Guest Host: Tara Staley May 9, 2013Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in commercial fiction, literary fiction.
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The prevailing winds of Kitty Hawk where author Tara Staley set her new novel, Conditions Are Favorable, can blow a person, a ship or a flying machine right off course. The known course for books featuring the Wright brother’s first flight experiments in Kitty Hawk begins with the iconic brothers as confirmed bachelors. The predominate presumption concerning their fondness for single-hood and dandified appearances positions them as latent homosexuals. Others who knew them well claimed they were simply odd and “woman-shy.” Yet, no one has ever examined the brothers through the spectrum of autism. Until now. In Conditions Are Favorable, Staley presents a daring connect-the-dots story suggesting that not only were Orville and Wilbur Wright on the autistic spectrum, they were affected specifically with the yet-to-be named Asperger’s Syndrome.
With luminous prose true to the era and gentle use of the remote region’s dialect, Staley explores the religious, cultural and political edges of the period leading up to the Wright’s successful experiments in human flight. It was the age invention, the turn-of-the-nineteenth century, when two engineering brothers changed their obsession from manufacturing bicycles to designing flying machines.
Staley begins with the fictional Madeline Tate, a smart and spunky unmarried woman on the verge of becoming a spinster. Growing up among the old salts and sea pups of this remote barrier island, Madeline is something of a pearl trapped in an unyielding oyster. She longs for romance, but not with one of the grizzly-faced, whisky-soaked fishermen who overrun the island. When the Wright brothers choose Kitty Hawk as the staging place for their experiments in flight, Madeline’s life takes off. She sees them through eyes of need, desire, and adventure, spinning a romance around one of them that tests him as much as it does her. Conditions may be favorable for flight, and conditions may be favorable for romance, but are conditions favorable for love?
Staley’s debut novel Need to Breathe, published in 2012, was selected as a “LitPick of 2012″ on the popular Twitter forum #LitChat. It was also named a Top Pick by Underground Book Reviews. Staley’s writing background includes undergraduate and graduate degrees in English and Creative Writing, an RWA award for a past novel, and involvement with the North Carolina Writers Network. She is also a founding member of the online writers’ community Backspace.
As a freelancer, her work has appeared in such publications as UNCG Magazine, BizLife Magazine and the Winston-Salem Journal. She grew up, lives, and will most likely die in Kernersville, N.C. She and her husband have two sons, William (who was diagnosed with autism at age 2) and Reese. She also has a cat, a penchant for powdered doughnuts, her very own Leatherman multi-tool, and a professionally framed pencil sketch of the Wright brothers in the guest bedroom.
Read an interview by #litchat’s Carolyn Burns Bass with Tara Staley in the Huffington Post.
Follow Tara Staley on Twitter: @TaraStaley.
Guest Host: Jordan Rosenfeld March 28, 2013Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in guest host, literary fiction, paranormal.
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Guest host for Friday, March 29, 2013: Jordan E. Rosenfeld, author of Forged in Grace.
Most people walk around with scars on the inside. Grace Jensen wears them like a permanent Halloween mask on the outside, while smoldering from their pain on the inside. In Forged in Grace, Jordan E. Rosenfeld animates a woman grotesquely scarred by fire and emotionally stunted by the betrayal that made her so.
Grace and Marly were BFFs growing up in the small community of Drake’s Bay in Northern California. Marly, the beautiful one, is forced to embrace the power of her sexuality far too early. Grace, the insecure follower, idolizes Marly and plays into her recklessness. When Grace’s parents block their friendship after a late-night pick-up from an out-of-town police station, a dangerous game of adolescent angst and envy embroil the girls. Grace is severely burned, while Marly escapes with a tiny burn on her arm.
Adolescent relationships are volatile. As young people sort through who they are, the expectations of and pressures from the adults in their world—especially the trusted caretakers—can twist their psyche in harmful ways. Rosenfeld explores this concept through the eyes of the adult Grace with such insight, you don’t realize she’s also revealing the scarred heart of her best friend Marly.
After years of silence between the two women, Marly’s return to Drake’s Bay for the funeral of her grandmother kindles a reconciliation. A pariah in her small-town community, Grace accepts Marly’s invitation to Las Vegas where she can blend in with the hoards of other misfits who call the glittering desert oasis a home. This is when Rosenfeld’s insights into psyche and character ignite. With prose so raw it bleeds, Rosenfeld reveals a connection between Grace and Marly that singes the words on the page.
Ever since the fire that nearly took her life, Grace has been unable to tolerate human touch. Her doctors can’t find a physical reason why she burns with pain when people touch her. Psychologists say it’s psychosomatic. One night after Marly is beat-up by an angry lover, Grace reaches through her own pain to soothe Marly’s injuries. The next morning Marly has no swelling, bruising, or abrasions. The pain Grace felt all those years when touching people was their pain, not hers. And now she has a way of reaching into them to heal the sickness and injury. Marly-the-manipulator immediately pushes Grace into a type of sideshow act to heal the sick and wounded, which leads to more conflict between the two. The story flares up here for genuine tearful conclusions that answer the questions Rosenfeld so deftly scatters throughout the novel.
Jordan E. Rosenfeld learned early on that people prefer a storyteller to a know-it-all. She channeled any Hermione-esque tendencies into a career as a writing coach, editor and freelance journalist and saves the Tall Tales for her novels. She earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and is the author of the books, Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time (Writer’s Digest Books) and Write Free! Attracting the Creative Life with Rebecca Lawton (BeijaFlor Books). Jordan’s essays and articles have appeared in such publications as AlterNet.org, Publisher’s Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle, The St. Petersburg Times, The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazine. Her book commentaries have appeared on The California Report, a news-magazine produced by NPR-affiliate KQED radio. She lives in Northern California with her Batman-obsessed son and Psychologist husband.
Watch the Forged In Grace book trailer.
Follow Jordan E. Rosenfeld on Twitter: @JordanRosenfeld.
Guest Host: Jon Clinch March 21, 2013Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in literary fiction.
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Jon Clinch‘s new novel, The Thief of Auschwitz, departs somewhat from his first two critically acclaimed novels, Finn and Kings of the Earth. Whereas Finn and Kings of the Earth dealt with American stories and voices, The Thief of Auschwitz is set primarily at the Nazi death camp notorious for its atrocities against Jewish people. Furthermore, Clinch chose to self-publish The Thief of Auschwitz, rather than go through a traditional publishing house as he did with his first two novels. The result is the first literary novel to receive critical acclaim with reviews in leading media.
Jon Clinch’s guest host spot was rescheduled to April 26. Join us then.
The Thief of Auschwitz begins with the voice of octogenarian Max Rosen: “The camp at Auschwitz took one year of my life, and of my own free will I gave it another four.” A provocative opening sentence for sure. Max goes on to describe himself as, “the last believer in looking at things the way they are, and reporting back.” He’s a renowned painter now living in New York and reluctantly organizing a retrospective of his work at the invitation of the National Gallery. He’s cantankerous and critical, taking frequent swipes at Andrew Wyeth and his Helga.
Unfolding through Max’s craggy impressions of today’s art world come his reflection of the years spent at Auschwitz. Some of the story is told by Max, yet the majority of the story rolls out in cinematic third person. After evading Nazis for more than a year, Max and his sister, Lydia, along with their parents, Jacob and Eidel, are captured and taken to the Auschwitz work camp. It’s known at the camps that children cannot contribute to the work, so they are immediately exterminated like unwanted pests. Lydia is only 12 and is sorted into the children’s death queue immediately. The women are separated from the men. Max, tall and sturdy for his age of 14, takes his father’s advice and tells the registrar he’s 18. This is where the story begins.
Throughout his life Max is haunted by the camp, but even more so by self-comparison of his work to that of his mother. A talented and self-taught painter, Eidel carries with her to the camp only one painting—a beautiful portrait of Lydia. This portrait plays a crucial role in Max’s survival, while forging a secret he carries with him forever.
Many authors have written about Nazis and death camps and memorialized the people who died there. Each of those novels have their place in the canon of Holocaust literature. The Thief of Auschwitz rises to the top of that canon, painting the horrors of camp life and survival with elegiac strokes, while portraying shades of humanity behind the Nazi masks.
Born and raised in the remote heart of upstate New York, Jon Clinch has been an English teacher, a metalworker, a folksinger, an illustrator, a typeface designer, a housepainter, a copywriter, and an advertising executive.
Jon has lectured and taught widely, in settings as varied as the National Council of Teachers of English, Williams College, the Mark Twain House and Museum, and Pennsylvania State University. In 2008 he organized a benefit reading for the financially ailing Twain House—enlisting such authors as Tom Perrotta and Stewart O’Nan—an event that literally saved the house from bankruptcy.
Jon lives with his wife, Wendy—founder of TheSkiDiva.com, the internet’s premier site for women who ski—in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Follow Jon Clinch on Twitter: @JonClinch.
200 Years of Price and Prejudice January 28, 2013Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in classics, literary fiction, Monday Media.
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One of the most beloved novels of all time, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, made its bookstore debut 200 years ago today. The second of her six published novels (following Sense and Sensibility), Pride and Prejudice received favorable reviews and earned Austen a modest personal income. Yet because her work was published anonymously, the young female novelist never received the respect among peers and public which she so rightfully deserved.
MediaMonday for January 28, 2013: Celebrating 200 Years of Pride and Prejudice. NY Times Arts Beat, January 28, 2013 lists events happening throughout the globe in celebration of the bicentennial of the book’s publication.
Today’s Penguin blog offers a gallery of Pride and Prejudice book covers through the years.
The unlikely love story between the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet and the prideful Mr. Darcy drives the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but it’s the sharp observational wit and wise sub-textural comments on culture, morality and society that secures this novel in the canon of world literature.
Despite it being in the public domain and available for free downloads on many sites, the novel continues to sell millions of copies each year. Assigned reading in classrooms and writing workshops across the globe, Pride and Prejudice is a brilliant study in characterization, plot development, and setting.
Born in 1775, Austen was youngest of George and Cassandra Austen’s seven children. Educated primarily by her father, a country parson, and her older brothers, Austen began writing prolifically in her teen years and by the age of 21 had completed the novel that would become Sense and Sensibility. That novel wouldn’t be published until 1811, opening the door with its favorable reception to the novel that in 1813 would become one of the season’s most fashionable reads and in later years a world-wide sensation.
Austen fell ill and died in 1817 at the age of 41. Speculation to the cause of her death range from Addison’s disease to non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Share your Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice remembrance today here on the blog (click comments button above) or in #litchat today at 4pmET through Twitter.
Memoir in Fiction January 21, 2013Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in literary fiction, novelography.
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MediaMonday for January 21, 2013: The Narrator in Fiction, a discussion focused on this essay by Steve Almond in January 11, 2013 New York Times magazine.
Write what you know. This—along with show, don’t tell—is taught in writing classrooms across the globe. Many nascent writers use the write what you know principle to the point that their fiction is little but thinly veiled memoir. This brand of therapeutic writing often meanders without plot, features cardboard or predictable characters, and is overly sentimental. Fictionalizing real life with meaningful and authentic prose is not for beginners. Friday’s guest host is Michael Kimball, whose new novel, Big Ray, is as much memoir as it is fiction.
Michael Kimball makes no excuses for the autobiographical details found in his novels. His new novel, Big Ray, is based on the relationship between him and his father. His father wasn’t just grossly obese. He was mean. Cruel. Abusive. Predatory. Kimball admits to the shame he felt as a child growing up with an excessively fat father, how he was teased and ridiculed because of his father. All of this comes out in Big Ray, which Kimball admits began as a memoir.
It’s not just the excess pounds that weigh down the father in Big Ray. He’s a small, small man trapped in a huge body. Once a lean, mean Marine, Ray made only one automatic promotion from private to private first class after two years of service. By the time he is discovered dead in a chair in his apartment, Ray weighs more than 500 pounds. With short, addictive sections abounding with grit, humor, pathos and insight, Kimball plots the path to Ray’s destructive life. We never feel sorry for Ray, his meanness is too fervid. What we feel instead is relief that a person, any person, could escape the singularity of such a presence to achieve normality by ordinary standards. Though fictionalized for storytelling’s sake, we are impressed that such a person could write about an abusive parent with such honesty, journalistic acumen, and psychological understanding. Does Kimball—or his character Daniel—forgive his father for the abuse and excess of his life? Would you?
Michael Kimball is the author of five books, including Big Ray (which The Wall Street Journal calls “mesmerizing”), Dear Everybody (which The Believer calls “a curatorial masterpiece”), and Us (which Time Out Chicago calls “a simply gorgeous and astonishing book”). His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Bomb, Prairie Schooner, Post Road, New York Tyrant, etc. His work has been translated into a dozen languages—including Italian, Spanish, German, Chinese, Korean, and Greek. He is also responsible forMichael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard), a couple ofdocumentaries, the 510 Readings, and the conceptual pseudonym Andy Devine. Big Ray is published by Bloomsbury USA, Bloomsbury Circus (UK), and will be released in January 2013 in Australia.
Mary Sharratt, Guest Host January 10, 2013Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in historical fiction, literary fiction, religion and mysticism.
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On Friday, January 11, 2012, author Mary Sharratt joins us in #litchat to discuss her new novel, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. With stunning prose dripping with scholarly insight, Sharratt introduces to contemporary readers the heartrending and still inspiring story of a 12th century Benedictine abbess, prophet and polymath given to the Church at the age of eight to serve as handmaiden to Jutta, a fanatical young noblewoman in spiritual seclusion at a German monastery. Given to visions from an early age, Hildegard became renowned throughout the region for prophecies and mystical experiences. Walled away from the world for 30 years with Jutta and her covy of handmaidens, after Jutta’s death, Hildegard breaks free of the cocoon of seclusion to become the most important advocate of women the Church has yet to see.
Following her release from the anchorage at Disibodenburg, Hildegard composed a body of sacred music that is still performed and enjoyed today. Her nine books on subjects as diverse as theology, natural science, medicine, and human sexuality put many of her male contemporaries to shame. She founded two convents and became an outspoken critic of political and ecclesiastical corruption. Controversial and confrontational, her excommunication from the Church lead her closer to God.
Combining fiction, history, and Hildegardian philosophy, Illuminations presents an arresting portrait of a woman of faith and power—a visionary in every sense of the word.
Mary Sharratt is an American writer who lives with her Belgian husband in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed 2010 novel,Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. Previously she lived for 12 years in Germany. This, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen.
Winner of the 2005 WILLA Literary Award and a Minnesota Book Award Finalist, Mary has also written the acclaimed novels Summit Avenue (Coffee House 2000),The Real Minerva (Houghton Mifflin 2004), The Vanishing Point (Houghton Mifflin 2006), and co-edited the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit (Crocus Books 2006), which celebrates female anti-heroes—strong women who break all the rules. Her short fiction has been published in Twin Cities Noir (Akashic Books 2006).
Follow Mary Sharratt on Twitter: MarySharratt.
View the Illuminations book trailer: Illuminations.
Mary writes regular articles for Historical Novels Review and Solander on the theme of writing women back into history. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually riding her spirited Welsh mare through the Lancashire countryside.
Indie Author Showcase: Tara Staley November 26, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in coming-of-age, fiction, literary fiction.
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A good Southern story is set in a place as realistic and vivid as the characters are colorful and meaningful, yet it’s the author’s voice that gives Southern fiction its distinctive flavor. From this trinity of setting, character and voice comes Tara Staley‘s debut novel, Need to Breathe.
Where else but a town called Union Cross, North Carolina can a guardian angel named Millie Rose look over the premature infant of a dysfunctional teenage couple? When that premature infant is born with chemical burns across her body, her lungs bursting to breathe, it’s Millie Rose who gets beside her and chants, “you need to breathe.” After several harrowing minutes of neonatal heroics, breathe she does. The miracle of breath fills her lungs, pumps her heart and haunts her imagination throughout her life.
This 26-week-old preemie is named Claire. Her parents, Mick and Mandy, haven’t a clue about their own lives, let alone raising a child. Saddled with the special needs of Claire–medically challenging, intellectually precocious, socially awkward–they sink into the abyss of too much responsibility at too young of an age. This is where Millie Rose works wonders.
For all her Southern wisdom, Millie Rose is a Yankee. She’d dreamed of being a mother herself once, but died in childbirth in 1922. Officially she is a “Corporeal Agent,” and though she answers to God, there’s very little angelic about her. She has demons of her own that sidetrack her from her mission to watch over Claire and lead her to her future soul mate.
Despite her having a guardian angel guiding her—or attempting to in the case of the headstrong Claire—Claire manages to mess up her life as much as her mother and father had their own. Her father hides away in his muscle car projects, while her interior designer mother is obsessed with finding the perfect shade of white. Each of them are riddled with shame from the secret they won’t even discuss among themselves behind the reason for Claire’s premature birth.
Characters such as the endearing geriatric twins Gerta and Grace enrich the Southern voice, while the geeky Charlie and the androgynous Big Mac strike a contemporary chord.
Tara Staley’s writing background includes undergraduate and graduate degrees in English and Creative Writing, an RWA award for a past novel, and involvement with the North Carolina Writers Network. She is also a founding member of the online writers’ community Backspace. Her fiction has been blurbed by nationally bestselling and award-winning authors such as Caroline Leavitt and Cornelia Read. As a freelancer, her work has appeared in such publications as UNCG Magazine, BizLife Magazine and the Winston-Salem Journal. She grew up, lives, and will most likely die in Kernersville, North Carolina (except for a one-year study abroad stint in Australia thanks to a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship). She and her husband have two sons. Staley is currently finishing up her next novel, Conditions Are Favorable, biographical fiction that brings to life the world of the Wright brothers and the Kitty Hawkers in the early 1900s.
Follow Tara Staley on Twitter: @TaraStaley
Codependencies October 15, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in literary fiction.
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MediaMonday for October 15, 2012: Authors and Historical Accuracy. Source media: Hilary Mandel and the Limits of Historical Accuracy, by author James Forrester, Huffington Post, October 11, 2012.
The need to need someone. The need to be needed by someone. These are twin markers of the codependent personality. On Wednesday, October 17, we’ll discuss novels with a theme of or characters exhibiting codepencencies. The conversation will continue on Friday, October 19, when Courtney Elizabeth Mauk joins us as guest host to discuss her novel, Spark.
Andrea is her brother Delphie’s keeper. She was conceived with the single intention of providing her bone marrow to save Delphie’s life. The need to be his savior motivates her childhood, but doesn’t affect Delphie’s own need. He’s a pyromaniac. After one of his fires goes horribly wrong and kills a family sleeping inside the house that burns down, Delphie’s sent to prison. Twenty years later he’s released from prison into the saving arms of Andrea and this is where the story begins. As Andrea resumes her childhood role as savior of Delphie, her life sputters and flashes and finally ignites the fire she’s been holding back all her life.
Courtney Elizabeth Mauk was born in Rolla, Miss. and grew up in Copley, Ohio, in a house filled with books. She studied creative writing at Oberlin College and spent a year writing art reviews in Washington, DC, before moving to New York City. In 2006 she received an MFA in Fiction from Columbia. Spark (Engine Books, 2012) is her debut novel. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The LiteraryReview, PANK, Wigleaf, Necessary Fiction, and FiveChapters, among others. Mauk is an assistant editor at Barrelhouse Magazine and teaches at The Juilliard School and The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. She lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her husband where she is at work on a second novel.
Watch the Spark book trailer here.
Follow Courtney Elizabeth Mauk on Twitter: @CourtneyMauk.
Exploring Love July 23, 2012Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in bestsellers, literary fiction, science fiction, weekly topics.
Tags: Lydia Netzer
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MediaMonday for July 23, 2012: Are the Rules of Engagement for Serious Novels Changing? Source media by Warren Adler for Huffington Post, July 18, 2012.
Love is a universal emotion. Some say it is what separates humans from lower life forms. Often misunderstood and misused, love has fueled storytellers, poets, playwrights and novelists for as long as humans have used words. How does love differ from devotion, admiration, attraction and lust? Can humans truly love entities that have no flesh and blood? We’ll discuss these questions and others this Wednesday in #litchat. Wrapping up this discussion on Friday is guest host Lydia Netzer, author of Shine, Shine, Shine.
Shine, Shine, Shine is a love story and so much more. It’s a study on how we judge people consciously and unconsciously, and how some people cover their differences, some people exploit them, and why it’s so easy to do this. It’s a journey into space, into populating the moon with robots designed to build perfect human colonies. It’s an odyssey of flashbacks from the jungles of Burma, to the heartland of America, through the robotic voice of the POV character, Sunny.
Sunny, however, isn’t a robot. She’s a normal woman in every way, except she was born without body hair. Her mother guides her into celebrating her difference by refusing to let her wear wigs to cover her bald head. Add to this mix her future husband, an awkward boy named Maxon, who we come to understand is a savant genius somewhere on the autism spectrum. It’s no surprise when their child, Bubber, is diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
When Maxon takes a job designing robots for NASA’s upcoming colonization of the moon, the couple moves to suburban Virginia, where Sunny begins wearing wigs, false eyelashes and eyebrows to fit in with the other SUV-driving mothers. Sunny and Maxon’s odd courtship and married life takes up much of the backstory, while the immediate action of the story begins as Sunny’s wig is thrown off her head when she has a minor car accident while her husband is on a rocketship heading for the moon, her mother is dying in hospice, and she is eight months pregnant. When Maxon’s rocketship is struck by a meteor and the mission is doomed, readers watch Sunny snapping and stretching with superhuman strength and resolve. Shine, Shine, Shine peels away the hearts and flowers of romance to explore the nature of love in its myriad types and shapes.
Lydia Netzer was born in Detroit and educated in the Midwest. She lives in Virginia with her two home-schooled children and mathmaking husband. When she isn’t teaching, blogging, or drafting her second novel, she writes songs and plays guitar in a rock band.
Follow Lydia Netzer on Twitter: @lostcheerio