of 9 novels, most recently Pictures of You, which went into three printings before publication, is a Costco "Pennie's Pick," A Nervous Breakdown Bookclub Pick, and which won raves from Vanity Fair and O, the Oprah Magazine. The recipient of a New York Foundation of the Arts Grant, a Goldenberg Fiction Prize, and a National Magazine Award nomination, she is also a Nickelodeon Screenwriting Fellowship Finalist and she was a judge for the MidAtlantic Arts Foundation. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Psychology Today, More, and more. She teaches writing at UCLA Writers Program online and lives in NYC's unofficial 6th borough, Hoboken, NJ, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin and their teenaged son Max.

Visit her at her web site and her blog CarolineLeavittville
where she confesses to being a
novelist, screenwriter, writing mentor, namer, book critic, knitting addict and chocoholic.

A 1/2 Dozen for Novelist Chantel Acevedo

The 1/2 Dozen is a new recurring feature here at The Shared Brain of Baggott, Asher & Bode. Basically, I send a bunch of questions to established and emerging novelists who pick a half dozen to answer. I post.

Here's a 1/2 dozen from debut novelist CHANTEL ACEVEDO

who grew up in a ...

"...a highly politicized world, and one full of very real longing and sadness."

who confesses ...

"[inspiration] makes me feel so inadequate because I usually don’t write from sudden flashes of genius or creativity. For me, it’s always been about ... memory and perceptiveness."

and FINALLY someone gives us advice on LOVE ...

"Don’t marry that other boy, the one that will compete with you for joy."


I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I hate the idea of inspirations, too! God, it makes me feel so inadequate because I usually don’t write from sudden flashes of genius or creativity. For me, it’s always been about two things—memory and perceptiveness. Writers really need to hone that perceptive eye, perceptive ear. What was the Henry James line? “A writer is a person on whom nothing is lost.” It goes something like that, and I think inspiration springs from this ability to notice things. Memory goes a long way with me, too. The initial draft of LOVE AND GHOST LETTERS began with a memory that isn’t mine, really. My grandmother often told a story about being a little girl in Cuba, in Matanzas province, and being chased by an ungodly sized grasshopper. So I started with that, but I turned the grasshopper into a pig about to be butchered, for the drama of it. It all started there, before there were any real characters. There was this chase, there was a girl, and there was Cuba. The rest evolved, not from inspiration, I’d say, but from a fusion of old stories, which I twisted and manipulated into fiction.

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

The hardest part is opening the document on my computer. Once I do it, the hours slip away, like time travel, or being under anesthesia. I look up from the screen and I’m three-thousand words from where I was, and the sky is dark. But to get me to actually OPEN the document is like getting a cat to willingly jump in a creek. I hate the idea of writing. A thousand things call to me—dishes, laundry, reorganizing a sock drawer—anything but writing. Writing takes a stillness that isn’t in my nature. It takes solitude, and I prefer being with people. I can go a few days without writing. I’m not one of those writers that must write each day. But eventually, the story I’m working on starts to nag me, like a ringing in the ear, and I start to feel this oppressive guilt about NOT writing, and so I open up the damn document. Then, I’m flying, and wondering what took me so long.

What's your advice to a writer who's looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)

I don’t know if the qualities a writer needs in a partner are any different from ones everyone needs, to tell the truth. My husband is happy for me when I publish something. He urges me to write when I get lazy. He’s often a sounding board for a problematic plot point (and he’s incredibly helpful in that regard). He generally doesn’t read my work, which doesn’t bother me. I don’t know how to respond to people who do, actually. What does one do? Smile, say ‘thanks’ if they say something nice, blush a little? What if they hated it? Of course, I WANT readers! But I’m okay that my husband isn’t one of them. This is how I knew I loved him: We met in high school (I know, awwww…) and at the time I was harboring a crush on my future husband and another boy at the same time. We were taking Creative Writing together, and the three of us made up the top three students in the class. At the end of the year, our teacher chose to give me the Best Writer prize at the student assembly. The boy I didn’t marry, who had been so sweet before, snarled at me in class the next day, and said something like, “I deserved that award.” Then, in walks the future husband, unaware of what just went down. He sits, nudges my shoulder, and says, “I’m so glad you won.” That was it. I was sold. He’s still doing that, being happy for me. So that’s my advice. Don’t marry that other boy, the one that will compete with you for joy. Be with the one that will be joyous with you.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I was quiet. I was, inwardly, very dramatic. Do you remember that movie, “A Christmas Story,” when the boy Ralphie is forced to suck on soap for cursing? Remember how he imagines that the soap has made him blind, and that his parents are riddled with guilt for what they’ve done? That scene always struck a chord with me. I was that kid, imagining all sorts of terrors and vengeances. But outwardly, no one would guess that about me. That was what was going on in my head. Around me, I grew up in a highly politicized world, and one full of very real longing and sadness. I’m a daughter of Cuban immigrants, and count a good many exiles among my relatives. We housed family members fresh from the island with frequency. Nearly all of them hoarded food, as if we would run out. And, my God, the stories they told! I soaked them all up, and have since used a good many. As a kid, I went to a bilingual school, where we sang the U.S. National Anthem, and then the Cuban anthem. It was a highly religious school, too, and the principal loved telling us gruesome stories about the child martyrs. Messed up stuff, which scared me, but which I was drawn to as well. I didn’t know any of this was worth writing about for a long time. My first stories were set in Watertown, New York, where my stepfather is from. He’s Irish-American, from a golfing family. They ate pork chops and applesauce and collected Belleek porcelain. When I met them, I thought, “This is the REAL America, and these are the people in the books I’ve read,” and so I wrote about them. But the stories didn’t have any spark. It wasn’t until I saw Cristina Garcia’s DREAMING IN CUBAN, back when I was in college, that I realized I could write about my childhood, my people, the island I never knew but that I feel as if I’ve got it’s dirt under my fingernails.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

I’ve always got at least three books going at any given time. I’m a generous reader. I like nearly everything to some degree, and I find myself making excuses for the writer when I don’t like something. The best book I read last year was Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS. It was such a unique, edgy take on the “Oh, crap, I’m in a magical world” kind of story. For a long time, I’ve been on a Greek/Roman retelling kick. Ursula Le Guin’s LAVINIA, which retells THE AENEID, is powerful and, surprisingly, a tender love story. Barry Unsworth’s SONG OF THE KINGS, a rebooting of the Iphigenia story, is as much about the ancient world as it is about modern day America. Those are two big authors there. Readers may have missed Jane Alison’s THE LOVE ARTIST, about Ovid, which is one of the most lyrical books I’ve ever read, and Katharine Beutner’s ALCESTIS, out of Soho Press, which imagines the gods in ways that feel extraordinarily human and frightening at once. I don’t know why I love these kinds of books so much. These stories make up our root metaphors, and I think that’s why they continue to be so compelling, and worth revisiting. (Full disclosure: I love teaching World Literature, and I just finished a manuscript set in Ancient Sparta.)

Was there an extremely influential writing teacher who was impactful on your writing life?

I’d be remiss in not mentioning Lester Goran, my friend and mentor at the University of Miami. I did an MFA only because Lester, having been my undergraduate teacher, said, “You are doing this. This is what you need.” I think he knew that, had I graduated, and gone on to teach high school straight out of undergrad, with only two little short stories under my belt, I wouldn’t write again. He was the first to call me a writer, without any of that condescension teachers sometimes use. He never “yessed” me out the door. If what I wrote didn’t please him, he’d tell me. And when he loved something, he told me, too. He continues to be an amazing model for me as a writer and a teacher. I should also give credit to my high school English teacher, Michael Garcia. Back in the 10th grade, he had us do these little creative writing prompts. He called it our “Awakening Journal” and I filled mine in dutifully, expecting my ‘A,’ which I always got on writing assignments. But Mr. Garcia gave me a ‘B.’ He wrote, “You can do better,” in the margins, and he was right. No teacher had ever called me out on not drilling hard enough on a story, with an idea, etc. I hated him for about a day then I realized he was right. Learning to take criticism, good criticism, is an invaluable lesson for a writer, and I learned it early.

Chantel Acevedo’s first novel, Love and Ghost Letters won the Latino International Book Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book of the Year. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Poetry Review, and North American Review, among others. Her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she's the recipient of two Fulbright awards for secondary education. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Auburn University, where she teaches Creative Writing and coedits the Southern Humanities Review.

Visit her at or at Facebook where a recent post says gives instructions on how to celebrate NEW YEARS a lo cubano or at her BLOG.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A 1/2 Dozen for Novelist Susan Henderson

The 1/2 Dozen is a new recurring feature here at The Shared Brain of Baggott, Asher & Bode. Basically, I send a bunch of questions to established and emerging novelists, they pick a half dozen to answer. I post.

Here's a 1/2 dozen from debut novelist SUSAN HENDERSON

who tells us how she grew up:

"... around geniuses—the inventors of the internet, artificial speech, various weapons of mass destruction, autonomous vehicles..."

who gives us writing advice:

"Think back to when you really loved writing—before it was about feedback/publication/rejection, before it felt like a chore, before you felt like a failure...."

and shares the things that have most impacted her life:

"...From middle school through high school, I babysat for a family whose eldest daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was four, and so her surgeries and chemo and everything she and her family had to adjust to was smack in the center of my life... [it] changed me in every single cell."


Tell us a tale from the publishing world—something. ANYthing about that process from your perspective.

This is what I’ve learned from studying book launches for the past several years: Publishers chase, rather than create, enthusiasm. So your job as an author is to help create and point out anything that might excite them—anything they can use in a press release, anything they can tweet or use as leverage for getting the next review. The author needs to take that extra step.

The reader can take that extra step, too. It’s a wonderful thing to get a private note from someone saying how much he or she loved your book. In the end, that’s why you write—for that single connection between writer and reader. But private notes won’t impact sales or word of mouth, and they won’t give your publisher leverage to seek out foreign sales rights, more press, and so on. So if you love a book, and if you’ve already taken the time to do the hard part, which is to put your thoughts into a private note, do the author the grandest favor and post some version of that note on Amazon, GoodReads, FaceBook, or all of the above. You can have a profoundly positive impact on an author’s career whenever you take that extra five minutes, and I try hard to take that advice myself.

Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.

My agent taught me this: Think back to when you really loved writing—before it was about feedback/publication/rejection, before it felt like a chore, before you felt like a failure. Remember the joy in coming up with the exact color blue for a character’s eyes. Remember looking up at the clock and discovering a whole day had gone by while you were lost in the world of your story. Find that again.

If it’s hard to remember when writing was something you loved, try this: Imagine stopping. Imagine not finishing that story or book you’ve been stuck on. Imagine losing your computer and all your unfinished manuscripts in a fire. If that sends you into an utter panic, then—hard as it may be to get it right—you simply must find a way to tell your story.

Criticism. It’s part of the territory. How do you handle it? Is this the way you’ve always handled it?

I don’t know a tougher critic than myself. I’m absolutely ruthless—throwing several entire manuscripts away and reworking the others again and again, from the large picture to the sentence level. The second toughest critic I know is my agent, and I value his input so much even if it takes me a few days to recover from it. Tough editing and hard truths are what raise your level of writing.

Critical reviews, however, are new territory for me. This isn’t someone taking an unfinished piece and trying to help you make it better. This is someone looking at work you just about killed yourself to get right and giving his opinion in the public arena. Sometimes he’ll point out something about a plot turn that you would have liked to have edited a little more yourself. But the truth is, the reviews you get of your finished work tend to say very personal things: I don’t care about the people or the issues that you care about, I don’t like the way you see the world, the things that move you bore or annoy me. It’s not a tough critique of your work so much as someone saying that they don’t like the most private things about you.

As I see it, you can only handle this in three ways: You can take it in and let it confirm your deepest fears that you’re weird and unlikable and irritating to other people. You can hate them back. Or you can do what writers have to do again and again to survive this business: You toughen up. People have different temperaments and life experience, and so naturally they have different points of view on who or what is funny and who or what is sympathetic and who or what is entertaining. You’re much better off to listen to the criticisms of people who are naturally drawn to your characters and subject matter than to people who can’t relate.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I was not an easy kid to pinpoint. I was a bookworm and a hard worker, but I was also a firestarter, and I loved to instigate something and watch the ripple effect. I was shy but still wanted to be the center of attention. And I liked to walk up close to dangerous things—poking snakes, barking at dogs, engaging someone who looked unhinged—just to see what would happen and whether I could master the situation.

I grew up around geniuses—the inventors of the internet, artificial speech, various weapons of mass destruction, autonomous vehicles—so one thing that did was give me a complex that I was underachieving. Falling short. But the other thing it did was it put it in my head that I could reach unrealistically high, and if I was tenacious enough, I could achieve what seemed impossible.

What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?

There have been some incredible books out of indie presses. Dylan Landis wrote a phenomenal collection of interconnected short stories called NORMAL PEOPLE DON’T LIVE LIKE THIS (Persea) that explores the hidden lives of girls and their mothers. It’s dark (I like dark) and ventures into bullying, shoplifting, and unwanted pregnancies. Binnie Kein’s memoir, BLOWS TO THE HEAD (State University of New York Press), describes her decision, at age 55, to take up boxing. It's a story of body image, suppressed rage, growing confidence, coming to terms with aging, and a fascinating look at the history of Jewish boxers. And Pinckney Benedict’s story collection, MIRACLE BOY (Press 53) is a pretty thrilling and surprisingly tender look into the lives of rural boys. I just loved these books—they’re good enough to teach from, and they deserve a wider audience.

As far as big press goes, my favorites in the past decade are probably Nicole Krauss’s HISTORY OF LOVE and Terrance Hayes’ LIGHTHEAD.

What other jobs have you had—other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever taken an inventory before. Let’s see… in elementary school, I tutored Vietnemese kids in English, I was a “helper” between the deaf and hearing classes at my school, and I was on the Children’s Board of Directors at The National Theatre. From middle school through high school, I babysat for a family whose eldest daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was four, and so her surgeries and chemo and everything she and her family had to adjust to was smack in the center of my life. In college and during summers, I worked at a special ed school, I taught English as a Second Language, I waitressed, I worked as a cashier at the grocery store, and I worked as a helper at the vet. One day I had to help carry a large dog to the oven, I guess you’d call it, for cremation, and I realized I didn’t have what it took to stay there. After college, for some time, I worked as a counselor for survivors of sexual abuse.

I think every job helped to broaden my empathy in some way, but the babysitting job changed me in every single cell. Watching this family face the most frightening thing you could ever face—not knowing if your child will survive, and if she does, knowing for certain that she will not be the same—and then seeing how they continued to find joy and laughter… that was just a profound wake up call to the power of love and the strength of character.

Was there an extremely influential writing teacher who was impactful on your writing life?

When I was nineteen, I took my first of many classes with the poet Jim Daniels at Carnegie Mellon. He was not much older than me. And he came from the car factories in Detroit and had this real gift for writing direct and gritty stories that captured the voice of ordinary people but with absolute attention to wording, imagery and rhythm.

He trained my ear. I began to understand what a single sentence could do, and the importance of adjusting the rhythm to change the emotion or pace of a scene. He taught me, without ever making me feel personally criticized, how to know what to throw out and what to keep.

We used to have to write a new poem for every single class, and we always started with the two toughest questions: Did you like it, and what’s it about? (Don’t ever say yes to the first question if you can’t answer the second one!) And the writer has to say quiet until the discussion is over. The critiques were never about building each other up or tearing each other down. We were simply learning how to clarify a piece of writing to make it accessible to others. We were learning how to strengthen its impact. I’ve had many incredible teachers, but Jim is my favorite.

Susan Henderson’s debut novel, UP FROM THE BLUE (HarperCollins, 2010), has been selected as a Great Group Reads pick (by the Women’s National Book Association), an outstanding softcover release (by NPR), a Best Bets Pick (by BookReporter), Editor’s Pick (by BookMovement), the Editor’s Choice (by BookBrowse), and a Top 10 of 2010 (by Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness). Susan is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award and a two-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize. She blogs at, and The Nervous Breakdown. Her husband is a costume designer, filmmaker, and tenured drama professor. They live in NY with their two boys.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Half Dozen for Novelist and Short Story Writer Laurie Foos

(A Brief Explanation of A Half Dozen: This is a new, recurring feature that I've put together. It's simple. I send a bunch of questions to an author I'm interested in, and they choose a half dozen to answer. I post the results. The idea was sparked by reading Joshilyn Jackson's wonderful blog Faster than Kudzu. Half Dozens will include established bestselling novelists as well as debut writers and OCCASIONAL book give-aways. Two upcoming Half Dozens will be Melissa Senate whose latest -- The Love Goddess' Cooking School -- has just popped and Heidi Durrow whose debut The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is a critically acclaimed bestseller.)

And now ...


Laurie Foos is the author of the novels EX UTERO, PORTRAIT OF THE WALRUS BY A YOUNG ARTIST, TWINSHIP, BINGO UNDER THE CRUCIFIX, and BEFORE ELVIS THERE WAS NOTHING. Her new novel, THE BLUE GIRL, is forthcoming. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines, among them The Greensboro Review (for which Julianna Baggott was once Fiction Editor -- Laurie put that in there) and many other magazines and anthologies. An essay about her father’s last days, “On Bearing Witness,” will appear in the anthology, TWELVE BREATHS PER MINUTE, in June 2011. She teaches in the low-residency program at Lesley University and lives on Long Island with her husband and two children.

Find out more about Laurie at

1. I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I’d say first of all that I’m generally in agreement with you regarding the question of inspiration, though I have had moments that, as you say, defy explanation. Some of those moments have begotten other moments, but generally speaking, my experience has been that while the initial idea clearly springs from my unconscious (and therefore feels “inspired”), the work of a first draft and then the subsequent work of revising and revising—which I love—can be brutal. There is a period, in every novel I’ve written so far in which I have that panicked feeling that I’m the juggler in the ring, that all my balls are in the air, and God help me but let me keep them from crashing down on my head. My first novel, EX UTERO, truly did feel like a gift, as it came to me in that half-dream state before sleeping, and thank the gods I got up and got myself a notebook. This new novel, THE BLUE GIRL, has had in common what all the others have shared, and that’s the first line. That is always where I begin, with the first line or the first image. But that line has to come on its own, and there’s no forcing it. That line came, and I wrote a flurry of pages some years ago at an artist colony, but then set the book aside in favor of another one I’ve since shelved (how’s that for irony?). This novel also has six 1st person points of view (what the hell was I thinking?), and I’m not sure they’ll all remain. But for now, I am letting each of them speak, and I do have to wait for the voices to come back. There’s probably medication for this sort of thing. J

I did want to say, too, that I’ve always found it intriguing that Amy Hempel has always maintained that of course writers work on inspiration, and that of course we have to wait for it. She says she’s always worked that way, and it’s certainly worked well for her.

2. Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

When I was younger, I’d have more definitively and, without hesitation, said, “I love writing.” It’s not that the process has changed for me, but I’d say my relationship to writing has become more complicated as I’ve gotten older, had children, lost people I love. There have been times in the last couple of years that I’ve questioned whether I’d continue. I wonder if other writers feel that way; I tend to think they do. A good friend of mine, a well-known Y/A writer, told me recently (I’m not naming him only b/c I’m not sure he’d want his editor to know this) that when he’d finally finished the latest novel in the series he was working on, his wife congratulated him, and he felt a momentary high. Then, almost immediately, he said, he felt utterly dejected and said, “But now I’ve got to f-ing do it all over again!” We laughed and laughed over that, but I completely understood what he meant. I’d still say I love writing, and for me, when I’ve written and the results have been good, bad, or indifferent on that particular day, I feel like my truest self. Like the self I was meant to be. Worries about kids, money—pshah! The world could fall down around me on those days. I wrote, goddamnit. And I am certainly most sane when I am writing regularly. Times when other obligations or sick kids get in the way of writing time, I suddenly wish more than anything else that I had time to write. I still feel that the moments in which time moves of its own accord, and I look up at the clock to realize hours have gone by, are the moments that keep me going. Other times you just need to grit your teeth and do it, despite yourself, and just do your best to get out of your own way—chained to the chair, as you are.

3. Tell us a tale from the publishing world – something, ANYthing about that process from your perspective.

I’ll tell the good one—the best one. (There’s a horrid one, and one day I’ll write it, sooner rather than later, I think). I was rescued from the slush pile by an intern at Coffee House Press. (Bless that girl’s heart). Until then, I’d aspired to be a short story writer, and by that I mean I felt that the short story was the highest art form. I came of age when Carver was at his peak, on the front cover of the NY Times Book Review, and having a career as a short story writer had been possible. With the exception of Alice Munro and a handful of others, I’m not sure that’s possible any longer. So I’d written this novel—I was terrified to call it a novel, even, and referred to it as “the long piece”—and decided, “Okay, I’ll send it out to a few places, and if I get some nice rejections, I’ll probably leave it at that.” Acquiring an agent was furthest from my mind. This was a book about a woman who’d lost her uterus! I sent out some queries and sample chapters, and within a couple of weeks I got a note back from Coffee House asking to see the whole novel. Nothing within the publishing world, for me, has ever exceeded that day in my kitchen when I answered the phone and heard, “This is Allan Kornblum from Coffee House Press. We’d like to publish your book.” Apparently the intern had been dispatched to pass a few hours reading from the slush pile and kept saying, “Eww!” until Allan asked what she was reacting to. She said, “We wouldn’t want to publish a book about a woman who loses her uterus in the mall, would we?” and Allan said, “Pass that on over here.”

4. What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

Flannery O’Connor said that writers are writers by the time they are seven years old. That was true for me. The desire to write, to put words to paper, emerged for me at a very early age. I can remember being in first grade or so and watching a documentary about Abe Lincoln, of all things, and sitting down to write several pages about him. Somehow I knew this was something I should show the teacher, and I did that next day. I was a very quiet little girl, very introspective, probably much too deep for my own little age. Then in fourth grade I had a teacher, with whom I am still in touch, who told me that I was going to be a writer. My father was a mailman and worked in a side business cleaning offices, and by that I mean vacumming, scrubbing toilets. He worked long hours—sometimes sixteen hour days—in jobs that mostly, he hated. In my early childhood my parents were superintendents of an apartment building, so what I knew of writers….well, I didn’t. But they were great storytellers, my parents, and the stories of their childhoods, which I took in even as a small child, were filled with humor, but also with poverty and struggle, and pain. My father had been a naturally gifted athlete and could have become a professional baseball player, but his youth and then recklessness prevented this. When he was sick and dying from cancer, he used to say to me, “That’s why I’m so proud of you, because you kept your dreams. I threw mine all away.” When I use a public bathroom, I think of the person who might have cleaned it. I’ve since come to know writers from a long pedigree, and I think that there must come with it enormous expectation and pressure. Mine was, and is, an inner compulsion, as it must be for all of us. If you don’t feel utterly compelled to write, that you simply must do it, then by all means, don’t.

5. Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

This question makes me think of Grace Paley’s saying, “There is no balance.” Certainly the balance of time was much simpler before I had two children, and I can very clearly recall making a decision shortly after graduate school that writing had to become the center of my life—even if that center existed only in my own head and in my own home—or the perseverance to publish would not be possible. There exists for me, at least, a very definite split between my writing life and the day-to-day life of being a mother to two small children, 5 and 4. My little guy is on the autism spectrum, and his needs and the issues surrounding his way of processing the world take up a good deal of my head space as well as my time. Now that both kids are both in school much of the day, it’s become somewhat easier to carve out time. But I live on Long Island, in the heart of suburbia, and while people are often interested in what I do when I tell them I’m a writer, it’s a bit like the record needle has scratched the vinyl when I say, “Well, my new book is about a girl who is blue, and three women come to feed her moon pies out of their own guilt.”

6. Are you bloggish? Why?

Recently I’ve taken a few tentative steps into the blogging world. I hated the idea of it at first—I’d guess most writers do—but I’ve started thinking about it more and wanting to do it more. One reason is that—let’s be honest—it can be helpful when you have a new book coming out. Another is that it can be out-and-out fun, and the feedback is immediate, and so why the hell not? Still another is that the death of my father, after a seven year battle with cancer, has pulled me for the first time toward the desire to write in my own voice, to write non-fiction. The few blogs I’ve written feel like baby steps. The new book novel to be darker than my past work, and I yearn to write something balls-out funny. That will be next, but for now, my New Year’s resolution is to have more fun, and blogs feel like a great way to do that. Here’s hoping.

Visit Laurie at Facebook (where a recent post states "Laurie Foos has exhausted her supply of trash magazines in these two snowed-in days.") or at

Monday, December 27, 2010

Stuff My 3 year old said this Christmas.

1. Three year old says, "I love my beautiful alcoholic dress!"

I tell the 15 year old that the 3 year old just said this.

"Oh, yeah. I got THE OFFICE'S Christmas video and he learned that from the Meredith intervention episode."

2. I'm talking about a dream I had where my old friend Anita showed up.

Three year old, while eating breakfast, says, "Anita Hill?"

Okay, the last time I said the words Anita Hill in this house was months ago when Clarence Thomas's wife wanted Hill to apologize after all these years - as if Hill did anything wrong. Sure, I was fired up, but that's just weird.

3. We're saying our prayers, which are long as a way to forestall falling asleep. The litany goes, "Watch over this person and that person ..."

The three year old says, "And watch over your hair, Mommy, and your roots."

Okay, fine. I could use some touching up, but do I need prayers? Maybe, okay. Fine.

Once the kid's asleep, I tell the 15 year old what just happened. "How does he know about touching up my roots?"

She thinks about it. "TABITHA'S SALON TAKE OVER?" she says. "Wow, I guess he pays more attention than I thought."

This is all basically a replay of my childhood. Like my three year old, I was the youngest of four after a size-able gap. I heard everything. I parroted.

And I survived -- with an extensive vocabulary. Worse things.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Ever-Changing Mystery Christmas Gift (three-year-olds, you can't trust 'em.)

I ask the three year old what he wants for Christmas. He says, "Mushy Grandpa."

"What's that?" I ask. Our sitter -- who's been with us a long time now -- has an odd sense of humor. And I'm never really surprised when the three year old points to a girl in a TV show and says something like, "I bet dat girl has one hairy toe." Or when he tells stories about weird, sickly cats that have hairballs or refuses to play with me because I won't speak with a British accent -- the sitter's mother is British and when he pretends to be her, I have to be British or, alas, it all falls apart and I'm just me.

"Mushy grandpa is ..." He's all whispery now. "A dog that poops all de time!"

"We have two of those." Our dogs poop plenty.

"Mushy grandpa is not a real dog!"

I try to catch the three year old off guard and ask him what he wants -- you know, while he's falling asleep or waking up, while he himself is pooping ... -- hoping for a different answer. No luck. The answer is always the same. He wants mushy grandpa.

I ask the sitter what mushy grandpa is. She has no idea -- or she's not talkin'.

He keeps telling me mushy grandpa is a dog that poops all the time and it's all he wants.

So I set out to find dog poop. I was trying to shop locally or small-biz this Christmas. But fake dog poo NOT made in China? I wasn't optimistic. Alas, I scored. Fake poo on It hasn't shipped yet. And I buy a soft plush stuffed dog.

Meanwhile, my 15 year old daughter says to me yesterday, "I know what Mushy Grandpa really is."

"It's not a dog that poops all the time?"

"He confessed that he made it up. He said to me today, 'Mushy grandpa isn't a dog dat poops all de time. I was pwetending.' And I said, 'Then what is it?' And he said, 'A mirror.'"

At this point I'm worried. Is this a metaphorical mirror, a soul mirror, a thing that reflects the true self? In other words: a psychological test to see if I'm a fit mother. (Does a fit mother buy a three year old American-made fake dog poo? I fret.)

My 15 year old says, "Then he said, 'Mushy grandpa is a ballerina.'"

Was this a Black Swan reference? Something about perfectionism? I haven't yet seen the film but, let's face it, the hype is EVERYwhere.

This is the moment of truth. I've been messed with.

The kid comes in just now while I'm typing to announce he's just stepped on a "dinky."

"A dinky?"

"A dinky that goes down the dairs." His s's aren't fully formed.

"A slinky!" I say. "I'm sorry about that."

He limps over.

I say, "What's mushy grandpa?"

He points at something on my desk and says, "What's dat?" (Classic.)

"What's mushy grandpa?" I stick with my line of questioning.

"Where did you buy dat?"

It's a fruity chapstick. There's little this kid loves more than fruity chapstick. You gotta watch him with it still because he eats it. "I'll let you smell the chapstick if you tell me what mushy grandpa is."

He stares at me. "It's a ball."

"A ball?"

I let him smell the chapstick.

I wait a minute. "What's mushy grandpa?"

He smiles. "A ball."

"What ELSE is mushy grandpa?"

"Nofing else."

I keep typing.

Then he says, "Mushy grandpa is a basket. And a poop."

"Does mushy grandpa change?"

"Yes!" And then there's a dramatic pause. "It's a poop."

This is my life, I think. You just wouldn't guess it and then, here it is! Life.

And in my current life, I check the mailbox daily ... for what?

Mushy grandpa, of course.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tis the MLA Season -- some academic job market tips.

It's a hell of a way to spend the holiday season, but there it is -- MLA. This is where the creative writing professorial job market shuffles along from hotel-room interviews, to anxious hotel bars and lobbies, to packed elevators of people unaccustomed to wearing suits are wearing suits.

So some really basic tips here. You know these, people, but let's review.

A. Don't assume you're a shoo-in if someone says you're a shoo-in. These are hires-by-committee. No one is shooed anywhere. And this is academic logic, which means it's like many otters in a box not made for otters. You can't try to outguess it.

B. Don't assume you'll never get it or that you're under-qualified or that this is just a clerical error and somebody's going to get a real tongue-lashing for misdialing numbers or or or ... Again, otters in a box, people. Anything can happen and does all the time.

C. If you're kind of naturally casual -- and writers, left to their own devices, tend toward jammies -- go against your natural inclinations. This isn't what you'd wear to a reading when you're the artsy type they've hired to be artsy, get tipsy, and tell outlandish tales about [insert lewd poet here]. Suit up. Look like you're going to show up to committees. Funky glasses, that's fine -- but don't wear your pajamas under your suit so it kind of sticks out the bottom.

D. Prep. If you can, nicely, find out who's going to be interviewing you -- usually a few -- do. Find out about their work, their research. It'll help. Know about their school -- the number and demographics of the students, the mission of the school, a little about its history. Why would you want to teach here and not someplace else? Why this town? They don't want to hire you just to have to come back to MLA and this little hotel-room Q and A in two years to rehire for the position. Are you gonna stay? If you've done your prep, you've already invested. They know you're serious.

D and a half. Do they have a reading series? A lit mag? A cool student-run lit blog? Let them know what stuff you find cool and interesting about their program -- stuff you could add to and enhance. Enhance is a good word.

E. Have stuff down pat -- know what you're working on, sound smart about it, memorize it if you have to. It's hard to discuss work in progress. Don't get caught flat-footed on what should be a softball question, asked to make you feel more comfortable. Know your teaching philosophy. Know the books you use in the classroom for course you've taught and want to teach. Memorize these too if you have to. Be ready to answer -- what are you reading now? Seriously, it sounds idiotic, but if someone asks you something basic you can go blank. And, unlike Palin, you should have good answers here. This is a nice question.

F. These interviews can be really socially awkward. Human beings generally don't like awkward situations so try to stay calm but also remember that they're not here to nail you on some prelim question you didn't choose to answer. They want this to go smoothly, too. They're on your side and will try to set you at ease.

G. Unless they're kind of hostile. If they are, this has nothing to do with you. They might not like each other and have been forced to spend long hours in a room together for a couple of days. Don't take it personally. One of them bought all-onion bagels on the bagel run and this has pissed them off. Factions have formed over bagels. Just be congenial.

H. Look, you're at the interview because you probably want the job. Act like it. Be enthusiastic.

I. Don't drink too much in the hotel bars and act sloppy. This is a small conference after all. It only seems big. These people will recognize you, might want to chat. And don't stay out late. You know, try to rest up. You could keep granola bars on you and a water bottle or something -- stay hydrated and no sugar lows ... that kind of thing.

J. Oh, go to some panels! You're at MLA and, frankly, they might ask, just to make some banter but also to test your natural curiosity. Have something to say.

K. Talk to people who pump you up. You might want to avoid overtalking this stuff with friends in the same boat if they up your nervousness.

LMNOP ... I don't know. This is the best I can do at this point, from afar.

Go get 'em.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa is Cweepy. The Holiday Quotes Begin.

"Santa is cweepy," the three year old says.

I try to reason with him. "I know, he sees you while you're sleeping and all, but still we should let him in just to put presents under the tree."

"He can put dem in the car."

"Do we have to have Christmas morning in the car?"


Later, the three-year-old is singing, "Oh, you better watch out! You better watch out! You better watch out!" Those are the only lyrics he knows. It doesn't bode well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why You Shouldn't Read My Books: A Real Step-by-Step Guide

So Here's Part One of a Three-Part Breakdown of my books and Why You Shouldn't Read Them.

It's a novelist's job to tell readers why they should read their books -- a dismal, embarrassing task. I'm weary of all that. So, here's the opposite. It's the thing that I'm thinking -- clang, clang, clang in my head -- but not what I'm ever saying. So now I'll say why NOT to read my books.

I also provide handy Alternate Suggestions and a Cheat Sheet, if -- for some weird reason -- you've got to crack one of 'em open.

I hope this is helpful and saves you a lot of time -- not reading my books.

Here we go, in order.

1. Girl Talk -- a novel by Julianna Baggott. Don't read it. Why? Pink cover. It came out right at the Early Rise of Chick Lit. In fact, the first time I heard the term Chick Lit, it was in a headline reviewing a few novels by women, including mine. The headline read, "Chick Lit Deserves More Credit." So in one fell swoop, I found out what slot I'd been shoved into and that it was a disparaged one that deserved better. If the novel had been born a few years earlier, it would have been called -- I don't know -- a novel?

Alternate Suggestion: So, instead of reading this novel, you should read THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH by Michael Chabon. Seriously.

Cheat sheet: If you have to crack Girl Talk, only read the first paragraph. It sums the novel concisely and sounds a lot like THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH by Michael Chabon.

2. This Country of Mothers -- a collection of poems by Julianna Baggott. Don't buy it. It's now free downloadable at It does what first books of poetry often do -- big on image and content (you've had your whole life to sort through) and short on restraint, finery, dexterity. It tromps through three generations and sorts out a lot of personal things that needed sorting. Are these things that YOU need to sort? Probably not.

Alterante Suggestion: Sort your own things.

Cheat sheet: Hmm. "Blurbs" and, if you were raised Catholic, there's some stuff in there like "After Giving Birth, I Recall the Madonna and Child."

3. The Miss America Family -- another novel by Julianna Baggott. Funny, twisted, sure, absurd and sometimes kind of glorious -- at least in its gestures -- but way too ambitious for my talent.

Suggestion: Re-watch the popular film of this same era with Americana-verbiage in its title -- AMERICAN BEAUTY. Time better spent.

Cheat sheet: If you've got to crack it, only read page 11.

4. The Madam -- historical novel by Julianna Baggott. I can't even talk about this novel. It breaks my heart. Kills me. Still, any new therapist who takes me on has to sit through a good chunk of time devoted to the writing and publishing experiences on this one. Honestly, I had to do that weird thing where you follow lights with your eyes to process what happened here -- under supervision.

This was the one, also, when I stopped trying to be John Irving, and then reviewers said I was copping an Irving attitude because I had a bear in it. What?

I was lucky that this one was published after I'd written WHICH BRINGS ME TO YOU with Steve Almond because the going public of it marks the end of some kind of relationship I thought I had with the reader and changed my work forever.

Alternate Suggestion: FAIR AND TENDER LADIES by Lee Smith. It'll make you cry plenty.

Cheat Sheet: Last paragraph on p. 139 that wraps onto p. 140. Done.

5. Which Brings Me to You -- an epistolary novel co-written with Steve Almond. Actually, this one's easy. I have to love it because it's so otherly, a hybrid. But I didn't really especially love the review in the Washington Post by a male and a female reviewer (coauthored review, clever, right?), in which one of them said that the book was too well written to be believably written by the characters. Um. Wait. Huh? (I actually have a very long speech prepared for these reviewers if I ever were to meet them, a convincing argument, actually ,which I'm sure they would appreciate, oh so muchly, but I'll spare you.)

Alternate Suggestion: Read Steve's parts.
AND Cheat Sheet: Read Steve's parts.

End of Part I.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stuff We Said This Week -- without much context.

An abridged version. Not all children are represented, but we all said things:

Dave to me on the small cut on my palm. "I've always thought you'd make a great stigmatist!"

13 year old son to me about his older sister talking to his younger brother.
"She could plant ideas in his head."
"What's wrong with that? She could be passing on good ideas."
"Ideas are dangerous! Did you NOT SEE Inception?"

3 year old in the car about the radio, his voice alarmed: "That last song you changed was Katy Perry!"
"Yes, and this is Queen. I win."

Dave on the 3 year old, "He can't say his F's or his S's or his Sh's but he can say Fo'-shiz-o -- a perfect Snoop impersonation. Do you think that's a little weird?"

Friday, December 17, 2010

For Parents of Writerly Type Kids (and a link to Writing Conference Guide for Any Age)

My editor just turned me onto, a cool site for teen writers and adult writers of teen lit. You can post stories, share work, comment, design covers ...

I'm posting it because I get emails from fretful parents of wildly imaginative, feverishly writerly kid stock, wondering how to encourage said kid. Mostly, you should get out of their way and give them the space to write what they want. But there are also cool camps -- like Shared Worlds, for example. I know that as a teen I kept quiet about wanting to be a writer, as it sounded like such an uppity thing to want to be. I didn't know other teens who were squirreling away words. Maybe they just weren't talking about it either. would have been interesting to me, I think, to get some feel for another kind of community.

For anyone looking for writing retreats, conferences, workshops, a good listing can be found here.

That's it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The God-Awful Truth About Fan Mail (And some good stuff too.)

You think that getting published might mean that you get some sweet fan mail, maybe even an outpouring. Well, in kid book world, you might be right. In adult book world, you might be wrong. Below is a recent real piece of fan mail for a real actual (precocious) child. But first, some skinny on fan mail.

Adult fans usually email the author to ask if said author would like to read the stranger's work. Often this is boxed and bowed as a delicious gift the stranger is going to give the author, as if the author isn't swamped with things to read at all times for various purposes so much so that said author fears early-onset blindness.

Sometimes adults write to find out who your agent is.

Sometimes they write in to complain that you haven't written THEIR life, and so they don't believe what you've written at all.

Sometimes they simply email to tell you grammatical errors because they can no longer read, in reality -- that part of their brain has shut down. They only know how to correct.

Sometimes they're insane. One woman wrote to tell me that she'd burned my book in the wood stove because of its cruelty to animals. Unless she beat a cat with my book, I couldn't imagine what cruelty to animals was in the book.

Sometimes the guy fan mail is creepy. "I love your orbs."

Sometimes they're last name's Baggott, too.

Do I exaggerate? I do a little.

There is sometimes an adult fan who writes in to tell you that your book touched them deeply, that it changed them in some way, that without being THEIR life, it resonated with their life and they're sending you an email to thank you for this. Honestly, these letters are usually for Bridget Asher

or an essay Baggott's written. The best -- well not fan mail but an outpouring of kind email I ever got was for this piece at Leaving the Church but not the Identity
which surely also made some enemies.

In fact, I've never been called worse things than in the comment boxes of The Boston Globe and The Washington Post ...

And just this week, I got an email from a woman whose mother had sang with Mel Torme when she was 19, and since I mention my grandmother singing with Mel in an essay in the current issue of Real Simple, she wanted to know if my grandmother might know her mother -- who's since passed away. Her mother is a mystery to her. Unfortunately, I couldn't help. My grandmother was only called up on stage to sing and not a back-up singer and has also passed. I wish I could have. I felt like I'd failed her.

BUT KID FAN MAIL? The ones who find me through You kidding me? My Prince of Fenway Park fans? This will keep you going. These kids are often so smart and funny that they restore my faith in humanity.

So here's a recent example:

Dear N.E. Bode,

Before I go into other things, (other things as in how I love your books, and am an adoring fan), I just want to make sure that you know that I am NOT writing a letter as long (or as rude) as your former Writing Teacher wrote to you after reading the Anybodies. I also want to make it clear that I'm not a sales-person,a spam writing person, or your former Writing Teacher. You don't have to read this, but I, at least, personally think that it would be very nice of you to read this letter. I'm just writing to tell you that I love your books. Well, actually, I can't say that I love your books. No, I can't, and that is because I haven't read all of them, (but am going to) so I can't truthfully say that I love them ALL! But I do love the Anybodies, the Nobodies, and the Somebodies. You might say to yourself, 'why am I getting a letter, and the only reason I'm getting it, is because the writer of this letter wants to tell me that they love my books?' and then you might think, 'I shouldn't be wasting my time reading this letter, because I have more important things to be doing.' And then you might think to yourself, 'what if this actually IS my former Writing Teacher, and, and, and' Let's get back to the point. . .

So, I wanted to tell you that you are the most wonderful writer, and that, no matter what your former Writing Teacher might say to you, *I believe, indeed*. In fact, I just now finished reading the Anybodies for the second time. Whenever I read your books, I feel like I'm in a whole other world. . . your writing is so magical that I can't put the book down. And, as you explained in the Anybodies, when I finished, I held the book, and sat there, half-way in now, and halfway with Fern, and the Bone, and Dorathea, etc. I sat there, just thinking, the brilliant awesome-ness floating around me, including in me. Well, all I have left to say is: Thank you for writing such wonderful books that I have thoroughly taken delight in, been captivated by, enchanted by, loved, adored, (you get the point). . .

I hope that your former Writing Teacher has not been bothering you lately.


a delighted, captivated, enchanted reader,


*see afterward in the Anybodies for more information on the phrase Who will believe? Who indeed!

End of Email.

And N.E. Bode's Response:

Dear Sunday -
I'm assuming that you are NOT my writing teacher (despite your protesting not to be my writing teacher which made me think you ARE my writing teacher but I've decided you're not because, well, you didn't say hideously mean and awful things, instead you said the opposite). So listen, Sunday -- as I will now refer to you regardless of whether or not this is your PEN name or not -- thank you so fantastically muchos (I had a Spanish teacher who did not speak Spanish so my Spanish is poor).

Sincerely AND I mean that,


And I sincerely DO mean that. Who wouldn't write for Sunday? And it's a matter of time before she's writing for us.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Woman-centric Book List -- ho ho ho.

The Fiction Writers Co-Op—53 authors of distinguished, award-winning, and best-selling fiction—recommend the following books this holiday season.

So ... give some books (or hoard for yourself) ...

The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh. "This tender tale of sisterhood, self-discovery, and forgiveness will captivate fans of contemporary women’s fiction.”- Library Journal

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers. "A powerful portrait of sisters growing up in the shadow of violence . . . A thought-provoking, heart-tugging debut." Boston Magazine

Dracula in Love by Karen Essex. "...the writing is so vivid, lusciously sexy and chillingly outrageous by turns..." - The Star Ledger

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. "A wonderful love story…Buchanan weaves Niagara Falls’ history and her storytelling together masterfully.” − Elle

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan. "Remarkably learned and heartbreaking romantic novel... Despite its medieval setting, the story has contemporary echoes... Hard to put down, beautifully executed, highly recommended." Minneapolis Star Tribune

Simply From Scratch by Alicia Bessette. "Fans of Cecelia Ahern’s PS, I Love You will find a lot to like here ... strong, richly detailed ... with a truly lovable heroine ... the spins and turns the story takes along the way are well worth the ride." —Library Journal

The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate. "Senate handles the hefty topics of loss and remembrances with lightness and respect and in so doing, redefines comfort food." --Publishers Weekly

Seven Year Switch by Claire Cook. "Bestseller Cook [Must Love Dogs, Life's a Beach] charms again with this lively warm-hearted look at changing courses mid-life."-People Magazine

The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri. "This hopeful, comforting novel is a testament to the power of taking chances and starting fresh, and a reminder that life can bring joy after sorrow."--Miami Herald

All the Numbers by Judy Merrill Larsen. "Larsen depicts a mother's year of grief and recovery with a sure and honest voice."--Booklist

Spin by Catherine McKenzie. "The tag line is: ‘How far would you go to get what you always wanted?’ and Kate Sandford, protagonist of Catherine McKenzie's first novel, Spin, goes so far she makes you cringe. … Where A Million Little Pieces … was tortured and powerful, Spin is more about entertainment and fun. … Full of pop-culture allusions, some really funny ones. … Spin is a compelling, fast-paced read.” – The Globe and Mail

The Truth About Delilah Blue by Tish Cohen. "Both of Cohen’s previous novels (Town House and Inside Out Girl) are in development as films, and The Truth About Delilah Blue is sure to follow. She is clearly familiar with the cinema’s propulsive rhythms, and has an almost Hitchcockian sense of how to uncoil audience guts and play double dutch with them." --The Globe and Mail

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen, forthcoming from Crown Publishers, April 12th. "A magical debut, original and poignant, lovely and moving. I absolutely loved The Bird Sisters and will carry Milly and Twiss with me as if in a locket for a long, long time." --Jenna Blum, Bestselling Author of Those Who Save Us. Visit

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. "[W]hat happens when life throws us kinks and crumbles the plans we've so carefully laid out . . . There is poetry in her words and all around the world she has created."--Richmond Times-Dispatch

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin. Diana Gabaldon says of this fictional biography of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, "This is magic! Childhood, sensuality, love, sorrow and wonder, all bright and complex as the shifting patterns in a kaleidoscope."

Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland. "Here's a warning: Mistress of the Sun is dangerously seductive. It's one of those books that will grab you and hold you captive till the last page is turned." —Calgary Herald

Stay by Allie Larkin. "Larkin makes writing look easy. Stay has everything...humor, heart -and, endearingly, buckets of dog slobber." —The Miami Herald

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch. Robert Goolrick calls it "eloquent and moving, written with precision and clarity to stave off loss — the loss of history, of art, of humanity." O Magazine's lead pick for summer reading, and a Washington Post Best Novel of 2010.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. Chosen by Barbara Kingsolver for the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, "Durrow's powerful novel is poised to find a place among classic stories of the American experience." --Miami Herald. A Washington Post Best Novel of 2010!

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. GortnerPower. Passion. Poison: History's most notorious queen tells us her side of the story. "Fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory will devour this!" - BookList.

Souvenir by Therese Fowler. An IndieBound selection and book club favorite, this novel about family, fate, regret and redemption is "truly impossible to put down.--Booklist. USA Today says it's "Compelling...the characters are likable, troubled, and human, and are well worth following on their journey."

After You by Julie Buxbaum. Jodi Picoult says of this novel about love and friendship: "Buxbaum writes with honesty and grace about the things we know about our friends and the things we wish we didn't. After You highlights—beautifully and compellingly—the truth that sometimes we have to lose the people closest to us to find ourselves."

Children of the Waters by Carleen Brice Jacquelyn Mitchard author,The Deep End of the Ocean, says of this novel about what really makes a family: "I was exhausted and singing the blues the hour I began Carleen Brice's new novel, Children of the Waters. Five hours later, I'd finished this fresh, free-rein novel about mothers' secrets and children's sorrows and was shouting 'Hurray!'"

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell, the story of Claude Monet in his young struggling years which led to the birth of impressionism and his great love for his model and wife , the tragic Camille. The Boston Globe said, "an enthralling story, beautifully told" and Bookpage added, "A vivid portrait of Monet's remarkable career."

Remedies by Kate Ledger. Remedies explores the complicated nature of pain, in the nerves of the body and the longing of the heart.... "an immediately gripping, expertly woven tale of pain and healing. Ledger is a brilliant writer; the book is dazzling, but more importantly, it is moving."--Elin Hilderbrand

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay “What a gorgeous paradox of a book: a deep, thoughtful exploration of a young mother’s first year of widowhood that is as much a page-turner as any thriller" says bestselling author Marisa de los Santos. Publishers Weekly deemed it "a wise and inspirational debut."