Out of Twenty: Paul Lynch, Author of Red Sky in Morning, 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 handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Paul Lynch is the author of Red Sky in Morninga novel about a family man who accidentally kills his landlord, the son of a famous tracker, and his subsequent flight from Ireland to the United States with a killer in hot pursuit. Here is what Paul had to say about reading, writing, and Northern Gothic literature.Paul Lynch

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?

Greetings from Dublin, Ireland and thank you for having me. My name is Paul Lynch and I’m the Irish author of Red Sky In Morning, a novel set in rural Co Donegal in 1832. It is the story of a family man who kills a landowner, is chased across the windswept bogs of Co Donegal to America and to the work camps of the American railroad. Parts of the book are narrated by his wife who is left behind. I guess you could descripe it as Irish country noir. Or perhaps you could call it Northern Gothic, an Irish twist on your own brand of Southern.

The kind of books I like to write are the books that come to me. I have no choice in this matter. I am very interested in exploring language and have a secret ambition to do away with the boundary between prose and poetry. Red Sky In  Morning is a book in which language is as strong a character as anybody else.

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?

For me, meditation is a way of cultivating the liminal dream-state of writing. So I usually meditate for half an hour before I write. By then I am in the flow. I like the quiet of the early morning. I like to write with strong jazz in my headphones. (Right now my writing soundtrack is Phronesis). My first sentence of the day is preceded by an espresso. I don’t believe in spending all day at the work. That sounds to me like you are not doing it right. I write very tight to the line, go into a very deep concentration that lasts for about 90 minutes or so. I am one of those strange-headed writers that edit as they write. I spent years working as a sub-editor so it comes naturally to me. Most days I can write in total for about three hours and then I am exhausted. Sometimes I am too tired afterwards to read for leisure.

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?

This minute, Bruce Chatwin’s On The Black Hill, a beautiful timeless novel about life on a Welsh farm sent to me as a gift. Chatwin can teach you a lot about the telling detail. And he cuts his prose like a tailor. I’ve changed my reading habits over the past couple of years so that I only read one book of fiction at a time. (Though I’m always dipping into lots of non-fiction). I almost always finish what I start and rarely throw a book away — it helps to be very choosy about what I read beforehand. At least half the novels I read or re-read are classics.

I have no doubt that becoming a professional novelist changes the way one reads. I used to read for pure pleasure with no ulterior motive. Now I read to be a better writer. Or I read jealously and with resentment. Sometimes I read secretly to feel I’m better than another writer. (Believe me, every writer does this). I read the truly great wrtiers with awe, for this inspires me to reach for better myself. I read with such an awareness of technique I yearn for the days of old when reading was carefree and simiply for pleasure. This is the price one pays for one’s craft.

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 read voraciously while I’m writing. A writer friend refuses to read much while on a project, saying he doesn’t want to let anything from another writer leak in. I see this as a lost opportunity. (Anyhow, I spend a couple of years on each book — I can’t imagine not reading for that length of time.)

You can never learn enough from other writers. If you know who you are as a writer, you will not start to sound like the writer you are reading. But you may be subtly informed on questions of technique — something one can never learn enough of. But what I really enjoy most about reading while writing is not what inspires you directly from another’s work, but what inspires you indirectly — how completely different ideas spring to mind as you are reading something else. Your unconscious is always at work and I find that reading widely helps to set the sparks off. It is important to be attuned to this. Many of my best ideas have happened while reading other people’s work that have had nothing to do with the work I was reading. Reading is another way of being creative.

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 non-stop as a youngster. I used to read in the dark. I used to read in school with the book held secretly under the desk. I thought nobody knew until my mother told me years later that my teacher let it pass. I always knew deep down I would be writer. But I was terrified at the prospect because I set my standards too high.

I wrote poetry in my teens. I spent my twenties thinking that there was no point writing unless you could write a book as good as Don DeLillo’s Underworld. So I didn’t even bother. I did everything else but be a writer and eventually it made me miserable. I played in a band. I worked for a newspaper. I explored my passion for the movies as a film critic. I look back now and see it as good advice: try not to be a writer. Honestly, give it a go. If you are truly a writer the wellspring will persist. Until then the only way you can live with it is to write. Then you know you are a writer. By the time I hit 30 I was going to explode unless I got started with it. And what I found was that all those years of editing and writing and thinking as a critic had given me the full-range of technical skills to hit the ground running. In many ways, I was honing my craft without even knowing it.

Red sky in Morning

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 write just one book at a time. I don’t write plays or screenplays and I do my damndest not to write poetry but sometimes give in to the urge. I consider myself a novelist only and think it is important to know which form of writing you are best at. When I start a book (and I’m on my third now) I usually know before I start what the book will be, can see it schematically in my head, and know the ending. However, the journey is never how you expect it will be and I like to remain open about how and where it will go. I trust and am guided by the feel of language.

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Out of Twenty: Michelle Diener, Author of Banquet of Lies, Answers Thirteen Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview Michelle Dienerby handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Michelle Diener is the author of Banquet of Liesan historical novel exploring the life of a young noblewoman who flees to London to escape a murderer. A perfect book to cozy up with this fall season. Here is what Michelle had to say about reading, writing, and  how growing up in KwaZulu-Natal influenced her life.

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 Michelle Diener, and I while I now live in Australia, I was born in London and grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I think having to adjust to new places often influences the way I write, and so it’s probably not surprising I love to write about characters who find themselves out of their comfort zone and I also love playing with the theme of people not being what they appear. I currently have  five historical novels published, with Banquet of Lies, coming out on October 22nd, being number six,  but I have written a fantasy novel based on the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and that should be out at the end of this year.

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?

I like to have  a very rough outline before I start writing, and when I get stuck, I tend to get out of it by writing rough scene outlines. I also like to shake myself out of a rut by going to work in the library or in a cafe from time to time, and generally find I get a lot of pages written that way. Baking is pretty essential to my process. When I need to work through a plot point or try to think a way forward for my characters, I will almost always either go for a long walk or bake something.

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 reading a book called Between the Wars 1919-1930: The Cartoonist’s Vision by Roy Douglas as part of the research I’m doing for the book I plan to start after the book I’m writing now is done. I usually start researching my next book when I have about 50 pages of my current work-in-progress to go, to get my sub-conscious working on the next book in advance. I love the science fiction works of Iain M. Banks, the fantasy of Terry Pratchett, the romances of Jayne Anne Krentz and the urban fantasy of Patricia Briggs, to name a few. I love to read widely, and always have, even before I started writing seriously. I don’t think my writing has changed the way I read, but it does sometimes get in the way of my reading.  I see the constructs and what the author is trying to do more easily, and I absolutely love finding a book that sucks me in and I forget about the mechanics of the work and just enjoy it like a pure reader.

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 love reading while I’m writing, but I find I am hyper-critial, especially towards the end of my book. I’m finishing off a manuscript  now and every book I’ve picked up recently I haven’t made it through more than three chapters. I do love re-reading old favorites when I get to this point, though. I also make a point of reading outside the genre I’m writing while I’m busy writing a book.

Banquet of Lies In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

I have two children, and I typically get them ready for school and walk them over, and then keep going. I try to walk around four to five kilometres a day. I like to concentrate on what I plan to write that day as I walk. Then I come home, shower and try to jump straight into the writing, but I sometimes have to deal with emails first. I work on and off, with breaks for checking facts in my research until its time to fetch my children in the afternoon. I seldom have a chance to write after this because of after-school activities, homework and then dinner, but I sometimes get more writing in after the kids are in bed.

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

For once, this title is totally my idea :). My other books through Simon & Schuster have  never ended up being the ones I originally called the book, but this one, everyone loved my title and it stuck.

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?

I do sometimes dip back into my older work. Some of it still resonates with me, and I think when I have the opportunity, it would be good to totally rewrite it. I have definitely evolved as a writer. I have worked hard to improve my craft, and I like to think I’m constantly working to improve it.

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Sunday Salon: October 20, 2013

Sunday Salon

It is a glorious Sunday morning and I will be spending part of the day at brunch with family in honor of my aunt’s birthday. We’re going to Jane’s Tavern in the West Village, and while the service has always been a little slow there, the brunch is delicious! I have spent a better part of the week ruminating over what I want to order, I love it when the anticipation can be delicious like that.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

Later on today I plan on finishing up  The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook. I’ve been reading it with my mom. It is the perfect book to read for a  book club discussion.

Set in 1946, it’s about an English colonel responsible for reorganizing a section of Germany after World War II. A house is requisitioned for him to live in, and his family is on the way to join him after an absence of almost two years. His son is a virtual stranger to him, and his wife is still heavily grieving the loss of their elder son. While it is standard among the military to evict German families from their home during occupation, the Colonel allows the family to stay and live with his family, since the house is so big. This of course leads to inevitable tensions and clashes as the families try to work out ways to co-exist.

Reading the novel so far has been a very rich experience. We have broken it up into chapters and have been discussing it as we go along. Brook excels in illuminating the complexities of war, and his characters and their feelings and viewpoints are so well considered that it is nearly impossible to take sides – they are all so clearly understood. We have discussed marital discord, the insane politics of war, and how death, absence and grief affect people in different ways – how the failure to bridge the gap when you have the opportunity only makes things worse, and sometimes leads to tragic events.

Transformation is also another solid theme as many of the characters are at a crossroads in their lives, and in their relationships. My mom has said of Brook, “He is out of sight with his themes and characterizations.” I can’t wait to finish up this evening.

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope your reading has been as rewarding as mine has been this week.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

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Out of Twenty: Diane Hammond Author of Friday’s Harbor, Answers Twelve Questions

Photo by Delaney Andrews.
Photo by Delaney Andrews.

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Diane Hammond is the author of Friday’s Harbor, a novel exploring the recovery of a killer whale brought to a zoo to recover from his injuries and the ensuing controversy over the wild animals in captivity. Here is what Diane had to say about reading, writing, and whether she is adept at the art of writing.

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?
 
I consider myself one of the luckiest people I know:  I now write fiction for a living. (Not always so—I only gave up my day job building websites for small businesses two and a half years ago; fifteen years ago I left my 25-year-long career in public relations for various non-profit organizations.) I have had two novels published by Random House / Doubleday / Ballantine (Going to Bend and Homesick Creek) and three by HarperCollins / William Morrow (Hannah’s Dream, Seeing Stars, and Friday’s Harbor, which was released Oct. 8. The most popular book of mine is Hannah’s Dream, the story of an Asian elephant in a small zoo and the zookeeper who loved and cared for her for 41 years. My just-released book, Friday’s Harbor, is a sequel to Hannah’s Dream, and focuses on a killer whale brought to the same zoo for rehabilitation.

I always wanted to be a writer, and in fact my public relations work consisted primarily of writing print materials: newsletters, speeches, annual reports, press releases, etc. I began writing fiction when I was 22, and didn’t publish my first novel until I was 44. It took me that long to teach myself the basic craft.  I’m still learning.

Since I’m plot-challenged, I write character-driven, literary fiction.  So far, my work is all set in the Pacific Northwest and Los Angeles. Now that I live in Minnesota, I expect that will change—it’s only a question of when.
 
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?
 
Writing is a lonely profession, but I’m a hopeless introvert, so it suits me.  On a good day, I write for three or four hours. This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like. On a bad day I eat for three or four hours: oyster crackers, pretzels, Twizzlers. My food du jour while I was writing Friday’s Harbor consisted almost exclusively of butterscotch hard candies—lots and lots of them.  Happily, despite my fears, they resulted in just two cavities.
 
Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

You’ve written five novels. Do you feel you’ve become adept at the art of writing?
 
Not at all. At best, I’ve learned to trust my writing instincts and to listen to myself think—in the  voices of my characters, in composing narrative passages, in staying at least one step ahead of where I am in the book’s plot. In one way or another, I’ve always managed to bring my books home, to end them competently. The rest is all about editing.  It’s still scary, though!

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?

Friday’s Harbor sprang from a challenge put to me by my agent and editor: since Hannah’s Dream had such a loyal and vocal readership, why not consider writing a sequel, as many readers requested?

Fifteen years ago, I served as the spokesperson for a killer whale named Keiko, the one who’d starred in the hit movie Free Willy.  For two years I explained to members of the international media what the staff was doing to restore Keiko to good health. Through Keiko I learned enough to create Friday, the killer whale star of Friday’s Harbor.

Friday's Harbor by Diane HammondAre you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

What a good question! Although I can read while I’m writing, the books have to be non-fiction. Otherwise, I unconsciously parrot the voice of the author I’m reading. I love biographies and memoirs when I’m writing (a recent favorite is Wild by Cheryl Strayed); between books, some of my favorite authors are Ann Lamott, Elizabeth Strout, Zoe Heller, Louise Erdrich—writers of literary fiction.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

My husband and I share our house with three Pembroke Welsh corgis, so my day always begins the same way: with a long walk, ideally off-leash and in the woods. I can clear my head this way, but also channel my thoughts towards what I’ll be writing about that day.

Once we’re home, I try to go straight to my computer so I can get down some of the ideas that have bubbled up while walking. Often this includes bits of dialogue, narrative, and plot points.

I envy writers who can write for six or eight hours a day. My optimum window is three hours; four, tops. After that I’m producing facile, thin stuff that I have to spend the next day wiping out and replacing.

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?

I can’t read any of my books. I do know I use much less profanity now than I did in my first two books—but I’m also writing about characters who wouldn’t swear much. I think profanity for its own sake is jarring and indulgent, but if a character’s natural speech would include profanity, as was the case in my first two books, the dialogue needs to reflect that.

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Memories of A Marriage: A Novel by Louis Begley – Book Review

Memories of  a Marriage by Louis Begley

After reading twisty and murderous marriage fare such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and A.S. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Louis Begley’s Memories of A Marriage. While just as insightful in showing how couples grow apart, or ignore glaring signs that they aren’t meant to be in the first place, Memories of a Marriage quietly explores the bitter dissolution of  marriage between an American heiress and her successful husband whose crimes against her seem to include being from modest beginnings.

The novels begins when Phillip, a writer and widower from the moneyed class, runs into Lucy de Bourgh, a Rhode Island heiress obsessed with the storied background of her once prominent family. Phillip knew a vivacious, flirtatious Lucy from his post-grad days in Paris, where she was quick to throw a party, and often just a tad risque. Lucy reintroduces herself to Phillip at a chance encounter at the ballet. Having met her husband, Thomas Snow, numerous times he is surprised to hear her refer to him as a “monster” and is overcome with curiosity about her reason for doing it. During lulls in writing his latest book he become obsessed with excavating the reasons behind their failed marriage and spends the summer interviewing not only Lucy, but any former friends who also knew the couple.

When I first started reading Memories of a Marriage, I wasn’t sure whether I would like it. Phillip and Lucy are similarly absorbed with lineage, background and breeding, and a good amount of time is spent detailing the clubs they belonged to, where they summered, and who knew whom and when. Just when I thought it would be a never ending catalog of the wealthy, their toys and quibbles, it takes on a surprising depth. While much of the novel examines Lucy’s choices, sexual obsessions, emotional health, and money squabbles, it’s ultimately about connections, loneliness and obsession. While Phillip as narrator focuses on Lucy, readers will be equally intrigued with the plight of the lonely, older gentleman trying to get the story. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

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National Boss Day: 4 Fictional Bosses You’re Glad You Don’t Have

The Bone Season by Samantha ShannonThe Purchase by Linda SpaldingSanctus by Simon ToyneNight Film by Marisha Pessl

There’s a day for almost everything but National Boss Day got me thinking about some recent fiction reads, and people I’m glad are not in any position of authority over me. While most bosses aren’t perfect, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to have to work for any of these characters.

The Rephaim (The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon) Alien and often mean, this group of creatures has been siphoning off undesirable humans and putting them to work in their alternate world set up in what was Oxford, England. They’ve also been know to snack on their human employees. Eww.

Daniel Dickinson (The Purchase by Linda Spalding) Quakers are known for generally giving everyone a fair shake, but Daniel’s bumbling naivete makes him an unwitting, and even worse, careless slave owner. His kind of kindness gets you killed. (Read my review)

Brother Abbot (Sanctus by Simon Toyne) Brother Abbot is murderous, power-hungry, and maybe even slightly deranged. Ok, a lot deranged. He’s super into protecting “The Sacrament” and saving humans from their own stupidity. You have a fifty-fifty chance of living through a meeting with this man. (Read my review)

Stanislas Cordoba (Night Film by Marisha Pessl) His films have been rumored to drive people insane or cause them to suddenly stop speaking. Do you really think you would want to work for him?

Have any fictional bosses who give you the creeps? Share them!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

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Some October New Releases

There are so many new books out all the time, but these have particularly caught my eye. The publisher descriptions are included below, but have been shortened (considerably in some cases) for possible spoilers, and in the interest of brevity. Book covers and titles will take you to full information.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell (October 3, Little, Brown and Company) Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a shepherd boy felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling, and ever since then the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. David’s victory was improbable and miraculous. He shouldn’t have won. Or should he have? In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson (October 1, Grove Press) – Set in seventeenth-century England during the reign of James I-the The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Wintersonmonarch who wrote his own book on witchcraft-The Daylight Gate is best-selling writer Jeanette Winterson’s re-creation of a dark history full of complicated morality, sex, and tragic plays for power. This is a world where to be Catholic is a treasonable offense. A world where England’s king vows to rid his country of “witchery popery popery witchery” and condemns the High Mass and Black Mass as heresies punishable by torture, hanging, and burning. Winterson’s literary suspense tale takes us deep into a brutal period of English history, centered on the notorious 1612 Pendle witch trials-an infection of paranoia that crossed the ocean with the Pilgrims and set the scene for the Salem witch hunt.

Mrs. Poe by Lynn CullenMrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen (October 1, Gallery Books) – It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve. She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married. As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar’s passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it’s too late…

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane (October 1, Faber & Faber) – Ruth is widowed, her sons are grown, and she lives in an isolated beach houseThe Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane outside of town. Her routines are few and small. One day a stranger arrives at her door, looking as if she has been blown in from the sea. This woman—Frida—claims to be a care worker sent by the government. Ruth lets her in. Now that Frida is in her house, is Ruth right to fear the tiger she hears on the prowl at night, far from its jungle habitat? Why do memories of childhood in Fiji press upon her with increasing urgency? How far can she trust this mysterious woman, Frida, who seems to carry with her own troubled past? And how far can Ruth trust herself?

The October List by Jeffery DeaverThe October List by Jeffery Deaver (October 1, Grand Central) – Gabriela waits desperately for news of her abducted daughter. At last, the door opens. But it’s not the negotiators. It’s not the FBI. It’s the kidnapper. And he has a gun. How did it come to this? Two days ago, Gabriela’s life was normal. Then, out of the blue, she gets word that her six-year-old daughter has been taken. She’s given an ultimatum: pay half a million dollars and find a mysterious document known as the “October List” within 30 hours, or she’ll never see her child again. A mind-bending novel with twists and turns that unfold from its dramatic climax back to its surprising beginning, The October List is Jeffery Deaver at his masterful, inventive best.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (October 1 , Viking Adult) – Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbertfollows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

The Spymistress by Jennifer ChiaveriniThe Spy Mistress by Jennifer Chiaverini (October 1, Dutton Adult) – Born to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia, and educated by Northern Quakers, Elizabeth Van Lew was a paradox of her time. Van Lew’s skills in gathering military intelligence were unparalleled. She helped to construct the Richmond Underground and orchestrated escapes from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison under the guise of humanitarian aid. Her spy ring’s reach was vast, from clerks in the Confederate War and Navy Departments to the very home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In Chiaverini’s riveting tale of high-stakes espionage, a great heroine of the Civil War finally gets her due.

The Tilted World by Tom Frankling and Beth Ann Fennelly (October 1, William Morrow) Set against the backdrop of the historic flooding of The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Fennellythe Mississippi River, The Tilted World is an extraordinary tale of murder and moonshine, sandbagging and saboteurs, and a man and a woman who find unexpected love. The year is 1927. As rains swell the Mississippi, the mighty river threatens to burst its banks and engulf everything in its path, including federal revenue agent Ted Ingersoll and his partner, Ham Johnson. Arriving in the tiny hamlet of Hobnob, Mississippi, to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents who’d been on the trail of a local bootlegger, they are astonished to find a baby boy abandoned in the middle of a crime scene. Ingersoll, an orphan raised by nuns, is determined to find the infant a home, and his search leads him to Dixie Clay Holliver. When Ingersoll learns that a saboteur might be among them, planning a catastrophe along the river that would wreak havoc in Hobnob, he knows that he and Dixie Clay will face challenges and choices that they will be fortunate to survive.

I plan on picking up a few of these over the coming weeks. Anything you’re planning to read?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

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Eye Catching Fall Releases

There are so many new books out all the time, but these have particularly caught my eye. The publisher descriptions are included below, but have been shortened (considerably in some cases) for possible spoilers, and in the interest of brevity. Book covers and titles will take you to full information.

Pullman's fairytalesPullman’s Fairytales by Philip Pullman (November 8, Viking Adult) Pullman retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.

Inherit the Dead by Lee Child (October 8, Touchstone) Pericles “Perry” Christo is a PI with a past—inherit-the-deada former cop, who lost his badge and his family when a corruption scandal left him broke and disgraced. Whenwealthy Upper East Side matron Julia Drusilla summons him one cold February night, he grabs what seems to be a straightforward (and lucrative) case. The socialite is looking for her beautiful, aimless daughter, Angelina, who is about to become a very wealthy young woman. But as Christo digs deeper, he discovers there’s much more to the lovely “Angel” than meets the eye. Her father, her best friend, her boy­friends all have agendas of their own. Angel, he soon realizes, may be in grave danger…and if Christo gets too close, he just might get caught in the crossfire.

you knew me whenYou Knew me When by Emily Liebert (September 3, NAL Trade) When Katherine receives word of an inheritance from former neighbor Luella Hancock, she reluctantly returns home to the people and places she left behind. Hoping for a second chance, she’s met by an unforgiving Laney, her former best friend. And there’s someone else who’s moved on without her—someone she once loved. Tethered to their shared inheritance of Luella’s sprawling Victorian mansion, Katherine and Laney are forced to address their long-standing grudges. Through this, they come to understand that while life has taken them in different directions, ultimately the bonds of friendship and sisterhood still bind them together. But are some wounds too old and deep to mend?

XO Orpheus by Kate Bernheimer (September 24, Penguin Books) Icarus flies once more. Aztec xojaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse—his cremains in a bullet. Here, in beguiling guise, are your favorite mythological figures alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions. If “xo” signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, a squid who falls in love with the sun, and a girl who gives birth to cubs, here are extravagantly imagined, bracingly contemporary stories, heralding a new beginning for one of the world’s oldest literary traditions.

last car over the sagamore bridgeLast Car Over the Sagamore Bridge by Peter Orner (August 6, Little, Brown and Company) Peter Orner zeroes in on the strange ways our memories define us: A woman’s husband dies before their divorce is finalized; a man runs for governor of Illinois and loses much more than an election; two brothers play beneath the infamous bridge at Chappaquiddick. Employing the masterful compression for which he has been widely praised, Orner presents a kaleidoscope of individual lives viewed in startling, intimate close-up. Whether writing of Geraldo Rivera’s attempt to reveal the contents of Al Capone’s vault or of a father and daughter trying to outrun a hurricane, Orner illuminates universal themes. In stories that span considerable geographic ground–from Chicago to Wyoming, from Massachusetts to the Czech Republic–he writes of the past we can’t seem to shake, the losses we can’t make up for, and the power of our stories to help us reclaim what we thought was gone forever.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (August 6, William Morrow) Li Lan,the ghost bride the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price. After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy–including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets–and the truth about her own family–before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

the secrets she carriedThe Secrets She Carried  by Barbara Davis (October 1, NAL Trade) When a young woman returns to North Carolina after a thirty-year absence, she finds that the once grand tobacco plantation she called home holds more secrets than she ever imagined. Though Peak Plantation has been in her family for generations, Leslie Nichols can’t wait to rid herself of the farm left to her by her estranged grandmother Maggie—and with it the disturbing memories of her mother’s death, her father’s disgrace, and her unhappy childhood. But Leslie isn’t the only one with a claim to Peak.

Songs of Three Islands by Millicent Monks (October 8, songsofthreeislandsProspecta Press) Millicent Monks attempts to bring mental illness out of the shadows and comfort those who are suffering from thoughts and feelings they don’t always understand. In her own words “People, they say, are divided into two kinds: those who have known inescapable sorrow and those who have not. Because sorrow cannot be changed, one’s lifestyle and feelings must be changed to accommodate it.” This heartfelt account highlights the struggle and frustration felt as you watch those you love being destroyed by mental illness. It’s easy to presume that having riches beyond your wildest dreams automatically means you have it all, but being blighted by mental illness is something many families, rich and poor alike, struggle to come to terms with.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

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Out of Twenty: Hannah Kent, Author of Burial Rites, Answers Ten Questions

In this version of twenty question, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Hannah Kent is the author of Burial Rites, the fictionalized story of the finals days of the last woman to be executed in Iceland in 1830Hannah Kent. Here is what Hannah had to say about reading, writing, and and the surprising research she left out of her book.

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 Hannah Kent and I am the author of Burial Rites, a novel based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir — the last person to be executed in Iceland. Agnes was convicted of murdering two men in 1828, and my novel imagines the last year of her life. It begins when Agnes is sent to an isolated farm to wait out the time until her execution, where she meets the family who are forced to keep her in custody, and the young, inexperienced priest who hopes to bring her spiritual salvation. Slowly, she begins to tell her side of the story.

I was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1985, where I currently live. Burial Rites was written as part of a PhD in Creative Writing at Flinders University, where I also worked as a tutor until recently, teaching in literature courses and creative writing workshops. I’m also the co-founder and co-publishing director (with Rebecca Starford) of an Australian literary journal, Kill Your Darlings, which is huge fun.

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?

I’m very fond of listening to music when I write. There are certain singer-songwriters who have a wonderful ability to convey such depth of feeling and atmosphere in their lyrics, and I find it inspiring. The music I like is suggestive — it points to a greater narrative — and listening to it reminds me of what I aspire to do in my own writing. I want the same concision, the same lyricism. Occasionally I’ll read poetry for exactly the same reasons: to be inspired by its precision, the poet’s manner of articulating the familiar in an unfamiliar way.

When I was drafting Burial Rites I would try to start work early in the morning. I dislike getting to my desk any later than 8.30am — it feels like my best hours have already been wasted. 7am is always a good hour to begin writing. Coffee is helpful too. Coffee, music, early mornings. And long walks. Walking has a magical way of unravelling things.

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 have a bad habit of reading several books at once, especially when I’m travelling, which I’m doing at the moment. I tend to keep books throughout my bags, so I always have something to pull out if I have a few spare hours. At the moment I’m reading We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, Stoner by John Williams, both of which were recommended to me, and also The Creator by Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir.

Burial Rites by Hannah KentMy favourite books are those that affect me in a way that is profound and largely ineffable, or those which are beautifully written and revelatory. Writing my own book hasn’t changed the way or kind of novels I read, but it has given me a greater appreciation of the skill demonstrated by many writers. Knowing the work and time it takes to create a book makes the words of others more sublime somehow.

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

Oh yes. I think it’s dangerous to stop reading when writing. There is no greater way to improve your own work. Sometimes I’m asked what my advice would be for emerging writers, and it is always, simply, to read. Read as widely and as frequently as possible —  that is what I try to do. The risk of accidentally emulating the author you’re reading is so much more unlikely than losing your critical eye because your literary world is suddenly reduced to your own work.

I tend to read a mixture of books by authors I love and admire (Margaret Atwood, Jill Dawson, Ron Rash, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Annie Proulx), new writers (a lot of debuts), and novels I have to read for other work (reviews, teaching), which could be everything from Middlemarch to graphic novels. It all helps. The research necessitated by Burial Rites and my current project (set in 1820s Ireland) means that I’m always reading a lot of other material: history books, academic articles, memoirs. That sort of thing.

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Sanctus by Simon Toyne & The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice – Little Book Reviews

Sanctus by Simon Toyne

Sanctus by Simon Toyne (September 2012, William Morrow) I’m a fan of conspiracy theories, if only because I like the idea of alternate explanations and theories for what is so readily accepted as fact, especially when it pertains to religion and science. Toyne introduces a monk determined to expose an ancient church conspiracy, his sister who has long thought him dead, and the two opposing factions who want to reach the both of them for the means to their own ends. Sanctus is the first in a trilogy, and as such many of the character’s stories are still unfolding. I like that there are strong female characters mixed in with the usual suspect (church heads, curious detectives), an interesting story line and a surprise at the end that I did not see coming. The pace is a fast one, and Toyne’s cinematic writing makes this a visual read (and a visceral one, there were some rituals and autopsies performed that had me squirming), the scenes pop from the pages. Other than it being a tad long, I’m looking forward to the next books in the series.

 

The Heavens Rise by Christopher RiceHeavens Rise by Christopher Rice (October 15, Gallery Books) I had high hopes for this one which were mostly fulfilled. The ending is where it went wrong for me. Rice writes absorbing novels that feature nuance in the relationships where  people are from different walks of life, but still interact with each other, forming friendships and rivalries. In The Heavens Rise, a young gay reporter and his older black mentor team up to get to the bottom of the mysterious events surrounding his best friend, who disappeared with her family shortly before the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. This is an engaging and creepy read that I really enjoyed it up until the  last quarter. There it took a turn that was entirely too fantastical for my taste. I wouldn’t warn anyone away, because I suspect this is likely a taste thing.  Unfortunately the last bits colored (and spoiled) everything that came before for me, but it’s still a worthwhile consideration for a creepy reads line up.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

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