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.

*****

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/





Monday, May 18, 2020

TBR: The Pleasure Plan: One Woman’s Search for Sexual Healing by Laura Zam

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 Pleasure Plan, based on my New York Times Modern Love essay, is a memoir and sexual healing guide. in my forties, I married the man of my dreams¾after a lifelong search¾discovering quickly I had six kinds of sexual dysfunction, associated with child abuse. To save my marriage and claim my right to pleasure, I tried 30 erotic-healing techniques, which led me to the cutting edge of orgasm, libido, cures for pelvic pain, and trauma recovery; mixing memoir with tips, I share these discoveries with my readers.


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

Well, since the topic of my book¾sexual dysfunction¾is pretty taboo, I was confronted with many boundaries, especially in talking about this project. I’d be at a dinner party when a stranger would ask me what I did. After I said I was a writer, this person typically asked, “What are you working on?” At first, I didn’t know what to say because I felt society had created a barricade I was supposed to stand behind. Crossing to the other side seemed disobedient and harmful; like I’d be wounding this person by asking him/her/they to step with me into shameful territory. I didn’t want to lie about my book project though, so I started discussing my work matter-of-factly. I’d say: “I’m working on a book about reclaiming sexuality in the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse. What kind of work do you do?” After the first few times of talking this way, casually, the barricade, or boundary, disappeared. I realized this separation had been needlessly severing a shared humanity. People began telling me their own shameful secrets! I became addicted to these conversations. I felt free and fearless. You asked about courage; this fearlessness I found, that’s what allowed me to finish the book. As for where any of this bravery comes from, I’d say: “Fuck it.” I mean: “Fuck it”; I’m just going to tell the truth of who I am.

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

Highs:
Getting an agent and then a book contract after five solid years of trying¾writing book proposal, submitting it to agents, having it be rejected, improving my proposal, and wash, rinse, repeat¾was thrilling. It’s still thrilling.  

Lows:
Well, having the coronavirus hit right when I’m about to launch my book has been…interesting. But I’m excited about creating more virtual events*, and getting to my readers via amazing blogs like this one. Thank you, Leslie. You’re a beautiful literary citizen, and human! [Editor’s note: Awwww….]

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Chunk it down. Never having written a book before, I found the enormity of the project terrifying. Eventually, I realized I could create daily, manageable assignments for myself that would move me along. This helped a lot.

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

My own tenacity surprised me. Normally, I’m a person who starts yawning at 8 pm. But when I was in the thick of it, I’d stay up till 3 am, determined to get one paragraph right. I was shocked to discover how far I was willing to go to make this book as good as it could be. This crazy ambition, or maybe stubbornness, feels like a super power now.

Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is a woman who struggles with sex. This could because of trauma. Or it could be related to another situation, like cancer, lack of pleasure education, the stress of childrearing, relationship malaise, pelvic floor issues, menopause, or something else. Quality information about solving these problems can be hard to find, because, like I said earlier, women’s sexual health is still a taboo subject.  In fact, on my journey I found too many doctors and mental health professionals uncomfortable (and uninformed) when it came to female sexuality. Part of my mission writing this book is to help other women take control of their sexual health by finding the right practitioners and acquiring solid knowledge. In other words, I suppose my ideal reader is a woman who struggles with sex, but would also love to do something about that.

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

Great question! Since my book is about pleasure I’ll highlight the most scrumptious and decadent treats readers will find in The Pleasure Plan.: Belgian chocolates in a gold-trimmed blue box, tied up with a sky-blue ribbon; sliced mango melting in the mouth; perfectly salted and crisp French fries…I’ll stop here because I’m making myself hungry and coronavirus is already adding some pounds. My friend calls it “the corona fifteen.” To end on a pleasure note though: forget the pounds! Let’s eat what we want right now, infusing our lives with as much good feeling as possible. Pleasure is grounding. Pleasure is mindfulness and stress relief. Pleasure is a big dose of life.

*Watch Laura's virtual event at Politics & Prose bookstore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LClTg97UUBs

*****
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: http://laurazam.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR STACK: https://www.politics-prose.com/book/9780757323508




Monday, May 11, 2020

TBR: House of the Ancients and Other Stories by Clifford Garstang


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?

Nobody’s perfect, but some of us—mostly men, it seems—are blinded by hubris and baser urges. Judgment is impeded. Mistakes are made. The stories in this collection, many of them set outside the U.S., explore some of the consequences of these common failings.

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

I had a lot of fun writing “The Scottish Play,” which is probably why I put it last in the collection. It’s based—very loosely—on a bizarre incident I witnessed during a performance of Macbeth, and I loved imagining what was going on the minds of the actors and the audience during the show. As for difficult stories, the whole first section of the book, including the title story, is about this guy, Nick, who is a controlling jerk. It’s hard to write about a character like that and still retain some amount of sympathy for him.

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

I hate to admit it, because I’ve also experienced publishing lows in other situations, but it was all a high for this book. I have a great relationship with Kevin Watson at Press 53, who published my first two collections as well as the anthology series I edited. When I finished putting this manuscript together, I contacted Kevin right away and he agreed to publish it.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

My usual answer to that question is “stick with it”—because the key to success in publishing is perseverance. But lately I’ve come to appreciate a nugget of wisdom about the writing itself: If you can figure out what you need to say, the writing will follow.

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

Looking over the stories in the collection, I seem to be drawn to misfits. Not sure what that says about me, but there it is. What did NOT surprise me is that I’m also drawn to stories set in exotic locales.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title of the book is from the collection’s opening story, which I felt introduces the themes I’m exploring in the book: realistic people, mostly men, who are blind to their own shortcomings.

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

There’s plenty of food (and drink) in the stories, but there’s really only one item that has a meaningful place in the book, and that’s the nut loaf (with gravy) centerpiece of the Christmas Dinner in “Pluck.” Here’s what that might look like:


*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://cliffordgarstang.com/





Monday, May 4, 2020

TBR: Wanting Radiance by Karen Salyer McElmurray


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?

Miracelle Loving, Tarot card reader and grifter and the daughter of a fortune teller, has been living on the road for years when she first hears the voice of the ghost of her long-dead mother, Ruby.  Wanting Radiance is Miracelle’s journey toward finding the truth about her past—who shot her mother, who her father is, and why her heart has long been closed to love.

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

As I wrote Wanting Radiance, I found myself surprised to identify most with Della Wallen, who is the owner of a diner called The Black Cat, in Smyte, Kentucky.  Miracelle Loving ends up working for Della during a long, cold winter.  In early drafts of the novel, Della was a more minor character—as someone for Miracelle to talk with, try to get information from as she dives deeper into understanding who Russell Wallen as the father she never knew.  I grew to love Della, her strength laced with bitterness and her complex relationship with love itself.  Della was based on a great-aunt of mine who owned a restaurant and filling station.  As I came to know Della, I also came to know more about the woman I’m from—and my own inheritance of strength and perseverance.

Which character gave you the most trouble?

Ruby Loving, Miracelle Loving’s mother, was in many ways the most difficult character for me to pin down.  The character was originally inspired by a fortune teller I met in Weaverville, NC.  I had been going through a hard time in my life, with the end of a long-term relationship and much confusion about who I was and what I wanted next in my life.  I went to have my fortune told by this woman who lived in a trailer on the outskirts of Weaverville.  When you went into the trailer, you had to go back into the bedroom where the fortune teller—an enormous woman—lay in a big bed with a velvet headboard.  She read the shadows in photographs.  Originally, that woman was Ruby Loving.  As Ruby evolved, she for awhile was a strange teller of futures who’d been born with fingers long as teaspoons.  Later, she became more lovelorn, sort of like a woman spurned in an old-time ballad.  Finally, parts of the novel were written in her voice, and she became herself.

What are some of the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication?

Well, early on, parts of the book appeared in anthologies, one of which was Red Holler, from Sarabande Books and edited by Wayne Thomas and John Branscum.  That felt wonderful, seeing the story evolving and already finding wings.  Later, as drafts of the book evolved, I sent it several times to an agent for whom I have great admiration.  She loved it, but felt hesitant about the how she’d sell the work.  It was literary, language and character based.  That experience meant more drafts and, eventually, some hard work with a free-lance book editor.  In the end, the hard work was the real high of this novel.  I learned so much about structure, about narrative arc, about writing characters who are convincing, both in how they speak and how they more, how they think and what they want.  I am pleased with the final form the novel took, and the home it found in that form.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

In one of my favorite documentaries, fiction writer Larry Brown is talking about being disciplined.  “Even if you can’t get words down on the page that day,” he says, show up.  “Sit there for three or four hours a day.”  My writing is a discipline and I show up for it in many ways—emotionally, spiritually, physically.

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

I won’t give away the plot, but just let me say that the night of Ruby Loving’s shooting held me surprises that I discovered as I wrote.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title for my novel came to me on my long drives to Kentucky over these many years.  I pass road signs with names for all the little coal towns I remembered from my childhood—Neon, Jenkins, Betsy Lane—and I imagined a town called Radiance.

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

Make a pot of coffee early in the morning.  Use fresh ground coffee.  Buy something rich enough to whet your coffee appetite when you open the can or the bag, a scent that sets you mouth water, but not something fancy.  Pour the first cup in a big, heavy mug and sit down with the morning paper to get your day started.  Keep the pot going all day long.


READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.karensalyermcelmurray.com/





Monday, April 27, 2020

TBR: Wandering Dixie: Dispatches from the Lost Jewish South by Sue Eisenfeld

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?

Wandering Dixie is a travel-through-history memoir about Jews, the South, race, the Confederacy, and me—my discovery of some worlds in the United States that I never knew existed. It’s a “Yankee’s journey” through the Deep South. And it’s a journey through the lost Jewish communities of the South, intersecting with some of the less-familiar African-American history of the nation.

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

I write in a genre never-never land—not deep memoir, definitely not serious nonfiction. A travel memoir that isn’t super travely and definitely not service oriented; creative-nonfiction/literary-nonfiction that’s too U.S. history-ish to be considered CNF sometimes, but with chapters that are essay-ish. It’s about Jews of the South, but even more so, it’s about a white girl discovering the depth and value and meaning of the lost, hidden, and denied African American history of the nation. Does this break boundaries? It breaks rules. One review categorized this book under “Religion,” which doesn’t make any sense to me, even as the book uses Jewishness as its fulcrum.

I’m not sure this type of writing takes courage; it’s just what came out of me. Maybe the courage is in letting it be what it is meant to be, regardless of whether it will do well or find a big audience.

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

Does each hem and haw in revision count as a high and low? Each chapter is like a different child that must be nurtured individually, that has different needs and requirements, lengths and breadths. Making each chapter work is a low and a high every day, over and over again.

I wound up having two presses want the book at the same time, and I agonized over which one to choose. I guess that was a high (but also a low – I am bad with decisions). Both were university presses with a CNF category. Both were well respected. I went with the one where I knew the editor and she knew my writing, and where the press had already received comments from an outside reviewer, so I felt confident that the work had been well vetted, and I knew the direction it was going.

A lower spot was that it took me so long to conduct the travel and write the book, and I feel it might have been better placed in the state of the world if it had come out about a year earlier. But I couldn’t think or write any faster.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

One of my instructors in my graduate program told me that you should plan to spend about five years with your book subject, so it better be something you can live with for that long. When I first heard that, I thought, “There’s nothing I’m so fascinated by that I can attend to it for five years.” But later I realized: Whatever “it” is, is actually a braid of numerous threads—in this case, southern food, music, and culture, as well as religion, traditions, history, people, and politics.

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

This was originally going to be a book about traveling through the history of the Civil War. Then I realized that it should really be a journey through the lost Jewish South because no one had done that. But the biggest surprise was that along the way, it became a journey about becoming more woke. It was the African American history that became most interesting to me, that I kept seeking out and writing about. Being on the ground, in the landscape, where key moments in African American history and civil rights history happened allowed me to better understand what “institutional racism” really meant, and how “white privilege” really worked, and what those terms meant for me and my life journey. I did not expect to be writing a book that included African American history, but that’s what happened. And maybe that limit is part of our nation’s problem in the first place.

How did you find the title of your book?

Finding the right title is an art unto itself. Wandering Dixie came about after much research and brainstorming, cutting out pieces of paper with key words on them and moving them around; concept mapping; and a back-and-forth with my editor. We wanted it to indicate travel writing, Jews, and the South all at once, which I think it accomplishes—playing off both “whistling Dixie” and the idea of the “wandering Jew.” For the subtitle, Dispatches from the Lost Jewish South, my editor really wanted to emphasize the Jewish theme of the book. But I love the fact that it echoes Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, which was one of the influences for my book.

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

The most divine southern food I ate during my forays to the Deep South over a four-year period was lemon icebox pie, a relative of key lime pie. I had a slice at Fat Mama’s Tamales in Natchez, Mississippi, that changed my life: https://fatmamastamales.com/gourmet_food/lemon-icebox-pie/

This is a recipe I found and made that is pretty close:

A Northerner’s Take on Lemon Icebox Pie
(adapted from a source I can no longer identify but to whom I give my utmost gratitude)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (14 whole crackers)
¼ cup sugar
8 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

1 ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (roughly the juice of 8 lemons)
Zest of 2 of those lemons
2 14-oz cans sweetened condensed milk
2 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup powdered sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl until evenly mixed. Transfer to a 9”deep pie dish, and press into bottom and up sides to create a thick crust; set aside.

Squeeze lemons by slicing them in half (across the equator), sticking a fork in the center and using the fork and squeezing action to press out all the juice into a bowl. Combine juice, milk, and egg yolks; beat on medium-high speed of a mixer for 5 minutes. Pour into prepared crust. Bake until filling is only slightly set—until the center jiggles slightly, like a soft-setting custard, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, set on cooling rack, and let cool for 90 minutes. Then stick a few toothpicks in it and cover with plastic wrap (toothpicks should hold up the wrap). Freeze at least 6 hours, or overnight.

Take out of freezer 1 to 1.5 hours before serving (no more; it will get too warm) (You want it just barely not frozen). Just before serving, combine cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar in a bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Serve a large dollop onto each slice of pie.

Store leftovers in freezer.
(Do not store cream in freezer; it will freeze solid.)

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR:  www.sueeisenfeld.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: www.politics-prose.com/search/site/Eisenfeld




Monday, April 20, 2020

TBR: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

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?

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is the story of a 15-year-old girl who is ready to grow up, but maybe not as ready as she thinks. In addition to being dark and a little sexy, it’s an exploration of the dysfunction of family, the fragility of female friendships, and the hope we are able to find when we learn to take stock in ourselves. 


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?

Once I unlocked who my main character JL was, and realized she was probably closer to young me than any other character I’ve written, she was enjoyable to write -- or actually rewrite. She’s like an ember about to burst aflame, and I really loved trying to capture that sense of both electricity and vulnerability, a person on the very verge.

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

I think all the characters in this story were a challenge because they’re all flawed and deeply human. Additionally, the mother is suffering from a clinical disorder (if even her therapist hasn’t actually pinned down exactly which one or how to fully help her). I wanted to portray her in a way to make the reader see how she could be there and seemingly “normal” one moment, and lost in her disorder the next. Walking that balance was difficult. Making her feel authentic.


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

Oh, a very rough version of this manuscript had been around for a LONG while before it was finally bought by my current editor. And that’s where the real work began. An early draft was one of my agent’s favorite works in progress of mine . . . but had always been my least favorite. I just couldn’t get JL fully right, nor wrap my head around where the story needed to go to matter. Plus, when we had shown that early version to a prior editor, she had unequivocally turned it down.

Then I wrote MEMORY OF THINGS and IN SIGHT OF STARS and loved both those stories so much. As did my current editor who bought them both, in that order. At some point after she bought STARS, I asked her if she wanted to read the crappy draft of KEROUAC. I remember her saying, “You keep saying you hate it, but you keep bringing it up, too, so there must be something there.” I decided I’d let her take a look and if she didn’t love it, I would put it to bed forever. Instead, she not only read it and loved JL, but knew exactly where the story needed to go -- and how to push me to make it come fully alive.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Hands down, Teddy Roosevelt’s “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I have to remind myself CONSTANTLY. And then my agent has to remind me too.

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

The last thirty pages or so (beginning on p. 245 of the Advance Review Copy), that start, “The cold shocks me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know this is crazy. It’s June. I shouldn’t be shaking like I am.” For me, no matter how many times I reread them, they are breathless and stunning, and I don’t quite know where they came from, but I felt the rhythm of them somewhere deep in my bones while I was writing them. Especially, the scene in the Shawnee motel. As if I had once been in that seedy motel -- metaphorically, if not literally. That may be some of my best writing in all the books and unsold manuscripts I’ve written.

How did you find the title of your book?

I actually woke up with the title in my head one morning years ago, shortly after I sold my debut novel The Pull of Gravity which has a main Of Mice and Men thread running through it so the classics were on my mind. Of course, I wouldn’t normally write a whole novel around a title but for some reason, this one really spoke to me. Of course, I was writing YA and knew that Kerouac would be pretty irrelevant to most teenagers, so I began to ask myself, “Why not my character? Why might my main character – let’s say, a 15 year old girl -- not only know who Kerouac was, but hate him? And the plot for the novel began to come to me, if not quite the heart of the story which, as I mentioned above, came to me only later.

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

Hmmm, now I need to think. There’s some cold pizza, and a meal of roast chicken and mashed potatoes. Not exactly a gourmand’s book. LOL.



ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250312235



Monday, April 13, 2020

TBR: Her Sister’s Tattoo by Ellen Meeropol

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?

Marching through downtown Detroit to protest the war in Vietnam, Rosa and Esther hear that mounted police are beating protestors a few blocks away and hurry to stop the violence. When an officer is badly injured and the sisters are arrested, deep differences in their responses threaten their close family. Esther has an infant daughter and wants to avoid prison, which means accepting a plea bargain and testifying against her sister. Told from multiple points of view and through the sisters’ never-mailed letters, Her Sister’s Tattoo explores the thorny intersection of family loyalty, betrayal, and clashing political decisions.


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

The sisters, Rosa and Esther, were both the joy of writing this novel, and the most difficult. Developing their history of a deep connection as sisters and activists and their escalating differences was the major challenge. Their political differences grow stronger as the story proceeds, but I wanted to tease out the nuances of the political choices, and I needed to give them insights into each other’s positions. Their very different experiences of motherhood are central to their political choices and to their reluctant empathy for each other. In addition, the issue of betrayal is large in the story, and trying to understand it from each perspective was both exciting and troublesome.


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

The major thing about this book’s road to publication is that it took twenty years. I started writing it in 2000; it began as a short story and morphed into the first novel I attempted. I had no idea what I was doing. After several drafts, I gave up and attended an MFA program, working on a new novel. Each time I finished another novel, I returned to this one, writing new drafts and trying to figure out how to best tell this story. Finally, after many years and three other published novels, I got it “right” enough to send to my editor at Red Hen Press. Twenty years. Many many drafts. Finally Esther and Rosa get to tell their story.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Writing a novel, especially one like this that takes a long time, requires an almost illogical belief that you have a story worth telling. I like Jane Yolen’s writing mantra: “YIC – Yes, I can. BIC – butt in chair, because that’s where the muse will find you. HOP – Heart on page, because why else would we write?”


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

There were several surprises writing this book, particularly in the revision process. In early drafts, the action taken by Rosa and Esther to try to stop the cops from beating protestors was sugar in their gas tank, something my early readers simply didn’t believe. When I changed it, I was surprised by how their new actions opened up a whole area of sibling relationship that I hadn’t known before. Major changes in the structure of the manuscript also led to surprises. Who knew that giving a minor character a voice could lead to the sharing of secrets I hadn’t known before?


How did you find the title of your book?

Titles are hard. Over twenty years I went through several of them. The novel started as a short story titled “In Whose Camp,” because the first scenes I wrote took place at the leftwing summer camp where Rosa’s and Esther’s daughters meet. The next title also derived from the camp chapters: Until We All Are Blind, referring to the sisters’ estrangement and lack of forgiveness towards each other. There was a third attempt, A Folding of Cranes, that referred to the image of origami cranes that weaves through the novel. Finally, about eight years ago, I came up with Her Sister’s Tattoo, referring to the matching red stars Rosa and Esther had tattooed on their breasts, to signify their shared activism and to promise that sisters are forever. (Except that they maybe aren’t.) Luckily, my editor liked it and it’s the title forever.

*****

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.ellenmeeropol.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE:  

Work-in-Progress

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