Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Freebie: James Madison by Lynne Cheney

Congratulations to Patricia Mariani, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro.

This week's book giveaway is James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney.  The publisher and I have scheduled this contest in time for the winner to receive a copy of the book by Father's Day.  So, if you're still looking for a good gift to give your Dad, why not enter this week's Friday Freebie?  Here's more about the biography from the book jacket copy:
This majestic new biography of James Madison, the fourth U.S. president, explores the astonishing story of a man of vaunted modesty who audaciously changed the world. Among the Founding Fathers, Madison was a true genius of the early republic. Outwardly reserved, Madison was the intellectual driving force behind the Constitution and crucial to its ratification. His visionary political philosophy and rationale for the union of states—so eloquently presented in The Federalist papers—helped shape the country Americans live in today. Along with Thomas Jefferson, Madison would found the first political party in the country’s history—the Democratic Republicans. As Jefferson’s secretary of state, he managed the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the United States. As president, Madison led the country in its first war under the Constitution, the War of 1812. Without precedent to guide him, he would demonstrate that a republic could defend its honor and independence—and remain a republic still.

If you’d like a chance at winning a copy of James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on June 5, at which time I’ll draw the winning name.  I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 6.  If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Screen-Staring and Hand Cramps: My Stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour

Today, I'm doing a little bit of navel-gazing here at the blog as I talk about how and why I write the things I do.  Author Kim Barnes invited me to take part in the "My Writing Process" blog tour.  I'm a little late to the party; this meme has been around for at least a year and there must have been thousands of writers who've gone before me; but, nevertheless, here I am, showing up with a bottle of chilled wine and an apologetic/hopeful smile on my face.  The idea of this pass-around idea is to answer the same four questions, then nominate three more writers* to take up the challenge.  My thanks to Kim for inviting me to play along.  You can read about Kim's writing process here (it involves total immersion in her work until "I am able to hear the rhythms of the narrative and the cadences of the language like a song I can’t stop singing").  If you want to sink further into Kim's words, you should check out one of her many books--which range from her debut memoir, In the Wilderness, to her latest novel, In the Kingdom of Men (she's also written several other books whose titles don't begin with the word "In").

Now, on to the questions and my answers....

What are you working on?

When I'm not blogging, I'm supposed to be writing the first draft of a still-untitled novel (it's gone through a couple of name changes, including FOB Sorrow, and the current file is labeled Afoot, but those aren't sticky enough for me).  Set in 2006, it's about a squad of soldiers making their way on foot from one end of Baghdad to the other in order to attend the memorial service for their beloved platoon sergeant, recently killed by a roadside bomb.  Their company commander told them they couldn't attend the ceremony because they had to work, so they rashly stole a Humvee from the motor pool and set off the for other side of the city.  Less than a mile outside the Forward Operating Base's entry control point, the vehicle breaks down.  And now they're stranded, with no commo and dwindling ammo.  But onward they march....

Regular readers of The Quivering Pen may remember my previous post about what was then my work-in-progress: Dubble, a novel set in the early 1940s about a Hollywood stunt double for a temperamental child actor named Eddie Danger.  Revisions on that book were set aside as I got deeper into telling the stranded soldiers' story.  If my writing desk was a stove, Dubble would be simmering on the back burner.

How does you work differ from others of its genre?

I'm not sure my writing fits comfortably into a genre (broadly speaking, I guess it would be "fiction"), but if you were to set my debut novel Fobbit on a shelf labeled "war literature," the most significant difference from its neighbors would be the number of chuckles per page.  While there are plenty of grim, gory scenes in its pages, Fobbit is at heart "a comedy about the tragedy of war."  Put another way, Fobbit is to The Red Badge of Courage what the Marx Brothers were to Citizen Kane.

Why do you write what you do?

I wrote Fobbit because I wanted to show a side of the military readers don't often see: "the back office of the battlefield" where support soldiers keep the war machine well-oiled and running without too many coughs and sputters.  I wanted to write a war novel that largely took place in a cubicle jungle and focused on the management (and mis-management) of the military's information operations.

How does your writing process work?

On an ideal, idyllic day, this is how it would go:  I wake up at 4 a.m., pour myself a mug of coffee and a glass of ice water, climb the stairs to my second-floor office (formerly, my daughter's bedroom), sit down at the desk, and stare at the laptop screen for anywhere between five minutes and two hours, then haltingly type two words, then three more words, then hope for a burst of sentences which will flow into a paragraph or a string of dialogue....followed by more screen-staring and hesitant typing.  This goes on until it's time for me to leave for my bill-paying Day Job.  I am almost exclusively a morning writer; by the end of the day, my brain is too traffic-jammed with words and images for me to sit down and make sense at the keyboard.

For this current novel, I've been writing the first draft longhand.  I compose in a purple Moleskine journal with an ink pen which clips to the back cover.  Sure, my hand cramps and I thoroughly hate the sight of my handwriting, but I'm becoming addicted to this literally hand-crafted process.  I was inspired to try this as an experiment by this interview with fellow Grove novelist Ryan Boudinot on Brad Listi's Other People podcast.  I can't remember Ryan's exact words, but it had something to do with hand-writing being a more intimate process than punching cold letters on a computer keyboard.  Heightened intimacy is even more important with this novel since it's so character-driven.  There's a shorter distance between my fingers, my brain and the soldiers Arrow, Park, Cheever, Olijandro, Drew, and Fish.  I hope it also means a tighter distance between readers and these six men.

Next week, please check out the following writers/bloggers and their answers…

Lydia Netzer
Lydia's debut novel Shine Shine Shine was named a New York Times Notable Book for 2012, a Target Book Club Pick, and was shortlisted for the LA Times Book Prize in Fiction.  Her new novel, How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, is due in bookstores in July.  She also has e-novella, Everybody's Baby, due to be born in June.  Click here to visit her blog.

Craig Lancaster
Many of Craig's novels and short stories are set in our mutual home state of Montana.  You can discover his Big Sky writing by purchasing 600 Hours of Edward, The Summer Son, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, and Edward Adrift.  Click here to visit Craig's blog.

Brandon Schrand
Brandon is the author of Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem & Misbehavior, and The Enders Hotel: A Memoir.  Click here to visit Brandon's blog.

Naomi Elana Zener
Naomi writes satire and fiction on her blog, Satirical Mama.  Her just-published debut novel, Deathbed Dimes, is, according to novelist Julia Fierro, a "revealing portrayal of one woman’s desperate search for a place in the world."  Naomi’s articles have also been published by Erica Ehm’s Yummy Mummy Club.  Naomi is also a practicing entertainment attorney and lives with her husband and two children in Toronto Click here to visit her blog.

Mary Vensel White
Mary's debut novel The Qualities of Wood will be released by HarperCollins next month.  Visit her blog, Shimmers in the Darkness, for more news about the book and her writing.

Nancy Bilyeau
Nancy has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal; she is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine.  Her debut novel, The Crown, was published in 2012, followed by The Chalice in 2013.  Click here to visit her blog.

*I'm tagging more than three other authors because when I put out the call for volunteers on social media, I got an overwhelming response.  Thanks, everyone!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Front Porch Books: May 2014 edition

Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of books--mainly advance review copies (aka "uncorrected proofs" and "galleys")--I've received from publishers, but also sprinkled with packages from Book Mooch, Amazon and other sources.  Because my dear friends, Mr. FedEx and Mrs. UPS, leave them with a doorbell-and-dash method of delivery, I call them my Front Porch Books.  In this digital age, ARCs are also beamed to the doorstep of my Kindle via NetGalley and Edelweiss.  Note: most of these books won't be released for another 2-6 months; I'm just here to pique your interest and stock your wish lists. Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Ecco): We begin this month's selection of new books with a blindfolded woman rowing down a river.  Why is she blindfolded?  I'll let the Jacket Copy tell the story:
Something is out there . . . Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from. Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, Malorie has long dreamed of fleeing to a place where her family might be safe. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat--blindfolded--with nothing to rely on but Malorie's wits and the children's trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster? Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey--a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motley group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside--and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted? Interweaving past and present, Josh Malerman's breathtaking debut is a horrific and gripping snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.
Malerman is another one of those recording artists branching out into fiction writing (See Also: Steve Earle, Josh Ritter, et al)--he's the lead singer for the rock band the High Strung--but based on what little I've read of Bird Box so far, he might want to consider quitting his Day Job.  Blurbworthiness: “This completely compelling novel contains a thousand subtle touches but no mere flourishes--it is so well, so efficiently, so directly written I read it with real admiration.  Josh Malerman does the job like a fast-talking, wised-up angel.”  (Peter Straub, Ghost Story)

Along Those Lines by Peter Cashwell (Paul Dry Books):  I love the Opening Line of Peter Cashwell's book about “the boundaries that create our world”:
There is no such thing as a line.
This comes right after an epigraph from Paul Klee: “A line is a dot that goes for a walk.”  Cashwell strolls along his own lines, visible and invisible in a book that's sure to fascinate and delight.  What he did for ornithology in his first book, The Verb 'To Bird', he'll no doubt do for borders, edges, and fringes in this one.  Here's the Jacket Copy for Along Those Lines:
After years of crossing borders in search of new birds and new landscapes, Peter Cashwell's exploration of lines between states, between time zones, and between species led him to consider the lines that divide genders, seasons, musical genres, and just about every other aspect of human life. His conclusion: Most had something in common--they were largely imaginary. Nonetheless, Along Those Lines, a tour of the tangled world of delineation, attempts to address how we distinguish right from wrong, life from death, Democrat from Republican--and how the lines between came to be. Part storyteller, part educator, and part wise guy, Cashwell is unafraid to take readers off the beaten path--into the desert vistas of the Four Corners, the breeding ground of an endangered warbler, or the innards of a grand piano. Something amusing and/or insightful awaits at every stop. And he's not alone. The tricks and treats of the human instinct for drawing lines are revealed in interviews with experts of all sorts. Learn about the use of the panel border from a Hugo Award-winning comics creator. Trace the edge of extinction with the rediscoverer of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Get the truth about the strike zone from an umpire who holds a degree in physics. You'll begin to see even the most familiar lines in a whole new way.
Blurbworthiness: “From music to politics to gender splits, the things that divide us also tell us quite a bit about who we are, and how we got there.  You couldn't ask for a better guide than Peter Cashwell, whose eloquent musings on the lines we draw--and sometimes erase--is illuminating, fascinating, and impossible to put down.”  (Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You)

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang (Scribner):  A confession: I've never read James Joyce's Ulysses.  While I greatly enjoyed Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses has always eluded me (frightened and daunted me, if we're going to be honest).  But now may be as good a time as any to tackle Joyce's 265,000-word classic.  I think it would pair nicely with Maya Lang's debut novel The Sixteenth of June--a date which, as any Joyce fan will readily tell you, is the timespan of the entirety of Ulysses, aka Bloomsday.  Lang also confines herself to a single day in a book which is considerably shorter than Joyce's (but, perhaps, is a little more accessible).  Jacket Copy:
Leopold Portman, a young IT manager a few years out of college, dreams of settling down in Philadelphia's bucolic suburbs and starting a family with his fiancee, Nora. A talented singer in mourning for her mother, Nora has abandoned a promising opera career and wonders what her destiny holds. Her best friend, Stephen, Leopold's brother, dithers in his seventh year of graduate school and privately questions Leo and Nora's relationship. On June 16, 2004, the three are brought together--first for a funeral, then for an annual Bloomsday party. As the long-simmering tensions between them come to a head, they are forced to confront the choices of their pasts and their hopes for the future.
Blurbworthiness: "As Joyce displayed in Ulysses, a single day can make for an epic journey, every step containing multitudes, but a day can also change a person in smaller ways, can clarify rather than obscure, as Maya Lang proves in her wonderful debut.  Instead of the winding streets of Dublin, we have the pathways of family and the roles we often play despite ourselves.  The language is lovely, the insights heartfelt.  We care deeply for these people and by the end of the novel we want to say Yes to Stephen, Yes to Leopold, Yes to Nora, and the biggest Yes of all to Maya Lang."  (David Gilbert, author of & Sons)

Third Rail by Rory Flynn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt):  "A gun goes missing" isn't normally an earth-shattering headline, but in Rory Flynn's hands, that lost Glock becomes a life-or-death situation.  Flynn grabbed my attention right out of the starting gate with these Opening Lines:
When the first headlights burn in the distance, Harkness shoves the wire cutters in his back pocket, climbs through the fresh hole in the chain-link fence, and scrambles down the gravel embankment. He pulls on a Red Sox jacket to hide his uniform and finds his place in the center of the road like a pitcher taking the mound—focused and ready for tonight’s game. His departmental counselor would see this late-night return to the scene of the incident as proof of risk-seeking tendencies. His brother George would just shake his head and tell him to get over it and move on. Thalia would tell him to have another drink. But they aren’t here. Only Officer Edward Harkness, formerly of the Boston Police Department, stands on the Turnpike, ready to see if a stranger in a car will kill him.
Here's the Jacket Copy to explain why Eddie is standing in the middle of the road:
At crime scenes, Eddy Harkness is a human Ouija board, a brilliant young detective with a knack for finding the hidden "something"--cash, drugs, guns, bodies. But Eddy's swift rise in an elite narcotics unit is derailed by the death of a Red Sox fan in the chaos of a World Series win, a death some camera-phone-wielding witnesses believe he could have prevented. Scapegoated, Eddy is exiled to his hometown just outside Boston, where he empties parking meters and struggles to redeem his disgraced family name.Then one night Harkness' police-issue Glock disappears. Unable to report the theft, Harkness starts a secret search--just as a string of fatal accidents lead him to uncover a new, dangerous smart drug, Third Rail. With only a plastic gun to protect him, Harkness begins a high-stakes investigation that leads him into the darkest corners of the city, where politicians and criminals intertwine to deadly effect.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman (Grand Central Publishing):  I can't think of a better time than summer to read about an ice-cream empire, can you?  Combine it with a rags-to-riches saga of the American Dream, and I think you have the mix-ins of a delicious read.  Here's the Jacket Copy for Susan Jane Gilman's new novel:
In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street. Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, "The Ice Cream Queen"--doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality. Lillian's rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake.
Blurbworthiness: "Picture a scrappy young immigrant who amasses fame and fortune through bone-grinding labor, canny speculation, and the gift of gab, only to wind up a paranoid alcoholic mired in the trappings of luxury, in trouble with the Feds for tax fraud.  You pictured a man, right?  Gotcha!  This is the genius of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street: in a novel that condenses the innocence, the calculation, the hope, and the delusions of twentieth-century America into one figure, Susan Jane Gilman taps a heroine to do the heavy lifting.  The scope is broad, the writing is sumptuous, and Lillian Dunkle née Malka Treynovsky leaves Kane and Gatsby in the dust: she's a full-steam-ahead geyser tapped into the American life force itself." (Ellis Avery, author of The Last Nude)

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown):  Here in Montana where I live, summer not only means "ice cream," it's also known as "fire season."  Though reading about hundreds of acres of trees going up in flame and smoke may not be the most enjoyable thing to do, when you combine it with Michael Koryta's knuckle-whitening style, I'd say you've got a pretty irresistible thriller clenched between your hands.  Behold, the Jacket Copy:
When fourteen-year-old Jace Wilson witnesses a brutal murder, he's plunged into a new life, issued a false identity and hidden in a wilderness skills program for troubled teens. The plan is to get Jace off the grid while police find the two killers. The result is the start of a nightmare. The killers, known as the Blackwell Brothers, are slaughtering anyone who gets in their way in a methodical quest to reach him. Now all that remains between them and the boy are Ethan and Allison Serbin, who run the wilderness survival program; Hannah Faber, who occupies a lonely fire lookout tower; and endless miles of desolate Montana mountains. The clock is ticking, the mountains are burning, and those who wish Jace Wilson dead are no longer far behind.
Opening Lines:
On the last day of Jace Wilson’s life, the thirteen-year-old stood on a quarry ledge staring at cool, still water and finally understood something his mother had told him years before: Trouble might come for you when you showed fear, but trouble doubled-down when you lied about it. At the time, Jace hadn’t known exactly what she was talking about. Today he did.
Blurbworthiness: "Warning: Michael Koryta's wonderful, riveting, and harrowing Those Who Wish Me Dead may just move you to tears.  Enjoy at your own risk." (Harlan Coben, author of Missing You)

Auto Biography by Earl Swift (It Books):  It's hard to believe no one else has previously come up with a cleverly-titled book like Earl Swift's "biography" of a car--or, if there's another "Auto Biography" out there, I'm not aware of it.  Beyond the word play, Swift's book is pure click-bait for the To-Be-Read pile--and I say that as a dude who's not even remotely interested in automobiles (ask me what a piston is, and I'll probably tell you it's another name for a urinal).  Here's the Jacket Copy, which should be enough to rev any reader's engine:
A brilliant blend of Shop Class as Soulcraft and The Orchid Thief, Earl Swift's wise, funny, and captivating Auto Biography follows an outlaw-genius auto mechanic as he painstakingly attempts to restores a classic 1957 Chevy to its former glory--all while the FBI and local law enforcement close in. To Tommy Arney, the old cars at Moyock Muscle are archaeological artifacts, twentieth-century fossils that represent a place and a people utterly devoted to the automobile and transformed by it. But to his rural North Carolina town, they're not history; they're junk. When Tommy acquires a rusted out wreck of an old Chevy and promises to return it to a shiny, chromed work of American art, he sees one last chance to salvage his respect, keep himself out of jail, and save his business. But for this folk hero who is often on the wrong side of the law, the odds of success are long, especially when the FBI, local authorities, and the bank are closing in.
But I gotta tell ya, beyond the interesting real-life story, it's Swift's telling of the tale which really grabbed me from the Opening Lines:
      Behold Tommy Arney: six-one, two-forty, biceps big as most men’s thighs and displayed to maximum effect in the black wifebeater that is his warm-weather fashion essential. Thick neck. Goatee. Hair trimmed tight on the sides and to a broom-like inch on top, having grown too thin to facilitate the lush mullet he favored for the better part of two decades. Big, calloused mitts roughened by wrench turning and car towing and several hundred applications of blunt-force trauma, of which dozens resulted in his arrest. Self-applied four-dot tattoo on his left wrist, signifying his years as guest of the state. A belly nourished by beer, whiskey, Rumple Minze, and buckets of both haute cuisine and Buffalo chicken wings – of the latter, seventy-two at one sitting – but ameliorated by excellent posture: He leads with his chest, shoulders thrown rearward, daring the world to take a swing at him.
      Few scars, considering. Under his right arm is the ghost of a surgery he endured without general anesthesia, its healing compromised when, a few hours after he was wheeled from the OR, he snuck out of the hospital for a beer at a nearby strip club, got into a fight, and reopened the incision in such manner that he drenched himself, the club and a neighboring 7-Eleven in blood.
      Point of information: He owned the strip club.
      On his skull, a dent wrought by repeated blows with a heavy stick of lumber. Two breaks in the bones of his nose. And here and there, faded nicks recalling a melee outside a Norfolk, Virginia, sailor bar, during which he says he warned away an advancing K-9 cop by hollering, “Don’t set that dog on me, or I’ll fuck up your dog” – then made good on the threat by clamping his beefy hands around the charging animal’s neck, squeezing until it passed out, and beating the cop with his own German shepherd.

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson (Mariner):  When Dickens fans like me hear the name "Marshalsea," they immediately think of the sad squalor depicted in Little Dorrit.  Charles Dickens' own father, John, was sentenced to the debtors' prison for a number of years, so the author had first-hand knowledge of the place when he described it as "an oblong pile of barrack building, partitioned into squalid houses standing back to back, so that there were no back rooms; environed by a narrow paved yard, hemmed in by high walls duly spiked at the top."  When I received Antonia Hodgson's debut novel and saw she added a devil to the mix, I wanted to know more about what lay inside those spiked walls.  The Jacket Copy reveals some of the mystery:
It's 1727. Tom Hawkins is damned if he's going to follow in his father's footsteps and become a country parson. Not for him a quiet life of prayer and propriety. His preference is for wine, women, and cards. But there's a sense of honor there too, and Tom won't pull family strings to get himself out of debt--not even when faced with the appalling horrors of London's notorious debtors' prison: The Marshalsea Gaol. Within moments of his arrival in the Marshalsea, Hawkins learns there's a murderer on the loose, a ghost is haunting the gaol, and that he'll have to scrounge up the money to pay for his food, bed, and drink. He's quick to accept an offer of free room and board from the mysterious Samuel Fleet--only to find out just hours later that it was Fleet's last roommate who turned up dead. Tom's choice is clear: get to the truth of the murder--or be the next to die.
Blurbworthiness: "Hodgson, the editor-in-chief of Little, Brown U.K., conjures up scenes of Dickensian squalor and marries them to a crackerjack plot...(She) makes the stench, as well as the despair, almost palpable, besides expertly dropping fair clues.  Fans of Iain Pears and Charles Palliser will hope for a sequel." (Publishers Weekly)

Liberty's Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell (Atlantic Monthly Press):  Ah, summer, when thoughts turn to hot dogs, beachy afternoons and a 305-foot-tall statue in New York Harbor (preferably with fireworks blooming overhead).  While many of us take the Statue of Liberty for granted these days--both as a symbol and as a landmark--it's nice to be reminded that it is, at heart, a piece of art.  In her new book, Elizabeth Mitchell describes the sometimes tumultuous beginnings of the statue as sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi struggled to raise money for his vision.  Liberty's Torch confines itself almost entirely to, as the subtitle says, "the great adventure to build the Statue of Liberty."  Jacket Copy:
Bartholdi showed himself to be a talented sculptor at the tender age of twenty-one when a statue he created won third prize at the 1855 Paris Exhibition. His equally prodigious talent for entrepreneurship came to light soon afterwards. Following a trip to Egypt where he was inspired by the pyramids and the Sphinx, and with France in turmoil following the Franco-Prussian war, Bartholdi made for America, carrying with him the idea of a colossal statue of a woman in his mind. With no help coming from the French and American governments, he enlisted the help of a number of notable men and women of the age, including Joseph Pulitzer, Victor Hugo, Gustave Eiffel, and Emma Lazarus, and through a variety of money-making schemes and some very modern-seeming fundraising campaigns, collected almost all of the money required to build the statue himself.
Blurbworthiness: “Filled with outlandish characters, fascinating tidbits and old world adventure, Liberty’s Torch is a rollicking read about one of America’s most beloved and, until now, misunderstood, icons.” (Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette)

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland Books):  If, like me, you were held in thrall by the time-traveling serial killer in Beukes' previous novel, The Shining Girls, then I've got good news and bad news: Broken Monsters promises more of the same kind of thrill ride in a story about a criminal mastermind creating violent tableaus in abandoned Detroit warehouses.  The bad news?  You might end up with fingers laced with paper cuts from turning the pages so quickly (e-readers, you're relatively safe from harm).  Here's the Jacket Copy for Broken Monsters:
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams? If you're Detective Versado's geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you're desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you're Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you'll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe--and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world. If Lauren Beukes's internationally bestselling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller about broken cities, broken dreams, and broken people trying to put themselves back together again.
The good times start for Beukes fans in September.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Trailer Park Tuesday: The Bees by Laline Paull

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

The temptation to pun around with Laline Paull's debut novel is hard to resist--things like, "Buzz is building for The Bees" or "Hive really been looking forward to reading this book!"--but I'll avoid cheap stuff like that.  I wouldn't want to bumble my way through a lame opening to this Trailer Park Tuesday blog post.  It's true, though, The Bees looks like it could be the best anthropromorphic novel of the year.  From the little I've read in its opening pages, it could do for drones when Richard Adams did for rabbits in Watership Down.  As the clever trailer informs us, the plot centers around Flora 717, a sanitation worker in the hive whose curiosity and courage are both her assets and her flaws in a world where order and discipline rule the day as sure as the Queen sitting on her throne.  The video for the book zips along at a nice pace--aided by the perhaps too-obvious Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov--and is bound to get us all (....wait for it...) swarming to our local independent bookstore for The Bees.

Monday, May 26, 2014

My First Time: Rachel Weaver

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Rachel Weaver, author of the novel Point of Direction which Oprah magazine described as a “strikingly vivid debut novel.” Here's what William Haywood Henderson, author of Augusta Locke, had to say about the novel: “A lighthouse on an island off the coast of Alaska.  A couple together on that island, each alone with the losses that haunt them.  Rachel Weaver's Point of Direction beautifully explores love, loss, and the mysteries of memory, all set in an Alaska that stuns the senses.”  Rachel holds an MFA in creative writing from Naropa University and teaches fiction at Lighthouse Writer's Workshop in Denver.  Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review and Blue Mesa Review.

My First Collaboration

I thought signing with an agent was the end of the long road to publication--which was good because I was seven months pregnant with twins at the time.  I had been working on my book for six years when Susan Ramer, who had represented Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help, signed me on after more agents than I could count had passed.  I thought I was all set.

I also thought I was all set to have two babies at once despite the muted looks of concern that crossed over the faces of friends who had already launched into the parenting world as I went around announcing after a very surprising twenty-week ultrasound, “There’s TWO babies!”

What ensued was a boot camp on all fronts after the birth.  My agent wanted major revisions to the manuscript.  There were exactly twenty minutes in between getting one baby fed and settled before the next one needed to be fed and settled, around the clock for five months.

I slugged my way through two major rewrites over the course of eight months before I got an email in which my agent said she felt I wasn’t really solving the problems in the manuscript--mainly that the storyline was a little flat--and perhaps I should call her when I had another book ready for her to look at.  I threw myself a pity party that lasted a lot of weeks and then wrote back and asked for six months and one more chance.  She agreed.

My husband is not a writer, but he’s an idea guy.  I’m more of a follow-through person.  He is at his most creative at three beers.  I got a babysitter and we headed downtown.  At the three-beer mark, I gave him a quick recap of the plot and asked him to complicate it.

His eyes got big.  I’d never really set him loose in the middle of my creative process before.  “OK!” he started off, “What if…”

I ended up with my head on the bar overwhelmed at how hard it would be to make the sweeping changes he was coming up with.  He had a lot of crazy ideas, but he had one that I knew deep down would make the difference if I could figure out how to make it work.

For the next six months, we worked together to find me windows of time to work on the book in the midst of our crazy life.  I held my breath when I sent off the new draft to my agent and then almost fell off the chair when she wrote back weeks later, “You did it!!”

The novel, Point of Direction was featured in O Magazine this month and is dedicated to my husband.  Cheers, babe!  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Sentence: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.

Shallow lull in the dialogue, filled with some landscape.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
(See Also: Across America with Humbert and Lolita)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Across America with Humbert and Lolita

Postcards.  As I stumble, fumble, tumble, bumble, mumble my way through Lolita, and reach the first two chapters of Part Two, my head fills with postcards.  As those of you who have read Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel may recall, these are the chapters where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend a year ("1947-1948, August to August") criss-crossing the United States, trying to stay one step ahead of the law and its Mann Act (though I don't think H. H. sees it quite that way).

Cover design by Peter Mendelsund
For those of you who haven't read Lolita (if not, why not? [pot calling the kettle names here because, until September of last year, I, too, was a Lolita virgin]) and who want to remain blithely spoiler-free: feel free to skip over the next paragraph and just dive headlong into the novel excerpts.

Astute readers will also remember this jalopy jaunt across America marks the sexual blossoming of the Humbert-Lolita relationship now that Charlotte, Lolita's mother, is out of the picture (and growing hazier by the minute).  There is much I could say in this space about the sex, and even more I could say about Nabokov's delicious, delirious punnage, but what I'm most interested in today is the way he captures post-war America.  And so, on this Memorial Day weekend, when many of you are probably preparing to drive, fly, paddle, and pogo-stick out on your own (presumably shorter) vacations, I thought it would be interesting to capture the Hum-Lo trip visually.  I've inserted photos and postcards to show the places (actual, and merely imagined on my part) the lovers visited on their odyssey.  It was, Humbert later tells us, an "extravagant year....lodgings and food cost us around 5,500 dollars; gas, oil and repairs, 1,234, and various extras almost as much; so that during about 150 days of actual motion (we covered about 27,000 miles!) plus some 200 days of interpolated standstills, this modest rentier spent around 8,000 dollars, or better say 10,000 because, unpractical as I am, I have surely forgotten a number of items."  But there is much he remembers.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present you with Exhibits A & B, the last paragraph of Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2.  Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

My lawyer has suggested I give a clear, frank account of the itinerary we followed, and I suppose I have reached here a point where I cannot avoid that chore.  Roughly, during that mad year (August 1947 to August 1948), our route began with a series of wiggles and whorls in New England, then meandered south, up and down, east and west; dipped deep into ce qu’on appelle Dixieland, avoided Florida because the Farlows were there, veered west, zigzagged through corn belts and cotton belts (this is not too clear I am afraid, Clarence , but I did not keep any notes, and have at my disposal only an atrociously crippled tour book in three volumes, almost a symbol of my torn and tattered past, in which to check these recollections); crossed and recrossed the Rockies, straggled through southern deserts where we wintered; reached the Pacific, turned north through the pale lilac fluff of flowering shrubs along forest roads; almost reached the Canadian border; and proceeded east, across good lands and bad lands, back to agriculture on a grand scale, avoiding, despite little Lo’s strident remonstrations, little Lo’s birthplace, in a corn, coal and hog producing area; and finally returned to the fold of the East, petering out in the college town of Beardsley.

*      *      *

Now, in perusing what follows, the reader should bear in mind not only the general circuit as adumbrated above, with its many sidetrips and tourist traps, secondary circles and skittish deviations, but also the fact that far from being an indolent partie de plaisir, our tour was a hard, twisted, teleological growth, whose sole raison d’ětre (these French clichés are symptomatic) was to keep my companion in passable humor from kiss to kiss.  Thumbing through that battered tour book, I dimly evoke that Magnolia Garden in a southern state which cost me four bucks and which, according to the ad in the book, you must visit for three reasons: because John Galsworthy (a stone-dead writer of sorts) acclaimed it as the world’s fairest garden; because in 1900 Baedeker’s Guide had marked it with a star; and finally, because…O, Reader, My Reader, guess!…because children (and by Jingo was not my Lolita a child!) will “walk starry-eyed and reverently through this foretaste of Heaven, drinking in beauty that can influence a life.”  “Not mine,” said grim Lo, and settled down on a bench with the fillings of two Sunday papers in her lovely lap.

We passed and re-passed through the whole gamut of American roadside restaurants, from the lowly Eat with its deer head (dark trace of long tear at inner canthus),

“humorous” picture post cards of the posterior “Kurort” type,

impaled guest checks, life savers, sunglasses, adman visions of celestial sundaes, one half of a chocolate cake under glass, and several horribly experienced flies zigzagging over the sticky sugar-pour on the ignoble counter;

and all the way to the expensive place with the subdued lights, preposterously poor table linen, inept waiters (ex-convicts or college boys), the roan back of a screen actress, the sable eyebrows of her male of the moment, and an orchestra of zoot-suiters with trumpets. We inspected the world’s largest stalagmite in a cave where three southeastern states have a family reunion; admission by age; adults one dollar, pubescents sixty cents.

A granite obelisk commemorating the Battle of Blue Licks, with old bones and Indian pottery in the museum nearby, Lo a dime, very reasonable.

The present log cabin boldly simulating the past log cabin where Lincoln was born.

A boulder, with a plaque, in memory of the author of “Trees” (by now we are in Poplar Cove, N.C., reached by what my kind, tolerant, usually so restrained tour book angrily calls “a very narrow road, poorly maintained,” to which, though no Kilmerite, I subscribe).

From a hired motor-boat operated by an elderly, but still repulsively handsome White Russian, a baron they said (Lo’s palms were damp, the little fool), who had known in California good old Maximovich and Valeria, we could distinguish the inaccessible “millionaires’ colony” on an island, somewhere off the Georgia coast.

We inspected further: a collection of European hotel picture post cards in a museum devoted to hobbies at a Mississippi resort, where with a hot wave of pride I discovered a colored photo of my father’s Mirana, its striped awnings, its flag flying above the retouched palm trees.  “So what?” said Lo, squinting at the bronzed owner of an expensive car who had followed us into the Hobby House.  Relics of the cotton era.

A forest in Arkansas and, on her brown shoulder, a raised purple-pink swelling (the work of some gnat) which I eased of its beautiful transparent poison between my long thumbnails and then sucked till I was gorged on her spicy blood.

Bourbon Street (in a town named New Orleans) whose sidewalks, said the tour book, “may [I liked the “may”] feature entertainment by pickaninnies who will [I liked the “will” even better] tap-dance for pennies” (what fun), while “its numerous small and intimate night clubs are thronged with visitors” (naughty).

Collections of frontier lore.

Ante-bellum homes with iron-trellis balconies and hand-worked stairs, the kind down which movie ladies with sun-kissed shoulders run in rich Technicolor, holding up the fronts of their flounced skirts with both little hands in that special way, and the devoted Negress shaking her head on the upper landing.

The Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric clinic, just for the heck of it.

A patch of beautifully eroded clay; and yucca blossoms , so pure, so waxy, but lousy with creeping white flies.

Independence, Missouri, the starting point of the Old Oregon Trail;

and Abilene, Kansas, the home of the Wild Bill Something Rodeo.

Distant mountains.  Near mountains.  More mountains; bluish beauties never attainable, or ever turning into inhabited hill after hill;

south-eastern ranges, altitudinal failures as alps go; heart and sky-piercing snow-veined gray colossi of stone, relentless peaks appearing from nowhere at a turn of the highway;

timbered enormities, with a system of neatly overlapping dark firs, interrupted in places by pale puffs of aspen; pink and lilac formations, Pharaonic, phallic, “too prehistoric for words” (blasé Lo);

buttes of black lava; early spring mountains with youngelephant lanugo along their spines; end-of-the-summer mountains, all hunched up, their heavy Egyptian limbs folded under folds of tawny moth-eaten plush; oatmeal hills, flecked with green round oaks; a last rufous mountain with a rich rug of lucerne at its foot.

Moreover, we inspected: Little Iceberg Lake, somewhere in Colorado, and the snow banks, and the cushionets of tiny alpine flowers, and more snow; down which Lo in red-peaked cap tried to slide, and squealed, and was snowballed by some youngsters, and retaliated in kind comme on dit.  Skeletons of burned aspens, patches of spired blue flowers.  The various items of a scenic drive.

Hundreds of scenic drives, thousands of Bear Creeks,

Soda Springs,

Painted Canyons.

Texas, a drought-struck plain.  Crystal Chamber in the longest cave in the world, children under 12 free, Lo a young captive.  A collection of a local lady’s homemade sculptures, closed on a miserable Monday morning, dust, wind, witherland.  Conception Park, in a town on the Mexican border which I dared not cross.  There and elsewhere, hundreds of gray hummingbirds in the dusk, probing the throats of dim flowers.  Shakespeare, a ghost town in New Mexico, where bad man Russian Bill was colorfully hanged seventy years ago.

Fish hatcheries.

Cliff dwellings.

The mummy of a child (Florentine Bea’s Indian contemporary).  Our twentieth Hell’s Canyon.

Our fiftieth Gateway to something or other fide that tour book, the cover of which had been lost by that time.

A tick in my groin.  Always the same three old men, in hats and suspenders, idling away the summer afternoon under the trees near the public fountain.  A hazy blue view beyond railings on a mountain pass, and the backs of a family enjoying it (with Lo, in a hot, happy, wild, intense, hopeful, hopeless whisper—“Look, the McCrystals, please, let’s talk to them, please”— let’s talk to them, reader!—“ please!  I’ll do anything you want, oh, please …”).  Indian ceremonial dances, strictly commercial.

ART: American Refrigerator Transit Company.

Obvious Arizona,

pueblo dwellings,

aboriginal pictographs, a dinosaur track in a desert canyon, printed there thirty million years ago, when I was a child.

A lanky, six-foot, pale boy with an active Adam’s apple, ogling Lo and her orange-brown bare midriff, which I kissed five minutes later, Jack.  Winter in the desert, spring in the foothills, almonds in bloom.  Reno, a dreary town in Nevada, with a nightlife said to be “cosmopolitan and mature.”

A winery in California, with a church built in the shape of a wine barrel.

Death Valley.  Scotty’s Castle.

Works of Art collected by one Rogers over a period of years.  The ugly villas of handsome actresses.  R. L. Stevenson’s footprint on an extinct volcano.

Mission Dolores: good title for book.

Surf-carved sandstone festoons.  A man having a lavish epileptic fit on the ground in Russian Gulch State Park.

Blue, blue Crater Lake.

A fish hatchery in Idaho

and the State Penitentiary.

Somber Yellowstone Park

and its colored hot springs,

baby geysers,

rainbows of bubbling mud—symbols of my passion.

A herd of antelopes in a wildlife refuge.

Our hundredth cavern, adults one dollar, Lolita fifty cents.

A chateau built by a French marquess in N.D.

The Corn Palace in S.D.;

and the huge heads of presidents carved in towering granite.

The Bearded Woman read our jingle and now she is no longer single.

A zoo in Indiana where a large troop of monkeys lived on concrete replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship.

Billions of dead, or halfdead, fish-smelling May flies in every window of every eating place all along a dreary sandy shore.

Fat gulls on big stones as seen from the ferry City of Sheboygan, whose brown woolly smoke arched and dipped over the green shadow it cast on the aquamarine lake.

A motel whose ventilator pipe passed under the city sewer.  Lincoln’s home, largely spurious, with parlor books and period furniture that most visitors reverently accepted as personal belongings.

We had rows, minor and major.  The biggest ones we had took place: at Lace work Cabins, Virginia;

on Park Avenue, Little Rock, near a school;

on Milner Pass, 10,759 feet high, in Colorado;

at the corner of Seventh Street and Central Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona;

on Third Street, Los Angeles, because the tickets to some studio or other were sold out;

at a motel called Poplar Shade in Utah, where six pubescent trees were scarcely taller than my Lolita, and where she asked, à propos de rien, how long did I think we were going to live in stuffy cabins, doing filthy things together and never behaving like ordinary people?  On N. Broadway, Burns, Oregon, corner of W. Washington, facing Safeway, a grocery.

In some little town in the Sun Valley of Idaho, before a brick hotel, pale and flushed bricks nicely mixed, with, opposite, a poplar playing its liquid shadows all over the local Honor Roll.

In a sage brush wilderness, between Pinedale and Farson.

Somewhere in Nebraska, on Main Street, near the First National Bank, established 1889, with a view of a railway crossing in the vista of the street, and beyond that the white organ pipes of a multiple silo.

And on McEwen St., corner of Wheaton Ave., in a Michigan town bearing his first name.