Friday, March 26, 2010

Buffalo Book Fair!

Come visit us at the Buffalo Book Fair this Saturday from noon to 6pm at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum at 453 Porter Avenue. We'll be signing books and talking to readers. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman

Ru Freeman’s gorgeous debut novel A Disobedient Girl opens with eleven-year-old Latha enjoying her daily indulgence—an afternoon wash at the well using a rose-scented soap. The soap is a symbol of status and she has stolen it from the Vithanages, a family raising her to be a servant for Thara, their same-age daughter. The two young girls become as close as sisters, but as the years pass and Latha’s duties to Thara increase, she begins to bristle in her role as servant. When she and Thara flirt with a pair of local boys, Ajith and Gehan, the obvious class disparities rise to the surface and Latha fumes with resentment. Thara proclaims Ajith her ideal mate and Latha comes to care for Gehan, a gentle, lower-caste boy who obviously cares for her. But the course of love (as they say) never runs smoothly and the romantic lives of Latha and Thara are no exception. A simple desire to show that she is more than just a servant girl, and to be rewarded for her years of service, sets Latha on a path that will affect the lives of everyone she touches.

Throughout the novel, Latha and Thara’s story parallels that of Biso, a young mother of three who flees an abusive husband as well as a scandal in her small village that she helped to create. How these two stories will intersect is unclear for much of the book, but the author’s steady hand and gorgeous prose lead us along with full confidence that they will eventually come together. A pair of gold earrings, a red sports car, and a series of mysterious explosions give us tantalizing glimpses along the way, but things are never quite what they seem. And the life-changing secrets that bind these women together are the very secrets that tear their lives apart. Moving with the characters through love lost and love gained, through surprise insights and tragic misunderstandings, the reader is enticed forward to a thrilling denouement that is the perfect combination of shock and sudden understanding. Days later, I’m still savoring the bittersweet longing delivered by A Disobedient Girl’s exquisitely resonant final chapter.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

5 quick horror stories for authors

First, let me say that I've had plenty of amazing audiences and great experiences reading. This isn't about wallowing in the hard life of an author. I'm lucky, I know that. What I mean to do is share a few awkward reading stories in the spirit of fun. So here's a recap of five of the more nightmarish ones, in no particular order:

1) The readings I gave with Bronchitis (in Texas) are right up there...I'll lump them all together because the whole week was a blur, anyway. I was away from home, sick, and expected to socialize after it took everything I had to read without coughing, to force my battered voice to be loud (again!) without a microphone. That was also when I got viral induced asthma that made me think I was dying. Generally a whole big barrel of laughs.

2) The reading at a small feminist bookstore was sort of fun in an awful way--with all of two people in attendance and the Madonna of lesbian porn looking over my shoulder as I read.

3) There was that reading at a Polish conference where...well...not to overshare, but Aunt Flo made an unexpected visit and I had NOTHING in my purse, and so I'm desperately feeding quarters into a broken down machine that turned out to be empty, (while a line forms outside the door), and I'm wearing the absolutely wrong undergarments for this whole enterprise anyway...and well, that one was nightmare #3.

4) The reading to the "writers group" that told me only after I'd said yes that they meet at a Waffle House in Buffalo and so I had something like fried liver and onions and sat beside the only "published author" who had written and self-published the story of his mother's cat (or some such) and we read while the waitresses all cleaned up around us, clanking dishes and walking in between us as we read, and not one person bought a book but everyone was crazy talking endlessly about themselves and their projects and standing too close while talking earnestly and rapidly, even talking while following me out to my car.

5) But today may have taken the cake. (Here's a quirky preamble: I decided to run a quick mile on the treadmill before getting ready--take the edge off my nerves. As I'm running, I entertain this morbid fantasy about tripping and knocking my front teeth out and then giving a toothless reading. Haha, right?) So, I shower and try on ten different outfits before I settle on the right one, change shoes (and socks) four times, print out directions, and then go, narrowly missing a collision when Humboldt Parkway--on which I need to turn--is UNMARKED and I dash across two lanes of traffic to get there (sorry white Corolla). The reading is for a group of Western, NY Food Bank folks, and is to take place after lunch (served by them). Always careful about what I eat immediately before giving a reading, I take a bit of salad and a tuna salad croissant. That seems safe. As I'm eating the salad, though, I crunch down on a rock (or something) and get the heebie-jeebies (I'm really fond of my whole, healthy teeth), but everything seems okay, so I take the rock out (which is oddly white and shiny) and set it on my plate and keep eating. Then I take a nice cold drink of Sprite and HOLY CRAP! That was no rock, that was what was left of my tooth and now I have this bizarre, jagged hole that my tongue keeps finding and obsessing over and this Buddhist monk is talking to me very intently about something and I can't hear a word he's saying because my brain is screaming TOOTHTOOTHTOOTHohmygodTOOTH and I have to go on in less than five minutes. So I excuse myself and go the bathroom and check the mirror (sigh) and quickly call my husband to see if he can get me an appointment at the dentist for tomorrow morning, and then I perform with this half-tooth distracting me with its sharp edges and aching pain and I'm certain I'm now lisping and every time I take a big deep breath at the end of a paragraph, yowza! I muddled through it, but I was not at my best and really just wanted to curl up in the corner and cry for my poor little lost tooth. (I still have it in my pocket. It's so pretty.)

The things we do because the show must go on...So...come on. Someone must have something bigger and more horrendous to cheer me up with...please?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Margaret Atwood Speaks in Buffalo

Okay, so I'll just start by admitting that I'm a rabid fan and apologize in advance for my slavering and blathering...

From the start, when the divine Ms. Atwood came on stage, it was clear that she would be sharp and charming and self-deprecating. She talked about how Buffalo, when she was growing up in Toronto, was called "Sin City" because you could see girly shows and drink alcohol at a younger age than you could in Canada (it's the other way around now). She joked about the Canadian slogan for the Olympics: "Own the Podium." Said it wasn't very Canadian at all. More Canadian would have been, "A little podium would be nice" or "I wouldn't say no to a bit of podium, eh?" She said she was reminded of the old joke, "What does a Canadian woman say when asked if she would like some sex?" Answer: "Only if you're having some yourself."

Her format for the lecture was to tell us the most frequently asked questions she has gotten from audiences over the years and then answer them. Here are a few:

1) Is your hair naturally like that (very curly!) or do you have it done that way?

She said a lot of things in response to that, but the most memorable was, "If I were having it done, do you honestly think I would have them do this?"

2) Why have you denied that The Handmaid's Tale and your other futurist stories are Science Fiction? And are you disparaging Science Fiction when you say this? Oh, and by the way, did you like the movie Avatar?

Yes, she liked Avatar. And she said that she refers to those futurist works of hers as "Speculative Fiction" because they involve humans, they happen in this world (on earth), and they involve technology that we are currently working to perfect or that is possible in the future, given what we know today. Most sci-fi takes place on alternate worlds with creatures very different from ourselves. She said if forced, she could put everything under a Sci-Fi umbrella with three main ribs: Fantasy, the type of writing that often involves dragons and unicorns and swords; Science Fiction that might involve frog-men from Mars, or giant blue-ish hued people with very strange tails; and Speculative Fiction that often involves a future-world that is within our grasp and imagination.

(This was all very useful to me, as the near-future dystopia that I'm writing would fit the Speculative Fiction label. I plan to use that in my future query letter.)

3) Do you like men? And the related, do men like you?

She said yes, she likes men, and as for the other question, why not ask the men? Although she knows that some of the younger ones claim to like her, just so they can get into the good graces of the young women they are interested in.

4) Are you a pessimist?

I loved her answer here. She said that no writer could ever accurately be termed a pessimist. The very act of writing is a supreme example of being hopeful. The road is so long and the horizon so far away when you first begin (you must write and revise the book, then find an agent, then find a publisher, then hope that it sells, then hope that readers and reviewers will like it...). Every writer is full of hope.

And she went on to more specifics of her hopefulness, but that first answer was the bomb.

And there were more, but I'll move on to some of the other bits that interested me.

She said never let anyone tell you that the arts are unnecessary. They are as important to human growth as breathing. To illustrate that point, she asked us to think about the creative things that kids do on their own before they ever start to attend school: they acquire language, dance, sing, draw, and color. (Brilliant.)

When asked who she reads, she said some of her favorites are Alice Munro and Hilary Mantel, and she recently read two forthcoming books by Yann Martel and E. O. Wilson in galley form. She liked them both.

When asked which one of her characters she was most like, she said Zenia, the compulsive liar (storyteller) from The Robber Bride.

When asked about the future of paper books vs. e-readers, she said that e-readers are lovely for some things, travel for instance, and aging eyes since you can enlarge the print and brighten the background, but that she doesn't believe that books will ever go away completely because the inherent storage risks are too great. Relying on a power source, surviving being such ways books will always be superior. To illustrate this point she said, "Let me ask you this. Would you keep the only copy of your will on a computer?"

And lastly, when asked for a tip on sparking inspiration, she said, "I have the perfect way to inspire you to write. I promise it will work every time. It's foolproof. Are you listening? All right. First, put your right hand (or whichever hand you write with) onto your desk, on a piece of paper. Next, lift your left hand into the air. And now, hold your arm up in the air until you are inspired to write. Trust me, it works every time."

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

St George's Catholic Church

My co-author and I had a great event this past Sunday at St. George's Church in Buffalo. Our audience was delightful (an Over 55 group) and Andy kept joking that he was holding out for an "Over 75" group. They were attentive and receptive and bought all of the books we had brought with us. it was a lovely afternoon.

Coming up, two days at St. Joseph's Collegiate Academy next week, and the Buffalo Book Fair on March 27th. Should be fun!