Monday, March 18, 2019

TBR: Malawi’s Sisters by Melanie S. Hatter

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?

Malawi’s Sisters” was inspired by the 2013 shooting death of Renisha McBride and tells the story of a black family thrown into the national dialogue on race when the youngest daughter is killed by a white man.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?

I loved writing Ghana, but I was fascinated by Malcolm, Malawi’s father, whose voice became stronger as I moved forward with the book. (See note below about what surprised me.)

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

Bet, Malawi’s mother, definitely gave me the most trouble. I struggled with her because she wasn’t who I had originally thought she was. I kept trying to push her into the spoiled rich wife, which she is in many ways, but as I continued to write her scenes, I realized there was this hidden past with her father and brother that slowly revealed itself.   

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

The high, of course, was winning the inaugural Kimbilio National Fiction prize. Until then, I had been submitting to agents—more than 30—and getting rejections. Many didn’t respond at all, but quite a few included positive comments about my writing and the story, but it still was a rejection. A few said they couldn’t connect with the characters and one said they didn’t like my writing style. I was close to thinking I should scrap the whole thing—that I’d just wasted two years of writing. I’m so glad I listened to the little voice inside that told me I did have something worth pushing.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Stephen King in his book On Writing said, to be a writer you must read a lot and write a lot. It seems a bit trite, but I think it’s spot on. Reading is such an integral part of writing.

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

Malcolm. I had originally thought this was a story about three women affected by Malawi’s death. When I started, I was more focused on the mother and two sisters, but Malcolm appeared and his voice became hard to ignore. So I ended up with several sections from his point of view and I realized he was as important to the story as the women.

How did you find the title of your book?

Titles are usually very hard for me, but this one came quite easily. The story was to be about Malawi’s sisters, Kenya and Ghana, though the book grew to include her parents’ voices, as well. As you read the story, the title develops a greater meaning, but I won’t give that away.

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

There are many moments that involve food—food is such an important element to human relationships, but alas, I don’t have any particular recipes.


READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.melanieshatter.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://fourwaybooks.com/site/malawis-sisters/




Monday, March 11, 2019

TBR: Woman 99 by Greer Macallister


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?

Woman 99 is a historical thriller about a young woman whose attempts to rescue her sister from a notorious insane asylum risk her sanity, her safety and her life. Once Charlotte is inside Goldengrove Asylum, she finds that many of the women there are more inconvenient than insane, and she discovers secrets that certain very powerful people will do anything to keep.

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

I really love Martha McCabe, one of the other inmates Charlotte meets in the asylum, who sort of elbowed her way into the narrative. She wasn’t even in my original synopsis, but once she showed up, she reshaped the entire story. One of the ways institutions keep people in line is to threaten and enforce consequences. Martha spits in the face of consequences. That attitude changes everything.

Charlotte herself, the book’s protagonist and narrator, gave me the most trouble. She’s been pampered and sheltered most of her life, and though her heart is in the right place with her plan to rescue her sister, her plan is a painfully na├»ve one. We know it won’t work, but she doesn’t. She has to learn and grow at the same time as she’s solving the puzzle of how to save her sister. She has to redefine her place in the world.

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

This is my third book with Sourcebooks (after The Magician’s Lie and Girl in Disguise) and I had both the luxury and pressure of writing Woman 99 under contract. Early on, there’s the blissful feeling of knowing that the book has a home, even while you’re writing it; but late in the game, when you’re not sure the book’s going to come together, there’s an extra level of worry about letting everyone down. But it all came together in this case. Phew!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Steer clear of any writing advice that contains the words “always” or “never.”

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

How many characters, how many stories within the story, demanded to be heard. Charlotte is our way in, but there were so many other stories I wanted to tell within that framework, it really turned out to be more of an ensemble piece. The book wouldn’t hold together in the same way without Nora, without Martha, without Jubilee. I really wanted to do justice to all of them. There was a line in the Publishers Weekly review that so perfectly captured what I was trying to do, it blew me away: “Though Charlotte narrates, Macallister also gives voice to a motley crew of women who, at the mercy of male whims, hide multitudes.”

Who is your ideal reader?

I’d love people who don’t think of themselves as historical fiction readers to pick this one up. Historical fiction is never really just about the past. Although Woman 99 is set in 1888, it’s basically about a group of angry women banding together against a rigged system put together by men who are afraid of them. I think many readers will find, let’s say, contemporary resonance.

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

I have been asking myself this same question! The food in the asylum, as you might imagine, is profoundly unappetizing. I would urge book clubs who want to “cook the book”, as mine enjoys doing, to focus on the delicious sweets for the Smith household San Francisco: rich egg bread braided with almond paste and currants, buttery financiers, madeleines, and brioche rolls stuffed with farmer’s cheese.

***

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: www.greermacallister.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781492665335







Monday, March 4, 2019

TBR: Be with Me Always: Essays by Randon Billings Noble

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?

“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!” Heathcliff begs this of his dead Cathy in Wuthering Heights. He wants to be haunted – he insists on it – and I do too. The essays in Be with Me Always explore hauntedness – not through conventional ghost stories but by considering the way certain people or places from our pasts cling to our imaginations. Some essays are traditional in form, others are lyric; together they reveal the unexpected value of being haunted.


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

I really enjoyed writing “The Heart as a Torn Muscle” [link below].  Well, I enjoyed the writing of it – but not the pain part. I was on a residency at the glorious Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and was thinking about writing about the timeline of a crush. But before I began, I tried to move my desk so it faced the window – and I pulled something deep in my lower back. Instead of writing, I started researching. I looked up “torn muscle” on WebMD and slowly saw that the treatment plan for a torn muscle was similar to the treatment plan for a bad crush. Then I realized that the heart is also a muscle – and the essay almost wrote itself. It became what’s known as a hermit crab essay, an essay that borrows its form from another kind of writing (the way the hermit crab borrows its shell from another kind of animal). In this case the essay’s form was a WebMD page, with sections on symptoms, treatments, “Exams and Tests,” etc.

The essay that gave me the most trouble was “Ambush.”  It started out as a more of lyric essay, divided into sections, and each section started off with a quote about ambushes from the Army Ranger's Handbook. I kept playing with the order, trying to make each section fit with each quote and each type of ambush. But one day – a Sunday – I decided to take out all the quotes and the sections of the essay fell into place, and it was exactly the way I wanted it to be. I remember that it was a Sunday because I had just read the Modern Love column in the Sunday New York Times and I thought, this essay feels like a Modern Love essay. So I sent it in. (And I was right!)


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

This book's road to publication felt like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Early on – too early, really – a fancy New York agent found me through the Modern Love piece I had published. She took me out to lunch at Nobu and asked me all the right questions. She read my whole manuscript and said all the right things. But after I had signed with her she wanted me to revise my collection into a memoir. I tried to arrange the essays chronologically, to have something of a thorough line, but for me, memoirs and essays are two very different organisms. It was heartbreaking to think of filleting all my essays of all their spines and then trying to mold them into some kind of book-length fish-cake story. And in the end I couldn’t do it. My agent and I parted ways. I thought I had missed my chance.

But I kept writing. I kept publishing individual essays. The theme of the collection shifted and I started sending it out again – this time to agents and presses that champion essay collections. It took a while, but then one of my dream presses – the University of Nebraska Press – said yes. Although the whole process took much longer than I might have liked, it worked out beautifully in the end. Be with Me Always is a much better book than its earlier versions. I couldn’t be happier.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It comes by way of Henry James: “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.”  


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

How much of it – the writing and the ordering of the essays – happened intuitively. Dinty Moore has described essay writing as following a “invisible magnetic river,” and that’s what much of the process felt like.


How did you find the title of your book?

I struggled with the title. The collection is loosely themed around hauntedness but the essays address so many different things (a near-death experience, Anne Boleyn's relationship with Henry VIII, the chemical composition of Tylenol, the mythical properties of different gemstones) it was hard to settle on a title. But then I reread Wuthering Heights for the essay "Striking," and that line from Heathcliff almost knocked me over: "Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”  I thought, That's it. That’s what all these essays are about – the things that haunt us, that stay with us always, that never want to be lost and not again found.


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

In “Yet Another Day at the Jersey Shore” I write about the yellow cake my grandmother used to make. Hers was Duncan Hines, but mine is from the Magnolia Bakery in New York City. When I lived there I would end the week by buying two cupcakes; I’d walk down the block to the Bleecker Street Playground or Abington Square and eat one (sometimes both, although I always planned to save the second one for later). When I moved to DC I bought The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook and have made this lovely cake for birthdays, snow days, any day ever since.


**** 

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.randonbillingsnoble.com


READ AN ESSAY FROM THIS BOOK, “The Heart as a Torn Muscle”:  https://brevitymag.com/nonfiction/torn-muscle/







Work-in-Progress

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