Out Of Twenty: Thomas Mullen, Author of The Revisionists, Answers Six Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! The first time I heard about Thomas Mullen at BEA, where his book, The Revisionists, was one of the highly buzzed books from Mulholland Books. I wasn’t sure his book would be for me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a fabulous read! Thomas answered six questions, and here is what he had to say about reading, writing and history – it isn’t just for bank robbers and flu epidemics anymore!

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

With three books published and a fourth almost finished, it seems that I write 400-pagish novels, told in the third-person, in which we follow a handful of major characters, veering back and forth between their perspectives. The first two were historical fiction, though my new one, The Revisionists, is set in present-day Washington. History itself is a theme of the book, which features a time traveler whose job is to ensure that a certain horrible event occurs, as dictated by history. I’m realizing that I’m fascinated by history, both as a place to find amazing stories (like flu epidemics or 1930s bank robbers, in my first two books), and as a theoretical construct, in which we can pose questions about what history really is, and how it’s made, how and why it’s told, and what our own individual roles are within it.

As for what I like to write, my main concerns are telling a great story and doing so in a compelling, creative, unique manner. I want to write neither a plotless literary novel nor a thriller that gives short shrift to its prose and characters, but rather a book that achieves the best of both forms, with an engrossing plot, realistic characters, thought-provoking dilemmas, and prose that sings.

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

My first two books, being historical, required a lot of research. In both cases, I would try to write a chapter or two first, just to see if I could get the tone and the style. Then, if I felt it was working, I’d stop writing for a bit and do a lot of reading to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I can only take so much reading, though, so eventually I’d hit the keyboard again, supplementing with another research book here and there, either to fill another gap or because I stumbled upon a good resource. (I do read fiction when I’m writing, too, but not as much as I’d like to, as I’ve found it can cause me to subtly alter my style and emulate what I’m reading.)

I was surprised to find that this book, despite the fact that it’s set in the present-day, also required a lot of research. I had always assumed that contemporary books wouldn’t require any, but I think that’s only true if you write something that’s basically a veiled autobiography. If you’re writing about characters who are different from yourself, however, and if you’re writing about events that you yourself have not experienced, you need to know what you’re talking about. So I read quite a lot about U.S. intelligence agencies and foreign policy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a number of books about 20th Century dictators and their regimes.

 People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

Wow, I could go on and on about this. But let’s just say that, as someone who lived inWashingtonfrom 2003-2008, it was hard not to think about all the stories that came out about warrantless wiretapping, and interrogations at “black sites,” and government surveillance of political activists, and the legal issues surrounding the leaking of those stories to the press. I had to write about this. Then one day the local NPR had a story about foreign diplomats who bring with them to D.C. domestic servants who themselves were illegal immigrants in their home countries, and who are treated as veritable slaves in their new D.C. homes. I wanted that in the book as well. Figuring out how to deal with all these issues in a coherent narrative was one of the biggest challenges. But I felt a sort of calling to figure this out.

As a thirty-something white guy who grew up in the suburbs and writes and reads for a living, it was very important for me not to write a book about a thirty-something writer, or upper-middle-class urbanites dealing with infidelities or bad jobs, or those other sorts of trivial concerns that occupy a whole shelf of the contemporary canon. Things like government surveillance and espionage sound like silly thriller ingredients, yeah, but they’re real. They’re actually happening. To duck them felt cowardly. I felt a calling to tackle this in my fiction—not just these political issues themselves but also the meta-issue of how people choose to deal with these issues or avoid them, which is a debate several of the book’s characters have with themselves.

 How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

I’m a pretty disciplined person and I prefer an un-chaotic work environment, as un-artistic as that may sound. So in a perfect world I’d have an idea, I’d write it, and then I’d move on to the next one. That’s how my first novel worked, but, sadly, the others didn’t go so smoothly. Just coming up with an idea that really, really jazzes you – so much that you’re certain you want to spend the next two years of your life on it – is a challenge. I have a lot of good ideas, but which one is The Idea??? That’s a surprisingly tough thing to decide.

Also, about halfway through this book I ran into a serious wall. Something just wasn’t working. True to the book’s title, I revised and cut and altered it many times, reworking characters, eliminating subplots and adding others. At one point I put it aside and picked up an old manuscript, turning that into a young adult novel. And there was another time when I feared The Revisionists was unsalvageable, so I put it away and started a new novel, writing about 150 pages.

So, to answer your question, I was at one point pinwheeling between those three novels, and a screenplay, and a few short stories. Luckily, I finally had an insight on how to solve The Revisionists, and I wound up writing my tail off for a few months until I finished it. Which meant that I then had a 150-page head-start on my next book, saving me the whole “what should I write now?” debate! Not bad.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

I’ve been lucky with titles: I thought them up for all three books, and no one ever suggested changing them. (I’m honestly not sure if that’s rare or not.) Once I hit on this title, I loved it. “Revisionists” usually refer to historians who introduce a new slant on a historical subject, which alone made it right for the book. The term can also be taken different ways, speaking to how we alter our very selves over time and try to control the narrative of our lives.

What’s next?

I’m a big Boston sports fan, and a few years back I read an article about recently released FBI files on death threats that were made against Red Auerbach, the Celtics coach who fielded the NBA’s first all-black starting five. The story mentioned, off hand, that it was one of many examples of FBI involvement in Boston sports, a legacy that dates back at least to 1945, when the FBI was following a group of Communists who wanted to integrate baseball. What? 1940s FBI agents, Communist sports writers, and Negro League baseball players? I knew right away that I had my story. I’m nearly finished with the rough draft and I love it to death.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Jesmyn Ward, Author of Salvage the Bones, Answers Eleven Questions

About: Thomas Mullen was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Oberlin College. He has lived in Boston; in Chapel Hill, NC; in Washington, DC; and he now makes his home in Atlanta with his wife and two sons.

When not reading or writing, his greatest interests are music, film, travel, and hiking. The best books he read in 2010 were Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow, The Bridge of Sighs and The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, Serena by Ron Rash, Caveman’s Valentine by George Dawes Green, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, Savages by Don Winslow, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and An Ordinary Spy by Joseph Weisberg.

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BOOK CLUB – The Marriage Artist, by Andrew Winer

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are discussing about The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer which was published by Picador Books.

About The Marriage Artist:

When the wife of renowned art critic Daniel Lichtmann plunges to her death, she is not alone. Lying next to her is her suspected lover, Benjamin Wind, the very artist Daniel most championed. Tormented by questions about the circumstances of their deaths, Daniel dedicates himself to uncovering the secrets of their relationship and the inspiration behind Wind’s dazzling final exhibition.

What Daniel discovers is a web of mysteries leading back to pre-World War II Vienna and the magnificent life of Josef Pick, a forgotten artist who may have been the twentieth century’s greatest painter of love. But the most astonishing discoveryis what connects these two artists acrosshalf a century: a remarkable woman whose response to the tragedy of her generation offers Daniel answers to the questions he never knew to ask.

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page.

Let’s go!

  • What were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Did you find the title to be an appropriate one for the novel? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? How?
  • What surprised you most about reading The Marriage Artist? Is there a person in the book you would most like to meet? What would you want to discuss with them?
  • Did you prefer one of the stories (historical versus contemporary) over the others? How well did they seem to work together?
  • What caused Josef’s antagonistic relationship towards marriage and how did that influence his eventual relationship with Hannah?
  • What did you think about Max’s actions and feelings towards Herman and Hannah? Why did he make the choices he did?
  • Why do you think David cared so much about Max and Benjamin’s past?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB Picking Bones From Ash, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

12 review copies of The Marriage Artist were provided by Picador Books in order to facilitate this discussion. Thank you so much! For another review of  The Marriage Artist, and to win a copy of the book for yourself, head on over to Caribousmom.

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Virtuousity, by Jessica Martinez – Book Review

In Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Carmen Bianchi,  is a seventeen-year-old violin virtuoso carrying the weight of a Grammy award-winning career and the failed dreams of her musician mother into the fiercest competition of her life. Though she is favored to win the prestigious Guarneri prize Carmen is still curious about her main competition, Jeremy, a  boy her age who is also a virtuouso violinist.  Carmen seeks Jeremy out after one of his rehearsals, anxious to compare her own asessment of his talents to her mother’s. Though their first meeting is contentious, the two quickly become an item, which presents a whole other host of problems with respect to her feelings about her own talent, her controlling mother, the competition and her feelings for Jeremy.

Virtuosity was an easy book to read because Martinez does an excellent job at portraying Carmen as someone who is a competitive player in the violin world (which doesn’t come without heavy cost), while dealing with an extremely regimented (and stressful) practice with an old Ukrainian taskmaster. She struggles to master her stage fright, complex relationship with her mother, and tries to manage falling in love for the first time. It was especially interesting to see the author’s use of performance anxiety and beta blockers within the storyline; and how Carmen and her mom dealt with its use.

Though Virtuosity is basically a coming-of-age story and a love story between two teenage virtuosos at the top of their game, the narrative also holds surprises. Carmen faces situations that force the personal growth that has been stunted by her violin lifestyle. Boy meets girl always has a twist, and I liked seeing how the ones that came up around her played out. People can often be hurtful when they have the best of intentions. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: AngievilleChick Loves Lit – Presenting Lenore

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The White Devil, by Justin Evans   Book Review

Review Copy.

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Out of Twenty: Laurel Ann Nattress, Author of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Answers Eight Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Laurel Ann Nattress’s Austenprose is one of the first blogs that I found on the internet dedicated to books and to Jane Austen. I immediately fell in love, so I am thrilled to have her here today to talk about the book she edited, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Here is what Laurel Ann had to say about reading, writing and magic in publishing.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

Hi Nicole, it is pleasure to be here at Linus’s Blanket for this chat. For the benefit of those who do not know me, I am Laurel Ann Nattress, the author/editor of Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog and Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a new Austen-inspired short story anthology that was just released by Ballantine Books.

Thanks again for hosting me during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of my book. I have been a Jane Austen fan almost all of my life. I started my blog on a whim in 2007 with no grand aspirations for it. I just wanted a creative outlet for my obsession. I never thought that blogging about my favorite authors would culminate into a book deal, but it did.

 Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

Since I am the editor of this anthology and only contributed the introduction, I will share my inspiration for creating the anthology and the experience I had as an editor with the twenty-four authors.

So here’s my question!

How did the anthology come to be and what was it like working with twenty-four different authors on one project?

After working with many Austenesque authors on my blog over the years, I began to see a thread connecting my passion for Jane Austen and the many novels that she has inspired. I asked myself, “Why couldn’t I be an editor of an Austen-inspired short story anthology? I could ask my favorite authors to contribute a story.” But… how would I get it published?

As a professional bookseller I had certainly seen the sales side of the process, and as a blogger I had learned about the promotional end, but I had never been a published author and knew nothing about that side of the business. At that time, there were no Austen anthologies in print, but I was confident that there should be. Fate put me together with my literary agent who pitched my book to Random House. They loved the idea! I had a book deal in a week, and twenty authors lined up in a month!

It might seem to some that I had this deal handed to me on a silver platter. One hears horror stories about the long road to publication: of rejections, rewrites and waitingfor years! Even though I haveto remind myself that I had been working very diligently, almost compulsively, on my blog for many years, and had networked the heck out of that opportunity, it still seems surreal. I continually remind myself that the connections that I made and my knowledge from a lifetime of study of Jane Austen all came together one magical day in January 2010 resulting in my book deal. It was Fate. It was meant to be. Magic sometimes happens in publishing. I am just Cinderella at the ball.

Many people have asked me if working with twenty-four authors on and anthology was like herding cats. Well yes, but I love cats!I anticipated diva dramatics and missed deadlines, but I am sorry to say that they did not materialize. All of the authors in the anthology, except Brenna Aubrey, the Grand Prize winner of the short story contest, were all seasoned professional writers who knew the drill and came through like champions. The stories are as varied as their authors: historical, contemporary, paranormal, mystery, comedy, romance, biographical – the full gamut of fiction is included – and I am very pleased with the results. I hope that readers will enjoy it as much I had editing it.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I am currently reading The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, by Lindsay Ashford. I met the author last week at the Jane Austen Society of North America’s annual conference in Ft. Worth, Texas and was so taken by her talk about her new mystery novel involving Jane’s dear friend Anne Sharp and Austen’s early and unexplainable death, that I had to read it. The novel is based on historical events in the Austen family and was just release in the UK by Hono. I am totally mesmerized and loving it.

 There are many books in the Austenesque genre that are my favorites, such as The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James and Stephanie Barron’s incredible Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. However I do delve outside of the Austen sub-genre too and have enjoyed all of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and have recently in the past few years entrenched myself in Georgette Heyer, the Queen of Regency Romance. (Wonderful burlesque comedies if you have not discovered them!) Of the classics, I adore James Fenimore Cooper, Fanny Burney, Henry James, Elizabeth Gaskell, Edith Wharton, and so many more! I could write about books all day if I had the time…

 If you could have everyone read five books, which ones would they be?

Just five? Oh, this is torture! Here is list of just fiction books: Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen (are you shocked?), A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper, The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

I give all the credit of the title, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, to my fabulous agent Mitchell Waters. I loved it. The subtitle, Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, came from of my own writing on my blog which my editor liked and modified. A long subtitle seemed so in keeping with the titles that were created in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The entire title was a combined effort and I am very happy with it.

As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

This is my first book in print, so as a debut editor the experience of being an “author” (the promotional side) has been quite amazing. Being on the opposite of the podium is quite surreal. I am now being promoted as the “talent” instead of “my” promoting and selling the talent. Meeting the public as an author and signing books was also incredible. The reality that they all came to hear about my book and meet me is other-wordly. How gratifying. I am the poster girl of “following your bliss” to all of you bloggers out there. Dreams can come true.

 Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

I have a beautiful walnut Regency style serpentine desk that is my hub. Everything: notes, books, papers, pens, tea cups, cat, and mail all seem to end up on it, so I prefer to write with my laptop on my bed. It is truly my writing throne.

What’s next?

I have two books in development. Jane Austen Made Me Do It was such a positive experience for me that I am tinkering with another short story anthology along with a new kind of annotated Jane Austen. I can’t share much more than that, but I am thrilled with each so far.

Thanks so much for your great questions Nicole. It has been my pleasure.

Cheers, Laurel Ann

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Jesmyn Ward, Author of Salvage the Bones, Answers Eleven Questions

About: Laurel Ann  Nattress. A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs Austenprose.com and JaneAustenMadeMeDoIt.com, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

 

Giveaway of Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Enter a chance to win one copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It by leaving a comment by November 2, 2011 stating what intrigues you about reading an Austen-inspired short story anthology. Winners to be drawn at random and announced on November 3, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck to all!

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Out of Twenty: Jesmyn Ward, Author of Salvage the Bones, Answers Eleven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! The past few years, I’ve read fiction and non-fiction books examining the effect that Hurricane Katrina has had on New Orleans and its inhabitants. Jesmyn Ward’s book, Salvage the Bones is about Esch, a pregnant 14-year old, and her family’s struggle to survive the storm. Here is what Jesmyn had to say about reading, writing and surviving Katrina.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

My name is Jesmyn Ward. I’m from Mississippi, and I began writing seriously toward the end of my undergrad college career. A few years after graduation, I committed to writing and applied to a MFA program. I write some literary fiction and some creative nonfiction.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

It depends on where I am. I like to write at home, and I work wherever I’m most comfortable. That’s usually a sofa or a single chair. I find myself avoiding all the desks I’ve ever owned, but I still purchase/build/borrow a new one everywhere I go. I might listen to some music to get me in the mood to write, but I can never listen to music while I write because it muddles the rhythm of my prose. I have to hear it.

 People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?

I wanted to write a story about a boy in love with his pit bull, and a girl who’d grown up in a world of men. The question of what kind of people they would be intrigued me. It wasn’t until I sat down to seriously begin working on the book that I realized they would live through Hurricane Katrina, a storm I felt bound to write about because I’d survived it.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

Writing my own books has changed the way I read. I read as if the work needs to be workshopped, but if the book is good enough, after twenty or so pages, I don’t read like that any longer. For that reason, I often find myself reading young adult or children’s books, which I feel unequipped to critique. I read the Hunger Games trilogy recently, and I really liked that.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

I can’t read while I’m writing. Too much of what I read will find its way into my work, I’m afraid. So I mostly avoid it. Unless I want to shock myself into being ambitious. Then I’ll read some Faulkner and feel inadequate and dive back into my work.

If you could have everyone read five books, which ones would they be?

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner; Cane, by Jean Toomer; Death in Spring, by Merce Rodoreda; His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman (this should count as three).

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

I’m horrible at choosing titles. I struggled with the title for Salvage the Bones for a long time. I had several tentative titles before I chose “Salvage the Bones,” and I wasn’t even satisfied with that until I saw the title on the cover of the book. Then it worked beautifully.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

I read a lot when I was growing up. It was my way to escape. I never thought I could be a writer because what they did seemed so impossible, so amazing. It wasn’t until I entered high school and read the Color Purple that I thought that I, a black, poor Southern girl, could write a book.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

Unless I’ve been commissioned to write a short story (this has happened once or twice), I can only work on one thing at one time. I have to be able to concentrate fully on one thing, especially when I’m working on longer pieces of work, like books. I have to be able to immerse myself in that world with no reserves, no part of my writerly self obsessing over some problem point in another narrative.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?I love Skeetah’s and China’s characters. They’re such a strange pair, and their relationship is so singular. They fascinate me. Even more than the members of their family and their friends, they really are outsiders who exist in their own world, operate by their own rules, have an encompassing love. That intrigued me from the moment I discovered them in a writing exercise.

What’s next?

I’m working on a book of creative nonfiction, a memoir, that concerns a particular time in my life, from 2000-2004, when five young black men from my community died in different ways, the first being my brother in the year 2000, who was hit by a drunk driver. I’m trying to understand why an epidemic like that would happen in a small, rural, Southern town like the one I’m from. I’m trying to answer the question of why.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out Of Twenty: Janet Gurtler, Author of If I Tell, Answers Nine Questions

About: Jesmyn Ward  is a former Stegner fellow at Stanford and Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her novels, Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, are both set on the Mississippi coast where she grew up. Bloomsbury will publish her memoir about an epidemic of deaths of young black men in her community. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Alabama.

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You Are My Only, by Beth Kephart – Book Review

In You Are My Only, by Beth Kephart, Emmy Rane is a young mother whose child is stolen from her backyard one sunny afternoon. Poor, confused and devastated by the loss of “Baby”, Emmy is ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath; angry husband, suspicious police and an unforgiving mental institution. Meanwhile, Sophie Marks has always led a sheltered life. Homeschooled by her mother, they move from place to place, on the run , keeping one step ahead of  the “No Good”. When Sophie sees Joey, playing in the yard with his dog, she risks her mother’s anger (and another possible move) and dares to get to know Joey and his two aunts. Through their friendship and support, Sophie gains the courage to look into the secrets of her mother’s past and to reach for a kind of freedom she has never known.

Beth Kephart’s poignant novel of two young women navigating lives of severely limited freedom, starts off slowly. The nature of Emmy and Sophie’s confinements are carefully relayed over several short alternating chapters. Emmy’s emotional turmoil and confusion is palpable as she reacts to the loss of her child, but how much of her emotional state is driven by that loss and how much may stem from other issues is not apparent right away, but revealed throughout the novel as we learn her story. It’s no big mystery that the stories of the young women are connected, although readers may not know at first just how much time and distance separate the two. Kephart excels in the small moments, and I was mesmerized by how the little things in Sophie’s existence translated into a small world, a troubled mother, an obsession with the blue of a sky that is rarely seen.

You Are My Only is a tiny book. The page count is not high, and the volume is slim. But, it never reads that way, and I think it’s because the reader is so fully present in all the character’s lives, and they are all strong and lovable. Motherhood and nurturing are strong themes throughout. Joey’s aunts parent him after a terrible tragedy and they bring Sophie into the fold, Emmy mothers a dear friend, when they both have no one else, and she especially does not have “Baby”, and Sophie mothers her own mother seemingly on the verge of a breakdown a long time coming. I felt deeply for these characters who were intent on forging pathways to love through the obstacles life paced in their way. While I did say that there wasn’t mystery in how the stories connected, I was on the edge of my seat trying to see how it would play out.

A thoughtfully rendered young adult novel, Kephart’s  You Are My Only will also appeal to adult fans of complex situations and literary fiction. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Books and MoviesMedieval Bookworm – Caribousmom 

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The White Devil, by Justin Evans   Book Review

Review Copy.

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The White Devil, by Justin Evans – Book Review

The White Devil, by Justin Evans begins with Andrew Taylor attending the exclusive British boarding school, Harrow. Andrew has a hard time of it when boys at the school, all focused on studying for their A-levels, are suspicious of his background and the rumors surrounding his repetition of senior year at their school. Matters worsen when Andrew’s only friend dies in mysterious circumstances on the heels of Andrew’s arrival. Andrew, who discovers the body, is too afraid of what he has seen to come forward, but his silence comes at a price when what he prefers to believe he imagined his begins to prey upon his classmates.

As soon as I settled down with this amalgam of horror, literary fiction, mystery and history, I knew that I was going to love it, and I did. Evans’ writing is both rich and engaging as he weaves this truly creepy tale of boarding school woes, bullying, and love that refuses to die. The presence in this story is frighteningly clever invention, combining supernatural and scientific elements into its skin crawling whodunnit and howdunnit, focusing on the present day but delving into the Harrow of Lord Byron’s time through Andrew’s research into the horror spreading through the school.

In addition to Andrew’s investigation into the death of his friend, he is also struggling with his part in the tragedy that sent him to Harrow in the first place. When making new connections prove problematic, he relies heavily on the friendships he forms with the troubled dorm master, and the eccentric daughter of the school’s headmaster. The two have a complex relationship with each other as well as their new and complex relationship with Andrew. The characterizations of each escapes caricature through Evans’ detailed rendering of their lives.

Evans’ ghost story plot is enhanced by Byron’s history with Harrow, details of the school’s less than posh beginnings, and clashes  between the have and have-nots in Lord Byron’s time there. This clever and engaging mystery will delight fans of horror, history and mystery. Highly recommended.

For more on Justin Evan, The White Devil and Lord Byron visit What’s Old Is New for an interview with Justin Evans.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson   Book Review

Review Copy.

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Out Of Twenty: Janet Gurtler, Author of If I Tell, Answers Nine Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Janet Gurtler was gracious enough to answer nine questions.  Over the weekend, I read her latest novel, If I Tell, in just a few hours and enjoyed the unique storyline of a girl who has caught her best friend with her mother’s boyfriend. Here is what Janet had to say about reading, writing and sucking at titles!

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

My name is Janet Gurtler.   I started writing fiction when I was first at home with my son when he was a baby. It was kind of a bucket list thing before I knew what a bucket list was. Write a book before I die. Check. My son is turning eleven soon, so that’s how long I have been writing novels. Before that I was always in love with the written  word.  I wrote journals through my teen years and into my twenties.  I took a Creative Communications diploma at college after high school and worked as a copywriter before being lured over to sales.

I love to write contemporary fiction. Makes sense since I love to read it the most as well. Contemporary young adult is my favourite genre, though I have dabbled in romance and I have also written paranormal books.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the proccess of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

 First of all, I must say I totally understand and approve of reading as a means of escape and comfort. I have used it like that all my life!  As for routines etc. that help me get through the writing process, the best thing for me in my first drafting of books is to set daily goals.  For example- 500 words or 1000 words a day.  I have to use more self-discipline to get myself to write that first draft.  There will be times when I am totally into a story or scene and I will go way beyond that, but to just get it done, daily goals work.  I am the writer who is less about intensive outlining. My books tend to be character driven and I will take time from daily word goals to figure out who these people I’m writing about are.  I often use WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maas to figure out my story and characters.

Once I’m into the revising phase, which I actually prefer, I can get completely lost in my work. I will burn grilled cheese sandwiches,   forget house work and meals that require actual cooking and barely get my son to and from school and his extracurricular activities as I burn though pages. My husband will stare longingly at me sometimes, but I’ll barely notice.

I also need coffee.  And protein bars. I have a weird addiction to protein bars.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you? 

I wanted to write about Jaz. Part black and part white.  A daughter I never had. When I was in my twenties I was desperately in love with a black boy.  He was wrong for me and we ended up just being friends but for a couple years I wanted to have a child with him and imagined what her challenges would have been and to me Jaz is kind of that child we never had.

I also wanted to write about people who make mistakes that hurt other people. Simon and Lacey and even Jaz’s mother make mistakes that may seem unforgiveable in IF I TELL, but I wanted to show that mistakes don’t always make people bad.  Most of us do some pretty horrible things and yet on the other hand we are also good people who do wonderful things as well.  Lacey was very loosely modelled after a younger version of me. I was a horrible binge drinker and did really things I was deeply ashamed of when I drank (but no I didn’t make out with anyone’s mom’s boyfriend)  So, I wanted to show a good side of Lacey as well. She volunteered and in the end she overcame her drinking addiction. But she still did what she did.  And to me, it was okay for Jaz not to forgive her for that.  Okay for both of them.

And then there was her mother, who in the end suffered from Postpartum Depression. I did and I try not to pretend it never happened. It happens to a lot of women and it’ important for me to show that.  I didn’t want the story to be about that, but I wanted to show it happening.  My hope is that young girls who read it will kind of file that information away. That PPD happens.  That it doesn’t make someone bad nor is it shameful as many mental illnesses are made out to be. I know that teens are not supposed to understand it or even totally empathize with it at this stage in their lives, but most of the teens who read this book will someday be mom’s and I really, really wanted to plant this seed for possible reference later.  And that makes me happy.  To share that with young girls.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I am always reading. No surprise there! I love deep, emotionally edgy books.  If a book makes me weep, I am in love.  I bawled like a baby when I read Before I Die.  I love Sarah Ockler’s books and Sara Zarr makes me insanely jealous but with deep admiration for her skill!

I love contemporary YA fiction. That is not to say I don’t appreciate the occasional Dystopian or Paranormal novel, but contemp is what I crave.  I am absolutely in love with A.S. King.  I find her characters so darn quirky and so different than what I write, but adore and admire her work. Similar to quirky, interesting characters John Greene writes  imo.

I do read with a different eye now. I’ll notice how the author is setting a story up. How she is showing her characters, developing them how she tells her story. Sometimes I’ll just bathe in the glorious turn of phrases. It’s so interesting to see how other writer’s do what they do.  It also helps me understand my own strengths and weaknesses a little better too, I think.

 Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

I suck at titles. Truly. I’M NOT HER was not my title idea. It was subbed as The Weight of Bones. Originally I called it Dance Big Sister. Ha ha!

IF I TELL stared out as Faded Genes. Groan. I know. I subbed it as All About Jaz.  Groan.

My third book with Sourcebooks is currently called JUST BREATHE. Yeah. It won’t be keeping that title although it’s better than my working title– The Peanut Butter Book. Giggle!

Sourcebooks was great about letting me down gently on all my titles. They asked for my input and I sent suggestions and looked at their final picks. In the end, the titles weren’t always the one I originally picked, but they are the ones that suited the book best and I LOVE them now!!

 Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

Occasionally I’ll look over something I wrote earlier. Things that weren’t published. Surprisingly sometimes I’ll think, oh, that wasn’t THAT bad.  But I can definitely see now what I couldn’t see then.  Why the books didn’t sell. What they were lacking etc. I don’t think I ever understood story. I still write character driven books, but realized there had to be a story to go with it. Plot as you were. Hee!  I read a lot of craft books and did enough critique exchanges that I began to see what worked and what didn’t work.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

My favourite character to write in IF I TELL was hands down Jaz.  I really love her and her insecurities and anger and have a lot of faith that she is going to turn into a really decent adult. In her fictional world of course. Hee hee.  I mentioned before, she’s kind of a daughter I never had.

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

 I write on my living room couch. With a footstool under my legs. Bad posture.  I also like to write in coffee shops sometimes, but mostly I’m too lazy to actually have a shower and put on clothes that are presentable just to go write, so I usually do it at home.

What’s next?

The Peanut Butter Book.  This is of course, not what the book is going to be called.

Janet Gurtler’s JUST BREATHE, in which a girl struggles with boy problems and serious regret after accidentally killing a boy she barely knows when she kisses him after consuming a peanut butter sandwich, not aware he has a deathly allergy to peanuts.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out of Twenty, Genni Gunn, Author of Solitaria, Answers Nine Questions

About: Janet Gurtler is the author of contemporary Ya novels, I’M NOT HER and IF I TELL, as well as a new novel from Sourcebooks Fire coming out in 2012.   Although she is chronologically (way) older, in many ways Janet will always be a 16 year old girl in her head.

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BOOK CLUB Giveaway – The Taste of Salt, by Martha Southgate

Later this month for BOOK CLUB, we’ll be discussing The Marriage Artist, by Andrew Winer (Tuesday, October 25th here on Linus’s Blanket), but now it’s time give away next month’s BOOK CLUB selection. In November we will be starting our foray into Algonquin Books with, The Taste of Salt, by Martha Southgate.

The Taste of Salt  discussion will take place on Tuesday, November 15 on Jen’s blog – Devourer of Books. BOOK CLUB is earlier than normal this month to accommodate the Thanksgiving holiday.

From the publisher about The Taste of Salt:

Josie Henderson loves the water and is fulfilled by her position as the only senior-level black scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In building this impressive life for herself, she has tried to shed the one thing she cannot: her family back in landlocked Cleveland. Her adored brother, Tick, was her childhood ally as they watched their drinking father push away all the love that his wife and children were trying to give him. Now Tick himself has been coming apart and demands to be heard.

Weaving four voices into a beautiful tapestry, Southgate charts the lives of the Hendersons from the parents first charmed meeting to Josie ‘s realization that the ways of the human heart are more complex than anything seen under a microscope.

If you would like to be considered as a participant for November, please fill out this form by 12 PM EST on Thursday, October 13th. Your mailing address will be discarded if you aren’t selected to participate and used to mail you the book if you are. I do not share or retain any personal information. Only those selected will be contacted by email.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Those Across The River, by Christopher Buehlman   Book Review

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Those Across The River, by Christopher Buehlman – Book Review

In Christoper Buehlman’s Those Across The River, Frank and Eudora move to the small Georgia town of Whitbrow, where they plan to marry.  Down on their luck and needing a place to live in the aftermath of them breaking up Dora’s marriage, Frank – a failed academic- plans to work on a book, while Dora teaches school in the community. They set up shop in a house willed to Frank by a dying relative, though they have been warned in a cryptic and rambling deathbed note by the same to never live in the house. Instead of heeding the note and selling, Frank and Dora settle into the slow and easy lifestyle of the town, getting acquainted with both neighbors and local gossip as Frank works on a book centered on his slave-holding ancestor in whom he takes a perverse pride. Of course, by the time they notice something is terribly amiss it’s mostly too late for them to stop what they encounter.

Those Across the River has so much to offer thrill-seeking horror lovers looking for literary turns of phrase to mull over while curled up with their book. Set in the years after World War I, the novel explores terrors both real and possibly imagined as readers learn the toll war has taken on veteran Frank, the insidiousness of racism, the evils of slavery, and the sinister cast of lingering small town sacrifices and rituals.  Buehlman’s characters and observations of small town interaction are subtle and rich. The atmosphere conveyed in the book is heavy and foreboding and the perfect set up for a creepy secrets coming to life.

Ultimately the book will hang together based on how much the reader feels the reveal meshes with what went before it, and how they feel about the influences at work in the town. I have to admit that after such a slow and delicious foreshadowing, look-over-your-shoulder spooky build, and wild speculation (on my part), I was disappointed with where it went. In some ways it was intriguing given the make-up and history of the town, but mostly I wished it had gone to a different place where I wasn’t so “meh” about the whole thing. Nevertheless, Buehlman’s writing and characterizations are thoughtful and intricate, and even though the end didn’t quite do it for me, it’s still a worthwhile read regardless. Literary horror fans should give it a try to see if it hangs together for them, and if they come away with a gem. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 R is for Ricochet, by Sue Grafton   Book Review & A Sneak Peek at V is for Vengeance

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