Tag: Author Event

Author Q & A with Jennifer Egan

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (October 8)

manhattan beachPulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan’s newest release Manhattan Beach (Scribner) combines historical fiction with all the elements of a thriller-mystery and a touch of humor as she successfully tackles a World War II tale whose home base is Manhattan Beach in New York.

It’s a wide-spanning story of a family’s struggle to make ends meet as they attempt to make sense of the culture shift of a country at war and the realities of  the long-time disappearance of a husband and father who has vanished for reasons unknown. Well-researched and overflowing with a theme of water that runs throughout, Manhattan Beach is a satisfying and more traditional story from a writer whose trademark has become keeping readers wondering just what she can and will do next.

Along with her Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad, she is the author of four other books of fiction. Her work has also appeared in The New YorkerHaper’s Magazine, and The New York Times Magazine, among others.

Please tell me about your roots in Chicago, where you spent your earliest years.

Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan

On my father’s side, my family is proudly Irish-American, and has been in Chicago for generations. My grandfather, Edward Egan, was a police commander on the South Side, and also President Truman’s bodyguard when he came to town. Edward Egan had three sons, the second of whom was my father. The eldest, Eddie Egan, was killed in a motorcycle accident as a teenager–a tragedy that, of course, marked the family thereafter.

As a little girl, I used to talk with my father a lot about lost Uncle Eddie. It was a great pleasure to use his name in this book, and to dig deeper into my Irish-American heritage–the closest thing I’ve ever felt to an ethnic identity.

Manhattan Beach portrays a father/daughter relationship that plays out against the backdrop of World War II. Does it reflect anything personally about your own family, or can you elaborate about what inspired this story?

My mother and father divorced when I was 2, and I don’t have any memories of them together. As a little girl, I spent every Sunday with my father, but at 7, I moved to San Francisco with my mother and stepfather. I saw him only in the summers after that, and I feel like I stopped knowing him, and he stopped knowing me.

I have two sons, now teenagers, whom I’ve been very reluctant to let go of as they begin to move more deeply into their own lives. A lot of that personal experience–dealing with loss, as a child and as a parent–is in here, somehow. In my books, the personal is always scrambled.; it’s only as  finish a book that I begin to sense its connections to my real life.

How closely do the lives of characters in Manhattan Beach mirror that of the correspondence you found between the couple who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the war?

The young couple whose correspondence I read, Lucille and Alfred Kolkin, had many things in common with my characters int eh context of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Lucy was a shipfitter, meaning that she helped to create the metal parts of ships; my character, Anna, becomes a civilian diver. Jobs like those would have been unthinkable for women before the war. Lucy and Al’s social world would have been somewhat different from Anna’s, though; Lucy and Al were Jewish, for one thing, whereas Anna’s family is Catholic. Anna’s father’s involvement with the Irish waterfront gave him a proximity to organized crime that would likely have alienated Lucy and Al, although they were strongly involved in union organizing.

And finally, Lucy seems to have been what was known as a “good girl”–she quipped in a letter to Al that the story their courtship could have been summarized: “From Maidenhood to Marriage in Three Easy Months.” Even at 19, Anna’s sexuality is more developed, and therefore a secret.

Anna, a main character in Manhattan Beach, fought the male-dominated era in which she lived, and became a diver helping repair ships from underneath. What does that show about her, and was there a message there for readers?

I’m not a big fan of messages in fiction. As a reader, I dislike being preached to, but I suppose one could probably take away from the novel what much of America learned during World War II: women can do just about anything, and do it well. That is a threatening notion to some.

Manhattan Beach is one of two October selections for Lemuria’s First Editions Club. Jennifer Egan will be appearing at the Eudora Welty House to sign books at 5:00 p.m., on Tuesday, October 10. The reading will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Author Q & A with Nathan Englander

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (October 1).

Brooklyn resident and Long Island native Nathan Englander packs love, violence, allegory, and political intrigue into his second novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth (Knopf), as he presents readers with a plot-driven literary tale that examines the current state of of the peace process-or lack thereof–between the Israelis and Palestinians.

A thought-provoking read to say the least, the book reveals Englander’s own take on the ongoing political battle–and it’s a personal one. Growing up Jewish in New York, his angst over the lack of progress between the two camps led to his own five-year retreat to Israel, which he spent examining first-hand the seeming futility of any effort to bring the two sides together.

Nathan Englander

Nathan Englander

His previous works include What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize); and the novel The Ministry of Special Cases. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies.

Englander is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

In the ackowledgements at the end of your book, you thanked the city of Zomba, Malowi, where some of the writing process of Dinner at the Center of the Earth took place. Please explain why that was important to you.

Zomba played a part in the rewriting of this book. I lived there last year with my family, and I found that composing in a place so radically different from the one in which I live helped me to see my own life–my reality–with fresh eyes, which, I deeply believe, helped me to do the same inside the book’s world, where I was spending most of my time.

In what ways did your four–or what it five?–years living in Jerusalem before the intifada in 2000 prepare you to write Dinner at the Center of the Earth?

It was five years. And a year of college long before that, and some stretches here and there in between. That time was less what prepared me to write the book, and more what drove me to do it. I’ve really wanted to tell this story for near 20 years.

But, I hear the question (why?), and I have an answer. And that is, when I was living in Israel, I came to understand that solving the conflict between Israel and Palestine wasn’t just about bridging the gap between two peoples who hold two different positions of some argument. A real solution would mean bridging the space between two different worlds. That is, I was a Jewish person living in Jerusalem, and my Palestinian neighbors in the exact same place were living in al-Quds. We’re dealing with multiple realities, not differing opinions.

I read that you wanted to write a book that “weaved time and threads.” Describe how the complexity of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and its seemingly unsolvable issues, prompted you to bring that approach to life through this book.

Central to that conflict, and central to my heartbreak over the failure of the peace process, are the endless cycles of violence, the buildup, the warring, the truces and quiet times–which both sides then use to build up and ready themselves for when the fighting starts all over again. I really wanted to write a novel whose structure captured that spiral, and reflected those rhythms.

This seems to be a book that would be good to read over again in order to understand the timeline and grasp its full meaning. Was that your intention?

dinner at the centerIt’s nice of you to ask. And, I promise you, I’m truly thankful for the people who invest in reading this novel once–that’s already a gift for a writer, and I ask no more. I can tell you that I worked hard to build a book you could just sit down and read, a linear novel that also happens to wrestle with age-old conflict and has many different plot lines, all running concurrently.

I think of your question in terms of a certain kind of reader–of which, in asking, I assume you are one–and I think, if this book has a certain life, and some nice graduate student somewhere wants to take it apart with a screwdriver and see how it ticks, I hope he or she will find something in the mechanics of it. I sure spent a lot of my time trying to make the thriller-historical-love-story-allegorical elements all jibe.

I loved what you did with the dream sequences of the General, whom we assume to be Ariel Sharon. Were there actual events for his life that led you to imagine these dream events? The endless falling with his radio operator after the explosion was especially intriguing.

Am I allowed to say that I love your questions? I love your questions! For one, it was imperative to me that my character, the General, be read as the General, not Ariel Sharon. As for parallels to Israeli-Palestinians history, I drew off many events for the reality the general is living in his mind. But you’re asking about the radio operator and the flying. This novel, unlike my last, is set in places I’ve lived, and addresses parts of history that are woven into my own memory, and central to my education, and have shaped my worldview.

What I’m trying to stress is that I bought a lot of books to study, but ended up doing very little research, and never opened most. I’d read a paragraph, and my mind would start spinning, and I’d start typing. Anyway, a doctor friend I’d called to ask about comas and minimally conscious state either shared this fact with me, or it appeared in the first couple of paragraphs of some scientific paper somewhere that I clicked on, but I fell in love with the idea that people who come out of comas often remember that they had dreams of flying. It just changed me, as soon as I learned that.

Were prisoner Z and the guard based on actual people, or were they fictional characters to move the plot and tell the story?

The guard popped into my head in the same way that Ruthi did–which is, out of nowhere. Speaking of consciousness, I literally have no awareness of how they suddenly came to be.

Prisoner Z is a character I can trace through my imagination. I was in Israel on a book tour, and on the last day, I picked up the morning paper and there was this story of an Israeli prisoner called, only, X. He was found dead in his cell. The extremely complicating factor was that he was a secret prisoner so, prior to his death, he had not existed. And prior to there being a cell with a ceiling from which to hang himself, there was no cell at all. That is, it was only with his death that he’d lived, only with his hanging that there was a cell to hang himself from.

When I read that X was a Mossad spy who’d become a traitor, I began thinking of all the reasons that spies become traitors: blackmail, failures of character, hunger for power, etc., etc. And I thought, what about a spy who becomes a traitor through empathy? Someone who flips because of his feelings for the other side. And that’s how, in that moment, a character is born. How, for me, an X becomes a Z.

Prisoner Z states in one his letters to the General that the only way for Israel to end the conflict was to lose and cede ground to the Palestinians. Is this an actual idea shared by some in Israel?

I’m sure, if folks think it, they don’t use the term “losing,” and it’s not about a notion of surrender. A novel delivers a pressurized form of reality–a world as real as the one we’re in, that manifests in a heightened way. Even as far off as it seems today, I bet there are plenty of people who still believe that pulling out of enough territory for there to be viable states, side by side, is the best way to achieve peace.

Tell me about the title of the book. Did it come to you as the story unfolded, or did you have it from the start?

Firstly, I’d like to note that the titles of my books are always extraordinarily long. And maybe I should pick shorter ones, since I’m so shy when folks ask me what the names of my books are called. I think, in every case, I’ve found the title of the book inside the story itself.

Do you have plans in the works yet that you can share about your next writing project?

Sure. Yes. I think the early part of one’s writing life is extra stressful because you haven’t yet fallen permanently behind. Once you’re drowning in projects you’re dying to pursue, what-comes-next is always right there.

So, as much as Dinner at the Center of the Earth is a book that took me far from the imagined worlds where I started, the next novel swings me back to where I began. I wanted to return to that space, where I explore the boundary between sacred and profane, religious and secular. Also, I’ve got another play in the works, and a non-fiction book, and some other things cooking.

Come ‘explore’ the possibilities with Katherine Rundell!

Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell

Lemuria is excited to welcome Katherine Rundell to Jackson, Mississippi on Friday, September 29th. Rundell’s books are modern classics: the moment you begin reading them, you are transported into the story she is telling.

Her first novel, Rooftoppers, is the story of a girl who is rescued from a sinking ship, and she is found floating in a cello case. Many years later (with her adopted father), they set out on a search for her mother that leads them to the rooftops of Paris where a community of children run free during the night. Fans of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret will enjoy Rooftoppers.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a Boston Globe Horn Book Award Winner, and is a modern day retelling of A Little Princess. When Wilhelmina Silver is left an orphan, she is sent away from the wild African savanna she’s grown up loving to a cold boarding school in London where she is mercilessly teased by the other girls. She runs away, and must find a way to live on the streets of London.

Rundell’s third novel, a snowy tale with hints of Little Red Riding Hood folklore, is Wolf Wilder. Wolf Wilder is about a girl named Feo and her mother who are “wolf wilders.” That is, they train wolves to survive the wild after they are no longer wanted as pets by the nobles in St. Petersburg, Russia. When Feo’s mother is taken captive by the Tsar, it is up to Feo (and her wolves) to save her. Each of Rundell’s stories is unique, heartwarming, and exciting. Her characters are larger than life, and she truly understands the way children interact with the world.

explorerIn her newest novel, THE EXPLORER, four children ride a small plane to Manaus, Brazil. When the plane goes down in flames, the four children, Fred, Con, Lila, and Max survive the crash, but they must survive the Amazon Jungle as well. Between poisonous plants, giant bugs, and biting fish, will they make it to civilization again?

Rundell, who is a Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, grew up in Zimbabwe, Brussels, and Belgium. Her love of travel is infused within the places she writes about in her books. After visiting the Amazon Jungle, Rundell was compelled to write THE EXPLORER. She says that her inspiration to write THE EXPLORER was to write a story “about children performing acts of extraordinary courage against all odds” and that she wants “to encourage children to be an explorer, no matter where [they] are.”

Meet Katherine Rundell, all the way from England, on Friday, September 29th, from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. at Lemuria Bookstore. Call to reserve a signed copy of THE EXPLORER today! 601.366.7619

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Author Q & A with Rosemary Wells

Interview with Rosemary Wells by Clara Martin.

In the world of children’s books, there is a duo named Max and Ruby. They are bunny siblings: Ruby is the older sister who is very bossy, and Max is her little brother who is always up to mischief. The Max & Ruby series spans over forty books and now have their own television show on Nick Jr.

rosemary wellsTheir creator, Rosemary Wells, has been writing and illustrating books for over 45 years. She began working in publishing as a book designer for seven years. All through her writing and illustrating career, from her picture books to her young adult novels, Rosemary Wells advocates for children’s literacy wherever she goes. Born in New York City and raised in rural New Jersey, she now resides in Connecticut.

Lemuria Books is thrilled to welcome ROSEMARY WELLS, the author of MAX & RUBY for a story time and signing on MONDAY, OCTOBER 2ND from 3:30 – 4:30 pm. This story time is free and open to the public!

A presentation given by Rosemary Wells that is geared towards adults & educators will run from 5 pm to 6 pm, and a RSVP is necessary. To RSVP, please call Lemuria Books at 601-366-7619.

In an interview below, Rosemary Wells talks about her own characters, her illustration process, and the importance of reading books aloud to children.

What drew you to stories about toddlers and young children?

I can’t really tell you why. Perhaps because I had young children around me, and still do. I find them hilarious. My own childhood–I was as a tomboy, a very dedicated artist, and utterly non-compliant with what I didn’t like in school–also added to this. It always does in authors. We go back over our own lives and see, in the new lives around us, many of the same traits and predicaments.

However, I have also written 4 books for middle grade readers and 7 novels for YA!

Tell me a little bit about Max & Ruby (and your other characters).

What I really love is the sibling dynamic. It is so real. Max and Ruby are my own two children. This is how they constantly behaved with each other when they thought I wasn’t present or listening to them. Ruby never stopped guiding Max in all the ways of the world that Max had to learn. Max never took anything she said seriously. Never listened to a single word she said. This is a story dynamic which never ran out on me. It is a universal sister/brother routine in all countries in the world. That’s the reason the parents aren’t in the stories. None of the funny stuff would happy with Mom or Dad there. So where are they? In the next room, listening!

felix stands tallMy equally favorite character is Yoko. My next book is another Felix and Fiona melodrama friendship book from Candlewick. And next year, I have a book from Macmillan that introduces new characters, Kit and Kaboodle, twin pussycats and their little nemesis, Spinka, the mouse.

Why are you drawn to drawing animals to represent your children?

I draw animals better. People love animals, particularly young ones. That’s why we take stuffed animals too bed—not so much stuffed people!

Children depicted in illustration cannot do what animals can do on a page. Nor do they engender as much humor or sympathy unless drawn by Garth Williams! Kids are more serious to draw and elicit more reader questioning.

Can you tell me about your illustration style & process?

I wish I could answer this better. I draw. I’ve put in my 30,000 hours! I use mostly watercolor but have branched out to pastel. I copy. What I can’t draw well, I copy out of books. When I need inspiration, I look to the great illustrators and commercial artists of the early twentieth century. Trademarks, advertising, etc.  I encourage all my young artists in my workshops to concentrate, copy, and revise. Revise everything, because each time you do it again, the work gets better.

What do you love about writing and illustrating books for children?

It has endless possibilities. It’s what I do really well. It has been and continues to be a very successful career for me. I never tire of it because each book I do is alive. When they stop being alive, then I will stop. Not until then.

What were some books that made an impact on you as a child, and what do you hope your books do for children today?

We had very few books in the 1940s and 50s compared to today. Robert Lawson, Beatrix Potter, Garth Williams, who else? I don’t know. I copied them all. Lavishly illustrated fairy tales. We read them again and again. As a writer, I think that made me realize I better write books to be read over and over.

This is why I know for a fact, that although I had a golden childhood, safe from want, harm, and discord, that my great escape was books. No matter where we are on life’s scale, we need escape. Kids eat it up and they get it best from books. (worst, I have to add from video games, which are toxic and free of any moral compass or other good outcome.)

We need to read real books (not tablets) to our babies, starting very early in the first year of life.

The one great privilege that fortunate, advanced kids have over the less the fortunate is reading-aloud parents and regular visits to the library.

So, if we read to our children twenty minutes every day, they will listen to us, learn from their many books more than we can ever imagine.

When they reach kindergarten, no matter how underserved their childhoods, those children who are read to all the time will be the level equal of any privileged child in their school. They will be prepared to learn and advance in school. If you read every day aloud, you can almost guarantee your child’s bright future.

There are very recent live MRI scans of children’s brains while being read to. The critical development of the brain takes place in the first five years of life and apparently nothing stimulates it into permanent growth like read aloud stories in the parents’ voices. This treasure of childhood, reading aloud requires only a library card.

Books taught me to think in ways neither my parents not my teachers ever taught me. This is why it is so important that we encourage the next generation to be readers. We are in a national crisis in our country today. My two cents is this: We don’t need any more followers in America today. We need leaders. Real leaders are critical thinkers. They become critical thinkers from reading everything, things they agree with and things they don’t. Our kids need this cognitive training in order to become good citizens. Good citizens are independent. Good leaders understand the difference between facts/science and made up fairy tales that are narrow opinions and lead nowhere. If our country as we know and love it is to survive, the leaders of our next generation need generosity of spirit. While very young, the leaders of tomorrow have to learn to be patient, inclusive of those unlike them, kind to the less fortunate, courteous, curious, and able to dream a better world for all of us, not just for self.

Much of this comes from good parenting and educating. The rest comes from books.

Meet Rosemary Wells at Lemuria Books on Monday, October 2nd!

3:30 – 4:30 p.m. Story Time & Signing

5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Rosemary Wells Presentation on Literacy*

*Adults Only, Please RSVP at 601-366-7619

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Jamie sings the praises of ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’

Since I’ve been working at Lemuria, I’ve self-imposed a  rule of not writing about a book till I’ve finished it.

I am currently breaking that rule. Demolishing it. Splintering it without a shadow of hesitation or guilt.

sing unburied singJesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is lots of things:  brilliant, gorgeous, haunting, raw, tender, honest. Much like her National Book Award winner Salvage the Bones (a personal favorite of mine­), Sing takes place in an impoverished area of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Both books’ characters find themselves in a mix of relationships—familial, internal, romantic—yet Sing is in no way a cookie-cutter redux of SalvageSing shifts through various first-person narrators, and does so in a way that’s easy to follow.  If you’re having nightmarish flashbacks of Faulkner, don’t: these leaps between characters (mostly the 13-year-old, endearing Jojo and his difficult mother Leonie) aren’t pretentious displays of cleverness for its own sake. One of Ward’s gifts as a writer is a conspicuous wedge of human empathy. By getting into the mind of Jojo, we see his desire for toughness and tenderness, his need to be protector for his younger sister Kayla, and his longing to be a surrogate father for Kayla the way his own grandfather is for him. While Jojo lends us his frustration at his absent mother, the chapters from Leonie’s perspective help round her character. Her drug use isn’t entirely selfish—it’s her way of self-medicating the hurt of the violent death of her older brother. We see her doubting her own abilities as a mother, cursing herself, but trapped in her own self-doubt so as to prevent her from risking connection with her kids. Ward isn’t necessarily excusing Leonie’s behavior so much as she is explaining it, and showing us the complexity of the human heart in conflict with itself, to steal a phrase from Faulkner.

Ward’s fiction and nonfiction shows us the importance of personal, familial history, and how things from previous generations aren’t really all that previous. Her memoir Men We Reaped illustrates the struggle of generational poverty and quiet, systemic racism perfectly. The notion of inheritance manifests itself in Sing in a fascinating way: ghosts. I would never classify this novel as a fantasy/supernatural genre piece, nor do I think that is Ward’s intent. Leonie sees her dead brother, Given, but can’t hear him speak; Jojo meets his grandfather’s dead friend Richie, who tells him about their days in Parchman. The past isn’t past—another Faulkner phrase I’ll paraphrase—and the ghosts in Sing show us that.  The myriad difficulties of poverty, compounded with the burdens of racism, are hard to get away from.  They haunt their victims, float constantly over their shoulders, peek in-and-out of their vision, or sometimes present themselves in full view.

There’s probably more about the novel that this piece is missing. I’m halfway through the book, and as soon as I finish this post, I’ll open Sing, Unburied, Sing back up and skip sleep.  The book’s that good.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to it.

YA: It’s a Point of View

On March 31, 2015 Y.A. authors Claudia Gray and Moriah McStay will be at Lemuria Bookstore. Signing at 5 p.m., Reading at 5:30 p.m.

Y.A. is a publishing term that stands for Young Adult, and is a genre marketed to high school students. This genre of “children’s literature” borders between adolescence and adulthood, and often features themes that explore that transition in a young person’s life. Young Adult authors have written books that are fun to read, and some of the best Y.A. books are sharp and well-written, so that there is a far-reaching crowd beyond the age of 17 that enjoys reading Y.A. (looking at you, John Green).

I am delighted to bring the sharpest and wittiest pair of Y.A. authors from the South to Jackson.

Attend an exciting panel at Lemuria Books this Tuesday, featuring Claudia Gray and Moriah McStay. I interviewed Claudia back in November when “A Thousand Pieces of You” hit the shelves, but now she will be visiting Jackson and Lemuria, along with Memphis author Moriah McStay with her debut Y.A. novel, “Everything That Makes You.” I can’t sing their praises enough, and will divide and conquer each book.

 

“A Thousand Pieces of You”

by Claudia Gray

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“Orphan Black” meets “Cloud Atlas” in the first book of this epic dimension-bending trilogy about a girl who must chase her father’s killer through multiple dimensions. A little Dr. Who, a little “Wrinkle in Time” that takes place not only in different dimensions, but in different cities around the world. Gray began her writing career with the Evernight series: four YA novels set in an eerie gothic boarding school. The Evernight books received critical acclaim from national media, earned Gray the title of New York Times bestseller, and jumpstarted her career. She is also the author of the popular and highly praised Spellcaster series, the Firebird Trilogy, and the upcoming Star Wars novel, “Lost Stars.”

Though she has worked as a lawyer, journalist, disc jockey, and extremely poor waitress, she currently writes full time. She resides in New Orleans.

Fun facts: Claudia’s favorite childhood book was “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and if she could be any fictional character, she would be Hermione.

 

“Everything That Makes You”

by Moriah McStay

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What if your life had two trajectories that were almost the same, but with slight nuances. What if you never had that scar on your face? These are the questions “Everything That Makes You” asks. The reader follows the same girl in two stories. Moving between them feels like a game, or a great song—exciting, unpredictable, and so compelling. Because luck may determine our paths, but maybe it’s who we are that determines our luck. You will not be able to put this book down—all the more reason to come listen to McStay read this Tuesday!

Moriah says: “I love Mr. Darcy, guacamole, Hob Nobs, indie music, consignment stores, Harry Potter, and love stories.”

While these books may be for the young “adults” of the world, they are also for the young at heart! Visit Lemuria on Tuesday at 5 p.m. to hear Gray and McStay read from their books and explain their writing process.

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