I, Richard Audio Book Review

Elizabeth George is best known for her psychological crime novels. She has 15 books published. This is her first short story collection.

The review of I, Richard was first published at 1/5/2008 at Literary Fiction BellaOnline. The full review of this audio book can now be read at SquidLit.

Pomegranate Soup Review

Pomegranate Soup is the story of ‘new beginnings’; of planting seeds, letting the roots take hold and rejoicing in what blooms. Sometimes it isn´t all that was expected and sometimes it´s even better.

This review of Pomegranate Soup was first published on 8/14/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline. The full review of Pomegranate Soup can now be read at SquidLit.

Under Heaven Movie Review

In Seattle, Washington lives Eleanor (Joely Richardson) Dunston, a lovely, sweet and lonely heiress with terminal cancer. She hires Cynthia (Molly Parker) to take care of her in her in the end stages of her life.

This review was published on 6/7/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline. The full review of Under Heaven can now be read at Squidoo.

Elizabeth Crook – Author Interview

Austin, Texas is the home of this full time writer who has been writing for “as long as I can remember”. Her husband, two “terrific” children and a Korean exchange student are a delightful distraction from her writing. The Night Journal is her third published title.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Elizabeth-Crook-AuthorElizabeth Crook: I believe the most formative thing was that my mother read to my brother and sister and me for hours every night when we were growing up, and long after we learned to read for ourselves. From this we learned to love stories and to connect with characters. Her reading transported us to foreign places and other centuries, and this was a great gift.

As for becoming a writer myself, I just seemed to inch steadily in that direction from childhood on. I was not especially gifted at anything other than writing, and even my talent for this was dubious and manifested mostly in strained metaphors and whimsical, undisciplined flights of verbiage that had, at best, an admirable sense of pacing. I had the typical aspirations of being a dancer, a singer, an “Aqua Maid” feeding Ralph the swimming pig under water from baby bottles for mystified audiences watching from the submarine theatre at Aquarena Springs–the local tourist attraction in my hometown of San Marcos, Texas. I tried to play the guitar for a couple of years, and sat around strumming Mac Davis songs like “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, but had no talent and was (rightly) not encouraged. Writing became what I did best. I began to do it compulsively, and wrote in a journal every night from sixth grade on through college. Recently on looking back through some of these notebooks, I found myself stunned and a little deflated at the inanity. There was not a glimmer of talent there; not a single moment of insight. Really no promise at all. I thought of getting rid of the journals, but only briefly, as they are a nice keepsake, a stack of detritus that serves to remind me of the hours of obsessive chronicling that must–now that I look back on it, no matter how little talent displayed at the time–have in some way improved my writing. At the very least, the effort perfected my discipline.

Moe: What inspires you?

Elizabeth Crook: Weather. Other books. Tragedy. Life in general. ( I just asked my husband “what do you think inspires me to write?” “You aren’t inspired,” he said. “You’re driven.”)

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Elizabeth Crook: I have two kids, so how I spend my time and how I would spend my time productively are two different things. Fortunately I don’t need solitude or unbroken time to write. I write whenever I can. This truthfully is less and less, as my kids’ schedules become more hectic. Basically I’m able to sit down at my computer on weekdays mid to late morning, and then write…. off and on… throughout the day until about four thirty. There’s no writing time on the weekends. Before I had children, I wrote all the time, usually seven days a week. Not that I was ever very productive: I’m inherently inefficient and write dozens of drafts of a book before it is satisfactory. But there were more hours in a day then, and more work days in a week. I was extremely focused. Now I’m far less focused, and accustomed to writing in snatches. When I find myself with unbroken work-time I often get up and make a phone call just to interrupt myself. If I sound nostalgic for the days when I could write as much as I wanted, then I’ve given the wrong impression. I’d rather raise two great kids and write fewer books in my lifetime. I figure I can write about seven good books at the rate I’m going, and for me, that’s plenty.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Elizabeth Crook: The Night Journal was ten years in the making. I got married in that time, and had the kids, but any way you look at it, this is not a lot to show for a decade of labor. However, I’m not sorry about the time. I think it improved the book. Trite as it sounds, the longer we live the more we know, and the more informed our writing becomes. By allowing myself to stumble along through so many years and so many faulty drafts, I ended up writing a book I could never have plotted beforehand.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Elizabeth Crook: No, none at all. However, this is problematic when it comes to marketing, as The Night Journal floats in a no-man’s land between genres. The story is part historical fiction, part mystery, part contemporary domestic drama. It doesn’t settle into a known market. Reviewers have a terrible time describing it. But I love that the book cannot be categorized. While I was writing it I never had to worry that anyone else was writing about the same topic, or even the same themes. These were my people, my places. The story was entirely mine.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Elizabeth Crook: You’re hitting a nerve here! The truth is, I had no idea where I was going with this story when I started. I wanted to have an idea; I tried to settle on one; I made up scenarios that could be passed off as ideas and attempted to convince myself they would carry me. But I’ve never been a writer with a clear vision. I can barely see as far as the next chapter. Writing this book was actually a lot like driving in a fog. I ended up going down wrong roads, doubling back, cursing the darkness. Wondering where in the heck I was. But the great thing about being lost in a fog is you end up in unexpected and often wonderful places you would never have otherwise thought to go. You make discoveries; you feel your way along. It’s similar to living your life: you might do a tidier job of it with an outline. But, how boring that would be. I am certainly not stupidly advocating that writers should begin their stories without a plan. I’m only saying my own plans never seem to hold together very well and I usually have to scrap them along the way and replace them. In the end I think the stories have strangely benefited from this lack of vision.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Elizabeth Crook: Research is the fuel for my writing. It gives me most of my ideas. It’s like a treasure hunt: one discovery leads to another. I start by reading everything I can find on the place and the period. This is more exciting to me than reading fiction for pleasure, as the information is all there for the using. In fiction, it has already been filtered through someone else’s imagination. After I’ve read the basics and settled on the historical moments or topics I want to dramatize, then I start to research the details.

And yes, I usually have to see the places I’m writing about. It’s nearly impossible to describe a place with any authenticity if you haven’t been there. You have to know what a place feels like, not just what it looks like. Photographs are not enough. But the problem of course, in writing historical fiction, is you can’t go back in time. You can go to the place, but not the time. This is why you have to rely on your research: you have to have enough information to be able to disappear on a daily basis through a wormhole to the past, and arrive at the location of your story and get around without being recognized as a foreigner. However, the major trick to writing good historical fiction is not in compiling research or knowing the details, but in knowing which details to leave out. Writers of historical fiction tend to be overly conscientious and excited by minutia. We have to discipline ourselves to avoid giving excessive explanations or descriptions. My own rule of thumb is that the information has to move the plot along, or inform the reader significantly about the character. If it doesn’t manage either one of these, then it doesn’t make the cut.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Elizabeth Crook: None of my characters are exactly like anyone I know. But they often have characteristics of people I know. Friends might recognize a line of dialogue… a gesture… a certain moment. In my second novel—Promised Lands—I killed off (in the Goliad massacre of 1836) a number of minor characters that vaguely resembled some of my old boyfriends, (and let me assure you, they went down begging.) However my fictional characters in general are not fashioned after my friends. My historical characters are always as true to the original as I can make them. And my female protagonists are not me.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Elizabeth Crook: It takes me a long time between books to settle on what to write next. It’s like choosing the people I’m going to live with, and where we’re going to live, and under what circumstances, and experiencing what happiness and heartache, for the next ten years. But once I’m into a book, I’m steadily up and running. There’s no block, whatsoever. There’s never a moment when I want to write and can’t think of what to say. There are plenty of moments when I write drivel and have to go back and delete it all, but that’s a different matter.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Elizabeth Crook: I think readers want to be entertained by a book, and informed. They want to care about the characters, and be moved by the story. I always hope my books will manage this.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Elizabeth Crook: There’s nothing nicer than receiving an unexpected email through my website, or a letter; it gives me a great feeling of connection. Writing is more solitary than most jobs, and it’s always good to know there’s someone on the other end of the line. I always try to reply; it’s nice of people to write, and I would hate not to respond. The only kind of mail that’s problematic and difficult to answer is from people seeking advice about their own writing. Up to now I’ve tried to answer these emails but this becomes time consuming, so in the future I might have to let these queries go without reply.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Elizabeth Crook: The Night Journal is a book about family legacies, and what it would be like if we could actually go back and reconstruct the entire truth about our ancestors, and see them as they were and not as they have come to be represented by a record that is necessarily depleted and distorted by time. The story takes place in two time frames—the 1890’s, depicted in the journals of Hannah Bass, and the present day, in which Hannah’s great grand-daughter is confronted by a profound and shocking discovery that casts doubt on everything recorded in the journals. It involves a mystery that comes to light when two dog graves on the sight of the old family home near Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico are excavated and expose a number of things one would never expect to find in dogs’ graves.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Elizabeth Crook: History and historical fiction. Also historical and contemporary mysteries. Off the top of my head, I think of these novels: Possession by A.S. Byatt, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, historical novels by Leon Uris and Herman Wouk, mysteries by Le Carre and P.D James.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Elizabeth Crook: I guess I’m pretty goal-oriented and there’s not a lot of lounging around. I do love being with my friends and family. Talking on the phone. Walking my dog. Watching movies. Dining out. Always with family and friends. I love my moments late at night when the house is quiet and I settle in with a good book.

Moe: New writers are always trying to gleam advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Elizabeth Crook: Read a lot. Revise constantly. Read your work aloud to hear what it sounds like. Don’t get into writing if you can’t handle criticism. See it as a job—a craft—not a romantic endeavor. Make notes on what you think of in the middle of the night; otherwise you won’t remember it in the morning.

The-Night-Journal-Book-CoverMoe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Elizabeth Crook: God forbid.

Moe: What is your favorite word?

Elizabeth Crook: It varies by the week. This week it is “unsavory.”

My interview with Elizabeth Crook was originally published 8/31/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Elizabeth Crook’s official website.

Katrina Kittle – Author Interview

Emotional realism is a necessary element of Katrina Kittle’s writing. She has three books to her name; most recently, The Kindness of Strangers. With the encouragement of her mother and father this Dayton, Ohio resident has spent most of her life writing stories and poems. When she’s not writing or riding horses she can be found at the Miami Valley School teaching English and theatre to 6th and 7th graders. I hope you enjoy the kindness of Katrina Kittle.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you? When did you ‘know’ you were a writer? Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.

katrina-kittle-authorKatrina Kittle: In my family, reading and books were highly valued. One of my favorite childhood memories is going to the library with a wagon to drag home all the books I’d check out each week. I absolutely loved to read. My dad is a voracious reader and my mom is a teacher, so they encouraged my reading and writing. An early gift was a journal. I have diaries and journals from as far back as third grade. My sister and I would write stories for each other for presents, and everyone in the family received a birthday poem. One year for Christmas, my sister and I wrote a short story called “Prisoners of Pursuit” in which a character (obviously my father, although thinly disguised as a fictional character) kidnapped neighbors and forced them to play Trivial Pursuit with him (because no one in the man’s family would play with him anymore because he always won). I always had excellent grades in English and Language Arts classes and ended up in an Honors Tutorial English program in college. I studied dance and theatre, then English, and only after college did I become interested in writing for publication.

Moe: What inspires you?

Katrina Kittle: Everything! Honestly. My novels all center on a social issue I care greatly about, so I get story ideas from reading the paper and watching the news and from the experiences I gain in my volunteer work. I get huge inspiration from teaching–every single student has a story to tell, after all. I find a great deal of inspiration from reading poetry. I don’t ever write poetry myself but I like to “warm up” each writing day by reading two or three poems. Poets remind me how to play with language, and they always have amazing images. More inspiration comes from being outside, hiking or kayaking, and from being around animals, especially horses.

Moe: On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Katrina Kittle: I make a good cup of coffee and sit down at my desk. I start by reading some poetry. Then I just dive in to wherever I left off the day before. The best time for me to create new work is first thing in the morning (which means rising VERY early before a school day). Mornings are my most productive time. I can revise and proofread in the evenings, but writing new material has to happen in the morning. Good dark chocolate and fresh flowers help, but are not requirements.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Katrina Kittle: It takes me a LONG time before I allow anyone to read my work. I like to have a first draft completed before I ask fellow writers to read and give feedback. I’ve found it can be detrimental to get feedback before I’m certain what will happen in the story. I need to stay open to my own discoveries. The first draft is that process of discovery. I tend not to revise at all in a first draft and I will be well aware I’m writing sloppy and repetitive passages, but I just make myself keep right on going. In the subsequent drafts, I will do major revision all along the way.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Katrina Kittle: None at all. I’ve found you have to write a story you are passionate about, and worry about marketing questions later.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Katrina Kittle: I don’t plan much of anything in advance. I have tried to, but an outline feels like a strait jacket to me. The real joy in the process for me is in that process of discovery as I figure out the story in a first draft. I may take some wrong turns and missteps, and I may write hundreds of pages I end up unable to use, but, for me, it is the necessary process to unearth the story.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Katrina Kittle: I do a great deal of research before I actually begin laying down a draft. Each of my novels has begun with a social issue I care deeply about. So, I begin my immersing myself in everything I can find to do with that topic–fiction, nonfiction, films, documentaries, etc. Anything that relates to it. I usually won’t even know what I’m looking for, but I know it when I see it–I’ll come across little “nuggets” of great information. As I begin to actually draft, I will then try to find experts willing to talk to me. For The Kindness of Strangers, I talked to doctors, child psychologists, social workers, and police officers. People at The Children’s Medical Center and CARE House in Dayton opened their arms and doors to me and gave me tours, answered countless questions, and checked my facts. Their generosity overwhelmed me…and of course it made it a better book.

Moe: Where do your characters come from? How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do you draw the line?

Katrina Kittle: I think writers “use” everything they see and experience. It’s nearly impossible not to do that! We are told from the time we’re kids in school to “write what you know,” so of course I write about things I’ve experienced or know well. My characters are always fictional creations, but many aspects of them are composites of people I know. Sarah in The Kindness of Strangers, for example, looks like a friend of mine, is the cook I wish I could be, and keeps family rituals that I have heard about from three other different friends’ families. The bat incident actually happened to me, although it was not my idea to get rid of the bat the way Sarah does. Our life experiences have a way of worming themselves into our fiction. I guess I would draw the line at using anything deeply personal that would be recognizable as anyone I knew. If it would make me feel sheepish or creepy to include something from someone else’s life, then I simply wouldn’t do it.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Katrina Kittle: I used to boast I never had writer’s block–my problem was narrowing down all the ideas I wanted to write about. But when I went through a divorce last winter–which was not my choice and a total, blindside surprise–my writing stopped cold. My mind simply would not be still enough for me to focus. It was a horrible feeling to have “lost” what I once found such comfort in. What got me past it was sticking to what Natalie Goldberg calls “the practice school of writing.” You show up at the desk every day for an appointed amount of time. If you just sit there and stare, fine. If you write absolute drek, fine. But you show up and give your time to writing in whatever way you can. You don’t wait for “inspiration.” I made myself do writing exercises. Much of what I wrote during that awful time was utter crap I will never use. BUT, the important point is when my mind was able to focus and I was able to return to the novel I had in progress, I was still “in shape” for writing. I had adhered to the habit of writing.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Katrina Kittle: First and foremost, I hope they are transported by the story and that the characters embed themselves in the reader’s heart and memory. That’s my goal and aspiration. And, as I’ve said, all my novels center on a social issue, so I hope they take away a newfound understanding of the issue. I firmly believe a novel is not a forum for a message, and I don’t try to tell the reader what to think about the issue. I hope to raise questions, but not necessarily answer them, and to simply get the reader to think about an issue they may not have considered before.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Katrina Kittle: 1.) I learned a writer needs to be very involved and energetic about her own publicity and promotion. With my first book, I very naively sat back and thought the publisher would promote the book like crazy. I have learned to be proactive now, to meet my publicist, to brainstorm ideas, to drum up as many appearances and opportunities for promotion as I possibly can. 2.) I’ve learned the more ideas I come up with for promotion, the more ideas the publisher will back and support. 3.) I’ve learned no matter what happens in your publishing life, someone is going to be more successful. The “goal” always shifts. You start with “I want to be published,” then it turns into “I want to be published well,” and then “I want to sell well” and “I want to be a bestseller” yada yada yada. There will always be something more to aspire to. I have learned to celebrate every single small step along the way. There’s a great quote, from Martina Navratilova: “The moment of victory is far too short to live for that alone.” I have learned if the writing process is not a joyful one for me, I should be doing something else!

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Katrina Kittle: I’m always thrilled to get fan mail and I answer every single one. I usually print the letters that come to my website and keep the letters that come through the real mail. It’s fun to reread them on the days when the writing feels slow or sluggish. I especially love it when readers tell me about how the book affected them, or ways they think or do things differently because of the book’s message. Those are such wonderful gifts to receive! So much of writing happens in solitude, it’s great to get to learn what impact the book had on a reader.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Katrina Kittle: The Kindness of Strangers is about one family’s experience as an emergency foster care placement for a sexually abused boy from their community. The seed of the story came when I met a ten-year-old boy who was HIV+ during one of my school residencies. His birth parents, now in prison, were a white couple from an affluent suburb who had prostituted him for drug money; he had contracted the virus from this abuse. His story devastated me, but his personality, resilience, and great, sly sense of humor inspired me even more. He had been adopted by a wonderful new family. Although this novel is not his story, he was the genesis behind it. I hope the novel captures the strength and triumph of his life. When I started researching this novel, I was horrified to learn his story was not at all unique. I became aware of how common child sexual abuse was, and I was angry I had never heard anyone discuss this or ways to prevent it.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Katrina Kittle: I read all kinds of books! Every genre, every time period. Lots of nonfiction as well as fiction.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Katrina Kittle: I like to spend as much time outside and with horses as possible. Nothing makes me happier. I also cook and love to make big dinners for friends. I dabble in ballroom dance and am currently in a Latin dance class. I love it! I love hiking and kayaking. And I’m a huge movie buff.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Katrina Kittle: To write your book. I don’t mean to be flippant, but there’s a great Isaac Asimov quote: “It’s the writing that teaches you.” Once you have a story actually on paper, you can then begin to edit and revise and learn from it. As long as you’re talking about a story as an abstract idea, you’ve got nothing.

Also, start writing NOW. Don’t wait for some ideal day when you’re going to have a giant chunk of time fall into your lap. If your life is anything like mine, then that’s never going to happen! I wrote the first draft of Traveling Light in two hour slots on Saturdays over the course of two years. I told myself every single Saturday of my life, I could find two hours that were mine I could carve out as writing time. It was difficult, and sometimes those two hours were found in the wee, wee hours, but I did it. A few Saturdays fell on holidays so I “made up” those hours on other days.

Soon, I discovered those two hours a week were not enough and I became more creative and flexible at finding more time. I compare it to being in love. You know when you meet someone new and you’re in that breathless, exhilarating, all-consuming stage of a crush? You will do anything-rearrange schedules, skimp on sleep, overcome impossible logistics-to be with that beloved person? Well, you need to feel that passionate about what you’re writing. If you’re not (if I’m not, anyway), you shouldn’t be writing this particular story.

The-Kindness-of-Strangers-Book-CoverMoe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Katrina Kittle: Well, I’m also a teacher and I love it. I think I’ll always be teaching in some capacity. I often dream about going to culinary school, so who knows…

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Katrina Kittle: Serendipity

Originally published 4/23/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Katrina Kittle’s official website.

Women’s History Month

March 8th of every year is set aside as International Women’s Day. Its purpose is to encourage a sharing of the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world. In honour of Women’s History Month, International Women’s Week/Day all occurring in the month of March, here are 25 quotes from notable writers.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” ~Helen Keller, (1880 – 1968)

“Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” ~Virginia Woolf, (1882 – 1941)

“Women are the architects of society.” ~Harriet Beecher Stowe, (1811 – 1896)

“I think being a woman is like being Irish…Everyone says you’re important and nice but you take second place all the same.” ~Iris Murdoch, (1919 – 1999)

“If high heels were so wonderful, men would be wearing them.” ~Sue Grafton, (1940 – )

“Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open.” ~Emma Goldman, (1869 – 1940)

“Nature provides exceptions to every rule.” ~Margaret Fuller, (1810 – 1850)

“The basic discovery about any people…is the discovery of the relationship between its men and women.” ~Pearl S. Buck, (1892 – 1973)

“Women are going to form a chain, a greater sisterhood than the world has ever known.” ~Nellie McClung, (1873 – 1951)

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” ~Harriet Beecher Stowe, (1811 – 1896)

“Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.” ~Jane Austen, (1775 – 1817)

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.” ~Helen Keller, (1880 – 1968)

“It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.” ~J. K. Rowling, (1965 – )

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” ~Ursula K. LeGuin, (1929 – )

“There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from.” ~Elizabeth Kubler Ross, (1926 – 2004)

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” ~Anais Nin, (1903 – 1977)

“There is one purpose to life and one only: to bear witness to and understand as much as possible of the complexity of the world – its beauty, its mysteries, its riddles.” ~Anne Rice, (1941 – )

“Never retract, never explain, never apologize; get things done and let them howl.” ~Nellie McClung, (1873 – 1951)

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” ~Mother Teresa, (1910 – 1997)

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” ~Madame Marie Curie, (1867 – 1934)

“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.” ~Jane Austen, (1775 – 1817)

“Women who set a low value on themselves make life hard for all women.” ~ Nellie McClung, (1873 – 1951)

Sites to learn about great women:

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Topic Links

Moe’s Picks for 2005

Here are some of my picks for 2005. I tried to limit myself to ten but ended up with fifteen. Happy Reading!
An-Inconvenient-Wife-Book-Cover

An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance

A story about a woman living in the age of the perfect wife is expected except she isn’t so perfect with her fits and addictions. Her husband takes her to a doctor to aid her woes but he has his own agenda.

Purchase from An Inconvenient Wife Amazon.com.
Purchase from An Inconvenient Wife Amazon.ca.

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A Girl like Che Guevara by Teresa de la Caridad Doval

In Havana, Cuba during 1982 high school students were required to put in time in the Tobacco fields as part of their learning and as service to the communist regime. This is the summer for sixteen year old Lourdes Torres to experience Pinar del Rio camp. She learns her dreams of being part of the young Communist League and trying to be like her hero Che Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary and Cuban guerrilla leader, are not as easy as she thought they would be. Author Q & A with Teresa Doval.

Purchase from A Girl like Che Guevara Amazon.com.
Purchase from A Girl like Che Guevara Amazon.ca.

The-Icarus-Girl-Book-Cover

The Icarus Girl: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi

The story of an eight-year-old caught between two worlds of her mixed family. When she acts up her parents send her Nigeria for a change of pace. During her time there she develops an invisible friend named Tilly who is a comfort at first but soon develops quirks which disturb everyone.

Purchase from The Icarus Girl Amazon.com.
Purchase from The Icarus Girl Amazon.ca.

The-Ice-Queen-Book-Cover

The Ice Queen: a Novel by Alice Hoffman

The story of a small-town librarian who gets struck by lightning and lives to tell about it. With her new lease on life she begins to notice things aren’t like they use to be. If she didn’t fit in before she really doesn’t now. She begins looking for other lightening survivors for companionship and perhaps knowledge and acceptance. Thought provoking novel with a different kind of magic.

Purchase from The Ice Queen Amazon.com.
Purchase from The Ice Queen Amazon.ca.

Matches-Book-Cover

Matches: A Novel by Alan Kaufman

The story about the emotional toll of contemporary warfare as seen through the eyes of Nathan Falk a young American member of the Israeli Defense Force. Nathan enjoys the game of roulette that is his life: Gaza at night, cheating fellow soldiers, seducing his best friend’s wife. All have consequences. This is an intimate look at betrayal, guilt, love and survival on the battlefield.

Purchase from Matches Amazon.com.
Purchase from Matches Amazon.ca.

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Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is the 1982 Nobel Prize winner, Columbian author’s first work of fiction in ten years. It is the story of an aged journalist who commissions a virgin prostitute for a night but finds himself in a year-long obsession that brings forth a lifetime of memories of paid loveless sex. What remains to be seen is what he is going to do with this revelation.

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Purchase from Memories of My Melancholy Whores Amazon.ca.

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Re-released in time for the release of the movie. It is an epic tale following the life of Sayuri, a Japanese Geisha, from childhood when she is first purchased to her unprecedented success. A unique look into 1930s Japan when slavery was an art and one blue-eyed woman’s rise to the status of goddess.

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Purchase from Memoirs of a Geisha Amazon.ca.

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

From the author of The Remains of the Day comes the story of a secluded English boarding school. The well-schooled students are taught from an exemplary curriculum except it includes nothing about the world off campus. Kathy has spent her life growing up here but it’s only when she and her friends leave the safe grounds they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

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Purchase from Never Let Me Go Amazon.ca.

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On Beauty by Zadie Smith

An English scholar with three children has a midlife crisis about the time one of his son’s finds love on the other side of the globe. A book that asks a lot of questions and then forces the characters to look for the answers but it won’t drive you to tears.

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Purchase from On Beauty Amazon.ca.

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Runaway by Alice Munro

A collection of stories about women from all walks of life and the people they love. Like the titled story about a wife who doesn’t think she has the strength and will to leave her husband or the story of Juliet and her tarnished relationships.

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Purchase from Runaway Amazon.ca.

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Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

From the best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Eleven Americans on a voyage to Burma become separated from their designated Island Resort and end up in a jungle, lost and without their original guide. At least she isn’t with them in body. Misfortune after misfortune begets these travellers including running into a primitive tribe that has its own problems with the military.

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Purchase from Saving Fish from Drowning Amazon.ca.

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Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Recently short listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Drawing from her own experiences from her fieldwork in Ethiopia for her Ph.D. in social anthropology Gibb has detailed a story about a young, white, Muslim woman named Lilly who falls in love with a man she works with. When their relationship is torn apart by the surrounding political and religious upheaval she searches for both understanding in the world and in herself.

Purchase from Sweetness in the Belly Amazon.com.
Purchase from Sweetness in the Belly Amazon.ca.

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Amir comes from a wealthy family in Kabul. As a child he spent most of his time with a servant’s son Hassan. Many days were spent telling tales and running kites. Events occur that effect the nature of the boy’s friendship from the time they meet until the country is taken over by the Taliban.

Purchase from The Kite Runner Amazon.com.
Purchase from The Kite Runner Amazon.ca.

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The Sweet Edge by Alison Pick

It’s summer. Ellen is working in an art gallery. Her boyfriend Adam is going on a canoe trip in the Arctic. Told from both of their point-of-views. Alison takes the reader through both of their perspectives on their relationship with one another and the world around them.

Purchase from The Sweet Edge Amazon.com.
Purchase from The Sweet Edge Amazon.ca.

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Veronica: A Novel by Mary Gaitskill

2005 National Book Award finalist. Alison, devastated by the life of fashion-modeling moves from Paris to New York City where she befriends Veronica an eccentric proof-reader with AIDS. The unlikely duo suffer through the hardships of illness, loss and all the other emotions attached to the people we love.

Purchase from Veronica Amazon.com.
Purchase from Veronica Amazon.ca.

This piece was originally published 12/22/2005 at BellaOnline.

Stolen Moments with Camilla Gibb

Sweetness in the Belly was recently short listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for fiction. This is one of Canada’s prestigious literary prizes and although Camilla did not take home the trophy (and the $40,000 in pocket change) her book has gained considerable and well deserved exposure.

camilla-gibbCamilla has touched on a theme readily available in the literary scene but with a unique backdrop. Drawing from her own experiences from her fieldwork in Ethiopia for her Ph.D. in social anthropology she detailed a story about a young, white, Muslim woman named Lilly who falls in love with a man she works with. When their relationship is torn apart by the surrounding political and religious upheaval she searches for both understanding in the world and in herself.

Camilla was born in London, England but grew up in Toronto, Canada. She studied at Oxford University and will be a Writer in Residence at the University of Toronto in the New Year. She has two other novels published.

A few stolen moments with Camilla:

What made you decide to become a writer?

I wanted to be a writer as soon as I learned to read. I started my first novel when I was seven. It was called “Yes I Do Live on the Roof” and it was the story of a girl who lived on the roof of her parent’s house and communed with squirrels. Surprisingly, it remains unpublished to this day. At the end of high school I told my English teacher I wanted to be a writer and he advised me to go and see a bit of the world first. Study something, something that could teach me about the world, take me places. I became a social anthropologist, work I loved, but the limits of academic language felt stifling. And so I (re)turned to fiction in my late twenties.

On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

I listen to the same piece(s) of music every morning. Heavy, heartbreaking stuff – usually Arvo Part – music that strips me down, leaves me raw. It’s a rather wordless place but the emotions that inform my writing are there. And then I read whatever I have been writing over the previous few days, often reading it aloud, which gets me into the feel of a piece and allows me to continue on with it. If I’m working on a novel, it can take me hours to read through before I even write a sentence.Sweetness-in-the-Belly-Book-Cover

What is your favourite word?

Bubble.

Originally published 11/14/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Camilla Gibb’s official website.

Marsha Mehran – Author Interview

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. No, not that Marsha. Marsha Mehran was born in Tehran (an Iran province), grew up in Argentina and currently divides her time between New York and Ireland with her husband Christopher (a.k.a. Annoying Irish Husband). After pursuing such gigs as a model, personal assistant and waitress she has settled into her role as author having written professionally for the last five years. Her first release, Pomegranate Soup, is an amusing tale about “three sisters, an old box of recipes and a new exotic café in a small Irish town”. I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know this new author.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Marsha-MehranMarsha Mehran: I did have an epiphany of sorts, a definitive indication that I should be a writer. It happened one winter’s night in 2000, on the wobbly Millennium Bridge in Dublin, Ireland.

My husband, Christopher, and I had moved to Dublin in late 1999. I was working as a receptionist in an office that helped filmmakers with funding, and Christopher was running one of the busiest pubs in the city center. So I found myself alone and lonely during most nights after work, reading voraciously and wiling the hours away on the computer. One night I began to write a letter – a seemingly innocuous email to my younger brother, who was living in Australia at that time. Before I knew it, the email had grown into a short story, a complete history of our family, and then it turned into a novella.

I would rush home over the Millennium Bridge (one of the many bridges spanning the River Liffey) every night and sequester myself in our little bedroom to finish this story. I no longer felt lonely in the new city; I had a friend in the computer.

My realization, the moment I knew I was a writer, came to me one of these nights. The thought popped into my head as though it were a voice. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared out into the lights on the river, stunned by what I had heard. Then, I opened my mouth and said, “I’m going to be a writer!” Out loud! I hurried home and began to write in earnest. From that day on, I was determined to make writing my career.

So, in answering the second part of your question, I guess it was a little bit of both: writing chose me, and I decided to follow.

Moe: Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.

Marsha Mehran: Looking back, I think I was a good writer as a child. I won an essay competition when I was seven, the grand prize being the opportunity to read the piece on the school PA system! Glamorous, indeed! I hated writing essays, though, mostly because I was inclined to slip into fiction whenever I tried… funny how it never occurred to me back then I should pursue it as a career.

Moe: What inspires you?

Marsha Mehran: Beauty, in all its shapes and forms. Looking back at my crazy life, and all the fabulously quirky individuals I have met so far.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Marsha Mehran: Writing my first book, Pomegranate Soup, was a feverish, crazy affair. I wrote mainly at night, starting at five in the afternoon and finishing at seven in the morning, eating, eating, eating, all they way through. It was like a pregnancy of sorts, that luckily only lasted six weeks (first draft, that is). Any longer and you’d have to roll me out of the house!

But, in writing my second novel, I find myself craving daylight. I wake up and do all the breakfasty things, walk the dog, etc, then sit down with a coffee at around ten a.m. I stare into space, chew the ends of my hair, have a zillion bathroom breaks, then find my groove at around two… then I write. I am currently outlining the book, which is quite fun.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Marsha Mehran: With this second book, I am outlining extensively. It is longer, more suspenseful, and requires different consideration than it predecessor. After the first draft is finished, I will read it to my husband, Christopher. Then my agent gets a peek.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Marsha Mehran: Not type of reader, but the Reader in general. My primary concern is how to keep the Reader interested in the story to the very end. Each sentence and image must move toward this goal. Seduction is necessary in a storyteller. I’m often reminded of Scheherazade, the Persian princess who saved her life by spinning the most seductive of tales…

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Marsha Mehran: I approach research on a need-to-know basis. I will return to the library and Internet as I write my outline and first draft, whenever I feel I need to enhance my imagination with factual information. With my first novel, Pomegranate Soup, I did a lot of research on the Islamic Revolution and Iran before and after the upheaval. Although I was born in Tehran right before the revolution, I was too young to experience much of the violence and confusion. For this I returned to books on that period, as well as the stories of my parents and extended family’s experiences.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Marsha Mehran: I am not conscious of drawing on real individuals for my characters—they just announce themselves as I work through the first draft. I don’t really draw the line between reality and imagination when I follow these characters on their merry way. One thing is important above all else: when it comes to writing through your characters you must love them all. Even the nasty ones. Especially the nasty ones.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Marsha Mehran: I have experienced writer’s block on several occasions. Mostly, it arose from instability in my outer life, or stress of some kind. I have learnt how to be at peace with these moments- how to sit in front of a computer for an entire day without writing a single word—knowing that it will eventually come. The worst thing for writing is to panic. Fear sets in motion too many thoughts.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Marsha Mehran: Joy. Hope. A connection to one or more characters/situations.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Marsha Mehran: No one will be a bigger fan of your book than you. Don’t expect the publisher to do all your publicity work for you—you have to get out there and let the world know about your particular, and wonderful, story.

Get yourself a good agent. Someone who you can trust.

Publishing is not about hitting the NY Times bestseller list and making gazillions on your advances. It’s about the story. It’s about your connection to the Reader. Pursue that and you can never go wrong.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Marsha Mehran: I try to answer all my fan mail personally. Not only has someone taken the time to read the book and appreciated it, even loved it, but they have also sat down to write to me. The least I could do is write them back.

Most fans write about how Pomegranate Soup filled them with happiness. That after having read the book they were left starving for the food described in it. One reader in particular stands out in my mind—she wrote to tell me that after reading the novel she was so inspired that she invited her sons, one whom she had not talked to for quite some time, over for dinner. She was hopeful that they could reconcile over a bowl of soup!

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Marsha Mehran: I am currently working on my second novel. It is a story of Iranian mothers and their Iranian-American daughters. A very female-oriented book, filled with feminine power and magic. I am very excited about this story.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Marsha Mehran: I love the old Russian dudes (Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin) as well as Beckett and Genet for their madness. I ADORE Patrick Dennis’s novels, in all their campy, bewitching glory. I want to go for an unforgettable ride when I read. A world that I would not want to leave.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Marsha Mehran: Eat copious amounts of ice cream and watch romantic comedies.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Marsha Mehran: Have patience with yourself. Listen to the rumblings in your belly. That is your voice. Follow it.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Marsha Mehran: Working on films. Directing and producing.

Pomegranate-Soup-Book-CoverMoe: What is your favourite word?

Marsha Mehran: Labyrinth

Purchase Pomegranate Soup from Amazon.com.
Purchase Pomegranate Soup from Amazon.ca.

Originally published 10/26/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

RIP Marsha Mehran May 2014.

What is Literary Fiction?

When I was younger I hated school, having started late because of my birth date. Reading and comprehension were difficult. I always took longer to finish assigned reading than everyone else. At thirteen, I picked up Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber and something clicked. Within a few months I had inhaled all 10 books. After that reading was easier, a more enjoyable escape. I travelled through book after book oblivious to what genre it belonged to. I was still a slow reader but at least now I loved it. My eclectic reading carried through to adulthood ranging from non-fiction, mystery, chick lit and yes literary fiction, especially Canadian.

With literary fiction the language is heavier, the imagery lush, the characters detailed and story line thought provoking. Literary fiction by design leaves a deeper impression. And yes, it can be fun. Many believe literary fiction is for ‘serious readers’ or scholars but any one who loves to read can benefit.

Is it Literary Fiction or Isn’t it?

So how do you tell if something is literary fiction? Some like to brag about it on the cover. ‘Muddy Waters: a novel‘, is a sure sign of literary fiction (but not always). Most of the classics are considered literary (anything before 1945). Jane Eyre anyone? If there’s a sticker on the cover for an award it is probably literary fiction. You can also go to any publisher’s website and visit their literary fiction area.

Since it’s inception in 1970 (Wikipedia) literary fiction has become another genre to further classify literature. The realm of literary fiction encompasses short stories, novellas, novelettes, novels and graphic novels. Sure you can have these in other genres but when you think of mysteries, horror or chick lit do you think of short stories? Probably not. Full length books probably come to mind unless you include Stephen King but he’s in a realm of his own.

To understand what literary fiction is, it’s probably easier to look at what it isn’t. Literary fiction is not about chick lit, mystery, science fiction or horror although they are marvellous literature in themselves and literary fiction can incorporate certain aspects of them. If it doesn’t fit into a genre of its own then you’ve probably found yourself some literary fiction.

So there you have it. “What is Literary Fiction”, clear as mud. When we are young we don’t get bogged down with what book fits in which genre. When it comes to reading what’s important is following your interests not someone’s genre designation. Read broad and enjoy it.

This piece was originally published 10/10/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.