New Stephenie Meyer Book - Announced Yesterday
I know we are all sophisticated readers of literary masterpieces and could not possibly be interested in the new release of a YA vampire book, so I am only writing this post so you will not be out of the loop and so that you can let your daughters know what's going on.
Listen, I love a good story. Whether it's written by William Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling doesn't matter to me. I am not ashamed to admit I enjoyed the whole Harry Potter series and read them each the week they came out. And I'm not ashamed to say that I dig Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series either. (Though I have so much to read these days for work that I haven't finished them all yet).
So whether this info is for you - or someone you love, here's the deal:
The new book is an Eclipse novella based on one of the "new" vampires introduced in Eclipse. It's called The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner
. It comes out officially on June 5th and is available for pre-order most everywhere as of yesterday afternoon.
And here are some cool additional things to know:
- The book will be available for FREE online from noon on June 7th until July 5th at http://www.breetanner.com. Stephenie says it's her gift to her fans.
- $1 from each book sold goes to the American Red Cross to help in Haiti and Chile.
To read more about it, check out the author's website at http://www.StephenieMeyer.com
So - I know you don't really care. But just in case you do...
-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Love Books? Must Love Authors.
I'm planning to attend an author book launch party this week for the novel Fireworks over Toccoa
by debut author Jeffrey Stepakoff. Then I have another launch on my schedule for Susan Rebecca White's second novel A Soft Place to Land
in a couple of weeks. And then there was the event for my good friend author Wendy Wax and her book Magnolia Wednesdays
a couple of weeks ago. All this launching got me thinking.
Why aren't authors more like rock stars?
What I mean is we love, love, love their books. We have our favorites that we buy the minute they write something new. We invite these people into our bedrooms and let them see us in our pajamas and we laugh and cry over their work. And yet, sometimes I go to an author event and there are only a handful of people there. And I'm not talking only debut authors or lesser known authors. Some times even the big names have an event that is less than full. It's weird. And it's no fun for them.
So I say - it's our duty as readers to get out there and support our rock stars! I'm sure there a lots of reasons we don't go to these events. Too busy, gotta get the kids to soccer, need to watch Dancing with the Stars, etc. But I'm thinking the main reason we don't go is we don't even know these events are happening. Unfortunately there's not one resource that I know where you can go and subscribe to get updates. But here's a few things that might help.
- Get on the email list with BookTour - http://www.booktour.com/
- Get on the email list or regularly check in with your favorite publishers - they almost all have a page specific for author events. Here's a few to get you started: HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette
- Or find your favorite authors websites and Facebook pages and fan up! The authors I know go to a lot of trouble to have all this online stuff and would love to have you stop by for a visit and get on their list. Just for giggles, here are the three authors I mentioned above: Jeffrey Stepakoff, Susan Rebecca White and Wendy Wax.
- Go to IndieBound and find the independent bookseller nearest to you and then get on their email list.
- And of course, check your local big box stores. They have events listings too: Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.
The bottom line is if we want to keep getting great books from our favorite authors and the up and comers, we have to support them. So grab your book club girls, put on your leather pants, get out there, have a free glass of wine in a plastic cup and hold your Bic lighter high. Authors our are rock stars!
-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Giving Back is the New Black
In case you haven't noticed, giving back has become oh so trendy. Not that that's a bad thing. Quite the contrary. Anything that brings a good cause to the public's attention and gets people working for positive change is a good thing. No matter the inspiration. To that end I figured as committed readers you might be inspired by some wonderful organizations that are both giving the gift of literacy and giving back through reading! Check 'em out:United Through Reading
Our regular contributor Denise Neary brought this group to my attention and they were recently featured on NBC. They make it possible for military personnel serving away from home to read to their kids via videotaped sessions and Skype. It's great for the kids, the parents at home and the military personnel who get to connect with their families.R.E.A.D - Reading Education Assistance Dogs
I first learned about this group through Better World Books who recently awarded the group a $20,000 Readers' Choice Literacy Grant. The R.E.A.D. program improves kids' reading and communication skills by employing a powerful method: reading to a dog. But not just any dog. R.E.A.D. dogs are registered therapy animals who volunteer with their owner/handlers as a team, going to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children.Books for Africa
Books For Africa. A simple name for an organization with a simple mission. They collect, sort, ship, and distribute books to children in Africa. Their goal: to end the book famine in Africa. Books For Africa is the world’s largest shipper of donated books to the African continent. Since 1988, Books For Africa has shipped over 22 million high-quality text and library books to children and adults in 45 African countries. Millions more are needed.These are just a few of the thousands of amazing organizations out there making literacy their mission. Wanna make it yours? Contact any of these great organizations to see how you can help and look for more organizations to be highlighted here on our blog! You might even find a fun literacy focused group project for your book club!
--Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Are You a One Book (at at time) Woman?
Like most of us, guest blogger Jamie Layton is a busy multitasking super woman. In today's post she takes us through the labyrinth of her reading month. Normal or not? You decide.
O.M.G. This has literally been one of those months where I haven’t had any time to read! This week alone brought to my door a Faberge Egg social studies project, a middle school talent show (and attendant dress rehearsal), three high school baseball games (one tour of duty in the concession stand) and to end the week tonight, a membership recognition event (of which I am in charge) at the Club. Oh yea, did I mention book club on Wednesday that I faked my way through? Unfortunately Jean Baker’s Mary Todd Lincoln
lost me at hello. The first sixty pages read like the bible with ‘this Todd begat that Parker begat that Evans’ and so on and so forth. I can say that based on the rest of the group’s input, which was pretty mixed but generally positive, I will be trying to tackle it sometime in the future.
But as I look back over the month and wonder what I was reading I realize that the reason I probably can’t remember is because I was generally reading more than one thing at a time. I devoured Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping
and got lots of ideas for the shop; but at night I was still turning to Fateful Night
, the latest offering by Jerry Radford, my favorite self-published author. I’ve also been trying to learn more about the art of the humorous essay so have been juggling Nora Ephron and Erma Bombeck like a man with two prom dates in a sophomoric chick flick who’s got The Nine Rooms of Happiness
by Lucy Danziger waiting in the corner. Then there are the magazines- on a recent girl’s weekend I flipped from Vanity Fair
to Natural Health
. And I do mean flipped as in back and forth. Seems this is not the month for me to actually start and finish anything. (Except the Underhill book.)
So here’s my Friday morning question to all you Reading Group Guide blog readers- are you the type of reader who finds it possible to read more than one thing at a time? If so, how often do you find yourself doing this? Do you find that you have to be switching back and forth between genres, say a business casual by day, romance novel at night? Or can you have more than one mystery going at a time? Do you think this is a phenomenon more likely experienced during a season of change (like Spring) or is it more related to our own psyche? Do you think we are normal? Is this healthy reading? Your comments on this topic could make me feel better. Or at the very least, please pass the Ritalin.
-- Jamie Layton, Manager - Duck's Cottage Coffee & Bookshop
Bad Apple: Case in Point
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post asking if one bad apple can spoil the bunch and I got a ton of responses. Some were stories of success others of disaster. But each had something we can learn from.
Today's post is a cautionary tale from Troubled in Anytown, US. She writes:
One bad apple can ruin it for all. My book club has been in existence for 14 years. We are open to the public and meet at the library. We went for years and years without any problems but then last year we were graced with a new member who we’ll call C.
C was disruptive, a bigot, highly religious and aggressive. She went for months unnoticed by the group because whomever she sat next to was the subject of her rants, yet she never was loud enough for the rest of us to catch on.
One night she sat next to me and called me a Nazi. She also mentioned that Obama was a terrorist and a host of other things. After several of us witnessed her behavior first-hand, the group told her that her behavior would not be tolerated and asked her to leave. This was a mistake because she stalked us for 5 months or so. Eventually, it ended with a near, physical confrontation and the help of the Sheriff's Dept after she showed up at someone's house.
Although she sometimes still lurks in the parking lot, she doesn't make herself known. But sadly, our group fell apart after that experience. Some didn't agree with how she was handled, others felt that we put up with her too long. Some of us tried to start a second group but the dynamics were all wrong.
I think where we went wrong, was not having guidelines on how to handle situations like these. If we had had something to go to, perhaps we could have nipped the issue in the bud but we struggled for so long before anyone acted.
Anyway, such a long comment but your post
struck a chord with me. Our group is technically still in existence but all the core members have left and last month, our moderator didn't even show up. So sad.
-- Troubled, Anytown, US.Alas, I don't know if there is one right solution for a situation like Troubled found herself in, but maybe we, as a community, can pull together some guidelines to help.
As I suggested in the earlier post, perhaps a blanket comment directed at the entire group, such as "We need to make a point of avoiding personal attacks" or "Let's keep politics out of the discussion from here on out" or something along those lines might have been helpful. Perhaps then if C was reminded each time she spoke that she was breaking a rule she might have gotten frustrated and moved on. (Of course in this case C sounds a bit more like a crazy apple than a just plain bad apple, so who knows).
Do you have any suggestions for handling a bad apple? Please feel free to post them here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your book club compatriots need you!
-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Are You a Happy Hater?
Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to interview all kinds of authors; first for a local Atlanta area radio show, and now for the Better World Books Podcast
. Several of the authors, including Sarah Addison Allen
(who I interviewed yesterday) have said they are committed to writing happy endings and are willing to take whatever criticism comes their way for that.
My question is what the heck is so wrong with being happy?Mary Kay Andrews
is another author who has told me directly that she wants to write fun books that people will enjoy. She’s not looking to uncover the deepest, darkest corners of the human psyche or unmask the evil that lives in the world. In fact, just the opposite. She and Sarah Addison Allen are both actively engaged in giving people something to smile about.
And here’s the thing. Their books sell. Loads of people like to feel good. Imagine that. But somehow we’ve marginalized these books and don’t necessarily give them their literary due. Book clubs don’t choose them and readers feel they have to defend their choices.
I for one have read many books that you might consider “lighter” that had plenty of depth. There were still relationships to discuss and plot points to consider. And the fact that I was able to read the book quickly and didn’t feel like curling up in the fetal position when I got finished was a just a bonus.
So, I’m here to stand up for happy books. And books where our heroine gets her man. And books where the bad guy is caught and world is saved. I say read them proudly. And not just on the beach. Don’t be afraid to recommend them for book club either. Your group might actually appreciate a break from all the gloom and doom.
-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Book Club Makeover – Stages and Pages
Who doesn’t love a good transformation? I mean, in goes a plain little caterpillar out comes a beautiful butterfly. Who doesn’t wish for a fairy godmother to wave a magic wand and transform her from a frazzled cinder sweeper to a beautiful princess? Well book clubs of the world, you are in luck. The Reading Group Guides Book Club Makeover is here.
With a few tips and tricks and some false eyelashes you’ll have the book club you’ve always dreamed of. (Minus the false eyelashes). No more side conversations, no more bad books and all your appetizers will be magically fat free and still delicious. Well maybe not. But you get the idea. Now…(drum roll please), meet Stages and Pages…our first victim. Ahem. I mean recipient.BEFORESue Mullen of Stages and Pages in Portland, Maine says:
Our club is unique because until this year, we've allowed anyone to join. Our "open enrollment" policy has been a wonderful way to meet new folks. Unfortunately, we grew to 18 members so had to put a hold on new members. We really wanted to be "inclusive" not "exclusive". Generally, about 8 - 12 members attend most meetings. We each take turns hosting. This is our 6th year. Our youngest member is 41 and our oldest is 83. Most of us are 50 - 57.
We meet mostly on the last Thursday evening of the month at 7:00. Our meeting begins with a social until 7:30 at which time we officially begin our discussions. We always have lots of delicious appetizers at our meetings and of course lots of wine.
We read a variety of books. Each year we try to read a classic and a mix of fiction/nonfiction. The person who hosts the meeting chooses the book. We poll members for suggestions and then prior to the next meeting, I send an email with a short review of the suggested books. Some books which generated the best discussions are: THE POWER OF ONE, THE AWAKENING, THE CORRECTIONS, THE LIFE OF PI, EDGAR SAWTELLE, THE GLASS CASTLE, ANY BITTER THING, MONEY A MEMOIR, STOLEN HOURS and most recently, STILL ALICE.
What's best about our group is that we truly enjoy each other and laugh a lot. We also are good listeners and appreciate diverse opinions. Sometimes, we struggle with how to manage the meetings. We tried organizing the comments by going around the circle and letting everyone have a turn but sometimes, it felt as though it wasn't spontaneous enough. It's a challenge to control the side discussions too. We ring a tiny bell which is mostly effective.
We just need some new life injected into our group and some help ensuring that everyone is heard equitably. We're ready for "stage 2" of our group!AFTER
Now, imagine me as Carson Kressley or Stacy London and here we go.What is right:
What needs fixin’:
- Group Size: The size of the group is great. I love that you were initially an open group and ended up with a diverse group of women from an age perspective. (This is the equivalent of having great curves!). Having 8-12 attend regularly is a good number but consider opening up to new members again if regular attendees drops below 8.
- The books you are reading. Looks like a good mix of conversation rich books. So kudos on that. (That’s like having good skin).
- The Bell. The bell is like having a mullet or wearing mom jeans. It has to go. I’m not so worried about the side chatters feeling bad about being belled, but the beller must feel like a no-fun-nick and general purpose stick in the mud.
- Lots of Indians, Not Enough Chiefs: Now I know that sounds like backwards logic, but work with me here. It is a book CLUB, everyone should pitch in. And not just once every 8-12 months!
- Spread the responsibilities, every month. In addition to the monthly host AND book chooser, have 3 people with jobs every month.
Pick six months of books at one time. Plan an extra half hour to an hour at your next meeting and plan out the next six books. Make sure you have internet access at the meeting so you can research the books and read reviews as a group and just decide and make a calendar. This will take some of the monthly pressure off and get everyone more invested in the titles as well as letting them read ahead if they want to.
- The Host: She hosts. That means she cleans her house beforehand, and provides food and drink. (Ostensibly others bring food and drink as well, but she’ll make sure there is at least something there if everyone else’s dog eats their homework).
- The Moderator: She leads the talk. She can print and bring discussion questions (from ReadingGroupGuides.com of course) or just lead the group in her own way. If conversations get off track, she brings them back and she wraps it up when it feels done.
- The Enforcer: She may do nothing at all. She is like a bouncer at a club. She has the moderator’s back. If side conversations start and she sees the moderator is losing the group, she jumps in and helps get everyone back on track. She takes the place of the bell. But the important thing is that it is someone different every month so no one has to be the bad guy all the time.
There – that wasn’t so hard, was it? Your new short hair makes you look sophisticated, and I hope these new tips will give your group some new energy.If you’d like your book club to look younger and thinner – or if you’d just like an outside eye and some tips on making things better, email me at email@example.com. You never know – you could be our next butterfly.
-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Community Reads: Saratoga Springs, NY
Some say the book is going the way of the dinosaur. Not true. While the publishing world is evolving with new delivery methods and struggles over price, you all just keep on reading. You probably started out thinking of reading as something you did alone in your cave, but if you're anything like me you'd finish a book and have a million things to say. So, out of the cave we came and the evolution of the book club began. We gathered around the fire (with our Cabernet), sent the men (except the most highly evolved) off to hunt - or play poker, and we talked about our books. Well now, we evolve again. Cities, towns and communities around the world are starting reading programs designed to get everyone involved. Join ReadingGroupGuides.com as we feature some of these amazing programs.
In today's post Saratoga Reads! board chair Tabitha Orthwein answers some questions about the program and what works best for them.Saratoga Reads!
began as a community outreach project from Skidmore College
. The program began as a Skidmore College-Saratoga Collaboration with the start-up resources provided largely by the college. As the program grew, the organization gained independent not-for-profit 501(c)3 status with Skidmore remaining a premier sponsor.1 - How do you select the book?
Saratoga Reads! is committed to having the community select the book each year. We begin the process by inviting community members to nominate books via a form that we post on our website during a set period or time which has typically been June-August.
As nominations are received the organizations Book Selection Coordinator works with a group of some 30-40 volunteers who serve as readers on the Selection Advisory Group. The readers provide a summary and recommendation for each book to determine a list of books highly recommended by the committee for our community read.
The group then convenes to whittle the list to 6 or fewer books that comprise the Saratoga Reads! ballot. Community members are then invited to cast their vote at a number of locations including our web site, the Saratoga Springs Public Library, Skidmore College, our local Borders and Barnes and Noble stores, Saratoga Springs High School and a few smaller venues. The voting period is typically 3-4 weeks long (this year in October) and we announce the winning title in November. For a bit more info see http://www.saratogareads.org/BookSelection.cfm
We also select junior companion titles. This is done by a Junior Advisory Group who meets and communicates via email to form a list of companion titles for readers of all ages. The full list is available at http://www.saratogareads.org/juniorbooks.cfm
.2 - What other activities aside from the author coming to talk are part of your program?
In some years we have been fortunate enough to have the author join us for a talk and book signing (Gregory Maguire, Sandra Cisneros, Sara Gruen have joined us. And, Khaled Hosseini via an off-site taped interview) and this is of course a highlight of the year.
However, the success of the year does not depend upon an author event. The breadth and depth of programming provided by Saratoga Reads!
and partner organizations is extraordinary. For a thorough look at this year's celebration of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie
Society I invite you to scroll through our online events calendar
.3 - How do you let people know about the overall program and individual activities?
Saratoga Reads! works very hard to let people know about the program and activities. We have a PR Coordinator on the executive board who coordinates all efforts of an action board committee consisting of a Print Promotions Action Chair, Electronic Promotion Action Chair, Media Action Chair and Web Action Chair. We have an active web site. We maintain an email list and send a monthly e-letter and event announcements. We create large scale posters and bookmarks announcing the winning book. We create flyers for events. And, we produce media releases for each part of the process and grouping of events. We distribute relevant information through the school system.4 - What ideas have worked really well for you?
Cultivating community partner organizations is critical to the success of a community reads program.5 - What hasn't worked?
It's all trial and error! We have had six successful community reads and each book has it's successes and difficulties. Just go with it!6 - What advice would you give to someone trying to start a campus or community reading program?
There are many community reading programs out there now. My advice would be to talk to contacts from programs in communities that are similar to yours and take it from there. Set goals, start small, and have fun!Need more advice on community reads? Stay tuned as we continue to feature some great programs right here on our blog. Have a program in your town? Want to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
--Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Book Clubs in the News
This month's Book Clubs News is all about pairings: books and wine, books and flowers, books and TV, books and business. These are a few of my favorite things. Apparently books are the new cheese. They make everything taste better and they go great with a bold Cabernet.TriCityHerald.com: Winery Ships Book Club Picks With Wine
A brilliant (in my humble opinion) Washington state winery has combined two of my favorite things; books and wine. They have a new wine and book club where members can have their books shipped with their wine. You gotta love it.PatriotLedger.com: Weymouth Garden Club members pair flowers with favorite books
Book themed flower arrangements draw crowds to the library. The third annual Books in Bloom celebration includes floral interpretations of Jimmy Buffett’s Tales of Margaritaville , The Red Hat Club by Haywood Smith and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares just to name a few.Voxy.co.nz: Books on TV in New Zealand
The UK has a show called The TV Book Club, and now New Zealand has what can almost be described as a book variety show. It’s called The Good Word and features visits with book clubs, reviews and more. I’m thinking the US needs to get on the band wagon…and I’m available to host. Just sayin’.MediaBistro.com: Book Club Meets the Business Conference
HarperStudio is bringing authors together for a short conference on business models. Attendees will get a signed copy of each author’s book and the opportunity to discuss ideas with each other and the authors themselves. It’s basically a big ole book club for people in suits. If you're pairing books with something unique I'd love to hear about it. Email me at email@example.com Unless it's weird. Then keep it to yourself.
--Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Is Reading a Right?
Guest blogger Denise Neary is fast becoming our "finder of cool and interesting things about books". Today is no exception. Check out Denise's review of the famous independent bookstore Politics and Prose and the cool award they are getting!Have you ever thought of your reading habit as an expression of your civil liberties?
Tonight, Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade, the founders of Politics and Prose
bookstore in Washington DC will receive the Henry Edgerton Civil Liberties Special Recognition Award “for uniquely demonstrating how the freedoms of speech and press contribute to the public good.” The award will be given by the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area.Politics and Prose
is one of the coolest places on earth. It is a bookstore that makes you feel smarter just for knowing about it. It is a gem for many reasons----an amazing selection of books, a smart and helpful staff, and a stunning events list high among them for me. And I know people make fun of coffee shops in bookstores---but I love Modern Times Coffeehouse, and always wonder if the intense people tapping on their keyboards there are actually extras playing the part of “breakthrough novelists.”
It is the rare night when an author isn’t featured at Politics and Prose. And while they get everyone to speak, it is a decidedly unglamorous venue. The speaker usually has a comfortable chair they sit in only for the introduction, an old wooden podium and a lone microphone, and a table for signing after the readings. The audience sits on folding metal chairs (and the audience members, like good grade school children, are required to fold them back up and return them at the end of the program).
Politics, literature, history, humor, sports----if you can read or write about it, you can find it featured at Politics and Prose.
On the Politics and Prose website, Cohen and Meade say, “We are flattered and appreciative of this distinctive recognition of Politics and Prose’s unique contribution to our city’s intellectual life.” Talk about an understatement.
Your local bookstore, helping to protect the values we hold most dear! Now, that is an award to cherish.
--Denise Neary, Contributor
When Irish Writers are Writing...
Yes - I had to do it. Go Irish themed for St. Patty's Day! But instead of party hats and green beer I thought I'd do a shout out to some great contemporary female Irish writers. Why female you ask?
1 - Because the boys are too buys with the green beer.
and 2 - Because Oprah's list
was mostly men and I felt like doing the opposite of what she did.
So, in no particular order, here are some Irish authors to take note of OR revisit if it's been awhile:Maeve Binchy
is the author of numerous best-selling books, including Whitethorn Woods, Nights of Rain and Stars, Quentins, Scarlet Feather, Circle of Friends,
and Tara Road
, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. I must admit I have never read her, but I did love the movie of Circle of Friends
with Minnie Driver and Chris O'Donnell. Isn't he just dreamy?Nuala O'Faolain
burst upon the literary scene in 1998 with Are You Somebody?
, a fiercely candid account of her youth and adulthood as an Irish woman that became a bestseller around the world and launched a new life for its author. Almost There
is her later book and begins at that moment when O'Faolain's life began to change and it both tells the story of a life in subtle, radical, and, above all, unforeseen renewal, and meditates on that story. It is on one level a tale of good fortune chasing out bad--of an accidental harvest of happiness. But it is also a provocative examination of one woman's experience of "the crucible of middle age"--a time of life that faces in two directions, forging the shape of the years to come, and clarifying and solidifying relationships with, friends and lovers (past and present), family and self.Marian Keyes
is one of the most successful Irish novelists of all time (at least that's what her website says!). Her first book Watermelon was published in 1995 and I believe I read it (and loved it) that same year. Her other titles include: Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married (1996) Rachel's Holiday, Last Chance Saloon, Sushi for Beginners
and The Brightest Star in the Sky.Cecelia Ahern
is most famous for her novel P.S. I Love You
which was made into a movie with Hilary Swank. She is currently one of the writers on the ABC Show Samantha Who?
which I think is cool and therefore we should all read her. (Is that logic working for you? If not have another green beer and then it will start making sense!)
And here's a few more to round out the list!
Happy St. Patty's Day - and be sure not Read and Drive!
--Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Does One Bad Apple Spoil the Bunch?
In the last several months, since I started managing this lovely blog, I've had lots of great emails from all different kinds of book clubs; some large, some small, some where people are the same age and have similar backgrounds and some where everyone is very different. Then there are some that are open to new members or to the public and some that are not. And this got me thinking...
If you are open to new members or to the public you might get a bad apple or two.
What if you get someone who just doesn't fit?
I used to own an independent bookstore/coffee shop in the Atlanta area and we had several book clubs that were open to the public. I remember once a woman showed up carrying a library book and a cup of Starbucks and I thought...."Really??" I mean I didn't mind if someone didn't buy the book from me - but really? The blatant coffee cup from somewhere else? Mind you I was also giving away free wine and goodies! But I digress. This woman then proceeded to monopolize the conversation, interrupt people and be generally pretty loud and fairly negative. Of course as the store owner I had to remain diplomatic, but that didn't stop me from an eye roll or two shared with some of my regulars.
Luckily in our case, the woman in question must have realized she wasn't a fit because she didn't come back. But what do you do if your someone keeps coming back and keeps being annoying. And even worse, what if she's a friend of your friend?
I saw one solution in action at a local senior center where I was invited to come to lead one of their book club discussions. The organizer warned me in advance about "Betty" who they all seemed to feel was out of control. And in fact Betty was kind of a nutter. Her ideas were a little out of left field and she felt the need to play devil's advocate on every point. The other ladies handled her by literally ignoring what she said and continuing where the conversation had left off before she spoke. It was hilarious. With a capital "H". They weren't rude. They let her speak and then they basically just pooh-poohed her and went on.
It was kind of awesome and more importantly it worked. The other ladies had a lovely time, and really I think Betty was none the wiser.
Another solution for the bad apple (at least for me) is to have that second glass of wine. Things tend to bother me a lot less after that second glass. But that idea surely won't work for everyone.
Obviously another solution would be find some way to diplomatically ask the person to modify their behavior. I think the only way to pull that off is to ask everyone to stop doing something specific without naming names. Make sense? Of course your bad apple may not get the hint but maybe she will. Fingers crossed.
Have you had any experiences with bad book club apples? Have a unique solution? I'd love to hear it! Feel free to comment here - or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
--Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Beware the Ides of March
In today's guest post Ingrid Jendrzejewski gives us an update on the 38 Plays in 38 Days Project and all the fun derivations people have come up with.
When I put the call out to see if there was anyone interested in reading all of Shakespeare's 38 plays in 38 days
, I had no idea what kind of response I'd get. I thought that if I could find even one person who was interested in joining in, I'd consider myself lucky indeed.
The site went live in mid-February. Within less than two weeks, around 50 people had expressed their interest on the website, and even more had signed up to the Facebook group. Ages ranged from pre-teen to retirement age and I heard from people in at least eight different
I was astounded. After all, even though the project only lasts a little over five weeks, committing to reading a play a day is nothing to sneeze at!
Reading officially started on March 1st. Since then, the website has been getting over 100 unique visitors a day and there are roughly a dozen of us who communicate regularly through the forum, on Facebook or by e-mail. We have amongst our number a professional actress, a
literature major, a fellow on paternity leave, a special-effects designer, a sculptor, a writer and someone with "the most boring daytime job one could imagine". Several of these people blog
regularly about the plays, sharing opinions, thoughts, background, and tales of professional performance experience. In addition, I hear from someone completely new almost every day.
I'm not surprised that there are some quiet readers out there. If I weren't organising this, I may very well be one of them. For me, one of the most difficult parts of this project is balancing the actual reading with all the other things that need to be done. I seriously underestimated the time I'd need to set aside for administrative tasks like dealing with e-mails, updating the website and keeping the forum free from dodgy spammers. I am just about managing to get the plays
read, but I'm behind on writing, eating, sleeping, laundry and I'm sure my friends think I've been swallowed by the earth.
So, is it worth the madness? Absolutely.
Because we're reading the comedies and tragedies in roughly the order in which they were written, even us non-Shakespeare scholars have been able to catch a glimpse of how Shakespeare develops as a writer. Also, reading the plays in such close succession means that each new play is read with the previous plays fresh in mind. Connections between them leap off the page that never would have occurred to me had there been more of a gap between readings. Finally and foremost, I am getting so much out of reading other people's comments and blogs.
Being part of a diverse community of readers keeps the motivation high and I learn so much more had I been reading on my own.
By the end of the Ides of March ? 15 days into this whirlwind tour of Shakespeare's plays ? we'll have read roughly 340,000 words of Shakespeare. Keeping up is challenging, but not impossible. I'm finding that reading Shakespeare is a skill; it gets easier with
practice. After the first few days, one falls into a rhythm of reading. Personally, I've discovered that at the end of a long day, it is infinitely easier to return to a play than it is to start it. I
now make it a policy to read a bit in the morning ? even if it is just a prologue or one short scene.
Since the project started, some people contacted me to let me know that, even though they aren't going to read all 38 plays, they have made up their own Shakespeare challenges. For example, a commuter is listening to recordings of the plays on the way to work, one new
parent is watching each play on DVD, a couple people have committed to reading all the plays they haven't yet read and one young person is going to the theatre to see a Shakespeare play for the very first time.
I'm delighted by these alternative takes on the project and, of course, anyone and everyone who is interested in reading, watching, listening to or talking about Shakespeare is more than welcome to join in fun and conversation over the upcoming weeks.
Discussing ALIAS GRACE
Heather Johnson's book club recently discussed ALIAS GRACE by Margaret Atwood. It was a bit of the departure for the Storie Delle Sorelle book club, but one that worked. And the comfort food they shared sounds yummy to boot. Check it out. This one may be a good fit for your group!
My book club, Storie delle Sorelle, met in late February to discuss ALIAS GRACE
, by Margaret Atwood. We’ve read both fiction and non-fiction before but this was our first fictionalized story based on actual events. None of us were sure what to expect. A novel about young maid who helps murderer her employers? In the 1800s? In the wilds of Canada? And she spends most of her life in prison? What, exactly, were we getting ourselves into?
To make things fun, our hostess suggested that we each bring a food that would make us feel better if we were in prison. Offerings included potato soup, cheesy bread, sausage/spinach bread, chocolate chip cookie pie, ice cream, and wine. Yeah, I’d say that would make for a nice prison meal!
We shouldn’t have worried about the book though – most of us loved it. Atwood was able to realistically speak in the voice of a 19th century woman, fully immersing us in the time period in a way that many authors cannot. The details of daily life were both fascinating and appalling to our modern sensibilities and they always felt authentic.
The story wasn’t really about the details of the murders themselves, as we worried it would be. Rather it was about the circumstances that allowed the murders to happen: class lines, gender issues, sexual repression, poverty. We appreciated the ways these problems were woven into the story rather than being presented as an overt lesson to the reader.
Toward the end of the meeting we discussed the few known facts about the real Grace Marks, the “murdering maid” of the story, and tried to figure out what might really have happened. Needless to say we didn’t come to any solid conclusions.
This book definitely gave my club a lot to talk about. The six of us really enjoyed reading it, much to our surprise. We found out later that two members who couldn’t make it to the meeting actually did not like the book. We’d have loved to have them there to compare notes with, but maybe at our next meeting we can get them to share their reasons ….
Next time we’ll be discussing THE HELP
, by Kathryn Stockett, so stay tuned!
--Heather Johnson, Storie Delle Sorelle Book Club
Super Fab Book Club Names – March Edition
“Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable.”
-- W. H. Auden
Back by popular demand – It’s the Super Fab blog post on Super Fab Book Club Names. Thanks once again to all who emailed, facebooked (is that officially a word now?) and commented on the blog. Here is the round of great names and great groups for March:Ladies of the Night - Junction City, Kansas
Cheryl Jorgensen says: Ladies of the Night is, of course, a group of ladies that meets once a month at night (at the library), and have been doing so since 2001. We read books about, by, and for women, and frequently look beyond the bestseller lists for thought provoking literature. We are a very enthusiastic group of eighteen. Not one of us is afraid to voice an opinion, and we love reading and discussing books that we probably would not even pick up if we were not in this group.Read Between the Wines – Northern Suburbs of Chicago, Illinois
Kristen Eastman says: We are a group of 10 women from all walks of life and 4 different countries! (U. S., Mexico, Germany, and Sweden!) We have been meeting monthly for 7 years and read a variety of wonderful books. We meet on a weekend evening and share dinner. Occasionally, we venture to a restaurant or Ravinia.The Novel Seeker's - Eureka, Missouri
Alene wrote in about her book club. She says: I have been in a book club for 6 years now and we call ourselves The Novel Seeker's . We started out with about 6 members but now we boast a whopping 15. We all go to the same church so we are a Christian based book club but the novels we read don't necessarily have to be Christian. We decided to call ourselves the Novels Seeker's because as Christian we should always be seekers of Jesus.
J.R. Monahan of Cherry Hill, NJ is in two book clubs and insisted on naming them – so she could keep it all straight. Both are great! Go J.R.Women of Words + Wine
J.R. says “This group has been meeting monthly for about ten years. 'Words' could be used to describe either the book or our conversations; 'wine' is self-explanatory, except that we had a rather lengthy discussion on how to spell it: 'wine' or 'whine!' We have consistently had about 15 members and meet at different member's home each month. While we do eventually discuss the book, considerable time is spent chatting, laughing and drinking wine! “Barclay Book Bags
J.R. explains: This group was created exactly three years ago with four former members of Women of Words + Wine. We all live in a neighborhood called "Barclay," thus the first part of the name. As for the second part, there is bit of a play on the word 'bag' in the sense that it could describing an actual book bag or referring to the members as “old bags!” Everyone loved the name when I presented it, so it got the nod! We meet on Fridays and routinely stay up way past our collective bedtimes!
Look for still more interesting, thought provoking and just plain entertaining names next month. Got a great name? Want a starring role in the next Super Fab Names post? Email me at: email@example.com.
--Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
ReadingGroupGuides.com Facebook Roundup - March 2010
We now have more than 1,800 fans! Thanks to all who have joined and referred us! Here are some recent postings on our Facebook page...The Book Doctor
will see you now! Follow the instructions in the piece to get your shelf or pile critiqued.The Tournament of Books
has launched, now entering its 6th year. March Madness isn't just for basketball!The Indie Choice Awards
were recently announced, and the nominees are...
Penguin recently commissioned some illustrators and tattoo artists to re-design the covers to some enduring titles, and here
are the results.The Guardian
offers its Top 10 Most Unreliable Narrators
Monika Fagerholm: THE AMERICAN GIRL
Monika Fagerholm, today's guest blogger and the author of The American Girl talks about how to read her new book. Is it a simple crime story? Yes and no. It is a human story and Monika explains why you shouldn't have to look for hidden meaning as much just experiencing the book.The American Girl
centers around an unsolved crime. A young girl from America, Eddie de Wire, drowns under mysterious circumstances in a lake in the countryside outside a big city; it is 1969, somewhere in the southern part of Finland. Even though the setting and the landscapes are real, it was important for me not to be specific with names and places, but to create a world of its own. I would like the reader to feel that the place, the landscapes and the events are his or her own. This is not a story about what happened in Finland some years ago, nor is it a traditional whodunit crime story. It’s about the universality that this could happen anywhere, that this might be happening to you, in your own landscape inside of you. Some kind of archaic thing; the places, the characters in the novel are figures from inside ourselves.
As a writer I detest mystification for mystification’s sake: I believe in absolute simplicity and in the concrete. Things, persons, events are speaking their own language, have their own rhythms, their own way of talking and talking to us. There is no narrator who moves us forward and gives us explanations, telling us what to think and how to feel about things. I wanted the experience to be somehow like going into the woods, taking a path and moving ahead. It is not strange nor difficult, in fact, difficulties may arise if you think too much or if you expect certain things—as we often do in an ordinary crime story. Trust me, things will open up along the way, just jump in. In the course of the story we will eventually learn more about what really happened to Eddie. We will get an answer to the question: Who Did It?
So in this way The American Girl
can be read as crime fiction. But the main focus of the story does not lie in the solving of a crime, but what crime and death invoke in us, as human beings. How we are moved by it, changed by it, and also, how a whole place, a little rural setting on the outskirts of a big city, is forever transformed by it.
When I started writing this novel (the first book of a two-novel series), I had this idea that I wanted to write about and investigate how a crime (an unsolved, violent crime) turns into a story, into stories, clusters of stories, and finally, in the course of time, becomes a myth. And about the tremendous power of myths, which are both beautiful and frightening since myths also have a time span of their own: mythical time is a lot about the same things happening over and over again, patterns repeating themselves, playing the same tunes over and over (this is also a characteristic of the musicality in the text, in the form of different melodies, old folk songs and references to pop songs). The whole notion of time as something moving forward in a linear, rational way might be threatened by myths. As, of course, consequently is the whole concept of truth—myths can effectively blur the truth, make truth impossible to reach. How myth grows stronger than truth, becoming more real than reality, is a question I had in mind when I started writing these books. These questions are relevant for the times we are living in today with virtual realities, with news turning into storytelling (based on old mythical patterns).
The story is set mainly in the seventies. Music also plays a crucial role in the book. There are different tones in the text, there are also a lot of invented words, invented slang and such, and references to real music, old folk songs, and pop songs. Although the latter are not there to invoke nostalgia and place the narrative in a particular context. The reader will note twists in the lines and wrong interpretations of certain well-known songs and musicians (there are also invented songs and musicians). For instance, the lyrics are not cited correctly, some phrases keep changing, certain melodies keep returning, etc. These twists have a certain meaning. Because this is the way we take in certain songs, make them ours, brace them to our hearts, our bodies. This the way music lives in us: we put something personal in. To have music inside of you, to live with music, it’s not about citing something correctly. And in this same way, these girls (and the other characters in the book) also take the destiny of the American girl into themselves. And the stories that emerge from that, other stories, other destinies, emerge and create new stories, new meanings.
After all of this, how should one read The American Girl
? Go into it, as if you were going into a landscape. There are no hidden meanings, everything is there, in the lines.
-- Monika Fagerholm, Author
S.J. Parris: HERESY
In today's guest post, S.J. Parris, the author of Heresy talks about where in history she found her main character, how she was able to re-create him by adding her imagination to the facts and why she has grown so attached.
Whenever I’ve been involved in book groups, I’ve noticed that the books we’ve had the most fun discussing have been those that divided people’s opinions, or at least worked up a bit of debate. It’s great if everyone’s enjoyed a book (and that’s certainly the author’s hope!) but as a reader it’s always livelier if you find yourself defending a character or incident against someone else’s very different interpretation of it.
As an author, you grow very close to your characters over the course of writing a book, and naturally you hope that your readers will grow to share some of that affection; it’s hard to take much interest in the outcome of a story if you haven’t grown to care about the protagonists. I was fortunate enough to find a great character in the history books, which made my job much easier: all I had to do was reinvent him as a hero that modern readers would find sympathetic.
I first encountered Giordano Bruno, the central character of my novel Heresy
, when I was studying the Tudor age at university. I thought at the time what a fantastic character he would make for a novel, given his rich and varied life: Bruno was a Dominican friar whose appetite for unorthodox ideas meant he had to flee his monastery and become a fugitive from the Roman Inquisition. His own writings and contemporary accounts of him suggest he was witty, charismatic, stubborn and often difficult, but that everyone wanted him at their dinner table for his brilliant conversation and daring ideas. He must have been quite some talker; in five years he went from fugitive heretic to personal philosopher to the king of France. There is some speculation among historians that while he lived in England, he worked as a spy for Elizabeth I’s government, and this theory gave me the springboard I needed to create a series of stories around him.
The real-life Bruno seemed to have equal talent for making powerful friends and enemies, and I wanted my character to reflect this. But I also wanted to show his more reflective side and give a glimpse into how vulnerable he feels at times. Bruno lives in exile, unable to return to his own country because his original and unusual ideas (he believed that the universe was infinite, and dabbled in ancient Egyptian magic) would earn him a death sentence from the Holy Office. He is desperately ambitious for his ideas, but as a foreigner, without a family name, land or title of his own, his very existence is a precarious balance, always dependent on his wit and personality to attract a powerful patron who will support and protect him.
Being a spy also necessarily presents Bruno with a moral dilemma: for his own survival, and indeed the good of the Queen and the Protestant faith, he is obliged to deceive the people around him in order to find out what he needs to know. But his own conscience struggles with this when it comes to betraying the trust of individuals. Ruthlessness does not come easily to him, since he knows better than anyone that matters of faith are never black and white.
Another consequence of Bruno’s precarious status is the impossibility of forming lasting relationships with women. Almost nothing is known of the real Bruno’s personal relationships, so I was free to invent anything I wanted. Sophia Underhill is a fictional creation, though at the time the story is set, Oxford did appoint its first married head of a college, so it’s not entirely impossible for the Rector to be living there with his family. In Elizabethan times, very few women were educated to a high degree, and then only the daughters of the nobility—universities were strictly for the boys—so I have stretched the imagination a little in making Sophia as well-read as she is. But I could not imagine Bruno really falling for any woman who was not his equal in intelligence, and Sophia presents him with another dilemma—he knows that he has no means to marry her, so by rights he should not even attempt to pursue any relationship with her.
Usually when I finish a book I feel rather sad to leave behind characters I have spent most of my time with for the best part of a year, so the really great thing about writing a series of novels is that I don’t have to say goodbye to Bruno just yet. I felt I’d grown to know him better over the course of Heresy, and I’m looking forward to taking him through his next adventure. I hope readers will feel the same.
--S.J.Parris - www.heresybook.com
To finish the book or not to finish the book...
That is the question.
A couple of weeks we ran a series on how Starting the Discussion
, about how groups break the ice and get their conversations going. It occurred to me that I always start the same way…by asking if everyone finished the book.
Thanks to all of your emails and comments, I have learned that some of you require that everyone in the group finishes the book. Personally, I have never tried to enforce that rule and am not entirely sure I’d want to. Perhaps I’m too much of softy – or perhaps there is something bigger going on here.
I certainly understand that to truly discuss a book, you have to read the whole thing. But after some thorough soul searching, here are a couple of reasons I think its okay not to.
- I think maybe I’m afraid that with a You-Must-Finish rule, book club might feel less fun and more like homework.
- The reasons people did not finish the book can be enlightening. I mean, sometimes it’s just too much laundry, but sometimes it means we’re picking the wrong books.
But here is the most important reason of all for me. Up until some time in my mid-thirties I would not put a book down until I finished it. I would MAKE myself finish no matter how bored or unmotivated I was. I would continue to buy books and my stack would grow, but I would not start a new book until I had finished the old one. Then one day a light came on. Music played, birds sang, chocolate was guilt free and I suddenly realized I did NOT have to finish that damn book. I could…wait for it….not finish. I could actually give myself permission to say, “You know what – that book is not for me”. I felt like I was finally a grown up.
So – as much as I love and respect my book club and as much as I want to respect and honor the women (and men) that show up every month, sometimes I have to put myself first. Sometimes the book just isn’t for me…and sometimes I just really, really need to have clean clothes.
-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor
Greetings from the Pulpwood Queen!
A couple of weeks ago I did some posts on Super Fab Book Club Names and how they came to be. I asked all of you to share your names and stories and I got (and continue to get) some great responses. I even got a response from The Pulpwood Queen herself. In today's post, Kathy shares the origins of The Pulpwood Queens - both the group and the name. Look for more posts of super fab book club names coming soon - we've got so many, we may even make it a regular feature!
I thought I would share how I came up with the name for our book club that is now 266 chapters strong and growing in leaps and bounds, The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs. We are now the largest international “meeting and discussing” book club in the world. I always wanted to be in a book club so when the local book club invited me to attend their meeting, I could hardly wait. Towards the end of the meeting, I blurted out how happy and excited I was to join their book club when the hostess took me by the arm and dragged me out to the galley of her plantation home. Whispering, she said,”I don’t know how to tell you this Kathy, but we invited you as guest, not a member to our book club. There are only eight members in our book club so unless somebody dies or moves away that’s it!”
As I drove home humiliated, I thought if there is ever going to be a book club that I would want to be a part of, I was going to have to start it. So that’s what I did. In March of 2000, I launched the charter chapter. I named the book club, The Pulpwood Queens of East Texas as pulpwood is the industry of the area and pulpwood is used to make paper, paper is used to make books. But we would not be reading ‘pulp” fiction, we would read good books by authors who were yet undiscovered so we could help them get discovered in a big way. We would be an inclusive book club, rather than an exclusive. Shoot, anyone can be in my book club, even men, thus the Timber Guys of which my husband came up with the name. Our motto is “where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the RULE!” The Timber Guys motto is “got wood”. You get the picture. We may not take ourselves very seriously donning our tiaras to be “beauty within” queens, wearing bling and leopard print, but we do take reading great books very serious.
We are not you mama’s book club, we are the reading future as we figured out how to make reading the #1 choice for entertainment! We make reading BIG TIME FUN! Won’t you all join this book-loving party?
Thanks for all your website does to promote literacy!
Tiara wearing and Book sharing,
Kathy L. Patrick
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubswww.beautyandthebook.comwww.pulpwoodqueen.com
Denise Neary, one of our regular contributors, recently got in touch with me to ask if I had heard of the Significant Objects project. I hadn't. But I was so glad she brought it to my attention. What a cool thing for readers to know about and participate in. In today's post, Denise explains the project and it's goal of helping Girls Write Now.
Have you heard about the Significant Objects project? http://significantobjects.com/
A great example of creative people using their creativity to do good work.
Significant Objects purchases items from thrift stores (like the bird pictured here) and then asks authors to write a story based on the item. The item and the story are then sold together on e-bay.
Proceeds from the current cycle of 50 stories, objects, and auctions will benefit Girls Write Now, which mentors under-served or at-risk high school girls in New York City. An earlier cycle of stories raised money for 826 National, a creative-writing tutoring program for teenagers in seven cities.
I have always wanted to shake the brains of my favorite authors to see what is rattling around inside their heads that isn’t rattling around in mine. And with the Significant Objects project, you can experiment without actually shaking. Close your eyes, clear your head, and then look at any one of the objects the authors write about, and think about what story comes to your mind. Then read the story on the site, and see where that object took the author.
Great project, great idea, great stories, great writers, and great causes---what is not to like about Significant Objects? Who knows---you might just bid on the item and short story that prompts the next great novel. And help a good cause at the same time.
--Denise Neary, Contributor
Patricia Sprinkle: HOLD UP THE SKY
In today's guest post, Patricia Sprinkle, author of Hold Up the Sky tells us how much her book club has meant to her and why she has taken a break from writing mysteries to write about real women and their struggles.
I cherish my book club. It forces me to read books I would never have opened and lets me share some of favorites with other readers. It exposes me to a variety of opinions I might never hear. Best of all, in book club I explore not only the lives of characters, but similar situations in my own life and in those of other club members.
That’s why I hope book clubs will read my new novel. In it I have departed from writing mysteries to tell the story of four women who each face a particular crisis that I think will resonate with readers. We all are or know somebody who has asked questions similar to these:
- What is the single mother of a handicapped child to do when her child support checks stop coming?
- What is the happily married mother of two, living in a lovely house, supposed to do when her husband says across the breakfast table, “I want a divorce. Oh, and by the way, we have to sell our house to pay off a home equity loan and we won’t get enough cash from the sale for either of us to buy another house”?
- What is an elderly woman to do when her doctor looks across his desk and says, “I’m sorry, your condition is beyond our ability to treat it”?
- What is a loving wife and daughter to do when asked to choose between the needs of her husband and the needs of her parents?
Women—and, yes, men—face crises like this every single day. A proverb states that “Women hold up half the sky.” In my experience, some people hold up far more than that. Mamie Fountain says in this novel, “I don’t see no men helping us—do you?”
I hope readers will enjoy this book and the story of how four strong women who don’t even like one another come together by the end of the story. Even more, I hope the novel and the discussion guide in the back will precipitate conversations around questions like:
“What keeps us from asking for help when we need it? How could we overcome that reluctance?”
“How can we better support one another through crisis?”
“Have I ever been supported by somebody else who was also in need, and discovered that we are stronger together than we are on our own?”
Let’s hear it for book clubs. They not only make us better educated, they improve our mental health.
--Patricia Sprinkle, Hold Up the Sky
Wendy Wax: MAGNOLIA WEDNESDAYS
In today's guest post, Wendy Wax, author of Magnolia Wednesdays explains why she is steering clear of vampires in her work and her life!Ten Reasons I won’t be writing about (or dating) Vampires
I inhaled the Twilight series and am a fan of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels. I also have a number of author friends who have successfully written not only vampires but everything from big time supernatural beings to ordinary people with paranormal…quirks. As much as I’d love to ride the paranormal wave, I will probably NOT be writing about (or dating) Vampires any time soon.
- They’re scary and I’m, well, a wuss. A wuss with a highly developed imagination. If a pilot doesn’t ace his in-flight announcement, I’m convinced we’re going down. If I had to think about Vampires every day I’d be sleeping with the lights on and one eye open every night.
- They’re cold. I’m from Florida and sometimes find Georgia too chilly. I would have a hard time writing a convincing love scene between a human and a good looking block of ice.
- They’re dead. Once that statement would have been followed by ‘enough said.’ I’m pretty sure that having a physical relationship with a dead person is still called necrophilia.
- They don’t eat. I already spend too much time worrying about my weight. I’d feel like a complete overeater compared to a vampire. What would I tell my Weight Watcher’s group?
- They are exceptionally attractive. I decided back in high school that I wouldn’t date anyone who was better looking than me. Most of my characters feel the same way.
- Did I mention that they’re dead?
- They sleep during the day and are awake at night. Which means most of your important scenes would probably be night scenes. Think of all the daytime adjectives that would be wasted. Plus, if they’re awake and watching you sleep, they’ll know for sure whether you snore or drool.
- They don’t age. You do. I’m already worrying about the lines appearing on my face and the body parts that have started sagging.
- They have fangs and drink blood. I faint at the sight of blood and have a fear of sharp objects puncturing my flesh. I once jumped out of a moving car to try to avoid getting a shot.
- They’re pretty much over all their basic neuroses. After all, they’re dead. I bet it takes a lot of work to create convincing layers of character once a character has shuffled off that mortal coil.
Bottom line, they say you should write what you know. I don’t know any undead people—at least none that I’m aware of. So I think I’ll stick to writing what I know best—women on voyages of self discovery who get where they need to go with a little help from their friends.
When Magnolia Wednesdays
’ Vivien Gray takes a bullet in the behind during the filming of an expose she has reason to worry about her family’s reaction as well as her reputation. She hates being the butt of all those jokes. And when she’s forced to fill in at her sister’s suburban ballroom dance studio, she tells herself she’s just observing the local wildlife and refuses to consider how her investigation into her brother-in-law’s death may impact those she loves.
Vivi’s is the kind of story I enjoy sinking my teeth into. Which is why I’m planning to continue writing living-breathing protagonists and leave the vampire and paranormal novels to those who do them so well.
-- Wendy Wax, Magnolia Wednesdays (www.authorwendywax.com
Jerome Charyn: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson
Jerome Charyn, author of The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, joins us on the blog today to talk about his first encounter with Emily Dickinson's work and how language and reading are a path to connection and success.The Witch of the South Bronx
I grew up in a wasteland called the South Bronx. Our nearest precinct was known as Fort Apache. Its cops rarely ventured into the Indian country they were paid to patrol. It was much too dangerous. Gangs tossed Molotov cocktails at whatever cars these cops happened to have. It was our own Wild, Wild East, where crazed dogs wandered through the parks and twelve-year-old kids died of an overdose. I lived in a land of crippling poverty, without books, without any culture other than what we could learn on our own mean streets. But I still managed to survive. I had my own secret sister—Emily Dickinson.
I discovered her in junior high school. It was almost by accident . . . or divine will. I had been cutting up in class and my teacher banished me to the school’s furthest outpost—its little library at the very end of the hall. I was meant to sit there for an hour. This library was as futile as the Bronx itself; its shelves were battered and half its books had broken spines. And while I sat, one of the shelves collapsed and spilled these wounded books right into my lap.
And there she was! That daguerreotype of Emily with a ribbon around her neck, taken when she was sixteen or so. I must have stumbled upon some renegade anthology of poems, lost in the wilderness of the Bronx. This anthology didn’t say a word about who she was, and it only had one selection of hers. Success is counted sweetestBy those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
She could have been talking about every bewildered child in the South Bronx, as if she were a voice out of the whirlwind, our very own witch. And I discovered soon enough that real poverty had a lot to do with a different kind of hunger pain—the poverty of language. That’s why so many of us were doomed to failure. We were wild children in a wild land, cut off from any culture beyond our ghetto streets. And suddenly there was Emily Dickinson, the Queen Recluse of Amherst, who shared her own dilemmas with me.
Behold! I became a reader. I sought out other poems of hers and relished their secrets, their own sore needs. She was the one who understood the strange intimacy of isolation. Like the Queen Recluse, I could feel “The distant strains of triumph,” as they burst upon my own “forbidden ear.”
But she taught me something else—that my mind could wander through that cultural void and fill it up with my own imaginings. “To shut our eyes is Travel,” she wrote in 1870. And that’s what I tried to do in The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. I wanted to inhabit some of her own sorcery, to bring to life that wonderful witch I remembered from the South Bronx.
-- Jerome Charyn Jerome Charyn has been teaching film for the past fourteen years at the American University of Paris. His novel, The Green Lantern, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and he has also received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Charyn’s new novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, an astonishing work that reveals the passions and heartbreak of America’s greatest poet, will be released by W. W. Norton & Company on February 22nd.