Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review: By Nightfall

I love Michael Cunningham. I thought The Hours was genius, even enjoyed his rough first stab at writing with A Home at the End of the World, but my all-time favorite was Flesh and Blood.

Unfortunately, By Nightfall was missing the essential connection to the characters that made those books so great. Peter is vapid and self-obsessed. He’s a wealthy, white man living in New York City and finding his pampered life just slightly underwhelming. I found myself hoping some huge catastrophe would befall him - not because I need fiction to be dramatic, but because he is so extremely privileged it would take an enormous tragedy to bring him down to earth, make him relatable.

The book is narrated by Peter- sometimes in third person, sometimes in second or first. The reader is in his head as he talks to himself about every mundane and superficial thing under the sun. He’s an art dealer, frustrated because he has yet to find an artist with real genius, someone that truly moves him and gives meaning to his life. When his wife’s much younger brother comes to stay with them, Peter views him as a mixture of his wife when she was in her twenties and his brother who died in his twenties. This leads Peter to question his sexuality and consider running away from his marriage, his job, and his life in New York.

Of course, Peter isn’t really in love with his brother-in-law; he just wants to break free of his life.

The little twist at the end was almost redeeming. Almost. This might have worked as a short story, trimming out the three-page description of an urn, the play-by-play of a dull work day, his constant self-conscious musings. And maybe we could have gotten a single description of his brother-in-law’s profile instead of - I don’t know - twenty?

There were good things here. His description of his long marriage, the intense love coupled with a desire for escape from it, the depiction of their lovemaking toward the beginning of the book, the honesty with which he recognizes his wife getting older. For me, this relationship was the most interesting part of the book. There was just so much else to slog through.

I wonder about the advice they give to writers to “write what you know.” Has Cunningham reached such a high level of success that all he knows are rich people, living in New York City, discussing art and whining about their not quite fulfilling lives? I’m getting really tired of literary fiction that is a slight variation on this same theme.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Monsoon Season: Inspiration

My first novel was published last week and I wrote the following for a guest blog, Confessions of a Bookaholic. I wanted to share it here for anyone who missed it the first time.
The inspiration for this book, and for any of my books, is the characters. Monsoon Season is my first book and I probably spent a good year walking around thinking about it before I sat down and started really writing.
Before this book, I had written mostly short stories and it was quite daunting to imagine having enough to say to sustain a book-length project. The first part of that was feeling like I had a main character that was compelling enough to make a reader want to follow her for 200-some-odd pages. So I spent a lot of time thinking about Riley. Who is she? What makes her special? What’s her story?
Which brought me to the second part: the plot. For me, the story isn’t really about abuse. It’s about Riley and that’s just one of the obstacles in her path. She’s also negotiating her relationship with her parents- separating from them while finding a way to stay close. I think that’s a really tricky balance to strike when you’re in your early twenties, becoming your own person. She’s figuring that out with all the relationships in her life- how much to lean on people without being needy. I find that broader struggle in my own life, in this culture generally. Needing people is part of what makes us human and yet we so often fight it.
There is a feminist undercurrent in my writing and as much as I try not to hit readers over the head with THE MORAL OF THE STORY, I think the scene that best explains my intention in using an abuse element in Monsoon Season is the phone conversation between Riley and Jack. Riley’s suffering from a broken heart and trying to let Ben off the hook because what she’s experiencing doesn’t feel like what she’s been taught to look out for. And I think that’s the danger in those made-for-tv-movie/after-school-special depictions of abuse. It’s such a black-and-white stereotype that it seems different from real life. Real life is so much more complicated and filled with grey areas.
Ben is not evil. It would be so much easier to dismiss him that way and move on. But I want my reader to have compassion for him, to understand why Riley is still in love with him. If the reader is also hoping Riley will break free of him, that’s okay. I think those two ideas can exist simultaneously. That’s how life is and, hopefully, what makes the book resonate with readers.
More book reviews can be found here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monsoon Season: now in paperback!

So it has been a week since the e-book was published and I have received six 5-star reviews on my Amazon page.

I just got permission from my publisher to give out the link for the print copies I had made up. Now those of you who are still resistant to the technological advances that bring us e-readers have no excuse for not reading my book.

Here it is on paperback.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monsoon Season: Book Party!

The last few days have been a whirlwind of excitement.

On Wednesday, the shipment of print books for Monsoon Season arrived:
On Thursday, one of my best friends from home flew to Tucson from the East Coast. On Friday, we had a little book party to celebrate Monsoon Season's digital publication. There were snacks and games and my lovely friends even bullied me into doing a reading. On Saturday, I acted as tour guide, navigating the drive up Mt Lemmon and to other notable sites in Tucson, like the mall and the casino. On Sunday, we took Debbie to the airport in Phoenix (after some authentic Mexican for lunch) and I tortured the boyfriend with a trip to Ikea.

Busy, busy. The really good kind.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Monsoon Season: Some links

With publication of Monsoon Season days away, there have already been a few advance reviews.

Here's the review by Qualities of Wood author Mary Vensel White.

Here are reviews by book bloggers:

Here's a guest blog about my inspiration for Monsoon Season.

A guest blog about my journey to publication.

Order your copy here:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Truth vs. Fiction: Monsoon Season

Since my interview yesterday with Patrick Blackburn, I've thought a lot about my own use of the real world in the stories I write. Like he said, people often make assumptions about the author even when what they write claims to be fiction. Especially when the author admits some of it is true.

But there are different kinds of truth. Patrick gave an example of a situation that had happened, but at another time. I'd like to give an example of something that happened that had a different meaning for me than for the character I attribute it to.

This is an interaction that happened between my dad and me. Nearly exactly. But it didn't mean for us what I use it to mean for Riley- which is to illuminate her strained relationship with her father. When it happened in my life, I thought two things:
  1. That was hilarious
  2. That would be a great scene in the book I'm writing
Here it is:

  At Applebee’s the silence was unavoidable. My father looked past me at a muted basketball game. He had a gash across his right eyebrow; the blood had dried thick and almost black. A bruise disappeared beneath his navy blue crew neck, presumably where the seatbelt had caught him at the shoulder, keeping him in one piece.
  He looked at me across the table. It occurred to me it might have been the first time he’d looked right at me the entire day. And then I realized he wasn’t looking at me at all. I’d thought he was making eye contact when really he was peering at a spot somewhere between my eyes. He was squinting, frowning.
  ‘You’ve got a little something . . .’ he said, his voice trailing off. He touched the bridge of his nose to indicate where.
  ‘Oh,’ I said, startled, sitting up straighter. I dipped the corner of a paper napkin into my ice water. I dabbed at my nose where he had suggested.
  He shook his head. It hadn’t worked. I held up the silver napkin dispenser to look at my reflection. It took me a moment to see what he saw.
  It was a freckle. It had been there my whole life.
  I looked up at him. He was reading the menu.
                                                                -Monsoon Season

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Interview: Patrick Blackburn

Patrick Blackburn, author of Cupid Missed, was nice enough to agree to do a little blog interview. This is my first interview and his response was so interesting that I'm not going to edit it and splice it in with my questions. I'll just give you the whole chunk.

My questions:
OK, So I promise not to do the annoying thing where I ask which things in the book are fiction and which are from your actual life (ie: did you really have sex with a french girl on a train?) Nope, don't give me specifics. That's part of the beauty of it- not knowing.
But can you ballpark the percent? 50/50, 80/20? Is that an annoying question too? Are you fielding this kind of question a lot?
Can you speak to negotiating your relationship with the woman who serves as inspiration for Kate? How did she react? And what are your thoughts generally about the ethics of using real people in fiction?
Did you wrestle with the idea of becoming vulnerable by revealing so much of yourself in the book? Yes, it's fiction, but I imagine the people who know you really well can recognize you in it. And readers may make assumptions about you as if they know you. Does this make you uncomfortable?
 His answers:
Your questions are funny. You sound like, “Tell me. Wait! Don’t tell me! No Tell Me. No…” I’m often asked about what’s true, and my basic rule is that if you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’ve had a ton of people ask me about the sex scene on the train. It’s the second most asked-about scene (#1 is far and away the oxycontin scene). Since you have expressed an interest in not knowing, I will refrain from going further on this subject.

Having said that, it’s kind of difficult to ballpark the percent without some explanation, but that very explanation may tell you more than you want to hear. I’ll answer it this way: About 80% of “Cupid Missed” is true and happened to me. However, a portion of that 80% is a little misleading—some things happened to me at another time in my life and they were injected into the book to fit the timeline. I’ll give you an example that I don’t think violates your request of not knowing. The scene in Amsterdam when Matthew wanders into the sex show absolutely happened exactly as written—only ten years ago when I traveled to Holland with a friend of mine. And the friend was with me—I wasn’t alone.

I struggled with how to categorize “Cupid Missed” for a long time. I really wanted it to be a memoir, but I knew I wouldn’t be truthful if I did that. We all saw what happened to James Frey when he got caught, uh, stretching the truth. He taught every non-fiction writer a valuable lesson—either it is ALL true, or it’s fiction. Judges tell jurors that if a witness is caught in a lie, then it is acceptable (even expected) to consider all the testimony a lie. I feel the same way with a memoir. I thought about calling it a “fictionalized memoir,” but found myself explaining the term more than I wanted. Finally, I came to grips with the fact that I had a novel on my hands, It just had a lot of true stuff in it.

The question about vulnerability is a good one. I really struggled with that—both for me and for the “ex” in question. First, me: I’ve always been pretty open, but still had to give it some serious thought. Do I want the “true” events really known by everyone? Do I want the fictional scenes to be attributed to me? The latter is actually what I struggled with the most (Hmm…is that revealing too much?).

Readers are going to make assumptions about every writer who publishes a book. I’ll give you an example: Gillian Flynn’s new #1 bestseller, “Gone Girl,” is an extremely harsh and unsettling story of a marriage gone bad. The sex is graphic and brutal, the language biting and raw. I found myself looking at the author pic several times while reading and thinking, “This cute, innocent-looking, professional woman is writing this?” My first book (unpublished) is a mystery about someone who preys on children. I did a lot of research and uncovered a lot of dark stuff (some stuff I wish I hadn’t found). I worried a ton more about what people thought about me with that book than with “Cupid Missed,” which is kind of funny considering how much truth is my current book. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I think any time an author puts his or her work out there, they have to deal with the knowledge that people are going to make some assumptions about you that they may not have made had they not read your book.
 About the ex: Three years ago, she read an early draft and really hated it. I mean, she was pissed. She claimed she stopped reading after Chapter 10 (which to this day I find hard to believe. Come on, if someone wrote a story about you, could you stop reading?) Granted, it was a different book three years ago. I didn’t have the benefit of time, so some of the scenes were raw and, well, pretty mean. Only a handful of people know who the real Kate is, and they aren’t going to “out” her.
About a month before “Cupid Missed” was published, I contacted her and let her know it was coming out. She was fine with it and offered her congratulations. Time heals all. And I really think readers will see a little of themselves in both the main characters. We aren’t all victim, and we aren’t all antagonist, either. My goal was for the reader to understand what happened and why it impacted me the way that it did, but not to totally hate Kate. Sure, she made some mistakes in the relationships, but come on, who hasn’t?

The real “Kate” even joked that she would come to one of the book signings, which would make for a really interesting Q&A. I’m sure she won’t be there, but I think the comment shows that time has given her the space she needs to be okay with our story being out there.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Review: Cupid Missed

Cupid Missed 

Patrick Blackburn’s debut novel is clearly a work of semi-autobiographical fiction. It’s impossible to say how much of it is true- is this a memoir with the names changed? I am quite sure Blackburn had his heart broken in a very similar style. I’m not just intuiting this; I have actually spoken to the author. Maybe he’ll do an interview on this blog and we can explore the subject further. That blurry line between truth and fiction is endlessly fascinating to me and one that I play with in my own writing.

Cupid Missed is advertised as a story of a break-up told from the male perspective. The claim is that he didn’t see it coming. Actually, though, he did see it coming – but that doesn’t keep him from falling apart.

The book opens with Matthew trying to get anxiety medication from his doctor. It’s post-break-up and he’s a mess. The voice here is the best part of the story. It’s brutally honest and he speaks directly to the reader. You’re immediately on his side and feeling for him even with his sometimes irrational behavior. (He pretty much cyber stalks the new boyfriend.) You find yourself shaking your head at many of the things he does, but at the same time, you understand.

The first half is fast-paced and hilarious- in a dark humor kind of way. The second half is a bit slower. He goes traveling through Europe to clear his head and the focus is much more on traveling and almost reads as a guide-book, reviews of airlines, restaurants, books and bands included. This does mimic a shift in the narrator’s mind. His confessional, self-conscious style reminded me of Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

The final chapter written one year later seems to provide the kind of distance required for Matthew to make those important discoveries that can only come with time. Closure. Anyone who has gone through a difficult break-up can relate to this journey.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Print cover!

These are the print covers I made up on CreateSpace. Like the rest of the process, it wasn't exactly easy. I tried to just use the cover image from my publisher, but the site wouldn't accept it because the text was too close to the edges. So I got my publisher to send me an image without text and I added the text myself. The font on this is actually a little different from the e-book. I think it looks gorgeous. What do you think?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

CreateSpace: It Takes a Village

To format some paper copies of my book, I needed all kinds of help. I needed to use my boyfriend's laptop with a current version of Word. He also figured out how to do the page numbering. Patrick Blackburn was nice enough to convert my PDF file into Word, saving me hours of editing. I accessed Jason Mathew's facebook group to help me figure out the line spacing issue that had to do with switching off the orphan/widow option. Or switching it on? I already forget. And then there was google to help with things like embedding font, which I never got right- I just switched to a more common font.

So, the bottom line is that CreateSpace is not easy to figure out for your average, non-computer-geek, but it can be done. With help. And the upside is that it's a lot cheaper than other sites (I got five copies with shipping for under $25.) And the slowest shipping option took much less time than it said.

For me, it was worth the extra time and head-ache and I'm happy with the final product. I want to thank everyone who helped me!

(The above is a limited edition cover. I'll be posting the final cover when I get them in the mail.)