‘T-Rex Time Machine’ travels to Lemuria

Two hungry T. Rex Dinosaurs?

A time machine?

What could possibly go wrong??

When two hungry dinosaurs travel from the age of the dinosaurs to the future in a time machine, the time machine lands in the drive through lane of a fast-food restaurant called “Burger Town.” The dinosaurs are amazed by all the food that can be found everywhere! As they chorus: “THE FOOD COMES TO US!” The T. Rexes go on a jaunt around town, scaring the townspeople (unintentionally) while eating everything from pizza to noodles. When the police show up to arrest the dinosaurs, they scatter, running through a donut festival and back to the “magic egg,” (a.k.a. the time machine). While inside the time machine, they can’t figure out a way to travel back to their own time, and the green dinosaur wails, “I didn’t get a donut!” What they don’t know is that the time machine is voice activated. The time machine says, “I didn’t quite get that. Did you say… ‘I want to dance with King Tut’?”

Do the dinosaurs make it home? Or are the great pyramids in their future…

T. Rex Time Machine by author/illustrator Jared Chapman is a hilarious picture book that will leave you hungry for french fries and donuts–and more dinosaur adventures! Jared Chapman’s illustrations are eye-catching and the humor is for children and adult readers alike. Some of Chapman’s clients include Walt Disney Television Animation, Nick Jr., Nike, McSweeney’s, Hallmark, Jib Jab, and Mudpuppy.

Don’t miss a story time and book signing with Jared Chapman at Lemuria Books on Saturday, September 22 at 10:00 a.m.! Jared Chapman will be drawing dinosaurs, reading T. REX TIME MACHINE, and signing books. Fun for the whole family (with snacks for both hungry little dinosaurs and their parents), there will be photo opportunities with a REAL T-Rex and a Time Machine!

Call 601-366-7619 or visit lemuriabooks.com for more information.

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‘The Stars Now Unclaimed’ by Drew Williams is a sci-fi novel with a classic feel

By Hunter Venters. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (September 16)

What is technology? It’s not just cell phones and computers. Cars, clocks, lights, the steam engine—all of these things are technology. Technology defines our modern society. Whether we mean to or not, it is the thing we use to separate ourselves from what we see as the hardships of the past.

Now, what would happen if all of that technology were to stop?

More specifically, what would happen if all of the technology in one place were to stop working, while another place was left completely the same? What about on a planetary scale, where one planet had spacecraft and fusion reactors, and another had fire, stone tools, and the wheel?

This is what Drew Williams posits in his The Stars Now Unclaimed, the first book in his planned Universe After series. The universe he created is a hundred years in the aftermath of a disaster called “the pulse,” which filled every corner of space with a kind of radiation that selectively destroys technology. The result is a patchwork galaxy of planets on all levels of technological advancement.

And while the post-pulse universe isn’t great, life before the catastrophe is not described to be as idyllic as some science fiction might speculate. With the advance technology of the future comes advanced warfare, war that spanned solar systems and decimated planets.

War is a major theme in the novel. Much of the book deals with the effects of war on both society and the individual. It makes note of the rationalization of violence and death, and how easily unspeakable acts can be committed in the service of the “greater good.”

The story of the novel begins with the discovery that “the pulse” has, for some unknown reason, given children throughout the universe supernatural abilities. Jane Kamali, the narrator, is tasked by a sect known as the “Justified” to find these children and deliver them to her superiors.

It is refreshing to find in genre fiction a female protagonist who is not defined by shallow characteristics, and is instead confident, self-sufficient, and often proves to be tougher and smarter than some of the book’s male characters. I tip my hat to Williams for crafting a story with many strong female characters without making any of them tropes or tokens. Jane stands on her own, and as a reader, you feel like she could take on the entire galaxy by herself.

The biggest threat to the book’s characters is The Pax, a faction of obsessive zealots who want to absorb the entire universe into their uniformity. The Pax were, coincidentally, completely unaffected by the pulse, and therefore think that they were “chosen” to rule the galaxy; and with their army of brainwashed, disposable soldiers, they may succeed.

The Pax are a simple enemy, and are reminiscent enough of real-world regimes to function well in the story without seeming like a made-up boogeyman. Jane and those aboard her ship find themselves on the run from the Pax for most of the book, in a race to take a young girl to the Justified and keep her out of the clutches of the Pax, who want to weaponize her special abilities.

The Stars Now Unclaimed combines some of the best qualities of classic science fiction into something that still feels fresh and new. It gives off that familiar vibe to fans of sci-fi without relying on clichés. Williams does some fantastic world-building in the novel, and crafts a universe that feels massive without making the book feel too hefty, by simply showing us a small slice of it. Overall, the book is a prime example of classic sci-fi made new, and I certainly look forward to where Williams takes the series next.

Hunter Venters is a graduate of Belhaven University. He currently works as a bookseller at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson.

Signed first editions of The Stars Now Unclaimed are available here.

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Southern secrets haunt ‘The Good Demon’ by Jimmy Cajoleas

By Clara Martin. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (September 16)

“And, soft as a moth wing, out slipped a torn scrap of paper that fluttered to the floor.
I picked it up. Scribbled in Her handwriting, all bubbly and little-girly, the way She made my hand move whenever She wanted to write something:

Be nice to him

June 20

Remember the stories.”

This is the first clue left behind by Clare’s demon in The Good Demon by Jimmy Cajoleas (Amulet Books). In an unnamed Southern town, Clare has been delivered from her demon by a preacher and his son. One month later, she finds messages hidden in old books she doesn’t remember taking to Uncle Mike’s Used and Collectible, the thrift shop in her town. Clare’s demon was her friend, and she’s doing anything she can to get Her back, even if it means befriending Roy, the boy who separated Clare from her demon in the first place. Their friendship will lead them to uncover other mysteries in their town, specifically regarding Uncle Mike’s missing daughter, Clea, and a wooden box filled with secrets worth $1000.

A spooky psychological thriller and mystery, Jimmy Cajoleas’ young adult novel debut will have readers on the edge of their seat. In The Good Demon, there is no doubt that Cajoleas is a powerhouse of a writer in this atmospheric novel with an undercurrent of fear and faith. Featuring three-dimensional characters who keep generations of secrets from each other, the reader isn’t quite sure who to trust. If you like to be scared in broad daylight, if you want original writing and the kind of quirky and complex characters who occupy the nooks and crannies of the South, then The Good Demon is for you.

Jimmy Cajoleas is originally from Jackson, Mississippi and graduated with an MFA from the University of Mississippi and now lives in New York. He will signing and reading The Good Demon at Lemuria on Wednesday, September 19 at 5 p.m.

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Author Q & A with Stephen Markley

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (September 16)

Described as both a murder mystery and a social critique, Stephen Markley’s Ohio speaks with revelatory discernment about the direction a new, post 9/11 generation of Americans faces.

Set in the fictional small town of New Canaan, Ohio, Markley’s moving debut novel conveys the angst of a region in decline–thanks to the realities of an economic recession, the tragedy of opioids, and the calamities of war in Afghanistan and Iraq–as witnessed by four former high school classmates. When the friends, all in their 20s, gather in their hometown one fateful summer night in 2013, the evening ends in a shocking culmination that no one expected.

Each of Markley’s main characters brings along a mission for this evening, as they collectively struggle with private secrets and regrets–including alcoholism, drug abuse, lost ambitions, relationships gone astray, and personal doubts.

Through Ohio, Markley addresses forgotten pockets of the nation’s “rust belt” that inherited the disillusionment of racial hostility, environmental uneasiness, foreclosures, and political standoff.

Stephen Markley

A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Markley is a screenwriter, journalist, and the author of two previous books: Publish This Book: The Unbelievable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold, and Published This Very Book  and Tales of Iceland, a humorous “memoir and travelogue of an American experience in Iceland.” He lives in Los Angeles.

Ohio is a complicated and gripping tale. It’s an ambitious novel that took you five years to write. How did you do this?

Ha. Sometimes I’m not even sure. I think I always had this raucous, ambitious novel in mind, and I had the components  of something really interesting, but it was a long process of figuring out how those components worked together. I certainly owe a great debt of gratitude to my agent, Susan Golomb, and my editor, Cary Goldstein, as well as a number of other readers who gave me the feedback that helped me craft the final version.

You were a teenager yourself when the events of 9/11 shocked America. How did it affect you and your own friends personally?

That’s hard to say because it didn’t really in the moment. We lived far away from New York City and the Pentagon, and while what happened was certainly spectacular in terms of the images and the shock, the most important legacy of 9/11 for my generation was the widespread failure of our political institutions in the aftermath.

Decisions were made and policies were put into place that will be with all of us for the rest of our lives, and here I’m not just talking about two disastrous wars that have grown into a permanent global counter-insurgency operation, but the domestic consequences of surveillance, xenophobia, and a national security-industrial complex that bends policy to its whims and which as citizens have almost zero democratic control over.

Ohio, your first novel, came about after your studies at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Tell me how your Iowa studies paid off in your efforts to become a novelist ,which you have described as your “only ambition.”

I arrived at Iowa after floundering for several years as an utterly unsuccessful freelance writer, so just the relief of  paycheck, health insurance, and the basic stability of housing was enough to give me this burst of creative energy. On top of that, the teachers I worked with and my peers were just so consistently brilliant, hilarious, interesting, and inspiring that even if I’d produced nothing in those years, I would still view them as some of the best of my life.

Have you been surprised by the acclaim the book has garned, especially since this is your first novel? It has even been described as “generation defining.”

I know this is annoying to say, but I’m trying to ignore all of that as best I can and just enjoy Simon & Schuster footing the bill to send me around the country on a book tour, which I’m using as an excuse to see almost everyone I’ve ever loved or cared about.

As for the generation thing, I tend to think my generation of writers will be defined by the huge range of diversity in voices and storytelling styles that comes from the rather recent institutional realization that human beings other than straight white guys also have fascinating stories to tell.

Your writing style is unique, and it reads like you are talking to exactly one person (the reader) face-to-face. Tell me about how the signature form has developed.

Oh, that’s as much a mystery to me as anyone. I think all writers are just amalgamations of every influence they’ve ever claimed and, even more so, all the ones they can’t remember. You have to keep in mind, even though this is my debut novel, I’ve been working at this writing thing since I was probably 5 years old. At age 34, I feel like it took a lifetime to get this thing out there.

Since the town of New Canaan is patterned at least loosely from  your own hometown, did you experience  the same thoughts and feelings as your characters? Was there the same sense of despair? Are things there better now?

That’s complicated because New Canaan is not really my hometown, which has its own stories and politics and oddities and troubles and brave, wonderful people.

But it was the sensation of growing up there that I wanted to get across. Tim O’Brien talked a lot about this in (his book) The Things They Carried–sometimes to get at the truth, you have to make up a story.

With this powerful debut novel under your belt, do you think you may take a more upbeat approach on your next book–or do you have another book planned yet?

I’m always working on two or three things at once, but I’m feeling a little precious about those projects right now. I’m probably not quite ready to say them out loud in case they vanish.

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A Birthday is Announced! Come Join Us for Agatha Christie’s Birthday on Saturday

“By the pricking of my thumb”, Agatha Christie’s birthday this way comes! If you have read any of my blogs, you know that I can’t go one paragraph without mentioning the Queen of Mystery. Well, this time I’m justified since I am going to give my recommendations for my favorite Christie novels.

Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie!

September 15th will be her 128th birthday, so on that day, don’t have a “destination unknown“; come to Lemuria where we will be celebrating with $1 beer! An “endless night” wouldn’t be enough time for me to express how much I love reading Christie’s books, but I will keep this short and simple. Now to lay all my “cards on the table“, here are “the big four” Agatha Christie novels you should read.

The A.B.C. Murders is a mystery in which Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot gets a letter describing a crime that is about to be committed. The interesting thing about these crimes is that the victims are murdered in alphabetical order. The first victim is named Alice Ascher, then Betty Barnard, et cetera, et cetera. There are red herrings all over the place, which Christie is famous for. Poirot bandies together the victims’ relations to gather more information, and I enjoyed how they worked together.

The Murder of Roger Ackyroyd is the first mystery novel I read where the plot twist truly took me by surprise. A man is murdered in his study with a house full of suspects. Fake alibis are thrown around, innocent people act suspiciously, and Hercule Poirot is in fine form. As in most Christie novels, there is a wide cast of characters and all of them are interviewed by Poirot, whose line of questioning usually doesn’t make sense at first. The climactic ending will have you on the edge of your seat!

After the Funeral of Richard Abernathie, his relatives come together in their childhood home. The man’s eccentric sister makes a passing remark that he may have been murdered, and then the day after the funeral, she is found dead. Of course, this solidifies her statement that her brother was murdered. Every member of the family has a motive for killing Abernathie, as he was a very wealthy man. The family’s lawyer does most of the grunt work, and Poirot takes a back seat in this one.

A Murder is Announced in the local newspaper of an English village, with directions to meet at a certain time and date at the house of Little Paddocks. The owner of the house takes it in stride and offers finger foods when her curious neighbors stop by to see what happens. And something does happen! Mistaken identities, fuzzy memories, and questionable motives abound in this story. Miss Marple, an amateur old lady sleuth, is the main detective in this one.

And then there were none“! I hope you’ve enjoyed this list, and that you weren’t thinking “death comes as the end” of this. This is an “unfinished portrait” of all the possible Agatha Christie novels I could possibly recommend; in fact everything here written in quotes is a great title you should read! Now I’ll finish this up and draw the “curtain” on this blog.

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Author Q & A with Drew Williams

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (September 9)

Although The Stars Now Unclaimed is his debut novel, Birmingham’s Drew Williams makes a distinction about his new sci-fi book: “It’s my first novel to be published,” he said. “It’s nowhere near my first novel to be written.”

He explains why this difference matters, if only to himself.

“I remember hearing in a TED Talk a while back–and I’m not going to go look for it, so apologies to the speaker if I get this wrong–that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at anything before you can become truly ‘proficient’ at it; I’ve been chipping away at my 10,000 hours since I was a teenager, and believe me: readers can debate now whether I’ve reached ‘proficiency’ with The Stars Not Unclaimed,’ but the stuff I wrote back then was nowhere near it!”

Fortunately for Williams, The Stars Now Unclaimed is claiming a lot of attention among sci-fi and other readers–which works out well, as Stars is only the beginning of the series he has already planned for his newly minted characters.

Described as “a massive, galaxy-spanning tale of war, betrayal, friendship, and the kind commitment people make to a better future even at the cost of their own lives,” this future world is packed with strong characters, intense battles, and just enough trepidation to capture the attention of readers of all ages who love thrillers in any form.

The series is, as they say, another story–or actually, quite a few more stories. Boldly titled The Universe After, the collection will introduce its second volume A Chain Across the Dawn in May.

Tell me about yourself. The bio on the book flap is pretty bare bones–you got a job at a bookseller because you applied on a day when someone had just quit! You don’t like Moby-Dick. We want more! Tell us about Drew Williams.

Let’s see. I grew up right here in Birmingham–Birmingham, where we stare across the border at Atlanta and think “that could have been us, you know, if we’d really wanted it to be”–so I’ve been a native of the Deep South all my life; there’s just something about it, you know? Sure, the heat might be bad, and the humidity might be worse, and sure, in Birmingham specifically you have to reckon with a pretty terrible cultural legacy of institutional racism and basically being the villain in every story Yankees tell about the South, but there’s something about the people down here–just nicer, I think. More interested in what’s going on around them than wherever they think they’re supposed to be next.

Drew Williams

As far as my education goes, I left that part of the book flap because I didn’t want some kid to try and emulate it. The reason I needed that bookseller job was I’d dropped out of high school a few months before, so my education pretty much was the bookstore! Everything I know–and I don’t just mean about being a writer–I learned from books of history or psychology or from well-researched novels. It means I can hold forth exhaustively on a weirdly broad range of subjects–but there are also some really basic things that I can completely blank on.

I assume you have always been a science fiction fan. What sparked your interest in the genre? Who is your favorite sci-fi writer?

I literally do not remember seeing Star Wars for the first time; I do not remember–spoiler alert for, you know, a nearly 40-year-old film–ever watching The Empire Strikes Back and not knowing Darth Vader was Luke’s father.

The same goes for novels: I come from a family of, well, nerds, so both my father and mother read to my brother and me extensively when we were children, and they didn’t stop at kids’ books. One of my very first memories is my mother reading To Kill a Mockingbird to me–omitting some of the more graphic details of the nature of the central crime, most likely–whereas my father was more prone to just read to us whatever he had lying around at the time, whether that was Clive Cussler, Dave Duncan–look him up kids; a great many of his earlier works are out of print, but as far as I’m concerned he’s one of the preeminent fantasy authors of our time–or Arthur C. Clarke. Dune was the first “big deal” sci-fi novel I read myself, and I followed it up with a hopscotch path though Heinlein, David Feintuch–another unjustly overlooked sci-fi great–and even Kurt Vonnegut.

What prompted you to make the main character female? Did you find that to be more of a challenge?

That’s one of those things, honestly, that just happened: I sat down to write this novel, and there she was–I never had a single doubt in my mind that she was supposed to be anything other than female. I do think there’s something more interesting about the central relationship in the novel being more about a sort of pseudo-maternal connection than the parental one that might have arisen if I had made the lead male, that there’s a certain assumed vulnerability, a sense of not just protection but fostering of emotional growth that might not have been there otherwise, but honestly, that’s just me back-filling: I can’t claim to have don that on purpose.

As far as writing a female lead being a challenge goes: I think a great deal of how a person writes–consciously or otherwise–is defined by what we consume, in terms of narrative, whether that’s books, films, video games, whatever. And again, going back to my parents: I was never told to make a distinction as a child between “boy books” and “girl books”–I read both The Hardy Boys and Sweet Valley High. They were all just books, they were all just stories.

That’s a habit I’ve carried into adulthood–whether a book has a male lead or a female lead makes no difference whatsoever in my interest in the novel–and I think having read a great deal of literature with female leads makes it easier to write something with one.

Explain more about the “pulse” in The Stars Now Unclaimed, what it actually was, and how it chose which planets to send back in time.

Getting into some of those answers would be getting into spoiler territory for later books, but I’ll do my best!

Basically, the pulse in an unexplained cosmic event that swept through the universe about 100 years before the novel is set. With no apparent sense of purpose, it set about affecting almost every planet in the galaxy, affecting each on a slightly different scale.

So you might have one world where no technology more complex than steam-power can operate–a world stuck, permanently, in the Industrial Revolution–and another still fully capable of making spaceships and advanced artificial intelligence and jet-packs.

The reasons for that concept, honestly, were structural rather than metaphorical: I wanted a very broad canvas to play with, one where I could have wild spaceship battles in one scene, and forgotten, almost post-apocalyptic city-scapes to wander through in the next.

Your book includes a lot of battle scenes. Did you, like many others, find yourself intrigued with the action of the Star Wars space battles?

Star Wars is absolutely–no question, No. 1 with a bullet, full stop–the single most influential work of art in my life. I learned so much from those films, not just about narrative and storytelling, but in terms of who I am, and I think the appeal of Star Wars can be boiled down into a single concept that comes from Star Wars: even when things are wildly different, people are just people.

Those films have always succeeded in marrying eye-popping-ly beautiful imagery, alien and exotic and imaginative, with deep-seated human desires and conflicts.

I think the action sequences do the same thing. Yes, they might involve laser swords or giant walking tanks or an ancient monster that’s nothing more than a mouth buried in the sand, but they’re still about a man, trying to rescue a friend; about soldiers, trying to do their best to fight a desperate rear-guard action so their fight can go on; about a son, trying to find the man his father once was inside of the monster he’s become.

I very much tried to do the same thing in The Stars Now Unclaimed, to root the action, no matter how outlandish or insane, in who the character were.

Star Wars and other “space operas” seem to illustrate how good eventually overcomes evil. Is there a deeper meaning, or message, to your novel?

Two answers come to mind with that: the first is the theme of The Stars Now Unclaimed itself, which I think can be summarized with the concept that “even grief can be turned into good ends.” The second–which is slightly more germane to your question–is how I would summarize the theme of the entire series, which is “so long as parents try not to pass their won sins on to their children, the world can become a better place.” So long as we continually struggled to raise our children into people better than us–and to give them a world better than that which we inherited–there is no doubt in my mind that good will overcome evil, because evil is a thing that thrives where empathy has failed. Even if we don’t always succeed in that goal, it’s the trying that matters, I think.

Now that you are a published author, you’ll always be asked about what project you have coming out next. Can you tell us?

Book two, of course! I don’t think I can tell you much more than that, or my editor will skin my alive, but I will say characters are meant to grow, and change, otherwise there’s on point in writing a sequel.

Drew Williams will be at Lemuria today on Monday, September 10, at 5:00 to sign and read from The Stars Now Unclaimed.

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Author Q & A with Lisa Patton

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (September 2)

Sorority recruitment (that still translates as “rush” at most Southern universities) can be a pivotal time for freshmen college women, but is probably approached with more reverence, tradition, and passion at Ole Miss than perhaps any other campus–anywhere.

And that’s where bestselling author Lisa Patton, a Memphis native, current Nashville resident and graduate of the University of Alabama, chose to set her newest novel, Rush.

Written with amazing attention to detail and as much humor as heart, Rush takes readers behind the doors of the of the school’s fictional Alpha Delta Beta house, where the newest pledge class fights for civil justice for their house staff despite opposition from the sisterhood’s scheming house corp president. Along the way, a handful of diverse characters slowly reveal their own secrets, fears, and hopes as their lives are linked together.

Lisa Patton

Before her writing career, Patton worked as a manager and show promoter for the historic Orpheum Theatre in Memphis and as part of the promotion teams for radio and TV stations in the Bluff City. She later worked on album and video projects with Grammy Award-winning musician Michael McDonald.

It was a three-year stint as an innkeeper in Vermont that inspired her first novel, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’Easter, which was followed by Yankee Doodle Dixie (both featured on the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Bestseller List); and Southern as a Second Language.

The mother of two sons, Patton and her husband now live in Nashville.

Rush–an eye-opening inside story about life in an Ole Miss sorority house–is so full of spot-on details about the young women who go through recruitment, or “rush,” and the houses they call their campus homes, that it’s hard to believe you weren’t a student at Ole Miss yourself. Why did you choose to write about Greek life at the University of Mississippi, and not the school you attended–the University of Alabama?

I went back and forth about which campus was best for the setting. Both universities are historical and breathtakingly gorgeous, but I ultimately chose Ole Miss because the town of Oxford provided a more colorful backdrop to the story. Many Ole Miss graduates hail from Memphis, and as a native Memphian I love including my hometown in my novels.

During my writing process, Eli Manning received the Walter Payton Humanitarian of the Year Award. I’d read that he and his wife, Abby, are well known philanthropists, and I though they would be perfect bit characters for the story. In truth, through, Rush could have been told on any Southern campus. Ole Miss won because it’s a darn good place to be! And quintessentially Southern.

Researching this book must have been fun! How did you find out about so many details of the secrets of sorority life at Ole Miss–like the name of the popular dorm, the schedules for rush week, the size of the sororities, etc.?

Goodness knows I tried. I spoke with several Ole Miss current students and recent graduates. I interviewed Ole Miss alumnae, Ole Miss housemothers, and a former Ole Miss housekeeper. The research was the best apart about writing Rush. I got to know many strong, wonderful women. Through our many phone calls and texts, I came to love and admire each of them and now call them my friends. In the last three years, I’ve spent a great deal of time on the Ole Miss campus. I honestly think of myself as half Rebel!

Your characters are plentiful, and very well developed–and many have secrets they’re trying hard to overcome. How were you able to create so many characters with their own stories to tell, and then weave them into the plot so well?

I was determined to give my characters complexity. So I gave thought to my own life and the lives of other vulnerable women I know, and analyzed what makes us real. We all have flaws, both moral and psychological, whether we want to admit them or not. So, after creating my characters, I talked with each one of them and asked for complete honesty. I took notes, as if I was their therapist, and learned all about their secrets! That might sound crazy, but it’s true.

Weaving them together was the easy part. Making the decision to finish the book was another story all together. When you take a stand for something you believe in with all your heart, resistance throws every fiery dart in its arsenal your way. I almost quite before Rush was born.

There are a lot of heartaches and problems facing the main characters–and keeping up with them is made much easier by how you structured the narration, which changes with each chapter, giving readers multiple first-person accounts of what rush and sorority life are like, filtered through each person’s point of view. Is this a writing technique you’ve used with your other books?

I’ve never written a book with multiple points of view before, but I felt it was a necessity for Rush. I wanted to give my readers an in-depth peek into sorority life, whether they were Greek or not. Cali is my 18-year-old freshman from small-town life–Blue Mountain, Mississippi. Memphis-born Wilda is an Ole Miss alum and mother to Ellie, who is rushing and living in Martin Dormitory. And Miss Pearl is the housekeeper of the fictional Alpha Delta Beta sorority house and second mom/counselor to the sorority sisters. When the story opens, they don’t know one another, but all that changes quickly.

At the center of the story is “Miss Pearl,” who practically runs the sorority house, and has for 25 years, but her chances of being promoted to house director are threatened by the racist attitudes of another character. Why this dominant topic, and why now?

I’m that child of the 60s and 70s. That little Southern girl who was bathed in motherly love by a woman who worked as a long-term housekeeper and cook for my family. Then I left for college and received a similar love from the women who worked in my sorority house. When I went back for a visit 38 years later, I noticed that much was still the same with regard to the house staff.

Some of the workers, men and women, spend decades of their lvies in these positions. It never once crossed my mind to inquire about their pay, their benefits, or their opportunity for promotion. When I discussed it with my sorority sisters, they agreed that it was an unfortunate oversight. We, as sorority women, are strong leaders. We are philanthropic and compassionate. WE strive to make things right. I’m hoping readers will get to know my characters, learn about their lives and understand their worlds better. My prayer is that Rush opens the door to discussion and is ultimately, perhaps, a vehicle for change.

What was your own sorority experience like at the University of Alabama?

It was one of the best times of my life. I made friendships that have lasted for decades and will last until I take my final breath. Whenever I look back on our college days, when we were all together, I get teary. Not only was it fun, maybe too fun at times, but it helped cement the values I’d learned in childhood and carry them with me through adulthood. I learned the importance of philanthropy, service, and leadership, and that’s only the beginning.

You began your career as a music producer and eventually became a full-time writer. Tell me about how that came about–and how you believe your writing has progressed through the years.

Because of my deep love for music, I was always attracted to jobs in the music industry. For many years, I worked for Michael McDonald of Doobie Brothers fame. He was the one who encouraged me to finish my first book and I, fortunately, took his advice. I wrote by the seat of my pants for the first three novels, but for Rush, I made a detailed outline. I also studied books on the craft of writing.

Do you have another writing project in the works now?

I do, thank you for asking! It’s a story about two teachers. Set in Memphis, it’s told in current day and looks back to the 1930s. Few people alive today remember a time when teachers couldn’t be married. It’s actually the first book I wanted to write but knew I needed more experience. I’m finally ready.

Lisa Patton will be at Lemuria on Wednesday, September 5, at 5:00 p.m. to sign and read from Rush.

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Author Q & A with Margaret Bradham Thornton

Margaret Bradham Thornton’s sophomore novel takes the age-old choice between clinging to the familiarity of solitude versus daring to reach for love at the risk of a broken heart and examines it at a deeper level in A Theory of Love–a romantic story that is both unique and familiar at its core.

The chance meeting of British journalist Helen Gibbs and French-American financier Christopher Delavaux on a Mexican beach leads to a relationship and a marriage that would become threatened by ambition and time apart–and ultimately, a difficult choice that must be made for

their future together.

Thornton is the author of the novel Charleston and the editor of Notebooks, a 10-year writing project that saw her compiling and editing the extensive collection of the personal journals of Tennessee Williams. For her efforts on this project, which she said “represented an important record, both emotional and creative, of one of America’s most important writers,” she received the Bronze ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in autobiography/memoir and the C. Hugh Holman Prize for the best volume of Southern literary scholarship published in 2006, given by the Society for the Study of Southern Literature.

Margaret Bradham Thornton

A native of Charleston, she is a graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in English. Now a Florida resident, Thornton is no stranger to Mississippi.

“In my early teens, I came to Jackson and played the Southern Tennis Championships,” she said.

“At various times over the past 15 summers, I have been back to Jackson for tournaments with my three sons–one of whom is a published novelist–who play or have played competitive tennis. I have just returned from Dublin where my daughter competed in the much-loved Dublin Horse Show where the Irish combine their love of horses with their love of books. One of the jumps in the Grand Prix Competition was a five-and-a-half-foot wall of books. I am very happy to report that my daughter cleared it!”

A Theory of Love offers a depth beyond the plot of most “love stories.” It was the busyness of life–the travel, the time pressure, the distance–that defined the relationship of main characters Helen and Christopher, and it requires a bit of thought on the reader’s part to imagine oneself in their shoes–his side and her side. What was your inspiration for this unique book?

Broadly speaking, Tennessee Williams and, more specifically, a memoir of a circus performer.

Tennessee Williams wrote about longing, rarely about love. For example, in The Glass Menagerie, Laura waits for gentlemen callers who never come; in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche waits on a decaying plantation for a man to rescue her; and in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Maggie tells Brick that if she thought he would never make love to her again, she would go into the kitchen and get the biggest knife and stick it straight through her heart. Having spent 10 years working on Tennessee Williams, I wanted to move past longing into the territory of love.

Five years ago, I came across a 19th century memoir of a circus performer, Ins and Outs of Circus Life or Forty-Two Years Travel of John H. Glenroy, Bareback Rider, through United States, Canada, South America and Cuba. John H. Glenroy was an orphan, who at age 7 joined the circus. When he retired, he dictated his memoir. Far from telling a life of adventure, he gave a flat, unemotional accounting of all the places he had performed along with the names of all the performers in each circus.

Memory had clearly been a companion to him. And it made me curious: if you’d had love withheld from you as a child, who would you be as an adult? What could be expected of you? Despite living two centuries apart, the circus performer became the inspiration for one of my main characters, and I thought a circus would be a good metaphor for the world of finance. I settled on short chapters with changing locations to give a sense of speed and dislocation.

Please explain the “entanglement theory” and how it expresses this love story.

Simply put, in theoretical physics, two particles that have been close can be separated by millions of miles or even light years and still remain connected. What happens to one, instantaneously happens to the other. Entangled particles transcend space. I thought this was an intriguing concept to explore as a metaphor for love. I think it certainly applies to maternal or paternal love. The question I wanted to ask in this novel was does it hold for romantic love.

What was it that attracted Christopher and Helen to each other in the beginning?

Initially, they are both intrigued by each other’s independence. Christopher notices Helen getting out of a taxi, and he is curious to know why she has come alone to Bermeja. He is further intrigued by her sense of purpose and bemused by his inability to “derail” her from her work. Her article on words reveals her interest in other cultures and a certain fearlessness about crossing borders, exploring new terrain, both literally and metaphorically, and this aspect of her certainly appeals to him.

Helen is curious to know more about Christopher who is staying in a remote place by himself–she is, after all, a journalist. Her choice of words shows that she is drawn to illusive concepts that have both intensity and peace and these words could be used to describe aspects of Christopher. Christopher’s ability to embody his favorite word, sprezzatura, to make whatever he does look as if it is without effort or thought–especially when he is flirting with her–appeals to Helen and keeps her off balance at the beginning of their relationship.

I was struck by the fact that Christopher, like Helen, had a favorite word! Do you have a favorite word?

I didn’t until I wrote this book, but I would go with neverness, partly because of how I first learned about it; partly because it is an orphaned word and I have been thinking about orphans; and partly because it is beautiful. My eldest son, a writer, sent me an excerpt from a Paris Review interview with Jorge Luis Borges who described this word, invented by Bishop Wilkins in the 17th century, as “a beautiful word, a word that’s a poem in itself, full of hopelessness, sadness, and despair.” He said he could not understand why “the poets left it lying about and never used it.”

Despite the constant travel to romantic and exotic places, there is a very “everyday” feeling about this book, as we get glimpses of the “ordinary” about Helen and Christopher, despite the pace of their lives. That is somewhat of a luxury among novelists, who may present frequent moments of “drama” to move the plot along . . . . but this story doesn’t feel rushed. Explain how you approached the pace of this book, as it pertains to their relationship.

This book was an explanation of the question, “What does it mean to love someone?”, and for that question, plot did not have a strong place. Novels that helped me understand how to think about structuring this story include Kate Chopin’s The Awakening; Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris; Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky; and James Salter’s Light Years and Solo Faces.

In The Awakening, there is that powerful scene between Edna and Robert when he waits with her one evening. They are both deeply attracted to one another, but neither can act upon their passion, and he waits with her for her husband to return. I thought it was an extraordinary scene–all the more so because so little is said. I knew I wanted to write that kind of scene in my novel at the end when Helen is sitting on a swing in Bermeja.

Your writing style is very fluid, and it makes me wonder how, as a Charleston native, you were influenced by favorite writers. Who did (and do) you admire as writers?

I don’t have favorites, but I do have mileposts.

Growing up in Charleston, books, for me, were passports. Initially I bypassed Southern writers, as I felt I knew a lot about the South and wanted to learn about other parts of the world. I’m happy to say, since then, I’ve reversed direction and put my arms around many of the great Southern writers–Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor, Percy, Williams, Capote, McCarthy, the list goes on.

In college, I read all of Henry James and was struck by the subtlety of his language and structure of his novels. I was also impressed how Virginia Woolf inventively used form to serve her meaning.

Another milepost was when I read Edisto by Padgett Powell when it was first published. The narrator, Simons Manigault, says, “We drove half that night, up Highway 17, watching all the flintzy old motels with names like And-Gene Motel.” I had passed the And-Gene Motel which was halfway between Charleston and the Edisto River hundreds of times, and I remember thinking–you can do that in a novel?

While working on Tennessee Williams, I indirectly discovered the kind of reader I wanted to be. Williams tried to write a play on Vincent van Gogh and one of the books he read was Letters to an Artist: From Vincent van Gogh to Anton Ridder van Rappard 1881-1885. Van Gogh collected the prints published by two London newspapers, and in his letters to van Rappard, he generously praised the work of many of the artists. For example, he wrote, “Pinwell draws two women in black in a dark room in the simplest possible composition in which he has put a serious sentiment that I can only compare to the full song of the nightingale on a spring night.”

In a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh wrote, “Reading books is like looking at paintings: without doubting, without hesitating, with self-assurance, one must find beautiful that which is beautiful.” That sentiment struck me: as a writer, it felt like the right way to read. So, in that spirit, I try to read as broadly as possible.

Are plans in the works for another novel? If so, can you share something about it with us?

I have been thinking about the idea of beauty and evil. In my research on foundlings for A Theory of Love, I visited the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, and there I learned that an early benefactor had donated a large collection of great paintings to the orphans because he felt that everyone should grow up with beauty. In Book Nine of Paradise Lost, Satan is so struck by the beauty and grace of Eve that he is temporarily disarmed of hatred and envy and revenge.

I am in the early stages of a novel that considers whether or not there is a relationship between evil and beauty, and if so, what is it.

If I’ve learned anything from Tennessee Williams, it is to write about what intrigues or perplexes or moves you–or in his words–to write “a picture of your own heart” and to convince yourself it is easy to do. “Don’t maul, don’t suffer, don’t groan–till the first draft is finished. Then Calvary–but not till then. Doubt–and be lost–until the first draft is finished.”

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Event for Kids 7-12: Meet Jodi Kendall, author of ‘The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City’ on 8/29/18

Maybe there was a time before, when I loved books and loved stories. But I like to think of my life as before and after. Before Charlotte’s Web, I listened to stories. After Charlotte’s Web, I read them.

For every bibliophile, story-addict, or word-junkie, there is a book, or a story, that turned the tables. So, living my life in a post-reading Charlotte’s Web world, I am always drawn to stories that remind me of the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte, strong girl-characters like Fern, and comedic entertainment in Templeton the Rat. I found this exact blend of comedy and childlike wonder in a book with big heart called The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City.

If you are looking for a story that will take you back to the wonder of ‘SOME PIG’, then you will want to meet Jodi Kendall, author of The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City next Wednesday, August 29th. The signing will begin at 5:00 p.m., with a reading to follow at 5:30 p.m.

In The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City the book opens on Thanksgiving Day, at the dinner table. Josie Shillings’ college-aged older brother Tom brings home a baby pig he has named Hamlet who was the runt of the litter.

Josie’s father is adamant: “ ‘Not a chance,’ Dad said, pointing at Tom with a silver fork. ‘Pigs don’t belong in the city.’ ”

It is Josie who comes to the rescue, convincing her father to let her keep the pig, on the condition that she finds a home for it by New Year’s. Josie must juggle her upcoming gymnastics competition, surviving close-quarters living in a large family, a grumpy next-door neighbor, and buying pig-food for Hamlet, who is rapidly growing into quite the porker.

You will fall in love with Josie’s determination, Hamlet’s antics, and the Shilling family. As Josie’s favorite book is Charlotte’s Web, there are references to E.B. White’s classic within this novel as well.

Animal lovers and readers who enjoy a good family story in the same vein as The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall or The Moffats by Eleanor Estes won’t want to miss this event next week!

Author Jodi Kendall

This review originally appeared in Charlotte’s Web Turns 65: Here’s What to Read Next

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Acclaim for ‘The Stars Now Unclaimed’ by Drew Williams

A strange vision of the future in which all of existence is affected by a an expanding calamity known only as “The Pulse,” which degrades technology and sends entire planets back to the stone age while leaving others completely untouched: This is the world of The Stars Now Unclaimed, a new novel from Drew Williams.

Our protagonist, who goes unnamed for the majority of the book, is tasked with ferrying super-human children back to the mysterious organization for whom she works while also dealing with the growing threat of a faction of zealots who are obsessed with uniformity and bent on enslaving all life in pursuit of forced peace and order.

A quick look at some of the other reviews of this book will give you a few basic impressions: exciting action, big space battles, explosions, and lots of fun sci-fi bits. While the book does have all of that, I feel like there is a lot more to discuss. This novel is an epic space romp, with cool ships and interesting alien cultures, but it is also a thought-provoking look at the effects of war on both civilization and the individual, a rumination on the nature of technology and how it affects and defines societies at large, and a look at what it means to be sentient in the face of losing all of the advancements that make us “civilized.” The book is, however, not without humor. The ongoing teenage tropes of the young character Esa, the fed-up sarcasm of the main character, and the witty on-board voice of her spaceship, Scheherazade, keep the story from becoming too serious or heavy.

I’m not ashamed, I geeked out over this book. I love fiction set in big, complex worlds, especially sci-fi and fantasy, and The Stars Now Unclaimed checked every box. With every additional location, alien race, and technological advancement introduced, I found myself updating a little encyclopedia in my head, and coming back to reference it later. There’s something about that quality that lends itself so well to the genres that I love, that perhaps that is why I love them, and this book is a great representation of that.

All that said, I loved this book, and I am certainly looking forward to the rest of the series that seems to be set up by the ending (fair warning to readers, there is a slight cliff-hanger). If you love science fiction, or just want to try something new, pick up a copy, available as of today.

Drew Williams will be at Lemuria on Monday, September 10, at 5:00 p.m. to sign and read from The Stars Now Unclaimed.

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