Out of Twenty: Thrity Umrigar, Author of The Story Hour, Answers 12 Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own Thrity Umrigarinterview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Thrity Umrigar is the author of  The Story Hour.  Here is what Thrity had to say about reading, writing, and whether talking solves problems.

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

Honestly, it’s been the kindness of readers.  People who make the time to come to my readings.  Or write to me on my fan page on Facebook.  Or write me long, detailed emails that sometimes break my heart but always remind me that words matter, that literature matters.  That there is a good reason to spend months at a time lost in writing a book, neglecting friends, family, house, pets.

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

Honestly, I have loved writing all my characters.  Each one is different, each one carries his or her own history, and I’m intrigued by them all.  I love trying to figure out why they behave the way they do, what in their past tugs at their present.  I have to confess that Lakshmi was probably the most challenging one to write because of her ungrammatical, idiosyncratic English and the way she would turn a phrase.  In many ways, Lakshmi was a stranger to me—she grew up in the Indian countryside, she was the daughter of peasants, she had an eighth-grade education.  She had very little in common with me.  And she insisted in speaking in this very non-standard English.  So I had to get to know her in the course of writing this novel. Read more

Out of Twenty: Denise Mina, Author of Red Road, Answers Seven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own Denise Minainterview by handpicked which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Denise Mina is the author of  Red Road, the fourth book in her Scottish detective series featuring Alex Morrow.  Here is what Denise had to say about reading, writing, and taking the reader into a different world.

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

 I’m a Scottish woman who lucked out! I started as an incompetent legal academic, doing a PhD in The Ascription of Mental Illness to Female Offenders. I realised that I’d probably spend the rest of my life trying to get people to listen to the things I’d discovered and I’m not that pushy. To be an academic you have to really sell yourself and I’m not the best at that.  So, I started writing a crime novel with all of the ideas in it, thinking that people would read for the mystery but come across all of the ideas in there. That book was Garnethill.

The books I like to work on have pace and take the reader into a different world that they having imagined before. I like heroes and heroines that are unexpected: psychiatric patients, rude women, the fat girl in the office.

I am often struck by the different ways books can be interpreted by who read and how they read it. Can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you get into character, and prepare to read narrate a book?

Honestly, I’ve got kids, a lot of elderly relatives and a man who couldn’t find his arse with both hands so I don’t have time for routines or rituals. I just look at the calendar, weep softly and get on with it. Panic is a good motivator. Working in the morning is good too: there’s a period of about two hours just after I’ve woken up when I don’t have a head full of other things, so I often get up a couple of hours before everyone else and work then.

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

Does being lauded as a writer make you feel like a bit of a phoney?

All the time. I see other writers talk about their work with total certainty and confidence. Maybe they don’t feel that way but I can’t even put it on. I always think of Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes. Larkin was constitutionally questioning  and Hughes was certain. I feel like Larkin. I wake up a little bit embarrassed.  I used to be embarrassed about feeling embarrassed but now I think of it as the ability to have two feelings at the same time. It’s my super power.

Red RoadWhat was the most interesting thing that you’ve found out while preparing to read a book that you’re working on?

Reading a lot of the research on women who marry men in prison or on death row for Deception. The dynamic in those relationships mirrors that between fan and pop stars: you can be completely over the top because you’ll never meet really, it’s the distance that causes the erotic tension. There’s a great book about Australian women who married men in prison and followed them after they got out. Terrifying! One guy took all of his wife’s teeth out to punish her.

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 get up before the kids and write for one or two hours before they get up. Then an hour and half of nagging, feeding, shouting, walking and get everyone to school. Then back to the desk, re read what I’ve done, decide what I’m going to do today. Batter into it. By about 11 am my concentration is fading and I spend about an hour and a half refusing to admit it has. I check my email, facebook, twitter. I empty the dishwasher. I sweep the hall.

Then I give up and have lunch early. Then I come back, work for a bit more, set out the work for the session and get on with interviews, admin, phone calls etc. The kids get out of school at three o’clock so I usually think of something great at 2:30, just as I have to set off. Jot it down, go get the kids. Get everyone back home, feed, nag, homework, nag. If I have child care which is about two afternoons a week I sit down and work until 5.

How jaw dropping dull is all of that? Read more

Out of Twenty: Kimberly Elkins, Author of What Is Visible, Answers Six Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own Kimberly Elkinsinterview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Kimberly Elkins is the author of  What is Visiblea fictionalized account of the life of Laura Bridgman—the blind and deaf woman who first learned sign language, paving the way for Helen Keller. Here is what Kimberly  had to say about reading, writing, and the books that gave her the courage and inspiration to write her own novel.

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 there, I’m Kimberly Elkins, a writer and professor living in Cambridge, MA, although I spend part of the year as a Visiting Lecturer in the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Hong Kong, the first program of its kind in Asia.  I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, then got a degree in English at Duke University, followed by an MA in Creative Writing from Florida State, and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University.  Too much school!

I write literary fiction and nonfiction, including short stories and personal essays. My work has been published in the Atlantic, Best New American Voices, the Iowa Review, the Chicago Tribune, and Glamour, among others.  My first novel, What is Visible, just came out in June 2014.  It’s based on the real-life historical figure of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf-blind person to learn language, fifty years before Helen Keller.  Laura also couldn’t taste or smell, having lost four of her five senses to scarlet fever at age two.  In the nineteenth century, she was considered the second most famous woman in the world, second only to Queen Victoria. Thousands flocked to Perkins Institute to visit her; Darwin and Dickens wrote about her, and there were even Laura dolls worldwide with their eyes poked out and covered with her trademark green ribboned shade.  The book explores the complex reasons why Laura has been virtually erased from history, which include debates about religion, ideas of female beauty and sexuality, and the exploitation of the disabled.  We remember only Helen Keller as the first deaf-blind person to learn language, and with What is Visible, I aim to set the record straight.

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?

When I’m writing, I usually stay up very late, until about 4:00 a.m.  That’s my best writing time.  Then I get up around 8:00 or 9:00.  That leaves only four or five hours of sleep, so I make it up by luxuriating in usually two naps a day, one in the early afternoon, and one in the evening.  Research indicates that napping is a great boon to creative thinking, especially problem-solving, and I always wake feeling revitalized creatively.

What is Visible Book Cover Hard cOver EditionThe other main thing I do is to keep a huge poster board I’ve made on the wall above my desk that is specific to the project I’m working on.  For my novel, What is Visible, it was decorated with pictures of the real-life historical characters to keep them always in my sight.  The board was also divided into small boxes for days, month by month, as many boxes as the board allowed, and for every day that I wrote (which was every single day for the last two-thirds of the novel), I stuck a lovely little flower sticker in the box, the equivalent of giving myself a gold star.   I also noted the word counts at the end of every week in gold ink with many encouraging exclamation points.  As silly as it might sound, having that board above the desk, with all its pictures, reminders, goal-setting and encouragement really did help psychologically as I sat down each day to work.

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 first read about Laura Bridgman in a 2001 New Yorker article, and was amazed that I’d never heard of this remarkable American icon.  But more than the article, it was the photograph accompanying it that cut right through to my heart:  a frail, almost emaciated, and yet somehow fierce-looking young woman with a ribboned shade tied around her eyes, sitting ramrod straight with a stubborn dignity, and balancing an enormous, raised-letter book on her lap. As someone who has suffered on and off from severe depression all my life, I immediately identified with that profound sense of separateness and isolation, and knew immediately that I had to find out why she had been virtually lost to history.

Although Laura and I would seem to be wildly different to the naked eye, in writing her story, I was able to let go and share a piece of myself through this book.  I am also very proud to have brought this incredible woman back into the public eye to reclaim her rightful place in history.

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

Yes, I keep books that relate in some way, either in terms of research or theme, close by, and dip into them randomly when I feel the need for inspiration. For example, with What is Visible, I kept on my desk biographies of all the main characters, plus the fantastic historical novels that inspired me and gave me the courage and vision to write my own:  Property by Valerie Martin; Gob’s Grief by Chris Adrian, and A Brief History of Women by Kate Walbert.  And for general good artistic and spiritual advice, I often refer to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, especially the inspiring quotes from master artists, writers and philosophers on the side of every page.  Other than those and more research materials, I’m really not able to read much for pleasure when I’m deep in the throes of writing.

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

I always knew the title; it was the same title I gave the short story, published in the Atlantic in 2003, which begot the novel of  the same name.  No one else ever had any say in it.  What is Visible most literally refers to the narrative itself:  at the end of “telling” her story to the young Helen Keller, who is being groomed to be “the second Laura Bridgman,” Laura says that while she will not be able to read what she has written, she prays that “what is invisible to man may be visible to God.” The idea of what is visible versus what is invisible, or below the surface, and also what it means to be truly visible to others–emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually–has always fascinated me.  So the phrase “what is visible” is all-encompassing; it’s not just about Laura’s handicap, but about the myriad ways in which we all perceive and misperceive the world and each other.

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

I generally research fairly exhaustively first, and then write.  For What is Visible, I spent two years immersing myself in the letters, journals and enormous historical coverage of Laura and my three other narrators: Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the founder of Perkins, who took Laura in at age seven and taught her language; Julia Ward Howe, his famous poet and suffragist wife; and Sarah Wight, Laura’s beloved last teacher.  Besides the archives at Perkins School for the Blind, I was fortunate to get fellowships at Harvard, Radcliffe, the Massachusetts and Maine Historical Societies and the American Antiquarian Society, the last of which was most useful in simply acclimating myself to the 19th-century sensibility.  I learned quickly that it was better to read from the period than about the period, a strategy I strongly suggest for anyone writing historical fiction.

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

About the Author: Kimberly Elkins’ fiction and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in The Atlantic MonthlyBest New American VoicesThe Iowa ReviewThe Village Voice,The Chicago TribuneMaisonneuveGlamourPrevention and McGraw-Hill’s college textbook, Arguing Through Literature, and Slice, among others. 

Photo Credit: Sarah Shatz

Out of Twenty: Ayelet Waldman, Author of Love & Treasure, Answers Ten Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own interview by handpicking Ayelet Waldman, author of Love & Treasurewhich questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Ayelet Waldman is the author of  Love & Treasurea novel aboutthe fascinating, true history of the Hungarian Gold Train in the Second World War”.  Here is what Ayelet had to say about reading, writing, and choosing the ideal title. She also shares one of her novel’s deleted scenes.

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 got my start writing fiction in a most unusual way, I think. I was a very happy criminal defense attorney, representing indigent defendants in federal court. My husband, Michael Chabon, is a novelist, and we had a perfect system going on. He kept the house running and food on the table, and I went off to work everyday at a job that provided health insurance. What could be more ideal? It all worked beautifully until I had a baby, at which point I suddenly didn’t want to be working 12 to 16 hour days. More importantly, my work was so emotionally consuming that while I was a perfectly adequate wife when what was required was, basically, appreciation and an interest in sex, when I had to be a partner and a mother, I quickly realized I couldn’t bring it both at work and at home.

I set out to write a light-hearted murder mystery (I was a fan of the genre), more as a way of keeping busy when I quit my job and found myself a (bored) stay-at-home mother. As soon as I sold my first series, however, I realized that I loved writing, and that I wanted to write things that were more challenging. I wanted to write the books that I admired and came back to year after year, rather than the books I was able to enjoy with a new mom’s limited attention span. I left the mystery series behind and began writing more serious, literary fiction. Although you’ll find my sense of humor still there in all my books, even in Love & Treasure, which deals with very serious topics like war and betrayal, art and the Holocaust.

 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 have four children, a big dog, and a messy house. If I was too precious about my writing space and ritual, I’d never get anything accomplished. I have a studio – one I share with my husband. It’s lovely, but mostly it’s separate from my house. I work well in it, but not noticeably better than I did when I used to work in cafes. For me it’s all about being away from the kids. It’s virtually impossible to write with a toddler wrapped around your ankles (though I used to manage it pretty well when hitched up to a breast pump). My kids are older now (10 through 19), but they are no less demanding, and I have to get away from them to work.

I also have to be detached from the Internet, that evil succubus, stealer of time. Freedom, the program that disconnects you from the Internet, works wonders for me.  The last thing I need is tea. Earl Grey tea, with one teaspoon of sugar and a dollop of whole milk  (because skim milk is not only gross, but it’s a lie. It’s all sugar!).

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

Q: How many copies of your book should I buy?

Answer: One for every single person you’ve ever met in your life.

Just kidding. Sort of.

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

A very brilliant and famous writer once told me that refusing to read while you are writing in order to avoid influence is a mark of the rankest amateur. I have a lot of sympathy for that point of view.

First of all, didn’t we all become writers because we love to read? And every writer I know is always writing. We’re never not writing. Refusing to read while writing would rob you of your greatest pleasure!

But more than that, I crave influence. I want Jane Austen’s prose to seep into mine. I want Philip Roth’s sentence to influence me. Being influenced by great writers will only make my work better. And it’s not like I’ll end up writing pastiche. Everything comes out through the lens of my own mind.

I do have one rule, however. I only read writers who are better than me. I don’t want to be influenced by bad writing. Fortunately, that leaves me a steady and delightful stream of novels (and even the odd non-fiction book) in which to immerse myself.

Love and Treasure book cover, hardbackWhat was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include? 

At some point I realized that the only way for me to write a novel about the Holocaust that was not exploitative was to refrain from writing any scenes of genocide, any scenes in the camps, any scenes of explicit horror. I’m not saying this is a rule for all writers, but it was what I had to do. I had already written a scene, however, that I thought was really good. I wanted that scene in the book so much, but at the same time, I knew that it cheapened the novel. It’s gone from the book, but you can read it here.

What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers? Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?

One of my characters has just read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and it completely rocked her world, as it rocked mine when I read it at her age.

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 am an early riser who despises mornings, a truly tragic combination. I wake, thus, at 6 and spend the next three hours tossing and turning, periodically picking up my ipad to buzz through email, falling back asleep, cuddling my husband’s unconscious body in the vain hope he will wake up and entertain me (he works at night and only comes to bed at 4 AM, so you can imagine how much he loves this.

Then I haul my miserable ass out of bed, sit down with the first of about six hundred cups of tea, and read the paper, surf the web, do my email. I also harangue my youngest child (who is homeschooled) about doing his work. This is the first of many periods of nagging, the activity I engage in lieu of exercise. I wish nagging made a person lose weight. I’d look like Keira Knightley.

By 10 I’m ready to work. I turn Freedom on to disconnect myself from the internet and work until lunchtime. I lunch with my husband and son, and then work until 3, when it’s time to pick up my younger daughter from school and my older son from BART, the train he takes to his high school in the city. I am far too easily convinced to stop for an ice cream or a boba tea (google it. It’s divine) on the way home.

Then I spent the next few hour nagging people to do their homework.

I try to be vivacious and charming as my husband cooks dinner, hoping he will be so enchanted by my adorableness that he will offer to do the dishes for me. (This works more often than I should admit).

We then have dinner all together (one of the joys of unathletic children is that mealtime is never disrupted by practice).

I clean up the kitchen (or not) and then we either have a second (third?) bout of homework-related nagging, or the family watches a show together. We’re huge Sherlock, Dr. Who, and Vikings fans, so if those shows are on we freely violate our ostensible “no TV during the week” rule.

My husband then reads to the kids. Every once in a rare while I join on this activity, most recently for To Kill a Mockingbird. 

After that my husband goes to work and I watch a movie or some TV (I should be more ashamed to admit how much I love TV, but I don’t care. TV is awesome). At about 10 I turn off the TV and read. Sometimes, if I woke up super early, I’ll crash by about midnight. If I am in the middle of a particularly good book, I snap off the light at 3:59, as I hear my husband walking up the stairs, and pretend to have been asleep for hours.

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

This book’s title I chose, which has not always been the case. I was flirting with various titles, none of them very satisfying, when someone (Was it me? Was it my husband? Was it my friend Jonathan Lethem?) suggested Love and Treasure. As soon as I heard it I knew it was perfect. I kept it, despite the fact that I published another book called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. But I did not choose that title. It was forced on me, though I’ve come to appreciate it despite having called it Love and Other Impossible to Remember Titles for a very long time. I decided not to sacrifice the ideal title just because I’d already done one “Love and.”

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

How much you have to hustle to be read, to sell books, all so that you can continue to do the work you love. But I won’t whine about it. I am so very lucky that I my job is to sit around making up stories. How cool is that? Everything else is just chaff, easily blown away in the wind.

What’s next?

I’m working on another historical novel. This one starts on the French Riviera in 1938, winds its way through 1940s Hollywood, a women’s college in the 1950s, New York City in the 1970s and ends up god only knows where.

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

About the Author: Ayelet Waldman is the author of Love and TreasureRed Hook Road and The New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was adapted into a film called The Other Woman starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays and profiles of such public figures as Hillary Clinton have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York TimesVogueThe Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on All Things Considered and The California Report.

Ayelet’s missives also appear on Facebook and Twitter.

Her books are published throughout the world, in countries as disparate as England and Thailand, the Netherlands and China, Russia and Israel, tlc-logo-resizedSouth Korea and Italy.

 

Follow the rest of Ayelet Waldman’s TLC Tour, here.

 

 

Summer Shorts 14 Blog Hop: The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe (Narrator: Hillary Huber)

summer-shorts

Summer Shorts/ June is Audiobook Month

June is Audiobook Month and it is the official start to my personal audiobook listening season. It’s so warm and beautiful that I have the inclination and make time to walk all the places, and listen to all the books. Last year I participated in a wonderful collaboration between audiobook narrators and bloggers called Going Public…In Shorts, organized by the lovely and accomplished Xe Sands. I interviewed Karen White and featured a story she read called The Death of a Soldier, from the public domain by Louisa May Alcott.

Normally Going Public posts an audiobook narration each week from the public domain, but again, for the entire month of June, there will be Summer Shorts, a new short story each day featuring a narrator reading a short piece by an author whose work they admire. You can listen to a different story for free each day, and buy the collection, including additional unreleased recordings, at the end of the month. Proceeds from purchases support ProLiteracy. From the Going Public website:

The audiobook community is giving back! Spoken Freely, a group of more than 40 professional narrators, has teamed with Going Public and Tantor Media to celebrate June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) by offering Summer Shorts ’14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.

Throughout June 2014, 1-2 stories, poems and essays will be released online each day via Going Public, as well as on various author and book blogs. As a “Thank you!” to listeners, pieces will be available for free online listening on their day of release. As a bonus for those who purchase the full collection from Tantor Media in support of ProLiteracy, there are over 20 additional tracks only available via the compilation download.

Choosing A Story

Mrs. Poe Hardcover

At the time were discussing the June launch of this project, I had been reading Lynn Cullen’s Mrs. Poe, the absorbing  fictionalization of Poe’s relationship with Frances Osgood, a celebrated poet in her own right. The novel details the affect this rumored relationship had on his marriage and on the mental health of the fragile Mrs. Poe. Many references were made to Poe’s stories, what kind of mind could have created them, and the hardships he suffered that might have informed such a grim perspective on life. I was reminded by how much I enjoyed reading Poe’s stories growing up, and how  creepy they remain so long after they were written- even to my adult ears.

I really loved Hillary’s take on this story and the attitude she gave the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart. It seemed appropriate given who he is and what he is attempting.

Listen to The Tell-Tale Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe first published in 1843. It is told by an unnamed narrator who endeavors to convince the reader of his sanity, while describing a murder he committed. (The victim was an old man with a filmy “vulture-eye”, as the narrator calls it.) The murder is carefully calculated, and the murderer hides the body by dismembering it and hiding it under the floorboards. Ultimately the narrator’s guilt manifests itself in the form of the sound—possibly hallucinatory—of the old man’s heart still beating under the floorboards.

The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe (read by Hillary Huber) by Going Public


About Hillary Huber

huber_h_dMultiple Audie Finalist, Earphone Award winner and one of AudioFile’s Best Voices of 2010 and 2011, Hillary has recorded close to 200 titles. AudioFile Magazine says, “Hillary Huber’s narration is lyrical enough to be set to music.” Hillary splits her time between Santa Monica and NY.

 

 

More Summer Shorts 14

Remember to check out the full release schedule here, but for now:

6/2/14 – Johnny Heller reading Dave Barry’s Money Secrets by Dave Barry/ Library Journal

6/3/14 – Mark Turetsky reading  How Angelina Buglebrain Got Her Start by Tom and Angleberger / Nerdy Book Club

6/4/14 – Tavia Gilbert reading Beautiful Things by Michelle Webster-Hein/ The Reading Date

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Mail Call

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