Monday, July 6, 2020

TBR: Lost Girls by Ellen Birkett Morris


TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

The title story of Lost Girls was inspired by the kidnapping of a girl in my community when I was 18. That story and the others reflect the range of women’s experiences, and the truth about the challenges and joys of being a woman, chiefly among them being seen, acknowledged, remembered and heard.

Which story did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which story gave you the most trouble, and why?

I enjoyed writing “Religion” the most. I started with the premise that the groups we belong to, no matter how warm and wonderful, can be like cults. From there I had a lonely virgin wander into a breast feeder’s group and become so enchanted that she stays. It was fun finding the comic potential of the story, but also doing a deep dive on loneliness and desire. The story unfolded in a way that was surprising.

“Inheritance” was the toughest to write. I had a girl whose family was so poor that her parents were allowing her to be violated for money. She was also a sin eater, who ritually consumed the sins of the wealthy. It is a story about power and oppression and sexual violence and I had to make sure the reader wouldn’t look away.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

I had trouble figuring out which of my stories really formed a cohesive collection. I spent a lot of time shopping a collection of loosely linked stories with a male protagonist before I realized that I had a very compelling group of stories that showed the range of experiences of women and girls.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Isak Dinesen by way of Lee Martin, who is a fantastic writer, teacher and supporter of other writers.  “I try to write a little every day, without hope, without despair. The thing that gives me the most joy is the writing.”

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Writing is all about discovery and surprise. I was surprised and delighted that I was able to convey the experiences of so many different kinds of women with love and empathy toward their struggles and triumphs. Elizabeth Strout talks about the importance of not judging your characters. I think that nonjudgmental approach helps you really get inside your characters and explore their motivations.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title of the book came from a short piece I wrote that was inspired by the disappearance of a girl in my neighborhood when I was eighteen.  There are so many women and girls that experience trauma. I hope these stories honor, remember and see them, and illuminate their stories through a fictional lens.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

Pie from the apples Eve harvests in “After the Fall.” Here is a recipe:

I use premade crust to cut down on the work and add a little ginger for zing.


****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR:  https://ellenbirkettmorris.ink/



Monday, June 29, 2020

TBR: Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology by Chila Woychik


TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!



Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

A monthly look at rural living from a gal who has lived in small towns, metropolitan areas, and finally, the Iowa countryside. It’s more a collection of “incidents” and observations than memoir or essays. Each month deals with a particular theme especially related to rural life.

Which essay did you most enjoy writing?

Since there are no true essays in the book, but instead bits and pieces of hybrid pieces published by journals over the past five years, I’d have to say the introduction, which could be construed as an essay, is my favorite. It’s called, simply, “A Brief Discussion of Time.”

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

Lows might include the sheer amount of time it took to format this thing, pulling from so many different published pieces, probably 25 or 30, and trying to make the pieces fit together under the themes I chose. Another one of course would be finding a publisher when even small publishers are notoriously overworked, overbooked, and far too busy, strapped, or financially deficient to consider more than a few new works each year.

The highs would include sharing the joy with family and friends, the joy of finishing, the joy of finally holding a contract in hand, and the joy of seeing the links listed online!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

I actually have several, if it’s not presumptuous to share more than one. 1) disregard current writing trends in favor of writing YOU, of focusing on your strengths while strengthening your weaknesses; in essence, find your place in the writing world and avoid trying to stand in someone else’s shadow; 2) learn to write in more than one genre – for instance, if you’re an essayist, study prose poetry (which should come somewhat naturally), and if a fictionist, learn to write a great essay; and 3) which is somewhat like #1: when you receive writing advice, learn from it, surely, but take literally everything, all good intentions, all suggestions, with a huge grain of salt lest you lose your own unique voice, and your own take on the world. I might also add that I personally don’t read books that I don’t love from the first few pages. I have to love the writing style, the characters, the intuited motivation, everything. If I’m curious, or in love, or just can’t seem to stop reading, I’ve found a book I’ll finish, but if not, I set it aside. Life is too short.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

I think I’m genuinely surprised that so many editors enjoyed so many of the initial hybrid essays and prose poems I had published, and so when compiling these together, I smiled to myself a lot. I smiled because what are to me everyday events had become a rather large 200+ page compilation of such events, and I knew/know the telling of these events were beloved by many, many editors. I’m still smiling about that. A lot.

What’s something about your book that you want readers to know?

I’d like readers to know that, as Stephanie Dickinson said in her foreword to this book, it can easily be read chapters at a time, but some may very much enjoy just one or two “dates” in one sitting. Sean Prentiss, who gave me a lovely back cover blurb, said he couldn’t stop until June, but I know that I’m one who likes to take these things a little slower, especially considering that the topics change abruptly and often, from one day to another, as is true with actual hours of rural living.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

Great question! I mention some of the German foods my born and reared German mother cooked while we were growing up such as the wursts, the spaetzle, the plum cake (Zwetschgenkuchen), and the rouladen, the latter of which I cook decently well (I’m half-German), but I won’t share that recipe since it’s a closely guarded family secret. J I will, however, gladly share our “purple cabbage” recipe. It’s quite fast and easy, and as you can see, we don’t use actual measurements, just common sense and taste.

German Purple Cabbage

Brown cut-up red cabbage in lard or bacon grease (I use olive oil, so my version isn’t truly authentic) with onion, bay leaf, salt & pepper to taste, and a little vinegar. Add a little water, simmer until tender, and add a slice of apple if you wish. Remove bay leaf and apple before serving.


*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: http://www.chilawoychik.com/

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READ AN EXCERPT via Amazon’s Look Inside feature:


Monday, June 22, 2020

TBR: Tea by the Sea by Donna Hemans

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 



Give us your elevator pitch: whats your book about in 2-3 sentences?

To find the daughter taken from her, Plum Valentine must find the childs father who walked out of a hospital with the day-old baby girl without explanation. Seventeen years later, weary of her unfruitful search, Plum sees an article in a community newspaper with a photo of the man for whom she has spent half her life searching. He has become an Episcopal priest and she has a plan to confront him and walk away with the daughter he took from her.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

Plum was the first character I began writing and the one I enjoyed creating the most. When I start writing a book, I usually don’t know where the story is headed. The very first section of the book I wrote showed Plum getting her daughters ready for school. There’s a litany of tasks she completes in the morning before walking her girls to school and heading to work. But instead of going to work, she takes a detour to a church and I had to figure out why.

A few weeks later, while in Jamaica, I heard a radio program in which listeners call in to reconnect with others with whom they had lost touch. On that night, a mother trying to find her young son called in. She knew the father had taken the child but didn’t know where the father and son had gone. Once I heard her plea, I said “That’s my story.” So I enjoyed the process of taking what little I heard about a mother’s search for a lost child and building a novel with a mother facing a similar search.

Surprisingly, the character who gave me the most trouble was Opal, Plum’s daughter. I wanted to write a portion of the book in her perspective, but it didn’t quite work as I expected. Eventually, I figured that it wasn’t Opal’s story to tell, and readers would learn everything about her from her parents. 

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your books road to publication.

I published my first novel, River Woman, in 2002 and now my second in 2020. That’s a long time between books. Between River Woman and Tea by the Sea, I wrote two other novels that I am currently revising. So it was refreshing to find the story and the structure for Tea by the Sea and to work on a book that seemed to flow much more easily than the previous two I had been working on.

Whats your favorite piece of writing advice?

Read. Read books you like and books you don’t like and pay attention, not only to the story itself, but to how the writer puts a book together—everything from paragraph breaks and dialogue tags to how a writer uses flashback and moves back to the present moment of a story. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and why. So much of what I have learned about writing has come in these informal moments when I am alone with a book.

My favorite writing advice is write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

The setting in Anchovy, which happens to be where my father grew up. The house that Lenworth takes as his refuge is my grandparents’ house. As I wrote, I remembered more and more about the house and its quirks, running down the little hill by the side of the house, the cherry tree that had once been there, a doll my sisters and I found and took home. As I remembered each detail, I found a way to incorporate them.

How do you approach revision?

I tend to revise as I write. I usually start out with a character or a setting and a vague idea of what a book is about and where I want to go with it. The story and the characters unfold as I write, and I move back and forth throughout the manuscript tightening scenes and building characters. When I have a substantial amount written and I understand the full arc of the story, I start rereading to fill plot holes, build characters and add texture. So revision for me is an ongoing process.  

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

Given the title, teas, of course. Plum has a thing for teas and as a student at a boarding school, she longed to have teas made with fruit peel. She talks, too, about sorrel tea. Sorrel, also called hibiscus, is the traditional Jamaican Christmas drink. That version is typically served cold and with a dash of rum. But I also like it as a hot tea with ginger. 

Ingredients:
1 pound sorrel
2-4 oz. ginger
2 quarts water
sugar
rum (optional)
8-12 pimento grains

Wash sorrel thoroughly and put it into a stainless steel container.
Scrape and grate the ginger root and add to the sorrel. Add pimento grains.
Boil water and pour over sorrel.
Allow to stand 4-6 hours. Strain.
Sweeten and add rum to taste.
Serve with ice cubes.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.donnahemans.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:






Monday, June 15, 2020

TBR: A Short Move by Katherine Hill

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 



Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

A Short Move is the life narrative of an NFL linebacker, relayed in discrete episodes via multiple perspectives. Think A Visit from the Goon Squad meets Friday Night Lights.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

It’s Mitch’s book, so the answer has to be him—both in terms of enjoyment and in terms of difficulty. I first met him in a short story as Alyssa’s dad, the retired NFL player. He was a minor character in that story, but I became interested in him because I felt connected to him in spite of the fact that he’s so completely unlike me: culturally conservative, physically strong, a man. He also peaks around thirty, when I was just getting started. I wanted to figure him out, so I wrote an episode about him as a teenager, and then I just kept going, coming at him from all sorts of angles. I knew pretty quickly that I had a novel and that it wasn’t going to be a traditional sports novel, in which big games are the main events. The main event was Mitch himself, and the formation of his identity. I’m one of those readers who loves art for what it leaves out—the negative space, the off-stage action, the gaps. Mitch, who sublimates everything, gave me so much to work with in that department.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

It was a pretty typical road, by which I mean really, really tough. Not only did I insist on writing a literary novel about a football player, a notorious mismatch of categories, I also insisted on writing it in a form that resists most commercial expectations. Needless to say, it got turned down. A lot. At first it was perversely satisfying, even thrilling, to feel so overlooked and misunderstood. Then the deep depression set in. I believed in the book, fiercely, and I had devoted six years of my life to it, putting a lot of other things on hold. I knew it was better than my first book, which so many people claimed to love, and I knew the risky subject matter and weird form were the most interesting things about it. So while I never lost faith in the novel, I lost faith in the world I lived and worked in, which is almost worse. Thankfully, Robert Lasner and Elizabeth Clementson of Ig came along just in time. They loved the book I had written, and they were ready to put all of their energy into it, which was all I’d ever wanted in a publisher. I feel so grateful to have found them.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Trust the process. When I think of fiction writing as a practice rather than a means to an end, all sorts of problems are solved. It becomes impossible to waste time. Failure is ordinary. There’s no such thing as a finish line. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve only recently come to view my work this way. I used to be a lot more instrumental—I wanted to be paid, and I wanted to be respected—and this caused me considerable pain. Of course certain basic needs have to be met. You have to pay the bills, and you have to have fellow travelers. But when I approach writing as its own reason, the end in itself, I’m so much happier, and my work is better, too.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

I know I am always somehow writing about life under capitalism. But when I started this book, I thought I was just writing about a football player. Turned out his life was a quintessential life under capitalism, booms, busts, chains, and all. So my surprise was actually the surprise of verification and connection. Like, oh, here’s this thing I’ve always known was true—and it still is! 

How did you find the title of your book?

My husband once heard Cornel West give a lecture in which he said something about life being a short move from your mother’s womb to your final tomb. I just absolutely loved that phrase, especially when I thought about football, a game of short, discrete moves.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?

There’s a very important sheet cake in Chapter 6. You now have permission to purchase a sheet cake. You’re welcome.

*****



READ MORE ABOUT THIS PUBLISHER: https://www.igpub.com/a-short-move/


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781632461032


READ AN EXCERPT OF THIS BOOK:  https://www.thecommononline.org/draft-day/



Monday, June 8, 2020

TBR: The Distant Dead by Heather Young

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

A body burns in the high desert hills. A young boy walks into a fire station, pale with the shock of a grisly discovery. A middle school teacher worries when her colleague is late to work. By day’s end, when the body is identified as new math teacher Adam Merkel, a small Nevada town will begin its reckoning with a brutal murder that will test everything it thought it knew about guilt, forgiveness, and the debts it owes its dead, both recent and distant.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

The character I most enjoyed creating was Sal. The transition from childhood to adolescence is raw and perilous and heartbreaking under the best of circumstances. I love writing about young people who are working their way through that seam in their lives while facing challenges and losses that would knock even a well-evolved an adult off their footing.

The character that gave me the most trouble was Adam Merkel. The “victim” in a mystery is too often a one-note character whose purpose is mostly to be dead—i.e., to drive the plot. I had to work to bring “the dead math teacher” to three-dimensional life; to give him an emotional journey; and to render him, even in death, as a human being capable of affecting the characters who survive him.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

This book’s road to publication started out brilliantly. Just after my first novel was published, my agent asked if she could send what I had of my second novel (which at the time was only four chapters) to the editor of my first. My editor hadn’t bought this book, but she had the right of first refusal, and based on those chapters she made an offer that I immediately accepted.

That’s when things got rocky, because now I had something I’d never had before: a deadline. I had to finish the book in one year, when it had taken me seven to write the first one. I didn’t make that deadline. I promised my editor I’d have it written in another year. I didn’t make that deadline, either. Another six months went by, and every day there was a small pressure cooker inside my brain hissing, “You’re late! You’re late! You’re late!”

Finally, at the beginning of 2019, my editor told me that if I hoped to be published in summer 2020, I needed to get her a draft by March 2019. I don’t think I showered for the next three months. I’m not sure I even got dressed. But I did get it done, and entered the more familiar territory of revisions with a great sigh of psychic relief.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Don’t overwrite. Gorgeous, stop-the-reader-in-her-tracks prose is most powerful when used rarely, and with great intention. (I learned this lesson painfully and have never forgotten it!)

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Sal’s uncles, Gideon and Ezra. When I started writing they were barely alive; just two neglectful guardians who served mostly to make Sal miserable. It was surprising and wonderful to discover their complicated relationship and family history, and even more so to find that all of it could be used to give the ending a twist that I thought made it much more interesting.

How do you approach revision?

When I revise at the macro level, I approach the text with an attitude of targeted brutality. Every scene, every moment, needs to move the plot forward or deepen character. If it does neither, I cut it. At the level of the sentence, my goal is to balance brevity and rhythm. After years spent honing legal briefs to fit within tight page limits, I know how to get the most out of the fewest words. But I’m also sensitive to the music of prose. I won’t sacrifice the patter of a sentence or the play of a paragraph just to cut a word or two.

****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.heatheryoungwriter.com


ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062690814



Monday, June 1, 2020

TBR: The Distance from Four Points by Margo Orlando Littell


TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
The Distance from Four Points is about an affluent suburbanite named Robin who discovers that her late husband secretly blew their savings on decrepit rentals in the Appalachian hometown she’d escaped twenty years ago. To keep herself and her teenage daughter, Haley, financially afloat, she returns to Four Points--where she risks someone exposing her past as a teenage prostitute. When Haley befriends a troubled teen mother, disaster strikes—and Robin must decide if keeping her past buried is worth the risk of repeating her life’s greatest mistakes.
Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?
I really loved creating Cindy Sweeney, Robin’s childhood best friend. I intended for Cindy to be a minor character, a walk-on who proves to Robin just how dreadful it is to be back in her hometown. But as soon as Cindy entered the scene, she settled in for the long haul. She’s brash and foul-mouthed and spits out hard, unwelcome truths. She also has a lot to teach Robin about radical self-acceptance and loyalty. Cindy is a survivor, with no time for Robin’s fussy hand-wringing. 
Writing Vincent Latimer, Robin’s old lover, was more difficult. Vincent is such a villain--he treated Robin horribly when she was a teenager, and his actions shaped the rest of her life. Yet when we meet him, he’s seventy-eight years old; he’s struggling with serious remorse and regret. I couldn’t let Robin just forgive him, but I needed to make room for other layers, both within Vincent and between him and Robin. People do terrible things to one another, go on living, change. Making Vincent human, not just the monster Robin always believed him to be, was a challenge.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
When I began agent-querying this novel, I got lots of requests for fulls but no takers. It was too character-driven, quiet, not marketable, etc. etc. This was familiar territory. My first novel, Each Vagabond by Name, also set in Appalachia, did have an agent (until she left the industry), but never got to yes when it was on sub, for all the same reasons. It was ultimately published by the University of New Orleans Press, as the winner of their inaugural Publishing Lab Prize. I could have kept querying agents with Four Points, but I felt very pragmatic about the reality of this type of book snagging any interest. Why waste time? So I approached UNO Press and submitted Four Points for consideration. I was thrilled when they accepted it, knowing already what a beautiful job they’d do with editing and design. A second book in the world, from a great small press--a happy ending.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
The writing brain is a muscle that must be exercised like any other. It’s not easy to quiet the mind, focus, and access deeply creative spaces, but it gets easier with practice. When I’m actively engaged with a work, either writing or revising, I feel clearly the benefits of a daily routine: the pathways to the fictive world open more readily, and I can sink into my writing efficiently. Too long away from the work finds me distracted, frenetic, caught up in scrolling social media and running errands and crossing everything off my to-do list except the writing. When I’m following my own advice, simply the act of sitting down at my desk, lighting a candle, and opening my notebook or doc is enough to trigger the switch from life to fiction. 
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
I was surprised by how much my feelings toward the Four Points landlords changed. Initially, I presented the landlords as evil: letting their rental properties fall into ruin, taking money from struggling tenants with nowhere else to go. And then I inadvertently became a small-town landlord myself and found myself on the other side. My first tenant bounced all her checks and became a squatter, and it went on from there. After that, I better understood the landlords’ point of view, and why they might choose not to bother with property improvements. 
How do you approach revision? 
I’m not an efficient writer, so my revision process is sweeping and extensive, involving huge directional shifts and an alarming number of deleted pages. I hate writing first drafts, so when I begin something new, I just bang it out, not bothering to edit along the way. This results in a lot of plot and character decisions that eventually need to be unwound. My revision process is less marble-sculpting and more quarry-blasting. 
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
There’s a key food-focused scene in Four Points, when Cindy Sweeney brings Robin a pot of homemade halushki, an Eastern European dish made of cabbage and noodles, as a thank-you for a favor. Halushki is a definitive comfort food in southwestern Pennsylvania, and this shared meal is a surprising balm for Robin. Recipes vary, but the basic ingredients are cabbage, butter, and egg noodles or dumplings. Adding bacon is an (excellent) option too. Here’s a basic recipe from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, part of an article called “Halushki power!”  https://www.post-gazette.com/life/food/2015/03/11/Halushki-power/stories/201412110004

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.margoorlandolittell.com
ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781608011797


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

TBR: This Is One Way to Dance: Essays by Sejal Shah

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!
  

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

This Is One Way to Dance is my debut essay collection about language, culture, family, and place. My book explores race and belonging; growing up South Asian American; the invisibility, ambiguity, and hyper-visibility of Asian Americans; and the too-common phenomenon of having one's racialized experiences dismissed. I chronicle friendships and weddings; silence and speech; mapping one's personal geography; living with depression; and how we keep moving in the face of loss.

Which essay did you most enjoy writing? Why?

I enjoyed writing "Things People Said: An Essay in Seven Steps," because I stopped censoring myself. I was so mad—and I wrote it and sent it out the same day, which never happens! I had been stewing about stupid things people said to me about being South Asian (demonstrating the absence of basic world history and geography in American general education) for a long time and finally my husband said, You're talking your book. Write it down. And he was right. Brevity published this list essay and it led, indirectly, to my book.

And, which essay gave you the most trouble, and why?

"Saris and Sorrows" gave me the most trouble, because it felt difficult to write honestly about how I felt about my wedding. Marriage is often seen as an accomplishment, one step closer to the American Dream, and privileges what activist Mia Birdsong calls "toxic individualism, but in family-unit form"—a narrative that excludes other kinds of relationships and community. Weddings can also bring out the crazy in people. Some extended family and friends shocked me—how much they made it about themselves. I didn't write about them directly in the essay, but I found it challenging to wade back into that time of my life even though an outside reviewer had specifically requested more about my actual wedding, which I originally omitted from the manuscript. Ultimately, I took the request as an opportunity to complete another essay. An early essay in the book, "Matrimonials," begins with my brother's wedding; whether or not I chose to write about mine, weddings already populated the landscape of the book.

What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from?

I fashioned a mosaic memoir in essays written over twenty years. The struggle was to create a cohesive manuscript that showed how the essays moved, mostly chronologically, but also back and forth in time—my intention was to show a narrative arc, movement over time: coming home, finding home, and making space for when life goes off the rails. I wrote about ambition, failure, and adjusting to Plan B.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

High: having an editor at UGA Press's Crux Series in Literary Nonfiction (one of my favorite presses/series and a place I wanted to send my manuscript) reach out to me after reading "Things People Said" in Brevity. Valerie Boyd saw that I had a manuscript that had been a finalist at a few contests and emailed me to ask if it was still available.

Low: the time it took for my manuscript to be read by editors and peer reviewed, revised, and make its way through production. Between when I first handed in a manuscript and publishing the book, my work went through two rounds of peer review, two revisions, and I survived my grandmother's passing, moving, PTSD, my father's cancer and chemo, and the steep learning curve in publishing that is one's first book. It was a lengthy and emotional process requiring more perseverance than I could have imagined.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Keep writing. (And reading and walking!)

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

It surprised me that the book has so little about New York City in it, even though I lived there for several years. Writing creative nonfiction, a memoir or an essay collection, means leaving large swaths of time and life out. When you write, when you revise, a lot is left out. During those years I taught four classes most semesters in a tenure track job with a heavy committee workload. I didn't have the mental space to write much except during my leave. Then, I wrote a draft of a few of the most important essays in the book, including "Street Scene." However, "Street Scene" is about walking in Paris and my friend, LeeAnne. Though I finished the essay while living in New York City, the essay is not about New York. In 2011, the year I published "Street Scene," my friend, poet Philip White, called it a lyric essay.  I realized other essays I'd written also fit the definition of lyric essay ("Skin," "Bird," "Curriculum") Before that, I had not known that what I had been calling "prose pieces" actually belonged to a subgenre of the essay.

How did you find the title of your book?

My friend, Jess Fenn, found my title. Originally, my book was called Things People Say (suggested by my friend, Ravi Mangla) and I loved that title, but one of my outside reviewers cautioned against it, suggesting that emphasizing other people's voices instead of my own in the title would be a misstep. I have always felt confident in finding titles for my short stories and essays, often in a phrase within the work itself, but with a manuscript, a collection of essays, it felt more fraught—harder to see which title could do the work of drawing the pieces together, creating a unified sense. Jess identified the eventual title from an earlier version of "Matrimonials," which is one of the essays in the book. It was a line I'd written long ago and lived with and it felt right; I could feel it in the body. Also, I love titles that are also sentences. My MFA thesis was called Ithaca Is Never Far.

I don't go into great detail with regards to my dance background and my history of studying dance is not explicitly addressed in the book, but dance has always been important to me as an art form and as a means of expression. The title and through line of dance worked on more than one level as metaphor, inspiration, and analogy.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

Aloo chole: Chickpeas, potatoes, cumin, onions, turmeric, garam masala or red pepper sometimes; garlic and spinach often; tomatoes. Chop onions and garlic. Fry cumin seeds in oil until they start to crackle, then add onions, sauté until translucent (add a dried red pepper if you like). Then add chickpeas; if the potatoes (cut into small pieces) aren't already cooked, you can microwave them and then add. Then, garlic, spinach, and tomatoes. A tiny bit of asafoetida (hing). Salt and fresh lemon to taste.

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READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.sejal-shah.com


***through end of May, all titles at UGA Press are 50% off w/ code 08UGAP


READ AN ESSAY, “Things People Said: An Essay in Seven Steps”:  https://brevitymag.com/nonfiction/things-people-said/





Work-in-Progress

DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.